The Beauty of Collaboration

Currently I’m working on an anthology that will be entitled A Bridgetender’s View: An Anthology on Gratitude. But there’s no way I could do it alone. Anthologies are a lot more work than I realized! Many dear friends are taking part. Deborah Drake is my catalyst, my publisher, my editor, my web designer, my coordinator, and so many other things I could go on forever. Amy Sassenberg is doing the photography. Bronte Polette is creating the cover and making all the photos format friendly. Vicky Cabe Autry did the separator graphics which I’ll also be using on the website and my business cards. Amelia Torres wrote the foreword.

I just love collaborations. When you create something together, it becomes even better than the sum of its parts. It’s kind of like preferring a savory stew over a raw potato and a couple of carrots. And it’s fun because as everyone contributes ideas, it inspires even more ideas within you.

This is not the first time I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with someone. I also create fractal art under the name Serenity Questi. (You can see some of my work here.) In the virtual world of Second Life, I met a wonderful artist who goes by the name of Treacle Darlandes, who runs the St@rt gallery, and she has for many years taken my fractals and worked her magic on them, making vases, sculptures, and art in motion among many other things. If you are familiar with navigating Second Life, you can check out her virtual gallery here.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of our collaborations. These photos don’t really do them justice without the movement and the three dimensional feel, but it will give you some idea of the amazing things that can come out of collaborating.

So relax your grip on your creativity. Let others take ownership of a portion of the final product. You’ll be amazed at the results. Give it a try!

I Am Not A-mused

The muse has deserted me. I find I have nothing to say. At least nothing worthy of you, dear reader. So instead I will leave you with the product of my collaboration with another muse from long ago. Here are some of my fractals.

These (without the writing), and other fractals of mine can be purchased in many forms, including mugs, cards, prints, puzzles and business cards, under my artist name, Serenity Questi, here.

Not only would your purchase of one of these things honor me greatly, but it would help me pay off my dog’s $730 dental bill. Just sayin’.

Digital Art

A friend of mine sent me a link to an artist on fiverr who can take a photograph, such as this one,


and transform it into a digital watercolor, like this.


That’s pretty nifty, for five bucks. I love the result. I’ll probably have him do some more in the future.

But this made me think of one of my pet peeves: people who don’t consider digital art to be art. I’ve yet to see any digital art in a museum or an art gallery. As a fractal artist myself (you can see my work here) this frustrates me to no end.

Granted, we are not using paintbrushes or charcoal or clay, but we come up with a concept, make aesthetic decisions, and use a computer as our tool. The things we produce are unique and have style.

And why is using an already existing photograph and making something different out of it, as this artist does, less worthy than, say, a collage or mixed media work? I’m even willing to open a can of worms and say that things made via Photoshop are works of art. You’re making artistic decisions. Often the results can’t be exactly duplicated. It’s creative. That, to me, is the essence of art.

A pox upon artistic snobbery, I say!

Virtual Influence

I just got a flu shot. I usually wait until I see it marked on my calendar on October 1, but one of my friends in the virtual world of Second Life mentioned they were already available. No time like the present.

As I got into my car and drove to the pharmacy and then got the shot and came home, it occurred to me that my actions were being influenced by someone in Second Life whom I most likely will never meet face to face. It is almost as if someone in the cyber world were sitting at a keyboard somewhere, directing my movements. Highly disconcerting. Maybe I’m the avatar and my stunningly attractive cartoon character is the real thing. I could live with that.

Then I began thinking about all the other ways that Second Life, Facebook, and even comments from this blog have influenced me over the years.

  • I have met four of my virtual friends face to face, and those were all amazingly gratifying experiences.
  • I often get book recommendations from friends on-line, and that has given me hours of reading pleasure.
  • Some of my favorite “go to” people for advice are people that I’ve never, or very rarely, been in the same room with.
  • Second Life gave me the courage to be a fractal artist, and now I sell my work on Zazzle, in the form of prints, mugs, cards, and business cards, among other things.
  • The feedback from people who have read my blog has caused my confidence to soar.
  • Unfortunately a hostile comment from a troll can also put me in a foul mood.
  • I would have felt a great deal more isolated when I moved across the country to a city where I didn’t know a soul if it weren’t for my on-line friends.
  • Some of the ridiculous stuff I read on Facebook has caused me to strengthen my moral, spiritual, and political convictions.

