A Book We Totally Need Right Now

Today I’m devoting my blog space to promoting a project by my dear friend, the artist Paula Billups. I can’t explain it as well as she can, so I’ll just step aside for a moment so you can read her thoughts on the matter.


I am a painter whose reason for working is to show something of what it means to be human and what it means to live in this world with a compassionate heart and a wide-awake mind.

The current Administration’s recent policy of separating families seeking asylum at our country’s border, and imprisoning the children as well as the separated parents in cages, aroused my compassion, as well as my determination to put my skill to use in service to these disenfranchised families. As is true for any individual, I can only make use of those advantages and gifts I have to draw public attention in the direction I would like to see it go.

I announced I would make thirty paintings in thirty days and sell those paintings on my Etsy page. I donated 100% of the profit from the sale to the Texas Civil Rights Project, an organization which assists disenfranchised people and is in a position to relieve the misery and legal difficulty these refugees face. All thirty paintings sold within hours of being posted.

This book is a collection of those thirty paintings and the descriptions I wrote at the time I made them. They sometimes reflect the joy I felt in the beauty of New England summer days, and sometimes the sadness that came over me while working, because I know that although everyone deserves to feel as free, happy and safe as I did in my daily work, many do not. I am conscious that we, by way of our government, are sometimes the source of that suffering,

It is November 28, 2018. As I type this, the deadline for reuniting these families has long since passed. Yet little children still sleep alone tonight, traumatized and shattered. Heartbroken parents reach arms out to empty air instead of to cradle their little ones. What we have done to them is an atrocity. We know this because we know how we would feel, were we these people. We know it is cruel, because we feel pain at the thought of it.

We are called to use our individual abilities and our voices to counteract institutionalized cruelty, to change our way of doing things in the arena of small moves. We must look around us and see, with all our limitations of being “only one person,” what thing we can do right now, right here.

Offering these paintings was what I could do when it all began, and offering this book is what I can do now to help these members of our human family.

As with the paintings, 100% of the profit from the sale of this book will be donated to the Texas Civil Rights Project.


If you’re interested in this wonderful art book — which would make an excellent holiday gift, I might add — please visit this link to buy it.

Poem-A-Day: Paula Billups (again)

This year I will sometimes feature more than one poem by a particular poet, and this weekend belongs to Paula Billups. (I posted her poem “Christmas Letter for 2016, A Hard Year” yesterday.)

Today enjoy “A Delicate Milk Floods Winter.”


A Delicate Milk Floods Winter


A delicate milk floods winter
overwhelming my intentions with
early fog,
making faint the resolution to
meaning, to spin yet another
tale – for no one, for nothing.

I used to be so deft at that.

Now if such impulse rises
I stare it down blankly
as if addressing
a sudden stray cat staring
greenly back serenely
shrugging off the gathering chill
taking a long-known meeting
(or else a common standoff
to reward
the maker of the first sound.)

Neither of us can think of
a thing worth saying
that words could hold.

The mercury dives. And that idea,
hazy, deep, abandoned and
unbiddable, ignores my invitation,
winks slowly to show me who’s boss
and fluidly turns – an eddy in the year
fades back to the giving darkness
that lifted it –
a lace pattern once so crisp and
diamond-clear distilled to
icecream thoughts
all melted.


Paula Billups is a visual artist whose work takes in the media of painting, drawing, collage, artist’s books, installation, and collaboration. She bases her studio practice in Boston and Berlin and exhibits internationally, most recently in Cuba, Toronto, Berlin, and Luxembourg. Core themes of her work include interior shamanic processes, hidden and lost knowledge, and contradiction of the human desire for omniscience. Poetry has been a running thread of her creative life since the age of ten. She writes a blog at paulabillupsart.blogspot.com and files her poetry at paulabillups.tumblr.com. You can learn more about her work at www.paulabillups.com.

Poem-A-Day: Paula Billups

It’s April again, which means it’s National Poetry Month again here in the U.S., which also means it’s time once more for the Poem-A-Day series on my blog.

