Faith

Autumn
by Rainer Maria Rilke

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all the other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling.  This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one…It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.

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This poem is a metaphor for faith.  Many poets have written about faith.  It is a worthy topic. 

 

 

The poet, David Whyte, reads his poem, Faith. It is about his desire for faith and his uncertainty about where or if it is to be found. This poem is a man’s prayer for faith in something greater. I’ve mentioned earlier than any poem deserves at least two readings.  David Whyte does this for us…his style of reading  is to repeat a poem numerous times.  Through that repetition, I am touched at a deeper level.  As a listener, I am engaged more fully in the life of the poem…where it sprung from and what the poet invokes, desires or designs.

Writing Prompt:
Have you written about faith?  That word, the concept behind it, takes the writer on a journey into his/her own deep psyche.  Exploring your views on faith, might
create a vulnerability that many want to avoid.  Today, I am going to allow myself to be that vulnerable and write about faith, quietly, here at my desk in my little cottage in the mountains as I look out upon the Autumn colors, the leaves falling, a confetti of colors lying on the ground.

 

First

First Haircut

Tangled golden mane
pulled tightly back into a ponytail
slanting my eyes
curling to my tailbone
Sometimes plaited gold weaving left over right over
left over
pride over power over left over right over
Saturday morning
a scramble of nine kids, eggs, toast
and kitchen clutter
Leafed out dinette table
with eleven mismatched chairs
dirty skylight overhead
leaking in late morning light
Two dingy windows over the kitchen sink
ledges lined with jelly jars
growing avocado seeds
rusty SOS pads
and mold
sink piled with an array of chipped dishes
marred stainless.

Saturday mornings
mother didn’t brush my hair
Aunt Marie dropped by
overheard chatter…mother’s endless chores
one more chore…
brushing Chrissie’s hair
Aunt Marie
scissors in hand took me to the basement
Trancelike
I perched upon a high step stool
No memory of the tugging of my hair
the swish of scissors or
the sudden lightness of my head
No tears
No feelings

Only—the tangled mass of my identity
lying on the cold basement floor

♦♦♦♦

First of all, the word “first” sounds funny to my ears and looks funny to my eyes.  Shouldn’t it be spelled furst?

Each one of us has a deep connection to this little word.  Throughout our lives, we have many FIRST experiences.

WRITING PROMPT:
Begin by making a free association list of first experiences.  i. e., first haircut, first memory, first friend, first teacher, first love, etc.  Have you written about any of these first experiences?  Choose one of these firsts and let yourself dive into the memory that is waiting to be expressed through poetry, prose (or collage or painting) in present time.

braid

Tuning In

When I write in my journal, I am usually trying to get to something deeper than “life on the surface.”  I’m expressing while questing.

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According to author, Angeles Arrien, “The muses call us to live our lives with integrity and devotion to their chorus of inspiration.  Above, all, the symbol of the muse invites us to be resourceful in daily life.”

muses

 

Writing Prompt:
Think of one area of your artist’s life which seems dry, non-productive or unsatisfying in some way.  In your journal, write about this in detail.  Create a written dialogue between yourself and  your muse inquiring as to how you can be more creative in response to this particular issue.  Ask your muse what resources are available to assist you now.  Listen and write down the response.  Take as much time as you need for this exercise.  Sometimes, you ask the question, walk away from it and the answers come over the course of the day or week.  In your journal, note the replies. Is this something you can easily implement in your creative life?  If an action is called for, do you see a way to proceed?  If not, inquire into that. How do I proceed?  Pay attention to see if something shifts for you in your creative awareness as you bring your sincere attention to your question.

Take good care.

 

Imagination and Fabrication

Imagination…

elephant

Excuse me, but is that a PURPLE ELEPHANT?

Why yes, it is.

Where in the world would you find a purple elephant?

In the realm of imagination, of course.

Artists love to paint elephants.  Some artists choose realism and create elephants that look like they have walked out of an African forest.  Other artists are inspired to paint whimsical elephants (like me).  There is room for both, of course.

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Writers of fiction are great fabricators–they take an idea for a story and let their imagination run with it.  And, if  permitted, the imagination can take you on a ride into the great unknown!  In a sense, fiction writers might begin their story with “I wonder what would happen if…”  and then take off into a flight of fancy.

When you write from the place of imagination, you typically want to have your story grounded in some “facts”.  Your reader appreciates some plausibility or credibility in order to hinge his/her mind onto something recognizable.

