What if…

What if I’d been born a woman in a time and place where women weren’t allowed to read and write–illiterate.  It wasn’t that long ago, especially in the context of the whole of human literacy, that women were “granted the right” to get an education.  If you are interested, you can google the timeline of women’s education across the globe.  That it be debatable whether or not a woman should be allowed to get an education is mind-boggling for those of us who, in many ways, take education for women for granted.

I wonder if parts of myself would be permanently closed off, untapped because I couldn’t make this scratching on paper with a pen?  When I look back and recall how, at 27-years old, I started to write to save my life, I honestly couldn’t have had a better means to express what was going on inside of me and outside of me.  Or so it seemed.  Self-expression takes many forms.  I know that I’d have found another way.  However, writing has been so accessible, cathartic and freeing.  It has worked well for me in addition to other creative ventures.

Here’s another way to look at women and the advent of the alphabet.  According to author, Leonard Shlain in his book, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, the alphabet has usurped women’s innate powers.  It has thrust women from an intuitive universe of imagery and symbolism into the masculine logic thereby making these feminine attributes less accessible, diminished and even superstitious.   Within myself, I can feel a deep desire and an inner-directed course towards reclaiming and re-valuing these women’s ways of knowing.  I make art and write poetry to foster the intuitive side of me.

In China, women developed their own secret language, NuShu, to communicate with one another across the miles.  Daughters sold off into marriage were taken distances away from their mothers and sisters.  They were strangers in their new village and sometimes not welcomed.  Many of them would never see their families of origin again.  They wrote their secret language on the folds of fans that were delivered to and from their families.

“The script [NuShu] was often used in embroidery, calligraphy and handicrafts created by women.  It is found written on paper (including letters, written poetry and on objects such as fans) and embroidered on fabric (including on quilts, aprons, scarves, handkerchiefs). Objects were often buried with women or were burned.”
by Jone Johnson Lewis
from NuShu, a Woman-Only Language of China

Stamping out women’s illiteracy across the globe isn’t complete.  Belinda Jack’s well-researched essay, The Right to Read:  Belinda Jack on the History of Women’s Literacy, concludes:

“For many women readers today it’s easy to think that the history of women’s reading as a distinct story has come to an end. But in some parts of the world women continue to risk their lives reading material which those in authority have forbidden.”

I’m grateful that I can read and write.  That said, the re-valuing of a woman’s deeper intuitive ways of being, seeing and knowing is likely the antidote to a world that is steeped in a masculine logic gone awry.

What do you think?

 

 

Sitting at a Counter

Sitting at a counter
© by Christine O’Brien

“Here you go…
I’ll bring your soup out…
Do you need a fork…”
A muttered thank you.
Hum of the refrigerator case…
“Would you like butter for your bread?”
No…thank you.
So polite and not wanting to be.
Why did I get French onion soup
with cubed bread
with bread and butter on the side
and hot tea (with soup)
and a turkey berry sandwich with more bread?
Feeling sad
and lonely
because I can’t call and tell you
I broke up with my boyfriend
who was like my best friend
who felt like me at times
as if we shared the same skin
that housed a kindred soul.

For months,
we were one another’s universe.
It’s spring and everyone I see
belongs to someone.
Sadness holds me softly
and life goes on.
There is a busyness here
that makes me forget loneliness
briefly.
It works that way in big cities.
Passers-by like ocean waves–continuous.
All that motion,
a part of the stream.
Uniqueness blends into the many
and I’m oddly comforted.

In a small town, loneliness erupts–a sore thumb.
Everywhere I turn, there are reminders of us.
We laughed too hard in the video store
mimicking all our old favorite films.
Danced down the aisles,
in the bookstore,
snuck a kiss and a feel
in our cafe.
The trails we hiked together
through a snowy winter…

I’m glad there’s one trail
I haven’t shared with you.

****
Think about how poetry helped you through a tough time…

Reflections

Reflections
© by Christine O’Brien

A whole forest has tumbled over
and lies, bottom side up
in the water!
A horizontal duck skims
the surface of the forest
and its twin follows upside down.
The crags promenade
above and below
snow sifted on their high points.
Ripples distort the reflections.
A bird call sounding like
a squeaky wheel
although no bird is in sight.
I promised to sit here
for one hour today
witnessing
what I see and hear.
An invisible dog’s bark.
One noisy motor boat passes
not at high speed.
The surface of the lake responds,
disturbed,
waves, the wake, plowing hard to the shore;
silt at the bottom by the shore
rises to the surface.
everything is affected
including me
It takes awhile for it all to
settle down.

Castle Lake.1a.jpg

****
When was the last time you took an hour (or half an hour) to witness your surroundings?  Something shifts when I take the time to do this.

The Stone’s Story

I do not for a second believe it when someone says to me: “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”  Or, “I didn’t get that gene.”

Like anything that one values, your own brand of creativity needs attention.  If you show up and pay attention, inspiration is everywhere and the point where you and inspiration intersect is a creative opportunity.  Creativity isn’t about perfection or making a painting or drawing like someone else.  It’s about tapping into your own unique expression.  And it takes DARING.  Especially in the beginning.  Below is an invitation to you to dare to be creative in a way that is unique to you.  Yes, you get to foster your own creativity!  Have fun.

In her book, Freeing the Creative Spirit, artist/author Adriana Diaz, offers a guided meditation, drawing and writing exercise with a stone or river rock that you select
as your object and subject.  She calls it “The Counsel of Stone.”  Have you ever journeyed with a stone?  Have you considered the stories it holds, the messages it conveys?  I have.  You are invited to follow suit, if you choose.

