For Gifted People, Life Is Like A Candy Store–With Too Many Treats to Choose


Life is like a candy store–filled with every treat imaginable.

It seems that being in a place like a giganitic candy store would be the greatest experience imaginable.  In reality, however, that is not entirely true. A candy store requires its patrons to make some choices; and speaking at least for myself, deciding what to buy and what not to buy can become a distasteful dilemma.


Anyone who has been confronted with a large Whitman Sampler has encountered a bit of the situation.  As you open the box, many of the cubes look almost identical, but it only takes a nibble to discover that all bonbons are not created equally,  and what if the Candy Police are watching you?

What if the Candy Police Are Watching You?

You can’t put that half-eaten bite of chocolate back.  No poking the candy for clues is allowed.  At some time in your past, you were probably told that you could only pick one or maybe a few sweets, and that rule follows you like a shadow.  Now you have wasted one of your choices on a brown morself that tastes like cardboard and chews like alligator jerky.   What a let-down.  The box of candy has become a disappointment.

Candy stores are much larger than boxes of chocolate; and life itself is billions times larger than a mere candy store.  For some of us with big eyes and appetites, candy store-like life presents far too many choices and not enough time or money to develop the choices that we make.

When the talent tree is shaken around gifted children, it rains all kinds of artsy seeds.

For many, many years, I have taught art to some of the most talented children imaginable. Invariably, the kids who are good at drawing and painting are also good in academics.  They are good writers, and they are also excellent musicians, dancers, and singers.  When the talent tree is shaken around gifted children, it rains all kinds of artsy seeds.  Then the child is expected to grub around what is dropped and choose one—maybe two things that he most wants to do. That is an almost impossible choice to make.

I have taught long enough that people call me, asking me if I will teach their “gifted” child. I have gotten to the point that when I hear the parent say that his child is gifted, I think to myself, “I’m sorry.”

Being gifted is as much a burden as it is a blessing

Being gifted is like being born in a candy store.  To most people, it would seem that the gifted is the most fortunate person alive.  Yet, in my experience, being gifted is as much a burden as it is a blessing.  The gifted person sees many diamonds in the rough.

He can’t drive down the street on garbage day without noting at least 10 potential sculptures in peoples’ trash.  The gifted person is afraid to throw anything away, because as soon as he does, he realizes what he could have made out of this bit of garbage or another.

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!

A truly gifted person finds it very difficult to settle on one thing to do, contenting himself with the mastery of only one art form, thus discarding his other options.

In my own experience, I want to do it all, and I have tried making art with almost every medium.  It is an exciting life.  I NEVER get bored, but I am not as good at anything as I should be.  I spread myself too thin for that.  Since my name is Jacki, I long ago realized that I am a Jacki of all trades–and naturally, a master of none.  I am not whining.  It has been fun.  But I do often wonder how life might have been, if I had begun it with a few less interests–with just a few pieces of candy, instead of half a store.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Life’s a Candy Store.”


When Childhood Ends, the Painter’s Work Begins


Gerbera Daisies painted by a 3-year-old

We live in an age of amusement parks, video game systems, mountains of toys, etc.  Without a doubt, for the past several generations, kids have been big business.  It is difficult to realize that little more than a century ago, the concept of the child was essentially unknown.  Until the 19th Century, children were given no special considerations, no special wardrobes, and no special keys to the kingdom of joy.  Kids were believed to be just like everyone else—merely a few years younger.

During the era of Romanticism, people began to view the child as something different than his adult counterparts.  William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience contrasted adults and children; and gradually, childhood was recognized by most as a special time of life.  Children were understood to have qualities—especially those of the imagination and of intuitiveness—that adults no longer had.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in art.  Picasso understood the phenomenon.

Any capable person who has the incredibly rich opportunity to teach art to young children understands it.  In a nutshell, young children paint freely and with total abandon.  They do not intellectualize their marks.  Instead, they respond to the dictates of their own intuitions.  They play with their art materials; and they have fun.  Product is totally unimportant to a child painter. Children paint because they love painting.

But something happens to the child’s perfect art experience.


Lily painted by a 4-year-old

No doubt, someone whose judgment the child valued said something like, “That doesn’t look like a lily.”

Or the adult’s attack may have been more subtle, saying something like, “That’s nice.  What is it?”

