Isolation

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If ever an image could illustrate how all of this sudden emphasis on social distancing feels to me.. and although I fall more on the introvert end of the spectrum, I much prefer hibernating on my own terms.

How quaint it seems now, looking back on the month of January when I took 4 weeks away from the rest of society- on purpose- in an effort to focus on writing the first draft of my first novel. How quaint it all seems, having a glass of wine at a crowded bar, accepting a hug from a friend, taking a flight or a train ride to a bustling city for a photo shoot, going to a live concert, a hair appointment, a diner, on a date.

I’ve been photographing this tree for nine and a half years now and even though it is Tree v2.0, the scene never fails me, either serving to uplift, inspire, mystify, or reflect the weather within.

EDIT: a dear friend just sent this raw John Lennon demo of “Isolation” to me in response to this post and I wanted to include it here: https://youtu.be/nGNgsptYdDs

Feature Story: A Second Chance for a Woman Who Believes in Second Chances

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Words and Photos By Alessandra Nicole
Contributing Writer

(originally published in Greenville & Hockessin Life Magazine, June 2019)

To know the nurturing resilience of sunshine is to know the heart that belongs to Patricia May.

On a humid Sunday afternoon in early June, May sat in the bright kitchen of her Hockessin home, one filled with an array of framed Bible hymns and beautiful original paintings done by incarcerated people and bought from art fairs inside her former workplace. Sweet old rescue cats serenely snaked around her ankles, begging to be let through glass sliding doors to the large and sunny deck outside.

The doors framed a view of nearly two dozen enormous planter pots that sat bursting with everything from snap dragons to mint. Near the doors, a small table supported a smaller assemblage of plants, and the electric water bowl for the cats beneath the table gurgled peacefully.

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Ms. May displays one of a vast collection of original paintings showcased in her home that was painted by and purchased from inmates from art shows over the years.

In stark contrast to this soothing serenity was the jarring fact that this gentle-spirited, sparkling-blue-eyed woman is a prison riot hostage survivor.

One morning in February 2017, May, a former counselor with the Delaware Department of Correction, went into work at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, and a few hours later was taken hostage by an inmate wielding a sharp object.

She was tied up with a hood placed over her head as other inmates raged violently throughout the rest of the building.

She was moved to two cells and held for almost 19 hours.

Her life was in the hands of her faith and the men who surrounded her in the same facility where she would regularly bring bouquets of flowers she arranged from her home gardens to bring some joy to those visiting.

“At James T. Vaughn, I was known as the ‘Flower Lady,’” May said. “During spring and summer, I kept flower arrangements in the administration building and in the Gate House for the enjoyment of staff and visitors. Many times I was told by a visitor that the flowers would brighten their day when they may have been sad for having to visit a loved one in prison,

“I never accept pay for my arrangements. This gift was given to me by God, and I believe giving to others is a way of showing God’s love in a practical way. No doubt this brings me joy to be able to give something that brightens everybody’s day.”

Why then, you might ask, would this woman, now since retired from the Department of Corrections, choose to return to do work with incarcerated people in a program to offer them a second chance?

 

In the 1960s, May abandoned her home economics major at a local community college in Florida to embark on her studies in criminology. It was a course of study that was virtually unheard of for a woman at that time, but for May, who grew up the daughter of a pediatric nurse and a policeman and listened to stories nightly of chases with moonshiners to the Everglades, it seemed like a natural step. The stories became her children’s nursery rhymes.

“On many nights, my dad would wake me up at two o’clock in the morning, and tell me, ‘We’re all hungry,’ with a trail of police behind him,” she said. “Sometimes he called me on the phone and asked me to prepare something for them to eat on some mornings.”

“My dad’s friend at the police department played a part in me changing over to Criminology.” May attended Florida State University and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology, Magna Cum Laude. She eventually left Florida and embarked on a 40-year career. May worked for the Attorney General’s Office for the State of Delaware; Public Defender’s Office; Department of Correction, Community Services and Bureau of Prisons; Juvenile Corrections; Treatment Foster Care; a women’s Transitional Living Program and Substance Abuse Treatment programs.  Patricia retired from the State of Delaware, Department of Correction in 2018.

