7:30 BELLS

7:30 Bells is a blog series by me and other creatives, exploring what makes us feel alive, what makes us ring, and resonate. 

I offer posts every Tuesday on the main page of this blog at 7:30 a.m., then post them again later on this tab, with newest posts listed first.  

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts from other authors and creatives run on the second Tuesday of the month. Guest Posters have included: Dori Hillestad Butler, Joan Holub, Allie Costa, Margery Cuyler, Margarita Engle, Nina Laden, Bonny Becker, Frances O'Roark Dowell, Kirby Larson, Lorie Ann Grover, Kathryn O. Galbraith, Laura McGee Kvasnosky, Janet Lee Carey, Kim Baker.

Inspiration for 7:30 Bells
This is the view of the Giudecca Canal from the terrace rooftop of my hotel in Venice, when I visited Italy for the first time on a solo trip in the spring of 2012. Every night, I reserved the terrace from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. Alone, I looked and jotted images and streams of poetry and metaphor and thoughts into my Word Mess (journal). Alone, I waited for all the bells in all the churches to begin ringing at 7:30 p.m.

And ring they did. Exhilarated, I exhilarated, rang with them as I looked and wrote and lived. I came home knowing how I want to live--to ring like those bells, to feel alive, resounding. So I began this series of posts called 7:30 BELLS.

Please note that new 7:30 BELLS posts have been running all the past year. Due to a busy schedule, I've temporarily stopped re-posting them. I hope to resume that soon. Meanwhile, you can find posts from this past year on the older pages of the home tab. Thanks so much.

7:30 BELLS: Guest Post: Author Justina Chen's Heart Rings on Machu Picchu

Justina Chen, whose award-winning YA novels always dare into the deep reaches of the heart, rings us into the Fall season from high on an ancient mountain . . . .

Machu Picchu. More than a bucket list item, Machu Picchu called to my soul. For years, I had intended to visit the mystical site, perched high on a mountain. But then my life was overturned and my savings evaporated along with my ex-husband. The idea of bringing my kids to the place of my dreams felt daunting. For one, money was tight. And for another more embarrassing reason, this particular adventure required navigational skills. Serious navigational skills that geographically dyslexic me had always relied on my ex to handle.

Yet there we finally stood overlooking Machu Picchu, my kids and I, years after I had planned our visit. To this day, no one knows the why or how of Machu Picchu. What was its purpose—summer resort for emperors or grand temple for priests? I stared stared stared at the sunlit ruins of what once, irritated by that mystery. Surely some archaeologist or anthropologist had solved it by now.

Suddenly, a wind ripped the veil of clouds overhead. For one perfect moment, the sun beamed down on me along with an idea for a new novel. A girl who wants to be a photographer, but can’t see her own life clearly. A girl with a serious blind spot for boys.

The why and how of inspiration is a mystery no different from the why or how of ruins—those found on mountains and those in our lives. All I knew, standing before Machu Picchu, was that I had to accept the inexplicable.

The bells rang so loudly inside me, I was afraid that my heart would crack right open. But I did not step back. I did not close my eyes. And I did not plug my ears.

Ring away, I dared instead, as I stood before the treasure of ruins that is Machu Picchu.

Ring away, I thought, flanked by my children, the treasure of my life.

Ring away, I told myself, lifting my eyes from the rubble to the clouds. And so the bells rang. And as I listened, I knew what I was hearing: the sound of my heart being knocked open to love again.

Justina’s fifth novel, A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS, was inspired by her trip to Machu Picchu and was named as a Top Romance for Youth by Booklist. Her novel, NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, was a Kirkus and Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Year. She is the co-founder of readergirlz as well as a story strategist to executives. Please visit her at and follow her on Twitter @JustinaYChen.

7:30 BELLS: From Bell to Bell Marks the Way

When we leave an old path in our lives to stumble toward a new one, we long for clear signs that we’ve found the right track. Personally, I hope for a signpost with a big, flashing green arrow that’s inscribed: TURN RIGHT HERE. My mind understands such familiar signs. When we’re forging our own path though, instinct and intuition are often keener guides. But they can be subtle and harder to read, especially because we haven’t been taught to trust them.

Nor have we been taught to bear the discomfort of holding uncertainty for any length of time. We want to know RIGHT NOW. Following instinct and intuition require looking at everything more closely. Quiet helps with that. So does extensive solitude, reflection, and paying attention. All of these are contrary to the instant and shallow forms of connection our culture now values.

That means I’ve had to work very hard, and displease some people, in order to hear where my intuition and even my dreams are guiding me. (I’ve been recording dreams for five months. If you’re any good at understanding metaphor, watching your dreams over time is eye-opening. Themes unfold, characters develop . . .)

Because I’ve been tuning myself to heed subtle signs, yesterday a tiny marker at last affirmed my new path. I saw someone else’s way open from the work I’ve been doing—as though sound waves from my own ringing bells, from my own struggle to find a new path, nudged another person’s waiting bell and made it ring with such sweetness that I wept.

That tiny marker was brighter and bigger than any flashing green arrow. So my new path is clear—at least, for now.

You’re on the right path when
your ringing bell inspires someone else

7:30 BELLS: Thriving in the Wasteland

Twisted and battered, this aspen grows in a barren lava field in the Central Oregon Cascades. How deeply its root must grapple down through the now cold fire rock, seeking water. Some would say this tree is a survivor, to exist in such desolation. Survival implies scraping by, managing. But as I stood looking at this tree in awe, I saw much more than survival.

I saw a tree made uniquely beautiful by the circumstances in which it found itself. A tree that had become elemental and fierce. If this tree lived in a gentle canyon by a gentle creek, straight and tall in the company of a dozen other straight and tall trees, it would not have made the bells ring in my heart. This tree thrived as itself.

So embrace the desolate rock. Embrace the wild wind. Let them sculpt your heart, self, and spirit into a beauty all your own. Grapple deep. Drink from whatever underground spring you can find. And thrive.

Difficult times can 

sculpt us 
into something uniquely beautiful.

7:30 BELLS: Falling over Rocks Makes the White Joy Fly Upward

I sit by the giant stone steps of Greenwater River, beside the trail near Greenwater Lake. The river roars over the stone steps, tossing frothy white banners. People say froth is unessential, probably because it is ephemeral and ever-changing.

I disagree. I disagree because as I watch the whitewater, the bells inside me ring wildly.

The lacey banners that crest the rocks are more than gilding. They make the river beautiful by bringing it alive. I especially love the exuberant white droplets flying up in bursts and bounces. Even though the current flows over the same rocks, the droplet patterns are always different. They are like the tracery of our lives. All is movement, all is change. The froth makes visible the ever-changing nature of the world and our lives. And it is helpful for me to remember that bumping over hard rocks makes the white joy fly upward.

So this is my best hope of eternity: ever-changing like the flying droplets, ever the same like the flowing river. Duality conquered.

And all this is brought to us by froth, thank you very much! So get thee to a river. Open a bottle of champagne beside it and celebrate each ephemeral bubble.


Ephemeral effervescence makes the bells ring

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: BELLS RING THE JOURNEY by author Kim Baker

Thanks to award-winning author Kim Baker for this month's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post
sharing how bells in Edinburgh became markers in her life.

After Dia’s invitation to post, I brainstormed significant bells until I traveled to the United Kingdom with my husband and kids, and everything not to do with the trip went on the back burner. It was the first trip for our kids to my husband’s homeland. They greatly enjoyed familiarizing themselves with their British heritage (albeit mostly by sampling candy). We visited my lovely in-laws and showed the kids landmarks from my husband’s childhood.

At my request, we stopped in Edinburgh, Scotland for a couple of days between family visits. I lived in Edinburgh for a year in my early twenties, and I loved it. It was my first time far away from home, before Facebook, and Skype, and all the other ways that we can connect from great distances. I was often scared and lonely, but I learned that I could take care of myself, discover new connections, and, well, survive. It wasn’t easy. 

There wasn’t a minimum wage in Scotland then, I was sick a lot, and anti-American sentiment was high. I found jobs waiting tables and tending bars in pubs. It was a 45-minute walk to each of my jobs, and it did manage to be steep climbs uphill and downhill both ways. The memories of walking to and from work in the winter are especially vivid. Darkness, cold, rain, and slippery steps in worn out work shoes. If the church bells on the Royal Mile chimed after I had passed the statue of Greyfriars Bobby I was fine, but if they chimed before, I was probably late. I usually had sniffles and chapped cheeks from the wind. I was lean from all the walking, along with not having much money for food. But, still. I was mostly happy to be there and my memories of that time are almost all happy ones. Despite being sick and hungry and poor, I felt like I was the person I wanted to be. And despite worrying about lateness, the bells reminded me that I was on my way to work. I struggled between paychecks, and I was grateful to have work. 

Flash forward mumble-mumble years, and I was back there last month. It was warm and sunny. I retraced old steps from my flat to an old job with my family. I hadn’t thought of the bells in years, but they rang through the old streets of the city, and the sound stopped me in my path. Things are different now, but I still feel good about where I am in life. I’m not lean anymore, but I know my capabilities (most days). I can take care of myself (most days), and I can take care of others now as well. But even with the differences and (ahem) maturity, I’m still on a journey. When we left Edinburgh we vowed to come back again, and I can’t wait to see where I’ll be on my path the next time I hear the bells chime. 

Bells ring out our journeys through life

Kim's debut middle grade novel, PICKLE: THE FORMERLY ANONYMOUS PRANK CLUB OF FOUNTAIN POINT MIDDLE SCHOOL (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children's), was one of the New York Public Library's Best Books for Reading and Sharing, a finalist for the 2013 CBC Children's Choice Awards, Book of the Year for 5th-6th grade readers, and the recipient of the 2013 SCBWI Crystal Kite West award. She lives in with her family in Seattle where she reads a lot, makes stuff, and thinks about ways to entertain her pets. She can often be found in the woods, despite a chronic fear of bears.

Learn more about Kim Baker at

7:30 BELLS: A Jouissance of Clouds

The wonderful French word jouissance combines the ideas of playfulness and joy. I love that. The word perfectly describes both Friday’s sunset of pink powder-puffs (cirrocumulus) and the way the bells rang as I watched it. We have terms for groups of animals—a pride of lions, a glory of unicorns, a murder of crows—so why not for groups of clouds? This sunset was a jouissance of clouds. How about a brooding of clouds for brooding stratus? Or a dragon of clouds for nimbus?

Clouds can carry any emotion, probably because they don’t have to carry them long before they change. In minutes, a dragon turns from a swallow to a rose to a glowing Botticelli angel. If only we could be like this too, instead of endlessly plodding under the weight of emotions we’ve strapped to our own backs. As I watched this sunset, this jouissance of clouds, I realized that the greatest jouissance comes from watching the clouds morph on unseen currents of air. And from wondering what will they become next.

If only I could remember that I am blue canvas of sky and the clouds only passing emotions. We all have currents, most blowing unseen from our unconscious, that shape our emotional lives. As I watched the powder-puff sunset fade, I wanted to hold on to the jouissance fiercely. But who can hold a cloud? Who would want to? And so I let it go, and waited for the next experience of life to take shape. 


Jouissance makes the bells ring

7:30 BELLS: The Bells of Finally Now

For two years, I’ve fostered a secret dream, an idea for a new art form I want to create. Previous professional obligations and ongoing crises with my aged parents (91 and 87) have slowed me from exploring this new direction.

But they haven’t stopped me. In snatches of time, I gathered materials, tools, a work space, reference books--everything needed to take this new art form out for a trial spin.

The time is Finally Now. At last I’m making what I dreamed of making, giving this idea its chance in the light. Will it hold up in reality? Will I love doing it as much as I think I will?

I’d thought these two years of waiting were wasted, but the opposite is true. All my slow gathering, all my snatches of time, prepared me now to soar. And that I persisted through many obstacles tells me how much this means to me. So with great gladness I can tell you that the bells are ringing fiercely, joyfully—in the Finally Now.

Gather your dream in snatches of time
and the bells will ring

7:30 BELLS: The Great Expectations of Trees

Yesterday, seeing the delicate green tips of new growth on this tree made the bells ring. Not because the new growth and trees are beautiful. Not because they frame the waterfall and pond in magnificent Point Defiance Park. No, the bells rang because they showed me what truly “great expectations” are.

This summer I am taking a personal sabbatical to reflect on new directions for my life and work. At the pond, I was fretting because summer is half over, and my progress seems lamentably slow. When I noticed the delicate new growth on the tree, I had to laugh at myself.

Think how mighty evergreen trees are! Think of their longevity and age. And yet, they only grow a few inches each year. They don’t fret over this or expect to grow ten feet in one sunny summer. Rather, they expect to change slowly, deliberately, taking their time. They expect growth to come from how they live in the sun and wind and air, not from what they do.

These are the truly great life expectations. I find great comfort in them and peace with my own small steps. So if I end the summer with my thoughts a little brighter, my imagination a little fresher, if I learn in even a small way to let doing flow from being, then I will have fulfilled some very great expectations indeed.


Adopt the great expectations of trees

and hear the bells ring

7:30 BELLS: What I Never Dreamed I Could See From My Window

This week the 1910 house where I have lived for twenty-two years offered a new viewpoint on the world. In my upstairs office, a skylight sets in a slanted wall. Although the skylight is large and fills my office with light, it is too high to provide a view of anything but the sky.

Last winter, to better use space, I moved a big cabinet beneath the skylight.