Very quickly, the child artist begins to doubt himself.  He may ask the seemingly competent adult how to draw a flower, and without realizing the damage, the adult complies with a stylized tulip, the flower that he himself memorized long ago; and the cycle begins.

The child who knew just exactly what to paint and how to paint it is replaced by another who can never seem to get it right–regardless of how hard he tries.

The adult would-be artist studies drawing books.  He watches videos where others show him how to paint this or that.  He diligently tries to please himself with his art once more. Rarely does that happen.

When childhood and child art ends, the painter’s work begins.

Ohhhh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive–ourselves.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “When Childhood Ends.”

Learning to Stop Playing Chicken in My Studio

Yankee Doodle Dandy 2 July 17 2012 8 x 10

Playing Chicken – Jacki Kellum – Watercolor on Arches

No doubt, my two greatest fears are that of actually creating–fear of painting and drawing–and that of not.  For myself and many other would-be artists, too, life is lived between the margins of this paradox.  I have tried giving up and giving in–I have tried going long periods of time without creating much of anything; and I realize that my not creating is not the answer.  In no time, I become bored and boring.  I become listless, depressed, and a spectre-like shadow of myself.  The only alternative is to just do it–to just get over myself and make art.

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

What John Wayne does not say is that then, we have to hang on and endure the ride.

Volumes have been written about fear’s effect on whether or not we actually succeed in making art. I probably have read everything that has been written on the topic; yet, I still do not understand all of the things that scare me about painting.  It no doubt has much to do with a fear that my product will not be worthy.  Honestly, I don’t think the reasons for the fear are important enough to outline, yet again, for this post.  The only thing that is truly important is that I have learned how to just muddle through and create–in spite of myself.  In other words, I have learned to follow the sage advice of the old, Hollywood cowboy John Wayne, who encourages us to just get over ourselves and saddle up anyway.

Sticking to some kind of schedule is my main anecdote for creative paralysis.  When fear has me in its grip, I don’t have a burning desire to paint or draw.  The only solution is to just jump in and paint.  I have learned that I will have bad art days–days that nothing works. We must allow ourselves as many bad art days as are necessary and continue to create in spite of them.  The good days always follow.  We must learn to wait for them.

I think that if we are totally honest, we must admit that we love the high that we experience when we paint or draw something well–and when we paint again, we are seeking another high.  Art becomes our fix.  The problem is that art is just not a reliable fix.  Painting is not a chemical.  Sometimes we don’t like what we paint or draw; and what we expected to be our upper becomes a total downer.  The secret is to allow those less euphoric days to pass and to continue to paint anyway.

Another solution is to take significant breaks from painting–promising that you will return again.  I work in my garden more months than I paint.  Gardening is a creative outlet for me, but I never feel that my work there is judged.  In my garden, I create with absolute abandon.  When the seasons change and I return to my studio, I am a different and renewed being.  I am ready to take a few bad art blows.

We can’t expect art to be a constant high; and we can’t just sit around and wait for the high to return–without actually painting.  While I cannot say that I have licked fear entirely, I have learned to cope with it by merely moving beyond myself and painting anywayand doing that again and again.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Phobia, Shmobia.”

5 Things About My House That Have Turned It Into My Home


When I am attacked by a case of social anxiety, nothing spells relief like H-O-M-E–not house–but home.   The place where I currently dwell isn’t fancy.  In fact, in many ways, it is downright crude; but my home is my haven–a shelter from life out there, a harbor from the arduous task of survival.  It might seem that any 4 walls and a roof could serve that purpose–could offer a kind of refuge or a closet where I could hide from the world. Yet, while my house is far from adequate and while it lacks many of the creature comforts that I would enjoy, the things that make this space my home are far more complicated than that.  Following is a list of some of the things and places that have  tranformed my house into my home:

  1.  My Garden


Both working and sitting in my garden are probably the activities that most keep me sane. I have written blog posts in which I have tried to catalog all of the reasons that my garden is vital to me.  For exmple, there are health benefits in my being able to root around in the dirt and become part of what nature, plants, and seeds can produce.  I have built a waterfall, and the sounds that it makes are soothing to me and watching the cascading water is mesmerizing. I also have bird feeders and bird baths.  Being able to sit, just feet away from my feeding and bathing birds is an invaluable treat for me.  While not exactly part of my house, my garden is no doubt one of the areas of my home that I consider to be most important.

