I came across this poem I wrote back in 2009…my dad was resisting allowing in-home-help for my mom. When we were finally able to get someone in to help my parents, when my father finally acquiesced, I wrote a poem of gratitude for this corps of helpers. Caregivers are underpaid and unsung heroines and heroes. They do women’s work which, as we realize, is undervalued across the globe.
before all life
and the caregiver who
washes a sink full of dirty dishes
and changes diapers
or empties bedpans
bathes my parents
–to those who wash urine-soaked mattress pads
I revere the life
which enters in a bloody burst
catching its first breath in a cry
and releasing its final breath in a shudder
and everything in between
–especially women’s work
which great corporations
like hotels, restaurants,
the hospitality industry
model themselves after.
Women have always
prepared our food,
cared for the sick,
done the laundry,
and not been paid for
their necessary labor.
i.e., my mom
–now my dad has to pay wages
for her care after sixty-six years
of her unpaid service to him.
To pay for women’s work
is a tough pill for him to swallow
wash it down
wash it down
and cough up the money
for these worthy and necessary chores
from worthy givers of care
to my more than deserving mom.
Ultimately, my parents moved to a care home. Their needs were met by caregivers making minimum wage. There is a real humility in accepting help as we age. And caregiving is a humble profession that deserves to be elevated. Where does any one society place its value? This becomes obvious in what they put their money towards.
My father passed away in 2010 and my mom died six months later.
Malaise: “…a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”
How are you coping with it? The long stretch of not being sure how to proceed? The risks, the frustrations, the doubts and uncertainties, the news, the misinformation, the truth that “no one really knows for sure.” What are the long-term consequences of getting the vaccine? How long does it last? What’s the best one for you? What’s the best one for me? Who can you go to for answers? What if you are one who chooses to wait and see before you get the vaccine, if ever? What is the underlying cause of this virus? Where did it actually originate? What’s the best preventative? Can we gather or not? How many feet apart? Wearing masks, indoors or outdoors? Double-masking? Whaaaaat?
And do we have to face more of this in the future? Is it a result of climate change and what we’ve been doing to our planet? The virus goes to the lungs…are the lungs of the earth sending us a message as we carry on with our deforestation…the trees, the lungs of the planet? A good question–is the earth giving us FEEDBACK? How are we interpreting this?
Some of my friends are trying to live their lives with business as usual. There are others who are working around the curtailments. There are others who go between the malaise and working on one or another projects. For them it’s like swimming against the currents. Progress is slow, if any. Sometimes they go sideways, detouring into a mindless distraction. Some have a new addiction to the news, their computers. And they are suffering for it. As for me, I’m trying to sort through a lifetime of writing. And to maintain the little cottage where I live better. A little garden. The goal is to bring some order to the world that immediately surrounds me. The one I think I have some control over. In incremental ways, daily. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or overnight.
What about you? How are you coping?
**** I wrote this poem in March of 2012. I don’t remember what was going on in my life at the time. It was a year after my mom had died. A year and a half since my dad had died. I’m guessing I was rousing myself and redirecting my life after the challenges of their final years. The thing is…perhaps we’re always rebounding from something or other in our lives. Yes, it’s true, the magnitude of what has resulted from the virus is different because it’s global, not only us. Yet, we do know some of what it takes to rebound.
Betweenland by Christine O’Brien
Footing is precarious The old, familiar ledges eroding beneath my feet before I have something solid in place If trust were substance I’d stand upon it finding safe ground in the midst of dissolution From there, I’d look out upon inner continents –the old ones disappearing as the new ones surface The discontent and yearning from which they’ve sprung in my own sweet soul calling more of me into being The woman that I am standing on this plot of land looking across the horizon, now so close, to see the other one stretching out his hand towards me
I learned to ride a bicycle when I was about twelve years old. I rode my bike around the neighborhood in the Sunset District in San Francisco where I grew up. I didn’t travel very far or wide. I had six younger siblings and a lot of household responsibilities. In her late forties, my mother got a bike as a birthday present. It was maroon-colored and called Indian Princess. It seemed somehow exotic to me. My father put training wheels on it; my mother never took them off. It never left the garage.
