the way we see things

or, how paintings evolve….

Painting was my every waking thought from sometime in 2002 (when it was one of several vehicles I used to coldturkey decades of drinking) until December of 2019, when I formally retired from “show business.”

During that time period, I painted hundreds of paintings. Hundreds. From 6 foot long landscapes to 4″x4″ wildlife studies. And I sold thousands of prints, so I saw what people liked. It was and is the most rewarding endeavor besides parenthood I’ve ever chosen. It continues to surprise me in my seventies.

Painting, like any “talent” is a gift from God. In order to create, you have to listen to inner voices and see things with your mind’s eye, your imagination, your critical eye, and God’s eye. While painting is enormously therapeutic, and part of the joy is in that aspect of it, I had committed to feed my family with my painting. So I wanted people to be drawn to my paintings every day. I wanted my paintings to be something that would always bring people joy. And I told them that.

But art is the most subjective of our adornments, next to jewelry, so what what touches your heart is different that what excites someone else’s eye. So while painting is therapeutic, selling paintings is not. Just saying. And after years of selling my own and others’ paintings, in hushed galleries and noisy festivals — it is only when someone connects to what they are seeing, that they want to see it every day.

What we are drawn to is something that “touches” us. Speaks to us.

People are drawn to images which connect them to something: a feeling, a memory, a hope…

So, creating something that connects with others on those levels requires letting God lead. I feel as though I can brag on my work because a lot of it is God’s direction. I know you worldly sorts will stop right here, but that’s fine. And if you’ve shopped for art with an interior designer, none of this applies, but…

…the really good pieces? The ones that people crossed rooms to see, smiles building on their faces sometimes….those pieces? All from God. The paintings people fought over (honest, it happened, and it was humbling) — all God. I have painted ginormous abstracts in a couple hours,had no idea what moved the brush — but those were the ones that everyone wanted. God.

Paintings I planned too much, commissions where the collector had too many ideas, paintings where I tried to force a concept — none of them worked.

But if I was doing a commission for someone who needed a blessing, and I started by penciling a Bible verse underneath it all…those could be really good, too. If I tried too hard to convey a “message” — not so much. You get the idea.

But if you’re still with me, the paintings themselves evolve, too. Take this one:

Mattheson Hammock (C) Carol Joy Shannon 2013

(Hammocks are small islands in south Florida.)

It’s a triptych, and the photo is a little wonky because of that, but I liked it. Lots of people at the 62nd Annual Beaux Arts Festival in Coral Gables liked it too. There was a certain whimsical appeal to its simplicity, and similar pieces had already gone to their new homes that weekend, but not this one. So, clearly it was “missing something.”

The lovely thing about my art business in those days was that I had a public studio in my gallery, shows in other galleries, and up to 20 “road shows” a year. I had a lot of eyes on my work so I didn’t fret a piece that didn’t sell. Initially.

After awhile, I forgot about it. It was hanging on a wall in my studio, but I had other shows after Miami and you don’t take the nauticals to Lexington and Louisville, you take the rolling green hills and hints of horses.

But in mid-March of that year I knew I was going to have to spiff up some studio stuff to take with me to Oklahoma City. It was a six day show, average weekly attendance 750,000. I had never done a 6 day show and wanted to have as much inventory as I could carry. If it was show-worthy it was going with me. I may have had a show in Nashville on the way to OKC that first year, too. So, the van was packed.

I had lots of stuff to sell. I thought. I had 4 really big paintings. And a half dozen medium sized pieces. But I had never done a week long show, so I was looking at all my medium sized pieces again, to see what could be tweaked enough to carry with me.

About a month before I left, I had had a quiet morning. I’d found street parking (downtown Raleigh in the arts district in the heyday) before 7:30 am and had a few hours to pray and paint. It was my daily routine. Find all-day free parking while the sun is coming up, open the gallery and lock the outside doors again. Make coffee. Pray. Look at work in progress for a few hours before the public showed up. Sometimes it’s reflective to just pick up a brush and add some random color onto something while you’re sorting it all out.

That was when “Mattheson Hammock” became Island 16, “View from the Hammock”:

Island 16 (C) Carol joy Shannon 2013

Now some of the difference is just that the photo is straight, so you don’t feel seasick.

But I got into the mood of the place that morning. It went from whimsical to a little moodier. All I did was darken some things and lighten others and it spoke. At least I thought it had more to say.

I decided to take it to OKC. I’d heard a lot about people selling big pieces and having empty walls, and when it was all together it was a big piece — even if it was a “water” painting going to the great plains.

The Fine Arts Festival of OKC opens for VIPS at 9 am on Tuesday and is open until 9 that night. The rest of the week it’s 11 to 9. Lots of hours. A bit like a short term job!