2.  My Sunroom



A house that does not have one warm, comfy chair in it is soulless.                       – May Sarton –

During the spring, summer, and fall, I spend most of my waking hours outside in my garden. My sunroom is a place where things can continue to grow and bloom even when things outside are not, but  I actually built my sunroom to serve as my inside link to what I have created outside.

In my sunroom, there is a great big and soft loveseat-like chair that is situated just in front of a wall of glass that opens to my side garden, where I have planted a a bit of what I consider to be nature’s best.  My birdfeeder and bird bath are in view from this chair, and I can also see my cherub statue from there.  My sunroom has become the place that I sit, especially during winter, when I need to lavish myself with the healing balm and blessings of what lies outside.  When it snows, I especially love to sit in my sunroom, toasting by my fireplace, watching the world, as nature transforms her into a white and silent maiden.

Today, after working in my garden, I spread a bit of bird food; went inside and poured myself a glass of wine.  Afterward, I came into my sunroom and sank into my sunroom chair, which literally seemed to wrap itself around me.  Then I began peering through the glass at nature as it unfolded on the living, big screen in front of me.  I thought to myself that life just doesn’t get much better than this.  My sunroom is literally the window to my soul.

3.  My Fireplaces and Firepits


“If you are a dreamer come in
If you are a dreamer a wisher a liar
A hoper a pray-er a magic-bean-buyer
If youre a pretender come sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
Come in!
Come in!

– Shel Silverstein –

My attraction to burning logs is complex.  In short, nothing transports me more than the smell of a wood fire.  I currently live in a suburb that has very strict laws against torching things outside, but before I moved here, one of the things that I most loved about fall was the smell of burning leaves; and when I was a child, I spent my summers at camp, where night time and campfires became absolutely mystical to me.  My fireplaces and my outside firepits are the ways that I keep that part of myself alive.

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains. – Diane Ackerman


4.  My Studio


During the winter, which is both brutal and long in New Jersey, I spend most of my active hours in my studio.  Every season but winter, I create outside; but when it gets cold and ground freezes, my studio becomes my garden.  It is the place that I myself go to grow–to listen to my own spirit and to follow its call.

Although I could paint and create in virtually any room of my house, having a designated studio makes the process easier.  If every time I wanted to create, I had to wag out my art supplies and then put them back up again, I simply would never paint again.  That being said, my studio is more than a set of handy shelves and other storage devices.  It is the cornerstone of much that makes me who I am.  Even when I am not painting, my studio is a shrine that reminds me that there is a secret and magical place within myself and that I have a package, waiting to be opened.

Being an artist is a way of Being–of Becoming Aware–of Increasing from Within–of Wondering–and of Inventing because of that Wonder.                          – Jacki Kellum –

5.  My Bed


If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.  – Gaston Bachelard

While I have a lovely sunroom and a terrific studio, the place that I do most of my recharging and creating is actually my bed.  Whereas my home is my haven, and my garden is my retreat, and my sunroom is my soul, and my studio is my shrine, my bed is a cornucopia of all of those things, in one integral place.

I am a very active person, but I am probably more mental.  I think and rethink everything that I do and then I research it on my laptop, chart it, notate it, graph it, plan it, and rethink it some more.  95% of the mental part of myself happens while I am propped up on the feather pillows atop my bed, which is truly a spot that transforms my house into my home.

You can never go home again. – Thomas Wolfe


Thomas Wolfe penned the words, “You can never go home again,” and if home will always be that place where I grew up, I agree with him.

When you finally go back to your old home, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood. – Sam Ewing

Fortunately,  our true homes are not merely the places where we lived with our parents.  Like turtles, we carry our homes with us–inside ourselves.  Our homes are actually the places where and when we are most rooted and most grounded.  During the better parts of our childhoods, most of us did experience a sense of home; and in my opinion, the only way that we can become happy adults is to find ways to reesablish that same essence again and again.

There are things that we can do to our houses that help us to recreate our senses of home.   As I look back, I believe that my true mission in life has been that of finding ways to make myself at home–wherever I happen to live.  I am currently residing in at least the 10th house since my childhood, and I have been fortunate in that I have learned to find ways to make each of those houses my home.  It is the only way that I know to actually live.

Originally posted on my blog Cottage Garden Living:

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Home Turf.”

