Wardrobes

Moving to the mountains of northern California twenty years ago, a re-wilding has occurred.  There has been subtle permission to become more of who I am.  One obvious change has been to my wardrobe.  When I first moved here, my closet was filled with the clothing I wore while working in downtown San Francisco.  It soon became obvious that these clothes were not practical for life in the mountains. I had a fondness for some of these tailored clothes–the neatly pleated fuschia skirt.  The black belt with the gold and silver cranes intertwined on the wide buckle.  The knee-high boots with a slight heel–a bit of cool esteem.  The black and white checked tailored suit paired with the raw silk blouse.  The fitted, stylish dresses in my favorite colors–turquoise, deep red, navy blue with polka dots, a few soft pastels–each one fit a mood of the day.  Some were concealing, others modestly revealing.

These clothes didn’t come out of the closet once I moved to Mount Shasta!  Each year, I shed more of them.   They were traded for practical and comfortable jeans and tee-shirts.  I searched for the best hiking boots or running shoes–comfort and hardiness are everything.  In the winter, it becomes about layering.  I ordered silk leggings and tops.  Long-sleeved cotton shirts, wool sweaters and vests.  Waterproof outerwear, down jackets.   I didn’t miss trading nylon stockings for the sturdy cotton, and wool sock blends.  I knitted myself a few hats that I could tug down over my ears, and scarves wrapped up under my chin.  Mittens, a variety as, like socks, there was often one missing.    Of course, come summer, all of this was shed for the comfort of light cotton and less is more as the temperature rises into the 90’s or 100’s.  A serviceable swimsuit for dunking in one of the many lakes.

I wonder, Do clothes make the woman?  Or, am I being tailored by my environment?

Living in the mountains brings out an inherent spirit of adventure that had been dormant.  Where does this trail lead?  And that one?  What hidden lake is waiting for me to discover it?  The falling in love with where I live.  The beauty that lures me.  The trail that winds and I wonder what’s around the next curve, up that hill, over that ridge…I must follow.

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I encountered this bear on a river trail a few days ago.  We were a comfortable distance apart as he posed for a few photos.

Giving Your Creative Best

…this is the way I give praise.  It isn’t to be the best…it is to be my best.

Sometimes, I get into a fret wondering what is my purpose?  What is the body of work that I have to contribute either in writing or painting?  What is mine and  mine alone to share?  How am I making the world a better place for my being here?

Do you ever ask these questions?  Or wonder about your purpose?  Of course, if we get into comparison, we see people out there who seem to be driven with purpose from the beginning.  Those who make a positive impact.

Like Jane Goodall…

Watching this documentary over the past few nights, I’m struck by Jane Goodall’s sense of purpose.  Her early childhood knowing that she had a calling.  And, although she didn’t know how she was going to achieve that calling, she trusted in it and perhaps put herself in places of opportunity.  She had a supportive mother who let her believe that her dreams were possible (as outlandish as they might have appeared to others).  Jane didn’t know how it was going to unfold, but unfold it did.

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Most of the people in my circles don’t seem to have such a follow the breadcrumbs course to their purpose.   For me, it’s been more of an obstacle course.  And then an effort to decipher what was that all about?  I find myself looking for meaning in a life that has been turned upside down several times.

Is there a purpose to be derived from a life riddled with complexities–my own intricacies influenced by others?

Does my purpose center around what am I learning from this life of challenges?  Is this what I can share?  The hard won life lessons?  Is my “purpose” woven into these?

In our culture, do we make way too much of having a purpose?  Does even the option to consider your purpose depend on your economic status?  If you are in survival mode, your purpose is to survive.  The self-actualization hovering at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…if the other needs on the ladder are met, then we might have time to consider purpose.  Then again, we’ve all heard the rags to riches stories.

What is that one magical thread that you seek to give meaning to your life?  Some people never ponder this…they live their lives.  Some with a greater degree of consciousness than others.  Is their life of any less value for not pondering these questions?

Is it as I said at the start of this blog?–
this is the way I give praise.  It isn’t to be the best…it is to be my best.  

Then There Are Hooks…

In writing, how is a hook different than a portal?  Or is it different.

If a portal is an opening, an entrance, isn’t a hook also that?  Not exactly.