During that time, she nurtured her nearly lifelong passion for gardening – cultivating outdoor flowers and vegetables and small-scale, hydroponic and full-spectrum light indoor gardening.

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Ms. May’s small-scale, hydroponic and full-spectrum light indoor gardening.

While working for the Delaware Department of Correction, May thought of ways to dovetail her profession with her love of gardening. An opportunity arose to direct the My Brother’s Keeper Mentorship Program, a faith-based program in 3 sections: Monday Night Group; Residential and Reentry at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.  A horticulture program (hydroponics) was hoped to be included but ultimately was not accepted by Vaughn Administrators.

“The goal was to teach the inmates a new skill that could be used in the future, and learning how to grow food for the institution was part of teaching inmates about a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “Growing food within an institution reduces cost to the state, supplies nutritious food and reduces the carbon footprint of food being transported. Horticulture programs have been shown to reduce tension; reduce idle time; give hope; and improve the health of the inmates, which is not only humane, but cost effective on health care costs.”

My Brother’s Keeper emphasized the use of mentors, education, substance abuse recovery treatment and other aspects of restorative justice. Its mission rested on the belief that most people with criminal behavior can become productive and contributing members of society if given the opportunity to learn pro-social values and employment skills. The program also included a reentry section, which supplied mentors and guidance for men returning to the community. May was also staff advisor for the Monday Night section of the program, which was for men who were not able to be housed in the residential program.

“We [My Brother’s Keeper] were about changing the heart, with 40 different classes all about teaching and training and mentoring.

“Change the heart and that will change the behavior.”

In her kitchen, May opened two enormous five pound black binders and set them on the countertop. They were the training manuals for My Brother’s Keeper that included a multitude of educational modules, ranging from social skills development to architecture and engineering. Title headings like “Basic comparative religion” and “Introduction to the brain” were listed among a variety of others in the table of contents.

May moved her index finger down the page. “Money management.’ ‘Effective communication skills.’ ‘Moral decision making.’ ‘The art of conflict management.’

“We had 100 men in the residential program, and about 30 or 40 who attended the Monday Night program who weren’t a part of the 100 residents, in a prison that had around 2,700 people,” she said. “Do you know what it’s like to see someone who is serving a life prison term, and you give him something to live for?”

While the impact of the My Brother’s Keeper program was, at times, transformational, it was eventually ended and she was transferred to the fateful C Block building where it was known that trouble was brewing. On Feb. 1, 2017, inmates at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center took four corrections department workers – including May — hostage inside one of the facility’s buildings.

Wielding sharp instruments, inmates were demanding education “first and foremost,” a “rehabilitation program that works for everybody,” and a comprehensive look at the prison’s budget and spending.

The day-long hostage standoff ended after state police stormed the building, rescuing May and her fellow workers, and finding Sgt. Steven R. Floyd, a 16-year veteran of the Delaware Department of Correction, unresponsive. Floyd was later pronounced dead.

“Everything I had worked for so hard was taken away,” May said.

In the aftermath of the riot, May retired, and at first, her days were isolating and wrought with tremendous PTSD and depression. When she looked back on her career – one filled with compassion for others – she saw that it was met with unprecedented resistance. For the next year and a half, May retreated to her Hockessin gardens, but nearby, an opportunity that was tailor-made for her was popping through the soil in nearby Wilmington.

Local entrepreneur Ajit M. George began to consider how the community could find methods to fight the recidivism epidemic facing this nation while simultaneously addressing other serious threats like water pollution, environmental damage, unemployment, poor quality produce, and food deserts.

Part of the solution to the problem lay in hydroponic vertical farming, and so George created and founded Second Chances Farm, which will be an indoor vertical farm that hires exclusively men and women returning to society after serving their time in prison. All crops and produce will be fresh, organic, nutritious, completely free of pesticides and herbicides, and grown within 150 miles of anywhere it is available for consumption, seriously cutting down long-haul shipping costs and pollution. Since it is indoor and light and temperature controlled, it will be fresh and available 365 days a year, no matter what the weather brings.