I had a great first two days, and some big pieces sold. I put up another group of smaller abstracts, and those sold. But the fourth day, Friday morning I needed an eyecatcher. That’s the big piece that grabs your peripheral vision while your wife’s friend’s husband is telling you a story. Without that, my tent opening was just another in 144. So, I pulled out the hammock paintings.

I was still straightening the three pieces on my long wall, when a young woman walked up and stood behind me. I greeted her and got off my ladder, and we looked at it together. We joked about hanging it straight. Then she asked about how hard it would be to achieve that on an actual wall, and how far apart I’d think to hang them. I told her I’d put up two finish nails close together for each piece, in a straight line with about an inch or two in between the pieces, depending on the size of the wall.

I folded up my ladder and puttered around. It was early, and the show was just warming up. She stood and studied it, and I didn’t bother her. I figured she’d say she’d “just started and would be back” but she said, “write it up, please.”

We were in Oklahoma City, half a continent from ocean in any direction. Their film festival is called “Dead Center.” She loved a painting that was all water and palm trees. I was surprised. She was a very quiet woman, though, so I thanked her and asked her some packing questions, handed her 2 parts of the 3 part receipt, and she walked away.

Shows like OKC, and Harding and the Southeastern Wildlife Expo in Charleston which collect a percentage, offer the artist the opportunity to talk with the collector twice: when they choose the piece, and when they come back to pick it up after they’ve settled up. Often, the great ones are carrying sheaths of sales sheets. (We love you people.) Then they come back carrying bags, and get bags from you.

Even though this was a triptych and therefore in three separate pieces, they were 20 x 20 each, so it was a significant piece when hung. When the young woman of few words came back, I found out she was from Kansas and was moving into a new home of her own. “View from the Hammock” (see the subtle shift there) would be along one wall of her den, to keep her “sane between trips to the Gulf.”

It spoke to her happy place.

I never failed to take coastal scenes to Oklahoma City after that. I went there until I retired. They always sold. I even got a number of commissions from OKC collectors for their favorite “places with palms trees and turquoise water.” I was something of the Jimmy Buffet of that show, perhaps, providing the islanddreams.

One of my favorite favorites was a recreation of an “island dream” for a young man who missed getting the first one. We’d talked about the painting (bottom left) the first time he walked through, with his buddies on their lunch hour. (The hidden beauty of downtown shows.) And it was still there another day. But when he came with his family on the weekend, it had sold. So we discussed my painting something similar for him, after the show.

I did, and sent him pictures, but it didn’t really click. But we continued to talk about it “his painting”during the ensuing festivals. It was always a pleasure to chat because he was smart and funny and an architect. Many of my collectors are architects, city planners, and game designers: the structure in my fantasies appeals to them. So I got an idea of what it was that had called out to him in the first one, and brought the second one.

Now, remember – paintings and fantasies evolve. My young friend’s “escape” had evolved, too. And his choice of palette had changed, as had mine. I still like them both, but I love the peachyaqua one best. The left one has a slightly more ominous feel. But I wouldn’t have said that at the time.

What we want to look at on a daily basis is very subjective. And what someone in one location might like isn’t always what we think, either. I painted a positively stunning Miami skyline, a huge piece I thought sure would go home in Coconut Grove — which sold in Raleigh. And one of my all time bestselling prints is a huge painting of Houston (which sold there before the show opened) that I have sold as prints to people all over the country with no connection to Houston at all. Same with my Charleston churches.

We change and our tastes sometimes change. For an artist, that can be a mixed blessing! For me, the blessing is seeing things in new ways, which I hope will always continue.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to EVERYONE! You might not be a mother – but you have one!

It may be a “holiday” dreamed up by a greeting card company, but it’s the one day we kinda, sorta, hafta honor our mothers and all the mothers around us.

For the second half of the 20th Century until today, Americans honor mothers on a Sunday in May. And that’s a good thing. Whether your mother was one of the greats, kind of okay, or downright horrible — you wouldn’t be here without her! * So we can all at least think about mothers one day a year. It’s a big and weighted subject, but we’ll keep away from Freud and Shakespeare and offer up some testimonials instead…

…to motherhood! It’s the toughest blessing you ever get….the most wonderful work…the heartbreakingest joy. And “as long as you both shall live” and probably beyond, children and mothers are some of the most intimate and strongest connections we ever have.

Even children of marginally good mothers, usually love them. My own mom was such a smothermother I always kept a thousand miles between us, but I LOVED her. And if I’d understood more about her own frailties and motherhood itself, I might have been more appreciative of her earlier. She was wonderful as a mother to us as small children. The best. As was her own mother. My father’s mother….not so much. But my dad loved her until the day she died, even though she never told him she loved him.

I didn’t plan to be a mother. I was part of the first wave of zeropopulationgrowth awareness, in the late 60s, so I told my friends “they could have my 2 children,” I was “too selfish for children anyway,” “children are too much work” — and proceeded with a decade of travel and adventure.