My on-line contacts have made me laugh and cry and love and trust and get angry and learn… in other words, to live fully. And for that I will be forever grateful.

The virtual me.
The virtual me.


The other day I made the mistake of Googling the name of someone I intensely dislike. I wish I hadn’t. She has always been hostile toward me, and extremely territorial. To cope with her I kind of imagine her as an evil Martian with neither heart nor soul. That way her behavior somehow seems understandable and therefore a lot less hurtful.

But this Google search turned her back into a human being in my mind. Her wide open Facebook page showed me that she has friends. Not many, but some. And she enjoys the outdoors just like I do. Another Google hit lead me to believe that she also enjoys international travel, just like I do. In addition, I discovered that she owns her own home, and thanks to Google earth I see that it’s in a quiet, quaint neighborhood, and she takes pride in a well-kept lawn.

We actually have a great deal in common, and I hate knowing this about her because it makes her hostility even more incomprehensible, and it causes me to have regrets. She could be a friend. I sure could use one. Instead, what I get is an angry troll whose presence in my life is something I’m forced to tolerate.

It just goes to show that people have layers. You may think you know someone, but there is almost always much more to them. It’s never a good idea to rely on simply the surface stuff. Take the time to delve deeper. You may just be intrigued.

Check out Layers

This is one of my fractals, “Layers”. You can buy it in the form of a greeting card, mug, print, puzzle or business card, along with nearly 600 of my other fractal products, here.

Little Shards of Emotion

When I was around 17 it was decided that I needed my wisdom teeth removed. Unfortunately three of them were so deeply impacted that the dentist had to saw away parts of my jaw to get to them. Needless to say, the healing process was no picnic. But what they didn’t warn me about was the fact that for the next 6 months or so, I would occasionally eject little shards of bone at random moments. It would always bring me up short. “Ptooey! Where did that come from?”

I have noticed that at various times in my life I’ve had the emotional equivalent of that experience. During times of great stress and/or great change, certain issues will rise to the surface and take me by surprise. Fears or insecurities I didn’t know I had. Anger that I thought I’d long since gotten past. Gratitude for things and people I had been taking for granted for ages.

When I start reacting in ways that even I can’t predict, it’s time for me to take a deep breath, step back and really think about the true source of my emotions. Often the current situation is simply reminding me of something from the past. And the older I get, the more past I have to draw upon.

It’s important for me to keep in mind that the question of where something came from doesn’t just apply to little shards of bone. And answering that question when it comes up is the key to understanding, coping, and moving on.


This is one of my fractals, “Shards” and can be purchased in the form of greeting cards, mugs, and prints along with almost 600 other fractal items here.

You Do the Math

Was math invented or discovered? This question is by no means original with me. (Very few thoughts are.) But this is a topic I find endlessly fascinating.

Think about it. Pythagoras came up with his theorem, Euclid proved that there were an infinite number of primes, and Einstein informed us that E=mc squared, but all of these things are really descriptions of events that had been occurring in the universe all along. One can find countless articles about how Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Ratio appear in nature.

It is often postulated that the best way to communicate with aliens from outer space would be through math. What more evidence does one need that math is considered universal? It isn’t as if different cultures have different mathematical beliefs.

As a fractal artist (my work can be found here), I’m extremely conscious of how often fractals occur naturally. Broccoli, sunflowers, tree branches, blood vessels… they’re everywhere. Math is everywhere.

Is this evidence of a higher power or a grand plan? Or is math simply the scientific language we use to understand the world around us? If so, I probably should have paid more attention in Algebra class.


