These Times

This is truly a strange way to realize that we are united, as one.  Through a virus.  I’ve been thinking about what I want to contribute at this time, through this blog.

For now, less words and more images.  Starting with earlier paintings.  I took up the paintbrush in 2014.  Words had served me well.  Suddenly, I felt entrapped by them.  The same circle of thoughts.  I needed something different.

There was an online class called Brave Intuitive Painting taught by artist, Flora Bowley.  I think that it was five weeks long.  That was the beginning of my painting journey.  There is an abstract quality to this style of art.  And you definitely are lead by your intuition…which color, what symbol, what emphasis.

When I look back at the first paintings , I didn’t have a sense of what my style was.  For many of them, I can’t remember why I went the way I did with them.  While I don’t dislike the abstract, I seemed to always want to pull a recognizable image from the background that was emerging.

I’m going to post the art I created, one at a time, from 2016 forward.  If I can remember the prompt, I’ll share that.  I hope this uplifts you and tunes you into your own creative nature.  I want to encourage you to pick up a pen, pencil, paintbrush or use your fingers in paint and find and follow your inner creative being.  We all have one.

****abstract.a

This painting is called Lanterns and Fans.  It’s painted on a 12″x12″ canvas.  It was one of my first paintings to sell.  Looking at it now, I see that it is too busy.  And I would find a way to tone it down.  As with many paintings, they are best appreciated in person.  That said, any painting has an energy that comes through it.  And I do remember somewhat the space that I was in while painting this mixed media piece.  I have a feeling for some Japanese symbols, i.e., lanterns and fans.  Colors self-determined and the collage materials were sifted or cut from earlier paintings.

Because I gave myself the freedom to express myself, I think the viewer was able to tap into that sense of freedom.  And a bit of frivolity.

****
Perhaps, today, you can consider some symbols that have spoken to you in your life.  The ones that you come across regularly or feel drawn to.  Take some time today, to draw them.  Draw them several times.  Repetition has a place in art.  It’s practice.  Artists practice a lot!

The Virus.1.

I’m not ignoring the virus, the pandemic, the constraints on travel, the isolation, the possible detrimental effects to businesses and their employees as we slow everything down, bring some things to a halt and are forced to isolate and go inside.  If we hopefully aren’t sick, chances are that we or someone we know are directly affected by the restrictions in place at this time.

One of my nieces has been at a cooking school in Southern Italy since January.  The school closed before the course was completed.  She is currently on her way home having to make three different flight connections–one in Munich, one in London and then home to San Francisco.  She is going to self-quarantine for two weeks.  We aren’t sure what requirements she is going to face at each of her stopping points.  We pray for her safe return and minimal hardship along the way.

Then, a nephew working in the entertainment industry, may lose his job.  He finds out today.  He has a wife and three young children.  I can only imagine the stress that he is under at this time.  Of course, ideally, employers should take care of their employees at such a time.  I read that Disneyland is paying their employees during the shutdown.  Yes, we each deserve to be so valued.

One of my daughters is a nurse.  She works twelve-hour shifts.  In a clinic for low income people.  She is sure she’s been exposed to the virus at this point, even with all the precautions that she takes.  On the weekend, she shops for groceries.  She is dismayed to see that the shelves are emptied by people in a panic.  When she loads her shopping cart with what she can find of her weekly food supply, someone in line smirks and says “hoarding.”  She has a husband and three children all at home due to school closures across the land.  We know so little of other people’s lives.  Another reason to be considerate.

For me, I work at home, so at this time, it’s not affecting my daily work routine.  I admit to taking one extra of things on the grocery shelf than I might ordinarily.  I leave plenty for others.  However, being single, I do miss the local social gatherings that have been cancelled.  I call a family member or a friend…but it’s not the same as being in their physical company.  Even living in a small community, the streets are bare and it is somewhat eerie.  I do have concern for my family that lives in the big city.  I do pray for everyone, for a worldly calm to descend.  I also hope that we take advantage of this time apart.

Blessings, calm and good health to you and your families.