A hook is that particular line written with the purpose of snagging a reader…to convince the reader that they want to read further.  When a book cover is designed, it is designed with this in mind–to invite the reader to open the book and read more; and then to buy the book.  Preferably, the writer places the hook in the opening paragraph, typically it’s the opening line.  That’s a big responsibility for one line!

How do you browse when you’re looking to buy a book?  You want something new to read.  You choose the genre–fiction or nonfiction–that whittles it down.  Let’s say you choose fiction.  Of course, within fiction there are many categories.  If you choose sci fi fantasy, you’ve narrowed your choice further.  Then you might choose a favorite author in this field.  Or you might randomly pick up books, read the cover (has it won any awards), you might read the endorsements or testimonials on the first few pages.

Or, you might open to the middle of the book, randomly reading whatever is on page 103…  Then again, you might read the first sentence of the first paragraph that begins the story.

What hooks you when you are looking for a book?  Those same things are hooks for others.

Let’s play…

A fun thing to do with fellow writers (or solo) is to write sentences that could act as hooks…

Here are a few of mine:

  1.  The money had run out.
  2.  Her voice became white sound to him.
  3. His hands clenched the picket sign, “Stop experimentation on animals.”
  4. Staring at her, he overflowed his coffee cup.
  5. He came out of the restroom, gave a nod and fell to his knees.
  6. The snow report warned of avalanche danger.

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Any one of these could be a hook for a reader.  And, it is also a portal for the writer to begin to tell more of the story.

 

 

Cycles of Creation

“The cycle of creation, of rising and falling energy, is as it should be. In this sense there is no such thing as creative block, or writers block. There is a time when creative energy flows like a river underground and disappears for a time, in the meantime making something, creating a new body, and then emerging again.”

— Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I have known this to be true from my own experience.  When people talk of writer’s block or tell me that they are not inspired, I remind them of this.  That what we perceive as a block or a lack of inspiration only means that we have entered what I term the fertile void.  In this place, the material of the deep psyche is mingling with your life experiences and your soul quest.  It is in this place that something new is brewing.

Within the fertile void, there is a sort of amnesia.  Even the very things that I’ve been passionate about don’t arouse the energy to bring them to fruition.  And, I lose direction of where to go next with these passionate ideas.  Desolate and aimlessly wandering, I face frustration and lack impetus.  In those times, if I can remember that this too is part of the creative cycle, I might find some relief.  Learning to recognize and trust the creative process at such times, is helpful and hopeful.

This point of seeming stuckness in the creative cycle is not something that needs to be solved.  We see it mirrored in  the wiles and cycles of nature.  If we live in a place with four seasons, we are especially privy to these cycles.  Within her blossoming spring, simmering summer and picturesque autumn, we see momentum and purpose.  Then, that immobilizing frigid winter comes and there is limitation, slowing, hunkering down, waiting it out and inward searching.  When I remember to welcome the winter, I am privy to her gifts.  This fallow time of rest, going inside literally and figuratively,  allowing the integration, rather than resisting it helps.  Winter, this seemingly inert time, is vital to the creative process.  It is not only restorative, it harbors the potential of spring.

This does not mean that I am unproductive during the time of inwardness.  Instead, I can work on creative projects that I’ve stashed away…things like knitting or sewing or cooking a gourmet meal to share.  I might clear out some old files that really do feel stagnant.  I might study something new or even learn Spanish–a promise I’ve made to myself.

How do you experience the fallow time?  What resources do you call on to see you through?

 

A portal

…is an entry point, a place you might not usually notice…for a moment, it is visible.  And then it seems to dissolve into the ethers, defined as “the essence of the universe.”  You enter rather spontaneously or you might miss it entirely.  A lost opportunity.  Hesitation, over-consideration, distractions camouflage the opening.  If you enter, you are in new territory.  You can be certain of disorientation.  Remember Alice in Wonderland and the rabbit hole?

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I remember a time when I was hiking at Southgate Meadows on Mount Shasta.  It was my birthday.  A friend had tied a scarf, a birthday gift from her, around my curls and I had set out alone.  After hiking a couple of hours, I came across a bubbling spring.  The sound of it was like a herald.  A man, also hiking, stopped and told me that this spot was  a portal.  He said that if I sat and listened for awhile, I might be able to hear the quality of musical notes that the water running over the rocks was creating.  That a certain combination of sounds produced an opening, a portal.  He wandered on.  I sat and listened.  There was definitely a music of sorts.  However, I can’t say that I found the entry point.