[Image credit:]

Sending Art into the World

When you are a creative person, the art that you make feels like it’s a part of you. When you sell it or give it away, it feels like you’re sending a child off to college. You still have a connection, but you know that for all intents and purposes that child has embarked on a life of its own.

Recently I got to hear what actually became of some of my work, and it blew me away.

In the virtual world known as Second Life, I have an annual Christmas tradition where I create an ornament out of one of my fractals, and give it to people who like my art. So I created this year’s ornament, sent it out, and a few minutes later I got a message from a woman whom I had never met. She thanked me for the ornament, and then told me that she has been carrying the one I gave out in 2009 almost daily since then. She said it appeared in many of her photographs, and sure enough, she sent me a few and there it was, sharing a variety of significant moments in her life. That ornament, she said, was sort of a lucky charm for her, and it had been with her in good times and in bad.

I cannot even begin to tell you how flattered I was to hear this. The idea that something I created had been out there in the world for the past 4 years, playing such a major part in someone else’s life renders me speechless.

When you send art into the world, you have no idea how it might impact others. That’s the most amazing thing about being an artist.

Fractal ornaments_001

A few of my fractal ornaments from years past.

Having Your Heart Broken by a Career Choice

I was the morning of the third day of my dream job, and I was so excited. My life was changing for the better, It’s a rare gift when you can have a job that you love.

I fell in love with Dental Laboratory Technology as a student. I sold my house, left a 16 year relationship, and even commuted 3 ½ hours each way for a semester and a half until the house was sold and I could relocate, just so I could achieve the degree. I then moved down to a town where I knew no one to complete my studies, and I graduated with honors.

After three long years of study, applying for work at 198 other orthodontic labs, and having doors slammed in my face on a regular basis, I had finally got my big toe, at least, in the door of a lab. And I loved it. Every single second of it.

I’d been a nervous wreck at first because as I had explained to them, I hadn’t been in a lab in a year and a half, so I felt as wobbly as a newborn deer. But I showed them the work I’d done in school, So they knew what they were getting, but they also knew my potential.

My boyfriend, who has hired many an employee, gave me a pep talk before I started the job. He told me that I had the qualities that every employer wants but rarely sees. Enthusiasm. The desire to do well. The willingness to learn and work hard. He said you are lucky to find that in one out of every hundred employees, so I’d be an asset from the moment I walked in the door.

I had already learned so much in my first two days, and I was anxious to learn more. I’d spent long hours reviewing all my notes from school, at least getting back up to speed on my book knowledge, and as soon as I had decent tools to work with I planned to practice wire bending every waking moment, because I am enthralled by everything about orthodontic appliances. I love the variety. I love solving problems with the positions of teeth. I feel like a dental Sherlock Holmes.

I found myself humming as I got ready. I could see my future rolling out ahead of me, and it was so bright and shiny and full of happiness. I drove the 15 miles through rush hour, anticipating the day ahead, thinking of ways I could increase my productivity and efficiency and help them make money. It felt like being madly in love. I couldn’t wait to get there.

I walked in, smiled, said an enthusiastic good morning, and was about to jump into my newly established routine when I was greeted with, “Barb, we need to talk.” Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. I stood there and let their words wash over me. “You’re just not good enough.” My ears started ringing.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition. We are taught in America that if you work hard and apply yourself, your dreams will come true. But statistically speaking, sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel really is going to be an oncoming train. Statistics have no empathy or compassion. They just are. Lightning doesn’t care where it strikes. It just strikes. And here I was, apparently standing under a tall tree in an open field.

Could this really be happening? Was I being fired for the first time at age 48? Indeed I was. Tools. Must gather all my lab tools. There’s food in the fridge. Get that too. What are they saying? My ears are ringing. Humiliation. Must get out of here. Don’t say anything. There’s nothing to say. They’ve already made up their minds. Just leave. Leave with what little dignity you have left.

They’re handing me a check. Explaining it’s a dollar less per hour since they haven’t processed my paperwork and are paying me under the table. There’s something wrong with that. There’s something wrong with all of this. Just leave.