On July 24th, 2018, the founding members of Second Chances Farm had lunch with May, and after a long and passionate discussion about the concept of Second Chances, May was asked to join the team.

May immediately became a valuable member of the Second Chances team as the Restorative Justice Program Coordinator, where she now handles all programming related to re-entry, therapy, and other employee related issues. Second Chances will be the first vertical farm in Delaware, and the first vertical farm anywhere to exclusively hire men and women returning from prison.

For the farm, it is a chance to not only provide jobs for those returning from prison, but also to harness entrepreneurial skills and allow farmers a chance to become compassionate capitalists and business owners.

For May, it is the next, serendipitous chapter – a second chance — in a career that has been spent advocating for the second chances of others.

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To learn more about Second Chances Farm, visit www.secondchancesfarm.com.

December 7th is National Letter Writing Day

Originally published on TEDxWilmington.com

Alessandra Nicole for TEDxWilmingtonLive, Photograph by Joe Del TufoSome of you here know that I lost my grandmother in February and that we had been pen pals for more than twenty years. What you may not know is that our relationship deepened 100% because of that paper letter exchange. She was severely hard of hearing growing up and my memories of her are peppered with the sound of her hearing aids screeching from feedback because she had them turned up so high. My five cousins had siblings they fought with and through it learned to speak up for what they wanted and to be heard when it counted. I was a sensitive only child that was intimidated by all of that, and thus my grandmother knew my cousins better than she knew me for many years, because I was so quiet around her and we didn’t know how to reach one another.

When I went away to college and she sent me the first letter there, suddenly I had a way to fully communicate the all of me. Our relationship became very vibrant and rich through an exchange that finally allowed me to be fully seen and heard. And, being six states away, having a letter come through the mail to me felt like getting a message in a bottle. Sitting with it in my hands felt like a hug. Seeing her handwriting and reading it with her voice in my head felt like a kiss on my homesick heart.

I think about children today who only have email at their fingertips; an oxymoron because what do they actually touch? When communication is via popcorn text message and Instagram photo caption and emotions are summed up by animated gifs and emojis, how much authentic communication is actually happening? But what I really think about are the sensitive children who are having trouble connecting with others in their very family and are missing out on developing connected and meaningful relationships, are missing out on being truly seen and heard, are missing out on bonding with another generation of their own family.

I invite you to celebrate National Letter Writing Day with me on Friday, December 7th and write a letter to someone near or far in your life. It could even be to someone who lives right under the same roof as you! I’m talking a letter, not just a card, on a piece of paper, more than two paragraphs long. Fold it up, seal it up in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and send it through the mail. Tell me about it, if you want. pen@paperletterexchange.com

Letter writing causes even the busiest and most frenetic of minds to slow down and think through concepts and thoughts with great consideration. According to an article published by the Guardian, “Pens and keyboards bring into play very different cognitive processes. ‘Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought,’ says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva. ‘Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: you need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.’

Operating a keyboard is not the same at all: all you have to do is press the right key. It is easy enough for children to learn very fast, but above all the movement is exactly the same whatever the letter. ‘It’s a big change,’ says Roland Jouvent, head of adult psychiatry at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. ‘Handwriting is the result of a singular movement of the body, typing is not.”

Letter writing helps develop and reinforce vocabulary and language skills, creativity and humor through metaphor creation, and delivers dopamine to the nervous system that lasts much longer than hearing a text alert or seeing a red heart indicator on an app. Letter writing has been described as natural ritalin and natural prozac. It also helps one deal better with difficult times. And receiving a letter to read: the same. The connecting from the brain to eye to hand to pen to paper is a cognitive one that delivers a host of long term benefits in the act itself, and when practiced regularly can even become spiritual, meditative, divine. You are present and therefore become a channel between the subconscious and conscious, letter writing is a cleansing therapy and a zen art. And once all of the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits are added up.. there’s more.