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In writing or painting, the writer or painter looks for a portal…an entry point to the story that wants to unfold or the painting that wants to evolve.  I think that there might be two portals–one for the writer to begin writing and then one for the reader to be drawn into the story.  One for the artist to enter the painting and one for the viewer to bear witness.  Each entrance requires a surrender…which is the consent to be changed by something external to us.

Have you discovered such portals in your life, in your creative pursuit?

How do you stand not being the best?

Comparison is a tender spot for many an artist.  Last week, at an art exhibit where I had a piece on display, I heard myself repeatedly minimizing my painting.  I had already walked around the exhibit and seen the work of masterful artists, some of whom had been painting for their entire lives.  Inwardly, I went into “I’ve only been painting for five  years.  I’ve learned what I’ve learned from online classes, my own practice and experience.  I never went to art school.”  In other words, I diminished my art and myself.

When someone complimented me or said they liked the painting, I said “You’re being kind.”  I heard myself nearly apologizing for my piece!  Where on earth did all of this self-denigration come from?  Thinking about it in retrospect, it feels painful.

Yesterday, when a friend said I should send an online portfolio of my art to a larger venue, like San Francisco or the bay area at least, I nearly laughed.  “You must be kidding!” I said.  But she wasn’t.  She had seen several groupings of my art and said that she recognized my unique style.  “You have a style,” she said.  “Why not try?” she queried.

So here it is, in my face once again–the artist produces a product.  It matters less about the “expertise” of the painting as to what the process was for me.  What is the journey I took to bring this painting into fruition?  Did I take the journey with acquiesce or protest?  Did I allow myself to be guided by the question what next?  Did I push through the “ugly” stages and arrive at a better place?  Did I say what I wanted to say?  Did I fall in love with my piece, finally?  I DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE EXCUSES FOR ANY OF THIS!

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Being an artist, like being a human, isn’t about comparison.  It is about SELF-EXPRESSION, your personal process and if you so choose, sharing your gifts with others.
In the Desiderata, the author reminds us “always there will be greater and lesser persons [artists] than yourself.”  

Finally, he says, “Be cheerful.  Strive to be happy.”

 

 

Getting to the “REAL POEM”

Last year, I decided to write a poem about having a tooth pulled.  My first tooth extraction ever had been scheduled.  I was resistant and working hard at de-stressing.  I wanted to arrive at a place of resolution and peaceful acceptance.  I wasn’t close.

“Why not write a poem about it?” I thought.  So I set myself up on the back porch, a cold yet sunny landscape stared back through the sliding glass door.  Beauty.  I write.  It’s not long before I realized that it’s going to take some time for me to get to the real poem behind these first words.  It’s good that I’m getting things down on paper.

The Gap
© by Christine O’Brien

Do I have a tooth to spare?
A sacrificial tooth–
could it be an offering?
In service to what?
This tooth, 2nd molar, upper left
staunch beside my wisdom tooth
once gone–makes a space–a gap–
reminders of losses that must be grieved
perhaps healed, but always missed.

The pink cow stares at me from the
painting below the window
on the south-facing back porch.
I want to be brave
I have been brave
I remind others to be brave
I am brave.

But I need something.  What?
Does anyone ever release a tooth,
gladly?  Not likely.
To keep all of my teeth in my mouth
intact has been a desire, a hope, a goal,
an impossible dream.
Another vanishing dream.
Bye, bye tooth.

Once pulled,
I’m going to keep it.
A shrine.
In it’s place,
plant a spirit tooth.
What is the language of tooth?
Does it have a message for me?
Louise Hays had
complementary analogies
(or is it metaphors)
for physical conditions
throughout the body.

Tooth SPEAK!  Upper,
beside the wisdom tooth,
hard-working,
yet a little less wise, perhaps.
Better if it had been the last tooth
on top–now a gap.

Tooth SPEAK!  What do you have to say?
“How taken for granted I’ve felt.
All these years of devoted service.
Clenched jaw, biting nails, kissing
careless men with poor dental hygiene
(not too many).  Chewing, grinding, nuts and seeds–
the tougher jobs
reserved for the back teeth.
I’ve been a reliable little soldier…”

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See, you can write a poem about anything.  Of course, this is a work in progress.  Or is it?
I can’t count how many poems I’ve written to help me through a challenging time.
Have you turned to poetry to express such things?  I recommend it.