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Posts from the ‘Beach’ Category

An interview with Dr. Julia Burns: Defying Small through art

img_0098-224x300I recently had the privilege of talking with Dr. Julia Burns, a psychiatrist who has helped children, adolescents, and adults for over twenty years. When she is not working with patients, she enjoys painting, blogging, and spending time at the beach. Dr. Burns lives along New Hope Creek in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband, Andy. They have three grown children.

In this interview, Dr. Burns shares insights into Defying Small through her “healing meditations.”

Q. You call yourself a healer/artist. How did you come to see yourself in that way?

A. I stopped working as the Medical Director of a child welfare agency in 1998, and I started writing a couple of months later, and painting a few months after that. I used my artistic work to create a healing space for myself from all the trauma stories I had heard. I also painted for my patients and my friends.

Q. How have you grown artistically over the past sixteen years?

A. I wrote my first poem in the middle of the night. I was working with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and praying for a way to heal others and myself. And I wrote a poem, “I Sing a Song for the Abused Child,” the song no one wants to hear.

I kept writing and writing, and I continue to write. I may meet a person in the airport who tells me their story. I write these stories, and then paint a picture over the story of the trauma they tell me. It can be the moon rising over a lake or a beautiful scene at the ocean or the mountains. I call them “healing meditations.”

8-julia-07-2013If someone has a physical illness like breast cancer—and I happen to be working through that now myself—we might draw their breast on the paper and write affirmations of their healing. Their children might write on it.

One client picked the 23rd Psalm and so we painted the view from her lake house in Canada and wrote the 23rd Psalm lightly over the water. If you’re a couple of inches away, you can see the writing. But if you’re across the room, it just looks like a painting of the lake. And that’s how it’s evolved, and that’s how it continues to grow.

Q. It sounds like you draw a lot of your inspiration from nature. Is that true?

A. Absolutely. All of my art comes from my relationship with other people, people I that love or animals that I love. And also from my relationship with nature. We bought a house on the New Hope Creek in Chapel Hill and I did a series of paintings from my backyard called “New Hope.” I have a place at the beach and I’ve done a lot of paintings of the beach, as well. Those places are meaningful to me.

Q. How do you nurture your creativity?

A. The most important thing for me is to have a lot of time alone—in silence, meditation, and discernment with God. And then to actually make sure that I go into my studio. A friend who helped me learn how to paint told me, “Go into your studio everyday, if it’s only to sharpen your pencils.” And I try to remember that. My studio is in a loft. And I find the inertia comes from just climbing the stairs and getting started. But once I get in there, two or three hours go by and I don’t even know it. And that’s what I love about it. It’s very meditative.

Q. How do you practice gratitude in your life?

A. I do practice gratitude in traditional ways, where you get up and go, “Wow, great shower and cup of coffee! Yahoo! I’m in the top percentage of blessed people on earth!” (laughs)

I was raised by very demanding parents, so it’s easy for me to fall into that. Right now I’m working on affirmations for my upcoming surgery. And one of the affirmations is, “I let go of any harsh judgments and criticisms of myself and others, allowing my heart to soften, knowing that brings healing to myself and others.”

I’d say that’s a constant challenge for me, because in my family we really loved each other, but there were very high expectations. So I have to guard against that as a standard for others. And I really believe that people are in different phases of their journey. And what looks like a baby step for one can be a giant step. We have to suspend judgment. Always.

You can’t be gracious and grateful if you’re critical and harsh. And so that is how I constantly practice gratitude. I’d say I’ve learned even more about that in the last two or three years. I’ve changed the system of therapy I’m working in and that’s been a big leap for me.

Q. Where are you most happy?

A. At the beach.

Q. Tell us about your series “Louise and the Lewis Sisters.”

img_0421A. I don’t call them paintings; I call them “The Girls.” And it’s my mother, who was the youngest of seven, and her six sisters. They were very strong women and I had a close relationship with each one. The oldest sister lived to be 100. She started the first library in Pitt County (NC) and was the mayor of Farmville from age 65-73. They all worked and they all raised their families, some of them by themselves. Again, there were high expectations. But they loved me and gave me this wonderful feeling of support, a sense that I was put in the world to make a difference, to make a mark.

