better late than never

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER (8X10 acryllic on canvas Alice Keys 9c) 2014)got braces at last
  ’twas better late than never
life insurance paid

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drones with bombs
clears the way

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clear out old
sell donate divorce
room for new

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silent bats
spin zip nip flip flap
clear dark sky

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not much blood
water looks clear but
sharks circle

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These five haiku were written for the Haiku Horizons word prompt “clear”. To read more haiku and to join in the word prompt fun, click on the badge below.


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dead dolls

MY FIRST DEAD DOLL IS SHAPING UP. BUT SHE STILL NEEDS PAINT AND DECORATIONS. (pic and doll by Alice Keys (c) 2014)Yesterday, I glued feathers into the skulls of fourteen of my Dead Doll prototype run. Then I ran out of the feathers I’d collected. I’d only planned for an initial run of thirteen dolls. But I’d gotten carried away tying yard-clipped sticks into rugged crosses in my living room the other day. I made twenty.

I wrapped Spanish moss on stick bodies and tied on felt clothes. Today I’ll do prototype face paint on the skulls I modeled from homemade air-dry clay. I plan to paint the eyes, noses and mouths black. I might leave the skull white or I might stain it brownish with a glaze of acrylic paint. Maybe I’ll paint the skulls with bright colors. Perhaps I’ll stitch a few beads on the front. Maybe I’ll roll beads from the leftover clay.

I don’t know yet. There are no instructions. Since I’m making them up as I go along, everything and anything I do is right. There are no mistakes. They are art.

I’m designing and making Dead Dolls to sell at my Dead Art show and sale in October. A neighbor is opening the shop of her dreams nearby. She thought she could sell my skeleton paintings in October. I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve been working in my studio overtime to be sure I have a stack of small affordable paintings for customers to choose among.

MY GROWING FAMILY OF DEAD DOLLS (pic and dolls by Alice Keys (c) 2014)Then, I thought people might buy Dead Dolls, too. So I’m making a few dolls in my spare time when I’m less than optimally energized and inspired for painting. They’re fun to make. And each one is developing its own personality. They’re all similar but no two are alike.

Working on my new Dead Dolls gave me an epiphany about creativity last night. Probably I’m the last person in the world to get this. But maybe people need to have the same epiphanies, over and over. We forget. We relearn.

The “ah ha!” didn’t hit while I was sitting on the front bench cutting felt into strips while my kids played in the street. It didn’t come while I glued feathers. It came later. The “ah ha” came while I was in the kitchen kneading bread dough.

“Creative has the word “create” in it!” I exclaimed.


My husband was not as impressed by this thought as I was. He kept tapping away at his test code for the software tool he’s developing.

I held up my mass of dough to get his attention. He’s a guy. Impending food usually works.

“I thought about making this dough,” I said. “Then I made it. Making dough is CREATIVE. It’s art.”

“Thanks for making dough,” he said.

He always encourages me when I cook. He’s a guy.

“Listen,” I said. “This is an important concept. A creative person isn’t just someone who has ideas. A creative person doesn’t simply assemble a kit or follow instructions. A creative person has ideas and then CREATES things. You have to MAKE things to be creative.”

Being a creative person means that you think things up and then create them. Creativity is an INTERNALLY directed process not an externally or other-directed path. It begins INSIDE and is expressed through the body.

NAKED DEAD DOLLS (pic and dolls by Alice Keys (c) 2014)Although creativity may be expressed in an infinite variety of ways, human creativity is most often expressed through our hands. The operating system for our hands occupies a lot of territory inside our brain buckets.

But kits and pre-thought craft projects with carefully measured and counted bits of colored yarn are what we give our children to work with. And we say that this will stimulate their creativity.

When we give children pre-thought projects, pre-thought ideas, packaged kits and orchestrated tasks, we are doing something completely different. We don’t stimulate or model creativity when we do this. When we give children pre-thought projects, we murder the creative spirit.

Children who are accustomed to organized and scheduled projects lose the ability to think and create for themselves. Instead, they learn to wait to be told what to do, to follow directions and to ask for assurance that they’re doing it “right”.

Waiting to be told what to do, following directions and seeking approval from outside is the antithesis of creativity.

When grownups hover to “help” and to make sure kids are “doing it right”, children are trained to distrust their creative minds. In this process, we also teach them to distrust their hands and eyes to both make and recognize things of value and beauty.

SECRETS OF THE DEAD REVEALED 2 (pic and dolls by Alice Keys (c) 2014)Assembling a pre-thought craft is more akin to factory piece-work than artistic creativity. When we pass out kits to children we’re teaching them to buy kits, follow instructions and to think the thoughts of others. We’re teaching obedience. We’re teaching them to be factory workers in a country where factory jobs are extinct. But we are not teaching them anything like the internal process of art that leads to the ability to create and think fresh thoughts.

