Author Archives: Gail Johnston

Why Run: A Reason For Every Decade

License plate

In anticipation of running the Bay to Breakers tomorrow, I’m reposting an article about reasons to run for every decade. These are personal reasons, but hopefully some of them will relate to the athlete in you. I’d like to start by saying that one of the main reasons I run today, a reason not stated below, is to keep me in shape for other things I like doing. I’ve found that having at least one good run a week gives me the stamina for dancing, hiking, or any other lively activity that comes around.

DECADE ONE: In the first decade of my life, I exercised unintentionally, primarily by running away from a little boy named Scott at recess. He was so cute, much shorter than I, and could easily be outrun. On two occasions, he employed his taller, not-so-cute friend named Raymond to catch me. While Raymond held me still, little Scott would jump up and kiss me. Ever since, I’ve loved the name Scott (and eventually married one), but at seven years old, the running was what I loved most. Racing through the huge grassy field every day was bliss. I hear that kids don’t get to run willy nilly at recess anymore. This is a travesty, and I hope concerned parents everywhere will make enough fuss to return recess to its rightful place.

TEEN DECADE: In the second decade of my life, my teen years, I ran to lose weight. This was entirely unnecessary, but I did not know that then. The more I ran, the bulkier my legs got and the more I ran to trim them down. My legs were monsters. Not really, but with my teenager brain, I thought they were. At least my misperception kept me running, something I enjoyed, whether it was hot and humid or bitter cold. Running was a part of experiencing the world in a newly independent way, breezing down the trail of the old railroad tracks with no one to answer to but myself.

TWENTIES: In the next decade, my twenties, I ran for social reasons. My dad would say, “Gail doesn’t date anyone who won’t run with her.” This was true. My husband ran with me on our first date. Running with me and being named Scott kind of sealed the deal with him, that lucky guy. Unfortunately, he stopped running with me after we got serious. This is another travesty, but a very personal one, so only I need to fuss about it.

When I was 28, on two occasions, I ran with Robin Williams through the streets of San Francisco. We were part of a running group that gathered at Fleet Feet Sports on Tuesday nights. When I hear the slogan, “I left my heart in San Francisco,” I think of those early evening runs, along the Embarcadero and up and down the hilly streets.

THIRTIES: Then came the thirties, the years of running to escape. There’s nothing like running after a long day when it seems like everyone wants a piece of you. Responsibilities at work and home escalate like crazy in the thirties and running brings release. But it’s harder than ever to fit it in.

One night, I ran out of the house when my kids needed me. Their father was home, but working in his studio, so I was essentially on duty. We lived on a country street and it was dark outside, really dark. Coming out of our long, graveled driveway—running fast—I stumbled into a huge dead deer that had been hit by a car and pulled off to the side of the road. This spooked me silly, calling me to my senses. I immediately went back home to the kids. Running, as great as it is, should not come first.

FORTIES: In my forties, I started running for health and preservation: preservation of muscle tone, skin elasticity, energy, and the ability to sleep through the night. At one point, however, I started wondering. The medical community was babblying about running being bad for your knees. We NOW know that weight bearing exercise strengthens your knees, but the studies weren’t out at the time. I was worried because walking can bore me; it depressed me just thinking about it. So I put the matter into a prayer for clarity—like I tend to do with other troublesome issues. That week, license plates arrived for my new car. The first four characters were 1RUN. In California, plates start with a number, so the “1” was as close as you could get to an “i”. Mind you, I had not asked for vanity plates! This was the result of uncanny coincidence or divine providence. Either way, I put the plates on my car and joyfully went running.

FIFTIES: Now in my early fifties, I run to help me think. For example, I’ve never suffered from Writer’s Block, but I do get Writer’s Sinkhole. Once I spent six hours trying to write one sentence. Well, maybe it wasn’t that long, but I don’t really know because I got lost in the effort, sinking deeper and deeper into this muddy place where I don’t want to give up because I almost have it, but it’s not quite right so I keep up the good fight while my brain gets more and more muddled. The best remedy, I have found, is to run—one mile will do it. My head clears, and when I return to my desk, the writing flows. Other exercise will work, too, as my almost-famous Jazzercise post explains.

