The Roots of Story

A garden cannot be hurried. It needs watering–daily, in hot, wilting weather like we’re having. Again, the desire to move is surfacing. There aren’t any likely places available at this time. So, I worked in the garden most of the day, planting herbs in the redwood planter that Philip built for me. It is full and beautiful! It is three square tiers angled one above the other giving me thirteen little plots for herbs. It’s a lovely sculpture for the garden. Now that it’s planted, it’s immoveable.

When I work in the garden, my mind meanders. Today I thought about stories. Have you noticed how stories have a way of sticking with us even after they have outworn their usefulness? Stories upon stories, layered, so sticky thick and that we’ve made seamless through the retelling. We think they are necessary, even the ones that are redundant, like the necessity of war in order to keep peace. Such a multitude of stories all woven in upon the other. Throughout time, we’ve created a whole logjam of stories. Was it because we couldn’t stand the wondrous, bare bones truth of a mysterious existence? Is story intended to protect our vulnerable selves? We do seem to crave complexity. We’ve taken a perfectly fine planet earth and twisted and contorted it into a Disneyland of another sort showing how very difficult we can make things given little or no incentive!

Roger Housden, author of Ten Poems to Change Your Life and many other books, tells a story about visiting Iran to gather information for a book he was writing. As he was about to board a plane at the airport in Iran, he was detained by security. Up until that time, Roger had believed a story that as an Englishman in these times, he had an inherent superiority of sorts…that he lead a charmed life and was exempt from harm. Upon being detained by security, that belief was shed as they took his passport, tossed it in the garbage and told him that it was worthless there. He could die and no one would ever know what happened to him. They offered him two choices–he could work with them or spend the next five years in prison. His long-held story fell away and was replaced by the awareness of his own real vulnerability, creating in him a humility and compassion that has remained with him.

In my own life, there has been an ongoing quest. I try to figure life out or, when I can’t, I might latch onto a story that satisfies me momentarily. Someone once called earth “the planet of story.” Stories in flesh and bone, is that what we are? Drop the stories and then, are we flattened like a steam-rolled cartoon character?

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I’m alone tonight, although I called Timothy at the last minute to invite him to watch a movie–a story to escape from thinking about my story. I was about to say that I’m glad he’s not coming over when he called to say, “Yeah, I’d like to watch a movie with you.” No longer lovers, we both state clearly (with a little longing and then definitely not on my part). I guess, I wish he was a platonic friend, a playmate. Can we transform our relationship into a mild flirtation short of temptation?

While outside, the garden stands, persisting through my naivete or ignorance. The garden. Tomorrow I’ll plant some flowers along a fence.

Goddess of the earth, help me to let go of the stories that aren’t helpful so that I can see the path forward clearly.

“I was born a woman…”

There is a poem that begins with the line “I was born a woman…” as the prompt.  Each woman could write her own rendition beginning with this line. A man is invited to write his poem “I was born a man…” If anyone takes this dare, please respectfully share in the comments. Thanks.

I was born a woman.
I screamed and my scream was
shoved back down my throat
into my belly where it stayed
a silent shriek forever.

I was born a woman
without a pen or a voice
or a book to read.
A secret song fluttered 
in a quiet corner of my heart
but didn’t dare sing itself.

I was born a woman
stolen from myself
by the man called father
–acceptable trade in this land.
Nothing belonged to me
not my children
nor land
nor this body.

I was born a woman–
dependent, follower, secondhand,
disposable, meek, humble…
none of this by choice
as some would have you believe.

I was born a woman
I played with herbs quietly,
dug my fingers into damp musty earth
secretly brewed teas
to abort his babies.

I was born a woman.
When they found me out,
they called me witch.  
My one act of defiance
discovered and now I lie
swollen and discolored at the
bottom of the lake.
Bound to a stone.
I passed their test,
I’m not a witch,
it’s only that I was born a woman.

by Christine O’Brien
2011

Circle of Stones

This morning I picked up the book Circle of Stones by Judith Duerk. I read this book many years ago. It’s actually not a book to be read from cover-to-cover once and then shelved. It’s a book that can be used as a woman’s daily reference, her support, her validation, her encouragement, her reminder–that she’s not alone in her aloneness. Although so much in our world points to that existential loneliness, there is a culture of women that seeks unity across time and the earth. It is a culture that celebrates our differences as it recognizes the commonality among women. It suggests a unity that would support an individual woman as she grows and develops over the course of her life.

