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musings from the studio and beyond ~

dawn chandler’s reflections on art and life. . . .


why I can’t watch Breaking Bad

As much as I’d like to — for I’ve heard stellar reviews of its masterful character and plot development — I can’t watch Breaking Bad. I watched the first two episodes and that’s all I could stomach. It’s just too close to home.

My neighborhood has been strained for a while. There’s an undercurrent of illicit behavior. Someone’s been stealing our mail. And last year there was an incident involving an open shooter, forcing us all under lockdown for half a day. No surprise that it was drug related.

Some of the cast from Breaking Bad.

For the last year-and-half trucks headed for a neighbor’s place would drive down my lane at all hours of the night with unusual cargo: random building materials and contractor supplies. They bulldozed a field that I used to enjoy walking by, and transformed it into a mess of an eyesore junkyard littered with their nightly haul. Turns out my neighbor was lording over a den of thieves, robbing construction sites all over town. The cops finally busted the stash a few weeks ago, discovering hundreds of thousands of dollars of stolen goods (some of which, thank goodness, have been returned to their rightful owners). They still haven’t caught the ring leader though. And I wonder if the contents of my glove compartment that were stolen on Christmas Eve two years ago, or my bin of car emergency supplies ripped off from my front patio this past December were among the loot piled in my neighbor’s warehouse.

Former field transformed into an eyesore of a junk yard.
After the SWAT team busted the den of thieves and cleared away tons of loot from the junkyard that had once been a field.

More recently a couple of signs popped up on the side of our dirt road which say


About a week ago I noticed that someone had scrawled on one of the signs with a black Sharpie so that it now reads


The defacer of the sign further added a couple of arrows pointing across the road to a new house where a young couple with some young kids & a grandad live.

I wonder how that young family feels whenever they drive by that hurtful sign.

I know that I feel assaulted every time my dog and I walk by it.

It breaks my heart every time I see the rudeness of that crude sign.

It breaks my heart each time I walk by that former field bulldozed into a junkyard.

It breaks my heart every day when I notice the spent syringes and empty plastic nip bottles of booze lining the sidewalks in my neighborhood and across big swaths of town.

It’s all I can do to resist a downward spiral into depressive overwhelm.

Never mind the news. Never mind the personal, wrenching tragedies so many friends and family and fellow human beings are suffering right now.

This right here though — this ugly sign, the indifference to people, the abuse of land and other beings, the tragic losses and heartache all around — all of this is the very reason I dedicate so much of my time to searching for beauty in the world and sharing it. Because when I look a certain way around me, I see nothing but darkness, nothing but rancor, nothing but suffering and heartache and hurt.

But if I make an effort to look another kind of way, I can spot amidst the shadows and sorrows some tiny glimmer of beauty, of light.

It’s not that I purposefully overlook or am blinded to the dark shadows.
Rather I make a decision every day to the degree that I am able to focus on the light. I make a decision every day to find the beauty, to find the possibility. I make a decision every day to find the hope and the inspiration. To believe that we can be the change we want to see in the world.

Because that’s the only way I’ve found to face down the demons in the darkness.

What I’ve discovered is that noticing beauty is kind of like developing a muscle: When you start to exercise it, it gets stronger. And with practice you eventually start to engage the muscle without even thinking about it. You just start noticing — to use Cherly Strayed’s perfect phrase — tiny beautiful things more and more.

Of course, like any muscle, it demands rest from time to time. Those are the days when I just have to allow myself to wallow in the shadows, acknowledge and respect that the darkness exists.

But eventually the muscle of positivity aches to be stretched again, and insists that I step out of the darkness into light, and open up my awareness again to noticing.

Santa Fe sunset sky. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.

A few days ago on my early morning walk I noticed someone had taken a black Sharpie to that one sign and blocked out the angry expletive.

And this morning?

This morning somebody in the neighborhood breaking good.

For suddenly out of nowhere in the wee hours of the morning, six tiny hearts appeared on that sign and over where that ugly curse word had been.

Santa Fe sunrise cottonwood silhouette

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to my blog. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for TuesdayDawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again!

