The books that have been on my nightstand.

I just finished reading Susan Vreeland’s Clara and Mr. Tiffany. Before that, I devoured Walter Isaacson’s, Leonardo da Vinci.


The former was about artist Clara Driscoll’s relationship with Louis Comfort Tiffany and his corporation. She was likely the creative force behind Tiffany getting into the lamp business. It was a fascinating look at what went into designing and manufacturing those amazing jewel-like windows and lights. The book also gave a glimpse of women’s lives in the early twentieth century.

Now I’m hoping to take a field trip to Winter Park Florida and visit the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. It houses the most comprehensive collection of the works by Louis Comfort Tiffany found anywhere.

The latter book was a 550 page, three and a half pound tome (yes, I weighed it) about the life, art, and genius of da Vinci. I learned so much. Did you know he only completed sixteen paintings in his long career as an artist?


Sixteen?  Why so few? It seems he loved the thrill of conception. But long before the painting was finished his endless wonder had moved him to other projects, completion being something of a chore. Plus he was a perfectionist unwilling to let go. He lugged Mona Lisa around for years, adding one bit of glaze over another repeatedly. Hence the depth of color and nuanced shading.

He dissected thirty cadavers to understand the skeleton, muscles, and tendons under the skin.


He was endlessly fascinated by everything, making long “to do” lists of things to investigate. (One example: describe a woodpeckers tongue. Have you ever given thought to the tongue of a woodpecker? I haven’t.)

Da Vinci’s brilliance spanned many disciplines. His curiosity drove him to seek to understand all of creation and how we fit into it.

In the book’s conclusion, Isaacson made of a list of things we can learn from Leonardo da Vinci. A few are as follows:

Be relentlessly curious.

Seek knowledge for its own sake.

Retain a childlike sense of wonder.

Get distracted. (This one baffled me until the author pointed out that Leonardo’s willingness to pursue any shiny subject that caught his eye made his mind richer and filled with more connections.)

Indulge fantasy.

See things unseen.

Let your reach exceed your grasp.


Start with the details.  After all, God is in the details.  Whether the phrase originated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Aby Warburg, Gustave Flaubert, or someone else entirely, the point still remains – more often than not, when something goes screwy it’s because we forgot to pay attention to the details.

Create for yourself, not just for patrons. (This is one I struggle with due to many years of creating for clients, not for myself.)
Collaborate. Clara Driscoll did. DaVinci did. His most fun work came from collaborations on theatrical productions. Innovation is a team sport. I sure loved the collaborative endeavor of designing statuary and fountains with Mary Beth and, prior to that, the CJV team.  I co-wrote a picture book with friend Judy.  It was far superior to what I would have created by myself.  In fact, I wish I had someone to collaborate with now.


Make lists, take notes.

And finally: Be open to mystery.  

As for the description of the tongue of a woodpecker, author Isaacson investigated.  The tongue of a woodpecker can extend more than three times the length of its bill. When not in use it retracts into the skull.  In addition to digging out grubs, it winds around the bird’s head and protects the woodpecker’s brain. Smashing his beak into tree bark exerts a force on the head ten times what would kill a human.  The strange tongue acts as a cushion, shielding the brain from shock.

Leonardo da Vinci had no need for this information.  He just wanted to know.  Out of pure and fabulous curiosity.

Surgery…And that’s Good Because.

I’m having cataract surgery. Left eye tomorrow, right eye the following week. This means no eye makeup for several weeks. Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass positive thinking suggestion is to take a situation you don’t like and making it affirmative by adding, “and that’s good because” after the sentence.

In this case, “I can’t wear eye makeup for over two weeks, and that’s good because I’ll hunker down and read some really good books.”

I have been wearing eye makeup since tenth grade. Each morning I sat at the kitchen table, opened my little white leatherette box with the mirror in the lid, and there in the northern light I applied my war-paint.

When the task was complete mom would say, “Now you need to sign your chin.” Then she’d try to coax me into eating breakfast. I was a terribly picky eater. She would often make me “egg-nog”, which was essentially a chocolate milkshake with a raw egg beaten in. Yes, I was allowed ice cream for breakfast. Yes, I was spoiled.

Ha, another memory of her spoiling us.  When we were younger each morning she would extract the comic page from the newspaper and carefully cut it in half.  The top section had Dick Tracy.  Marilyn liked that part.  On the bottom half was Little Lulu, my favorite.  In retrospect, she probably did that to keep the peace.  Then she could drink her coffee and smoke her Kent without us bickering.

We were both always avid readers.  Her friends thought mom made a mistake allowing us to read comic books, but she figured, “They are reading.  Let them read what they love and they will read for a lifetime.”

In hopes of finding good new books, I checked out Then, list in hand, I headed to our local library. It’s small, but they had four of the ones I was hoping to find.

I began Mitchner’s The Novel this morning, but now intend to put it aside in favor of these. Three out of four are due back in two weeks.  Think I’ll start with Emily Culliton’s The Misfortune of Marion Palm.  


Other somewhat related blog posts:

My Lifelong Love Affair with Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Day Two of Manifesting my new reality

Sixty-Five! And this is good because….

I’m deaf, and this is good because…..

Circling the Sun


Going to Church

Positive thinking, Shel Silverstein, and my marvelous Book Club.