Author Archives: Gail Johnston

A Fender Bender in the Walmart Parking Lot

Bored in the long line, I discretely took a photo of the cart in front of me.

As an independent graphic designer, I often go for a jog in the middle of the day to break up the monotony of working alone. On this particular day, I decided instead to go to Walmart to buy a dust buster. But buying a dust buster at Walmart is not as simple as a jog in the park. By the time I found the aisle of vacuum cleaners, made my choice, added a few more items to my cart and got in line to pay, I wanted to be done with the errand and back at work. Needless to say, the line was long. Usually I consider it an invasion of privacy to examine the contents of other people’s shopping carts, but as the wait dragged on, I couldn’t help but notice all the junk food in the cart in front of me. This added to my irritation.

When my turn arrived, the cashier looked down and complained about something sticky on the floor. She literally started turning in circles while lifting her feet up and down, voicing her displeasure about a spill of some sort. After her third circle (I’m not making this up), I asked if she could tell me how much the dust buster cost. She abruptly focused, rushed my items through the scanner and announced, “$43.” 

“What!?” I said, “I don’t want the dust buster for that much,” to which she curtly pointed to the Returns Counter. And there I was, standing in another long line. 

Eventually, I was told that $19 was put back on my credit card. 

“What!?” I asked again, “I thought the dust buster was $43!” “No,” the return lady said, “Your entire purchase was $43, but the dust buster was only $19.” 

After buying the dust buster a second time, I exited the store, muttering to myself, “I will never shop at Walmart again!” This is immature, I know. Making silly promises to myself would never bring back the time I lost over a flimsy appliance. Still I muttered as I started my car. 

All of a sudden, when I tried to back out of my parking space, a steady stream of drivers started coming in. It was truly bizarre, this flow of humanity into the Walmart parking lot. I inched out, then pulled back in four times. Finally, the way was clear. I made my move. Only, it wasn’t really clear. The incoming car stopped just after passing behind me. When I backed out, I nicked its rear fender. 

The driver, an older gray-haired man, immediately jumped out, inspected the damage, put his hands to the sky and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Oh my God, look what has happened to my beautiful car!” He shouted those exact words again. He was so thoroughly dramatic, that my bad mood gave way to a chuckle. Sure, I was unhappy with the fender-bender, but this was really comical. Besides, it was time to stop bemoaning the dust buster saga and see what was needed now. 

Standing by the distraught man, I assured him my insurance company would take care of everything. He would hear none of it. He said this had happened to him before with a bad outcome. He called the police. We exchanged information. He handed me his license, took it back, dropped it in his car somewhere, then accused me of stealing it. Two policemen arrived, only to explain that they don’t make reports on fender benders in parking lots. 

All the while, I was sincerely trying to calm the man. Finally, he faced me, looked me in the eyes and blurted out what was really going on. “I have cancer!” he said. “I’m dying of cancer, but my wife needs me! I need to stay alive for my wife!” 

“Oh!” I said. Without a second thought, I reached up my arms to hug him, and he quickly reciprocated with a release of tears. There we were, in the Walmart parking lot, hugging each other and crying. I told him I’d pray for him. He thanked me and told me more about his dear wife and how he feared for her. When he got in his car to leave, it occurred to me that he hadn’t done his shopping. 

“Wait!” I said, “Weren’t you coming here to buy something? What was it? Let me buy it for you.”

“No, no,” he said, “that’s okay.” 

“Please!” I begged,” It’s the least I can do.”

Ironically, after his previous mistrust, he was now trying to stuff a wad of bills into my hand, although I insisted on buying it for him. More ironically, after swearing to never shop at Walmart again, I was in the store so soon, buying a huge tub of cat food for a stranger. But he wasn’t a stranger anymore. 

When I got back to my office, it was late afternoon, but I didn’t care. Within minutes my insurance company called, confirmed my identity, then said, “Firstly, the driver told us to thank you for the cat food. He really appreciated that.” 

I smiled. It’s amazing how much I messed up, from my impatience to the fender bender, and yet, something decent came out of it. It’s been six months since the incident. I occasionally pray for the man and still marvel at how a community of kindness can be built in the most unexpected places. 

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.