BayToBreakersI would be amiss in this personal discourse on running if I failed to mention the Bay to Breakers. There are many races throughout the world that inspire people everywhere to keep on running, but the annual Bay to Breakers is the one for me, year after year, decade after decade. Last spring, I signed my son up to join me. He worried, “Mom, I haven’t been running for awhile,” but I told him that he was eighteen, a picture of health and had nothing to worry about. Sure enough, the photographers for the event captured my son prancing effortlessly in his minimalist shoes across the finish line (while my pained face tells a slightly different story). And do you see the near perfect number—11110—on his running bib? Like my license, it must be a good sign.

Whatever in Buenos Aires

Travel poem

I’ve wrote about the art of Buenos on my Johnston & Alves blog. Here, I’d like to complain just a bit. Due to a neighborhood power outage, the Airbnb place I had booked three months prior had to cancel on us three days prior to our departure. This was horrible news because I had thoroughly studied our first place. I had researched the neighborhood and knew exactly where to go to rent bikes, book a restaurant for Christmas dinner, etc. The place would have also come with a local cell phone. All that disappeared when the night before we left, I booked something that seemed halfway decent in a neighborhood I knew nothing about. This new place didn’t come with a phone. It didn’t even come with water at first. We arrived after 24 hours of traveling and really wanted to use the facilities, but discovered the water had been turned off because of construction in the building. I could go on, but I’ll stop here and share some good news. The Airbnb host, an attractive Buenos Aires woman in a flowing dress with that lovely Argentine accent, greeted us all with kisses on the cheek. Then my daughter’s Argentine friend arrived and greeted us with kisses on the cheek. My husband was glowing.

Another difficulty throughout the trip was the amount of closed doors we experienced. I’m not talking about the “Closed Door” restaurant experience, which was fantastic. I highly recommend Casa Felix. I’m talking about the closed doors due to the holidays. In the United States, businesses take advantage of Christmas for making a buck, but not so in Buenos Areas. On the up side, I was surprised to discover that locals celebrate with firecrackers on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve The rooftop of our place turned out to be a great place for watching them.

Toward the end of our trip, I wrote the poem I call “Whatever Travel.” Maybe I should have called it “No Problem” because I noticed people in Buenos Aires said that a lot.

Now back at home at my computer, I put the words to type. My intention with the typography is to communicate the unpredictability of travel and to slow down your reading, just like a trip might slow you down and help you see things in a new way. ¡Chau!

Quotes of comfort

I opened A Rumor of Angels to process the tragedy of another shooting and decided to share some quotes from the beginning of the book. They’re only words and won’t do anything to end these violent acts, but it’s all I have for now. 

“Duration is not a test of true or false. The day of the dragon-fly or the night of the Saturnid moth is not invalid simply because that phase in its life cycle is brief. Validity need have no relation to time, to duration, to continuity.”
—Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea

“The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use; some men have lived long, and lived little; attend to it while you are in it.”
—Michel Eyquem De Montaigne

“Hope means to keep living
amid desperation
and to keep humming
in the darkness.”
—Henri J.M. Nouwen, With Open Hands

“‘And yet.’ Those are my two favorite words, applicable to every situation, be it happy or bleak. The sun is rising? And yet it will set. A night of anguish? And yet it, too, will pass. The important thing is to shun resignation, to refuse to wallow in sterile fatalism.”
—Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
—Eleanor Roosevelt

“Now is not the time to think of what you do not have.
Think of what you can do with what there is.”
—Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in he night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
—Crowfoot, Canadian Indian, dying words

“There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of one small candle. In moments of discouragement, defeat or even despair, there are always certain things to cling to. Little things usually: remembered laughter, the face of a sleeping child, a tree in the wind—in fact, any reminder of something deeply felt or dearly loved. No man is so poor as not to have many of these small candles. When they are lighted, darkness goes away and a touch of wonder remains.”
—Arthur Gordon, A Touch of Wonder

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
—John 1:5

A Rumor of Angels Review

A Rumor of Angels: Quotations for Living, Dying & Letting GoI’d to share a wonderful review I received for A Rumor of Angels: Quotations for Living, Dying & Letting Go. I’m copying it from where I recently started selling my books.