Letter writing helps a mentally sharp ninety year old widowed man who can’t walk anymore and has been left to exist the rest of his days in a dismal nursing home feel alive, seen, heard, thought of, cared for, and like he matters. It helps a quiet woman a third his age connect to him and ask him all the questions about his countless adventures through life. It could help a child gain insight into world history and geography and economics and politics and all things romance. It could help a parent connect with an estranged daughter and make amends. It could take a new romance to the next level. It could help a prisoner feel like a person who counts again. It could help a child grow into a special bonded relationship with a grandmother that will shine on in her heart which will spill onto all those around her long after the ashes have been laid to rest. I’ve seen it all happen.

Those conversations, even if they are not cross generational but peer to peer, will never have the same quality in the context of an Facebook message or a Snapchat story. They will hardly have the lasting power and the artifact quality. They will hardly have the gravity, the connection, and they certainly will not do much to develop the cognitive, educational skills, and deliver the long term positive physiological benefits to which letter writing lends itself. Handwriting letters does something the keyboard and tapping letters on a smartphone touch screen will never, ever be able to do.

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See Alessandra Nicole’s TEDx talk HERE.

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bits from Abiquiú

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Ghost Ranch, NM, near Abiquiú in Rio Arriba County in north central New Mexico

In March / April of this year I was able to explore the same hallowed ground that painter Georgia O’Keeffe celebrated in many of her works. Ghost Ranch was a restorative sojourn. Red faced mountains amplified the fiery sunrises and sunsets and stood protectively in silhouette when the navy night revealed billions of stunning pinholes to heaven. Free of many distractions, I spent my days on horseback admiring the landscape, in hot springs, and in my sketchbook.

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follow Alessandra on Instagram @Alessandra_Official

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“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

   
 

  My pistol of a great aunt Freya from Amsterdam. She grew up in nazi occupied Holland. She makes award-winning dandelion wine, is a consummate storyteller, sharp wisecracker, and is a well-read, multi-lingual, vibrant, inspiring, formidable spirit. There really aren’t enough words to describe the All of her! 
 
 
Great aunt Bunny, her twin sister (my paternal grandmother), their brother in front of the little chapel on the Karsch family farm in upstate NY, early 1930s)

   
The little chapel on the Karsch family farm today, 2015

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It’s really cool inside, the family has Christmas Eve service annually and hold occasional memorial and wedding services there

 
Twins, their brother, and my great grandmother on the family farm I visited every summer growing up. Apparently, the twins worked the farm as their father preferred to play music and on any instrument around. My grandmother finally “escaped” the farm to go to Temple University in Philly to become a nurse. To this day she’s still a hard working woman and my favorite pen pal. Her “little” brother- my well-spoken great uncle Willard- and wife Freya reside on the land now.  Willard rebuilt the house pictured, preserving many of its original elements. 
  

Mural in Middleburgh, NY

   
  
   
  My second great grandmother Dorothy (first one passed away before I met her and my great grandfather remarried) lived here in town for years and I stayed with her often as a young girl. It’s just ten minutes’ drive from the family farm up on the mountain.
 
Here’s lookin at you, Kid  


Next- to make it full-circle to my birthplace of Stuttgart (when there was still a West Germany) to reconnect with the maternal side of my family. 

  
My very first passport as a German import – ha!!

  
Me with my EU / German passport 

The Piano

  
This is my piano, Anita. She is a circa early ’60s Mason & Hamlin with a remarkable Steinway-esque tone (the two brands were fashioned and manufactured in the same warehouse.)

We took her over from a writer a couple of frigid Januaries ago and I named her after a friend who left us far too soon the November prior to that. She was essential to my working through the grieving process and has become so wonderfully interwoven in my diverse day-to-day as I wear the hats of Photographer, Writer, Illustrator. She is the thread that brings together my facets, and she both gives me wings to invent and anchors me in my creativity, and being.

Her previous owner had her painted years ago and though I have considered taking her back to her original black laquer, the painting on her has become a part of her charm. 

Like another special love I have that I enjoy, I have longed for her for years before she showed up in my life. And like that other special love, she offers the rare dichotomy of setting me free and giving me great gravity. Through her I have articulated musically thoughts and feelings that go far, far beyond anything words (and even brush strokes) could as adequately express. The composer’s language is a profound and soul-stirring one.