I wasn’t 100% wrong about any of my reasons for not having children, though most of that thinking I’ve recanted. And I was right to start out with the decade of travel and adventure — I’ve nothing to wonder if I’ve missed out on, ever. I’ve already bored you with many of my travel stories. And there’s always more of the world to see….

What I didn’t understand was the absolute JOY of MOTHERHOOD.

The whole experience is a wonder that I am so thrilled I did not miss.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s challenging, and no, none of us ever feels like we’ve done it exactly right. You second guess everything. You worry about minutiae. You fret about them. Hover. Smother. Give them space. Too much space. Not enough space. There are no guidebooks for your child, and from what I can see of my husband’s three, or his daughter’s five — none of them are alike.

Children are God’s gift to us, to remind us of Him. It doesn’t matter how they come about or how you feel about God, children show us our better selves. We forget that when they are whiny teenagers, but, nonetheless.

When I met my son’s dad for the second time, when we fell in love, I was 30 and he was 37. We had no intention of having children. He was from a rather Dickensian childhood and had been a world wanderer like me. Our plan was a seagoing sailboat and a global cruise of our own, instead of working on other people’s boats…so we went to Las Vegas, where Ken owned a house, intending to “make some money and make our plans.”

But you know how God feels about plans…and when I got pregnant, we both knew it was supposed to happen. It was the best thing that happened to either one of us.

Our son is still the best thing that happened to me.

Ken was a great dad. He was kind and strong. He loved his son, but he’d had both kinds of parents himself: one who was too strict and one who was oblivious. So he found a good balance. He was a skilled woodworker and his shop was at home, and working with a hands on skill gave him a very special environment to share with the little guy. So even though our son went to a daycare while I worked at the Clark County Library, the father/son bond was the major connection. The little guy adored his dad.

But when the little guy was only 5, Ken got pancreatic cancer and he died 3 days before his 43rd birthday.

That’s when I became a real mother. Never a great one. Often not even a very good one, and one who made many mistakes. But when it was just the little man and me, I was responsible for another human being. The only one responsible. It was something I had never wanted to be. It had been one of my reasons for not having kids: the idea that marriages didn’t last -being a single parent. It hadn’t occurred to me that Ken would die.

All of a sudden I was alone with a just barely 5 year old. And I was a mess. I was a 35 year old single mother in Seattle.

And that is exactly what saved me. The mother part.

That is part of the gift from God – responsibility for another person.

A little person. You have to teach them things and make sure they don’t die. You have to keep them from wandering off, or doing dangerous stuff. You have to have a job, buy food, provide a roof, bed, toys, school, clothes, shoes, pets, books….

And they don’t stay “trained” like dogs, or lay around like cats. They require constant supervision for a long time. Some still require supervision as adults. LOL.

So, the “selfish” excuse? That was definitely valid. If you are selfish, and you’re a parent, get over it. Those little critters are going to spit up on the Italian suit. Guaranteed. They’re going to do something unexpected when you thought they were okay. Count on it. Always.

Children are worth all of it. Every moment that has been messy or inconvenient or undignified is rewarded. Difficult children. Challenging children. Even perfect children will bring learning curves and realizations. And joy. Love that cannot be described. Laughter. Pride. Pain. And joy.

Being a mother is the best thing I ever did. It beats out all the glamorous and dangerous adventures. It is better than the best stories. I know now why my own mother always “wished we were closer” and I am glad for things like Duo and texting.

Being a mother is just as hard as I thought it would be. Harder. But being a mother made my life. It saved my life. It has continued to make me a better person as I have grown with it. It has forced me to confront my own broken parts. It has helped me understand other people’s.

Being a mother becomes a sort of interactive therapy as years go buy. You talk through things with your children as they grow, and you learn things about yourself. When they become adults, you continue but it’s different, because when our children grow up we can actually see the results of parenting — good and bad — sometimes they even tells us how awful! But that is part of it all, and honestly, it’s not a bad thing. Self-examination and sanding off some of the sore spots can make a difference in lots of lives.

When I first apologized for dragging my son around the four corners of America while I sorted out my own emotional baggage, he was in his thirties himself. Even though there were some missteps and perhaps the geographic cure didn’t work as well as I thought, he had reckoned with it by realizing that he had more varied childhood experiences than most adults he knew. I mean, he did spend a few weeks every summer in a real circus….. when you’ve ridden an elephant at 6 and been on a trapeze at 10…you don’t feel like you missed much. He got to study acting at the oldest theatre in America, and lived in a tent in the Everglades….so, for a kid, even if his mother was a screwball, it wasn’t that bad a life.

But I didn’t know that, and felt guilty. So I apologized and told him what I was going through during those times. Things I couldn’t tell a child. And he told me some of the things he experienced. Presumably that collective knowledge helps with his own son down the road. And it helps us both realize that love transcends all that. Mother/child love transcends things that adult love can hardly fathom.