Stay safe.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

which would you choose?

First morning of summer, hiking the Guittierz Trails east of Albuquerque. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

There’s something you need to see — it has your name all over it.

— so My Good Man informed me when I arrived at his house late afternoon of the solstice. Whatever it was, he’d discovered it on his trail run that morning over on The East Side — the wooded slopes of the Sandia mountains. Over there on the east side is where NM Route 14 runs pretty much parallel to I-25 on the west side, though Route 14 is far more pleasant and picturesque and has become my preferred route between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

There’s a network of trails over there that he frequents, not the least because there’s a brewpub AND a coffee shop sharing the trailhead parking lot. Yet despite the opportunity for both warming and cooling libations, I had yet to experience — or be convinced of the merit of — these trails. We had gone out there once last winter during a bitterly cold morning, and were disappointed to discover the trails were slick with ice. After a few minutes of miserable slippery hiking, we turned around. I hadn’t stepped on the trails since. And, truth be told, though I enjoy driving up Route 14, there are parts of that side of the Sandias that have struck me as a bit monotonous in their drab and unvaried greenery — a surprisingly narrow-minded outlook for one who would like to think she strives for open-mindedness, especially when it comes to exploring trails!

But the promise of something remarkable was all I needed to get me up at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning, fill my travel coffee cup, load the pup in the car and drive over to the east side with My Good Man.

And there it was: the-remarkable-something-for-me-to-see revealed itself the moment we stepped on the trail:

The path was lined with stones, each hand-painted a gorgeous sky blue…

Painted blue stones line a path at the Guittierez trails east of Albuquerque.

each with an inspiring thought scribed on its cool smooth surface.

Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias

What’s more, there was an invitation for anyone who wanted to to select a stone to keep for themselves.

Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias

What a delightful, inspiring and generous gift — made for strangers!

My Good Man was right: This had my name all over it.

Now for the hard part:

Which one to choose?!

Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

I decided to wait until the end of our hike* to make my selection to give me time to listen to which one called to me most strongly.

Initially I was drawn to this one, what with my recent firing of FaceBook and determination to prove that one can survive and prosper as a self-employed artist without having to rely on social media:

Prove Them Wrong. Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

But ultimately I chose another — or rather, it chose me. For this one encompasses what that other one says, yet so much more:

Challenge Yourself - Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

My Good Man chose this one:

Better and oops than a what if. Blue stone quotation art east side of the Sandias. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Which one would you choose?

*[Pics from that surprisingly mighty fine trail exploration coming up in next week’s TuesdayDawnings!]

Artist Dawn Chandler practicing safe pandemic awareness in her studio before her spring 2020 Daily Watercolor Wanderings series.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts I invite you to subscribe to my blog. And by all means, if you know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again!

Stay safe.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

the tide of awareness on the longest day of the year

As a child I always loved the summer solstice, because it meant the days were now getting longer.

Think about that for a moment.
If you are a human being with any awareness at all of our planet, and you were paying attention to that first statement, then you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait… that’s not right….. The days begin to get shorter with the summer solstice — not longer!

And you are correct.
But I didn’t know that Truth — didn’t grasp it — until I was nearly 30 years old.

Mind you, I was well aware that with the winter solstice, the days begin to lengthen. But I never grasped that in June the days begin to shorten.

Here’s the thing: I grew up in the good old days when school let out (as it should!) on the first day of summer, and began again (as it should!) on the Tuesday after Labor Day. None of this sacrilege of school ending in May and starting in August!

When I was a kid, school ended and summer started on the summer solstice — my mother’s birthday. She always said she was “born on the longest day of the year,” and sure enough on that day, it just seemed like the days suddenly swung open in length and excitement and possibility.
From June 21st onward the days would stretch well past dinnertime, and evening would fold in with fireflies and the cooling of the grass in long lawn shadows.

For us kids, summertime meant exploring in the woods, building forts, softball games, and antics in the tree house. Of countless hours in the pool — even in the evenings as bats skitted the surface of the water. Of the 4-H Fair and funnel cake, fresh garden corn and coleslaw. Of road-trips north through New England to see distant relatives. Of camping trips on the coast of Maine and lobster and popovers and strawberry pie; of digging for clams and blue-green water-carved sea glass.