Six months later, during our current Pacific Northwest heat wave, I open the skylight at sunset to let in cooling breezes. One evening, I suddenly realized I could sit on top of the cabinet, lean against the bit of wall the skylight is set into, and have an instant window seat view of the world. With one arm propped on the sill, I look out and out.

And what a splendid vista! Above the ugly power lines crisscrossing every side of our house, I look out on tree tops near and far, out at an open view of the northwest sky. (The photo above shows only half the view.) How the bells rang at this new way to see my world. And no remodeling required. 

How little it sometimes takes to change everything. Now this is my evening perch, where I read, write, and reflect during my personal summer sabbatical.

Last night I watched a thunderstorm. When the rain began, I didn’t need to close the skylight. The long sweep of glass over my head sheltered me. And I had this thought. The glass above me allowed me to see rushing the black clouds, the lightning nets. And yet, that same glass sheltered me from what I saw. 

This is often true of our lives, I think. Seeing clearly may show something hard, something we would rather not see.  But the very act of seeing clearly, also shelters us from the storm.

So always look. And don't forget to rearrange the furniture.


Look out your window in a new way 

and the bells will ring.

by Dori Hillestad Butler

The adventurous Dori Hillestad Butler, Edgar Award winning author, shares what makes the bells ring for her in this month's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post.

I’m a Midwestern girl. Born and raised in southern Minnesota. My mother still lives in the same house I grew up in. When I was a kid I used to ask my parents if we could move. Not because I was terribly unhappy where we lived. I just wanted to know what it would be like to live someplace else. Someplace DIFFERENT.

My husband and I have moved quite a few times during our 28 year marriage. We started out in Fridley, MN. Then we moved to Shoreview, MN…Richfield, MN…Rochester, MN…Cedar Rapids, IA…and finally, Coralville, IA, where we stayed for 14 years. While each of those cities felt different to me, they really weren’t all that different.

A couple months ago, we made a BIG move. To the Seattle area. Seattle is DIFFERENT. (I finally got my childhood wish.) So far, I LOVE it here. I love the city, I love the mountains, I love the weather. But I think what I love most is meeting new people. I miss my Midwestern friends, but I’ve met some fun and interesting people that I never would’ve met if we hadn’t moved. Each one has expanded my world in new and sometimes unexpected ways.

I think Dia was my first new friend here. She showed me Alki Beach and we had a lovely walk along the water and through the woods as we started to get to know one another. She told me about her solo trip to Venice a couple years ago and how she sat on the terrace and listened to the bells ring at 7:30 pm every night and what that was like for her.

It reminded me of time I spent in Washington, D.C. shortly after my husband and I got married. He was at a conference during the day, so I explored the city on my own, wandering in and out of museums and up and down the Mall at my leisure. When I got to the Lincoln Memorial, something unexpected happened. As I stood there on the steps, goose bumps dotted my arms. I didn’t want to move on. Eventually I gave in to whatever was going on inside me. I sat down on the steps, pulled out a notebook, and just started writing. I ended up staying for two hours… sitting…dreaming…writing. Just like Dia did in Venice.

Dia would say the bells were ringing. And maybe they were. But do you know what really makes the bells ring for me? It’s making a connection with a new friend…that “hey, it’s not just me” feeling that I get when I really connect with someone.

Thanks, Dia, and everyone else who has been so welcoming to me since I moved here. Thanks for connecting, thanks for expanding my world, and thanks for making the bells ring.

Connecting with new friends
 makes the bells ring

Thank you so much, Dori, for this lovely post. You have expanded my world, too. Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of more than 40 books for children, including The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy, which won the 2010 Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery. Look for her new chapter book series, the Haunted Library, which launches August 2014. Dori grew up in southern Minnesota, spent the last 19 years in Iowa, and has just recently moved to the Seattle area. She is on a quest to do an author visit in all 50 states (14 down, 36 to go!). Learn more at

7:30 BELLS: The Secret Irony of Creative Play

Walking along the waterfront, I spotted a man building these whimsical rock towers, bridges, and figures. He told me he was an artist. His work on a piece in his studio wasn’t going well, so he'd decided to get out and do something different to clear his mind.

His idea of doing something different was building ephemeral rock sculptures.

Sensible people (praises and hallelujahs that I will never be one of them) would say this was a waste of time. The man was building something that wind, tide, or most likely kids would soon knock down. But the ephemeral nature of the rock sculptures was one of the things that made them startling and wonderful.

The making, the creating, was the entire point. This fits well with what I’ve come to believe with my whole heart. Work done without thought of results, work done without thought of where it might lead or what it might get you, work done without thought of how it might be received by the world— is the best attitude to adopt when making things.

It isn't easy. We are raised to achieve and produce, produce, produce concrete, measurable (in sales, awards, approbation) results. But the "best" is not always measurable.

The secret irony is that usually work done without thought of outcome turns out better than work done with thought of outcome. I believe the reason for this is because when we are completely engrossed in making something, we are also completely alive and present, and that focus leads to better work. And it makes the bells ring and ring. Creative play opens new places in our imaginations.

This also resonates with my idea that how I want to live, be, and act in the world is more important than what I do. And I highly suspect that living this way will ultimately lead to my doing better work, because that work will be authentic and right for me. More on that next week.

Creative play makes the bells ring

7:30 BELLS: Beauty is a Bridge to Metaphor

Canoeing on the Black River near Olympia, Washington, I was entranced by the lonely pillars of this old bridge. First, I was caught by their rusted rose-colored beauty and their worn texture. Then by what they are now in contrast to what they once were--a bridge spanning a river. Behind them, log pilings stretched to the far bank.  On some, trees now grew surrounded by water.

I thought of that old saying, “never burn your bridges.” But sometimes, bridges we've built in the past are no longer needed. Sometimes, we should purposefully abandon them so we can journey somewhere new in our lives. 

But, as the pillars of this old bridge remind us, it is important to honor the old places we went, the people we once were, the things we once made or did. Just because something that was right for us once is no longer right now, doesn’t mean we should regret the bridges of our past. They are monuments to our continuing journey.  The journey may now takes a different road over a different bridge over a different river, but that doesn’t mean the earlier way was not good or worthy.

Sometimes what first catches our attention is how beautiful something is. Beauty makes us stop and look closer. Then our imaginations open to meaning and metaphor. While I thought the old bridge pillars beautiful, it was their meaning that made the bells ring.


Beauty is a bridge

leading us to meaning

7:30 BELLS: “The Way Through”


“The Way Through” is a show by artist Joyce Gehl of haunting, pastoral dreamscapes—encaustic paintings. It's also the title of one of my favorite paintings in the show. Maples trees with soft red leaves and, between them, beckoning corridors of golden light.
I wish I could spend a solitary hour just dreaming into this painting. I could walk right into it and end up in some forgotten garden in my subconscious—somewhere unknown, but somewhere I'd definitely want to find myself. All of the paintings in the show, currently at the Patricia Rozvar Gallery in Seattle, are dreamscapes of flowers, leaves, fields. The painting titles, such as “A Shadowed Place to Sit and Sing,” invite you into poetry.

The many layers of wax used to build up an encaustic painting gives a translusence that adds to the hypnotic effect.

Seeing this show made the bells ring and ring. This might have something to do with my own dreams of late, that I need to be “in the company of trees.” In one of these dreams, I longed for wonderful trees, but doubted whether they even existed. “There are such trees,” I reassured myself in the dream, “but you have to go far to find them.”

I have been exploring ways to do just that. And Joyce Gehl’s work encouraged me to keep searching for my own "way through.” It encouraged me to go far
far into my art, my dreams, my deepest self—to find what I'm seeking.

Entering another artist's work
take us toward dreams of our own.

Note: Years ago, I shared office space with Joyce Gehl. She was a graphic artist, I was a lettering artist. She brought her sweet dog with her to work, the good and noble Gabby.

7:30 BELLS: Dads and Bells--Guest Post by Author Joan Holub

Just in time for Father's Day, JOAN HOLUB--the imaginative, humorous, and prolific author of over 100 books for kids--shares a cheering memory of dads and bells.

Bells remind me of my dad. Also of winter sleighs and cathedrals, but since it’s almost Father’s Day, I’m thinking of the bell my dad used to ring to call us kids to dinner from the far flung places we were playing in our neighborhood. The bell has been lost in time, but it looked sort of like this one, only with decoration carved on the bell part.

I don’t know when my parents decided to get that bell. After years of standing in our yard growing hoarse calling our names, I guess they got desperate for a different way to summon us home.

When we were kids, the front of our house faced suburbia. Out back, there was a swimming pool (the sole reason we kids voted to buy this particular house). And beyond that was a great expanse of undeveloped wilderness. It was a jungle of trees, tall grass, bugs, weird outdoorsy noises, and brisk air. In our wilderness, we built forts out of moss and sticks. We built a tree house. We had arguments and pretend wars, we put on plays, we made up scary stories about things that lurked around us, we told secrets, and we got minor injuries. I brought home bits of rock, sticks, feathers, and stuff like that and made all kinds of craft projects.

Our parents weren’t really worried about us out there. At least, I don’t remember them being nervous or cautioning us. However, they could never find us when it was time for dinner or when they simply wanted to check on us, or when it was growing dark. The sound of that bell could be heard everywhere. It meant “Dinnertime!” or “Come home!” or “What are you up to?”

My dad would wait out there till we showed up, then wave, and herd us all in the house. Bells and dads. A happy memory of my mighty dad.

Bells can call us home

Joan Holub is the author of Mighty Dads (Scholastic Press, 2014), illustrated by James Dean, creator of Pete the CatMighty Dads is a picture book about various mighty dad trucks that pave the way for their little trucks and cheer them on at the construction site, just like mighty dads do in real life. Joan has written many other children’s books, including Little Red Writing (Chronicle Books), which Dia Calhoun helped critique!

7:30 BELLS: When To Trust Change

 See the narrow doorway opening in the green wood? See the bright leaf-path swirling up to the door? The doorway is dark, what waits across the threshold unknown.

When change beckons us, we often don’t know what shape it will take in our lives. We can’t see past the doorway and so fear to step inside. But when all the signs feel right—the woods, the shining leaf stepping stones, the vitality of the ringing green—you can trust such a doorway, because you can trust such a path. You have taken the right steps to arrive here, followed the right process. So seize the moment of light and enter before the doorway closes.

Or maybe the path is the footprints of light left by someone who has already stepped inside the doorway.  Someone, perhaps, who doesn’t even know that yet.  Maybe that someone is you.

Trust steps of light 
that lead to unknown places, 
and the bells will ring


7:30 BELLS: When Butterflies Bloom

Butterfly images have been hovering in and out of my dreams and poems the past two months. So naturally I have been wondering why.

Then a few days ago, while I was writing outside (oh glory—it is the season to write outside!), I saw this butterfly hiding under a red Gerber daisy a few yards away. I watched, amazed that yet another butterfly had flown into my life. What was this one telling me? I emptied my mind of everything but watching, so I could catch any flash of insight.

In Texas, when all the butterfly imagery began, I’d missed an opportunity to take an important picture. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. So out came my camera, but I was too far away to capture detail. Inch by inch, I crept closer. Tried not to startle the butterfly away.

It didn’t move. Then I saw why.

My butterfly was a budding flower—a red Gerber daisy about to bloom. I laughed at myself, even as the bells rang. I loved how a butterfly became a flower. Usually a butterfly is the pinnacle of transformation—moth, chrysalis, butterfly. But even a butterfly had places to go, something to become.

Often we see what our lives have primed us to see, what we are expecting to see. But if we keep watch, life offers some new wonder instead, and how splendidly our minds blast open. I went back to my manuscript, wondering what new wonder I I might see there.

How glorious to think that we can keep becoming. Maybe even angels have places to go.


The bells ring when the expected

transforms into the unexpected

7:30 BELLS: The Bells of Witness 

On Saturday, high in the mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, the bells rang for me during my book signing at A Book for All Seasons. My best book signing ever. Why? Because I had the privilege to witness something wonderful.

Three sisters came into the store. The littlest was about six, the middle one about eleven, the oldest about fourteen. I chatted with the middle sister about my book Eva of the Farm. She decided she wanted to read it. Then her little sister held up a book and cried, “but I want this one!”

The middle sister hesitated. I guessed she had only enough money to buy one book or the other. She put Eva of the Farm back on the table. “Maybe my library will get it,” she said. And she bought the book her little sister wanted.

How lovely this was! I said, “You are such a good sister.” After the girls left, I told one of the bookstore staff who had witnessed this too, that I’d never cried at a book signing before.

The story gets better.

Ten minutes later, a woman came in and asked if we had seen three girls. She turned out to be their mother.  The family lives in Leavenworth. The staff member and I told her about the wonderful thing her daughter had done. The mother—both proud and a little surprised herself—bought a copy of Eva of the Farm for her daughter.

I was thrilled to inscribe the book with the middle sister’s name and added, “for the best sister in the world.”

Witnessing this act of compassion and selflessness from someone so young gave me hope. If girls like the middle sister grow up to run the world, our future will be beautiful.

Thanks again to owner Pat Rutledge and all the staff for inviting to me to A Book For All Seasons for the best book signing ever.

Witnessing acts of love
 makes the bells ring

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Do What You Love by Allie Costa

I can't think of anyone more alive than actress Allie Costa to write the 7:30 BELLS Guest Post for May, a month when all the world is coming alive with light and summer. 

I love a lot of things. I love my family. I love being on stage and on camera. I love reading a good book. I love watching a good movie. I love the sound of a cat purring. When Dia asked me to write a post about what makes the bells ring for me, I thought of all these things and more. If you could peek inside in my mind for just a moment, you'd be treated to multitude of images and memories and songs and words.

