Those Difficult Topics

Poets, writers, thinkers, philosophers, you and I, if we keep a journal or a log, we sometimes document not only our personal journey, but significant events in human history. We note how we are affected by them. We note how the world is affected by them. We bring light to things that many people have trouble discussing. For when do you talk about such occurrences? At the dinner table when everyone is trying to enjoy a meal? In an evening conversation before bed? At the club where you work out? At lunchbreak? There are things that we continually sweep under the rug. There are difficult topics about which we might have an opinion, but don’t have a clue as to what to do.

This piece was written in 2011 following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

1) At my age,
I do not want to
keep house
for a man
to see to his care and feeding
I’ve completed the season of breeding
done with the years of childrearing
It seems that the men on match.com
have the same old requirements
of a woman…

and she is no longer me!

2) The violence of birth
an entry point
we are all players here
what capsule did I take
that made me forget
my origin?
Are these words a tunnel
I follow towards that illusive speck of light?
When I reach the end, I might…
dissolve in a fizz or spark.
Some say a star is flung into the night
“Find your place in the order of things”
says one of the true gods
or is chaos our real plight
and are we destined to try to carve
sense out of nonsense?
or not?
Can I then practice being myself
stop seeking truth long enough to see it
dazzling everywhere?
Can I be satisfied with this?

3) Cleaning the cat’s litter box,
I wonder if nuclear fallout
understands that it must hug
the shores of Japan?!?
I might think I live in a bubble
but then how do I explain this stray germ
that’s taken over my sinuses?
What’s so important today
that I must speak it?
Sometimes words are inadequate
constructed of mere letters
then grouped into sentences,
thoughts, extracted from…air?
The mind is always grasping
for something else
to grapple with.
What does this little woman
with the sinus cold
have to say
that hasn’t been said
a million times over?
As the jet streaks the sky
with a contrail tail
the memory of kids
screaming skyward
shouting with all their might
“don’t crash.”
Did they foresee then
this fragile ecosystem?
A man hiking in the mountains
above Chernobyl
commented on how
“pure” the air
looked from up there
after the explosion.
Mountain climbers breathe deeply
what invisible warfare was  he
unwittingly subjected to?
Are we subjected to?

Something Else–Where does your mind go?

Reviewing an earlier journal can provide the inspiration to
get you writing…

I’ll tell you this…

1)A body likes comfort
lingering in bed this morning
it’s time to put on the flannel sheets
These shores of comfort’s complacency
the call to action
the planet’s doom
Where is my friend
for the end of the world?

2)Errand completed
I drove to a favorite Thai restaurant
Only two other women are sharing lunch
so I get immediate service.
This sinus condition
spicy Thai food is often the cure.
I sip my medium hot red curry
as the restaurant suddenly bulges
with the late lunch crowd.
Two older men
looking somewhat beaten by life,
sit at the table in front of me.
Urgh.  It’s not the view I want
while eating lunch.
I avert my eyes
though they inadvertently rivet
to…
I rearrange the water carafe, teapot
and a bottle of soy sauce,
strategic guardians,
to occlude this less than desirable view
of pants that sit well-below a man’s hefty waist
exposing the infamous butt crack.
I’d change my seat however the
restaurant is suddenly full–
a migration of citizens
hungry for Thai food.
I frown and raise the book I  brought to read —
Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest, and try to read
about the ideology of isms…
how an ism creates a movement
with its own set of dogma
and gathers followers like a dog attracts fleas
and then, believing it is the ultimate truth,
how it proceeds to force
its belief system onto others.
And those who are prone to manipulation
who fear thinking for themselves
get on the tram
and point fingers at the others
who are left behind on the ground
isolated in their own set of beliefs.

3) is activism only
another ism
but if we don’t act
how does the planet
know I care?
and has it conjured up you
and me to be its advocates
called us forth
to “dance our clumsy dance”
fracturing the siren’s song
of looking the other way
when there are cries for help
everywhere?