As a kid, the days of summer seemed expansive and endless and joyful.

Our esteemed writer (the ruby-robed princess on the left) partaking in a bit of summertime frolicking with her BFF, c. 1969.

It was only as September approached, when my little desk in my little room attained a stack of pristine new notebooks and sharpened pencils that I had the slightest sense of daylight lessening.

This was my experience of summer for most of the first three decades of my life.

And then in June of my 27th year, I was jolted into clarifying awareness of the Truth of summer solstice.

That summer I was living with my aunt on Mt Desert Island in Maine. I was a graduate student in painting in Philadelphia and had gone to Maine for the summer to work in an art gallery on the island. My aunt — a widow, her children long grown with families of their own — lived alone, and graciously took me in as her roommate that summer. She offered me an antique- and book-filled bedroom, and the freedom to do be on my own schedule and do as I wished.

Backdoor to the Kitchen, oil on canvas, 18" x 12" by Dawn Chandler

Backdoor to the Kitchen ~ oil on canvas ~ 18″ x 12″
Walk through that door and you entered a musty shed which led to the kitchen of my aunt’s 19th-century farmhouse near Salisbury Cove on Mt. Desert Island, Maine. My friends and neighbors have been alerted: If my house is ever on fire, grab three things:
1) My dog
2) My computer.
3) This painting.

This was to be my first time visiting her since I was a child. In my youth my family would spend a week camping on her property — an absolutely idyllic spot a quarter of a mile through the woods behind her house that opened up to a clearing overlooking Frenchman’s Bay. It remains the most perfect campsite I’ve ever known. Flat, grassy, with dappled sunlight, plenty of firewood, and immense gently sloping rocks that slanted down to the water — it was a camper’s dream.

Watercolor sketch of view across Frenchman's Bay, Mt Desert Island, by artist Dawn Chandler.

The view across Frenchman’s Bay from our camping site on Anne’s point. All of these watercolors are from the large journal I kept that summer of 1991 living on Mt Desert with my aunt. Unfortunately the paper of the journal wasn’t ideal for watercolors, but I delighted in painting in it none the less — especially trying to capture the various treasures I’d collect during walks at low tide.

The day after I arrived that summer of graduate school, I hiked through the woods to the point, and set up my family’s old canvas tent, amazed by how small it seemed now that I was an adult. Over the course of that summer I would spend many a day down there walking the shore, filling my pockets with treasure, and nights writing and painting in my journal by flashlight, soon lulled to sleep by the sound of the tides.

Watercolor sketches of treasures found along the Maine coast, by Dawn Chandler
Watercolor sketches of treasures found along the Maine coast, by Dawn Chandler

The tides were fascinating to me. For, other than my family’s annual excursion to this spot, I had had little exposure to the ocean — despite growing up in New Jersey, just a hour from “the shore.” While my friends would spend their summers and weekends “down the shore” we always went to the mountains to hike and camp. My father’s attitude was that if we were going to go to the ocean, then by God, we were going to camp! And so we did — here, “down east” on my aunt’s coastline.

A page of Dawn Chandler's Maine sketchbook, c. 1991.

As a child I was too young to have any awareness of the tides. All I knew then was that sometimes the water was high, and other times the water was low.

Now though I became intrigued by the relationship between the moon and the tides and the remarkable schedule of high and low water. Soon I learned that if you knew the time of the day’s tides, you could pretty much determine the time of tomorrow’s tides; that high tide and low tide were about 6 hours or so apart. That was just amazing — the clockwork of it!

A page of Dawn Chandler's Maine sketchbook, c. 1991.

But if ever you lost track of the time of the tides, there was always the annually updated tide chart — an accordian-folded pamphlet printed on thin, durable paper, with a series of minuscule tables mapping out with precision the time of each day’s high and low tides, as well as the exact time of sunrise and sunset. In my aunt’s house the tide chart was tacked near the old cook-stove in the kitchen.