I'm a motivated girl. I tend to wake up happy, eager for what the day has in store for me, prepared and determined to make wonderful things happen. I've been asked more than once what gives me so much energy, and the answer is simple: I'm just wired that way. 

I'm fueled by life. I was born with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a vibrant imagination, and an inner drive that propels me forward. 

Every day, I move forward. Every day, I try to make my dreams come true.

When I sing, I sing from the heart, whether I'm in front of a thousand people or just walking down the street. When I act, I go to the heart of the matter, the truth of the character I'm playing and the story I'm telling. The same when I write. I want to communicate and create stories that touch people, that make them feel alive and inspired.

There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. There's always more to say, more to share, more to do. Thankfully, if we're lucky, we get another day, and another. And, if we're wise, we appreciate what we have, allow ourselves to follow our hearts, and make every day count.

How can YOU make the bells ring? Do what you love, and love what you do.

Do what you love, love what you do,
and the bells will ring.

Allie Costa is an actress, writer, singer, and director. She is currently playing Sam in Wake.Film/TV credits include 90210, Unusual Suspects, You Me & Her, andUnintentionally Awesome. Theatre credits include Spring Awakening (Martha/Ilse), Hamlet(Guildenstern), Pope Joan (Young Joan), and Before a Fall (Darla). Allie's original plays and screenplays include Who She Could Have Been, Prodigal Daughter, Testimony, and Can You Keep a Secret? She recently managed to be in four places at once, which was a personal record.

Learn more about Allie Costa at:

7:30 BELLS: A Spider, a Masterpiece, and Canova’s Heart

Have you ever felt insignificant in the presence of a great masterpiece—perhaps a sculpture by Michelangelo or an equation by Einstein? Ever felt anything you might make or do—writing a novel, a theorem—will be paltry against the history of creative accomplishment? Have you wondered how long anything you make might last? Or how “great” it could ever be compared to such masterpieces? I did. But a spider changed all that when I visited an 800 year old Frari Church in Venice.

The church has renaissance paintings and sculptures. Immense vaulted space lit by jeweled windows of stained glass. Titian is entombed there, and so is Canova’s heart. I stood awed by 800 years of glory. Then, high up in the air, something glimmered. One silken spider thread spanned the glory of vaulted light.

What could be more ephemeral than a spider's web? The startling contrast of eternity and the present made me come alive, made the bells ring and ring.

Suddenly how long, how great no longer mattered to me. Only ascension to the now, to the here. The great history of creative endeavor and accomplishment is like Frari Church. And anything we try to make or do belongs there simply because it is a participation in the age-old creative glory of the human spirit.

But I don’t need my work on a church wall. Don’t need my heart entombed when I die. I need to live now. I need to be a spider and soar into that vaulted glory, spinning out any gossamer beauty I might make. And should one person look up, see it, and stand transfixed for a moment, that is masterpiece enough for me.


Spin your silken thread into the vaulted glory,

and the bells will ring.

7:30 BELLS: “Pass What is Perfect and Shining”

When I passed this tree, cut down by a chain saw, its ragged beauty snagged my attention. In death, the tree bares its wounded heart to the world. Tears of sap have hardened into lacey veil. 

The dead, the fallen, the wounded, the ragged imperfect—we don’t usually consider them beautiful. But there is much to be found in them. Mary Oliver expresses this well in these lines excerpted from her poem, Whelks:

“but each morning on the wide shore / I pass what is perfect and shining / to look for whelks, whose edges / have rubbed so long against the world / they have snapped and crumbled—” Mary Oliver  

This week I heard someone say—with some shame—that they are repulsed by very old people. By their wrinkles, their sagging flesh, their “decrepitude.” How sad. How tragic that American culture embraces only the “perfect and shining.” Youth. The air-brushed makeover. The new, new, forever new.

I think patina is beautiful. Patina—a surface that has formed over something, such as green color on a bronze bell, that comes from age, long exposure to weather, or from being used for many years. When I am old, I hope people will look at me and see the richness of my patina . I hope they can still hear the reverberating rings from a long and vibrant life.


The patina on the bell celebrates

a life filled with ringing

7:30 BELLS:After Great Wind, Stars on the Grass

April weather in Puget Sound is as capricious as a blackjack wheel. We’ve had ferocious rain, tree-toppling winds, and days when glorious sun teases of summer then plunges back to winter.

Changing weather and seasons inspire me with the strength and boldness of their strong opinions. They are who they are. They have no fear of the ever-changing nature of life.

This morning I stepped outside to see if it was warm enough to write outside. I saw that last night’s wind had stripped the tree of its cherry blossoms. I grieved the loss. 

Aren’t the cherry blossoms evanescent enough without the wind hurrying them along?

Then I looked down at the lawn. The cherry blossoms shone like fallen stars on the grass. How bereft they must have felt to be torn from their fellow blossoms on the branch. How surprised to find themselves neighbors of strange blossoms, blossoms blown from branches far enough away to be foreign countries.

Like many of us uprooted by a force beyond our control—such as losing a loved one, a job, a way of life, or a long-held dream—the cherry blossoms have to learn a new way to be in the new world they now find themselves in.  It isn’t easy. But how splendid, what an adventure, to live on the grass when you have spent all your life on a tree.

After a great wind, new wonders present themselves, if we have imaginations flexible enough to see them. We must find the strength to let go of our old ways of being, the strength to accept some discomfort. Most of all, we must dare to live as boldly as the ever-changing weather and seasons. To be who we are becoming.


After great wind, 

new bells ring

7:30 BELLS: Dancing in the Company of Trees

New geographies open our eyes to new wonders, as I found on my trip to San Antonio, Texas. When I stepped out of the car, I thought I’d stepped into another world. I heard the white-tailed doves singing, breathed the heavy air, and blinked at the flat slab of the light. But the splendor of the massive live oak trees shook my heart.

We don’t have such trees where I live. Worn out before my trip, I had even stated to myself that I needed “the company of trees.”

I found the oaks enchanting company. 

On many walks, I did a kind of Live Oak Dance. My head craned up to admire them. I turned, twirled, stopped to stare upwards, enraptured. I admired their lateral branches, their audacious twists, their confident assurance of their place in the world. The bells rang and rang.

Once, as I was doing this dance, I noticed a man sitting on his porch staring at me. And I realized how strange I must look, how like a child. For a moment I turned red. Then I smiled and unabashed, continued my Live Oak Dance. I didn’t care how I looked. Far more important to me, is to live by these lines from Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes:

“When its over I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.” 
–Mary Oliver

And this from Henry James:  “Try to be one of those upon whom nothing is lost.” Although I might put it as: try to be one of those upon whom everything is found.

And just yesterday at the SCBWI Writer’s Conference, acclaimed fantasy author Franny Billingsley told us, “never let your apprehension grow dull.”

Apprehend the world with unabashed amazement,
and let the bells ring out! 

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: When Two Worlds Meet by Janet Lee Carey

The wildly imaginative, award-winnning fantasy author Janet Lee Carey believes that "Eyes are silent soulful bell ringers. Being a shy person, at some point I stopped looking into people’s eyes. I missed so much." Janet shares a story about that in this month's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post.

 I met her near the beach by the resort in Mazatlan. A plump, middle aged woman with mottled brown and cream skin, selling dresses and jewelry to the tourists. Her stall was a rock wall on the edge of the resort. She’d laid her colorful goods out in the sun and greeted people as they passed by. I was drawn to her jewelry and I found the perfect blue stone earrings in silver settings the first day of my stay. I’d been searching for stones that matched my eyes a long while, but I decided not to buy them yet. I’ve learned this frugal trick – to wait. I would come back if I still thought of them after a few days.

We stood together near the beach on my last vacation day. I eagerly bent over her small portable showcase looking for the earrings I’d found earlier.
They were gone. 

“I told you you should get them when you wanted them,” she teased.
I kept looking for something blue to match my eyes. My husband found a pair I’d not noticed. He held them out. The earrings with multicolored blue stones had silverwork that swirled in the elegant shapes of treble clefs – a tiny tribute to the musician in me.

He bought them then complimented the shopkeeper on her English. 

“I learned speaking with people here,” she said proudly. “I did not go to school.” 

I looked at her face to thank her. We were both smiling. Her eyes shone dusky brown gold: the colors of sunrise when the new sun spreads across red desert earth. Warm light poured out of them. She told me her name. I told her mine. I was swept away by her beauty. I’d not looked into her eyes before we’d bought the ear rings. She’d watched me, intent on selling me something – me, being an easy pushover, intent on not being talked into buying something I didn’t want. 

Now we’d finished the transaction we could face each other in gratitude. She beamed, filling me with her warmth. She saw me and I saw her beyond the small business exchange we’d just made by the beach. We could see the wonderful game we’d just played together – and laugh. 

True eye contact can be as intimate as an embrace. Each of us is a world. Catching each other’s eyes – two worlds meet for a brief moment. 

Why have I been so afraid to look? 

I wear the ear rings still. I’m wearing them now. The blue brightness of them brings comments. People like them.

They are blue like my eyes. But I remember hers. 

I cannot remember her name. I will never forget her eyes. 

Worlds meet and bells ring
when you look into someone's eyes

Janet Lee Carey was raised in the redwood forests of California. Hearing the soft speech of the ancient, whispering trees she dreamed of becoming a writer. She is the award-winning author of eight Young Adult novels including Dragonswood, (Kirkus and School Library Journal starred reviews). Her Wilde Island fantasy books are ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults. School Library Journal calls her work, "fantasy at its best-original, beautiful, amazing, and deeply moving." 
Carey links each new book with a charitable organization empowering readers to reach out and make a difference.

She tours the U.S. and abroad presenting at schools, book festivals and conferences for writers, teachers, and librarians.

Blogs AND

7:30 BELLS: Live in the Leap--The Bells of Choosing
In Tumwater Falls Park, this great boulder lodged in a river, divides the river. And how beautiful the boulder is, how fine and wet with spray! The obstacles in our lives can be beautiful. Sometimes boulders spring up out of nowhere, and the river drives us toward them. But sometimes our spirit or subconscious presents obstacles on purpose to get us to shake up our lives. To get us back into life’s river when we have hesitated too long.

We fear boulders because they can capsize us. Three terrifying times, I’ve found myself thrown from a canoe into the river’s shocking strength. But I think our biggest fear is not drowning, but making the wrong choice. Even if you see a boulder looming ahead, you may have only seconds to choose whether to paddle left or right. So we freeze, abandon the river altogether, and cling to the boulder.

And there we sit, deluded that we are safe. But not making a choice is just another form of choosing, a stagnant and dangerous one because we’ve stepped out of life’s river. I have learned that the bells never ring when I cling to the boulder. I stop being alive.

We can try to make a wise choice by looking to see which way others have gone before us. But the solution is not always as simple as choosing the road either less or more travelled by. How much better to be like a knights in the grail legend--avoid paths and instead plunge into the forest to blaze our own path?

We can’t foresee the outcome of the path we finally choose to take around the boulder. All we know is that life changes, changes, changes, ever shifting like the river, if we are to remain alive. So paddle left, or right, but paddle hard. All we really need to know is that life is in the leap.


Live in the Leap,

and the bells will ring

7:30 BELLS: Follow Intimations of Enchantment and THRIVE
Last week, I discovered a new way to listen for the bells. By allowing myself to pay attention to three things that converged, I felt suddenly awake and alive—at a very unexpected time and place: THRIVE , a 7:30 AM fund-raising event for the Woodland Park Zoo in a hotel ballroom.

The first thing I saw: Hundreds of people sat in circles at round tables, me among them, listening to bear biologist Chris Morgan talk about preserving wild species. The second thing I saw: Four screens flashed huge photos of bears, tigers, cougars, and other wild creatures around the room. The third thing: the ballroom lights—black nets studded with sparkling lights, like  rhinestone-studded net veils on vintage hats. Those lights enchanted me. I couldn't look away. This is rude, I thought. Pay attention to the speaker, don’t stare at the ceiling. But I’ve learned to follow intimations of enchantment. 

These three things—circles of people, huge photos of wild creatures, and sparkling nets of light—converged inside me. My mind imploded inward and yet expanded outward, and the bells began to ring as I saw a bigger picture.

Once, nets trapped wild animals, caging their power and beauty. Not here. Suddenly it seemed as though the sparkling nets above the ballroom were emanating from the circles of people below. Up the sparkling nets rose, and up, shining shields of protection. THRIVE was our chance to become sparkling guardians for the tiger, the bear, for all of the wild that remains. Circles upon circles of people had joined together to do the saving, to keep the wild from blinking out, least one day the nets fall over us and forever cut us off from power and beauty we can never replace.

How far we have come. How far we have to go.

Pay attention to what enchants you, 
and the bells will ring

My thanks to my friend, author Justina Chen, for inviting me to the Zoo event, and to Lorna Chin for hosting a table.

7:30 BELLS: Glory Crowns the Unsanctioned Life

As I walked along a bluff overlooking Puget Sound, the growth pattern on this haloed fir sent me a gifta sudden insight into my life. In its early years, the tree’s lower branches grew rigid and regular—in the usual pattern of well-ordered trees. 

Look higher. In later years, the tree burst into life at its crown. How thick and verdant the branches grew—pushing up toward the light, leaning out toward the wind as though to shout . . .

At last!
I don’t care!
This is me!

Here I am!

. . . to the water, to the world, to all the other straight and proper trees.

No longer will I lace my branches into a corset. 