Years ago, I remember watching the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with the actor, Danny Kaye.  There was a remake in 2013 with Ben Stiller…I haven’t seen it yet…I think I’ll rent that one tonight.  This story is based on author James Thurber’s classic story of a daydreamer who drifts off into an imaginary world, escaping his mundane life.  He is, of course, the hero of his daydreams.

Writing Prompt:
In your writing, do you dare to enter the wild and unpredictable territory of imagination? Have you written from this place?  What story can you create out of thin air?  Even if you are a non-fiction writer, can you allow yourself the play that imagination steals one into?  Do you want to give it a try?  It might feel like you have veered off course, but why not?  Don’t new inventions rise from someone’s untethered imagination?  The questions being “How can I do this better or make this easier or what if I do this or try that, then what?”

EXPLORE

Essentially Yours

We begin learning by imitation.  This is necessary for survival in the world into which we are born.  Then, comes the differentiation…the recognition that you are neither your mother nor your primary caregiver.  Waving your hands in front of your face, you begin to realize that these are your hands and under your control.  The very beginning of individuation!

In writing and art, you might begin by imitating, copying techniques, practicing methods, mixing colors as directed, learning the language, advancing your use of tools and studying your genre of choice, etc.

As you further your education, what is bursting to emerge is that which is essentially yours.  How do you weave together all that you’ve learned and then, in which direction are you going to take it? Many artists speak about style.  Some artists fear being copied.  Other artists are flattered at being imitated. Every artist wants to receive credit for their creations.

I do think that there is within each one of us is that which is essentially your own. When you are in the copycat stage, there is an awareness that this is only the springboard that is going to take you to your very own style.  Style can be seen as the way in which you uniquely put the various constructive components of your chosen art together.  There is  a certain something that emanates from your writing or art that comes to be seen as your style.  At first, perhaps, you yourself can’t see it because it is so basic to you. I’ve found that others often recognize my style of  painting before I do!

In your daily life, there is a way you go about things. From the way you greet the day, to the foods on your shelf, to the arrangement of furniture in your home or how you dress.  I doubt that any two individuals do any of these exactly the same. Through experimentation, daring and trust–whether writing, sculpting or painting, –you are going to find a way to express that which is essentially yours.

WRITING PROMPT:  How do you perceive your writing or painting to be essentially yours?  What do others notice when they read your poetry or prose?  What do others point out when they look at your art?

koala

 

Now…and Then

“10,000 flowers in spring
the moon in autumn
a cool breeze in summer
snow in winter–
If your mind is not clouded
by unncecssary things
this is the best season of your life.”
by Wu-Men (Chinese poet)

Isn’t that a secret we’d like to have an answer to–how to stay present within this moment and not drift off into the past, future, fear, worry, conjecture, etc?  At least more of the time. Being present to one’s daily life experience is desirable.

However, when we write (or paint or create art), we move in all directions, don’t we? There is very little that is linear about the creative process, especially in the initial stages.  That said, I begin with an intention.  Even if I seem to veer off course.  For me, setting a creative intention rouses personal process. The goal then is to stay present with my process as I write or paint–wherever it might take me (even when it changes course from my original creative intention).

Year ago, I began reading a translation of the French author, Marcel Proust’s classic, Remembrance of Things Past, otherwise known as In Search of Lost Time.  At that time, I found that reading the first volume (one of seven) was both laborious and tedious.  My mind stumbled over the slow revelation and wanted to skip ahead to get to the story behind the array of descriptive words.

Today, I realize that one of the author’s intentions was to explore memory itself and take the reader on a journey through his process around resurrecting his memories.  He considered both voluntary memory and involuntary memory.  An often recounted episode from his book is the memory evoked when tasting a madeleine cake dipped in tea!

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”
— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

WRITING PROMPT:
Invoking a memory is considered a voluntary memory as you have chosen to retrieve a memory from the past and write about it. Proust compares voluntary memory to involuntary memory–which has a visceral quality to it and can therefore be expressed as a vivid and direct experience with greater impact for the writer and the reader.
Have you had this experience…something in the moment triggers an old memory and brings it fully into the present…so much so that all of your senses are awakened around that memory?  Have you written it down?

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In the movie Ratatouille, at the end, the food critic is sampling the chef’s ratatouille dish and is transported back to his childhood and the savory comfort food that his mother served him.  He is personally comforted by the memory as his tastebuds approve of the dish.

