Existential Loneliness

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This painting had an evolution…it started off as three women disco dancers, then two polar bears, then a single polar bear with a different landscape and now this rendition.  Finally, I wrote the following sonnet on the canvas as a part of the background in the meadow.  It’s not meant to be legible, only a design element.

One cold night at the beginning of another long winter in the mountains of northern California, I fell into that state of existential loneliness.  I happened to have this painting in process on the wall in front of me.  My own loneliness expanded to include the polar bear at the north pole.  I considered his solitary life, that his habitat is dissolving due to global warming.  There is the real possibility of his extinction.  In writing this sonnet, I connected to the polar bear and as a result, I felt less lonely.
Is that the secret to existential loneliness–to expand our circle to include more of the life that is?

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© by Christine O’Brien

It’s cold and I’m alone again, at night.
The stars, so far away, no comfort there.
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Across the tundra the northern lights dance;
radiant colors blast the starry sky.
If we change our ways, would he have a chance?
“Global warming; couldn’t be helped,” we sigh.

We’re safe in our cozy habitats, home.
The borders of our lives within these walls.
The far arctic circle, his place to roam
outside of our range, his frozen cry falls.

What’s it to us, a whole species demise?
Could it have gone better if we’d been wise?

“Water Water Everywhere Nor Any Drop to Drink…”

When Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, he was surrounded by an ocean of undrinkable water.

The upcoming art show at Siskiyou Art Museum in Dunsmuir, California has the theme of EBB AND FLOW.  It is an open call to artists of any ilk to create something to do with water–“celebrating water in all its forms.”  We have come to call water our most precious resource.  There are those in the world who deny global warming.  There are others who are ready to prove that global warming is without a doubt something we need to face –yesterday!

Drinking tea in the morning is the way I begin my day.  I do like my tea…and a cup in the afternoon or at the end of the day is a pleasant ritual.  What would I do without my tea…I began this painting a few years ago before this art show was conceived.  Now, it has become timely and I think I’ve finished it.  Just a few touches and then it’s ready for the show in July of 2019.  And I am calling it “water, water everywhere…”  Doesn’t she look a bit parched?

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Meeting the INNER CRITIC!

The Inner Critic is one of those shadow selves.  The voice(s) that show up to sabotage us in some way.  We want to get focused on a project or try a new creative venture.  That voice might say something like:

  • You don’t know enough
  • You don’t have higher education
  • Who do you think you are
  • You’re going to look foolish

The writer known as SARK, suggests sending the inner critic on an extended vacation (somewhere exotic perhaps?) or assigning it an obscure (yet busy-making) task.  Author, Byron Katie addresses this aspect of self through inquiry “Is that true?”

Recently, I took a long hike on Mt. Shasta contemplating the question of how to address the inner critic. Walking down the road, returning to Bunny Flat, I considered the premise that everything has an opposite.  Why not create a collage of oppositions around what the inner critic has to say.  And, what the inner advocate has to say.  Get out your colored pencils, paint, markers, whatever you have.  Scribble, doodle, use symbols, cut and paste pictures from magazines, etc. onto a piece of cardboard or heavy paper.  Don’t be too neat.  That addresses one of those critical voices right from the start.  Have at it and play.

Everything in you wants to be seen by you.  Giving the inner critic an opportunity to be seen and heard opens a doorway to bring in the balance with the inner advocate.  For you do have within you a fighter for yourself.

Writing Prompt:
Do you buckle under when those snarky voices chime in?  How do you respond to your own inner critic?  If you have an effective response, please do share it under comments.

 

Is this then…

Is this then
© by Christine O’Brien

Is this then what Armageddon looks like?
The face of the moon has turned red.
She peers through a window of gray smoke.
Tonight her expression is one of concern.
Did she realize that things would come to this?
Has the world savior raised her hands, surrendered
and retreated to some far off secret cave, irresolute
about how the story of humanity concludes?

I’ve been praying for a friend for the end of the world.
He literally showed up on my doorstep
a couple of weeks ago.
To paint my house.
I dreamed of him first…
that he would come
that I would ask for comfort
that he would oblige
then want more.
That I would send him away
that his drug-lost son
needed him.
“Away, go away.”

The air quality is unhealthy again today.
Another day indoors
sipping teas and taking herbal remedies
to soothe the throat and lungs.
There are things I have yet to say
to offer to a weary world
the one we continue to create
through our indifference.

Yet…

Even when we rise to smoky skies and
fires that aren’t easily quenched–
Even when the fire is battling back
and only 41% contained
and we are dependent upon
the direction of the wind.
While firefighters use the elements
to battle one against the other
coupled with chemical pollutants
because we are desperate
to protect all that we built
even when we know that life is
transient.

Even when the old dreams go up in smoke and flame
and we finally fall to our knees
and join the world savior in surrender
(for you too are her)
we feel the flutter in our secret heart caves
that something is going to be born,
something better, truer.