 

Poetry in Perilous Times (3)

We have not had very much precipitation in the mountains this winter.  We’ve had three big storms that deposited a lot of snow in the city proper and on the mountain.  However, it was quickly washed away with rain at the lower elevations.  February brought idyllic spring-like weather.  While we enjoyed it, we also felt some trepidation.  The summer and fall of 2018 were frightening to us living in this highly forested area.  Fires sprung up in every direction around us.  We were told to be packed and ready to evacuate…but where to, we wondered.  Some of us stashed non-perishable food staples in the car, packed a suitcase, a tent, sleeping bag, bottled water, clothing, important papers, etc.

The smoky skies extended throughout the summer months starting in early July through October.  It was an intense panorama of smoke-filled days and nights.  We wore masks when we ventured out.  Typically, summer is a time to appreciate the lakes and hiking trails, to walk briskly, climb, swim and breathe deeply the fresh mountain air.  Not then.  Honestly, there is a certain dread of the coming summer.  Without a winter of sufficient rain and snow, we pray for our own safety and that of our forests and forest creatures.

I wrote this poem in September of 2018…

When the not-so-far ridges have been obscured
by smoke for months…
When your mind is clouded with confusing thoughts…
When what you once perceived proves to be false
or limiting…
When you sip your morning
cup of tea and place one foot
in front of the other
and say yes to this new day,
you have learned faith.

The smoke hangs on the ridge waiting for
directions from the wind.
The firefighters are out there
day and night manning
bulldozers, helicopters, heavy machinery–
we trust them to do their jobs–
to be wisely directed by those
who understand the nature
of fighting fire in a heavily forested area
with up and down rugged terrain.  We
have to trust them.  We have to trust
and to hold onto faith that everything is
going to be alright…
and until then,
that we can bear it–
be strong
be patient
and live our lives truly
and boldly.

We have to trust that we have
sufficient courage,
to share our gifts and
to proceed
into this new day.
We go forward into the uncertainty
on wings of prayer, hope and trust
and faith
and whatever love looks like today.

Then, I go into the garden to harvest tomatillos.

tomatillos

As of this moment, it is snowing and accumulating.  Yay!  And the rest of March might bring more precipitation.  We hope so.

 

Lobo, The King of Currumpaw

Waking up, becoming conscious, can be slow and painful.  And, at times, we are given a gift that changes our perspective for the better for ever.  So it was with Ernest Thompson Seton.  In the late 1890’s, Seton set out to trap Lobo.  This wolf was the nemesis of the cattle ranchers.  They enlisted the services of Seton to trap the wolf and rid them of this cattle predator.  One point that I thought was interesting was that the earlier frontiersman virtually exterminated the buffalo which was the wolves natural prey on the open plains.  With the loss of that resource, the next best thing was the cattle, who were tamed and didn’t put up a fight.

Lobo presented many challenges to Seton and showed great savvy in steering clear of poisoned bait, traps and Seton’s other devices.  Finally, Seton got a clue on how to entrap this infamous wolf.  Lobo, the alpha male in his pack. was “in love.”  The male wolf rarely leaves the female’s side for this period of time.  That is exactly how Seton trapped him after months of failure.

The thing is that once he killed Lobo’s mate, it was easy to trap a broken-hearted wolf who was grieving.  The traps that Lobo had been so clever at avoiding, now three of them shut on his legs.  When faced with the trapped wolf, Seton felt a surge of perhaps respect or compassion.  He brought the wolf home and tried to save him.  Lobo quickly died of a broken heart over the loss of his mate and the loss of his freedom.

****
Seton never hunted wolves again and in fact went on to become a player in the conservation movement of the time and a co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America.  He was a noted author and naturalist.  In the book that he wrote documenting his experience with Lobo, Wild Animals I have Known, (1898), Seton made himself the villain and Lobo the hero!  And so it was…this wolf was the key character in changing the course of Seton’s life and in awakening the public to the necessity of preserving rather than exterminating species..  Lobo assisted Seton in expanding his consciousness to recognize that wolves were beings with lives, emotions and even an intelligence that is hard for humans to comprehend.

 

Worlds Within Worlds

In her book, Anatomy of a Rose, Sharman Apt Russell, nature and science writer, has dubbed human beings as “the blind voyeurs.”  She says that while we witness nature’s spectacle of spring flowers, we are not the intended audience.  Rather, the intended audience is the pollinators!  There is a very serious seduction going on here.

The pollinating bumblebee, the birds, the butterflies and so forth…are the intended audience.  Each one of these has a quite unique perspective towards the flowers.  And an important purpose.  The attracting flower has another intention–to reproduce.