When I was very young, my grandparents kept an aunt’s light brown upright Werlitzer for her in their humble living room. I spent weekdays there for a summer both noodling on the piano and playing along with my grandpop’s AM radio. I was and still am extremely adept at picking the notes right from songs- at playing by ear. 

Unfortunately, the aunt disliked the piano being kept active by my tiny fingers and she had it transferred to a storage unit (where, tragically, it rots to this day, as a matter of fact.) 

We didn’t have extra money for music lessons for me and I would sit next to friends on their piano benches as their parents forced them to practice their lessons, watching eagerly and hungrily. As a teen, a gifted and busy friend of mine would teach me different things as she was able. I would skip lunch each day to sneak into my school’s auditorium and practice on the baby grand stored in a corner back stage.

I longed for a lifetime to have a piano of my very own, and that longing has finally been slaked. This is Anita! It is astounding how much warmth and soul a piano lends to its home. 

November!

I read a quote online recently that I can’t seem to relocate but the essence of it was something like this:

Who will regard your dying as beautiful?

Those of us in love with the season of Autumn as much as I must on some level regard aging and letting go as a beautiful process; a glorious celebration in bursts of colour, sexy textures, smokey scents. Summer’s tantrum is through and the following season is an eloquent, sensual eulogy before a snowy funeral, really; at least if you live in an area that experiences four proper seasons.

Where else in life do we regard the aging and dying process as such a gorgeous one? What if we were to embrace it in each other with such revelry, presence, appreciation as well?

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Bailey’s Dairy Farm

Enjoying every moment so far of the second day of Autumn here in Chester County, PA. This is one of those places that breathes life back into me again. These cows always seem to be in perfect contentment! I just love to see them graze.

A breath away from this serenity is an atrocity that is a Toll Bros. housing development. It is one of the (many) great travesties in America “culture” that a land development company can knock down a bunch of trees, fill the acres with uninspired made-to-order houses, and further insult the region by calling this cramped new neighborhood “The Preserves”. “Cut down all the trees and name the streets after them…”

The dairy farm after “The Preserves” helps me believe in humanity again.

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Yin and Yang

Today I got to meet and work with a renaissance woman who instructs yoga. She came to me as a referral and I was immediately intrigued! One of the bigger challenges for a bit of a shy-girl (that’s me) who is a photographer is posing people for their portraits. I don’t like telling people what to do! Here was someone I wouldn’t have to direct very much which freed me to be able to concentrate on the technical aspects of the shoot and allowed her to flow through her movements. Both of us were at ease, and before we knew it an hour and a half had passed and the shoot was finished!

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(Learn more about Hunter Clarke-Fields’ yoga practice here: http://www.hunterartist.com/yoga/)

 

Prose: Chesapeake Bay Sunset – Alessandra Nicole

Once upon a time many chapters of life ago I worked out of Washington, DC and would commute at the end of each week back to Delaware and Pennsylvania. I wrote this on one such trek eastward this time eleven years past. Freshly “post 9/11”, having been immersed in a strange new world of confusing and radical precedents (especially regarding travel, which was a large part of my experience back then) and fear (I worked nationally and within a myriad of federal government buildings daily) what I felt below was like coming up for gulps of delicious life-giving oxygen.

Chesapeake Bay Sunset

by Alessandra Nicole
January 2002

The moon is bright and full and I actually got out of work before dark for once. The sun was setting over the great Chesapeake Bay as I crossed the five-mile bay bridge.

Suddenly, a feeling of euphoria welled up from somewhere deep within me, like my soul woke up from a nap and was stretching. I began to feel so peaceful and happy that tears came to my eyes. Seeing both the sun setting and the fat moon hanging in the sky like it was I had to pull over to give them my full attention.

I looked out over the Bay as vibrant violets and tangerines lost their tempers and exploded into an astonishing array of furious flames filling the clouds overhead with a raging fever. What was even more breathtaking was the reflection made in the water, perfectly mirrored as if there was no horizon line, and it didn’t even stagger as it was sliced in half by a sharp ocean liner. I stood there and imagined myself diving into that reflection, swimming and swirling with the mercury-stained sun and the shy stars, swept into a Technicolor tide of tremendous color play. I waited until the very tip of the sun vanished below the horizon, and filled my lungs with the sweet Bay air musk I grew up with.