When I married at age 19 and moved to southern California, I wanted a bike but my young husband didn’t agree. After I had my first daughter, I pictured myself riding through the flat neighborhood of Lemon Grove Estates with her in a bike seat behind me. Again, my husband thought I was being frivolous.
For a long time after that, I thought that I had outgrown bicycles…that I was now too mature to ride a bike. The notions that we have. At 36-years old, I bought myself a Schwinn mountain bike for women…blue, shiny, sturdy, I took up bike-riding. I rode around San Francisco. I never did get a helmet although I would advise my younger self to wear one now. I rode from Daly City, partway around Lake Merced, down Sloat Boulevard to Great Highway beside Ocean Beach. Along the Great Highway past the Sunset and Richmond Districts, then up into Golden Gate Park. Past Queen Wilhelmina’s Windmill and tulip gardens. Up through the park to ninth avenue and the Big Wreck Baseball Field…and then back again. This became a regular route for me.
I brought my bike with me when I moved to Mt. Shasta. I thought I’d ride it often. I rode it sometimes, but rarely. Mostly, it’s been in storage. When polled recently to see what their most valuable possession was women responded…their car keys. I would agree with that. However at one time, the bicycle was a symbol of freedom for women. It changed fashion and gave them mobility at a time when they were definitely constrained.
“One hundred years ago, Alice Hawkins, a suffragette, cycled around Leicester promoting the women’s rights movement, causing outrage by being one of the first ladies to wear pantaloons in the city. During the fight to win the vote the bicycle became not only a tool but also a symbol for the emancipation of women.”
The American civil rights leader, Susan B Anthony, wrote in 1896:
“I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood.”
This little collage turned into a woman riding a bicycle.
Thank God for the reckless moment in painting. I am in process with a piece. Although I’m in motion, the painting is feeling forced. Who am I trying to please here? What god am I being obedient to? The one who is too cautious? The one who wants to be certain that others will approve? The one who is critical? The one who demands perfection?
Then, an abandon of sorts enters. I swipe my brush across the canvas and a whole new direction is created. It’s a must…to follow that reckless moment. Once, in such frustration, I took black and white and squiggled lines across the canvas and left the painting overnight. The next day, emerging from this chaos was the form of a tiger! I brought her forth and voila, a whole new painting than was originally intended.
That’s where the magic is. When I become too precious about something in the painting, I try to preserve it and work around it. But then, something else isn’t working. The freedom for the piece to become what it truly wants to be is sacrificed to save this portion of the painting.
It’s like in writing, you’ve written a line or a paragraph that you think is absolutely brilliant. The seasoned writer is going to tell you to toss it! Yes, toss it because now it has become a block to the real writing that wants to come. Don’t you hate that!?!?
For some reason, when I’m grappling with this inner unrest, I don’t recognize that this is a stage of the creative process. I forget this almost every single time. I want this painting to be finished. I want to be satisfied. I want my fellow artists to approve. I want my audience to like it. I want to be representational in my painting. I want…I want…I want…
Then, the surrender once again to what is being asked of me. Go wild. Be reckless. Forget the false gods that you have been trying to appease. Abandon the old constraints and allow the next steps to unfold. As has been said, be in the flow.
Sometimes I don’t respond to the call. Sometimes, the universe delivers precise messages that it’s time to do an art show. Locally, invitations come to me. I find a reason to say “no, thank you.” I make excuses that seem true in the moment… “I’m grieving.” or “It’s too costly to get frames and prep the art for a show.” or “I’m mostly self-taught–I haven’t gone to art school.”
In retrospect all of these reasons (excuses) seem false, constructed to protect myself in some way. Our art is, after all, our progeny and we protect it accordingly along with our fragile artist’s ego. Behind all of this, is the fear that others are going to judge me and my art unfavorably. Time to get past that.
You cannot be discovered and invisible at the same time!
Recognizing and making opportunities.
Think about the attention that has come your way through your art or writing or poetry–when you deign to share it. That old “don’t hide your light under a bushel” parable comes to mind. Given a gift, it is meant to be shared. I have to remind myself of this when I humbly dismiss an invitation to have an art show or decline to read a poem publicly.
Notes to self: 1)When someone says that they like my art…that they want to purchase something because it speaks to them or that they’d like to see more of my art, say “Yes”. 2) And, when they say that a painting is something they could live with comfortably and appreciate daily, don’t dismiss that. Share more of what you do with them.