We hold vigil
while finding ways to speak
ways to act.
Even while we are uncertain,
we understand that there is now
and we can do this,
for now.

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Cultivating Your Craft

In an earlier blog, I shared some crafting tools with you.

It is helpful for a writer to develop a love of crafting.  For me, this involves reading my work with both a critical (in the best sense of the word) and an astute eye.  It brings to the fore another type of creativity.  The sculptress in me comes forth.  There is a molding and modeling that involves checking the flow of my writing, the correctness of phrasing, the precise wording.

I like to think of this crafting as  that conversational process between me and my art of the moment, cultivating my piece.  Once I’ve got a poem, for instance, to the place where it says what it has to say, then I begin the serious cultivating.  I do the necessary weeding out of words, tangent ideas, letting go of extraneous fluff–the unnecessary editorializing, perhaps relinquishing the best line and the side shoots that belong in another poem.  I consider the shape of my poem on the page, punctuation (or not) and line endings.  I add in the precise words, the expansive and inclusive ideas, the culminating moment(s), the snap it shut conclusion.  And don’t forget the title.

To cultivate is to nurture and help grow into its optimal self. When you cultivate something, “you work to make it better.”  The word once referred only to crops that needed tending, “but the meaning has widened.  No matter what is being cultivated, the word implies a level of care that is reminiscent of gardening.  To cultivate anything requires an attention to detail, an understanding of what is being cultivated, and a lot of patience.”  from Vocabulary.com

One other thing that occurs to me is when you’ve brought your piece to the point of saying “it’s done,” especially if you intend to put it out in the world, have a trusted and learned person read it.  Ask for the type of critique you desire from him or her.  Being able to share your work within the safety of a trusted writing circle is also a boon.

 

Grieve Deeply, Laugh Loudly

pic2We’ve heard this, right?  In order to feel the joy, you have to feel the sorrow.  If you shut off one part of yourself, you are shutting off being fully alive.  How you relate to your emotional life is going to affect your writing and creativity.

Poetry has been the greatest facilitator of the big emotions for me.  Journal writing and painting are close seconds.  I’ve learned that as I’m able to be present with an emotion, I then pass through that territory.  I come out the other side intact and a bit more integrated.

To be an effective writer, finding a way to say “I feel sad” without explicitly stating “I feel sad,” comes with practice.

Below is an excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2011.  My parents had died six months apart following several years of their decline and concurrent family disruption.

“I stopped at Burger Express.  It seemed like a burger was called for.  Single patty with cheese, no special sauce, no onions.  Yes to catsup.  Yes to small fries.  No book to read.  Waiting for my order.  Staring out at the falling snowflakes.  Staring out at nothing.  Squinting and staring at signs across the street.  Staring.  The wait person calls my number.  I take the red tray and head towards a little tucked-away table.  A man sitting at the counter asks “Are you going to share half of that with me?”  I recognize an acquaintance’s warm voice.  I stop to say hello and tell him that my Mom died last week.  I am telling everyone it seems.  Now, the cook, cashier and waitperson at Burger Express know too.  He is sorry.  His Dad died a year ago.  His Mom, 84, lives an hour south of here.  Everything is so tentative.  He gives me a big hug in his bear arms.  “If there is anything I can do, let me know.” He adds “Seriously.”  I thank him.  How I’d like to be held in strong arms for half a day.  I think that would really help.  It gets old, this wrapping my own arms around myself all the time.”

In this short excerpt, do you get a sense of my grief?  Did writing about this help me?  In some odd way, yes.  I wasn’t in denial of these feelings and I found refuge through writing these words.

WRITING PROMPT:
How do you write about the feeling of sadness?  Typically, this type of writing is only for you.  Do you allow yourself to fully express your sadness in writing, poetry or painting or any other creative outlet?

 

 

What Would You Fight For?

Have you become “comfortably complacent?”  It’s neither healthy nor desirable to operate from the survival, amygdala part of one’s brain most of the time–the fight/flight and survival instinct.  If your basic needs for food, clothing and shelter are met, then, what would you fight for?

Several years ago I watched a BBC film on the Marine Iguanas of the Galapagos Islands.  I wrote about it in my journal at the time…

“The Iguana is a vegetarian.  It was forced to overcome it’s fear and discomfort of the forceful ocean, to dive underwater, down and down, to find its food–a type of algae or plankton growing beneath the sea.  It feeds for no longer than ten minutes and then it has to surface as the freezing water temperatures are dangerous to this heat-loving animal.  As the iguana swims against the waves to reach the rocky shore, it is harassed by the sea lions who chase, pretense of attack and dodge and dart (cat and dog-style).  No easy journey to supply a life-sustaining need.  That’s what life in the wild is–meeting a basic need–what’s for lunch?”

 

 

Writing Prompt:
All of that said, I return to my initial question…and I ask myself this one too…in these tumultuous times, What would you fight for?  Take some time today to consider and write about it.

Enjoy your day.