A Delicate Balance

Recently, I watched a film produced by Patagonia–
The Refuge: Fighting For A Way Of Life.
The film illustrated the plight of the Gwich’in Nation of Alaska, specifically the area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“The Gwich’in population is located in northeastern Alaska, the northern Yukon and Northwest
Territories of Canada. Known as ‘The Caribou People,’ the culture and life of the Gwich’in has
been based around the Porcupine Caribou herd for thousands of years. The Gwich’in peoples
have relied upon the caribou for food, shelter, clothing, tools and medicine. So intertwined with
the Porcupine Caribou herd, the Gwich’in have named the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge
“Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” which translates to ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.’
The Coastal Plain is the destination of the Porcupine Caribou herd, which migrates to the Coastal
Plain each year to birth and raise their young. Not only does the life of the caribou begin on the
Coastal Plain, but it is also where the life of the Gwich’in nation is supported. The lives and
heritage of the Gwich’in are directly tied to the caribou herds – much like the Plains Indians
relied on the buffalo. Without a healthy caribou population, the Gwich’in culture would
struggle to survive.” from http://www.alaskawild.org/educate

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This painting is my tribute to the Gwich’in Nation in recognition of their intricate and interdependent relationship with the Porcupine Caribou. In legislating, thereby allowing corporate oil moguls to exploit this sacred region, we are influencing climate change to our detriment. In saving this region from such exploitation, we are not only protecting the rights of the Gwich’in Nation, the Caribou and migrating birds, we are protecting the future of a healthy earth for generations to come.

The Need for Change

“The need for change
bulldozed a road down
the center of my mind. ”
Maya Angelou

This quote from Maya Angelou is likely something we can relate to at different times in our lives.  I know that it has been true for me over the course of my life.

Personally, I recognize the too tight box I’m living in.  Or the habit that persists that really wants to be let go of.  Sometimes it’s a closet of clothes that I no longer wear.  Other times, it’s a deep desire for something different than the same old, same old.  Shifting a perspective can be, as one of my sister’s said, like bending steel.

Whatever it is, how do I allow change in?  How do you invite or choose necessary change?

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At this time, change is thrust upon us externally.  Any external change is going to cause whatever complacency we might have to be disrupted.  We have become aware of that in these uncertain days.  What is within that hasn’t really been working is called to the forefront and we have to DEAL WITH IT.  Whatever it is.

I’m not sure when Maya Angelou said the above quote…and what was exactly going on in her life.  Years ago, I read one of her biographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  I remember it being about her early years, childhood and young womanhood.  It entailed her reaction to a childhood where she experienced some of the cruelties of life.  A period where she didn’t speak for five years after a horrific event occurred. She was pregnant at 17 with her one and only child, a son.  She lead a chaotic life for awhile–was a prostitute, owned a brothel, ran wild.  At some point, she pursued higher education and eventually became a scholar, a professor, writer and poet and rubbed elbows with some of the amazing people of our times including Nelson Mandela.

If you don’t know Maya Angelou, if you don’t know of the rich tapestry of her life, I encourage you to read one of her several chronological autobiographies.  And, you would discover how she made pivotal choices that changed the course of her life.  I also encourage you to read some of her poetry which is typically about a woman’s self-discovery and identity.  Her poetry is something that I connect with–it reaches beyond any differences of race, creed or color.

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All of that to ask “What in your life needs to be changed?”  When faced with this question, I sometimes begin by clearing some clutter, cleaning out a drawer or a closet, journaling about a mindset, writing a poem that releases something old (or several) and writing poetry that invites in something new.  Painting can also foster the change you want to make in the outer world.  There are other supports for the changes you want to make.  A circle of friends, sharing and talking about something new that you and they want to bring about helps.  Prayers for guidance helps.  Consider the supports and resources that are available as you choose to change something.  You’re not alone, truly.

Always, be gentle with yourself during the process.  It’s often about recognition.  And then we go from there.