That year June 21st — the summer solstice — was on a Friday, and I was looking forward to celebrating the kick-off of summer at a party with new friends down on the southern tip of the island. After the party, I was planning on sleeping in my coastal tent.
Anticipating a late evening, I went to the corner of the kitchen to study the tide chart and see what time the sun would be setting that evening.
My eyes scanned the numbers, noting that on the Solstice the sun would be setting about one minute later than on the previous day.

But afterwards, within a day or two the sun would be setting one minute earlier again. And the day after that, another minute earlier.

Wait, WHAT?

I looked hard at the chart, my finger running down the column for sunset. Each day after the 21st, sunset was a minute earlier.

By July 4th, evening would be a whole quarter-of-an-hour earlier than on my mother’s birthday!

I scanned the column for sunrise. Each day after the 21st, dawn would occur one minute later than the previous day.

It hit me like a tidal wave:

NOOOO! It can’t be!

I was astounded!

As I stood there in the kitchen a wave of embarrassment overtook me I realized the depth of my ignorance.

And sadness.

Sadness at the realization that already the cold dark days of winter were on their way.
I felt crestfallen that Mother Nature had let me down. She was supposed to be protracting summer evenings till September. Surely that was the promise she made to me as a kid, when school let out on the first day of summer, wasn’t it?

That evening of the longest day of the year was winged with melancholy for me.

Watercolor sketch of a hazy humid horizon along the coast of Maine, by Dawn Chandler c. 1991.

That was three decades ago, and while I no longer feel melancholy at the summer solstice, I feel, perhaps, a little wistful for those carefree days of youthful summers, no matter they were enjoyed in a daze of ignorance.

Mostly, though, I feel fortunate that I get to witness yet another cycle of these beautiful earthly seasons.

And gratitude. Gratitude that I get to perform a personal solstice ritual that holds meaning for me.

For June 21st remains the day my mother was born — some eight decades ago. And though she died of breast cancer 12 years ago, thoughts of her flood my memory constantly, and on this day especially.

Back when she was struggling to fight her cancer and was in the brutal cycle of harsh chemo treatments, she confided to me:

I’d give anything for a strong cup of black coffee and a glazed donut.

To this day I kick myself for not finding a way to smuggle coffee and donuts to her room, doctor’s orders be damned.

But in my way I try to make up for it.

For every year on her birthday — on the longest day of the year, on the summer solstice — I raise a steaming cup of strong black coffee and a glistening glazed donut to the sun. And on my mother’s behalf…

I savor every sweet, pillowy morsel…

I savor every dark richly roasted sip…

I savor every minute and moment of light.

Sketchbook, coffee and a glazed donut.
Extraordinary donut sketches by artist Dawn Chandler
Evidence of donut snitching

Teeth marks that perfectly align with the upper jaw of a certain 13-year old mutt….

Artist Dawn Chandler as a child in Mount Desert Island c.1968

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my blog posts and know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again.

Stay safe.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

why I’m leaving ~ tell me what else I should have done?

Artist Dawn Chandler's shadow walking across the playa at sunrise. Playa in Summer Lake, Oregon

Tell me what else I should have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me what it is you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

These words of Mary Oliver’s have been swimming around in my mind and on my tongue of late. So much so that they’ve become a bit of a prayer — which is ironic because a few lines earlier in the poem she says

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is

She follows that with

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields.

Artist Dawn Chandler's silhouette hiking at Brush Creek Ranch, Wyoming

In addition to this diet of prayer, I’ve been crunching some numbers….

They say the average user spends about 30 minutes each day on FaceBook and closer to an hour each day when you add up all of the apps and platforms of the vast FaceBook ecosystem.
I don’t remember when I joined FaceBook, but I know I was an active user while still living in Taos — so let’s go with 2008.

That’s 12 years — over a decade. Twenty-percent of my life I’ve been a FaceBook user.

Let’s say I’ve used FaceBook only half as much as the average user. So rather than being on there every day, let’s say I’m on there half of the days of the week: 3 – 4 days, or 3.5 days per week.

So that means every-other day or so I check in on FaceBook. I tell myself it’s to see how my friends and family are doing. But that’s really kind of a half-truth, since what most of us broadcast on FB is cursory to the real depth of our lives.