No longer dole my sap in sanctioned drips, but spill over and up—my stickiness, my pitch a glorification. 
I will grow as I will—in the roar of light from the throat of life. 
I will burst forth unsanctioned. 
I am the wild-hearted, unbridled creative life—the wayward ringing of the bells.

Looking at the tree, I saw my truth. This is who I have at last become. The tree crowned with the knowledge that living is all that matters.

Watch for the world to reveal your truth

7:30 BELLS: Guest Post: Revival by author Frances O'Roark Dowell
An enchanting 7:30 BELLS Guest Post is by the perceptive and evocative Frances O'Roark Dowell, author of award-winning novels for middle grade readers.

On those occasions when my spirit needs reviving, I like to go out and look at art.

On Friday I went to Duke’s Nasher Museum, five minutes down the road from my house, to see the paintings of Archibald Motley. Most of the paintings on exhibit were from his time spent in the bars and clubs of southside Chicago in the 1930s and ‘40s, the Bronzeville many of us know from the poems of Gwendolyn Brooks.

Motley’s palette is electric, pulsing reds and blues, and ecstatic faces and serpentine bodies crowd his canvases. These are characters that will not be spending Sunday morning in church because they’re spending Saturday night at the Sunset Café.

They are looking for ways to celebrate after a great migration and a long week of work, and their faces say, I have wiped the dust of Birmingham/Greenville/Little Rock/Macon off my feet, and now I’m going to drink and dance all night.

The paintings, like the people in them, practically leap from the walls. The vibrant blues that Motley employs vibrate on the canvas. I like how noisy the paintings are, how you can almost hear the trumpets and trombones. 

To witness someone else’s imagination at work feeds my own imagination. To receive stories without words (sometimes my mind is too weary for words) ignites the storyteller in me. What happens next, I wonder as I gaze upon a crowd of Motley’s people pushing past each other on the street? The woman in the blue dress, what’s going on with her? What’s her apartment like? What did she leave behind when she shut the door on Fayetteville or Baton Rouge?

I am fed by the images and fed by being in the presence of creative genius. “Look at this!” Archibald Motley calls to me from across the room. “It’s important! It means something!”

Look at this, I remind myself as I walk to my car, the bells ringing. Look at that. Look at all of it.

And arrive home revived.

Great works of imagination 
make the bells ring

Archibald Motley video documentary

Frances O’Roark Dowell is the bestselling author of over a dozen books for young readers, including Dovey Coe (winner of a 2001 Edgar Award and the William Allen White Award); Where I’d Like to Be; The Secret Language of Girls, Chicken Boy (an ALA Notable Book and an NCTE Notable Book), Shooting the Moon (winner of the Christopher Award and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award honor book), The Second Life of Abigail Walker, which was named a 2012 PW Best Book of the Year, and most recently, The Sound of Your Voice, Only Really Far Away, a Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books 2013 Blue Ribbon Book. She lives in Durham, NC, with her husband, two sons, and their dog.

7:30 BELLS: Paradoxical Bells--Ringing in the Great Silences

This was a hard week to “be a bell” as my good friend, YA author Justina Chen, coined it. The-Never-Ending-Virus exploded into a sinus infection and pneumonia threat. Even so, I kept my ears tuned for bells. But by Sunday night, still covered in tissues on the couch, utterly bereft of ringing, I despaired of writing a 7:30 BELLS post for this week.

Then I began to laugh. Of course! The times when the bells don’t ring, tell their own tale. And this tale, too, is about being alive.

Sometimes being alive means hibernating in the quiet of the bell tower keep. Sometimes being alive means rest and restoration. Sometimes being alive means embracing the silence between rings—the rest at the end of a musical phrase, the caesura of the poem. Such silences are about being alive, too. 

In my twenties, I read a quote by Joseph Campbell that puzzled me greatly. “The warrior’s approach is to say ‘yes’ to life: ‘yea’ to it all.” I have grown up enough to understand this. For the bells ring, do they not, for glad celebrations, for divine occasions, for death, for catastrophe, for the New Year. The bells ring for “it all.” All of life. 

Yes, I know this is paradoxical: There are silences between bell rings. And those silences are the bell ringing. Both statements are true.

And so this week, I haven't been utterly bereft of ringing after all. So send me good wishes. Think of me--quiet in the keep, learning to hear bells ring in the great silences.

Even in the great silences, 
bells are ringing.

7:30 BELLS: "Make One Little Room an Everywhere"

What are the minimal conditions we need to hear the bells ring—to feel alive?  I wondered about this as I rested on the couch flattened by a virus. Do the bells only ring loudly when we stride through life? Do they only ring faintly when we become vulnerable or weak?

When I began 7:30 BELLS year ago, I equated hearing the bells ring with feeling vigorously alive. (And I do love the wild pealing!) But after a year of listening for the bells, I've learned there are shadings of feeling alive. Joy and creativity, certainly. But reflection, quiet, community, and emotions like gratitude, sadness, and courage—these make us feel alive, too.  

As the days passed on my couch, I noticed how my garage roof changed with the light, weather, and time of day. The moving sun made different shadow depths and angles on the overlapping shingles. The sheen of rain made them look like waves rolling in to shore. In the twilight, the ridge shingles strutted like rooster hackle feathers. Seeing in a new way made the bells ring.

This is as simple as noticing. As paying attention. As connecting with whatever world we find ourselves in, no matter how small. William Blake's famous poem Auguries of Innocence says this well: 

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower, 
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, 
And eternity in an hour. 

John Donne has a marvelous line in his poem, The Good-Morrow, directed at lovers. “And makes one little room an everywhere.”

The size of our world is irrelevant. If circumstances limit us to one room, the quality of attentive living we bring to it can transform it into infinity. As long as I can focus on the world outside me, be that only from a couch, one little room can be an everywhere. And from it can come poems, stories, art, love--and bells that wildly, softly, musically ring.

Listening for the bells makes
“one little room an everywhere.”

7:30 BELLS: Celestial Bells--In the Beginning, there was Wind

Strong winds swept Puget Sound this week, as storm after storm blew in. I love strong, lively winds (no hurricanes, please) that bring the world alive. Wind creates movement where there was none, making trees and clouds dance. Wind creates light where there was none, carving new channels for brilliance. Wind creates sound where there was none, setting bells ringing. If I wrote a genesis story of the universe, the opening line would be: In the Beginning, there was Wind.

And maybe that’s true. There are solar winds, and stellar winds created by supernova stars. I wish my ears were strong enough to hear celestial bells ring!

I imagine the forces that blow through my life as wind. Although they have blown me down roads I never planned to take, they have also brought me alive in new ways. 
Poet Mary Oliver wrote: "Whoever made music of a mild day?"

Even the inspiration behind 7:30 BELLS came from what first seemed an ill wind. Two months before my trip to Italy in 2012, I tore major ligaments in one foot. And so I limped through Florence, Siena, and Venice unable to see all I had panned. However, I spent more time in the places I did go. Rested on benches in piazzas and museums where I had time to really look, reflect, and write about everything I saw. So my feet limped, but my heart soared. 

And so in the beginning, the wind made the 7:30 BELLS ring.

Let great winds blowing over you
lead to new beginnings

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: The Magic of Horses by Newbery Honor author Margarita Engle
 I am so excited to share February's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post by Margarita Engle--
extraordinary poet-storyteller.

Nature entrances me. The beautiful sights of nature are as inspiring as the ring of bells. Every aspect of wilderness and agriculture helps me believe in miracles, breathe more deeply, and write more fervently. I studied agronomy and botany, but of all the plants and animals in the world, horses are the ones that invariably cause me to gasp with astonishment. Ever since I was little, even the sight of the most ordinary, swaybacked old mare in a thorny pasture was enough to set my sense of wonder galloping. 

On the few occasions when I’ve been fortunate enough to see the truly astounding freedom of wild horses, it has been an experience so powerful and exhilarating that I’ve come away feeling transformed, as if my imagination had become part of a centaur. Even the scent of a stable is enough to send my mind exploring. Undoubtedly, this is because I associate horses with profoundly nostalgic childhood memories of Cuba.

As an adult, I’m not a skillful rider, even though I’ve taken lessons, and briefly owned a horse. It is the daydreaming nature of childhood that makes horses so magical. I have attempted to explore the Cuban roots of my passion for nature in general, and horses in particular, as part of a memoir scheduled for publication by Harcourt in March, 2015. Fueled by the sight of a lone pinto in a pasture a couple of miles from my semi-rural California home, I continue to explore. Every time I drive past that horse, I imagine creating a written herd, so that the pinto will no longer be lonely. With bells ringing in my mind, I set pen to paper, writing the old-fashioned way, outdoors.

Imagination and memory ring together

Thank you so much, Margarita Engle, for sharing this. (And I always love to find another author who loves to write outdoors!)

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of The Surrender Tree, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino.  Her young adult verse novels have also received two Pura Belpré Awards and three Honors, as well as three Américas Awards and the Jane Addams Peace Award, among others. 

Margarita’s next verse novel is Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal (March, 2014, Harcourt).  Books for younger children include Mountain Dog, Summer Birds, When You Wander, and Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish (March, 2014, Harcourt).

Margarita lives in central California, where she enjoys hiding in the forest to help train her husband’s wilderness search and rescue dogs.

7:30 BELLS: Behold and Bring Forth. Then Let Go.
Do you see the flying stone figure grappling forward from rock and root? Do you see the chisled face reaching toward the waterfall, the wing bursting out behind the ivy?

I did. 

Here, I thought, is a poem. Here is the root of all poems, stories, art—of anything trying to emerge into this world.

The only attention the stone figure needs to emerge is mine. Mine to behold it. Mine to encourage and coax it out into the world. Wherever it flies then, whatever become of it in the world, is its own adventure. Let it go.

More and more, art is like that to me. All that matters is the 
creation, because that's where the life and ringing happens. Every artist struggles to learn this. (Great athletes do, too, in a different way.) Bring forth your best. Learn to let go of what you've made and your expectations for it.  In this season of the Olympics, literary awards, Superbowls, remember: No gold medal, no award, no review, no trophy matters. They may be sweet icing, but they have nothing to do with the essential. Only the joyously skated program is essential. Only winged bursting forth. 

So behold and bring forth. Then let it fly. Turn your best attention toward beholding the next winged figure, wherever it awaits, whether in stone, paint, word, cloud . . . .


Behold, Bring Forth, Let Fly!

7:30 BELLS Guests Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month.

Regular 7:30 BELLS posts run every first, third, and fourth Tuesdays.

7:30 BELLS: Grounding the Bell Tower

As a writer and artist, I spend hours living in my head. My husband jokes that I spend all day talking to people who don’t exist. This is true. Sometimes, the fires of imagination can take me far away. The bells can lead me on and ever on into the resounding hills.

So what keeps me on this earth I love? Every day, I balance out the time I spend living inside my head by doing things grounded in the body. Here are three specifics.

1. Working with my hands

I make sculptures out of wood. (The photo above is a work in progress.) Carving, sanding, handling something real and solid, anchors me to earth. Because I use sharp chisels, I must stay totally present to keep from cutting myself or marring the wood. Anything you do with your hands which requires your close presence and attention would serve the same function.

2. Connecting to the natural world

I write at a standing desk by the window. There I can look up from imagination and see the birds in the feeder, the wind in the bamboo, the rush of sky overhead. Whenever I can, even bundled in hats and coats, I work outside. 

3. Moving my body

While walks help, even then my thoughts can wander to my creative projects. When I used to walk on treadmills, I read—more head work. Instead of the sweaty, noisy gym, I now do expressive dance daily at home alone to music. Reaching, swaying, bending—in response to the emotions evoked by the music, unobserved by anyone, grounds me. And after working long hours at the computer, dancing exercises my upper body in a way a treadmill can’t.

Being grounded in my body helps me feel alive. Although it doesn't make the bells ring like the fires of imagination do, it supports that wild ringing. It brings me home from the hills to tend the body that makes all the life of the imagination possible. It gives the bell tower a firm foundation.

Ground the bell tower in the earth 
so the bells can ring

7:30 BELLS Guests Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month.
Regular 7:30 BELLS posts run every first, third, and fourth Tuesdays.

7:30 BELLS: Halos on a Foggy Road

Sometimes the ordinary becomes the extraordinary.  One night this week, I drove through the fog after a long, difficult day. Right now, my life seems lost in fog, too—I can’t see far down the road. After an hour on the freeway, I was almost home. Then, through a tree’s bare branches, I saw a street lamp 's shining halo. And beyond it, fainter, a second halo.

This is beautiful I thought. Stop.

But I was tired. It was late. I was distressed. And then I thought, what better time to stop for beauty than when you are tired and distressed? Isn’t that when we need uplifting and heartening most?

So I stopped. As I looked, the street lamp halos became mysterious beacons beckoning through the fog.  But the fog itself was making the mystery. Maybe that’s true of the difficult moments in our lives, too. When we can’t see our road clearly, we're wrapped in a moment of mystery that might inform our way forward.

Then I understood something more important:  I was making the mystery. Because I stopped to see it. Because I made room for it. Only then did the bells began to softly ring. I was the mystery, and I could become the beacon.

Heartened, I drove toward home.

Be the mystery and become the beacon

7:30 BELLS Guests Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. 
Regular 7:30 BELLS posts run every first, third, and fourth Tuesdays.


7:30 BELLS: Guest Post by Laura McGee Kvasnosky
I am so pleased to offer this month's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post by the always kind and insightful author, the acclaimed Laura McGee Kvasnosky.  


Nothing rings more bells than the collaborative fun of inventive play.

As we prepared for a big family holiday dinner, I found a list of clues to Christmas song titles, tucked into a book of carols. I thought the list might be the basis of a game and brought it to the table that night.