The stars began to pop out by the thousands, fluttering like a swarm of sparkling fireflies. It was as if the Man in the Moon uncorked a bottle of glimmering champagne in celebration of the beginning of night. I waited until all of the stars appeared, bowing to their royalty that magnificent and full moon which was set up into the sky like a topaz gem set into the crown of a queen.

I waited until a gentle northeastern January breeze ran her chilly fingers through my hair, whispering into my ears that night had begun and the temperature had dropped. I climbed back into my little car and let the moon lead me east, and I drove up the moonbeams to my home.

Prose: “From Out the Cave” – Joyce Sutphen

“From Out the Cave” – Joyce Sutphen

When you have been
at war with yourself
for so many years that
you have forgotten why,
when you have been driving
for hours and only
gradually begin to realize
that you have lost the way,
when you have cut
hastily into the fabric,
when you have signed
papers in distraction,
when it has been centuries
since you watched the sun set
or the rain fall, and the clouds,
drifting overhead, pass as flat
as anything on a postcard;
when, in the midst of these
everyday nightmares, you
understand that you could
wake up,
you could turn
and go back
to the last thing you
remember doing
with your whole heart:
that passionate kiss,
the brilliant drop of love
rolling along the tongue of a green leaf,
then you wake,
you stumble from your cave,
blinking in the sun,
naming every shadow
as it slips.

wish

©Alessandra Nicole, All Rights Reserved

10 Things (of many) that I Learned in 2011

More or less a list of reminders to myself for 2012:

10. When a person tells you they are “damaged goods” don’t waste your precious time and beautiful heart trying to talk them out of their story. Wish them the best, back away slowly and find someone with love to share. Life is just too short and the world too big (7 billion and counting!) to get entangled in and dragged down by the black hole of another person’s self-inflicted suffering and clinging to the past. Be compassionate, know that we are all doing the absolute best we can with the information we have in any and every given moment; but understand that their work is not yours. It’s not your job to “fix” anyone or get caught up in accepting someone who is unable to give you what you need and deserve. Worse, hang around them long enough and you’ll begin to think you’re “damaged” too. That’s a tough hole to climb out of! Love them, but love yourself more, and let them go. Also: Cherished friendships will come and go. People will come and go, often without your invitation or permission to do either. This is the ebb and flow of life, and there is no end to practicing the loving art of allowing in and letting go.

9. True, the best camera to use is the one that you have with you which for me has meant mastering my iPhone and struggling with sub-par and borrowed equipment. It’s important to make the investment in yourself and in your career and save up for pro rated gear to have in your arsenal. Not only will your work output stand up to your talent, but you’ll be less stressed on shoots, less stressed when delivering to clients, have more confidence, and overall carry yourself in an entirely different manner. You’ll be willing to go after bigger fish, and you’ll grow in many ways as a result.

8. Your current life is a direct reflection of your level of self worth and beliefs about deserving and Worry truly is using your imagination to create something you do not want.. It is not a reflection of the world economy, it is not a reflection of who is in office, it is not due to where and how you grew up. You are the author of your story, the master and commander of your own ship. Take responsibility and stop using what you see in the media circus or blaming your parents or a shitty boss as an excuse and a crutch to live impoverished and limited in any way. Stop giving things outside of you your precious power! OWN YOUR LIFE! Also: you can’t control others’ decisions, and that’s perfectly alright. Their decisions aren’t really about you anyhow. Their stinginess, crankiness, rejection, attacks, judgements, etc. aren’t about you at all. Don’t pick up that rock! It’s hard enough to overcome your own misaligned and harsh self criticisms than to take on others’ that is really all about themselves in the long run. It’s also typically fruitless trying to stand up for yourself against someone’s convictions so give them the boot and make room for people who know and value the true you. Everything else is an illusion. And you are wonderful, naturally, whether you see it that way or not!

7. It’s an absolute blast to be on the cover of a magazine in your home state for a month! It was completely unexpected and a truly unique experience that I savored as much as my blushing cheeks and quiet nature would allow.