If I’m really going to be honest with myself, I’m logging in in hopes of approval pings.

And then, because FaceBook is brilliantly engineered to be an addictive slot-machine of ego-stroking and distraction, those “few minutes” I was going to spend have turned into 20 or more.

Give into the addiction two or three times per day, and I’ve just pissed away an hour of my day.

Do that 3 – 4 days per week, and that adds up to about 14 hours per month.
168 hours per year.
2,016 hours in 12 years.

String those hours together and that’s 84 solid continuous days of my life — almost 3 months.

Let’s add in a little sleep there — say 8 hours per day — and string together those days of continuous use, as though I were on FaceBook just during the 16 non-sleeping hours per day.

That’s over four months of my attention directed continually on FaceBook.

Four months of my wild and precious life.

And remember, for the “average” user that number is closer to EIGHT MONTHS

To what end?

What might I have done with those months of my life?

What paintings might I have created?
What adventures might I have had?
What trails might I have explored?
What books might I have read?
What letters, what poems, what essays might I have written?
What lengthy, thoughtful conversations might I have had? What listening might I have done?
What deep reflection might I have pondered?
What chords might I have learned?
What language might I now be speaking?

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

~ Annie Dillard

Artist Dawn Chandler's silhouette hiking at Brush Creek Ranch, Wyoming

More important, what will I do with the next four months of life?

And the next four months?

And the next?

I don’t know, but what I do know is that I don’t want to give over anymore of my wild and precious life to FaceBook.

This hasn’t been an easy decision. If it had been, I would have made it ages ago with my first sense of FaceBook malaise.

What makes it hard is that I have occasionally derived some pleasure from FaceBook. I’ve made a few friendships; I’ve enjoyed some quips and laughs, some amusing and interesting exchanges; I’ve been exposed to some real beauty in the way of art and photography, writing and music.
I’ve expanded the audience for my art and have even sold some paintings as a direct result of being on FaceBook.

Artist Dawn Chandler's silhouette hiking in an Idaho forest.

But even with all of that, I can no longer ignore the sense of malaise, the undercurrent of regret every time I log out that I could have directed my attention more richly, more substantively.

It’s a little scary deciding to walk away from FaceBook. There’s the worry of losing friendships. But really, the true friendships will endure no matter what, and the dross will fall away. In fact, I think leaving FaceBook will help me deepen my truest friendships. For, as artist Jenny Odell has aptly observed, “The convenience of limitless connectivity has neatly paved over the nuances of in-person conversation, cutting away so much information and context in the process.” I want to get back to the nuances of conversations with friends.

No, what’s especially scary is wondering whether or not I can continue to support myself as a self-employed artist without being on FaceBook. Like so many others, the culture has brainwashed me into believing that in order to survive as a business owner and a creative, I need to be on FaceBook; that it’s the only effective way of getting my work out there, expanding my audience, and finding new patrons.

Well, I guess I’ll find out whether there’s any truth to that.

Artist Dawn Chandler and dog, Wilson, silhouetted in a digital collage.

I want to be clear here: I’m by no means a Luddite. I may be giving up FaceBook, but I’m very definitely not giving up technology or the internet. Quite the contrary. Apart from the many “unplugged” interests I want to pursue, online I intend to put more thoughtfulness, creativity and attention into my blog, my website, my Etsy shop and TuesdayDawnings not to mention there’s a whole bunch of online courses I’d love to take.

Also, for the time-being, I’m still on Instagram — though we’ll see for how much longer. My cowardice to cut the cord entirely with social media and pull out of Instagram and FaceBook in one fell swoop points to my nervousness as to whether there’s truth to the argument that you can’t survive as a visual artist in the 21st-century without being on any social media platforms.
So for now I’ll cut out the platform which disturbs me the most, and see if I might be able to work with the other in a minimalist and valuable way. We’ll see if that’s possible.