Mothers help to make us who we become, and good or bad, it’s inescapable. Adoptive mothers, too. And even mothers we don’t know can influence our lives – just ask someone who’s sought their biological parents. Stepmothers too. Women who mother children are women who shape children.

And today we thank them!

  • Thankfully, we have not yet reached the bleak “utopia” of Brave New World where babies are “decanted” and “mother” is a dirty word. We’ll talk about that some other time.
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Saturday afternoon movies

This cat painting has no bearing on this blog whatsoever (c) Caroljoyshannon2021 (His name is Carl)

When I met my stepson twenty years ago we started watching movies whenever he came to stay with us. He has Down syndrome and movies became the place where he and I could meet, and see into each other a little more. We all did. His sister was a little younger and Dad was busy on the phone with India or Egypt, so I got to pick out the films.

I was the new stepmom then, and we had to find films for everyone or people would wander away. You know how it is.

Over the years we’ve all become good pals, and we still enjoy watching movies together. We have some family favorites, like “Beetlejuice” and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Pure silliness. But Taylor and I have some favorites, too.

We used to like Spongebob, but then there was a time when it couldn’t be too “childish” either, because Taylor was adulting, and didn’t want anyone to think he was a child. .so I had to find movies that would satisfy the four of us: Dad, son, daughter (usually in sulking tween/teen/gothic/blackphases LOL – she’s a sweet mother herself now) and me, the movie chooser. Because we actually rented movies. Remember that?! Not online rentals. Actual discs. In plastic cases, which you had to return.

One of the movies that checked all the boxes was SECOND HAND LIONS. All the boxes. If you haven’t run across it, find it on your ROKU now and watch it later.

Michael Caine and Robert Duvall are crusty old adventurers who have come to west Texas to get older and die. Rumor has it they robbed banks and have a fortune stashed away. Haley Joel Osment — probably 14? — plays his age, and is dumped on them by his wacky mother, Kyra Sedgwick, with the mission to “find the money.” It’s probably late 50s, mid 60s?

The movie is the kid and the two old guys and a gang of very agreeable dogs. The story is told like a 50s Saturday afternoon serial. Robert Duval’s character, Hub, walks in his sleep, and the kid, Walter, asks Uncle Garth (Caine) who Hub talks to, and who he swordfights. So Garth tells Walter all about their wild and adventurous life in the French Foreign Legion, all over Africa — in episodes, when the two of them are alone. We watch the three of them — as the modern observer would say — “unpack” each other. But Walter is never sure just how much of the stories are truth and how much embellishment. The way the flashbacks unfold are the movie-within-the-movie.

It’s very funny and occasionally sad and funny again, and –except for their insistence on mispronouncing “sheik” – it’s one of my favorite movies of all time.

Our surprise film was a recent recommendation because of my husband’s now 36 year old son –THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON.

It’s also a coming-of-age story, and also an oddball trio: a Down syndrome young man who escapes from the convalescent home, the only facility available to him in his area, but which is very inappropriate; the pleasant young woman who “lost” him and is tasked with rounding him up, and the angry young man they end up with on a raft.

Yes, it sounds like it wouldn’t work, and we were doubly skeptical because of Dakota Johnson and Shia Leboeuf. But it was written for Zak (so he’s perfect for the role!), and it unfolds in the endless salt marshes of the Lowcountry, filmed all around us and Savannah (though the story is set in the Outer and Inner Banks of NC, go figure), so we loved that. (It’s our favorite scenery – go figure!) What happens is that you relax, just like you would on a raft in the Lowcountry….

And the story works.

A lot of Down people develop passions like teenagers, that may or may not go away, and Zak’s character is obsessed with a small time wrestler, who’s career may only exist any more on community cable. But that’s Zak’s destination and all three of them end up on the quest. Thomas Hayden Church plays The Saltwater Redneck just right, and the ending is a satisfying surprise.

It’s always a pleasure to be surprised by a film. We’re more accustomed to having expectations and being disappointed. But to have no expectations and fall in love with a story is such a treat.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was like that. I’d given up on really enjoying any more Woody Allen movies. I’d loved them early on, in the 70s, but then they had evolved into whiney intellectual rants. But I love a good time-travel story well told, and who’d have thought Woody Allen would do it, with Owen Wilson, no less? But Owen Wilson is perfect. He shambles perfectly through every era, so no one really questions why he’s there, or everyone does. Just a lovely little fantasy about choices.

It’s a very rainy Saturday….perhaps I’ll go to Paris…..




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American Pravda

Since American Pravda seems to be alive and well and spewing toxic misinformation around the globe — let me address the interest in “violence in America,” thanks to the current news cycle.

And then let me add my two cents:

I live in the American South. I am surrounded by people with guns. Everyone carries, even the women.