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I had to post this poem written and read by Maya Angelou because all I see is a woman of power.  She was forty years old when she spoke this poem.  Her voice, wow!  Her presence, wow!  The way that she occupies the poem as she recites it, wow!

VOTE!

This painting was a passionate plea for women to vote in the 2016 election.  I had been painting for nearly two years.  I’m thinking of revising this piece with what I’ve learned since then.  Regardless, the message is the same.  The woman in the lower right hand corner represents the women who were part of the women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900’s in this country.  We are a melting pot of many nationalities.  Women united in the vote are a powerful force for change.

 

vote

Here we are coming up on another election this year.  How are we going to vote?  Are we going to consciously exercise this hard won right?  The American film, Iron Jawed Angels was released in 2004.  I don’t remember it receiving a lot of press.  When I first viewed it about five years ago, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of Alice Paul when I was in school.

 

This is a powerful film about our own suffragettes and the fight that they fought for us, the future generations.

Reminder to self:  Don’t waste your vote.

Stopping the Desert

Can one person really make a differenceWhat can one man alone (or woman) do?

Being true to himself, Yacouba Sawadogo, followed his curiosity or one could say, his calling.  He never learned how to read or write, but he was in conversation with the earth, that particular place on the earth where he lives.  That is, the landlocked country, Burkina Faso, in West Africa

People were having to fold up and leave their homes, their villages due to a lack of water.  That is one condition that creates climate refugees–people are forced to leave their homes “due to a sudden or gradual alteration in the natural environment…drought and water scarcity.”

Yacouba had an idea and he investigated it.  People thought he was crazy, ridiculous and even sacrilegious.  They mocked him and vandalized his fields.  He persisted with his experiment which was partially based in his intuition, common sense and some of the old ways of farming.

Can one person make a difference?  It looks like he did.  And, when many people unite for a common cause, then the impact can be exponential.

Yacouba Sawadogo?  The Man who Stopped the Desert.  I highly recommend this film for many reasons.  First of all, it is inspiring.  Secondly, in our lifetime, where we live right now, we may be called upon to “stop the desert” due to climate change.  It looks as if everyone across the planet is affected in one way or another by these changes. It seems wise to get knowledge from those who are pioneering new/old ways.

Infinity (and beyond)

stitchingtheworld

A few years ago, I took an online course on the Hindu Wisdom Goddesses.  One of these Goddesses, Bhuvaneshwari by name, creates worlds.  And worlds within worlds.  An infinity of worlds.  Perhaps she stitches or weaves them.  As in this painting.  And then, maybe she flings them off into the vast universe(s).  What are they going to become?

I like the image of this…that some great Goddess is out there constantly creating worlds.  It’s as if she’s stretching her wild imagination to engage yet another possibility.  Isn’t that what we’re being called to do now.  In this time of Covid Virus, social unrest, political upheaval, planetary degradation–how can we recreate the world?  How can we recreate ourselves in this current world?  We have an opportunity.  When there is chaos, there is expanded possibility.

I was listening to a speaker yesterday…his name is Bayo Akomolafe.  Bayo is a wise thinker and activist for our times.  I liked this line, this idea, his suggestion:

“Let’s stay with the trouble of our becoming.  Let’s see what that does to us.”

I appreciate this thought because I notice how I, we, anyone wants things to return to “normal.”  To settle down and actually go backwards into what was, but no longer is.
To find an escape of some sort so we don’t have to deal with what is happening right now.  However, if we can stay with the trouble of our becoming, perhaps there is hope for something beyond that, some growth spurt of oneself and then the exponential factor can come into play–the growth spurt of many.  I hope so.

Following is a five-minute video clip of Bayo Akomolafe speaking on the “cultural myth that sets up man as central to the universe…”  I appreciate his way of perceiving and thinking outside of the boxes that we’ve accepted as the way it is.  I like to stretch my mind to think more broadly and to be more inclusive.

I hope that you take time to listen to this and let me hear what you think.