We divided into three teams. Each team gave itself a name. Then, in turn, they guessed the names of the songs as suggested by the clues. (For example, “Bleached Yule,” is the clue for “White Christmas.”) We decided to allow ten seconds to guess then moved along to next team.

Of course my singing family not only named, but started to sing the songs as well. We decided to give extra points for singing. The Reindeer Games team laid in harmonies. More points. The Silver Bells featured a solo. More points. The Unwrappers added choreography. What a show. We had lots of laughs as the competition heated up. We invented how the game worked as we went along.

I love my time alone in the flow zone, writing and illustrating. But what an added joy to create and play with my family.

Here’s the list, which I see is available several places on the internet.

Material for your own family’s creative play:
1. Bleached Yule
2. Castaneous-colored Seed Vesicated in a Conflagration
3. Singular Yearning for the Twin Anterior Incisors
4. Righteous Darkness
5. Arrival Time: 2400 hrs - Weather: Cloudless
6. Loyal Followers Advance
7. Far Off in a Feeder
8. Array the Corridor
9. Bantam Male Percussionist
10. Monarchial Triad
11. Nocturnal Noiselessness
12. Jehovah Deactivate Blithe Chevaliers
13. Red Man En Route to Borough
14. Frozen Precipitation Commence
15. Proceed and Enlighten on the Pinnacle
16. The Quadruped with the Vermillion Probiscis
17. Query Regarding Identity of Descendant
18. Delight for this Planet
19. Give Attention to the Melodious Celestial Beings
20. The Dozen Festive 24 Hour Intervals 

Thank you, Dia, for the opportunity to add to the tintinnabulation of your 7:30 Bells Blog.

Collaborative play makes the bells ring

Thank you, Laura! 

Laura McGee Kvasnosky is a general maker of things: gardens, quilts, ukulele songs – and books. She has written and illustrated 17 picture books and a middle grade novel in the last 18 years. Her books’ awards include SCBWI Kite honors for Zelda and Ivy, and the American Library Association’s 2007 Theodor Seuss Geisel award for Zelda and Ivy the Runaways. Laura is a founding instructor of the University of Washington’s Writing for Children certificate program, and taught January terms at VCFA MFAWCYA from 2001 to 2007. She earned a BA in journalism from Occidental College and has studied writing with Jane Yolen and illustration with Keith Baker. A fourth-generation Northern Californian, Laura lives in Seattle with her husband, John, and springy spaniel named Izabella. They have two grown children who live in California.

7:30 BELLS Guests Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Regular 7:30 Bells posts run every first, third, and fourth Tuesdays.

7:30 BELLS: Let the Bells Ring Out!
An Artist's New Year’s Manifesto

All artists want their creative bells to ring out—want to create stories, music, poems, art. To do that, an artist must protect the creative "sensibility" that makes art possible. In other words, you must protect the bell. So build a bell tower and built it strong—to house the bell, to allow it swing, and most importantly, to guard it.

Mary Oliver writes: “Athletes take care of their bodies. Writers must similarly take care of the sensibility that houses the possibility of poems.” (A Poetry Handbook)

Tell me, when you do creative work that requires reflection and presence of mind, do the following things shrill for your attention: The ringing phone? The beeping Facebook or Twitter update? The pinging e-mail? Other people’s urgent needs? YES.

Now tell me, when you answer that phone or respond to that Facebook update, etc, does quiet reflection interrupt and shrill for your attention? No. Quiet doesn’t clamor. Because of this, creative time requires far more protection than other parts of our lives.

So be vigilant in creating concrete structures and rituals to protect your creative sensibility. Guard it as zealously as you would a young child venturing out alone in the world.

This will be hard. It will require constant practice. Other people will chip away at your bell tower, and you will, too--at first. For we haven’t been taught to value the creative time and space that “houses the possibility” of art, that allows it to arise. We haven’t been taught to shepherd our lives to foster the ringing bell. In fact, we’ve been taught the opposite. When I shared these ideas with a writer friend, she said that quiet creative time is a luxury. That answer, from a working artist, shows how truly indoctrinated we all are.

For artists, creative space/time space where we can ring is no luxury. It’s ESSENTIAL for art. And I tell you this: You may think the ringing bell will patiently wait, but that’s not true. The ringing can die in the face of the shrilling forces ranged against it. And sometimes, if the creative force inside you is thwarted  too long, it twists your life in unpleasant ways. Like depression. Malaise. Fatigue. Rage. Illness.

Remember that scene in the Planet of the Apes where the hero discovers the top of the Statue of Liberty poking out of the sand? Don’t let your bell be buried and silenced by sand.

So this New Year, I challenge artists everywhere: Build a bell tower in your life to house your creative sensibility, to foster and guard your ringing bell. And watch in joy as your creative power rings out across the land. 


Build a bell tower to

"house your creative sensibility"

and hear the bells ring out!

7:30 BELLS: Chisels of Light

On the Winter Solstice, the sun filtered through my curtains, sculpting the light. Usually, when fall darkness descends, I start counting the days until December 21. I long for the Return of Light.

My bipolar brain chemistry makes me exquisitely sensitive to seasonal shifts in light and dark. I was born for summer. I come alive. Bloom. Creativity dances from my fingertips. How the bells ring! In the winter, I use a dawn simulator to cajole my bio-rhythms. Winter has always been something to be endured.

But this winter has been different. Somehow I’ve embraced it. Somehow I’ve learned that the bells ring in many different ways. The quiet ringing of a snowfall. The considered ringing of a sodden, cloud-shot sky. The elegant ringing of tree-bones against twilight.

In these dark days, I am tuned to anything that sculpts the light. Like poems. Stories. Art. Music. Kindness. Maybe, winter itself is nothing but a great sculptor of the light. Maybe that’s why at last I’m able to embrace it, take up the chisel of light, and ring.

Closing with this stanza from Tennyson:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.


Take up the chisel of light and ring

7:30 BELLS: The Gossamer of Possibility
Art that resonates with you can set the bells wildly ringing. That happened to me this week when I saw the exhibit, A World of Paper, A World of Fashion: Isabelle de Borchgrave Meets Mariano Fortuny, at the Bellevue Art Museum.

Using the exquisite dresses designed by Fortuny (1871-1949) as a point of departure, Isabelle de Borchgrave concocted other-worldly dream dresses out of paper—painted, glued, torn, crumpled. A few have backdrops made entirely of paper, like the tent pavilion pictured below. Some of the other-worldliness comes from surprise and fascination—full size dresses fashioned of paper instead of fabric. Tissue thin veils sway in the breeze. Some of the other-worldliness comes from the evocation of the legendary past—Moorish, Arabic, Persian, Coptic, Japanese patterns painted in tromp l’oeil on the paper.

But for me, most of the other-worldliness comes from being cast into a realm of fantastic imagination. Some of these dresses had presences. Standing before a tent pavilion, watching gossamer paper drapes ripple, I rang with possibility. Lines of poetry filled my mind, ideas for stories, and shapes for a sculpture project I’m working on.

You never know what will make the bells ring and bring you alive. Never know what will converge with your current creative tuning and set you on fire. So seek things out. Fantastic worlds of imagination await, if you make time to open yourself to the gossamer of possibility. 

Seek experiences that ignite your imagination,
and the bells will ring

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Asking Questions by Nina Laden
Author NINA LADEN inspires us with what makes the bells ring for her
in this month's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post.

The secret to writing for me, perhaps even the secret to life, is asking questions. You have to maintain a child-like wonder, even in the face of adversity. By being curious you will continually learn, open doors in your mind, and you will hear those bells ring.

I went through a very dark period of my life with one family crisis after another and it took the literary wind out of my sails. I couldn’t write the clever and funny picture books that I was known for and I worried that I never would get out of the hole I was in. However I kept journaling and writing what I could here and there. I also kept taking my long beach walks, looking for treasure, looking for answers, and asking questions.

One day, I found an eagle feather on the beach. Eagles live near our home on Lummi Island and their feathers fall on the beach all the time. I have always loved the delicate nature of feathers and the majestic beauty of eagles. I picked up the feather, tested it in the wind, and felt the power that it had to be able to carry the weight of such a big bird, and how it could allow it to soar so smoothly. My own life was not soaring at that time.

I held that feather and I asked myself, “does a feather remember it once was a bird?” Wondering, possibly subconsciously, “do I remember I once was an author and illustrator?” I also started thinking about the Native American legend that eagle feathers must stay where they land so that they can return to the creator, so I photographed the feather and put it down.

As I walked back home, I started asking myself more questions because of that first one: “Does a feather remember it once was a bird? Does a book remember it once was a word? Does a chair remember it once was a tree? Does a garden remember it once was a pea?” I had started writing a poem and I had to run up the hill to my cottage to write it down before I forgot it.

All of those questions eventually became my new book “Once Upon A Memory” which just came out with publisher Little, Brown and Company. Renata Liwska did the gorgeous illustrations. Now the only question that I have is “what will be the next question that starts me down the road to a new book and lets me hear those bells ring again and again?”

Open doors in your mind
and hear the bells ring

Thank you Nina, for sharing this inspiring essay and making me wonder what I am that I might have forgotten. 

Nina Laden is an award-winning, bestselling children's book author and illustrator who lives in Seattle and on Lummi Island, WA, but mostly she lives in her imagination. She grew up in the New York City area, the daughter of two artists, and received a BFA from Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts. She has over a dozen books in print including The Night I Followed the Dog, When Pigasso Met Mootisse, and Roberto: The Insect Architect.
Learn more about Nina Laden and her books at her website and blog.

 7:30 BELLS Posts runs every Tuesday. Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me next month when author Laura Kvasnosky shares what makes the bells ring for her.

7:30 BELLS: Cathedral of Winter
In the rain and wind that followed Thanksgiving, the last leaves fell. On my walk, I was transfixed by this tree, by its dark branches spiraling against the sky. I felt as though I stood in a Cathedral of Winter looking up though the stained glass window of the world.

Most years, I count down the dark days until spring comes. But this year, winter speaks to me of its sanctity, maybe because I’ve embraced it, instead of only enduring it to get somewhere else. And I wonder, what else in my life I might embrace instead of endure?

Winter is Treebone Time. What sun there is can reach the bone.

Embrace where you are, 

and the world reveals its sanctity
11/26/13 7:30 BELLS: Recognizing the Bright Path
On a dark, rainy day last week, unable to see what path my life should take, I knew I needed to get outside into the world, regardless of the weather. So I grabbed my coat and umbrella and started walking. 

After ten blocks, I came to a vacant lot--a shortcut between two blocks. I took a few steps across the sodden grass and then noticed huge puddles blocking my way. Scanning the ground for the driest route, I suddenly stilled to attention. As the rain beat on my umbrella, I noticed how brightly the puddles shown, how they sketched a shining path.

Drop after drop the rain fell into the puddles. Concentric rings rippled.  All those little drops, not knowing the effects of their falling, not plotting the destinations of their rings. Just falling because that's what raindrops do best.

And so I thought: Not knowing where a chosen path may lead isn't the dilemma. The dilemma is to recognize the shining paths before us, and recognize them as paths we might need to slosh through, rather than pick our way safely around. After all, getting your feet wet isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. Perpetually keeping yourself safe is.

The squelch of water in my boots led me somewhere unexpected. I don’t need to know where the ripples from my choices might lead. Like the raindrops, I just need to do what I do best.

See paths in unexpected places,

and the bells will ring

7:30 BELLS: Wander Where the Wonder Points
Imagine living like a tourist/explorer in your own life, taking an unplanned day to wander where the wonder points. I did that in Italy. Why not here?

So I stole a day. Last Wednesday—a bright, sunshiny day. With a pencil, notebook, and water bottle in my purse, I walked out my front door. I didn’t know where I was going. Didn’t know what I was going to do. I left my phone behind so I could be more connected to the world. So I could pay attention.

I took a bus. Walked a road. Found a quiet, pocket-handkerchief of  a park I never knew existed. Saw sights I’d seen a thousand times with new eyes. Came home with two new poems. Beyond wonderful—I felt alive and heard the bells ring.  The day was the physical equivalent of Creative Drift, so necessary for the imagination. I plan to do this regularly, in different place close to home.

So imagine yourself a tourist in your own life and steal a day. An if you can’t imagine a day like this, ask yourself why not. Time is an uncertain inheritance.

Wander where the wonder points, 
and hear the bells mightily ring

7:30 BELLS: Guest Post by Kathryn O. Galbraith
In November's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post, award-winning author Kathryn O. Galbraith shares what makes her feel alive.

At Cloud Mountain, a mediation retreat center, there are many bells that punctuate the day. The least welcomed is the harsh clang, clang of the wake-up bell at 5:30, breaking the day open. It is still dark outside, the bed is warm but…the bell is calling.

The dirt path to the Mediation Hall passes in front of the huge hanging bell which takes two hands and ear muffs to ring it. It is rung throughout the day when it is time to join together for another 45 minute sitting. As you walk past it, after the clappers are quiet, the air still vibrates. Stand very still and let the vibrations gently enter your body, and the air and you vibrate together.

In the early evening, a very welcomed bell is the dinner bell. It is rough and loud and can be heard everywhere, but even if it made a soft tinkling chime, we would hear it. Our ears and appetites have been listening for it. After a simple dinner of soup and bread and with yogi chores completed, the great bell rings again, calling, calling through the trees. As I walk up the path, I know my heart is answering it.

At home, I miss those bells, those calls to be here now. I find keeping a commonplace book of quotes can also serve as my own wake-up bell.