6. Speak kindly. See the best in everyone around you, always. Every time you’re compelled to complain, acknowledge that. And then find things that you’re grateful for about the situation, the person. Look into the mirror and speak kindly to yourself as well. You’re the only you that you have, may as well make peace with that and give your Self lots of love. Talk to yourself as you would your best friend, be kind, forgiving, encouraging, complimentary. Never say anything about yourself or the world around you that you don’t want to become true. The more you practice this, the more loving situations show up in your life. You know this is true because you are already familiar with the results of the opposite… And Speak up. If you want something: say so! If something isn’t okay with you: voice it! If you need help: ask! Let someone know! Be brave and speak up! Might seem like a no-brainer to many of you but it was a good lesson for me this year.

5. It’s a LOT OF WORK to put on a gallery exhibit. And it’s terrifying! Not to mention one that’s to be up for an entire month! Or a show that’s a commemoration of a major trauma in national and personal history! In a space not built in the first place to adequately show work! With a shoestring budget and lost negatives! And the cookies! May the refreshments forever be, well, FRESH!

4. It’s better to trust your intuition and be wrong than to go against it and find out it was right. Learn to tap into your inner GPS and become your own best friend. That small, still voice is powering your very heartbeat and is driving you toward the fruition of your dreams. Honor those inner nudges, live with awareness of the poetry of life that is speaking to you always. Open your mind, follow your heart. This life is so much more vast than your five senses are able to perceive. Believe in a little magic and mystery and trust, trust, trust in You and in your place in this wild and delicate journey.

3. There really aren’t any mistakes. Stop beating yourself up and move on. Talk to yourself as if you were talking to someone you love. Would you beat him or her up for an outcome that wasn’t expected? Give yourself an hour to feel utterly wretched about whatever it is and then forgive it and anyone else involved. It’s already in the past, therefore it only has as much power as what you bring from it into the present. It doesn’t define who you are. In fact, there’s a treasure of wisdom you’ve gained from it that you now will always have. You’re not meant to figure absolutely everything out at once. We never will. Life is a process, and a team effort. Appreciate the discovery of things, the process of things, the journey. Go about it with kindness for yourself and curiosity about everything around you. Breathe. When all else fails, LAUGH.

2. Live love forward and start with loving yourself first. It’s a waste of time to live any other way. There’s a reason why our physical heart is central and vital to our physical living, when it ceases to beat, our lives in this world end. Live life through your heart, not your head (your head/ego will intellectualize the fun out of everything based on old information that rarely applies to the present like an old worried – but well meaning – Jewish grandmother!). Live passionately. Let emotions flow through you like blood and let them go (emotions are e – motion, energy in motion). When you deny or suppress your emotions, you cause your physical body great distress. It’s not healthy. I once knew a man who, out of fear and pain from past experiences, became very adept at blocking his emotions. I watched him experience quintuple bypass surgery as a result – surgery for a nearly completely blocked heart! Either that or he held onto the pain from a relationship not working out so desperately that he actually really broke his own heart! Or a culmination of the two! Who knows – nature can be quite literal! I’m audacious enough to believe that physical problems are direct results of a spiritual misalignment i.e. a limiting belief or an entire limiting belief system. Also: Allow people to do nice things for you. You deserve it. Strike a balance and do nice things in return, for both yourself and those around you. Treat yourself well and so will everyone else in your life. Love, love love!

1. The imagination is the most powerful and magical thing we have. As we grow up, we become socialized to downplay and ignore it in many ways. Second only to the power of a vivid imagination are the powers of love and of this very moment, of Now. Ease up! Don’t be so serious all the time! Dream and dare something worthy. Spend a little time each day to daydream the impossible, to daydream about your heart’s desires, then open your eyes, write them down, tuck them away gently, and find gratitude for what you already have around you, practice the knowing that you are solid and okay in this very moment no matter what, that everything passes but the trajectory into the future depends on the power of our thoughts (and the actions we take based on them) today. Reach for positive ones, cultivate the use of your imagination as often as possible, and step out in faith.