“I’m a new Hospice Aide in Home Care. It’s my passion and I’m very excited to enter this field. A Rumor of Angels will live in my work bag for years to come. It’s a great tool for caregivers, aides, nurses or anyone in healthcare. For those quiet moments, I plan to read my favorite poems/quotes out of this book to my patients and their loved ones. It’s simple to read and understand, yet I’m amazed at how well the quotes and stories flow within the chapters. The quotes are SO fitting, meaningful and motivational for both the living and dying. For the low price, I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality. This book isn’t limited to those dying or healthcare workers. It’s for anyone who loves reading inspiring quotes.” —Kendall Morales

Thank you, Kendall, you’ve really encouraged me!

Graphic Design Then and Now

While cleaning out an old file cabinet, I discovered a note Seymour Chwast wrote me after I visited his studio the year he was inducted into the Art Director’s Hall of Fame. If you want to know who’s who in my field, take a look at Chwast’s archives. I had forgotten about visiting Chwast and the famous studio he cofounded (Push Pin Studios), but judging by the wear and tear and holes in the left corner, I must have had the note posted and packed numerous times while moving from apartment to apartment in New York.

Those were the days before the internet messed up job hunting. To find new work, rather than sending an email that got lost among hundreds, you would just show up. Actually, I still do that on occasion, the nonconformist that I am. I encourage new grads to do the same, but I don’t think they listen to me.

Letters-drawn-by-handMy cleaning spree also revealed lots of hand-drawn logo studies, such as this one for Legendary Foods. Everything started with drawing back then. Seymour Chwast has faithfully maintained the drawing discipline, but sadly most of us designers have gotten lazy, due to digital tools at our disposal. Don’t get me wrong, I love Adobe applications and I’ve made a lot of money thanks to Steve Jobs, but I want to stop shortchanging the step of conceptualizing on paper first. Different things happen with a real pencil, sketchpad, and kneaded eraser. What, you don’t know what a kneaded eraser is!? If that’s the case, do get yourself one and have fun. While you’re at it, maybe you can write a real note to someone, rather than an email. A real note that someone can post on their wall, then store in a drawer for twenty years, then take out and post again—digitally, if not literally.

A rose is still a rose in heaven


A-rose_5x7_lightquotes-lowresI’m grieving the loss of two people who died yesterday, way before their time. I’m grieving for the family of the one we knew. This family is so supportive, loving, talented, kind. May they not blame themselves. May all of us in this community know how to be and what not to say. I’m waiting for the right time to show up.

I had coffee today with Sally, a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years. We found each other on LinkedIn and all of a sudden wanted to resume our relationship. She showed me a card I had given her when her mother passed. It’s of a rose I had scribbled on a napkin for A Rumor Of Angels with a quote from a 7-year-old girl who said, “A rose will still be a rose in heaven, it will just smell ten times sweeter.” Sally had kept the card all these years, tacked it up in her office so she saw it every day. That encouraged me. My greatest desire is to be used by God and encourage others to draw near to Him. Especially when there’s no words to explain things.

Courage, Creativity and Kickstarter

Have Courage Image from VISION


This is one of my favorite images in Creative Cues From The Cat, a book I coauthored and designed. The image is a composite and manipulation of three stock images. It goes with the quote: “Courage is the capacity to confront what can be imagined” by Leo Rosten.

Working on this book has been an exercise in courage, as well as creativity. Every creative effort, even a small one, causes us to take a step into the unknown because we’re creating something that isn’t there yet. The unknown can be as exciting and as dangerous as a jungle, and there’s no guarantee we won’t come out with a few scratches. The scratches could be small, say a few hurt feelings by someone who doesn’t like our poem, idea, desert, or whatever it is we’ve come up with, but feelings tend to be a bit raw when it comes to creativity.

I decided to run a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the printing of Creative Cues From the Cat. Doing this campaign took a lot of courage for me because it requires a video (something I hadn’t done before) and because of numerous unknowns, the main one being the question as to whether or not I’ll meet my “funding goal.” I have ten more days left in the campaign and it’s a tad nervewracking.

But still worth it. I’m grateful for the whole crazy creative experience of putting together the book and Kickstarter campaign. The book is about creativity after all. Yes, it’s also about cats, but cats are utilized to make analogies about the vision and courage needed to take innovative steps. As I worked on this book, page by page, I became even more convinced of its value. We are all creative beings. When we engage our creative selves, we enrich and energize our lives so much. I hope you get a copy of our book and step into the jungle.