Water, Water Everywhere…

Water,Water Everywhere

She does look a bit parched, doesn’t she?  This painting was exhibited in a local art show with the theme of WATER.  Water–not that long ago, living in San Francisco, we could drink tap water.  Bottled water was unheard of.  Now it’s commonplace.

Rather than root out and respond to the cause of impurities in our water, we bottle and ship water from sources that we hope are not contaminated.  We buy water!

I notice how we adapt to the changing circumstances that are caused by our improper use of the earth.

The way that we extract resources–detrimental to the earth and the inhabitants of that land.

The way that we dispose of waste…detrimental to the land and sea and its inhabitants.

The way we package products–detrimental to our health and the environment.

The way we ship products long distances–detrimental to air quality.

What is causing cancer rates to increase?  What is it in our external environment that contributes to this?  The way we eat, drink, the contaminants in our food, our clothing, the air?

STOP!  When do we begin to reverse what we’ve discovered is messing up our environment.  What animal trashes home the way that humans do?

As we tamper with our ecosystems, there is going to be less potable water and more saltwater, undrinkable.  I don’t understand the science of it…but things are heading in that direction.  Neither do I know the timeframe.  That premise is what informed this painting.  It doesn’t have to be this way…but it’s not going to change until human beings gather and stand together to change things for the better.

Earth wants to work with us.  Let’s not ignore the call.

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A few years ago, I watched a full-length video (it’s about twenty-one minutes long) on The Story of Stuff as presented by Annie Leonard.  Following is a two-minute segment that begins to give you an idea of how we make, distribute, use and dispose of stuff.  If you are interested in seeing the entire video, you can find it on YouTube.  I highly recommend it.

 

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

A Mythic Meaning

She Rises1

This painting (not finished  yet) was all about exploration.  I used a liquid masking fluid, played with creating a pool of water.  A Goddess (with uneven eyes) rising from the depths.  Symbolism.  A waterfall cave behind her face.  Her hair, a trellis for a climbing vine.  A butterfly above her eyebrow.  What’s it all mean?

One of these days, when I’m called to, I’ll return to it.  To see where it wants to go next.  For now, it sits behind my sofa in a suspended state.

It seems that artists have a lot of unfinished paintings.  I’m not the only one.  We reach a point of impasse with a piece.  I’m not sure why.  The question “Where do I go from here?” hovers in an air of suspense.  Because we just don’t know.

Being comfortable with the unknown is actually a great quality to have.  The other day, I was not happy with the state of affairs in the world.  Whether the virus or politics or human behavior, geez.  I walked down a road I don’t normally walk down.  Out of nowhere, my cellphone in my fanny pack began playing a song from the film, Frozen.  I don’t know how that song got on my phone!!  The words “I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you into the unknown…” played loud and clear.  These words reflected what I was feeling about leaning into the uncertainty of life in these challenging times in which we are living.

Then, I rounded a curve in the road and someone had written graffiti on a metal gate…
it read “Normalcy is a paved road.  It’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow on it.”

These two timely messages from the universe shifted my feelings from uncertainty and fear to a sense that I was being (we are being) looked after in ways that we can’t imagine.  That there is something beyond what we can see that is working with us.  And that it wants us to be aware of its presence, its offer to assist us.
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Idina Menzel singing “Into the Unknown” at the Academy Awards.

 

Possible, Impossible

I revived this poem from two years ago because it feels even more relevant today!

Sonnet #3
© by Christine O’Brien

Possible, impossible, a constant weave
Do we have control over where we go?
When the powers that be cause us to grieve,
Can we grab the reins, redirect the flow?

When so-called leaders don’t know how to lead
When ambassadorship, isn’t their forte
Why do we entrust what we hold sacred
to those who lead us to certain “muerte“?

Resources are finite, global warming, fact
Denial has been a way of life too long
We are coming up against our earth’s lack
How can she provide when we ignore her song?

This regime cannot withstand the earth’s dream
She will have her way as they sit and scheme.

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Why is there a battle between humankind and nature?  Didn’t we arise from nature and doesn’t nature include us as some wise persons have noted?  When do we decide to heed the warnings and begin to turn things around?