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And a bonus #11, because I am so infatuated with the number:

11. I am not “normal”. And that is 111% deliciously okay. There is a big difference between being “adaptive” and plain trying to hammer one’s square peg self into someone else’s idea of a round hole. Get away from anyone who for any reason makes you feel less of the beautiful and intriguing being you inherently are. Run in the opposite direction of anyone that refuses to treat you with utmost respect and kindness. Anyone who decides you’re not rich enough or not accomplished enough or not _______ enough, defenestrate them immediately. I believe we must take responsibility for all that shows up in our experience, which in part means that we should take a look at the viewpoints of those around us that we’ve (either knowing or unknowingly) invited into our orbit. There’s some part of what’s being projected that we deep down feel must be true else it’d not be on our radar. In science, like vibrations attract like vibrations, and we are all made up of energy. It’s worth taking a bit of time to consider the views of another as they are ultimately a great mirror showing us what deep down we may think of ourselves, to shed some light on these untruths, and then eject them from our personal belief system once and for all. Once we do to our core like minded people will begin to show up and the others will fade away on their own or as you decide to let them go. Celebrate what sets you apart, celebrate all the big and little things that make one-of-a-kind you. Embrace exactly YOU. How else will the person looking for someone exactly like you ever find YOU if you’re hiding behind some facade? There will never in the history or the future of existence be another you and that’s a gorgeous miracle and a profound GIFT. An absolute GIFT. Be who you really are and be unapologetic, be authentic, be honest, be real, and when you can’t be those things, don’t be hard on yourself about it! And if you’re being hard on yourself about it, get it out of your system and then cut it out! Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become more important than YOUR opinion of you. And be aware of the filters through which you’re looking at yourself. Most times they weren’t even yours to begin with. Let it goooooo…

To 2012!

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© Alessandra Nicole

I am Thankful

In honor of Thanksgiving (and my business namesake) this month I am posting something every day for which I am thankful over on my Facebook page, and will keep a running list here. Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

11/10/11: Clean running water – there’s been constant construction on the water main outside of where I live which has had the water off for a couple of afternoons in a row. Each evening, the water came back on rusty and smelly taking hours to clear up. It was an “inconvenience” for me for two days – hard to imagine nations around the world that never have clean running water! Please donate: http://www.charitywater.org/

charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects. Learn more or donate.

11/09/11: Music – whether created by musicians, monks, or wind through a set of chimes.

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.  – Aldous Huxley

11/08/11: Our veterans – War isn’t ideal but when it’s decided that there must be one, I’m thankful for the bravery and willingness of our soldiers to do what it takes to take it all on. I’m thankful I have the freedom to be with the people I care about and work on whatever projects and embark on whatever adventures I dream up.

11/07/11: Today I am thankful for…. all the reasons, big & little, to keep on going. Because, seriously, at times it ain’t all that easy.

11/05/11 & 11/06/11: The “log out” button – I am thankful for being able to periodically unplug from virtual reality and enjoy physical reality.

In this complex and overbearing technological era, it is important for me to at times detach from the tentacles of the internet and remember a simpler, more enriching life and all of the delicious present moments and people that deserve my 100% undivided attention.  It’s vital to remember to be here now and rise above the addicting but superficial connections to the masses online and take time to balance my online interactions with cultivating and maintaining healthy connections to the people who are actually in my life, to connect with nature, and above all: to connect with myself.

11/04/11: Today I’m thankful for my mistakes, exes, and “enemies”. Every one of them. They’ve exposed blind spots, weaknesses, things that I needed to learn so that I keep growing and reaching for better and higher.

If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner. – Tallulah Bankhead

11/03/11: My 5(6) Senses – I say this as I bite into a creamy Belgian chocolate truffle while the aroma of rich black coffee permeates my little studio area.

Mmm! Take a moment to honor all of your senses and this crisp, gorgeous  autumn day that supports us.

A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to to be seen in them by the finest senses? -Walter Pater

11/02/11: Love – For letting me feel what it means to truly be alive

Love is definitely not limited to romantic relations or even people. As an artist, for me it helps to look at the world around me through the filter of love. Without it I definitely would not be the kind of artist that I am.

11/01/11: My friends – for being my kin & companions in life

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. – C. S. Lewis