Fear and Honesty

Lump in the throat, tightness in the chest, and numbness in the hands return unbidden. During quiet moments, I am on that lift going up and up to a destination that I cannot see over a near-vertical hill of moguls and trees. My six-year-old, who I have never seen ski, is next to me, and my husband is trying to reassure me that on my second day of skiing in my life, I would not have to ski down “that black diamond trail.” Panic. Fear. I still feel it even though this happened two days ago.

I am writing for myself so that I can learn and move on. I am sharing just in case someone might relate.

I took a family “ski vacation” and skied for the first time in my life this past weekend. On the first morning, I took a “first-timer” lesson. That was fun, and I felt pleased that I was able to pick up the basics easily. Maybe, I told my husband, it’s a good thing that my original request for a full day of group lessons on Day 1 followed by a morning group lesson on Day 2 could not be accommodated. Maybe that one morning would be enough for me to get going on the beginner hill.  I recorded mixed feelings in my journal after the first day.


Day 2 started okay. I practiced on the beginner hill and became somewhat more comfortable with getting on and off the lift. I still felt, though, that if I let my mind drift, I would pick up more speed than I wanted. I talked myself through turning back and forth. I do not know much ski lingo, so I made up my own cues. “Breathe. Right turn. Skis down. Left edge hard. Go across. Breathe.  Left turn. . . .” At the bottom each time I would feel a little shaky and amazed that I had not fallen. After a few runs, I told my husband that I would return to the cafe so that I would be sure to have enough energy for the afternoon with the kids.

I had just enough mental and physical energy to spare for an hour or two of skiing down the same easy hill as part of a two-family group of eight when the unexpected started happening. My younger daughter’s skis were not where they should have been because her instructor had mistakenly assumed that she would take an afternoon lesson. Either he was not clear about where they were or I misunderstood, but in any case, we spent a significant amount of time searching for them. We eventually connected with the skis in a location to the far right of the beginner area, and at around the same time, we found one of our friends with her younger daughter. This friend got lift passes for both girls, and then we all headed for the lifts.

I followed my husband and daughter. I did not want to be left behind. I was surprised that the chair was for four people, because the other lifts had been for two, but I was happy that I would be able to join them. We got on, and immediately I noticed that something was wrong.

“Where is this going?” The edge in my voice foreshadowed the panic to come.

On the beginner hills, I could see the top of the lifts. I knew where to get off and how far I would have to ski to get down. I could not see the top of this lift.

I could see trees. I could see a near-vertical hill. I could see bumps in the snow and someone flying down.

I have tried to draw the image that is still in my head without success. One of several attempts:


On a map, the difference between where I had practiced and where I found myself going is shown here in red (lesson location) + yellow (beginner hill lifts) versus orange (“lift to somewhere high”).


To compress the rest of the story, I proceeded to feel waves of total fear and panic. Sometimes I could control my breathing, sometimes I couldn’t. Sometimes I could make myself ski, sometimes I had to take the skis off and walk. My husband tried to help, but my fear was made worse by the presence of my daughter, and I wanted him to focus on her so that at least I would know that she was okay. When we finally saw the sign for the beginner hill, I felt tremendous relief — until I saw that there was one last steep bit that had to be skied down first. I could not do it. My nervous system felt shot. When I finally convinced myself that I had “no choice” and started down, I fell almost immediately. I did not want to get back up. I started inching down the hill on my bottom with my skis on, but that was painful and unbearably slow. Fear of skiing at this point outweighed concerns about my skis and poles sliding downhill, so I took them off, put them sideways in my arms. and used my heels to pull myself down while my butt made a path in the snow. I remember thinking, “I don’t care how this looks.” Totally exhausted, I told my husband that I could not rejoin the group; I would head for the cafe and meet everyone at the bus. Even though at this point I was back on the beginner hill, I could no longer ski like I had in the morning. In a nonstop snowplough position, I made it to the cafe, figured out that I had no time for a drink, and so headed straight for the bus.