Plan and be Flexible

In the past few years, many of us have hesitated to make plans. If we did, frequently something came up to alter our course. Flexibility is fast becoming a new practice. If we can’t gather as planned, then hmmm, what can we or I do instead? I’ve heard the phrase in the foreseeable future, and even that doesn’t come with a guarantee. These days, when someone asks me what a typical winter in the mountains is like, I say that it no longer has relevance as to what the weather is going to be like this winter. Things have changed, are changing, and I’m learning how to be flexible in the face of this.

When I’m asked what I’m going to do for the holiday, I hear myself answering “I don’t know.” I had a plan for Thanksgiving and then, it changed. Then I settled on another plan and at the last minute, I changed my mind about attending as I wasn’t feeling good.

We do plan things…but then, how are we when things don’t go according to plan? There are many possible responses. I was disappointed when my first Thanksgiving plan didn’t work out. I scrambled around searching for another gathering to attend. I found one, but then, I reneged at the last moment. The hostess was insistent that I take care of myself and didn’t make me feel bad for not participating. I did bring over a loaf of home-baked saffron bread and apple crumble as promised. The day after the gathering, she brought me a generous serving of the turkey dinner.

It is helpful to be able to adapt to change, to be flexible. We’ve all heard that change is the only thing that is constant…but the phrase doesn’t complete itself. It could be therefore it is wise to learn how to be flexible.

In the ancient philosophy, The Tao, there is a discussion of flexibility. This philosophy considers that everything is relative. There is the belief that any choice we make is dependent upon the circumstances in the moment and not on preconceived notions or plans. Digging in my heels and feeling upset about a change of plan makes me unhappy. Applying the principle of flexibility, calls on a creative solution in the face of a change of circumstances.

****

Here’s a fun poem that I wrote about how to be with some of life’s choices when I wasn’t sure in which direction to go. I titled it The Obvious Next Thing.

Naked, I sit on a hot rock beside the calm lake,
drying my toes.
The brilliant chartreuse elephant leaves crowd around
like curious spectators.
I need additional reinforcements
a growing awareness of my own expertise.
The sincere blue of the sky
contrasts my cloudy thoughts.
In myself, what must I nourish?
A concerned moon is rising over the water.
“Go left, go right, go to Peru, find true love”–
if only it was that easy, if each day I could be
presented with specific directives–
“Eat a salmon-colored mango,
paint leaves the colors of gumdrops,
eat them, their crunchy Autumn texture.”
“Don’t be a little old lady
wearing a particularly strong perfume,
not yet!”

I find a pot of tea is a solution
to most problems.
I put on my socks,
wrap a towel around my nakedness
and stumble home to the beckoning pot
the obvious next thing.

****



Here and Now and Change

I am here. It is now. Now has challenges. The climate changes and devastations, the ways we’ve been misusing the earth. There is a price to pay. Civil unrest. Political themes and schemes. A pandemic that seems to be ongoing without an obvious resolution.

There are things that bind me to life. There are times when part of me wants to escape. I have no wisdom for others. None. Today looks like winter due to the cast of smoke. I find myself craving winter. Winter like an oasis in a too hot, too fiery, too smoky, too long summer. We’re coming to dread summer in the mountains and in the lowlands of the west coast of California. Carefree times–no more.

How can I impose happiness these days? Where in my psyche is there an understanding of how to be in these very risky, uncertain times? I can’t feign happiness.

****
“The Only Constant in Life Is Change.”- Heraclitus

This seemingly opposite quote was coined by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Translation: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

There are times in our lives when we choose change. They are choice points and there can be an easy flow towards the choices. When I met the man I was to marry, it felt like I was in the flow–grown up, living at home, working at a steady job, meeting a man who wanted to marry me…accepting his proposal, moving away, having children. All of these seemed to be in a natural flow. However, in retrospect, I realize that I didn’t give a great deal of thought to the choices. I followed the strictures of a too restricted childhood. Everything was virtually mapped out for me and I complied without a great deal of thought. So while I made choices, while they seemed natural, in many ways, they weren’t my free choices.