Louise was our housekeeper who was with us every day of the week. I absolutely worshipped her and loved her. What I admired most was how loving, calm, and accepting she was, no matter what the situation. My sister was always losing her library book and it was always a catastrophe, a huge whirlwind of crying and angst. We’d be running around the house looking for the book and Louise would say, “Now Jamie, I want you to just think where you were the last time you had that book.” And Jamie would mumble something and Louise would just walk over and pick the book up.

When she died, I wrote a poem about her. I wanted to know who was going to plait my hair and scrub my ribbon red knees, because I was always falling down and she was always picking me up.

Q. You’ve just created a new series of paintings entitled, “What Were They So Mad About?” What compelled you to create this series?

A. The series is based on five artists that used their childhood trauma to catapult their creativity and inspire them to make the world a better place. I got the idea from my assistant, Eileen. Virginia Woolf is my favorite.









I remember years ago when Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, came out. It’s a movie about 24 hours in the life of three women. Nicole Kidman played Virginia Woolf and it was amazing. I had read the book a few years earlier and I was looking through the bibliography and it mentioned that it drew from her memoirs and her sexual abuse by her brother. I was shocked. I had studied Virginia Woolf in college and I was a psychiatrist and took women’s studies courses and I had never heard that she was sexually abused. I had heard that she was bipolar, schizophrenic, bisexual, borderline—all these diagnoses—but I had never heard about her sexual abuse.

It inspired me to do a painting of her and write a poem, “What Was She So Mad About?” and they’re both featured in the show. I actually sent the portrait to Michael Cunningham and he said he put it over his writing desk to inspire him. That made me really happy.

In addition to Virginia Woolf, we also picked Tyler Perry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey. I believe the inspiration also came from Maya Angelou’s death. Each one has a quote from their life about how they’ve used their inner experience to write their stories.

Q. How are you Defying Small in your life right now?

A. There are two things that come to mind. The first is when I was the Medical Director of a child welfare agency. I had learned nothing about child sexual abuse in my training. To become a child psychiatrist, you have to do a four-year residency in adult psychiatry and a two-year fellow in child psychiatry. You would think that I would have had a half-day seminar on child sexual abuse, because 80-90% of children who are institutionalized in childhood are sexually and physically abused.

So when I took that job, first, I didn’t know I was going to see so much of it, and secondly, I didn’t have a clue how to treat it. And boy, was I defying small every day when I got up and went to work. The children told me their stories and I believed them when no one else did. And I learned how to try to help them. And then when I stopped in ’99, I learned how to help myself by telling the world the stories of the children through my art. So that’s the first way that I defied small, and I do that every day for the children I love and take care of.

The way I’m defying small now is that I’ve just finished 24 weeks of chemotherapy and I’m getting ready to have surgery. I’m going to defy my survival statistics by living—and living well—with great health, vitality, strength and courage. So I think that goes back to what I said about my mom and her six sisters: They all defied small and I had great mentors. If for some reason things don’t go the way I want with this cancer, the way my family wants, I’ll still defy small. I know I will. I believe in living like that. It’s something that comes naturally to me.

Julia’s art show “What Was She So Mad About?” is on display at Caffé Driade in Chapel Hill, NC, through October 31, 2014.

You can follow Julia’s blog at

Stop hitting the snooze button (reflections from my week at the beach)


“Life goes by in about three weeks, so be here for it. Stop hitting the snooze button. Wake up! That’s why you’re here.” ~ Anne Lamott

I just got back from a week at my beloved Outer Banks. For those of you who don’t know about the OBX, it is the fragile thread of barrier islands running along our magnificent North Carolina coast. My brother lives there and it is my second home, so, naturally, I headed that way when my spring break began.

I stayed in a little cottage like this one in a place called Pelican Shores. I arrived exhausted, burned out from too many mornings of rising at five and working late into the night. But a girl does what a girl’s got to do, and so I have. Now it was time to stop, breathe in the salt air, and reset my spirit.DSCN2275

One of the ways I keep from losing my sanity as I move through life is by reading the musings of Anne Lamott. She is now on Facebook and if you’re not following her, you should. This woman truly does live out loud. And that’s why I’m drawn to her. Anne has the rare gift of putting her raw, unfiltered, gloriously imperfect self out there for all the world to see.