We’ve been doing this to our children for a long time. Our kits are fancier, more complicated and more expensive now. But the process hasn’t changed.

We’ve been doing things this way for  so long that it’s become invisible. It’s become “just the way things are done”.

The first volunteer job I ever had was in an elementary school in 1973. Back then, one could just walk in and offer to help. Helping out was a simple matter of having someone in the office look at you and say “okay”. There were no requirements for fingerprints or Federal background checks. It’s a good thing no one asked me to see my identification because I didn’t have any.

Back then, people were still pretty good at telling the good guys from the bad guys. Maybe there were fewer bad guys. Maybe people just trusted their insides and each other more. I had no idea that I was living in the “good old days”.

Even way back then, I thought that I might become an artist some day. I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about becoming one. But I thought art classes in schools were the way to go. So I asked to help with a school art class. I was given a picture of a clown face to mimeograph for the class to color.

EVERYONE KNOWS THAT CLOWN'S NOSES ARE RED. (wikimedia commons)That was it for art class. Blue lines on thin white paper, a mixed box of crayon stubs and hovering to be sure kids stayed inside the lines.

“What color should I make the nose?” one girl asked me.

“What color would you like it to be?” I asked.

She looked around to see what the others were doing. They were coloring the circle red. She picked red. She was careful to stay inside the lines and to make it one solid even red.

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morning mist

DEAD DOLLS WAITING TO BE BORN (pic and dolls by Alice Keys (c) 2014)The morning mist hangs low, swaddles my mind in cotton wool and makes my nose and eyes drip. At times like this my head works about as well as a brick. This morning’s weather pattern is not hospitable for my favorite creative muse. I prefer to dance with sunshine.

A fog-scented spirit slips in, signs my dance card and leaves specks of wet longing on my computer screen. This fog waltz is alright with me, so long as it doesn’t linger. Later today, perhaps the sky will lift and become blue. Maybe the sun will shine in the afternoon.

In this town I’ve chosen to be our home roost, early morning sunshine is rare gold. Usually, we have a thick wall of evening-night-morning fog.

Further inland, across mountain ranges and to the south, sunshine is more vigorous and the air is dry. It’s rumored that the cost of living is lower, there are houses to live in and that there are jobs.

But both eggs and bare feet sizzle on tarmac beaten by the summer sun. Dusty drive-through burgers and piped-in thoughts are swallowed whole while drivers breath canned air behind black-out glass. There are over thirty-three million registered vehicles in the great state of California that is only home to 38 million humans. A lot of restless driving is going on out there in the sun.

I prefer this slower gentler life even without morning sunshine or job opportunities. I like to dream under quilts, take chilly barefoot walks and warm my belly with home-simmered black-eyed peas. I like to eat with flatware and cloth napkins from plates while seated at a table with my family around me.

This slower gentler life isn’t possible in urban-scapes designed around crisscross killing fields of concrete where each person is required to spend part every day inside wheeled boxes just to survive.

So, quiet coastal fog and its intermittent muse works for me. The chilly foggy mornings don’t deliver the idea riot I like to surf. But they wear cool soft veils I can live with.

Besides, there are limits to how many ideas my single pair of hands can carry to fruition each day. It takes time to expound and expand, write and edit. I already have sketches on canvases that beg to be brought to life and half-completed paintings crying for my brush to make them whole. There are uncolored comics written and drawn in my purse-sized sketch book. Bouquets of dead dolls wait to be born. Their white skulls stand on sticks to dry on my front porch.

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awaken to keep
my appointment with the dawn
treasures delivered
* * *
while bird song lifts sun
highway dragons roar with hearts
twelve rooks race to greet
dawn’s cool newborn breath of joy
wings wide they call YES
hummers chatter code
zip to unzip the flowers
leave dots and dashes
first light etches fire
high fingertips green with gold
awaiting same joy
stones murmur assent
with sky’s revelations
huddle in shadow
to awaken joy
one must leave warm sleep behind
toes and nose are cold
sat waiting so long
to see the sun rise again
really have to pee
windows reflect light
just before the sun blinds me
from the rooftop
there is only one
bold star in this eastern sky
morning warms my face

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you are where you live

HAWAII (wikimedia commons)Yesterday, while Robert and I were out walking, a woman we didn’t know stopped to stare at us from the other side of the street. Then she smiled.

“I’m from Hawaii,” she called.

“Aloha,” I said.

We crossed over to talk.

She was an elf-sized woman who was mostly smile. She wore a heavy vest over a long sleeved turtleneck with long pants and shoes with thick socks.

Perhaps this is how I should have guessed she was from the tropics. It was a warm August afternoon and around seventy degrees. But she was dressed for winter and smiled like the sun.

She pointed to our bare feet.