(And there was much rejoicing.)

This year I’ll be featuring another wide variety of poets and types of poetry, and sometimes I’ll have more than one poem by a particular person. Sort of a mini-series, I suppose. Our first one of these is from my dear friend Paula Billups, who is a fine artist in every sense of the word. Her gorgeous paintings hang in several rooms of our house, but aside from painting, she also writes.

Here is one of her poems, from this past Christmas, a nonetheless-wonderful holiday at the end of a hellish year, the likes of which I hope we don’t see again anytime soon.


Christmas Letter for 2016, A Hard Year
(Written for everyone I love who loves me)

For all the ways of hearts can bloom
For all the cruel ways they break
For the eternal knowledge that sits in every
cell in every being that
whispers always in the blood,
“Nothing matters more than love.”
For every tyrant that ever fell
All of them
Every single one
for breaking faith with that immutable law.
For the knowledge that love and compassion
belong to all of us
in exchange for this burden:
we will possess the universe
til our final light winks out.

For all the ways this burden cracks the heart
for all the tiny cathedrals we build around it
to keep it singing or whispering at least . . .
On a night that I, like the half-moon
don equal mantles to sorrow, to rejoice
I accept — only just — that love is all that matters
that love gives sorrow sometimes,
and that is not an evil thing:
only a bird-call barb that sings,
“Only by being made of love like strong small keeps
can we bear to possess the world.”


fossils collected on our walk around the ranch in Wimberley — photo credit Scott Billups

Austin, Texas
Christmas Day, 2016


Paula Billups is a visual artist whose work takes in the media of painting, drawing, collage, artist’s books, installation, and collaboration. She bases her studio practice in Boston and Berlin and exhibits internationally, most recently in Cuba, Toronto, Berlin, and Luxembourg. Core themes of her work include interior shamanic processes, hidden and lost knowledge, and contradiction of the human desire for omniscience. Poetry has been a running thread of her creative life since the age of ten. She writes a blog at paulabillupsart.blogspot.com and files her poetry at paulabillups.tumblr.com. You can learn more about her work at www.paulabillups.com.

Put On Your Red Shoes and Dance the Blues

I woke up this morning, like so many people, to the horrifying news that David Bowie had died.

My alarm clock is also an internet radio, and so when it goes off every morning, the radio goes off with it. Since the alarm is programmed to my local public news station, I wake up to something horrifying more mornings than not — as if the act of being awakened by an alarm wasn’t bad enough. But I digress.

I think I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that he’d had cancer, but it had never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be alive forever, in the same way it doesn’t occur to me that my husband’s ancient healthy cat won’t be alive forever. I know there’s a flaw in the logic, but I don’t feel it.

Today I’m feeling everything. Too much. And because I cannot express it half as well as my friend Paula Billups did on her blog today, I’m just going to share her post here with you (with her permission, of course). Click on the photo of the man to read the entire piece. It is well worth the five to ten minutes of your time it will take to do so.


Featured Poet: Paula Billups

You know how some weeks the news cycle is just so wretched you stop listening for a while? Me too. Here’s to a better next week.




Page From a Modern Foxhole


Not that it keeps me lying awake, but are we laughing yet?
And what if there’s just that
unexpected way of laughing we used to have, before
so much went wrong and life roared up lashing its tail
ready to eat our happiness, our joy?
No, it’s all right – the world was always in the midst of
screaming off the rails, that’s not new,
But now we occupy a higher tower, we have to choose.
We have to tend to our own wounded day by day
And one of the things to do is to touch and smile
Just let someone see our eyes.
Isn’t it something when someone says “It’s okay”
And it isn’t and you know it’s just because they wish it?
Don’t you love them for that frail reed they offer you to hold?
Then wish it
Drop your coin into the mouth of the mask of the cipher,
the only armor ever devised for the child-sage —
behind it are these eyes without spite or pain
Peering through the mask prepared to speak this —
It’s okay
or nothing at all just as you like.