8 Things That My Grape Arbor Says About Me


I bought my current house over 12 years ago, and as soon as I could make any changes, I began building a network of fences and privacy screens around my property.  I have always been an avid  gardener, and I even enjoy building things; therefore, I began combining those two interests to systematically  create a natural oasis for myself–a place where I can just sit alone, see no one, and do nothing.

  1. I am a closet recluse.

If I had my way, my house and gardens would be in the center of at least 100 acres of forest. I formerly had a small farm in Mississippi, and I loved it, but this is not Mississippi. I currently live on the Shore of New Jersey, this nation’s most populated state.  There is very little chance that I’ll be isolating myself on a farm here.  I decided that I’d need to find other ways to enclose myself and began building a web of trellises.

2. I have a champagne appetite and cannot even afford beer.

Money has always been a problem for me–a problem that I did not expect to have.  A bad marriage, followed by a bad divorce did not help things, but the greater problem is that my values are not the same as those of most other people.  Years ago, I noted that there are three basic kinds of people who comprise America’s economic structure:

  • those few who inherit a great fortune and live happily ever after
  • those who work all the time and have plenty of money to do whatever they want [but have no time to do it]
  • those who elect not to work incessantly and have the time to do what they would like [but have no money]

I fall into the last group.  I am not a lazy person.  In fact, on a regular basis, I do back-breaking work in my garden.  Yet, being cooped up too many hours a day simply strangles me; and if at all possible, I spend very little time in the corporate snare.  Ultimately, I have just enough money to get by.

3. I am very creative and can figure a way to make much of what I need.

I began married life as the wife of a guy who first went to dental school and then to medical school.  That period of my life became 18 years of learning to make do with very little.  When I was married, our furniture was handed down and/or came from thrift stores.  I would paint it, make cushions for it [out of handed-down fabric and worn-out inserts], and prop it into place–somewhere in our makeshift home.  This became the platform for my life.  If I wanted something badly enough, I could almost always find a way to rub two sticks together and create it.  That was how I approached my need for privacy screens in my yard.


Two years ago, I built a grape arbor along the eastern side entrance to my garden.  Before I began the project, I had collected some shutters, a Queen headboard, and an old fence from the garbage, and I simply began throwing it all together.  I figured that the grapes and vines would cover the structure anyway, this Sanford and Son framework would be fine until then.

4.  I do not allow fear to prevent me from trying new things.

5. I am impulsive and tend to just do things without an immense amount of planning.

My grape arbor was one of my first building projects and since then, I have learned several things: the most important is that long, heavy walls need to be attached to something more substantial than creative desire.  Unfortunately, for my first arbor, I just picked the spot where I wanted a dramatic entry and threw it together there.  I had seen my dad and my ex-husband make additions to my homes, and I decided that I could do the same. After I made that decision, I simply did it–figuring things out 1 nail at a time.

6.  My favorite tools are my wrecking bar, my hammer, my level, and heavy florist wire.

Within a year, the grape vines had covered the structure and after another year, the vines became a large, gnarled mass that began pulling my construction toward the ground.  It was time to use one of my favorite tools, my wrecking bar, and tear my hard work down so that I could begin again.


7.  If at first I don’t succeed, I tear the thing apart and try again.

This time, I am building my arbor differently.

  • I built the structure wide enough to anchor it to a wall of my house on one side and a tree on the other.
  • I saved my pennies until I could buy new, weather-treated lumber.
  • I built an 8′ x 8′ box out of 2′ x 8’s and until I could add crossbars, I attached the posts to that framework.  The box will become a raised bed.
  • Before I began hammering, I planned things a bit and I bought pre-cut lumber at Home Depot.

I don’t use many power tools.  The saw especially scares me. The new, improved me plans the project and gets the wood cut at Home Depot. The Home Depot guys even load the boards into my car for me. When I get home, I unload one board at a time and just nail those suckers together. Building  is really no big deal.  It is actually just like playing with big, heavy legos.  It is fun!

8.  You can’t teach a Sneetch – Dr. Seuss

One last note:

Today is garbage today, and last night, I put the Queen headboard out on the street.  Then I began having second doubts.  My new arbor is substantial and level, but perhaps a bit plain.  What if I want more ornamentation?  That headboard did look good, arching itself across my entry way.  This morning, I pulled the headboard back to the building pile. Hmmmmm!  Maybe I’ll use it agin.

Initially published in my blog Cottage Garden Living:

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “These Horns Were Made for Tooting.”