At other times in my life, change was forced upon me it seemed. “Grow or die” sort of imperatives. I can look back and see where I made choices that supported growth. Returning to college in my thirties, taking creative writing classes through a woman’s re-entry program. These were self-empowering choices that helped me to make the next changes in my life. Through the creative writing class, I became enamored of poetry. Poetry became the connecting force to my deepest feelings and desires. This deepening of self-knowing helped me to make the choice to leave my marriage, finally. A change, a leap that I knew I must make.

How are you with change? If it is a guarantee that change is the only constant, why do we fight against it? I suppose it is a fear of the unknown. We have the familiar…it’s like the security of the womb before we’re pushed out into a larger world. What awaits us? We want to know something before we can really know it. This then calls upon our adventuring spirit. The admission of: “I don’t know. I am curious. Let’s find out what’s next.”

Then the second quote, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” One understanding is that yes, change can be thrust upon us by outside circumstances, turbulent times. However, in order to truly go forward, we must meet that change with our own deepest understanding and heart-wisdom. All of this is easier said than done.

I am, you are, we are enigmas to ourselves, aren’t we?

Frolicking

Frolicking in my fool’s paradise

How long can this go on?

The air quality had been so pure

Now the wildfires have begun north of here

I plug in the air purifier

and pray it cleans the air

fools paradise

head in the sand

feet in the air

or head in the clouds

feet on the ground

which is preferable?

****
Another summer of smoke.  The wildfires began in June in the forests and mountains of northern California, USA.  And in the flatlands south of here.  Then, there are new ones cropping up to the north, east and west.
Yesterday was a pure air pristine day.  We are dependent upon the direction of the wind.

Earth, air, fire, water.  What is your relationship to them?

****
Living in the mountains for twenty-two years now, my connection to the earth has been amplified.  Although, before this, I grew up and lived by the ocean.  I would never say that I understood the sea.  I had an intimate relationship with her nonetheless.  I sought her out for comfort…and found it.  Her dynamic qualities captivated me…they do today too when I visit.

And the mountain has its own trance.  As I continue to write this post, it’s now mid-August and we’ve had two months of smoke.  Waking to smoke daily, a pall over the new day.  The spirit descends as I pull back the curtains to yet another day of smoke…

But today, the sky is blue and a smile wraps my face…we are so dependent upon our elements.  Across the planet, weather–the elements–is the media star these days.  Floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes–we are bombarded.  The earth certainly is demanding our attention.  Is she giving us feedback for the ways in which we’ve disrespected her?  Can we see this as feedback, learn from it and do some things differently, more respectfully, reverentially?

Global warming, media fact or fiction?  Where I live, I have no doubt of climate change.  I don’t need to read the news to know that.  Why is there an argument…what sort of lens are people looking through that they don’t see this?

Assimilation–some thoughts

It fails…everyone.



“Cultural assimilation is the process in which a minority group or culture comes to resemble a society’s majority group or assume the values, behaviors, and beliefs of another group whether fully or partially.”

Wikipedia

Alchemy of flowers, spices, vegetables and a drop of wine makes an all too wonderful sauce. Melting pots are different because they separate the one from her identity. The things which make her and him unique dissolved into a stew. What advantage is there in homogenizing immigrants–what is lost to them, to us, to the wholeness that loves variety?

What remains is the longing for what you’ve abandoned in yourself–grief, you bet, yes!

Assimilation has also been referred to as Cultural Homogenization–It is an aspect of cultural globalization intending a reduction in cultural diversity.

****
What then is the story that wants to be told through anyone’s uniqueness? through me? through you?
Weren’t we all once immigrants?
Weren’t we all once hostile invaders?
Weren’t we invaded?