It asks the question:

“How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you, a place for you to go to be with your mother, with your sisters and the aunts, with your grandmothers, and the great-and great-great-grandmothers, a place of women to go, to be, to return to, as woman?”

from Circle Of Stones by Judith Duerk

Some cultures do support this sisterhood among its women. It’s a rare culture, however, that fosters connection with women of other cultures. And, it’s also rare to gain support across the generations of our living relatives and to experience the connection to our ancestors. In the US and across the world, the accessibility of transportation gives us a mobility that has separated families from the innate support system of proximity.

In my own life, I have four sisters and four brothers. Throughout my childhood, my father lived by the term “divide and conquer” in raising his children. Regardless, many of us formed alliances that have lasted over the course of our lives. Specifically, a sisterhood among siblings can either be experienced as a rivalry or a deep bond (or somewhere in between) that sees you through whatever life brings.

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The thing is that there is strength in numbers. We have examples of this–like when women united in England and the United States (and later on in other countries) to gain the right to vote! In today’s world, there are so many imperatives–climate change, social injustice, economic inequities, etc. It has been shown that women in third world countries who form and operate businesses are an empowered group that changes the circumstances of their villages. They aren’t typically trying to become successful business entrepreneurs, rather to improve the quality of their lives in present time and for future generations. This unified effort also lifts the individual and collective self-esteem. There is the recognition that they cannot do it alone. In the United States, we often have a competitive (even among the women) rather than a cooperative attitude. This doesn’t serve the true purpose of woman which is to unite, support, uplift and heal with compassion. A healthy culture of women recognizes and utilizes the abilities and gifts of each and every woman to create a better whole.

I wonder how we are to overcome our divisions within this Culture of Women. It could be happening in a less-than-obvious way at this time. Change starts with discomfort. Then there is the yearning for something better. Imagination of the way things could be kicks in. We begin to become aware of synchronicities. We dream of the better world we desire. We discover that our sisters have that dream too. Women are weavers…we weave our various yearnings together and go forward into the unknown and perhaps better world. I hope so.

Collage 2

collage2

What I like about collage is that while there is an element of play, there is also a sense of a hidden meaning.  The subconscious is directing the show from its off-stage balcony.  You could look at this piece and see it as pure abstract.  Or a compilation of scraps of paper with a bit of integration through the central figure.  But it doesn’t really matter how anyone else sees this.  The artist is taking disparate parts and making them work together.  In that way, she’s also reassembling things in her psyche that she didn’t seem to know how to sort.  Collage is similar to dream work.  The work of dreams, in my humble opinion, is to help integrate complex elements that you can’t work out with the conscious mind.

You don’t even have to consider yourself an artist to do collage!  Anyone of any age at any time can create a collage.

Here’s how you go about it.

  • Gather papers.  Magazines.  Some of your writing.  Anything that speaks to you that can be glued on a substrate.  Tear or cut images or words that appeal to you in the moment.  I like to tear a paper as I prefer  the uneven edge.
  • Choose your substrate.  Heavy cardboard, cereal box panel, canvas, mixed media paper, watercolor paper (140# weight), whatever you have.
  • Matte medium is a good paste.  Or YES brand of paste.  Or Mod Podge if there is nothing else.
  • Brushes that you don’t care about.
  • Water to clean the brushes.
  • A paper towel.
  • Paints, I prefer acrylics…but gouache works or oil pastels.  I like Caran D’Ache Neocolor II water soluble wax pastels.