Stone Consciousness
© by Christine O’Brien

I know loneliness
a stone separated
from it’s streambed
My particular glamour
is less appealing here
Or, residing here for nine years,
have I become part of the wallpaper
unseen, too familiar
Like this displaced stone
am I commonplace
or too old
This stone a misshapen buddha
solitary bodhisattva
witness to its own cleaving
remembering the whole
What dissension shattered humankind
into this separation
Lonely and separate as this scarred stone
praised for its cool detachment
who cares to hear
the untold encrypted story

A star has fallen
to the bottom of the sea
fossilized
while a starfish rises into
the darkening sky
alternating realities
God is in us
is all right with the world
Has the stone learned compassion
Is that the panacea for such loneliness

****
Go ahead and find your  stone and seek its counsel.  Study it from every side, notice its angles and curves, any markings, hold it in your palm, draw it, meditate with it, write about what is revealed to you in a poem or prose.  Just do it!

Share here under comments if you like.

A Day in the Park

Going north to Ashland, Oregon, without a particular plan, I experienced a day of variety and flow.

Her face
finely chiseled ivory
a cameo portrait
hair woven in braids
and curls piled high
tattoos traced her arms and any bare skin
her clothes were colorful, soft and flowing
her expression–lost in another time and place–
her fingers played the keys of the accordion
while she pumped the bellows gracefully
the soft, insistent, melancholic music
forcing its way into the heart’s land
I placed a few dollars in the accordion case
and she barely nodded as I said “beautiful” and
“thank you.”
I walked into the park
the loud tones of a man’s voice
rose over all other sounds
as he swore and beat on the man
lying at his feet on the ground.

The man on the ground was curled in a fetal position.  His arms and hands shielding his head as a circle of young men gathered and held back all at once.  I hurried two curious young girls along the path catching them up to their mother who finally said “They didn’t need to see that.”

I found a park bench in the shade beside the duck pond on this overheated day.  I marked the rentals in the newspaper out of habit and hope. I watched the mother duck and her nine, count them, nine ducklings being herded here, no here, no there, keep up–the fluffy-headed, wide-eyed ducklings.  “Yes, mother, oh yes mother, oh!”  They do respond to every barked order.  Survival is a serious business and this duck pond, for better or worse, is their home for now.

At a neighboring bench, someone said that the old woman was part Cherokee.  She weaves baskets out of pine needles!  Her old fingers do such fine work and she’s so proud.  She only learned two years ago.  She outdid her teacher…it’s in her cells this knowing how to weave baskets.

I approach the basket weaver.
“Do you teach classes?” I inquire.
$50.00 a person.  Gather some people.

I want to learn from her.  It’s obvious that she knows how to live a fulfilled life.  Teach me that, please.  She touches my arm as if a touch can impart such wisdom or is she reading me?  Her eyes show neither humble senility nor prideful superiority–only a quiet wisdom.  Yes, teach me soon, I’ll pay.  Her daughter, works in a salon, files fingernails.

The pianist in the ice cream parlor trying to sell me his cd.
“I really just came in to buy ice cream,” I emphasize.  I buy a cd, finally, for two thirds of the price–he’s a good salesman, but can he play the piano?

I got the last haircut appointment in a little shop off the boulevard.  The perfect cut.

This day held all a day could hold, all that life could hold.  Beauty and violence, the extremes and beauty prevailed.

****
Do you ever choose a day of flow without any particular plan?  Have you written about it?

Truthbound

Sometimes a quote stays with you.  This one is from the 1956 film, Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman:

“Truth serves only a world who lives by it.”

****
In their later years, when things were so difficult with my aging parents, I was taking a creative writing class.  The instructor, a wise woman, witnessed my turmoil.  One day at the end of class, she took me aside.  She knew some of the challenges I was facing with my parents and family.  She challenged me to write a type of sonnet called a Sestina.  I didn’t know what a Sestina was.  I asked her for a timeline.  She said I should write it that evening.  I went home, studied the form and this poem virtually flowed out of me.  It was the perfect vehicle for what was happening in my life.  As art, poetry and writing can do, it shifted the energy for me.

Truthbound
© by Christine O’Brien

Truth lies in a shallow grave

while perspectives hang out everywhere.

Semantics argue with the unwary

as he admonishes “feelings aren’t facts.”

She remonstrates that mine is not the only opinion!

I inquire “How does one unearth truth?”

 

A sly animal is truth;

in its lair as silent as the grave.

Taunted by every brand of opinion,

each certain that his truth binds everyone, everywhere.

Scientists are burdened with facts.

Buying facts carte blanche is for the unwary.

 

My mother has been unwary,

living my father’s lies, denying truth.

Out in the cold, the stranded facts;

a story of lies they take to the grave.

Wounded healers, their children lay everywhere.

On unalterable facts I do base this sad opinion.

 

Really, what is there to opinion?

What warning can I give to the unwary?

The pain from his misdeeds is everywhere;

his forked tongue can’t speak the truth.

“Oh Dad, set yourself free before the grave

takes you and the unspoken, faltering facts.”

 

Weakening into old age, do they matter less, the facts?

That my mother be separated from him was my opinion.

Yet, there they are growing fragile together, headlong to the grave.

His rage bursts her peaceful ending, she the constant unwary.

In this sad scenario, can one find the concealed truth?

Fragments of perspectives and hurt feelings lay everywhere.

 

When division and broken hearts are everywhere,

are they less important now, the historical facts?

Is forgiveness the elixir of truth?

It seems opposition only supports an opinion

as egos argue in the territory of the unwary.

Let’s bury our perspectives in a grave.

 

Though facts, feelings and opinions are strewn everywhere

is it only the unwary who bind them to truth?

The grave is the end for all; is it wiser to pave the path with love?

 

Existential Loneliness

polarbear2.jpg

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?

****
© 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?