“However we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” `Annie Dillard

“Because life is difficult, the only choice is kindness.” ~Sylvia Boorstein

“Pay attention with an open heart.” ~Arinna Weisman

A great bell calls for a great heart
Thank you, Kathryn, for this inspiring essay.
Kathryn O. Galbraith is the author of 16 books for children, including the new non-fiction picture book, Where is Baby? with illustrations by John Butler. Awards for Planting the Wild Garden include the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, Growing Good Kids -Excellence in Children’s Literature Award, a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and nominations for several state children’s choice awards. Next spring Two Bunny Buddies will be hopping into the picture book world from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Learn more at:  

7:30 BELLS: Carillon of Revelation
The bells rang rang this week when I discovered the poet Mary Oliver. Stunned and filled and fed, I sat reading her New and Selected Poems, the collection that won the National Book Award. I’ve been thinking for some time of writing poetry more seriously, but my poems seemed too simple and narrative, not complex or abstract enough. Reading Mary Oliver was not only a revelation, but permission to be the poet I want to be.

This 7:30 BELLS series came from my solo trip to Italy in the late spring of 2012, where I was on fire to the bone and dashed out poem after poem. (more on that here). I came home determined to Vivere e Scrivere—to live and to write. When I read Oliver’s poem  SOMETIMES (in the collection RED BIRD), she stated that so beautifully and succinctly.

     “Instructions for living a life:
            Pay attention.
            Be astonished.
            Tell about it.”

That's  exactly how I want to live. You’ll notice Oliver does not add, “Have a multitude of readers, ” after "Tell about it."

So I will be writing more poems, telling about what astonishes me. Whether anyone ever reads them has nothing to do with living.

Vivere e Scrivere

7:30 BELLS: Burano Blues

This blue house on Burano, with its blue sheets fluttering in the wind, enchanted me. When I visited the island, a short vaporetto ride from Venice, I’d wanted to see the exquisite lace in the lace museum. (The island was once a historic lace making center.) But I didn’t know the island was also famous for its brightly painted houses. How simple, I thought, to make something utterly beautiful out of something so simple as paint and bedsheets. The bells rang.

Then, the bells began fading, because I suspected that the blue house with its blue bed sheets had been staged for tourists. That whoever who lived there didn’t really arrange her domestic life with such artistic sensibility.

Then I realized that the intent behind the blue house didn’t matter. Paintings and sculptures are staged in museums for tourists. If I’d seen this scene as a painting titled “Burano Blue House with Blue Bed Sheets Blowing,” I’d had loved it. The scene before was a piece of living art. And I didn’t have to wait in line to see it.

And so the bells rang on.

Embrace the enchantment that comes

7:30 BELLS: A Challenge from the Bell Tower
As part of the 7:30 BELLS series, I will occasionally write about the essential Bell Tower. For without the Bell Tower’s support, the bell couldn't ring ring with life.

I need two seemingly contradictory things in my Bell Tower to produce my best creative work, to allow the bell to ring most beautifully.

First, Concentrated Sustained Attention: time each day to focus on my story, time sustained over months. This may be only two hours a day, but it must happen nearly every day.

The second thing is Creative Drift: time each day for my mind to play with my story. The best place for this is the hammock at the Farm under the maple tree, or in the winter, a rocking chair facing a window. I swing or rock, proposing questions like . . . what happens when Eckhart is halfway up the mountain? Possibilities drift through my mind. The trick is to be directed enough to keep my thoughts from drifting away from my story altogether, yet loose enough to allow in new images and ideas. Creative Drift is the most important  practice for producing good work.

My best work comes from combining Concentrated Sustained Attention and Creative Drift. However, when the inevitable vagaries of life intervene—crisis, illness, other business—the first thing I abandon is Creative Drift. Why do I abandon it first if it’s the most essential element for good work? Because Concentrated Sustained Attention gets the pages written, the project DONE. To many people, Creative Drift doesn't seem essential.

I forget that getting the project done has no relationship to how GOOD the project will be. Creative Drift does. Our culture has conditioned me to believe that getting something done, is more important than how it is done, or even its result. This is a blind, wrong following of the Protestant Work Ethic that haunts me from cold, northern climes. It’s the idea that the hours spent working are more important than what the work produces. A story that takes ten years to write must surely be better than one that takes two. Every artist knows this is false.

Remember too, Creative Drift can actually save time by leading down better roads.

So from the Bell Tower, I challenge myself and all writers out there: The next time your writing time is pressed, prioritize Creative Drift in your Bell Tower. See if that results in not only a better, but even a more swiftly completed, work of art.


Allow creative winds to drift over the bell

and hear what beautifully rings

7:30 BELLS: At the End of Wilderness--New Bells
Hearing author Jane Kirkpatrick speak at PNBA (The Pacific Northwest Bookseller's
Conference) inspired new insights on the bells. Kirkpatrick said that after bad news--an accident, diagnosis, loss of a friendship, loved one, or beloved place--we long to go back to life as it was. In my terms--we want the bells to ring as they did before.

But they don't. And we can't. Our life becomes about how we move through the "wilderness state"--the unknown that our life has become, usually against our will. 

So I wonder. If the bells can't ring the old melody, can they ring a new one? Finding the new melody is the process of moving through the wilderness--clanging discord, false starts, and sudden stops--before we find a new melody that makes us feel alive again.

Move through the wilderness
 to find a new melody

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Listening for Birds by Kirby Larson
I am so pleased to offer a 7:30 Bells Guest Post: Listening for Birds by Kirby Larson, lovely person and fabulous author of DUKE and HATTIE BIG SKY, awarded the Newbery Honor Medal. 

Dia listens for bells; I listen for birds. I’ve been blessed to luck into a cozy Washington beach house near the Canadian border, and I take myself there as often as I can. It’s a tall, skinny place and my office is on the 3rd floor, eagle eye view. Literally. 

On occasion, I’ve flinched as a bald eagle seemed to aim its talons at me, while I was sitting at my desk. So grateful for the window! From my perch, I hear owls hoot, loons wail, belted kingfishers chitter, gulls bark and herons squawk. 

No matter where my story brain is, my ears are straining to hear the birds. To hear that reminder that flight is possible. I may not have feathers, but I can spread my wings and fly across the page.

Listen and take flight

Kirby Larson is the author of ten books for young readers, including the 2007 Newbery Honor book, Hattie Big Sky, and its sequel, Hattie Ever After. In addition to her historical fiction (The Fences Between Us; The Friendship Doll; Duke), Kirby has partnered with Mary Nethery to write two award-winning nonfiction picture books, Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival, and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle. Kirby also owns a tiara.

7:30 BELLS: When Falling is Mighty
We’re all afraid to fall. Falling is linked with failure, as in “a fall from grace,” or “how the mighty have fallen.” But standing before this waterfall near Mount Rainier brought new ideas about falling.

Falling makes this waterfall beautiful. Falling water plunging in torrents of grace. Falling water wearing away the very rock that brings about its fall. And who could say a waterfall isn’t mighty? It pounds, roars, rushes. And, as this next picture shows, falling water goes somewhere. Through this canyon it streams, then bends beyond my puny sight.

So I need to trust in falling, in fallowness, in what lies ahead that is impossible to foresee. I need to let my fixation on a pre-determined destination be silenced by the roar and grace and might of falling—and open my heart to whatever waits around the bend.
Fall in might and grace, 
toward the bells ringing around the bend.

7:30 BELLS: The Golden Hunt

Knife in hand, I prowled the mossy wood, searching for gold. Not gold nuggets, not gold coins, but the golden caps of chanterelle mushrooms. Some hid under Oregon grape, humus, and fallen leaves. Some, like those in this photo, sang out against the green. I walked, scanning the ground, thrilled each time I spotted gold. I knelt, my fingers probing for the stem, sometimes loosening the dirt and twigs around it before cutting. After double checking the species, I dropped the chanterelle in my bucket and began searching again.

Every sense intent on finding treasure, I thought of nothing else. My bucket half full, I glanced up from the hunt. At quiet woods. At streaming sun. At the first day of Autumn. My husband’s bucket clanked in the distance. And I heard the bells ring, slowly, steadily, with the somberness that comes from sanctity. I smiled.

Then I returned my total attention to the hunt, looking for food—and being fed.

The Treasure is the Rapture of Attention

7:30 BELLS: If the Bells fall Silent, Move your Window

What we see depends on where we build our windows--as this picture of the new house going up at the Farm shows. What stunning views we miss if our windows are in the wrong place, or too small.

We grow up in a house with the windows already in place. Sometimes those windows are right for us, but sometimes they aren't. We're born into a house whose windows are determined by our family background, our culture, our education, our religion. This can make it hard to move the windows, because sometimes we don’t even know our view is being limited.

Eventually we may feel unease, realize we can’t hear any bells ring through these windows, or only hear them dimly.

So I ask myself, what am I missing? What can't I hear? Am I looking at the world squeezed through someone else’s determination of what I should see? I want to build my own house, decide where I want the windows to be. 

Sometimes to move the window, you have to start by tearing down the walls that hold it, brick by brick. To have a life that continues to thrive and grow, you have to keep moving the windows.

Whenever I move a window, new light pours in. And I can hear the bells ringing again. 

Looking through the windows you've chosen yourself
makes the bells ring.

7:30 BELLS: Ringing by Water
I'm so pleased this week to have Bonny Becker, a best-selling picture book author with keen insights on the writing craft, share what makes the bells ring for her--what makes her feel most alive.

"A brook, a pond, a pool, the ocean… I love water. Maybe it’s all those negative ions. I always feel good by the ocean or a waterfall. But it’s probably more the attention paid. Near the water, I notice the natural sounds—the sigh and push of ocean waves, the lap-lap of a lake, the burble of a creek. That always slows me down and I can start to really see.

"Of course, the pretty sparkles are a big part of it: who doesn’t love the way light gleams off tiny ripples or streams through an ocean wave? But I especially like to look to see what’s below. Wavering lozenges of light on the swimming pool bottom; the sand and small rocks gleaming beneath the water at a lake’s edge; the silvery flicker of minnows; the glide of a trout.

"All my senses get involved: that salty sea smell or the musty, green smell of pond algae. I like to plant my feet and feel the sand pile up and pull away again with the ocean waves or to step into the spray of a waterfall. Sometimes I pat the surface of a bath feeling the slight pushback of the water—my hand like a waterbug.

"I feel good just writing about it! A moment by the water is a moment “of bells” for me.
      Paying attention with all your senses 

                                                                                                   makes the bells ring.  

Bonny Becker is the author of twelve books for children, including the best-selling picture book A Visitor for Bear, and the award-winning The Magical Ms. Plum, a middle-grade featuring a magical third-grade teacher. Bonny teaches at the Whidbey Writers MFA Program in Creative Writing. Read more about her at her website:

7:30 BELLS:  Herald of Galaxies
Tonight, watching the evening star set in the western sea brings sadness—sadness for the end of summer and for the end of something important in my own life. Then I remind myself that the evening star isn’t moving, I am, with the turning earth. Because I look west toward the setting star, my back faces the direction the earth is revolving. And so backward I fall toward night.

Vertigo strikes as my mind grasps this headlong backward rush toward the endless stars. When something in life is ending, vanishing, or setting, I must remember that I’m only turning toward vastness. 

The evening star falling into the western sea is but a herald of galaxies to come.

Turning toward vastness makes the bells ring.

7:30 BELLS:  Our Snags Make Us Beautiful

The smooth, symmetrical perfectly growing tree doesn’t capture my interest. The twisting snag—like this one on the beach at the Cape George Colony—does. Eagles know this, they so often build their nests in the snags of dead trees. The best trees—and I’ve seen this in exquisite bonsai trees, capture both the stark beauty of the snag and the thriving green branches.

I know that our lives are like this, too. There are parts of our lives that have been but are no more, things left behind—people, places, jobs, dreams—yet they remain part of us. Like the snag on the living bonsai, they show what was,  show the history that has made us who we are. From whatever part of our lives that  is green and thriving now, we can look at our snags and remember. That helps us move forward to what we want to become, how we want to grow.

We should honor our snags. They make us beautiful, make whatever is strong and fierce and wild look to us as home.

                                                   LORE OF THE BELL:
                                                 Our snags make us beautiful

7:30 BELLS:  Guest Post by Lorie Ann Grover
To find new insights on how to hear the bells ring and how to feel alive in your life, I will begin offering occasional guest posts for 7:30 BELLS. I am so honored to offer the first one today below--by noted author Lorie Ann Grover. 

Dia was kind to offer me a moment to share when I hear the bells ringing. One treasured time is when the echo of the past resonates into the present. My youngest daughter recently married and the bells rang gloriously!
When I saw my husband walking my daughter down the aisle, I heard the echo of my dress slipping down the aisle as I stepped to reach his side. While he stepped beside our daughter, I heard the echo of his faithful footsteps beside me for 28 years. When she leaned on his shoulder and kissed him, her entire childhood resonated between them before she reached with joy for her groom.

The bells ring with joy, a draught of sadness, and lasting hope. Whether on the grand scale of a wedding or in a quiet memory brought to light by a current catalyst, they ring. It’s likely they are always ringing, we need only to stop and listen.

May you hear the bells ringing today!

--Lorie Ann Grover
The bells are always ringing, if we only stop and listen.

7:30 BELLS:  Storm Cloud

This past week I couldn’t hear the bells, any bells anywhere. I took this picture near the house where I stayed on the edge of a cliff.