I have never seen anyone’s gun except our own. I have never seen one “brandished.” I have never seen one “drawn in anger.” Nor used as a threat. People who carry do so with a serious attitude.

I have also never known anyone killed with a gun, except a woman 40 years ago whose crazy husband killed her, and a friend of my husband’s who killed himself.

The violence you are shown on American Pravda happens in the broken northern cities, where police are banned, and where the streets are filled with thugs because all the sensible people have moved away.


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it’s in the details

Watching birds is a habit I learned from my mom and dad at an early age. Let’s say I was born in 1950 and now you know how early….but I am still learning wonderful things about birds today.

It helps to have built my little bird corner, with a comfortable way to watch them.

It doesn’t help to have the squirrelmafia stealing all the good food no matter what I do to foil them…but that is not what I have learned recently….that is just an ongoing soap opera between me, the squirrels and the cat.

The wonderful thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that cardinals seem to mate for — if not life — years. And they still court each other.

I’ve had a cardinal pair, whom I’ve dubbed Big Red and Big Mama, in my yard for more than three years now. They make nests in our front yard azaleas, use the side yard azaleas for socializing, eat at all our feeders, and don’t seem to leave at all. They have raised two sets of young that I’ve observed, and probably a couple more before I realized what was happening — I was still on the road and didn’t see them every day.

Now I have put in a flat feeder. A little square hanging platform. Like a plate.

All the birds love it, especially the various sparrows and wrens. Sometimes there will be five or six of them in it. Sometimes they just fluff out and sit there. It’s cute. It looks like they’re chatting.

I got the flat feeder mainly to attract bluebirds. And got some bluebird special food to help. None of them yet. But they are rare here. Maybe rare anywhere. (We had a couple in Raleigh, after I put a house for them in the yard.)

The painted bunting has shown up again. Third time was this morning. He likes the flat feeder, too. He and his wife were always very wary before they ducked down for seeds on the other feeders. His wife has not shown up. Unless she is already nesting and I just haven’t seen her. She is a lovely jungle green. He is bright bright red from his throat to his butt on the front, and blue and jungle green on his head, body and tail. Stunning little birds. They showed up 3 years ago, too; they fly to Central America in the winter. I don’t know if they fly together…

(The hummingbirds fly separately, not in flocks. They each fly alone to southern Mexico and Central America, across the Gulf. And return the same way. I have had some returning outliers at both feeders, but my pair from last year is not back yet. Their feeders have been out for a month. They are late.)

But here is the absolutely best thing about the new flat feeder: I watched Big Red feed Big Mama seeds the other day. Like teenagers on a date. They were both standing in the flat feeder, facing each other. She opened her mouth, and he picked up a seed and fed her. I saw them do it twice. Who knew? Bird experts, I am sure, but I didn’t.

It’s so nice to see that behavior in the wild because we forget that many birds do mate for life. As do other animals. And they still get along. Year after year. They continue to have families year after year, and kick those teenagers out in the late summer. The hawk pair that lives above our corner of the world is still here, too; still together. I watched them the other day. They are undoubtedly the reason I haven’t seen any rabbits….but, hey….life….the circle of life.

Speaking of which, I hope some of these critters are eating caterpillars, because there is a bumper crop of those guys this year. There are three different kinds, all of which look very very much like the little seed pods of the live oak trees, which are also “falling” right now. But the live oak seed pods don’t have iridescent spots. Or weight. We don’t remember them being this thick in prior years. (This is our sixth spring in the swamp.)

An update on the squirrels: they are not going anywhere and they are pretty sure the cat is no longer up to the task of making them – although he has announced his presence a couple times, in a futile show of catness. Pix attached.

The squirrel baffle I got at Tractor Supply would probably work if I could get the feeders far enough away from the tree trunk. Or, I could set up a pole in the center of the yard, but what fun would that be? I couldn’t see the birds. As well, anyway. So it’s a tradeoff. I get the feeders close to the porch, where I can read and be comfortable behind screens. And the feeders are within the squirrels’ ten foot leap radius. A few years down the road, the tree will be taller and the feeder will be further out from the trunk……#justsayin….

I’ll let you know about the painted bunting couple. Here is what he looks like – stock photo — shooting pix from behind a screen is useless, but if I walk outside….well….

I hope his wife shows up. When I was looking for a photo to share with you, I was reminded that there is an illegal trade in these birds. Especially in Cuba, which they have to overfly on their way back and forth……not pets, people.

So, filed under “things I learned in my 70s” …. cardinals are family sorts, and all the critters like the flat feeders. Feed your wife a seed when she asks for one. It seems to be the secret to a good marriage.

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in looking for some photos of my son that I had taken with a famous friend, who had just passed away…

….I went down the rabbit hole to 30 years ago, when we all spent a lot of time together…

I found the corner of the box of photos that included the one I was looking for, and found a whole lot of other people, too.