She had thought we were from Hawaii because we walked barefoot.

“In Hawaii, I went barefoot everywhere. When I was a girl, I even went barefoot to school,” she said. “It’s very healthy.”

Robert and I did a springy toe dance to show her how happy and healthy our feet have become since we moved to a place where we could stop encasing them inside injection-molded prisons.

DENVER (wikimedia commons)We talked of other places we’d been where there was too much broken glass to risk our feet and places where the climate was less than hospitable. The climate here accommodates bare feet outdoors most of the time.

But, especially in winter, it can be beyond the edge of comfort. There are days we go without shoes because we know it’s the right thing to do to keep our feet in shape. It doesn’t take many days of feet being warm and moist inside shoes to lose the sturdy calluses and powerful stride that come from allowing feet to function the way they were designed.

“Move to Maui,” she said. “Old Maui survives. Or Kauai. You would like it there.”

I asked if housing was more affordable. But she seemed perplexed by the question and didn’t answer.

“When will you go back?” I asked.

First she looked thoughtful and then she seemed wistful.

“I think my brother will come for me,” she replied.

I didn’t ever learn just how long she’d been here visiting her daughter.

“Once you’ve lived there, Hawaii is a place you always carry inside you.” Her bright smile returned.

Much of individual cultural identity is place-dependent. A residual imprint of place can be carried inside. But we change selves when we change location. And we change a lot.

"HAVE SOME MORE MINNESOTA CORN!" (wikimedia commons)It’s easy, while immersed in the stew of a national directive that promotes the worship of individual and separate-but-equal human units, to imagine that we’re nothing more than interchangeable meat-and-bone cogs in the great American machine. We’re encouraged to buzz off to Dallas for school and then move to D.C. for an internship and then to take a job in Minnesota. It’s as if these changes are simple physical relocations.

It’s easy to imagine that I’ll be the same person whether I make my home in Denver or Oregon, Ohio or Georgia, central California or Hawaii. But I’m not.

When I breath the air, drink the water, walk the earth, bask in the sun or slush through frigid winters, I change. The place becomes me and I become the place.

Cities built on the water have the personality of their water. Take the river away from New Orleans or Portland, Saint Louis or Cincinnati and you wouldn’t simply lose the business generated by a port. You will lose the soul of the place.

People who live for long in the land of corn, become cornfield people. Those who move to the deep south don’t simply pick up the slow accent and sweet iced tea. Their bones become red with clay.

Since I left Oregon to come to California, I’ve become a different person than I was. And back when I moved to Oregon from New Orleans, the transition killed who and what I’d been in the Big Easy. My body and metabolism behaved differently in Oregon. And I think and feel differently about things now that I live here.

After I’d been living in France for a time, I felt more French inside my stomach. And this was not because people were talking to me in French or because I was watching French television because they mostly didn’t and I didn’t.

EATING COOKIES IN FRANCE IS A BIT COMPLICATED. (wikimedia commons)When I was in Brittany I became more granite-boned and hard-headed. I wanted to iron sheets my way, the right way. When I moved to the French Riviera, I still ironed my sheets but less carefully. I became more olive, citrus and grape.

And, although I went to great lengths to take my hula hoops with me to France, they simply wouldn’t spin with the same impulsive exuberance that they do here. I stopped whistling and singing. Perhaps there is more gravity or thicker air in France.

We are much more an off-shoot of the environment than we think. Who we are and how we think. how we feel about ourselves and relate to the world all spring from the earth and sky that holds us. We grow and change in an organic way from the landscape, the climate and even change with changing weather patterns. Shadows and glimpses of old cultural selves may be stored and carried around inside of us. But this is not the same as being rooted in the ground from whence that culture grew.

If you replace the handle of a broom and then you replace the brush, is it still the same broom? If this is done over and over for a lifetime, does any essence of the old broom remain? Every molecule and cell in our body is replaced, over and over, throughout our life. The broom has changed, but it still sweeps well enough.

We are the genetic offspring of our parents and all our ancestors back through time. Specific genetic subgroups of humans evolved in specific locales with specific climate and weather and water and sunlight and specific migration paths. Those whose forbears came from the far north may manage the far north better than those who came from nearer the equator.

We are not interchangeable biologic cogs that can be shipped from place to place in cartons. Not at all.

And we’re not doing ourselves any favors when we force ourselves to grow and live in climates outside of our biologic norm. The transformation between one locale and the next is not automatic, fast or easy. Every atom of the old place must be plucked out and replaced, one by one, until the new self is growing from the new place.

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piss out of a boot

PISS OUT OF A BOOT (wikimedia commons)she didn’t have sense
to pour piss out of a boot
  she’s a doctor now

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never did make sense
two percent of the people
have all the money

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haiku makes less sense
than any other pursuit
never makes a dime

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