Give yourself time apart.  Put on some music if you like.  Arrange the torn or cut papers on your substrate in a way that is pleasing to you.  Take a picture with your camera.  Remove the papers and then glue them on the substrate according to your photo.  Splash or brush on color as you are inclined to (or not).  Let yourself get lost in the process.  Don’t hurry it.  Don’t let anyone or anything infringe upon this time and space.  Getting lost in this process is part of the benefits of this collage journey into yourself.  Don’t be afraid of it, surrender to it.  Let it take you deep and deeper into the unknown.  It is like walking into one of your dreams, only it’s a waking dream.  Trust yourself to go there.  Trust that you’re going to return.

Stories, Perspectives and Systems

In 2018,  the film,  The Shape of Water won the Oscar for best picture.  For me, it was an intense film.  It began innocuously enough, taking place in the 1950’s.  A woman and her gay neighbor are living over a theater.  She and another friend are cleaning ladies at a large government experimental facility.  The military has captured an alien creature held under high security.  The story unfolds from there, weaving in other stories creating a larger picture.  The various perspectives are told through a sundry of character lenses–very effective storytelling.  

WIthin the structure of the film, there were the “system” stories being told, i.e., the scientific system with its particular agenda, the military machine which includes its “Five Star Generals,” the systems of class, gender and more that I haven’t named.  Operating within a system, say the military, there is a whole set of values–being a good soldier or civilian ‘soldier’ entails following orders,  climbing the ranks, career achievements, showing one’s loyalty to the system, total devotion. This system has no tolerance of “failures.”  Failing a mission, you are disposable.

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Seeing this film, brought to mind how we each have a personal
story.  Using our particular filters, we project our views onto the world.  These stories continue to propel our lives.  It is hard to step out of one’s own story to consider that what we have formulated as “the way that things are” is only our own individual story.  Likely, the one that was handed down to us at birth and which we named “true.”  We often bind ourselves to a story bouquet based on the fears, dreams, desires, flaws, etc. of our parents and ancestors.  It is seemingly impossible to unravel and find a clean thread that is entirely yours.  That’s probably not the goal anyway.  What then?

It is difficult to see outside of a system (boxes)  that we create as humans.  There are layers of complexity in what we inherit and how we integrate (or don’t integrate) our experiences.  I wonder if we stay in the same few boxes over the course of our lives or do we trade boxes?  Aren’t we all bound by something?

Perhaps, over the course of our lives, we have experiences that take us out of those boxes.  Do you?  I have had such experiences on rare occasions.

What once upon a time are you and I living?

Expressive.2019

Perspectives

Continuing with the Questionnaire

What has remained the most
consistent?

My reply:  It takes a long time for a culture to undo historical “wrongs” and shift old beliefs.  Often, it seems that women aren’t taken very seriously to this day.  For a woman to enter the political arena, she often takes on the attitudes and attributes of the predominant male paradigm.  It is hard to consider that this woman represents feminine values if she conforms herself to what is in place within this hierarchy.

However, Ruth Bader Ginsburg comes to mind as someone who embodies woman and women’s rights while working in a predominantly male environment.

One of our modern day heroines.

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To change the world, feminine values and concerns have to be appreciated and seen as valuable for the whole of humanity and the planet.  While values of conquest, overpower, reckless use of resources, disrespect for other cultures and classes predominate, real change seems elusive.  Until our laws reflect more of what have been termed feminine values, things are proceeding in a direction that doesn’t serve anyone ultimately.

Dear Followers of Wakeupprincess.com

I’m taking a break from the blog for now.  With the loss of my friend Richard followed by the loss of my sister, Kathy, I’m feeling the grief.  So for now, time out.  Best wishes to each and every one of you.  Thank you for being in the circle of wakeupprincess.com.

If you haven’t had a chance to do the writing prompts offered with each blog post, why not give some of them a try now!

Sincerely,

Christine

Does this poem have relevance for you?

The images in this poem remind me of a surrealistic painting.
Of Mere Being
by Wallace Stevens
The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance.
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

Writing Prompt:
This is one of those poems that people read over and over trying to capture the relevance of it to their own lives.  Have you found something that is meaningful to you in these few verses?  Appreciating the imagery could be enough.