I’ve been thinking about the unlikely places to share my art as well as the generous offers from a local hotel and a gallery. Take a little expedition within a thirty mile radius of where I live. Who could host a piece or two of my art. I’ve made up those business cards–but I could give them a fresh look. And then, actually hand them out!
If not now, when?
Truly, can any one of us measure the length of our lives? We didn’t come here to be invisible. We are each an expression of something that the universe has brought forth for a good reason. We are meant to be seen and heard. With due respect for others of course. It’s not a competition. It’s more like an ARRAY. What a beautiful word. In an array of flowers, there is not one that has to be the most beautiful. Again, reminding me of the word “synergy” where the parts aren’t greater than the whole…they work together in a harmonious array.
STOP PLAYING HARD TO GET!
So it is with your art…joining the league of artists, each a star in his/her own orbit. What a brilliant idea!
Another quote I love and refer to time and again:
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde
What I’m saying is: Any one of us is being called on in some way to express ourselves at this time. I heard the phrase recently “You are here on purpose.” Wow, that’s a good one to contemplate. What you are working on or creating in your life right now, what would it be like to share it with another, others, the larger community?
“Who made the world?” In one of her famous poems, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks this question. Like a young child’s voice asking her parents “Who made the world?” or “Where did I come from?” or “How did I get here?” The young, if allowed, ask those existential questions. And like this and many other poets, Oliver follows the thread of her thoughts and goes from the broad to the specific.
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I want to know
WHO MADE THE PINEAPPLE?
I mean this pineapple
the one delivered with my food order
this past week?
Who designed the layered, tufted top
the prickly, hexagon designs
outlined in yellow-green?
Who conscribed it to be juicy sweet
Who made the pineapple?
Can you find something to be amazed by today? Something that causes you to stop in your tracks and really see and admire it? One definition of admire is “to regard with wonder, pleasure or approval.” If I took the time, I’m guessing that throughout the day, there would be many things that I could admire. I could dwell in amazement.
The question I asked in an early journal (2012) “Can I bring beauty to the perceived as unbeautiful.”
For some reason, this question seems as timely as it did when I asked it in 2012. In the last blog, I mentioned being present and pondered why it seems unsustainable.
I live in a beautiful place. I look out the windows and there is INSTANT BEAUTY surrounding my cottage. Within five minutes, I can be walking beside a pristine lake. We are saying farewell to a winter that sparkled with white snow, tree branches etched with snow, unique snowflakes whirling then landing. We are turning towards the first crocuses, daffodils and tulips–the heralds of spring.
I am always stopped by a spring flower. I pause to acknowledge it. Yet, how quickly I leave that beauty behind and retreat into my head. Into the same old annoying thought patterns. That nowhere land around which my mind circles. I am resisting the beauty that surrounds me. Why? Why do I choose these thoughts over this present beauty? Why this incessant need to solve what is insoluble.
As far as bringing beauty to what I perceive as unbeautiful, I think that’s not really the question. The real question seems to be why am I once again missing the beauty that is. If the unbeautiful represents the shadow in humanity, in you, in me, then as I understand it, it needs acknowledgment from me. “Yes, you’re there too. I welcome and accept you.” And then there comes a time when the fascination with the shadow desires to lessen. Isn’t there?
Our media, in case you haven’t noticed, gives weighty attention to the mess that humans continue to make of things. The media is often a fear monger. I have heard that it takes seven uplifting thoughts or things of beauty to counter one negative message. Yet, we are bombarded by a media that perhaps knows exactly what it’s doing–keeping people in fear and immobilized. An amnesia for what is beautiful takes over.
Some of my friends don’t read or listen to the news. They seem generally happier for it. Is it sticking one’s head in the sand not to read the news? Is it irresponsible not to stay up on world affairs? Some would say so. How much better off am I for reading the news, the conflicting news, the reporting that creates dissension and division? There are things in the realms of politics that have been set in motion that I don’t seem to have control over. There are certainly decisions that I don’t align with…and yet, how is my dread of them going to change anything?
What if I could go out today and really be with the beauty that is around me? What if I could wander in the wonder of what it is to be alive today? What if I could hold the mystery of our being-ness closer and worry less about the uncertainty?