(Click on the play arrow and then click on “YouTube” on the bottom right corner and you will go directly to this clip.)

Poetry as “The Message in the Bottle”

Edward Hirsch referenced poetry as “a message in a bottle” to be found and opened at some future date by an anonymous reader.

When I paint a piece or write a poem, what or who do I have in mind?  What am I tuned into?  It varies.  Sometimes, as with this painting of the polar bear, I followed an intuitive flow that started with marks on a canvas. From these marks, three disco dancers emerged and quickly shape-shifted into three polar bears at the North Pole; then to a single polar bear with the Aurora Borealis as a backdrop.  Finally there was this solitary polar bear in a meadow.  The journey of this piece wasn’t decided by me ahead of time; what it wanted to become was disclosed as I stayed with the process.

What is the message of this painting?polar2

One cold and snowy winter’s night, I felt that existential loneliness.  I looked at my polar bear painting on the wall & I wondered what it felt like to wander, a solitude, across the melting ice floes of the North Pole.  What would it feel like to have your habitat disappearing beneath your feet?  What would it be like to be made for this icy world and to witness your world dissolving?  As the ice floes are melting, does this then predicate that the polar bear becomes extinct or does he metamorphose in some way to accommodate this once familiar, now changing world?

And so I wrote this sonnet to the polar bear, for myself in my loneliness and for the unknown finder of the message in the bottle.

Lonely
© 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?

For Your Contemplation:
I’ve talked about following your passion when writing poetry, prose or creating art. Sometimes, a fleeting feeling seems to govern your life. How do you respond to this? When feeling lonely or sad or some other uncomfortable feeling, I desire to be done with it as soon as possible.  I don’t want to dwell there.  Yet, I’ve learned to allow it the time it takes.  The truth is that we all feel lonely, sad or in grief at times.  To allow it is the courageous response…to create from it is to engage the common human thread of loneliness that each one of us experiences.  Your deep transitory feelings can be expressed through poetry, prose, painting & other creative venues.  You cannot decide who is going to pick up your bottled message on some lonely beach.  You can only hope that when they do, they find what is inside personally useful, portent, potent and perhaps powerful enough to induce change for the good of all.

Autumn Harvest

appleCycles and seasons come and go.  We are deeply connected to nature’s rhythms whether or not we give them conscious attention.  No matter where you live or what your age, you have an experience of Autumn.  In the northern hemisphere, we have entered the Autumn of the year while the southern hemisphere is in the flush of Spring.  As writers, we are aware of the metaphorical aspect of any season.

For yourself, consider what the harvest time means to you personally.  Living in the mountains, I’ve come to know the harvest intimately.  The land I live on has old fruit trees.  The first trees to fruit in early summer are the cherry trees.  These are followed by the pear trees.  Finally, in September and October, the apple trees are ready to be gleaned. If the apple crop is hefty, you will find me in the yard picking apples or in the kitchen processing them.  Frequently, there is an abundance of fruit to be shared with friends.

I often hear this comment from young and old alike, “How fast time is going!” Has it always been this way?

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Thomas Cleary translated a book of verses written by Wen-siang, a lone refugee, Buddhist poet, pacifist and feminist who lived in the 13th century during the time of the Genghis Khan Mongol raids.  The book is titled Sleepless Nights…Verses for the Wakeful.  I’ve excerpted the following poem:

My Sixtieth Year
by Wen-Siang (translated by Thomas Cleary)

Already sixty,
so much I’ve been through.
Wealth and rank
are like floating clouds;
changing and disappearing,
unworthy of regard.

My body’s like a pine

on a winter ridge,
standing alone
through the cold.

My mind is like the water

in an ancient well,
thoroughly unruffled
all the way to the depths.

My path
is the ancient way,
especially hard
in the present day.
Not easily discerned
are right and wrong;
I sigh and sigh,
sigh and sigh.

WRITING PROMPT:
Wen Siang uses simile in the first three verses (the bolded lines) to illustrate his state of being in his sixtieth year; it seems that he is taking stock.  In the fourth verse, he makes the direct comparison (metaphor) in the line “My path is the ancient way.” I invite you to use Wen-siang’s poem as a copycat poem.  That is borrow the form and supply your own content.  You can begin your poem with your current age.  For each verse, alternate the leading lines…”My body’s like…My mind is like…and My path is…”

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Whatever the season, whichever hemisphere, savor your time on planet earth.