I was never really ‘white’ never really wanted to be that generic, one-size fits all milk-toast identity grouping on applications. Applications for jobs, apartments, housing, surveys, sundry forms, what have you. Checking ‘Other’ didn’t cover it for me either. Other planet? Other Galaxy? Other sexual orientation, other dimensional, another type of animal, homo-erectus or feline. Yet, doesn’t someone love to classify, label, name and segregate disorienting one from their origins/ancestry and the wonder of diversity?

I can agree that I’m female, belonging to the largest and least represented category (along with children), the culture of woman. Doesn’t that culture span the globe? Don’t we have more in common than not? We search for the exotic and foreign through travel and outside of ourselves, when, in fact, the terrain within is vastly foreign, exotic. Carl Jung was one of our navigators through this landscape but he died and we were left stranded in a sea of distractions and technological advances. All of these diversions from what is going on inside and in the larger world over which we feel helpless to make a difference.

I would have felt more shame had my ancestors been the first to arrive on the Mayflower. I wouldn’t have wanted to claim that perceived glory. It was too close to the extermination of a race of people with whom I feel empathy. The indigenous ones only wanted to protect their lands, their people and the pristine quality of their lives–their connection to the earth–indigenously wise.

Nov.16, 2015
My ancestors came over from Italy and Ireland a few generations ago.
I am third generation here not so long–
Immigrated, assimilated–
but the dreams persist and
I resist the memories they convey.
I am here–America–
born in America.
Why then this strange chanting
in a language that makes me tingle
yet I don’t understand?

Nov.17, 2015
Because when she let go of her heritage, she let go of her birthright and the inherent magic.

Skin–shades of various tones. Beneath it, ah, bones, blood, organs–skin, what perceptions do we have based on shades of skin?

What perceptions do we have based on how much money? Having more money, or with less money, or without money?

Years–accumulation of years–what perceptions do we have based on how many or how few years one has lived on planet earth?

What perceptions do we have based on sexual orientation?

What perceptions do we have based on physical appearance? Height, weight…

On and on it goes, our limiting perceptions.

Once upon a time, I married a young Hispanic man. I gave birth to two daughters. They resemble their Mexican heritage physically. They are also Irish, Italian, French and German. Their father did not grow up speaking Spanish although both of his parents were fluent native speakers. Was there a shame in bringing the language forward? The dream was to have your children be assimilated, an American, and it was presumed that the native language would link them to something undesirable.

Today, when my daughters are in the company of other Spanish-speaking Hispanics and it is discovered that they don’t speak the language, they are looked down upon by the native speakers. Yet, because of their appearance, they are devalued by the “White” ones. It’s all very peculiar, isn’t it?

Poetry and the Common Ground

Poetry takes the everyday events and elevates them. Poetry takes the extraordinary events and translates them into something relatable. Poetry can be anything from passion overflowing on a page to a quiet meander beside a forest stream. Poetry is inherently an avenue for self-discovery and deepening. It fosters relationality with the reader.

Where do poets come from? Years ago, in my late thirties, I returned to college. I signed up for a women’s re-entry program with a designated curriculum. Creative Writing was one of the classes. Within this writing class was a segment on poetry. Poetry had always seemed unattainable–both in deciphering what the poet intended to say and in writing my own pen-to-page poem. I hadn’t realized that at this single moment in time, poetry was exactly what I needed. In the morning, I’d roll out of bed onto the floor. Poems gushed from me into my notebook! I was astonished. Suddenly, I who had been brought up to be seen and not heard couldn’t stop writing poetry. Poetry provided an opportunity to write about my life and to integrate the experiences of my life. The poetess in me was born!

Awhile later, I read some of my poetry in intimate circles, then in front of larger audiences. Typically, the women in the audience connected with my words, with me through my words. While the poet and/or writer writes alone, the words of one woman’s experience, my experience, created a common ground–a place of recognition for the listeners. When shared, the poetry became a link between me and other women who know what it is to be a woman in these times. The struggle to claim one’s own identity, to find her voice, to grow out from under the societal expectations of what it is to be a woman–i.e., the common ground. Bringing light to what has bound us, vanquishing the inner shackles that don’t encourage our wholeness, our truth–now laid out before you and me through a poem. How grateful I am to have found this voice in me.