I could not stop the tears from coming, so I kept my goggles on until I got to my room. Telling myself that it was over did not help. I kept reliving the feelings of total fear. Answering innocent questions from children about why I cried or why I felt afraid put me back into the experience. My children want to know if I am okay and if I will ever want to ski again. I don’t know.


More than anything else, I want to be able to be honest with myself and others and to be able to say, without feeling guilty, that maybe I am not motivated to try again. If skiing is not fun for me, then I would be taking lessons and trying to get better for the sake of others. That’s noble, perhaps, and I’ve tried that route with many things in my life in the past, but maybe it is time to say that I like summer mountains better; that the investment of time and money that it would take to get better is something that I would rather use elsewhere; that I can find my own way to join “a ski trip” without skiing and without worrying about letting anyone down.

Sample of Art Programs for Children and Adults in Tokyo

This is a small list of studios in Shibuya-ku and Minato-ku (Tokyo) offering “art” programs for children and adults. As of December 2013, I have not visited any of them, and so listing here does not constitute endorsement. If you live in Tokyo and have experience with these or other studios, please comment to add information. * Updates added in red on April 23, 2014.


Atelier OMO3 (related to Atelier EBIS) still life and Japanese painting; seems like adults only (Japanese) Yes, adults only. Of three studios that I visited in April 2014, this one was the most “mom friendly” in terms of ages of the members and studio time offered during hours when children are in school. 

Ebisu Atelier d’Art fine arts instruction for adults and children age 5 and up (English)

Ray Art School many offerings for adults and children (Japanese) This is one the studios that I visited in April 2014. Friendly, busy studio with many offerings (as I had guessed from the website). Pottery classes are offered in the morning, but otherwise all classes are in the evening or on weekends.

TC Kids (not yet open?) seems like it will be a small preschool plus venue for after-school, Saturday, and school break classes (English?) Open! Information available at http://tokyocreatorskids.org. I have not visited, but the pictures posted regularly on their Facebook page look fun. In addition to their preschool and classes, they host birthday parties.

Yoyogi Koen Art Studio seems like a small studio with a big heart; for children; open sharing of information (Japanese)


Aoyama Art School – kokoro to atama for children; target seems to be children seeking to pass entrance exams for admittance to preschool and elementary school (Japanese)

Art Land classes for preschoolers through adults in Aoyama; includes “Parent-Child” classes on Sundays; “Suenaga Heart & Color Method” (Japanese)

Art School AOYAMA (also in Ginza) seems like adults only (Japanese) I visited the Aoyama school in April 2014. This is a tiny upscale studio meticulously maintained. I would recommend it to people who prefer working in a quiet environment. Watching the two women who were working at the time of my visit reminded me of time spent writing a thesis in the “the stacks” of a library.

Kagemikai Art Academy started in Kanagawa-ken in 1967; recently classes for children being offered in Azabu-Roppongi and Omotesando areas (Japanese, but several classes have ESL emphasis)

RBR Center for Creative Art emphasis on short-term workshops for adults and children; “right brain” approach (Japanese and English); affiliated with Organization of Bilingual Parenting (OBP) Despite a website that appears active, a reply to this blog post indicates that they have stopped offering classes for children and adults in order to focus on workshops for schools and cooperations.



[G]enerally I find that the passages pointed out to me as difficult are places where I am trying to fight a battle with myself. That moment of obscurity contains, in some enigmatic way, the limit of what I have thought, the horizon that has not as yet been reached, yet it brings with it an emergent move in the development of a concept that must be marked, even if it can’t be elegantly or adequately realized.

- Homi Bhabha


moving into the action part before you are done with conceptualizing an idea

- Otto Scharmer


That’s all I have for tonight, but something is coming.