And I looked at myself with those people — what I looked like then. I looked rather hollowed out in more than a couple of them, and it got me thinking about how that particular phrase came to describe someone who’s being consumed by something.

It can be a lot of things that hollow a person out. Health can take it out of you. A traumatic loss. Drugs and alcohol can wear you down, especially if you’re using them to “fix” the health or traumatic loss.

And it made me think of the vines we photographed a couple weeks ago in the woods behind our house. I’d seen some big Tarzan vines a couple years ago, and wanted to try to photograph them in better light. One was this big empty one. It was connected top and bottom, at least 10 feet tall — and there was nothing in it. It was just a large, very uniform, rigid corkscrew of a vine as big as my arm.

It had to have been wrapped around a tree to have grown that big and tall – but where did the tree go?!

I picture it wiggling out and slipping away, but my sister suggested a pine. We have lots of those.

“They’re soft, and they have shallow roots,” she pointed out.

So that means that a vine grew up with the pine tree, circling it over and over as both of them grew bigger and taller. The vine destroyed the host tree, which then rotted from within and fell away, probably in pieces, over the years. Leaving this empty vine still connected to it’s (amazing and persistent) “mother root” and whatever it threw itself on to at the top. We’ve watched these things. It’s rather creepy, because you can see them sending out their feelers, moving in the air, seeking a host.

If that isn’t a metaphor for something that hollows you out, I can’t see a better one. Drugs and alcohol, for example: they start like a little vine nosing around your toes.At first they’re just amusing, or distracting, or they numb some pain, or blank out some nightmares. But as you go on using them, they get like that vine, growing with you, going where you go, influencing what you do.

After awhile, even though you may not even realize it, the drugs are calling the shots, and after that they are strangling the host tree….

If you’re smart, or lucky, or blessed or all of those — you cut off the vine before it chokes and destroys you. If you’re not, you look like a hollowed out person until you figure it out. Or the vine gets you.

So we need to be constantly pruning our lives, like we do the big trees around our yard. The habits you have formed and don’t think about, the crowd you party with, the things you reach for when you are stressed, the stuff you watch on TV, even. It all influences us in ways we may not even realize.

A vine senses an upright lifeform and snags on. Before you know it, it’s 20 feet up the tree. It’s only the size of you little finger, but it’s checking out the opportunity, and putting little suckers into the bark as it goes. When you see those vines sneaking around that long leaf pine, you cut them off, and pull the vine off the trunk as far as you can. Some of them are very pretty. They have flowers and smell nice, but you know what to do.

The vines never stop. I can see areas of the wild woods where they are actually holding up trees, and I am sure they are an integral part of bird and squirrel life. But for healthy trees, we need them gone.

And life is like that. Evil never stops. No matter how saved you are, satan never stops trying to turn you. Sometimes evil is pretty and smells nice. But if you keep the vines off, the trunk has a better chance of survival. And, to continue the metaphor, even taking long-established vines down helps a tree live longer. I have pictures of those, too.

If the roots aren’t pulled out completely, a tree can be knocked over and can grow on an angle, supported by vines that were already there. But the tree that was cut in half and supported by the mature vine around it, finally fell onto the ground. Sometimes standing trees look okay, but you see the woodpecker holes, so you know something else is going on you cannot see.Those might be a different metaphors.

We can look at survivors, too. Like some of us in those photos, who don’t look so hollow 30 years later. (Now we just look old!)

Watch for the vines, though. The ones that start around your feet and keep you coming back to something that isn’t good for your soul. Shake your feet and move away from them. Prune them back into the woods. Pull them out by the roots if you have to.

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escape from BigTech

I am no longer on Fakebook, Instagram or Twatter, but you can find me on

And now and again, I still post random musings here!

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in the reflection of an eye

cat2 (C) Carol Joy Shannon 2021

I love books. I always have. They were my “drug of choice” before I knew what that was, and afterwards.

My family always read. My image of breakfast at our house was all of us with a section of newspaper. (Dinners were for real conversation.) My dad was never without a newspaper, magazine or book. And I became the same way. Before you could read things on your phone, I never left the house without something in my purse to read, just in case. Even my grandfather always had either a newspaper or the Bible in front of him, whenever he sat at his kitchen table.

So, as we say in the South, reading was something “I came by honestly.”

When recorded books showed up, I was on to those in a heartbeat. I listened to books on discs on my Walkman, as I walked. When I gave up drinking, I walked a lot. Then it got more sophisticated, and I could actually download books, which I continue to do to this day. So, I listened to books when I painted, and I listened to books when I drove my paintings around the country. Hundreds of books in the last 20 years.

A caveat here: I soon discovered that listening was not at all the same as reading, so while I might enjoy Bill Bryson’s “A History of Almost Everything” as a recorded book whose plethora of minutiae was entertaining on a long drive, I also found that for non-fiction books like that, I needed to actually read the words, as well, if I wanted to retain any of the knowledge.