Can I make the unbeautiful beautiful? No, but I can meet the unbeautiful with it’s counterpart of beauty. For everything has a counterpart.
While working on a painting, I remember what one teacher said “work with what’s working.” That’s a good reminder for life. There is a lot that is working and that I can easily take for granted.
Rejoining the Beauty by Christine O’Brien
The chief beauty of the world pattern of patterns To tap into that beauty to let it be the motivator of this day Jane’s tree, Crissy’s flowers, the amethyst ring, a smile, the cuddly cat These things know what I only surmise A creator who set this world in motion where I join with this source in my own creation a masterpiece in the making Within the stumbling, the waywardness– beauty In the lost or unlit places– beauty There is no waiting for me to reach that highly evolved state in the present incompleteness– beauty In what’s for dinner and who I met for breakfast yesterday– beauty In the unknown tomorrow the tentative step forward, the risk– beauty In the potential for love, the yearning for peace– beauty The stone in my shoe set free, rejoining the beauty
Music is certainly a way to engage beauty. Remember to listen to music.
Being Present. Sages believe that there is wisdom in this. Yet, how many of us really live this way? Why don’t we? Too much baggage from the past? Too much worry over the future? Both of which are no longer in our control. We’ve heard that the present is the gift. That we only have power in the present.
Yet, for me, it feels like somehow I avoid the present in one way or another. Thoughts slip in sideways and take me down a path I don’t care to go. And then, the moment is lost to me. I don’t think we can ever effectively escape these sideways distractions. They seem to be integral to our lives. We’re often planning for the next thing. However, once-in-awhile, I have that experience of being precisely where I am, doing (or not doing) exactly what I’m doing. Sometimes, I’m fully present with someone else. I’m seeing them, hearing them, responding to them, experiencing the moment with them. Yet, it’s so rare. How come I can’t harness the fleeting moment and be comfortable within it?
Here’s a poem where I pondered just that…
And Then What? by Christine O’Brien
on stopping and being present
in this one particular moment
leaving everything pending, undone
I read that if I died
all the activities
I deemed important
would die with me
for who would be interested
in taking up the threads of my existence
and continuing the odd weave?
sometimes I don’t want
this warp and woof I’ve created.
I wonder if there is another me
on another side
of this thinning veil
cheering me on
if I could claw a way through to her
merge with her
know the secrets
I already know
live the life
that dreamers awaken to
on this plane
could I drop all the tasks
really live while I’m alive?
oh sweet adventure
oh daring & renewed fascination
now, the wind does howl
and the wood crackles in the stove
spring has slipped backwards
it’s been a long day
the bath is ready
and anything profound
is more than I desire
this stopping and being present
is so lush.
**** Do you feel you are fully present, partially present or rarely present to what’s in front of you? Today? Right now?
Recently, in an online Zoom class, the discussion went to “What’s a good story you’d like to share about your relationship with one of your grandfathers?”
I came up with zilch! Good stories about either one of my grandfathers’ relationship to me were non-existent. This wasn’t the first time where I felt a longing for a grandfather (remember Heidi and her grandfather in the Swiss Alps). My Irish grandfather on my father’s side was an alcoholic for most of his life. I have a sad image of him slumped in an old upholstered chair staring out the window from the second story of his house in Bernal Heights. I remember someone saying that he had only six teeth left, his hair was white and sparse and he had nothing to say to a little girl. The other Grandfather, the Italian one, would slip out of the house rather quickly when my parents arrived with their nine children in tow. He had a beautiful garden out back in the open fields of Mountain View and I only remember being allowed to go out there a few times. He wore a beat up hat and overalls. I understand that he was an accountant and wore a suit during the work week.
However, I do have memories of my grandmothers. The Irish/German Grandmother on my father’s side was diabetic. She tucked boxes of chocolate in drawers, cabinets, under beds. One week she would come to visit and her legs would be swollen with fluids; the next week, she twirled her skirt and ta-da, skinny legs. She once gave me a pink and purple feather duster. I guess she knew that I was one of the little serfs in my parent’s house. That’s how I thought of us at times, like a feudal system. We, the children, the serfs, had to do the work to keep the kingdom thriving. I have other memories of her, Lou short for Louise.