Paula Billups is an artist living and working between Boston and Berlin. She has most recently exhibited Berlin and Quedlinburg in Germany and at the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg, where she collaborated with the poet Agnes Marton.

Ms. Billups has won top creative writing awards from the University of Texas and Texas Tech University. She holds an MFA in Creative Practice from the Transart Institute in Berlin, a BFA in Painting from the Lyme Academy in Connecticut, and a BA in English from UT Austin.

To learn more, visit her website at www.paulabillups.com (art) and tumblr at paulabillups.tumblr.com (poetry).

Featured Poet: Paula Billups

Tonight’s poem comes to us from Paula Billups, an artist who (other than my children) is responsible for most of the paintings hanging in my house.  She’s a very dear friend of mine, too, and when we were in our 20s, she wrote a novel and let me read it, and it was the first novel I’d ever read that wasn’t published yet.  (It was also quite enjoyable to read, if I remember correctly!)  Paula can do most, if not all, artistic things well and even writes poetry sometimes.  Here’s a link to her Tumblr.

Here’s her official bio:

Paula Billups is an artist living and working between Boston and Berlin. Her focus is painting the portrait and the still life and interior and developing paintings in conceptual series, as well as collaborating on contemporary projects with her peers. Most recently Ms. Billups has exhibited in Berlin, worked with the Tunisian Collaborative Painters in the United States, and collaborated with fire performers in the Boston area.


Die Schöne Lebende


That was your skeleton
your blood and veins
your muscle and guts
Beside me, pushing through your skin
Your hands like bony machines
blind grasping
pressing to find
Eyes wide staring under lids
and lashes sweep
You lightly drunk and wasted with sleep

That was my skeleton
Shining wet with life
Pushing back too
Pushing into you
The wet red presence
The mistake of our being
The urgency of breath below leagues
our lungs confounded
Voiceless in the relays
Your hands talked instead
Muscle bone machines grasped
And pressed
Grappled me as my breath failed
As you broke and drifted
Soundlessly alone
The gap of hope entails
Demands its due
I sink fast down
Lastly look up to the sapphire light
and ascending You


— October 2013


Chindogu Challenge!!

Many years ago, my rather creative social group had not yet started having children, and we were laden with free time and energy.  We threw costume parties for almost any occasion — and made our own high-quality costumes to wear to them.  We got together to make crafts.  We temporarily turned our houses into galleries and had art Continue reading “Chindogu Challenge!!”

Beautiful Blogger Awards

So this week the delightful SJ over at Snobbery named me as a recipient of the Beautiful Blogger Award.  Wheee!  How cool is that??  (Thank you, SJ!)  You should all check out her blog, which is really entertaining, and which is actually created by two people, SJ and Meg (whose illustrations are absolutely top-notch).  Among some of the great stuff they churn out is a regular column called Trashy Tuesday, in which they (usually SJ) sacrifice their time and mental energy to read and review in detail terrible books so we can feel sanguine about not getting around to reading those things ourselves.  May I never find one of my books on their docket.  😉  I fell in love with the posts when SJ reviewed the Mortal Instruments series.  If Snobbery hadn’t already won this award, I’d be sending it their way this time, too.

Apparently the criteria for the Beautiful Blogger Award are open to interpretation.  Perfect.  🙂

Now, a few simple rules come with this award, all of the pay-it-forward variety.  Here they are:

1.  Thank the person who gave you the award.

Thank you again, SJ!  🙂

2.  Paste the award on your blog.

See above.

3.  Link to the person who nominated you for the award.

It’s up there.  Way back up at the top.

4.  Nominate up to 7 other bloggers.

See below.

5.  Post links to the (up to) 7 blogs you nominated.

And here we go…

MY NOMINATIONS FOR THE BEAUTIFUL BLOGGER AWARD (in virtual-drumroll-accompanied alphabetical order)…..