So, I read non-fiction in actual print, listen to long, historical fiction while painting and driving, and enjoy reading mild-mannered mysteries and procedurals in bed. Nothing too gory or with too much suspense. Something interesting and character-driven before bed. In an actual book, that I can hold, and then put down on the bedside table. No blue screen or voice in my head before sleep. I have enough colorful dreams as it is.

All of 2020 I spent in Venice, with Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti. I wrote about that here, “My Year-Long Affair with Guido Brunetti.” They were recommended by a friend who knew I loved Venice, and they were so good that I read all 28 books twice. Afterwards, seeking something equally engaging, many reading sites recommended a Canadian author, who had also created a memorable police inspector and a continuing series of characters.

I took the plunge. The first book was good enough. I was a bit put off by the author’s habit of multiple characters’ points of view. That is usually a no-no, but this one did it throughout, often having several character’s insights on the same page. (Usually multiple points of view are at least defined by different chapters, or even named sections.) The author got better at toning that down, and by the second book I was growing fond of the main characters, and didn’t mind so much.

The other conceit was that all the crimes took place in the same little, mythical village. It seemed a bit much to accept. But I did, again, because the ongoing characters were amusing, intriguing and likeable. The handful who continue to show up become like old friends, as does the town itself. So, I ignored the fact that each new book would introduce a new person or persons who had just come to town, and I would know that the murder somehow revolved around them. Occasionally the action moved out of the town, but even then, a well-known character might be involved. Sometimes they were even culprits.

But I slogged along, enjoying the quirks, the local color, the character flaws and insights. And the allure of the magical little town, with its core of interesting eccentrics.

One recurring character is an artist, married to another artist. Theirs is a complex dance of egos. The woman is the better artist, but her husband is more successful — the description of the “why” is something I’ve seen repeated in the art world during my entire tenure: the “”technician” who comes up with a gimmick collectors can’t get enough of. And the artist with real talent and soul, whose work is largely ignored.

In one of the earlier books, the wife’s work is finally recognized and she gets a prestigious solo show. This leads to other problems, and other books about the husband, but in that first solo show it is revealed that what spoke the most to the gallerist who chose her, was a single painting in which the light in a portrait’s eye gave the entire painting its “feel.” In other words, a not-so-appealing portrait subject became utterly compelling because of the feeling conveyed by her eyes. Or as it was described, the single point of light in one eye.

I loved that. In the two decades I’ve been painting, representing and curating art, on the road and in my own gallery, I’ve seen a handful of artists who have created that sort of compelling image, something you might not ordinarily like, but couldn’t get out of your head. It’s a gift, and it’s not anything you can learn or even understand. In fact, often the artist doesn’t understand: he just does what he does and something very special emerges.

And while I have been successful as an artist myself, I have never created anything quite like that. I wish. My work appeals to people for reasons only they understand and I am glad of it, but it isn’t the sort of thing that stops you in your tracks and stays in your mind for days. It is good and interesting and colorful, and I am happy that people like it enough to keep me in business all these years. But I know exceptional art when I see it.

In the last mystery I read by this author, near the end, the woman artist was supposed to have another solo show at the same prestigious venue as before, but due to the dramatic circumstances in their mythical town, she hangs the work in the central pub they all call home. The portraits are of all the local characters, and most of them seem somewhat unfinished, to the casual observers. The clothes are haphazard, the hair isn’t defined.

But the crusty old drunk, an award-winning poet, whose salty observations become plot devices and whose bristly character grows on everyone — goes back to look at the portrait of her pet, and in that single point of light in the eye she sees a tiny portrait of herself. She moves around to each portrait in turn, and sees tiny reflections of the person that person loves. Or who loves them. Soon the others see what she is doing, and they follow suit, all marveling at this amazing detail.

I couldn’t get that out of my mind last night. It’s such a wonderful concept:each of us reflecting the image of the person who loves us.

We’ve seen police procedurals on TV and in movies, where they’ve isolated a still shot and seen something reflected in a window or some sunglasses, and solved the crime. But here was a painter who chose to make each tiny reflection hugely significant in conveying the person: a reflection of the person who loved them.

If I was any good at portraits I would be considering that right now. But I suck at painting people and couldn’t pull it off, so the concept is safe. But isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t that what we all are – a reflection of the people who love us?! Or on a more somber note, a reflection of emptiness. It’s an amazing metaphor and the characters loved it, too. They each went back around, studying each other and the reflections in their eyes.

You’d think that an author with this kind of insight would be a good judge of character, wouldn’t you? This is a person who started writing in mid-life, had enormous success, lost a partner to Alzheimer’s and yet continues to create compelling, intricate fictional people. You’d think that would bring a certain level of perception.