Writing poetry, we don’t merely look and see something objectively. We become deep see-ers. The writer connects with her subject in a visceral way. The poem then has the capacity to bring the reader into the experience. Another crucial thing, when we see deeply and connect with something outside of us, we establish a relationship with it. From that perspective, we begin to see it’s value and the part that it plays in our lives.

Poetry has the capacity to connect us to the themes of our lives–and there lies the common ground once again. We each have life themes that we share in common–birth, death, love, angst, hope, freedom, faith, fear, trauma, renewal, grief, quandaries, and more.

****
What is the value in claiming your inner poet in the world today? Your inner poet is a soulful creature. Engaging soulful awareness of yourself widens the opportunity to do so with others and of what we name as inanimate. Everyone and everything becomes more than merely players and props. The inanimate is then valued and we begin to care more deeply. Things are not there only for our pleasure, entertainment or consumption. They are appreciated for what they intrinsically are. And then, there’s the possibility of fully embracing the earth that is our very sustenance.

****
What is the poetry that connects you to yourself, your neighbor, to other women or men, to the earth, to life? Trust poetry to provide the common ground.


Art in Your Life

How many times have you said (or heard someone say) “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body?”

My reply is “I don’t believe that.”

We are all artists in some sense as we imprint our life upon the blank canvas of each new day. The fact that the arts have not been stressed in a world of academia, resigns many of us to the theory that we are not creative. We see art as the territory of an elite group of eccentric individuals, not for “the common man.” And the number of these individuals who make it to the respectful ranks of successful artists, supported monetarily by their art, is even smaller. So if you can’t make a living at it, the competition is stiff, the chances of positive recognition are slim, then what’s the point of integrating it into an academic curriculum? What benefit could it possibly have? How could it improve the quality of life?

Big questions with lots of diverse theoretical answers. Some answers have been researched in a structured way; many have personal experience to back them up. What has been your experience with art? How has it influenced you? Have you discovered that ‘creative bone’ or allowed it to lay dormant? Time and money are often factors. Who has the time to take an art class or go to see the art show? And making art can certainly be an expensive hobby.

We are all artists to the degree that we choose to be. An artist and one who appreciates art become one in synchronistic moments. Practicing an art form or experiencing someone else’s art can be life enhancing. Who sets the table with a vase of arranged flowers and pretty place settings thereby elevating herself and her guests? Who stands in awe of a stunning sunset? Who becomes breathless over the blue sky brushed with wisps of white clouds? Who admires the evergreens and bare deciduous trees frosted with white snow? Who witnesses the burst of flowers in spring and laughs with birdsong? Who is revitalized by the last nectarine on the tree, untouched by bird or bug. If you are among any of these, you are a lover of the arts.

For what is art but a capturing of one moment in a photograph, on a canvas, on film, in a poem, a dance, a sculpture or acted in a play? How fortunate that some of us can take what nature has provided and transform it into our own individual expression. Why wouldn’t we want to experience this pleasure in as many ways as possible? Art viewed, participated in and discussed is a forum for communication with other viewers and/or fellow artists. Whatever emotions it might touch–love, anger, joy, grief or passion, it achieves the purpose of opening us and providing an opportunity to share with another.

There are a variety of mediums to choose from. We each have unique tastes and we begin with a curiosity to explore one of them. One person might enjoy molding clay, another plays with paints and yet another loves words. Experimenting and experiencing are the best teachers. When was the last time you attended an art exhibit? When was the last time you listened to classical music during dinner? Have you always wanted to take a photography class? On a sunny day, picture this–you, watercolors, a paint brush and canvas sitting in the backyard giving yourself permission to come out and play. For today, why not place a vase of your favorite flowers on the kitchen table? See what opens up for you and those who live with you. The artist in you is longing for recognition.

Enjoy!

I genuflect

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.

****
I genuflect
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
with grace.

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.

How to work with the “Malaise”

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