Inspiration and Combinatorial Creativity

Sienna (age 5) was reading You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You. I noticed her jump up to grab a clipboard and piece of paper. She moved quickly, on a mission.

A bit later, she came to me with a drawing, and we had a version of the following conversation:

Sienna: “Can you write the story?”

Me: “How about you tell it and I write it?”

Sienna: “No, I want you to do the story.”

Me: “Okay.” (I agreed easily knowing that once I got started, she would jump in. Recently, we’ve been reading manga and graphic novels together, so rather than writing out a conversation in a paragraph, I just added a comic word bubble saying, “Eeek!” As expected, this was enough for her to jump back in.)

Sienna: “I wanna say the words, and you write!” (For each mouse that she drew in the picture, she gave a line, which I put in a word bubble. Excited now, she added another mouse at the bottom and a title for the piece.)


This is where it ended. The drawing of the book and the mice on the book seemed to have perspective elements in it that I was not used to seeing in her drawings. And, just as interestingly, the mouse on the bottom drawn quickly in front of me looks less sophisticated. Where did she get the idea for the book and the mice? Had she traced something?

Later, after she had gone to bed, I found her book open to this page:


Clearly, her inspiration came from here, but she had not traced. She changed placements of mice on the pages of the book; she took the stripes idea from the clothing of one mouse and put it on another. She engaged in an act of combinatorial creativity based on inspiration taken from an object in her immediate environment.

Maker Spaces in Tokyo

Today I visited FabLab Shibuya. Every Wednesday, a one-hour slot can be reserved for a “consultation.” The cost is 2,000 yen, and up to five people at a time can reserve a spot. Today, I was lucky, and I ended up being the only registrant.

I am interested in maker spaces generally, so I especially appreciated the page of a pamphlet titled “SHIBUYA Fabrication Map.” This map shows FabLab Shibuya in a constellation of digital fabrication spaces and material supply stores. Because this information is not readily available in English, as far as I know, I am summarizing it here:

FabLab Shibuya


Co-lab Shibuya Atelier 1-3

Udagawacho 42-6

Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0042

Resources: paper cutter, laser cutter, 3D printer, embroidery machine

Notes: 1) Non-Japanese speakers can use this form to contact in English. 2) Located very close to the Shibuya Tokyu Hands. It is tucked away on a side street, though, so you will need the address to find it.

Shibuya Zuko-shitsu


TOC Building 2 2nd Floor

Shibuya 1-17-1

Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0002

Resources: 3D modeler, 3D scanner, 3D printer

Note: English outline here.

Happy Printers



Jingu 3-27-15

Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001

Resources: UV printer, Latex printer

FabCafe Tokyo


Dogenzaka Pia 1F

Dogenzaka 1-22-7

Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0043

Resources: laster cutter, cutting machine, 3D printer

Note: The website for this fabrication facility is the most English-friendly.



Olympia Annex 201

Jingumae 6-31-21

Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001

Resources: laser cutter, textile printer, sewing machines, iMac loaded with Adobe Creative Cloud, etc.

Note: This maker space targets would-be fashion designers.

Finally, here is a maker space located near Meguro Station that I found out about at Tokyo Designers Week:

Makers’ Base


Shimo-Meguro 2-5-12

Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Resources: too many to list all, but includes laser scanner, laser cutter, and laser printer

Note: FabLab Shibuya staff indicated that Makers’ Base is “for people who already know what they are doing.” FabLab Shibuya, on the other hand, has staff members to walk complete beginners through the design and materials use process.

Thoughts on Step-by-Step Drawing for Children

What’s your view on following step-by-step drawing instructions? B has been enjoying this for things like dragons and manga-type stuff, and I’m wondering what you think of it…

A friend asked me this question lately, and it hit home because I have been asking myself the same in relation to my younger daughter, age 5.

This younger daughter — let’s call her Sienna — has little first-hand experience with animals, but she loves them based on what she has seen on TV and in books. One of the downsides to living in an urban area is that there is not much difference for her between a horse and a dinosaur, even though she knows the fact that horses live on earth now and dinosaurs do not.