And yet, this author, whose characters are so intriguing and complex, a writer whose perception of human emotions is the source of such rich storytelling, has chosen to write a book with one of the greatest liars on the planet, a woman despised by half of America, whose personal delusions allow her to think she was cheated out of her last “job.” This author, who seems to understand the human spirit so well, is that liar’s “great good friend.”

How does that work? How do you see so many tiny elements so clearly, and something so huge so poorly?

I’ll never know the answer, because I will no longer read this author, nor will I read the book she will make millions from by co-authoring with her “good friend,” a grifter, scammer and liar extraordinaire. And down the road, that successful writer of character-driven mysteries, may even wonder who or what is shown in the single reflection of her own eye. At least I hope so.

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Painting for grandchildren

Or, how we segued from dinosaurs to Ghostbusters and back!

Thank you to ZUUL – the dinosaur.

Young children run through passionate connections like there is no tomorrow. Which probably seems that way for them. A year of dinosaurs of every kind, shape, format, books, paintings, stuffed toys…..dinosaurs…for a quarter of a four year old’s life. That’s huge. We all got used to it. Dinosaurs were shipped and boxed and unwrapped and recreated into books.

For all we knew, the young dinophile could stay involved in that study for years. Grown men study dinosaurs. Nanas study them. Painting dinosaurs became my therapy for 2020. It was completely outside my comfort zone, but so much fun it just rolled along. It seems lots of people love dinosaurs.

And then, one day, the 4 year old discovered Ghostbusters. I know. I know. But anyway…..a few firehouses, Dr. Vengtman, Egon, Ray and Stay Puft marshmallow men later and…..well, we don’t know what the next passionate discovery will be.

zuul the dinosaur (C) Carol Joy Shannon 2021

But Nana needs to paint, so…

…Nana came up with the placeholder, the crossover: Zuul, the dinosaur. Named for Zuul in Ghostbusters. An armored ankylosaur the likes of which no one had ever seen. And preserved like no one could have dreamed: armor, scales and all! An armored herbivore with a tail club. Washed into a logjam and covered with sand on the edge of Montana 75 million years ago. You can read about it here: National Geographic

My whimsical version is here.

The very well preserved actual head and tail club are on display at the Royal Ontario Museum. It will take years to unwrap the rest of the monster. Cool, eh?

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the older bits

where the buffalo roam (C) Carol Joy Shannon

In July of 2019 I started writing for MEDIUM. It was a little different platform, showcasing articles from big news organizations alongside essays from little people like me. I liked the concept because it gave me a wider audience, almost immediately, and allowed me to monetize my work without having to have ten thousand “followers.”

I wrote there for more than a year, and published some pieces I was proud of. The analytics allowed me to see what was read, and when, by whom, and even how much of a piece got read. It allowed me to continue to earn little bits of money on everything. Each time someone “clapped” for a piece, I got a penny or so. When you write or paint, you generally have no idea how your work is really received, so that is valuable information.

But somewhere during the mess that was 2020, MEDIUM added Colin Kapernaek to their board of directors. I’d always known I was a tiny conservative Christian voice in a big noisy group of leftists, but that was a bridge too far. I’d stopped watching football because of Colin Kapernaek, and I had been a passionate, lifelong fan.

So, when July of 2020 rolled around I didn’t renew my own subscription, but I kept writing the occasional essay. I figured, if they didn’t kick me off for the way I thought, perhaps it was good to be the voice in the wilderness.

But sometime in the fall, when the election was stolen and the lies got louder, I decided that it just wasn’t worth it. I’ve lived in countries where communism had reigned, and it seemed rash to have honest thoughts on a platform teeming with social justice warriors ready to track us down and kill us — even if only figuratively. Besides, as a man who works in the film industry recently said, “the checks are signed by Satan.”

So, I quietly slipped away and came back here. My presence on MEDIUM became a blank page which, according to a faithful friend says “that page no longer exists.” Just as well.

I won’t be as outspoken here. We are moving into a communist era in our country and I don’t trust our so-called leaders now to make even the weakest stand for “free speech.” But in the next few days I will be re-posting some of the more thoughtful MEDIUM pieces, for your consideration.

One thing I will write more of here are thoughts about faith. Our country has lost its way, in the name of political correctness and globalism. Our current leaders have no faith. They mock those of us who do, considering us uneducated and unsophisticated. I mean, really, “God?” Their god is “science,” but they don’t even get that right. So, I will stick my neck out and talk about God, because our country was founded on Christian principles and natural law. We forget that at the peril of freedom itself.

I’ll try not to be too “heavy.” But it’s important to take a stand. When a public school makes a prayer room for muslims and doesn’t allow Bibles, something is wrong.

I might even throw in a book review, here and there. After all, what we now have the most of is time.

Thank you so much for taking time to read. Some day you may not have that freedom.

CJS, the Lowcountry, Groundhog Day 2021

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