If it doesn’t’ work out, well then, good riddance. [ UPDATE: I’ve deleted BOTH my FaceBook & Instagram accounts as of 6/20/20. BLESSED FREEDOM!! ]

Meanwhile, to those of you who use FaceBook and find it enriches and brings worthwhile meaning to your life, more power to you. I hope that you may always feel that way about your engagement with it.

But if you, too, have experienced — to quote Jenny Odell again — “a certain nervous feeling of being over-stimulated then unable to sustain a train of thought linger — though it can be hard to grasp before it disappears behind a screen of distraction;” if, like me, you have felt that undercurrent of malaise whenever you log off of FaceBook and consider the minutes and hours of your one wild and precious life, then I’ve a book recommendation for you: Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in A Noisy World, by Cal Newport. Put it at the top of your “Must Read” list; listen to it on your next roadtrip — it’s that worthwhile.

Artist Dawn Chandler's shadow walking across the playa at sunrise. Playa in Summer Lake, Oregon

All this to say…..

I’ll be deleting my FaceBook account on June 20th — the Summer Solstice.

Not just turning it off for a while. Deleting it. [UPDATE: AND INSTAGRAM, TOO!]

Going forward, if anyone would like to stay in touch and keep tabs on my art and life, here are a few ways to do that:

Via TuesdayDawnings, my weekly “deep breath of beauty and uplift.”
These are missives of some of the thoughts and words, sights and sounds, inspiration and reflections, creativity and beauty that I notice, gather and create around me.
As writer Cinny Green has put it “TuesdayDawnings is a kaleidoscope of thoughtful and gently provoking offerings that enrich my day.” Though I put hours into creating each issue, I offer TuesdayDawnings for free — my humble effort to try to make the world a better place. Find out more and consider subscribing here.

— Via my blog, Musings from the Studio and Beyond — Dawn Chandler’s Reflections on Art and Life.
This is where I share more long-form reflections, ruminations and stories. For the past few years I’ve been averaging a blog post about once per month, but with newly found time and focus available after dropping FB, I’m looking forward to writing and sharing more here.

— Via my website,
Home to all things Dawn Chandler — my art, my bio, links to my videos, blog, subscriptions and my online shop, [plus the best page on the site, Wilson]. Dive deep here.

— Via my online art gallery store on Etsy
The place to explore and purchase my paintings and prints. Experience my shop here.

In parting, I’d just like to say to those of you on FaceBook who appreciated my posts and made positive or humorous comments or were thoughtful, friendly and kind in any way — Thank you.
And to those of you who have used your own FaceBook account to build bridges rather than walls, who share good humor and thoughtfulness, who have sought to salve rather than a scour, to motivate and inspire rather than incite — Thank you.

Blessings to you all.
May you and yours be safe and secure and healthy.

And may you find deep sources of nourishment and meaning in this, your one precious life.

Artist Dawn Chandler's shadow pausing on the playa at sunrise. Playa in Summer Lake, Oregon

Artist Dawn Chandler and dog, Wilson, silhouetted.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts and know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again.

Stay safe.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico

Lovebirds silhouetted at the Grand Canyon.

what bloomed for me in the shadow of sadness

The lilac are blooming.

And they’re taking me back again to a May morning some thirteen years ago when a light went out in my life and the long shadow of sorrow moved in.

Lilac blooming in Santa Fe. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

It was the Thursday before Mother’s Day, 2007. As the first of the sun’s rays broke over the crest of The Canyon, I was at the back of my car cinching my bike to the rear rack in anticipation of a morning ride on the back roads of Taos. While fiddling with my bike, I heard from inside my house the phone ring, followed by the answering machine kicking on. A couple minutes later the phone rang a second time, followed again by the answering machine. I was irritated that people were calling me so early. I finally went inside to check my messages, and scanning through the caller ID I saw that one message was from my brother Mark, the other, from my father.

My heart was suddenly in my throat.

Their messages were short: “Call me when you can.”

My mother had died that morning.

I hardly remember the rest of that day.
Or the days following.

But of the tidal wave of emotions that overtook me, I remember in a moment of grasping that I was grateful, at least, that she died in springtime.

I hoped that in her last days she had seen lilac.

I hoped that as her body crumbled to cancer, she was enveloped in blooming.