Brief Review of Movie Chef

Chef movie reviewChef is about a lot more than cooking. It’s about creativity and what is at stake when a person’s creative spirit is crushed. It’s about social media—its glory and anguish—how it can severely impact an individual and move the masses. It’s also about about a boy. As a parent, I thought the boy story was particularly genius.

The boy, the chef‘s son, is at the age when a kid is smart and incredibly capable, but still on the younger side of puberty. As such, he can tear up easily and be extremely vulnerable. The boy openly craves to be with his dad at work, around the house, with his dad’s friends, etc. The chef doesn’t entirely understand the significance of his son’s requests or know how to deliver for him, but—thanks to upheavals at work and a supportive ex-wife—the dad comes through fantastically.

I’m not a psychologist, but I imagine it’s at this stage in a boy’s life that anger might take root and grow; that is, if a boy is not initiated into manhood with the help of dad or mentor and is not validated as a person that matters, a person who can contribute. If you’ve already seen the movie, that silly cornstarch scene…well, I’m a woman, but I think that was an initiation of sorts. And the hard work the boy did to clean the truck? That lifted his self esteem way up—even though there was a big argument at the end, revealing that good parenting is still messy and far from perfect.

I hope this movie encourages parents to stay in touch with their kids during the transition-into-adulthood years. Not just parents; adults in general, if given the opportunity, can validate kids who are so capable but still so young. It’s really a beautiful phase.

The movie Chef has a lot to it, more than what I’ve touched upon here, as I haven’t even mentioned the cooking. Be sure to stay for the credits. You don’t want to miss the final clip, which is about a grilled cheese sandwich. How generous to end with something we all can do.

Empty nesting is not so bad

Empty-nest-is-not-so-bad by LightQuotes

I was pretty weepy after my youngest left for college last month, but it lasted just two or three days. I had been preparing myself for a long time. When your kids leave, there’s the obvious sadness that you won’t see them as often. But there’s more to it. Parenting has been a primary purpose in my life for 20 years! In work and play, my decisions were largely based on how they would impact my kids. For a while, I felt disoriented and purposeless in an empty nest, but not for long because I had a few strategies up my sleeves. Here’s how I readied myself and for this huge transition. If you are nearing the empty nest, you may find it helpful. 

SOCIALLY: I joined the Commonwealth Club and made new friends who are great conversationalists and remind me that the world is much bigger than my own neighborhood.

SPIRITUALLY: I bought a fancy notebook for a journal and now spend my newly free time in the mornings journaling, praying, and petting my rabbit. (I’m not sure about the spiritual significance of the rabbit, but thought he deserved a mention.)

PROFESSIONALLY: A year before the kids left, I decided to pursue a new kind of client to rekindle my passion in my business. For me, as a graphic designer, that meant seeking out clients in the wine industry where creativity abounds. Whether or not you can redirect you careers, looking for ways to ignite your interest in your work is always a good practice, especially if you have huge college bills.

ROMANTICALLY: My husband was given the wise advice to start dating me again. I suppose if either the husband or wife demonstrates eagerness to become a couple again, to return to the fun of just the two of you, the spouse will likely follow. This effort needs to include an ample dose of forgiveness, by the way, as the stress from raising kids probably left its mark. 

PHILANTHROPICALLY: For replenishing a new sense of purpose in life, there’s always volunteering. I haven’t added anything new to my schedule since the kids left, but I’m looking forward to writing more regularly to the children I sponsor through Compassion and World Vision, both great organizations I heartily recommend. (If you want to find a service that feeds your soul, try reading The Social Cause Diet.)

PHYSICALLY: What? I haven’t even mentioned exercise yet! How nice it is to spend less time in the kitchen and more time exercising. The older we get, the more we need exercise, right? Empty nesting and exercise go great together.

CREATIVELY: It seems to me that Etsy is the needlepoint of today. People search the online marketplace to find creative things to buy, to make, and/or to sell. I spent 40 hours last week filling out my shop called LightQuotes, and that is when I came up with the egg design for this post and determined that empty nesting is not so bad after all. What is it that you always wished you had time to do? Now’s the time. Enjoy!

Forgive Me Baby

Both my kids are leaving for college soon, so I’m reminiscing about my first year as a parent. I was a brilliant multitasker. That is, until I realized that multitasking was not necessarily in my baby’s best interest. I wrote this poem when my son was one to solidify a lesson learned.