Recently, she told me that she wanted to draw a horse but did not know how. My first thought was of Sylvia Fein’s collection of her daughter’s horse drawings from age four to fifteen. Heidi drew horses over and over again, going through an experimentation and problem-solving process beautifully described by Fein in the video “Heidi’s Horse.” How, I wondered, could I get Sienna to go through the same process?

I remembered, however, that Heidi had started riding horses at age four. Not only did she have plenty of opportunity to observe them first-hand, she also had whole body experiences of moving with them, repeatedly. There was no way that I could give this to Sienna in that moment, and, significantly, Sienna’s desire to draw the horse was clearly coming from a different place.

Still stuck on the idea of drawing based on observation, I asked Sienna if she had a picture of a horse in any of her books. She brought out a “How to Draw Animals” book and said, “It’s in here, but it is one of the hard ones.” By this she meant that it was one of the lessons in a realistic style of drawing. To her, it looked too daunting to attempt.

At this point, I could see that she was coming close to giving up and moving on. Thinking about how I had just set up a makeshift light table for myself by sticking a bulb under a glass coffee table, I suggested that she use the setup to trace the horse. A light table! Something new! She traced the horse, and was quite pleased. I still, however, wanted her to get to the point where she was doing something on her own. I told her that now that her hand understood the shape of the horse, perhaps she could draw her own underneath. Here is the result:


She explained to me that the horse on the bottom has a tail “going out” because he is running. Cool. Also, cool = attempt to show motion by drawing bent legs. We can also see, however, a major limitation of this method: Because she can only imagine how a horse looks while running, there has been little change in its neck position, and the leg positions do not match with those of an actual running horse.

Does this matter? Maybe not at this point. Without any prompting from me, Sienna noted, “But a running horse’s legs wouldn’t really look like that.” As long as she does not feel too discouraged, this feeling of dissatisfaction could lead to efforts to seek photographic images of horses running to better understand the appearance of the legs, and in the process to learn something about horse anatomy and behavior. Because she is five, and therefore not in full control of her access to such images (or to opportunities to observe horses first-hand), I would need to help her with this. A problem would come in, I think, only if I praised the first, traced image of the horse and this became a horse icon with which she was fully satisfied.

Now what happens when she wants to draw a dragon or a dinosaur, something that is not observable or recordable in our own time and space? One could take the route of taking her to a museum to see fossils and to read together about scientific hypotheses about dinosaur skin, behavior, etc. Another option is to allow guided drawing influence. Given that a trip to a museum is not always possible at the moment of inspiration, I am in favor of going online to sites like DragoArt.com to provide some options. Again, as long as the result of the “how to” lesson is not praised, and is clearly treated as a stepping stone by the parent, the child (in my experience, at least) will naturally incorporate some of the techniques into free-flowing independent work.

This freely drawn image shows influence from Sena's experiences with tracing pictures of dragons and following how-to guides for drawing dinosaurs. Still, none of what she has copied in the past looks like this. She has made artistic choices and the drawing was done with a fluency that suggests that expression has become easier because of a certain mastery of technique.

This freely drawn image shows influence from Sienna’s experiences with tracing pictures of dragons and following how-to guides for drawing dinosaurs. Still, none of what she has copied in the past looks like this. She has made artistic choices and the drawing was done with a fluency that suggests that expression has become easier because of a certain mastery of technique.


It was pointed out to me that I did not mention copying. Sienna does that, too, and I think about it in the same way as tracing and following a step-by-step guide. Example:


In this case, she used the book cover as a visual aid, but she did not copy it precisely. She spoke proudly of "changing the arms" and "adding eyelashes."

In this case, she used the book cover as a visual aid, but she did not copy it precisely. She spoke proudly of “changing the arms” and “adding eyelashes.”