1.  The Airborne Timeline — The new blog of a first lieutenant in the US Army, who is on her first deployment.  She left last week.  She’s in Afghanistan.  I suspect this blog may be updated catch-as-catch-can, but I guarantee she’s a really good writer, and I’m expecting this will be well worth the effort.

2.  The Byronic Man — This blog makes me laugh like few ever have.  I kind of want to take a sabbatical just so I can peruse the archives.

3.  Deidra Alexander — Her introduction line says, “I have people to kill, lives to ruin, plagues to bring, and worlds to destroy.  I am not the Angel of Death.  I’m a fiction writer.”  I think that about says it all.  I’ve never been disappointed when visiting here.

4.  Lone Star Squared — Here’s the blog of one of my former students, Rachel Rosenthal, who’s currently studying abroad, writing about her experiences with immense passion and joy.

5.  Paula Billups Art — This blog follows the work and art of painter and art teacher Paula Billups.  She is also very talented.  I have a few of her paintings in my humble collection.  We have little hangable wall space in our house, and she totally makes the cut.

6.  Stay-at-Home Economist — Dr. Margo Bergman explains in accessible terms the intricacies of the PPACA, as well as blogging about other Rather Important Things.  And she’s the mom of The Rhyser and Professor X.

7.  you do doodle too — This is a charming blog about all kinds of things meaningful and domestic which really drive home the idea that the Human Condition is something to be cherished.  Especially when it manifests in such graceful ways as stories about our kids and the fun things we do with them.

Ta-da!  🙂  That was fun.  It must be noted that there are many other blogs out there which I enjoy very much, and if the BBA or some other appropriate opportunity comes around my way again, they will be on my list to share with you.

Now that you’ve had a chance to see all these other cool blogs and know how much I esteem them, please take a click-trip on over to my most recent poetry contest, which is closing this weekend.  Read the entries so far and even throw your metaphorical hat into the proverbial ring, should the Muse descend.  Have a great week!

Good for Your Karma

This week, I want to give a nod to some projects and blogs I think are really worthwhile and deserve more attention.  Please click on the links below and check these out!

Brown Girl Magazine


The person who writes the “Dear Seema Aunty” column is a friend of mine, and really insightful.  I believe the magazine targets young women of any ethnicity, in the way that the Human Condition makes all struggles relatable to all people.

Pluck Magazine


This is a great online magazine that’s been around for maybe a year or so.  I was published in it back in September, a brief personal narrative about my arranged marriage.  Here’s the link to that:  http://www.pluckmagazine.com/articles/article_jamail_01.php

Victoria Love’s New Album

Yeah, I know, you’ve heard about her on my blog before.  There are two main reasons I’m passionate about this project:  first, I love the music; second, Victoria Love is my sister.  🙂  Love’s Kickstarter page is up and taking pledges; they start at $1, and she’s offering great rewards.  She also needs to raise a lot of money in the next few weeks for the project to be funded.  Can she do it?  Will it happen??  Ooh, it’s a nail-biter!  😉

Here’s the Kickstarter page:  http://kck.st/twBUzl

And here’s the review I wrote of her EP:  http://wp.me/p1MOqK-1q

You can hear some of her music on her website:  http://www.victorialovemusic.com

Pass it on!

Soap.  You Know, the Fancy Kind.


The tag line says it all:  “Life’s dirty.  Get Soapier.”

These little cakes of cleanliness are well-made and super fragrant, they lather beautifully and look even better next to your sink, and they make excellent gifts.  Plus, they’re less expensive than fancy soaps in a boutique for the exact same product.

The website is not flashy and exciting, but the blog is current, and you can Like them on Facebook.

Some Blogs I’m Following

Here are some interesting and insightful blogs and artists you might enjoy.

you do doodle too:  http://udodoodle2.wordpress.com/

Paula Billups, Painter (gallery and blog):  http://www.paulabillups.com

Babette Fraser Hale, author:  http://www.blogger.com/profile/16801971149305731956


Thank you, everyone, for your attention.