A great thundercloud barrels toward me. In the distance, sun rays fan through the storm. In the distance, bells are ringing--somewhere, somewhere--too far away to hear. I cannot get to them. Cannot hear them. But they are waiting on the horizon.

The bells are waiting. And if I had not looked up from the edge of the cliff, I would not have known that.


Even if you can't hear them today,

somewhere the bells are ringing. Wait.

7:30 BELLS: The Day the Bubbles Came Alive
“When you use the jetted tub,” a friend I’m house-sitting for told me, “don’t add much bubble bath.”

“Ok,” I said. And I didn’t. Even so, when I turned on the jets, the bubbles came alive. ALIVE! Swelling, foaming, hissing, they rose like continents from the sea.

How I laughed. How I played—in utter delight. I sculpted bubble mountain ranges, a foot tall. I made lakes and rivers for the rubber duck. The bells were ringing. (I’m betting God—whichever one you believe in—found the same delight in making the world—the universe.) 

Then I just watched the bubbles as they were born from the foam, grew, lived, and died. Some caught my eye because they swelled and swelled, towering (dome-ing?) like the great and famous above the smaller bubbles clustered around them. But eventually the huge bubbles popped and fell back into the foam.

And I wondered. Were those great bubbles happier for having been seen, for having been immense? I don’t think so. I’m happy being a small bubble.

Play and delight make the bells ring.

7:30 BELLS: “Art is the Perfected Imperfection”
A sunset, an exotic location, the cast of light on water—all these beautiful things can make the bells ring. But this week the bells began to madly peal when I ran headlong into a beautiful idea.  Not my idea—someone else’s.

I was reading an article titled Music in your Ears by Adam Gopnik in the January 28, 2013 edition of The New Yorker. He writes about the combination of neuroscience and acoustical technology. When I read that scientists have found that “people like music played with a bit of, but not too much, expressiveness . . . the two expressive dimensions whose force in music Levitin had measured . . . were defections from precision. Vibrato is a way of not quite landing directly on the note: rubato is not quite keeping perfectly to the beat. Expressiveness is error . . . ” I sat straight up--connecting this concept to literature.

Then a few sentences on: “. . . Levitin could show” (measure scientifically) “that what really moves us in music is the vital sign of a human hand, in all its unsteady and broken grace. (Too much imperfection and it sounds like a madman playing: too little, and it sounds like a robot.) . . . The art is the perfected imperfection.” (italics mine)

I leaped from my chair because this is exactly what makes good writing and because the idea was so beautifully expressed. The bells are still ringing so loudly, that I’ve barely had time to follow all the many reverberations. But I do know that a good idea can ignite y mind and imagination, as vividly as the canals of Venice, and nothing makes me feel more alive than that.

A beautifully expressed idea makes the bells ring.

7:30 Bells: Master of Wind and Wings 
On a bluff above the wild Strait of Juan de Fuca, I learned what it really means to be a master of your craft. As I huddled against the wind on a second story deck of the house, an eagle hovered before me. His wings arched and hunched, his talons dangling, he floated slowly straight down and landed in the yard below. All this in a fierce, fierce wind. What a master of wind and wing!

I’ve watched eagles before, but have never seen this feat. How intimately he knew his element—the wind. Then for an encore, and, as if to prove this was no accident, he flew up, drifted twenty yards north, and then floated straight down again.

As a writer, I want to be  like the eagle.  To be so familiar with my craft that I can use all my power and skill to perform the most delicate landing in the most challenging conditions. I would like to live this way, too. In our lives we teeter on many precipices in  fierce winds. Like the eagle, I’d like to face any great task or challenge--a personal conflict, crisis—with the grace and skill to have a safe and beautiful landing.

Learn the wind and the bells will ring.

7:30 Bells: How 30 Minutes Revealed Mystery and Magnificence in my Own Backyard 
On Friday, I saw two new things that made the bells ring. The Grove of the Patriarchs and Silver Falls. And they were both in my own back yard.

For years my extended family has driven up over Chinook Pass near Mt. Rainier to camp at Lodgepole Campground. Last week, my husband and I took a short detour to visit The Grove of the Patriarchs-- something we had heard about but never visited. It’s a grove of magnificent old growth cedars and Douglas fir trees. I’d seen old trees before, but never so many together. What towering magnificence! What a sense, standing at the base with my neck craned back, that most of that magnificence was  hidden in the  green crowns above.

Then we saw a sign for Silver Falls,  a scant quarter mile hike away. The hugely unoriginal name gave no preview of the fall’s splendor.  A massive cataract tumbled into pool after pool. I stood on the foot bridge over the gorge and watched the river twist away into mystery.

Both of these wonders were a mere 30 minute detour out of the regular route to the campground. I could have enjoyed them many times over the years. This made me wonder. What else am I missing that makes the bells ring that would be so easy to add into my life? 

What haven’t you seen that's been there all along?

Take 30 minutes to seek out something new
and the bells will ring.

7:30 Bells: How are You Danced by Unseen Currents?
Just as resonance lingers, my thoughts are lingering on last week’s 7:30 Bells post. I wrote that I want what I create to resonate on in the heart—like the loon’s call. But, although it’s lovely for other people to hear my call, I believe it’s more important to call than to be heard.  Writing a story or poem—or blog post—is more important than having it read by others.

This brings me to lily pads. During our vacation (where I heard the loons), I spent an afternoon up at Rock Lake, mesmerized by lily pads with tight yellow buds. The afternoon was still. But sometimes the lily pads danced, stirred by a deep-swimming fish or lifted by  breeze. The lily pads danced to unseen currents—unseen by the eye anyway. They resonated with the world that surrounded them, yet remain tethered to the lake bottom. I love this combination of being grounded and yet responsive to the world.
How are you danced by unseen currents?
Stay grounded while resonating with the world,
and the bells will ring.

7:30 Bells: My 3R's: Ring, Resonate, Rise
Have you ever heard a loon call across a lake? Heard  its high, sweet call resonating over the water and lingering on the air? The sound is beautiful, plaintive, haunting.

Last week, I watched several loons—so elegant with their black heads, white breasts, and speckled black and white wings—at the lake where we camped. Loons weren’t born to fly, they labor to become airborne. Loons were born to call as they glide over the water. Born to resonate with the lake, the sky, the wind-struck reed.

This  made me think about why I love the sound of bells. Yes, the clamorous ringing fills me with joy, but the resonance of the bells is part of their haunting magic. Like the loon, I want to resonate with all of life. And I want whatever I create--a piece of writing, a piece of art--to resonate, lingering across the heart.

I may not have wings to fly, but art is my call. It is the resonance that will rise.
The resonance rises.

7:30 Bells: In Hope of Wings
Over the past weeks, I’ve been visiting a group of goslings on the shore of Puget Sound. Watching  their wing stubs grow has made me feel both jealousy and awe. The goslings have grown from looking like awkward dust bunnies under my bed into very hungry little geese.

Their wing stubs look so truncated and odd, so unfinished. Yet, one day they will transform into beautiful feathered wings. One day the goslings will lift those wings and fly. Meanwhile, they swim and eat and grow—all in the hope of wings, the hope of one day soaring into the wondrous blue.

I am jealous because I compare my own raw shoulder blades –stubs that will never transform into wings. And then I laugh at myself. The wings don’t matter. It’s the hope of them that does--my reaching, my aspiring, my lifting toward all that is beautiful and wondrous in this life.

Soar toward beauty and the bells will ring.

7:30 Bells: Writing Outside Leads to Writing with an Impassioned Heart
To the bafflement of my friends, I’ll go to extreme lengths to write outside. In the wind and cold, I write bundled up in coats. In the rain, I write beneath a porch or deck roof. In the sun, I write in a folding chair with a flip-up sun roof—a clothespin cloth protecting the back of my laptop screen.I even chose a laptop with a matte screen--less glare.

Starting in late spring, through the summer and into the fall, I take my folding chair to various parks, beaches, docks, and gardens to write outside. If the temperature is 65 degrees or warmer, I can do this comfortably. 60 degrees is a stretch, but I’ve been known to brave it.

My friends and fellow writers ask two questions about my passion for writing outside. First: why? And second: don’t you get distracted? I have the same answer for both questions. Pausing from work to revel in the beauty of the light on the water, or the wind on a tree, isn’t a distraction. Rather, it fills my soul, refreshing and enlivening my heart in all its deepest places. This leads to better writing, because that comes from the same deep places. Most of all, I love writing outside because it I feel alive to all the glory of the world--filled with the steady ringing of the bells.

This summer I will be posting photos of some of the places I go to write: so watch for the blue chair!
Working somewhere beautiful makes the bells ring.

7:30 Bells: Embrace the Glory of Change

Sometimes, looking up is all it takes to see glory. When I saw these feathered clouds rushing over Commencement Bay, I wondered where they were going and what they would become. 

Change is often hard for me to accept—this past week my wonderful editor Ariel Colletti left publishing to embark on a new journey. I will miss her insights and her kind caring for my work and me. Most often change comes to us this way; it’s not our choice and not under our control. 

If only I could learn that changes in life can be as beautiful as an ever-shifting, feathered sky. Maybe I will. If I keep looking up.

Embrace the glory of change and the bells will ring.

7:30 Bells: Aloft and Mighty--The Quality of Light.

At sunset and sunrise, the quality of light reaches its dramatic pinnacle—not at midday when the sun is high and bright, and the shadows meager. How brilliantly that is shown in this backlit tree in my neighborhood. This quality of light is sought by painters and poets, not only for its beauty of splendid contrasts, but, I think, because it reminds us of the human condition. Like counterpoint in music, our lives are mélanges of light and dark.  Isn’t it at difficult, even impossible moments, that humans reach their own pinnacles? Schindler’s List, for example. Or someone who rushes into a burning inferno to save a stranger. Or, on a smaller scale . . . someone who shows compassion to one who has been unkind to them in the past.

In both times of ease and times of trouble, it’s useful to remember that we must hold both the light and the dark, and hope for beauty. Let’s hope we can be be like this tree in the splendor of its bearing and hold ourselves aloft and mighty, for whatever comes.

Embrace the contradictions of life and the bells will ring.

7:30 Bells: What Holds Us Back Can Make Us More Beautiful

A few hours before I was rear-ended in a car accident on May 4, I took these photos of old, iron-corroded bars on a walkway above Puget Sound. I snapped them because I loved the unexpected beauty of the thick encrustations left by salt water, loved the coppery color of the bars. 

A week after the accident—a lost week because I had too much brain fog and pain to write or read, a lost week because my mind and imagination felt like a stagnant pond—I looked at the pictures. This time, what I saw was the liveliness of the water churning beyond the bars.

I feel hopeful that the liveliness of my mind and imagination will return to me soon

I feel comforted. Even if my brain and body suffer from injury, they will--like the bars--still endure, made more beautiful by the pounding waves and the salt air.

What Holds Us Back Can Make us More Beautiful

7:30 Bells: How to Wake up Each Morning

Sometime being alive, feeling alive, knowing your alive happens quietly, in delicate chimes instead of great resounding clangs. Experiencing these quieter moments requires paying attention. Looking up from the manuscript I’m working on to watch the sparrows wantonly gobble the seeds in the feeder. Pausing while folding laundry to notice how light curls in the folds of the linen curtains.

Sometimes paying attention means stopping activity. This is difficult. We aren't about stopping. We're about getting things done, checking items off the vise of our To Do lists. No one has taught us to stop and pay attention because that doesn’t tick items off the  list.

Sometimes paying attention means fully focusing on what we're doing. We become completely engaged in what we’re doing—perhaps writing, perhaps planting seeds in the garden.

Sometimes paying attention means being able to consciously shift our focus from one thing to another. I can be completely engaged in writing a scene,  then look up and for a few moments be completely engaged in watching the sparrows. Then I return easily to my manuscript. This is quite different from being distracted. This is about choosing what to pay attention to as I move through my day.

When I wake up in the morning, I don’t want my first thought be—what will I get done today? Rather, I want my first thought to be—what wonderful thing will I experience today? And when I close my eyes to go to sleep, I don’t want to sigh over what didn’t get checked off my To Do list. Instead, I want to remember how I felt most alive that day.

My To Do list will never end. My life will. I want to experience it all, live the moments the world presents to me, and the moments I choose. I want to hear even the faintest notes of the ringing bell.

Pay attention to experience the range of life . . . 
from its clamorous ringing to its most delicate chiming.

7:30 Bells: Cathedrals of Wind

Wind makes me feel alive—alive from my toes to the ends of my blowing hair. The broom of the wind sweeps every cobweb from my mind. In the Pacific Northwest this week, a spring cocktail of wind, rain, sun, and clouds swirled over the land. Wind makes me feel alive because it brings the world alive. Leaves blow. Flowers rumba. Usually sober pine trees rejoice in their majesty by swaying. The bamboo outside my writing window swishes—tossing light and dark from leaf to leaf. (video) The whole world is moving, breathing. My soul comes alive in the breath of the wind.

People have long connected the ideas of spirit, breath, and wind. Ruach is the old Hebrew for breath, wind or spirit. The Greek word, pneuma also means wind and spirit. In India, I believe the word Brahmachaitanya, means the Breath of God.

Before the windy weather hit this week, a friend and I were comparing our writing styles. The word that emerged for my style was breath. I like breath in my work. To me that means movement, spaciousness, life, energy. I want a style where the wind can dance in the words, a place where the light can get in—prose that lets the reader breath and dance, too.

As a person who meditates, I love to watch the air move through my body. Sometimes--rare, wonderful moments--I have felt as though the world were breathing me. As though I've joined with God’s breath. Then, without any roped being pulled, the bells ring in a cathedral of wind.