Is our role as human beings to appreciate the beauty of a field of flowers?  Or a single flower?  To be inspired by a flower while recognizing that it’s not all about us–that the flowers aren’t here specifically for our pleasure.  The ones we sometimes see, the ones we often don’t see.

Walking along, when I take the time, I notice the beauty and fragrance of a flower.  Witnessing beauty is an amazing exchange so in that way, I (you) could also be an intended audience.  It can be both.  I appreciate Georgia O’Keeffe’s wisdom on really seeing a flower.

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small.  We haven’t time, and to see takes time–like to have a friend takes time.”

 

 

insideaflower

Last summer’s hyacinth flower.

Poetry Today (in Perilous Times) 2

Poets, writers, artists have a three-fold purpose as I see it:
1) the task of witnessing.  2) the task of writing it down or rendering it in some creative way.  3) sharing what they’ve written or created as a result of witnessing.  They’ve then come full circle with their particular art.

Within it, poetry has the imperative to share a message.  That message is intended to be evocative.  To awaken in the reader some of the same emotions that the witness/writer has experienced in putting pen to page.  A writer or painter can never be guaranteed that her audience is going to feel the exact same emotion.”  They can’t be attached to the outcome or response to their piece once it is released.  Fly away little bird.  But they must release it and allow it to affect and influence whoever it might, however it may.

Poets write about anything.  Poetry can express everything.  It is rare that the reader is privy to what precisely preceded the poet writing a particular poem.

I painted a piece with fish as the theme.  I don’t remember why I chose to paint these fish.  As I stood back from it and studied it, I felt tranquility.  It was exploratory.  But it didn’t have pop!  Not enough value contrast.  Or cohesion.  It prompted this poem, regardless.

A Quiet Wonder
© by Christine O’Brien

Underwater Kingdoms
Civilizations that we can’t comprehend
the sheen of scales
glint of colors
that stun in light’s glory
the silver trails through
unimaginable depths
the flash of a tail–
fish or mermaid
who is to say
for certain things
happen in depths
where humans
dare not go
we can’t all be Cousteau
though at times
if you’re at all
contemplative
you dive deep
into the dark waters
into what you’ve not known
beyond fears that taunt
and perhaps discover
another side
a way through
a quiet wonder

If this poem causes the reader to pause and contemplate something beyond their norm, then it has succeeded.
fish6aa

Poetry Today (in Perilous Times)…1

Wouldn’t every previous generation say that they lived in “perilous times” or as in the Tao, “interesting times” at the very least?  So many of us have a connotation of poetry as  an archaic (if not boring) language and irrelevant to “modern life.”

How do we get potential readers to cross that chasm of calcified thinking regarding poetry to a reinvigorated and revalued view of poetry?  Is there a place in a relatively newly minted culture where poets and poetry are elevated, revered?  That poetry activates both one’s emotions and values could be one reason that it isn’t welcomed in a society that wants to control its constituents.  There isn’t often comfort in living outside the box.  However, there is power in it.

How does anyone realize that within him/herself, perhaps a dormant inner poet or artist lives?  Sometimes the inner poet comes to life out of despair.  Nothing else seems to suffice.  Nothing else calms or soothes.  Sometimes, she is revived through love.  Sometimes, it is when change is forced and the hand you’ve been dealt doesn’t seem to have an open door–poetry can provide the doorway.

Poetry is not only a bolster for the faint of heart.  In fact, poetry is for everyone and especially in these times.

Consider Wendell Berry, novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, an earth-connected poet of our times.  I love his bit of a poem about salad

“Wash your hands, get them good and clean,
Hurry and find a basket
Let us gather a salad, and so unite
To our passing lives this seasons fruit.”

How relevant is this four line stanza to your daily experience of life?  These days, you better be sure to wash your hands!  Of course, too many of us don’t have a garden to gather lettuce leaves for a salad.  Perhaps there is a farmer’s market nearby or at least a marketplace that gives you that feeling.  However, you gather your salad fixings, to pause and remember our unity to the food that we consume is like a prayer.  Our lives are fleeting and the food we eat to sustain us lends quality to our lives (or it doesn’t)…well, it’s all expressed in this stanza.

Poetry can bring awareness and value to the things we take for granted.  It provides the pause we need in our overly busy lives.  Giving attention to such things makes for a more conscious society.