My Italian Grandmother Anna was born in Palermo and she was brought to America with her brother and parents when she was six months old…Ellis Island. She is the one I witnessed into her old age…she lived to be ninety-one years old. As a girl, I didn’t feel either favored or disfavored by her. When she pronounced my given name of CHRISTINE, it sounded stern to my ears. I was usually Chrissie. She was an authoritarian figure, the matriarch. I got the impression that my grandfather was the submissive one. She was groomed by her mother to be an opera singer. She did sing in some of the churches in San Francisco. The family had moved from the east coast to the west coast. Those stories are sketchy.
One year, I bought a cassette recorder. Two of my brothers and I thought it would be a good idea to interview Grandma especially in regards to our Italian lineage. She was in her late eighties at the time. I have those tapes to this day and have made copies for family members. When we showed up on her doorstep, her greeting would sound so weak…”I have nothing to say really. I live the life of a recluse.” By the end of the conversation, her voice had regained the old strength and she was once again the final authority on everything, the matriarch that we remembered.
My grandparents, I can only guess at what life stories, traumas and dreams they did not disclose that affect me and the future generations in this lineage?
**** So do you have stories of your relationship with your grandparents? How do you preserve them or pass them on?
Mother comes with a built-in judgment a plan for struggle to fall and fail Her platform, built by men an ‘ideal’ that doesn’t allow her to be whole.
While Mother has the most amazing qualities, potential –she is placed in a hotbed of masculine insecurity and his misuse of power, his idea that power means to overpower– to oppress, suppress and make her subject to… his unhealed places.
Her qualities, natural instincts of care, nurture compassion and feminine power are contorted to fit into his world, to meet his needs.
Mother is stolen from herself and her children. She is lost, she is sad.
***** Today…03.11.2021 I have written about woman, wife, mother for most of my life. I am or have been all of these. Some humans would like to believe that we’ve evolved so much that there is no longer oppression and abuse of women. We hear world news rendering this belief as false. Yet, we hold onto the idea that it’s not happening here. Sadly, it is present today in our own country, our own community and our own families. Domestic Violence is real. It is mostly the abuse of women and children.
The woman victim often denies that she is a battered wife. There is a complex of qualities that create a circumstance for domestic violence. For the woman being abused, it can involve low self-esteem, trauma, shame, confusion, the desire to be loved and cared for, fear and more. There can be an economic component as to why a woman stays in an abusive relationship. There are always hidden reasons and causes, below the level of her awareness–often, she grew up in a household where this was modeled. The male abuser has likely been a victim himself–of trauma and having grown up in such a household. He has not learned to value a woman nor has he learned how to manage his own triggers, anger, past trauma.
When I moved to the mountains, twenty-plus years ago, I determined to write about the battered wife…her battle for sovereignty. When she recognizes that she has stayed too long in an abusive and demeaning relationship, how does she finally leave? My mother never left. She stayed true to the model of battered wife to the end. She stood by her husband despite the ongoing abuse. In the care home, I witnessed how my father finally had only to give my mother an icy stare for her to comply with his demands. The patterns were so well-established and neither of them knew how to extricate themselves from such a merciless cycle.
This is one of many tough topics. One that many people in my circles avoid. I understand why. It’s an ugly topic, isn’t it? It has ancestral roots. How does one change something that is so embedded? And, of course, how does the prevailing and entrenched attitude towards women as inferior to men begin to change? How does a woman change that diminished model within herself?
Sometimes, when a woman has experienced domestic violence over a long period of time, it is hard for her to talk about it. If she has left the situation, there is a part of her that wants to shrink away from it and ‘have a happy life now.’ However, the effects are lingering and the body has set up patterns of re-traumatization with the intention of protection. Reading about something along the lines of domestic violence, a woman can get triggered back into an event in her life. Fight, flight and freeze strategies are engaged. Conducting a normal life is unrealistic given this response to triggers.
This topic of Domestic Violence is up for me now as currently some of my family members are living through this nightmare. For one of them, it has been carried to the extreme and she is in the hospital fighting for her life. When and how does this change? First by shining a light of recognition on it. Bringing awareness to that which we would rather avoid. The world has been under the spell of man’s dominion over woman and nature long enough. We’re missing everything until we are inclusive of the wisdom that is innate when we embrace our interdependence on one another and the wholeness of life.