Forgive me baby

Forgive me baby.
You want to be held
so I hold you while
typing on the keyboard.

You want to be fed
so I feed you while
speaking on the phone.

You want me to play;
I sit among toys
while reading the paper.

You want to be soothed;
I drive you and let
the motor and motion
do my job.

I am commended
for taking care of you
while taking care of business.

Yet work was before
and surely is ahead.
Your face in the making
demands I live in the moment.

I have paid my dues
for such a time as this.
Baby, it’s you
I don’t want to miss.

By Gail Perry Johnston

Have you ever seen a binky?

Not to be overly dramatic, but you haven’t lived if you haven’t seen a binky. I am not talking about a baby pacifier. I am talking about the embodiment of pure joy, as expressed in an innocent rabbit. My daughter caught a few on tape yesterday. Watch it below and see.

Note: nothing was sped up during editing. During the second half of the video, the action is slowed down in an effort to look closely at the binky. There’s the vertical jump, the twisting of the head in one way, the body in another, and the rapid-fire shaking of the legs. It’s probably best not to try this yourself. Binkies are for bunnies to do and for us to watch, if we’re lucky enough.

My Cycling Angels

My wheels are my wings plaque

Reviewing the best bike rides of my life

Today I would like to thank my cycling angels, the people who fostered my love of biking, going way back to my first years out of college in New York City.

I’m thinking of Ray who hoisted my bike and his onto a moving train (the Hudson Line) for my first real biking adventure. I’m not sure where we got off the train, but we were clearly north of the city on streets that were entirely rural and mysterious.

Then came an urban cycling adventure, thanks to Jeff’s invitation, that was equally as fascinating: The Five Boro Bike Tour, “Boro” being short for “borough.” In one day an endless flow of bikers ride through all five boroughs of Manhattan. I remember having a headache through the whole thing due to missing coffee that morning and not wanting to break out of the flow to buy a cup, but I had one of the best days of my life nonetheless.

Years later, on the other side of the country, my friend Amy introduced me to the Cinderella Classic, a bike tour that winds through the beautiful rolling hills east of San Francisco. It’s for females only, but men are graciously involved in a supportive role. For example, the men feed us…a lot. They feed us breakfast, snacks, lunch, and a post-ride soup that is amazing. With all the nourishment received along the way, the 65 miles is easier than you’d think.

In between these two tours, came a few seasons with a Hoo Koo E Koos mountain bike, probably the first mountain bike for many. My husband and I biked on the fire roads in the Tahoe National Forest (getting lost which made for an eight-hour adventure); we frequented the Shell Ridge Open Space; and we spent one gnarly weekend navigating the canyons of Nevada City. Oh, those were the days…until I flipped over the handlebars on a steep decline and decided I wanted to go back to roads that were paved and more civilized.

A decade slipped by without biking when I finally called my friend Emily, an avid cyclist, and asked where I should buy a new road bike. I wanted to get fitted properly since this bike would probably be with me the rest of my life. (I don’t buy toys often, but when I do, I keep them a long time.) She directed me to a quirky shop in Pleasant Hill. A few hours later in the shop, I fixed my eye on a hybrid bicycle. Hybrids were gaining popularity at the time and seemed good enough for me. As I was nearing the purchase, angel Emily showed up. “I thought you might need some help,” she kindly said. Her boyfriend came too and they casually wheeled a Bianchi over to me. “Try this one,” they said. I took it for a test ride and my eyes were opened. I remember hearing, “steel is real,” and putting something like $2,000 on my credit card. This is now my prized possession.

The day after I bought the Bianchi, I called up Laura, the last cycling friend I would like to thank. “A group of us are riding this Saturday.” She beckoned, “Join us!” I showed up at the appointed place and Laura casually asked me, “Is thirty miles okay?” I had no idea if it was okay; beyond my little test ride, I hadn’t ridden in years! But the group of cyclists were eager to get going, so I put on a good attitude and said I’d try to keep up.

It was tough, cycling Skyline Boulevard, Grizzly Peak and Wildcat Canyon. Scary. Every time Laura shouted “Car back! Car back!” I thought she was saying, “Road rash! Road rash!”

But I made it through without crashing and was happy the ride revealed what I could do. We all need exercise and a little adventure in our lives. I’m grateful to those who have encouraged me along the way and hope to inspire others to sign up, team up, and enjoy discovering what you can do.