And that brings me to the snooze button. Anne was about to go on a book tour last week and I was reading a post she had written about what she was packing, where she was going, and what she might say, when she said (in her thought-provoking, Anne Lamott way):

The most important thing I will say tonight is that life goes by in about three weeks, so be here for it. Stop hitting the snooze button. Wake up! That’s why you’re here.

Yeah, baby! my inner voice resounded. But wait. I’ve probably already lived at least two of those weeks. Perhaps I need to start thinking about Week #3.

So I left for spring break with Week #3 very much on my mind. I brought along my computer, a suitcase of books, and my joie de vie, so I felt I was well prepared.

What insights about Week #3 did I glean from my week at the beach?


My writing spot.

1. Stay awake. Be present. Enjoy every moment. I rose with the sun each morning and enjoyed coffee in my pjs before heading out for the day. I ate lots of local seafood. I enjoyed some great wines. I took afternoon naps and drives along the beach. And I found a funky little place to hole up and write.

2. Make time for those you love. I spent time with my beloved brother, my nieces, and a cherished friend. Hugs and kisses, laughing and lingering, are good for the soul.

My brother Horace at The Brine and Bottle

My brother Horace at The Brine and Bottle

3. Beauty is all around you. Drink it in. A friend of mine lives in a lake house nestled in the woods. This former New York/London/LA dweller now loves feeding the geese that frequent his lakeside shore. “There are no bad days in nature,” he says. Take time to enjoy the beauty of creation. And don’t forget to stop and thank the Creator.


4. You don’t need much. The older I get, the less stuff I need. Or even want. A friend once shared with me the secret of Europe’s relaxed and happy cafe dwellers: They don’t have a lot of stuff. Most have a modest dwelling. A nice leather jacket, a few pairs of jeans, and comfortable walking shoes. They share a passion for good food, good wine, and good friends, and, of course, travel. And they set time aside to enjoy all of the above.

5. Be grateful. Every day is a gift. Wake up and be thankful.

6. Give back. Discover and develop your passions and talents. Then use them to bring blessing and joy to others. Make a difference while you can.


7. Don’t take anything (or anyone) for granted.

Doing this thing called life is simple, really. But day in, day out, we forget. Sometimes we just have to get away and be reminded that life is short and we need to stay awake for it.

What are you doing to stay awake? I’d love to hear your story.

An Unexpected Journey (or Two) of My Own


“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

The long-awaited release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” has gotten me thinking about journeys, and my own, in particular. In my lifetime, I have only met one person whose journey has been, well, expected. As I stood there listening to him reel off the list of calamities he’d escaped (major illness, financial setback, divorce, rebellious children, the loss of a loved one) I thought to myself, “Just wait, buddy. Your time is coming.” And it is and probably has, by now.

Not that I wish ill of anyone. Far from it. If anything, I wish the whole lot of us were immune. But we’re not.

Photo: Paul Steele,

Ben Nevis    Photo: Paul Steele:

I was just 14 when my parents received the news that my 23 year-old brother, Lawrence, had fallen to his death while climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland. Lawrence was getting his Masters at the University of Edinburgh. He’d been accepted into Yale Divinity School. And he had recently proposed to the girl he loved. Now all those hopes and dreams lay shattered—along with my innocence—at the bottom of that mountain.

As I crawled into bed that night, I had an epiphany: Life is short, so go for it. Take risks. Dream big.

I’d always understood that life was a journey. Now I felt an urgency to begin my own.


Significant Journey #1: I’d just finished my freshman year of college when I declared my independence, moved away from my parents, and moved to the beach. It was a magical summer. I forged new friendships, broke a few hearts, and had mine broken, too. When the time came to return to school, I made the decision to stay (Remember? Take risks). Then, one by one, my friends packed up and left. And the magic left, too. I’d come to this place to find myself. What I found was this: When you take risks, you risk pain. Ouch.


Significant Journey #2: A year and a half later, I was living in a sparsely furnished apartment in New York’s Upper East Side. I’d left college once again and headed to the Big Apple to find fame and fortune (Take risks). I wanted to be a cover girl, and nothing less would do (Dream big). Bright-eyed and innocent, I pounded the pavement while The City pounded me. I signed with a top agency and was told “if I played my cards right” I could land a million dollar contract (Life is short, so go for it). But trying to navigate that treacherous climb to the top at the tender age of 20 was just too much (Dream big, risk failing big). So one afternoon I walked to Penn Station and slipped away quietly on a train heading south.