Project Drawdown is a ray of hope today.  Have you heard of it?  Following is a short clip that gives a glimpse into the possible.  What’s impossible is the direction we’ve been going.

The following clip is about 1-1/2 minutes long.  Paul Hawkens is the speaker.

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Here’s my invitation to you.

  • Make yourself a cup of your favorite tea.
  • Have a pen and pad handy.
  • Google “YouTube video of Project Drawdown” or Paul Hawken (he is one of the spokespersons for this project).
  • There are several videos of varying length.
  • Choose one.
  • Listen deeply and take notes.
  • Is there anything that connects with you?
  • Is there anything that is spoken that arouses your concern, interest or passion?
  • Consider learning more about it.
  • Begin talking to others about it.
  • Is there the possibility of forming a circle with others with similar concerns?
  • Is there an immediate action that you want to take?  A group action?

I believe that it’s possible to change a direction if we act soon.

Abstracting

cairnfinal

This painting evolved from a fun process developed by artist, Basia Zielinska.  It involved a large canvas or sheet of watercolor paper.  Acrylic paint in colors that play well together.  Spraying water and dripping paint.  Line work.  Layering and allowing to dry between some of the layers to avoid making mud.   And then, I wanted the image of cairns.  It seems that I typically want to bring an image into an abstraction.  I’ve always been attracted to cairns, so cairns it was.

“A cairn is a man-made pile of stones. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn. Cairns have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present. In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times.” (Wikipedia)

We occasionally see cairns while hiking in the mountains here where I live.  They signify that you are on the right track or if there is a fork in the road, they mark the correct trail to follow.  Basically, they are trail markers guiding you in cases where navigation becomes difficult and the trail may easily be lost.

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Wouldn’t it be cool if we had cairns along our life path as signposts to the best way to proceed when faced with a life choice?  In a sense, we do.  But we don’t always listen to our intuition, do we?  What is that strange human capacity, like the Vasilisa Doll story as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book,  Women Who Run With the Wolves“Go left, go right, don’t go that way, do go this way”.  Why are we so suspicious or doubtful when it comes to our own intuition?  Do we associate it with the occult or witchcraft or is it so demeaned in a rational patriarchal system that we don’t trust it?

I remember a film with Brendan Fraser, Still Breathing, where he created cairns.  It’s also very much about following one’s deep intuition and guidance.  It’s a quirky and  captivating film.  It’s one that I’ve seen several times.

Mermaids II

If I were a mermaid living in the ocean, I’d be angry with humans.  The ocean is, afterall, my home.  I want my environment to be pristine.  For myself and all the variety of wondrous sea creatures who also live here.  When my environment is polluted by the ignorance and greed of humans, well I can’t just get up and walk away, can I?  The integral relationship of the ocean with the moon and our ecosystem that keeps things “working” is being drastically damaged by destructive human activities.  Witnessing the devastation that humans have wreaked on my home, I’m wondering what I can do to wake them up!

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As we get more and more distanced from nature, we are going to feel the effects.  Because, as John Muir has said, “Nature includes us!”

As sophisticated as we might think we are, as much as we think we’ve conquered nature and that we are civilized above and beyond the natural world…that’s false thinking.  We are nature, nature is us.  We have a biology and so does the earth and the sea and the whole ecology in which we are included.  I’m likely preaching to the choir here!

This mermaid reminds me of a warrioress.  She is both tender and tough when necessary.  She is ready to go to battle for her home, the ocean.

mermaid.1

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In 1995, an amazing film was released, The Secret of Roan Inish.  The music was haunting, the scenery enchanting, the acting authentic and the story–magical and mythological.  This is where I first heard of “the Selkie.  And, I feel that the sea is portrayed as a character itself.  Effective personification!

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The phrase “If I were” is a good way to begin writing.  Especially when you’re feeling stuck…”If I were…”  Those three little words open the door to imagination and possibility.  Go ahead, WRITE!