I would like my books to be Cathedrals of Wind.

The wind of the breath of the soul rings the bell.

7:30 Bells: An Abundance of Blossoms

A carpet of pink blossoms—definitely a magic carpet—appeared before me on a walk this week. Here, in my own neighborhood, I suddenly found myself glimpsing a magical realm. But I hesitated to enter it, fearing to disturb the beautiful path.

But the glorious blossom path beckoned. It seemed to whisper: Beauty is meant to be experienced. Be willing to step fully into the world. Don't let the world be so precious, you’re afraid to live in it.

As a writer, I understand this. I have to be willing to step into the world of my novel, to experience it--even if that means crushing a few petals underfoot. My work can’t be so precious that I fear to cut and edit. I must trust that I can rewrite and re-imagine. I can make more beauty. The world can make more—and it does, every spring. There is an abundance of blossoms.

So I walked down the pink blossom path with wonder, with joy, and with faith that the very act of walking down it would lead me to worlds more beautiful, and more magical, still. And I heard the bells ring—a chime on the wind as delicate as the blossoms themselves.

Embrace the abundance of beauty and the bells will ring.

7:30 Bells: The Artist as Bell Ringer

How do we support our bell and bell tower so we can keep ringing, keep creating, keep sending our poems, stories, and paintings, ringing out across the waiting land?

1. As a Bell Ringer Artist, learn to maintain the bell and the bell tower. We so often forget the simple things that form the foundation for our ringing. Is the sinking ground beneath your bell tower causing it to lean? Is the mortar crumbling between the stones of your bell tower? Are your bell-ringing ropes frayed from wear or neglect? Are you taking care of your body, your body that holds your creativity? Do you need more rest, more exercise? More sleep? More quiet? Decide what you need to keep the foundation firm and the bell tower soaring.

2. Keep your bell clean of pigeon poop--negativity and unskillful criticism.

3. Keep rust off your bell. Like any fine instrument, it must be played regularly.

4. Keep weedy vines from growing over your bell tower—the bell needs an unimpeded view of the world to ring resoundingly. The bell can not be constricted, but must be free to swing to its full reaches.

5. Polish your bell by learning more about your craft.

6. Prioritize your bell ringing schedule. A bell has scheduled ringing times—for celebrations, holidays, holy days. A bell also rings unexpectedly—for weddings, funerals, emergencies. And sometimes a bell rings for pure joy. Know when, how often, and how hard to pull on the rope that rings the bell. Too much ringing will break the rope or crack the bell. Bell Ringer Artists must decide how to prioritize the bell’s ringing. Which creative projects are most important to you?

Support the gloried weight of your ringing bell,
and your art will reverberate across the land for years to come.

7:30 Bells: The Fire of Creativity

Last week I posed a question: The stone girl in the fountain holds up the vase spilling bright streams of water—like the streams of creative power. Yet she’s bowed by the weight How do we keep the force of the creative flow from shattering the vessel?

 I received some thought-provoking answers on Facebook:

From Shaula Zink: “ . . . the flow is the very thing that keeps the vessel from shattering. If the vessel had to contain it all, the tension would build up more pressure—that has to give somewhere.”

My reply: “Sometimes I feel the force of all that bright streaming will wear away the rock.”

Shaula replied: “Ah, but the wear is the essence of life. It’s our tears, our trials and triumph. It shapes us into who we are. The wear is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to make us “less than.”

From David Pecchia: “A stone wears away permanently while a person becomes worn-out from exertion of any kind, but only temporarily. Fatigue passes and leaves us incrementally stronger.”

What true and marvelous insights! They made me wonder why I really do believe—why I know--that I could break “permanently” from the force of the creative stream.  Why am I so different? Probably because I have a mild form of manic-depressive illness (bipolar illness)--called Bipolar II. 

TOUCHED WITH FIRE is Kay Redfield Jamison’s book about the fascinating relationship between artistic temperament and manic-depressive illness.
“Characteristics . . .also link the manic side of manic-depressive illness with artistic temperament and imagination.  Many of these are related to the fiery side of the manic temperament, and, when coupled with an otherwise imaginative, observant, and (ultimately) disciplined mind, they can result in literary, musical, and artistic works of singular power. The sheer force of life, the voltage, can be staggering in mania, and it often singes if not scorches the ideas that come in its wake . . .” and the people too, I might add.

Although I’ve never been manic, I’ve often been hypomanic (a lower level of mania). The “voltage” of hypomania  is more than staggering enough for me.  Jamison comments that the hypomanic state correlates with maximum artistic production. (Those in full blown mania often don’t think coherently enough to produce anything.)

People with manic-depressive illness on any level can die, and often do die--from suicide. So, for me, bearing the weight of the creative stream running through the urn is a real issue: the stone could crack, the stone girl fall.

This makes the question of how to stay well while letting the creative stream flow critical for me.
I’ll explore that in next Tuesday’s 7:30 Bells post.

Understand the nature of the bell--to keep it from breaking

7:30 Bells: Bearing the Weight of your Creative Stream

I saw this fountain on a walk during a break from an amazing day. I'd worked on three different creative projects. When I saw the stone woman, I understood why, though I felt exhilarated, I also felt exhausted.

The stone woman holds a vase spilling bright streams of water. She holds it on her shoulder. Her creativity is a great gift flowing out of her to bring beauty to the world. She loves it, is blessed by it, and yet is also bowed by its weight.
I named her Eustress. Wikipedia defines eustress as “positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings."

Yes. But it is still stress.

As wonderful as it is to feel your creative power flowing, as exhilarating as it is to be a ringing bell, both take their toll.

Next week I’ll write about supporting the bell tower. For unless the stone woman is strong enough to hold the bright water surging through her, she will fall. Unless the bell tower is strong enough to hold the bell, it will fall.

Learn to support the bell
 so it can keep on ringing.

7:30 Bells: Tuning Your Eye: A Wood Knot Becomes A Rose

On Saturday, I walked through Point Defiance Park on a glorious, almost spring day. I was searching for twisted and knotted sticks for a project.  Although I saw trees and hikers and even an eagle, my attention was on the search.

And then on the finding.

I’d pick up a stick, turn it this way and that, searching for what it might show me. One piece, a madrona branch, had  gorgeous gnarled knots. Marveling at its beauty, wonder struck me: the gnarled knots looked like roses—black roses. That’s when the bells began to ring—from possibility, from seeing in a new way, from the firing of imagination.

What I look for as I walk through the world, changes what I will see. This is true whether I’m looking for a stick, or for kindness, or for beauty.  Some call it synchronicity. I call it tuning my eye.

Tune your eye to change how you see the world.

7:30 Bells: Dancing a Poem

“Tonight I learned how to dance a poem.” I wrote that last fall in my Word Mess (journal).

At night, when the world sleeps, I push back the furniture and dance, improvising to music. What a relief after sitting cramped at the computer. Movement, a beating heart, a reaching arm—my body finds its reverie in music. Those moments when the body stops between steps are like the white spaces between stanzas in a poem, like the silence between movements in a symphony.  What joy this free dancing brings me. How the bells ring. Dancing hasn’t always been this way for me.

When I was little, I loved to put on music at home and dance with joy. I took ballet once a week for fun. Then twice a week. This is a photo of me at the school show in the 5th grade, dancing  Jo in Little Women. I chose the moment in the story when Jo sold her hair. First, I danced an undecided Jo outside the barber shop, then a shorn Jo (wig) emerging from the barber shop.

I had no idea then that my joy in dancing was about to vanish. In 7th grade, someone at the ballet school (Cornish) decided I had talent and promoted me to the advanced “daily” class, with mostly high school girls. It was daily grinding work, daily rigor, daily criticism, daily fears of not being good enough. Ballet is about being in the right place (the body) at the right time (the moment in the music)  Never once did  a teacher just encourage us to go out on the floor and dance freely, improvising to the music. Never once.

So how did I reclaim the dance?

A few years ago, a doctor told me to exercise my upper body to alleviate pain from computer work.  I  tried Tai Chi. But, like ballet, the body has to exactly follow a prescribed sequence of steps. My life has enough rules. Then I tried dancing, nothing formal, just moving to music. And loved it. My eleven-year-old dancing self returned.

Here is another line from my Word Mess: “Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Movement does.”
Now, dancing at night, my heart and body respond to the music. No censure. No judgment. No one else’s steps to learn and follow. The only requirement: attention and response. My mind is completely engaged in listening to the music and feeling the emotions evoked, my body completely engaged in responding. Meditation in movement. And with that all consuming attention comes rapture.

Rapture is exactly what happens in intense moments of living when the bells ring.

Reclaim your rapture, and the bells will ring.

7:30 Bells: Passion Makes the Bells Ring

Re-re-re-reading Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark about the development of a young girl into an extraordinary artist, one sentence reverberated with me. This was something Thea’s German piano teacher, Wunsch, told her about art. Although I’ve been re-reading this book since I was twenty, this was the first time I understood what Wunsch meant.

“But the secret—what makes the rose to red, the sky to blue, the man to love—in der Brustin der Brust it is, und ohne dieses gibt es keine Kunst, gibt es keine Kunst!”

With my three years of high school German, I loosely translate this as: “But the secret—what makes the rose to red, the sky to blue, the man to love—in the heart, in the heart it is, and without this there is no art, there is no art!”

Passion. Wunsch was talking about passion, passion for life is the secret of great art. What I feel when the bells ring, what makes the bells ring, is exactly that—passion for life. For me it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world.

A few years later, when Thea is a struggling vocal student in Chicago, she attends a performance of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. She comes out of the concert, her heart ringing with the beauty of the music. But the world—the traffic, the hurrying crowds, the ugly a man who propositions her—all conspire to rip that passionate ringing of her heart away. I understand that, too. Cather writes Thea’s response:

"All these things and people were no longer remote and negligible; they had to be met, they were lined up against her, they were there to take something from her. Very well; they should never have it; They might trample her to death, but they should never have it. As long as she lived that ecstasy was going to be hers. She would live for it, work for it, die for it; but she was going to have it, time after time, height after height. She could hear the crash of the orchestra again, and she rose on the brasses. She would have it, what the trumpets were singing! She would have it, have it--it!"

I agree. Sometimes you have to fight, work, intentionally make room in your life so the bells can ring, so you can hold on to the ringing.

Hold on to your passion for life to make the bells ring.

7:30 Bells: What Makes You Come Alive?

This weekend I visited a real Enchanted Forest--the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park in Washington where my husband and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary.  Walking through the Hall of Moss with its immense trees, I felt the same as when I’d watched the swallows in Siena fly around the Dumo. Here again, though in a different way, the ancient—the immense old trees—joined with the ephemeral—the red maple leaves. Here again, this joining of the ancient and the ephemeral made me feel as though I were standing in the Forever Now.

Something about this makes me come alive, makes the bells ring—this time in my own backyard. Now I know. What makes you come alive?

Listen and watch for what makes you come alive.

7:30 Bells: Light in the Cracks 

Two converging events this week made the bells ring.

First, I watched this Ted Talk: Four Lessons in Creativity by Julie Burstein

At the end of this amazing seventeen minute talk with incredible photos (near the 16:27 second mark), Burstein holds up this 100 year old Japanese tea bowl. It was broken at some point in its history.

Burstein says: ". . .but the person who put it back together, instead of hiding the cracks, decided to emphasize them, using gold lacquer to repair it.  This bowl is more beautiful now, having been broken, than it was when it was first made.”

Second, I heard the song Anthem by Leonard Norman Cohen, a singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist from Canada. Here are the words from the verse:

               Ring the bells that still can ring 

               Forget your perfect offering 
               There is a crack, a crack in everything 
               That's how the light gets in. 

As I look at the golden cracks celebrated in the tea bowl, as I hear the words of Cohen’s song, as I look at my own life and books, I wonder. The crack in everything is how the light gets in, but maybe it is also how our light gets out.

Where broken, seize the opportunity to ring more beautifully still. 

7:30 Bells: Swallows in Siena 

Siena dusk. Summer. The swallows flying so fast and thick in the sky I could scoop them up with a net. On the hill, the marble duomo begins to shine in the light of the rising moon. The Now--the ephemeral swallows flying—and The Past—the thousand-year-old duomo—merged and showed me what eternity meant. And exaltation.

How the bells rang!

This past week, I wondered if there was any point in writing if few listen. Dark winters are always hard . . . I was born for summer. So I watched this video from my trip to Italy last June. I thought it might lift my spirits to remember a time when the bell rang wildly.

It did.

When the bell tower stands in shadow, when only silence seems to come back across the hill, I remember that it's more important for the bell to ring than for the bell to be heard.

It's more important to ring, than to be heard.

7:30 Bells: Seize the Moment

Yesterday, in the babble of busy evening—getting dinner, getting ready for tomorrow—
I rushed past a window and saw the the pale full moon floating up the sunset. I rushed on—then stopped.

If I were in Italy, I thought, or at the Farm, I would seize the moment and step outside to look at that moon. Why not here? Why not now in the middle of "ordinary" life?

So I stepped outside, but never even noticed the moon. Across the street, the sunlight had already abandoned the winter-bone trees, leaving bare branches dark. Except one. One tree burned gold, every branch gold. Why, I wondered, why was the light shining on that one tree?

Then I knew. That tree was like me when bells are brightly ringing inside me. That tree was ringing with some wonder of its own. Caught by the stunning contrast of dark and gold, I began ringing too. There we stood, across from each other, the tree and I--both gold, both alight, both madly pealing.


Ringing happens when you seize the moment.

Dia CalhounComment