Close up of lilac blooms in Santa Fe. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

The day after Mother’s Day, my brothers, Dad and I were together in my parents’ home, an apartment in a retirement community that they had moved to just five months earlier after selling our family home of 42 years. The apartment, though unfamiliar to us, was sunny, and was situated on grounds that were abloom in spring color and fragrance — lilac among them.

As we consoled each other, my brothers, father and I divided out tasks. Among mine was to plan the memorial.

I hadn’t a clue how to do this.

My mother had left no instructions except a little scratched note we had found among her papers. Something along the lines of “A simple ceremony. Pine wood box. Phil playing Saints.” ** The latter was a reference to her brother, my uncle, Phil Wilson, a talented jazz musician and gifted trombonist who, at their mother’s memorial 20 years earlier, had played When the Saints Go Marching In, one of my Grandmother’s favorites.

Beyond this, we knew nothing of my mother’s wishes.

I decided to try to find a Unitarian minister.

Although my upbringing was decidedly non-religious, my mother, who grew up in New England, had been raised Unitarian. Her mother — my grandmother — was atheist. My grandfather had been simultaneously (!!) the president of Harvard’s student Baptist club as well as the president of the Unitarian club; his own father had been a Baptist minister (who — according to family lore — was fired for daring to suggest that the some of the stories of the Bible be taken as allegorical rather than literal.)

When I was a very little girl, my family attended a Unitarian Fellowship each Sunday, but we stopped going when I was about six years old. Many years later I asked my mother why we had stopped going. “That was during the Vietnam War, and the services had become overshadowed by political discussions.” She said that the services lacked the uplifting spiritual aspect that she had so enjoyed and remembered fondly in the church of her youth.

I looked online and the nearest Unitarian church was an hour north in Summit, New Jersey.

I dialed the number and tearfully spoke with a woman with the warmth of a wise elder. She was the head or lead minister, and she was who I wanted to officiate my mother’s service.

But she was unavailable for any of the dates we wanted.

She recommended their youth minister, a young woman named Emilie.

I felt the sting of disappointment. Knowing nothing about such things, I assumed that we were getting “second best.” Plan B when my mother deserved Plan A. It was out of my power though — as was, seemingly everything right then, and so I took down Emilie’s number.

When she answered the phone I could barely get out a sentence for sobbing so hard.
And yet, If it’s possible to send someone a consoling warm embrace through a phone line, that’s what she did, immediately, without hesitation.

She was free on our hoped for date and would be honored to officiate.

In the meantime she suggested that we come up to the Summit Unitarian church to meet with her and share remembrances of my mother.

Soft purple blooms of lilac. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

A few days later my brothers headed back, briefly, to their respective homes to tend to their families, and my father and I made the hour drive to Summit. There Reverend Emilie greeted us in the sanctuary of her church. The building felt familiar, like it could have been a backdrop to my mother’s New England childhood.

My dad and I sat with her around a small table, and for an hour-and-a-half he and I reflected, often tearfully, trying to convey some concept of who our mother, wife, best friend was. All the while Emilie’s hand was in continual motion over a pad of paper as she took notes.

There was no tape recorder, which remains incredible to me. For the level of detail she accurately gleaned, the deep essence of my mother that she gathered, was stunning.

Some weeks later, when we gathered again, this time with our families and a long life’s worth of friends, Emilie spoke heartily of my mother’s life. It was as though she’d known and understood her well.

Afterward, my father commented to me with deep warmth and appreciation in his voice, “I really like Emilie. I think Mum would have liked her, too.” My thoughts exactly.

Cluster of lilac blooms. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

Four years later there was no question who to call when my father died.

Although Emilie and I had not spoken in almost half a decade, when I called again and muttered through tears who I was, she voiced immediate, empathetic recognition.

Now it was my brothers and I who would drive an hour north and gather round a small table with Emilie.

Her pen filled pages.

In the coming days as she and my brothers and I all worked on our comments for the memorial, I received a message from Emilie: “Dawn, I just have to say I am in love with your parents!” She expressed regret for never having known my mother, and appreciation in at least being acquainted with my father. She felt as though she were getting to know them yet more deeply through our stories and their shared history.