There have been many journeys since then, too numerous to mention. What were some of the most unexpected? Having twins. Becoming a teacher. Returning to modeling at age 44. Being diagnosed with breast cancer. Getting divorced. (I did finally finish college, by the way). I suppose the most exciting and unexpected, by far, has been my journey of faith.

Just before Bilbo and the dwarves head into Mirkwood, Gandalf leaves them with this, There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.

Despite the difficulties, I have learned to press on and expect the unexpected. Because I know what Bilbo and the dwarves soon discover: there is always an adventure waiting just around the bend.

Lessons in Waiting (part two)

Manteo waterfront

I will never forget the summer of my 18th year when I moved to the beach to live with my brother in the sleepy little town of Manteo, North Carolina. We occupied a rambling old turn-of-the-century house with cracks and creaks and bats that got in through the woodstove. It was primitive and magical.

My days were spent either on the beach slathered in baby oil or working at The Island Art Gallery and Christmas Shop where I sold Christmas ornaments and fine art to tourists from New York.

The Christmas Shop

At 5 pm, however, I’d take off my apron, hop into my little red truck, and hurry over the Causeway to the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. There I would sit alone on a dock in the middle of the marsh, waiting for the sun to go down.

I always took my journal. Sometimes I wrote poetry. Often I would just sit. And watch. And wait.

Sunset over Roanoke Sound

I remember feeling a tinge of sadness as I cheered the sun to its resting place. The day was now officially over. What had I accomplished? What had I neglected? What did I regret?

You wait, wait, wait, and then–poof! Like those sunsets, the waiting is over and the thing you have waited so long for has either been realized or eluded your grasp.

So what’s to be learned then?

Waiting, as difficult as it is, should be a time for reflection and preparation.

What am I learning about myself while I wait? Am I content living “in the tension”? Or am I restless? Impatient?

Am I wasting today worrying about what might, or might not, happen tomorrow? Or am I growing (emotionally, spiritually, creatively) so that, whatever the outcome, I can look back and see my time of waiting as a gift?

Once more I find myself in a period of waiting. Waiting for a creative break. For a paradigm shift. For a man whose heart sings to my own.

This time I am determined not to waste the wait. This time I will grasp that moment of breathtaking beauty just before the sun slips behind the horizon. And I will hold on tight.

At least until a new day dawns.

Salt Water Runs Through My Veins

There is nothing I love more than being at the beach. Almost any beach. But I prefer those that are beautiful. And I have seen many. St. Thomas. St. John. San Salvador. Punta Cana. Cayman Brac. Ixtapa. The Amalfi Coast. The Greek Islands. The French Riviera. South Beach (Miami). Cape Cod. The California Coast. And, of course, my beloved Outer Banks.

An aunt on my father’s side of the family once researched our family genealogy. My maiden name is Whitfield, and she traced our ancestry back to the 1600s. Apparently the bottom third of England was called “Whitefields” at the time, because of the white, sandy soil. So the Whitefields became Whitfields and they lived along the coast.

And that’s why I believe I have salt water running through my veins.

I am a Fire sign, so I have never understood my attraction to Water. But water calms us fiery types and we need its soothing presence. There is nothing more refreshing for me than spending a few days by the water. Any kind of water. Rivers (the Cape Fear, Wilmington, NC). Lakes (Lake Michigan, Chicago). It’s all good.

But I am especially fond of beaches.

My brother, Horace, has lived on the North Carolina Outer Banks for 40 years, so it is my second home (along with NYC). More about my amazing brother later (he deserves his own post). Last year, his beautiful daughter and my beloved niece, Ashley, opened a restaurant on the Manteo Causeway, The Brine and Bottle. The food is New York good. Her amazing chef and husband, Andrew Donovan, was a sous chef in New York and just won the “Best Chef Award” at Taste of the Beach. Way to go, you two!

My Twitter name is @ncbeachgirl75. Many of my followers assume I live at the beach. And I do. Not physically. But because it is ever present with me. My little cottage in Chatham County looks like a beach house. No beachy kitsch. Just the colors of the sea, some shells, and photos of me and my girls frolicking by the shore.

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