“Good luck,” they say.

Just not good enough. I wailed, I howled all the way home. My dream was dying right in front of me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I don’t even remember the drive. I just remember my chest heaving and my boyfriend telling me over the phone to pull over and try to calm down, and me saying no, I want to go home. I just want to go home…

It brings back the horrible experience of driving 600 miles to Raleigh to interview for a job at another lab only to be told that he was afraid I’d just learn from him and leave and become his competition, and later discovering that that was the very thing he had done to his former employer 25 years previously. So, to get that job, I’d have had to appear incompetent and unambitious. If only I had been told in advance.

This, coupled with 198 other rejections…maybe I should get the message. This industry hates me.

An even crueler cut because I have made friends along the way who have successful labs and have shown me what my life could be, could have been, like. It’s like seeing a happy marriage but being deprived of one yourself. It’s painful.

I’m still in shock as I write this, but I’m no longer sad. I’m just monumentally pissed off. First of all, they told me that I was the only one who applied for the job with any experience at all. I cannot believe that my work sucked so badly that they’d prefer to hire someone who does not know what they’re doing. There’s more to this story. There has to be. Which means they lied. They lied, and I’ll never know the truth.

All I get is two days? Why? Why? Something about me slowing them down. I told them that I was rusty. Two days? That’s all I get? Two days? And half of those two days I spent making deliveries. I didn’t wreck their car. I didn’t set fire to the lab. I didn’t do anything other than try to cut my thumb off by accident. I bled for you people!

And then the pay thing. Not only is it illegal, but it sucks. They weren’t doing me any favors. They were saving themselves money. Profiting off my mortification. Much classier to say we promised you this amount per hour. We’re paying you under the table, but here’s the amount we promised. At least you’ll be getting a little more in exchange for the fact that we just shoved a wooden stake through your heart and made you question your abilities for the rest of your life.

And then today I woke up out of a sound sleep KNOWING what happened. I mentioned another job in town that I applied for. A lab that makes you do assembly line work, just one tiny task all day long, so you don’t get the experience to become competition, and on top of that they only pay 7 dollars per hour. I’m an idiot. I’m sure the next morning they waited in that lab’s parking lot, and hired someone for 9 dollars an hour, less than they were paying me, and with more lab experience. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

One mistake I make over and over again in life is assuming people will behave decently. I actually thought that once they hired me I’d be given a chance. So I’m not incompetent after all! I’m stupid! Yay me.

Quite the reflection on their integrity. They also showed an appalling lack of concern about Hepatitis B and Silicosis, two things that you have to watch out for in a lab, and two things they could easily prevent but choose not to. I’m probably better off.

Not only have they shown themselves to be unethical and short sighted, but they have taught me an excellent lesson on how I will not behave if I’m ever in the position to hire someone.

First of all, I’ll give someone more than 2 days to settle in, for the love of God. Second, before I even consider hiring someone, I’ll realize that their livelihood and their hopes and dreams and aspirations are riding upon the choices I make, so I’ll take it very seriously. And third, before firing someone I’ll make them aware of the red flags I’m seeing and give them the opportunity to rectify them. And finally, if I feel the need to fire someone, I won’t make them get up, drive all the way across town in rush hour traffic just so they can stand there and be mortified.

Another thing I’ve learned is that this is a cruel and unforgiving and impatient industry, and if by some miracle I manage to achieve my dream, I’m clearly not going to get help from anyone other than myself.

That spells a bleak future for an industry whose schools are disappearing right, left, and center and whose industry projections show 40 percent of their current people retiring in the next decade. If no one is given a chance for on-the-job training and if there are no people willing to hire out of the rapidly disappearing schools, then there will be a whole lot of teenagers out there with no retainers in the near future.

Would I recommend this field to anyone else? Good God, no. I’ve yet to see even an ounce of humanity in it. I just wish I had realized what a cruel mistress it was before I fell in love with it.

Wounded Heart w inscription

One of my fractals. Wounded Heart.