The depth of her sense of them, her respect and warmth and admiration radiated as she spoke at my father’s memorial.

That was nine years ago.
It’s been almost a decade since my father died, and as long since I’ve been back to New Jersey.

I’ve not seen Emilie since.

And I might have thought this story of our acquaintance would have ended there.

But in the decade since, Emilie’s and my friendship has only deepened.

What I’ve found is that each year when I send my annual springtime card, when I address one to Emilie, I feel as though in a way I’m also sending it to my parents. It’s as though she’s a gatekeeper to my parents’ spirit.

Maybe I think of her a little bit as an angel guarding their memory.

Months will pass without a word from each other. And then spring will come round again and we’ll share warm salutations. It might be just a quick “Hello,” or it might sometimes be a more detailed exchange, as when she sought ideas for ways to nurture in her family a love of the outdoors as my parents had done. Always our exchanges have radiated warmth.

And now….

Striped lilac blooms. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

It’s spring again.

Only this spring is unlike any spring any of us has ever known.

There are deep, dark shadows across the country, across the world, as pandemic fans through families and communities. People are fighting for their lives. Others are fighting to keep them alive. Others are losing their jobs, their security, their known world. And all the world is mourning. All the world seems gripped in anxiety, in uncertainty.

I am one of the fortunate ones: Secure, in good health, well-nourished and comfortably housed, my few needs are met and likely will continue to be. Though worry for others weighs on me, one of the most pressing questions that arises for me is: How to help? How, from the walls of home isolation, can I offer calm and comfort? Beyond financial contributions and donating goods, how can I possibly help make things better?

It turns out that one way lay in my work — in my art. And in one instance at least, via an extraordinary opportunity to help my friend who years ago helped me.

For as with countless churches throughout the world, in an effort to keep the congregation safe and healthy, the Summit Unitarian church has had to move their services online. That means filling an hour each Sunday morning with thoughtful, inspiring, relevant words and song.

And images.

A few weeks ago, Emilie, who receives my weekly Tuesday Dawnings messages of uplift, asked if I might allow her to include some of my recent watercolors in their next online service. For she admitted one of their challenges is coming up with enough images to share during their online services.

Images, you say?

I took a quick look on my computer: I have over 30,000 images:

Four years of photos taken by artist Dawn Chandler

If there’s one thing I could provide her community, it’s images.

That following Sunday morning I turned on my computer and logged into a YouTube channel. And there in my kitchen, as I drew a match and lighted a candle, I joined in fellowship across hundreds of miles a community in Northern New Jersey.

As I watched and listened and was moved by that service, I saw my lovely friend — my parents’ angel. And I saw creations from my camera and brush.

Little did I know thirteen years ago when I picked up the phone in the hushed corner of my parent’s bedroom, out of death and deepest grief, a new friendship was about to take root.

Little did I know in the darkness of this pandemic that I would be presented with a unique and creative opportunity to help a community.

Little did I know with all those moments of pause and thousands of shutter clicks, that some of the beauty I notice might be part of a special gathering of souls hundreds of miles away.

Little did I know what light would emerge from the shadows.

And little did I know what abundance and beauty could take root and blossom out of loss.

May lilac blossoms. Photo by New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler.

** We had two memorials for my mother, one in New Jersey for us and our friends, and, a few months later a private service for family in Exeter, New Hampshire, in the church where she and my father had been married 53 years earlier. At the family gathering, my uncle Phil payed tribute to my mother with two tunes — Come Sunday, which my subscribers will recognize from this week’s Tuesday Dawnings, followed by Saints.

Three lit candles. Photo by Zae Zhu on Unsplash.

Candle image by Zae Zhu on Unsplash.

New Mexico artist Dawn Chandler safely social distancing in her Santa Fe studio among her watercolor paintings.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings.

If you enjoy my posts and know others who might enjoy them too, please feel free to share this.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website,, as well as on Instagram and Facebook. Peruse and shop for my art here. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity.

Thank you again.

Stay safe.

~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico