The Need for Change

“The need for change
bulldozed a road down
the center of my mind. ”
Maya Angelou

This quote from Maya Angelou is likely something we can relate to at different times in our lives.  I know that it has been true for me over the course of my life.

Personally, I recognize the too tight box I’m living in.  Or the habit that persists that really wants to be let go of.  Sometimes it’s a closet of clothes that I no longer wear.  Other times, it’s a deep desire for something different than the same old, same old.  Shifting a perspective can be, as one of my sister’s said, like bending steel.

Whatever it is, how do I allow change in?  How do you invite or choose necessary change?

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At this time, change is thrust upon us externally.  Any external change is going to cause whatever complacency we might have to be disrupted.  We have become aware of that in these uncertain days.  What is within that hasn’t really been working is called to the forefront and we have to DEAL WITH IT.  Whatever it is.

I’m not sure when Maya Angelou said the above quote…and what was exactly going on in her life.  Years ago, I read one of her biographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  I remember it being about her early years, childhood and young womanhood.  It entailed her reaction to a childhood where she experienced some of the cruelties of life.  A period where she didn’t speak for five years after a horrific event occurred. She was pregnant at 17 with her one and only child, a son.  She lead a chaotic life for awhile–was a prostitute, owned a brothel, ran wild.  At some point, she pursued higher education and eventually became a scholar, a professor, writer and poet and rubbed elbows with some of the amazing people of our times including Nelson Mandela.

If you don’t know Maya Angelou, if you don’t know of the rich tapestry of her life, I encourage you to read one of her several chronological autobiographies.  And, you would discover how she made pivotal choices that changed the course of her life.  I also encourage you to read some of her poetry which is typically about a woman’s self-discovery and identity.  Her poetry is something that I connect with–it reaches beyond any differences of race, creed or color.

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All of that to ask “What in your life needs to be changed?”  When faced with this question, I sometimes begin by clearing some clutter, cleaning out a drawer or a closet, journaling about a mindset, writing a poem that releases something old (or several) and writing poetry that invites in something new.  Painting can also foster the change you want to make in the outer world.  There are other supports for the changes you want to make.  A circle of friends, sharing and talking about something new that you and they want to bring about helps.  Prayers for guidance helps.  Consider the supports and resources that are available as you choose to change something.  You’re not alone, truly.

Always, be gentle with yourself during the process.  It’s often about recognition.  And then we go from there.

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I had to post this poem written and read by Maya Angelou because all I see is a woman of power.  She was forty years old when she spoke this poem.  Her voice, wow!  Her presence, wow!  The way that she occupies the poem as she recites it, wow!

The Dowry–Part Two

Pap comes home after a day’s work, after a visit to Flanagan’s Pub.  He trips over two wooden chairs, staggering through the small, crowded parlor to get to the bedroom that he and Mum and Willy share.

He mutters as my mum says, “Senior, couldn’t you come home sober one night a week!  If there was any of me dowry left, I’d divorce you!”

My younger sister, Patticake cries “We’ll be orphans.”

Willy harmonizes with Patticake, “I don’t want to be no orphan.”

“Wipe  your noses and pipe down.  I ain’t got no more dowry since  your pap drank it up.  So I ain’t going nowhere now am I?”

A grunt comes from the bedroom as Pap falls onto the squeaky bed.

“Colleen, go help your pap take his boots off so’s he doesn’t get me own Mum’s rose quilt dirty,” Mum yells at me.

“I hear you, Mum,” I snap back as I run to the bedroom.

Pap is already snoring.  His breathing is deep and the stench of whiskey makes me want to be sick.  Pap doesn’t budge an inch when I tug mightily to get first his left boot and then his right boot off.  I’m thinking I could jump full hard on his belly and he wouldn’t wake up.

I look at his grizzled face.  The deep scar on his upper left cheek looks like a cleared ditch bordered with stubble.  He was handsome once.  From the tintype on the dresser he stares, a dark-eyed man with wavy black hair parted in the middle and slicked down.  Now he looks worn from work, hard living, hard drinking.  He doesn’t know what to do with us kids, especially the girls.  He roughhouses with Willy some, but he leaves us girls to Mum.  I feel sorry for my pap and pat his arm tenderly.

“Colleen,” Mum calls.  “Get out here and snap the green beans for supper.”

“Coming, Mum.”

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I sit at the knotty wood table, hands washed, sleeves rolled, opposite Kathleen and Louise.  Kathleen peels potatoes with expertise.  Her face is satisfied.  She is going to be James Flynn’s wife.  Louise is slicing the carrots intently.  She doesn’t have a beau yet.  But she’s pretty enough and Mrs. Donovan, the matchmaker, is always looking for the right fella.  The little ones are napping after their hard play today.

Mum stands at the wood-fed stove, stirring the broth, sweat beading on her forehead.  I snap off the tough ends of the green beans and pull out the string as I was taught to do.  In this rare moment of suspended silence, my mind wanders to my 18th birthday.  I don’t talk back anymore when Mum says that I’m going to have to go into the convent.  I’ve read about some girls who ran away from their families.  They bought their passage and emigrated to Australia.  A girl doesn’t need a dowry there and there’s plenty of men who want a good wife.  The day after I turn eighteen, I’m packing my few belongings, taking the money Mum has stashed in the cookie jar with my name on it and getting on a boat to Australia.

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The Dowry–Part One

Have you done it?  Have you had your DNA tested to see the percentages of your ancestry?  If so, were there any surprises?

My biggest percentage was Italian on my mother’s side.  Followed by Irish on my father’s side.  Then there are the lesser percentages of surprising origins.  And the curiosity around how did that get in there.

All of this to say that a few years ago, I wrote a short story for an assignment in a Creative Writing class.  One can’t always know where their inspiration comes from or how it is going to express through words or art.  Perhaps it is rooted in the DNA and that cellular memory.  Perhaps I channeled one of my Irish ancestors.    There is some historical significance.  It is presented here in two parts.  I hope you enjoy it.

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The Dowry
©by Christine O’Brien

“Cursed we is,” Mum says, “to have so many survivin’ daughters…seven girls and one blessed boy.  If not for young William, we’d have no one to leave the farm to.”

Mum’s voice scratches like grainy sand across a washboard.

My older sister, Kathleen, is getting married in a month.  Mum has saved and put together a dowry for her and one for my second sister, Louise.  The chances of a girl getting a match are next to zero unless she has a dowry.  Kathleen says she loves James Flynn, but love isn’t what’s important.

“A girl has to have something to offer besides what’s under her petticoat,” Mum says often enough.

With a good dowry, she’s more likely to get a decent home.  She should be strong of leg too, not sickly, like my youngest sister, Patticake.  She’s got to be able to get out in the field and work beside her mate when times are tough, which times normally are.

Mum just started putting away for my dowry.  I’m three years from being 18–the marrying age around here.  Mum says she doesn’t see how she’s going to save enough to attract a mate for me.

“Chances are,” she says, “you’re going to have to go into the convent.  Father Cullen says he’ll kindly take you and your younger sisters if I can save ten pounds for the lot of you.  You’ll be provided for then and you can pray for all of us.”

“I don’t want to go to no convent!  I don’t want my head shaved!  I won’t wear those ugly black dresses and stupid veils!” I blubbered.

When I first stood up and said this to Mum, she slapped me hard.

“Be grateful you’re going to have a home and God’s own priests to look after you.  You get to do good works.”

“It’s nothin’ but slavin’,” I said, my nose red and running, a fresh welt on my cheek.

“Who’d want a red-faced girl like you anyway?”  Mum yelled.

Yelling is Mum’s forte.  Forte is my new word this week.  I’ve taught myself to read.  Mum knows I read but it’s a secret from my pap.

“A girl readin’ can make a man feel small,” says Mum.

Mum sticks the bible under my nose and points to the tiny print,
“What’s it say?” she crows.

“And why be anxious about a garment?  Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not nor spin, but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these,” I read.

“Ah,” she says, “the lilies.  Ah well they do not have ten mouths to feed, now do they?  Get back to your work,” she says slamming the book closed and dropping it heavily on the splintered wooden bible stand.

I gather my mending from the willow basket.  I’m the third eldest girl with my share of chores.  The five younger children leave me with a pile of well-worn skirts and knickers.  My brother, Willy, is the worst on socks.  Every day I stitch up the holes in a pair of his socks and every day, there’s two more socks to mend!

“Willy,” I say sounding a bit like Mum, “Willy, can’t you for once keep your shoes on and stay out of the brambles?”

Willy looks at me with a crooked grin and long-lashed blue eyes.  He slowly shakes his towhead “no.”

(To be continued)

 

Adventure of Another Sort

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Making art is available to anyone!  The only vehicle you need is your imagination and a bit of daring.  I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, we are all artists.  We are all writers with a story (or more) to tell.  We are all poets because we each have a voice.  We each have an imagination.  We can engage fantasy worlds if we allow it.  And, there is value in this.

I had a special friend, now gone, with whom I could engage a sort of time travel–imagining places we’d never been, people we hadn’t met, odd creatures, other times, alternate realities, outer space, the vast universes.  We had enlivened conversations.  We wrote poetry together.  He always rhymed–it got annoying at times.  I asked him if he could try not rhyming.  I don’t think that he could.

It is true that writing, poetry and making art, whether it be painting or crafting or knitting or sculpting…these provide the means and opportunity to access deeper ways of being and seeing.  When we take the time.  When we make the time.  We give ourselves excuses that we aren’t an artist or poet or writer.  I beg to differ.  It is perhaps that we don’t dare ourselves to explore these aspects of ourselves.  Some of us have more time on our hands these days, forced as it is.  One young man has decided to systematically learn to read and write Japanese during this pandemic!  What challenge could you give yourself?  Something that you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had the time to explore.

And it is an exploration.  And it is an adventure.  It involves discovery of the inner landscape.  The one where we don’t dare go…might we not return?  There truly are universes within.  We are a reflection of the macrocosm, our little inner microcosmic world that we often overlook because we’re outward oriented.  Which is good–actually a balance between both is better.  These days, with the virus dictating our movement in the world, what an opportune time to take this journey.

Who is in there after all is said and done?  Who wants to be seen and heard, primarily by yourself?  Do you give yourself this time and space?  Are you going to make it happen?  Get a journal, write, draw, splash color, cut and paste.  Express what’s been untapped on the blank page or canvas.  It’s a good thing.  You might discover–yourself.  Begin.

His Book of Questions

“And what is the name of the month
that falls between December and January?

By what authority did they number
the twelve grapes of the cluster?

Why didn’t they give us longer
months that last all year?

Did spring never deceive you”
with kisses that didn’t blossom?”

Pablo Neruda

Neruda has his book of questions.  Each question could be a meditation.  And each one of us, taking the time, could write our own book of questions.  Once written, perhaps we  then could open to the answers that swirl around us in the ethers.  Ready to be snatched from space and turned over and around–examined in a state of awe at some wisdom that usually lies outside of our usual perceptions.  Until we take the time to tune in.

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While a child, asking questions wasn’t allowed.  The land of childhood was ruled by a tyrant, a dictator, my father.  In his land of authority, questions weren’t supposed to be thought let alone voiced!  That said, every child has questions.  They are born into a world that they are yet to discover.  Under such circumstances, questions, when we learn to talk, are a natural response to being alive.  They are the avenue of discovery of what the heck we’re doing here.  To have that normal curiosity curtailed, inhibited or prohibited is a sin.

Today, in the midst of a pandemic, we have questions…and yes, we question our elected authority figures, the scientists and researchers and our religious or spiritual teachers.  We turn to one another inquiring into “what’s going on here?”  And we are hard pressed to get direct and truthful answers.  The frustration that we feel in the face of a pandemic is exacerbated by a media that contradicts itself.  Sometimes the lack of wise leadership compounds the challenges that we are facing personally as a result of the pandemic.

All of this uncertainty doesn’t prevent us from asking the questions that surface for each one of us.  Get your journal and write the questions that weigh on your mind at this time.  They are important.  They are relevant.  While they are your individual questions, chances are that they are the questions from your subconscious and/or the greater unconscious.  I trust the questioning process.  Choose one question and don’t force an answer.  Linger with the question for a day or the week.  When answers come to you, write them in your journal beneath the question.  And answers are going to come.  This process has been very helpful when I crafted creative writing workshops.

The invitation to lean into your questions is placed on the table.  It is an activating process.

Question

 

 

Stopping the Desert

Can one person really make a differenceWhat can one man alone (or woman) do?

Being true to himself, Yacouba Sawadogo, followed his curiosity or one could say, his calling.  He never learned how to read or write, but he was in conversation with the earth, that particular place on the earth where he lives.  That is, the landlocked country, Burkina Faso, in West Africa

People were having to fold up and leave their homes, their villages due to a lack of water.  That is one condition that creates climate refugees–people are forced to leave their homes “due to a sudden or gradual alteration in the natural environment…drought and water scarcity.”

Yacouba had an idea and he investigated it.  People thought he was crazy, ridiculous and even sacrilegious.  They mocked him and vandalized his fields.  He persisted with his experiment which was partially based in his intuition, common sense and some of the old ways of farming.

Can one person make a difference?  It looks like he did.  And, when many people unite for a common cause, then the impact can be exponential.

Yacouba Sawadogo?  The Man who Stopped the Desert.  I highly recommend this film for many reasons.  First of all, it is inspiring.  Secondly, in our lifetime, where we live right now, we may be called upon to “stop the desert” due to climate change.  It looks as if everyone across the planet is affected in one way or another by these changes. It seems wise to get knowledge from those who are pioneering new/old ways.

What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?

butterflyfairyqueen.2018

This dear red-haired fairy with a wise and perhaps mischievous look is ready to lead you beyond the garden gate.  She has something interesting to share with you.  Are you ready to follow her?  This painting is currently on exhibit in an art show.  I love this painting and don’t intend to sell it.  There are some things that I don’t want to part with yet.

Being that my art is mostly intuitive, I consider the possibility that there is a message for me within a painting.  And perhaps it wants to be shared with others.  “What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?” could be a metaphor for us today.  What lies beyond what is familiar?  It takes courage to lean into that question.  And it takes courage to be with the not knowing.

I had a friend who went on a vision quest to East India.  He encountered block after block in his travels.  Exhausted and disheartened, he landed in a small household with an elder man and his wife.  He told the elder man of the travails on his journey.  Feeling frustration and disappointment,  he finally surrendered and said “I just don’t know how to proceed.”  The elder man smiled and said, “Ah, master Edward, you’ve reached the end of knowing.  Now you can discover something else.”  I’ve always appreciated this story.

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As a writer, poet, artist, it’s fun to engage the imagination and let a story unfold from my art.  Today, looking at this painting, I ask myself “What is the story that goes with this painting?”

Following is an excerpt from some writing I did to begin to create her story.

I followed her.  It seemed as if her feet barely touched the ground.  I lumbered along behind her, feeling a bit clumsy.  My little garden gave way to a meadow of waving wildflowers, yellows and purples puddled like splashes of paint on an expansive canvas.  I’d always felt that earth was a constant paradise.  Now, I knew it.

I caught my breath, a sudden crack in my demeanor,
“I can’t be gone long,” I said aloud.  “I’ll be missed.”

I thought to myself “probably not for weeks though.”  Living alone, an artist living alone, leads a somewhat solitary life.  I just wanted to reassure myself, to assert myself to her that I had connections.  So I definitely needed to be returned to where we started from before too long.

Then, curiosity overtook me and I followed quietly losing any sense of time.  My senses were heightened.  Sight was crystal clear.  In fact, my glasses seemed an unnecessary annoyance.  I took them off and slipped them in the pocket of my shirt.

She had wings. Did I mention that?  And red hair, not ordinary red hair, electric red hair!  And she wore a hat like nothing I’d ever seen walking down the streets of Brisbane, California.  It was sort of conical or maybe like an Egyptian headpiece.  It suited her.  I called out before I could stop myself.

“Who are you?”

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Story-writing is fun.  You don’t sit down with an outline (or at least I don’t).  You are guided by your imagination, whimsy, flow of creative thought, perhaps, in this case–the fairy realm.

If you want to take your art to another level, study your painting and let it inform you as you give it voice.

Why not?  Have fun.  Then share it with someone you trust or someone you think would appreciate it…or perhaps really needs this story at this time.

The Scroll

the scroll

These days, we rarely (if ever) see someone standing on a podium reading from a scroll.  At least, I don’t.  Decrees, notices, announcements, rules, regulations, messages.

This painting evolved from a class taught in Paint Your Heart and Soul.  The angel looks a bit worried.  As if she isn’t looking forward to reading the message on the scroll.  We all want good tidings.  Perhaps it’s time to write your own message and start sharing it with others.

When 911 happened, the soul plummeted.  A dear friend and I went for a walk in the forest.  He often recalled that was the best action to take at such a time.

Beyond that, what could we do–in the moment?  What did taking action at a time when we felt so helpless look like?  I opened my books of poetry and began searching for and finding hopeful verses.  I wrote them on postcards and sent them out anonymously to friends, old and new.  To family.

What message would you like to read from your scroll?  These difficult days, sending something good off into the world helps to counterbalance the barrage of challenging news. It’s an easy thing to do.  You don’t have to go anywhere (except to mail them) and  you don’t have to sign it unless you want to.

As I’ve noted before, we aren’t letter writers typically.  However, we can write a postcard.  Imagine what a surprise it would be for you to receive a postcard with a message of hope or support from someone you haven’t heard from in years!

Sonnet Two

Not that we shouldn’t desire more
of that which feeds the hungering soul
for such yearning, it seems, opens the door
as we stare out upon a distant knoll.

“Comfortable complacency” is fine
–we all need pauses in our quest for more–
Grateful for the banquet on which we dine
fingers laced, beside the fireplace, shut the door.

But when the bell tolls the eleventh hour
mustn’t we from our sedentary rise?
Step into our uncomfortable power–
this before our comforts become a vise.

The hungering soul feasts on freedom.
Quick!  They are capturing the kingdom.

 

sonnet2

I wrote this poem a couple of years ago and again tried to merge poetry with imagery.  I’m not really pleased with the painting…but I think the message is current.  Truly, it doesn’t seem like we can hide behind our “comfortable” doors any longer although we mostly shelter in place.  I think that we are asked to be activists in a way that is true to our nature.

When any one of our freedoms is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  When our neighbor’s freedom is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  For truly, if my neighbor isn’t well-cared for by our society, then I’m affected too.  We’re in this together.

Remember, Spaceship Earth, so-named by Buckminster Fuller?  We’re all here together riding around on this very small planet.

“How can I serve?”

I frequently ask this question of myself.

 

Yearning

now1This was one of my first attempts at merging art and poetry.  I write what has been termed personal poetry.  This sonnet was the first poem in a series of twenty-one poems that I was determined to write.  I illustrated the first two poems of this grouping.  It’s not so easy to do, I found.  This poem was written several years ago…the mood at the time.  Poetry is a great way to manage our various moods and emotions and to help us move beyond or integrate these passing energies.

I’ve written poetry for at least thirty years.  Within that span of time, there were periods when I didn’t write poetry.  The tangles that we can get ourselves into with words.  The things we tell ourselves.  As author Byron Katie has reiterated “Is it true?”  The things we say to others–did they receive it as we intended it?  The words we hear– are they fact, theory, opinion, judgment?  How do other people’s words–the media–color your own thoughts and opinions?  Where is the truth in these tangles?

That’s why I chose the paintbrush over the pen for a few years.  No words!

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This blog has become a commingling of art and words with which I feel comfortable these days.