Output as Part of a Core Fulfillment Formula

I am not a dog trainer. To train your dog to sit, stay, or roll over, there is a very specific progression of steps to go through. To rehabilitate an unbalanced dog, I almost always work from instinct with the dog right in front of me, and my core fulfillment formula of exercise, discipline, and affection [is] the backbone of my methods.

Cesar Millan, Be the Pack Leader

We have a few English-language cable stations at home in Tokyo, and one of them is National Geographic. I experimented with recording various shows, and one result has been that our entire family is hooked on reruns of Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer — even though we do not have a dog and for lifestyle reasons will not be getting one.

The Japanese title of this show is ザ・カリスマドッグトレーナー, which word-by-word would equate to “The Charisma Dog Trainer.” As you can see from this post’s epigraph, for Cesar, there is a difference between being a “whisperer” and a “trainer.” The gap between the English and Japanese titles is helping me to think about what I am trying to do.

Some of what Cesar has to say about being with dogs applies to being with children. I am not alone in feeling this. A search for “Cesar Millan” and “parenting” returned 93,100 hits, including an article in the New York Times. In my case, it is also possible that I was primed to think in this way from experiences with a babysitter for my children when they were toddlers. This babysitter had been an animal-lover since childhood — to the point that at one time she had a pet goat — and at the time that we met her, she had three dogs who were obviously part of her family. Without knowing anything about Cesar’s theory of “calm assertive energy,” most of the time she was a master of it.

I learned lessons from observing when she was less effective. At the same time that this woman, in her late 60s when I met her, had an instinctual sense of how to be around humans and animals, she has also been trained as a home economics teacher and taught for a while in a Japanese public school. Her husband was trained as a pharmacist and was involved in patent-generating work, and her daughter is a doctor. In other words, in addition to a strong connection to natural instinct, she also has acquired ideas about education and achievement.

One day, a particularly difficult moment happened when she told my older daughter that she needed to finish her Japanese language homework before she could join a craft activity. My daughter rebelled, saying that she was allowed to set her own schedule for finishing her work. When I returned home, the babysitter commented that she was not used to a household where the children were trusted to do their homework. She experienced this as a Japanese versus American cultural difference, but I know that in my case this was a parenting decision made from instinct. Where I feel trust in my daughter’s desire to learn, the babysitter and others feel (often unconscious) future-oriented fear. What will become of this child if she does not complete this particular worksheet right now?

Cesar relies on instinct when rehabilitating dogs, but he also has a “core fulfillment formula” and “methods.” This is what is most interesting to me right now. For dogs, the core fulfillment formula is “exercise, discipline, affection,” in that order. Parents of toddlers will probably feel that some version of this is directly applicable, but humans are not dogs. One need that humans seem to have but dogs do not is creative output. (I added “creative” just so that people don’t get cute with poop jokes.) The point is that dogs do not scribble, make, and build like humans do. Humans seem driven to do so. We seem to feel compelled to give external form to something going on inside.

And yet, often we do not. Instead of producing, we consume. We keep feelings and thoughts inside and find ways not to pay attention to them. I think that this makes us feel bad.

I think that output can make us feel good. For this to happen, the output cannot be pre-judged. External expression of something internal has to be the goal. This output then becomes a place-holder for further thoughts. Maybe at this point, economic or communicative value are considered, but the most important output from a “human core fulfillment formula” perspective is the one that gives maximum expression to some inner experience.

To continue following Cesar, when fulfillment according to the core formula is not happening, methods are needed to change this. For humans, I think that this is where the arts come in. In every artistic field, there are tools and techniques for externalizing inner experiences. The output using these tools and techniques does not have to be expert level in order to be effective. That only needs to come in when economic or communicative value are to be considered. I want to be in a world where everyone knows from the beginning of life to the end that feeling fulfilled as a human being requires self-initiated output. This should not be something that we are educated out of and then remember only when the end is near.