The Walkaway

In the face of Covid 19, the United Nations Secretary-General, in one of his speeches,  declared that war is obsolete!  In these times of the pandemic, war seems to be a non-sequitur.  A virus is now “the enemy”.  Can we stop the nonsense and focus on what’s at hand, like the virus, global warming, overpopulation…and start addressing the real issues of a planet at risk?  Aren’t people experiencing enough trauma without having to contend with war?  We know which people are the first to be attacked during warfare–women and children.  Time for a serious time out!

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This painting and poem were first published on this blog in November of 2017.  This painting originated from a poem I wrote several years before.   He is walking away preparing to board a naval ship, shipping out to Vietnam.  Is he going to return?  If he does return, how is war going to change him…hence the refrain “Did anyone ever come back from Vietnam, I wondered.”

When I was eighteen years old, a girlfriend and I volunteered at the USO club on Market Street in San Francisco.  This was in 1967-1968, during the Vietnam War.  One night a week, we showed up to dance with the sailors and soldiers.  To sit and talk or play games like chess or checkers.  It was an intense time as these young men were either preparing to ship out overseas or had just returned from a stint overseas.  The poem tells the story of one young man who took a liking to me.

The poem:

Circulation
by Christine O’Brien

Don’t dance with just one boy,
make the rounds–
circulate.
Play chess and checkers
card games
no dating them outside of here.

The USO–
we’re here to
provide a home
away from home.
You are the girl next door
…a reputation to uphold
no loose behavior.

His name was Mickey
–from Mississippi.
He wanted a girl
more than anything.
He was being sent off to Vietnam.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He claimed me;
threatened all the other soldiers
to stay away.
But I’m supposed to circulate,
I said.
He picked me up after work,
treated me to a soda,
rode home with me on the bus,
met my family,
even loaned my dad a book.
He was scheduled to ship out
in two weeks.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

His friend drove him to my house.
We kissed in the back seat of the car.
Hard kisses
from him who wanted
to know a kiss
before lips grew cold.
My lips were uncertain
but compliant.
Suddenly I pulled away,
fearful
withdrew into my house
tossing him a good night.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He had been so cool
on the dance floor
smooth, sexy dancer.
In his dress blues
bell bottoms
swishing the slippery floor.
I could never attract
a guy like that
I thought.

He wanted to marry me NOW!
The urgency of youth
the uncertainty of undeclared war
leading one to declare love.
I cried all the way home on the bus.
He comforted me
not knowing that I was trying to
break up with him.
He threatened suicide
wasn’t going to Vietnam
suicide enough?

I wondered,
did anyone ever come back
from Vietnam?

the walkaway.

 

 

To Dream

There was a brief period when I chronicled my dreams.  Waking in the morning, I religiously wrote them in a dream journal.  I then proceeded to extract the meaning as best I could.  I had a book of dream symbols…but I often felt that a packaged interpretation missed the mark, that the real message intended for me and my specific circumstances was within me.  It helped when I sat with the dream and allowed the meaning to reveal itself.  Some dreams were a bundle of images, like a slideshow of sorts.  It seemed that these dreams were a way of processing too much information.  Other dreams, definitely had a metaphorical meaning for me to discover.

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I relish dreams.  I feel that they help with deep integration.  They offer something I might only realize or acknowledge in non-ordinary reality, i.e., in the dream state.  There, in the dream world, it fits.  It offers something that I might not otherwise get close to touching.  Extracting a meaning, I then bring it forward into my ordinary reality.

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Then, there are the dreams that take the form of aspirations.  That is what this painting evolved from.  What does one aspire to?  What arises from the depth and calls us forward?  Something in us that wants to be seen, heard, somehow acknowledged.  A once-upon-a-time dream that was, perhaps, mislaid along life’s path.  And now, it calls again, resurrects itself into the current day and your awareness.

In these times of global pandemic, perhaps there is a barely formed dream coming to your awareness.  An outside of the box aspiration that is being created as you engage this present reality.  Staying open when you want to be overly protective isn’t easy.  And yet, a new way of seeing and being is trying to emerge.

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This morning, I considered the idea of dreaming the future as some Indigenous cultures do with the aid of spirit guides.  In our society, there is so much disconnect with nature that it is likely difficult for us to align with it and dream a better future.  That said, perhaps this time away, time apart could be used for that purpose…quieting oneself, connecting deeply to nature and dreaming the future better.

My Mother’s Hands

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This mixed media piece was to be my entry in an upcoming art show.

It was also a challenge to myself to integrate poetry with paint.  In some way, it was a homage to my mother’s life.  The photo is of her at age seventeen.  She was a beauty.  My mother died in 2011 at age 91.  From my perspective, her life had been a long, hard road. I’ve written so much about her, about our relationship, about her relationship with my father.

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One of the layers of this painting is a poem, My Mother’s Hands.   After writing the poem  on the canvas, I remember feeling vulnerable.  I was revealing her story to an audience who might not understand the battered wife syndrome.

The poem begins:

I wonder if a palm reader back then would have foretold
–a long life
–an unloving marriage
–an abusive spouse…

…and then I smudged some of the words with gesso and paint.

In the last three years of their lives, my parents were in a care home, a house in a neighborhood with eight elderly residents.  Another sister and I alternated visiting them during the week.  Two other sisters orchestrated their care from afar.  The brothers remained aloof until the very end as they didn’t feel at ease with our father.

In her later years, my mother’s hands were contorted with arthritis.   Her fingers had trouble gripping a spoon and then navigating it to her mouth.  But she had lost so many of her abilities that I didn’t want to help her too much.  I watched as the spoon wobbled towards her mouth.  Her mouth like a quivering bird anticipating food.

My father in the background would say “These are not the golden years.”  I could see that.

One sunny day, we were sitting outdoors under fruit-laden orange trees.  My mother said “I wonder where we go from here.”

“What do you mean, Mom?” I asked.

“After we die.” she said.

“I thought you believed in heaven,” I said, trying to offer comforting words.

My father said “There’s nothing.”

“Dad,” I said, “I thought you had a dream of heaven.  You said it was beautiful.”

My father said, “It was lonely.  I was the only one there.”

In slow motion, my mother reached for my hand and held it–an unfamiliar gesture.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I’m sure thoughts of my mother weave through my mind on any given day.  For one reason or another.

I wonder what she’d be thinking about the state of the world today.  She once asked me to write her story…I’m not sure which one…the one of the devoted wife who stood by her husband no matter what abuse.  Or the possible woman who hid herself away and didn’t have an opportunity to blossom.

Speak

A doodle in a journal becomes a message to oneself.

Not fancy.  Not elaborate and not necessarily meant for anyone else’s eyes.

Yet, here we are in a time when many of us haven’t spoken up.

Sheltering in place, we are taken out of society, given this time for reflection.  Contemplation.

Where are we going to go from here?

How are we going to do things differently, with more consciousness?

We see the effects, for instance, of global warming across the planet.
What are you and I going to do differently to preserve the planet for
the future generations?

How helpless are we feeling?

What are the topics of discussion that we want to air?

Instead of zoning out in front of a tv screen, what is it that is important to you, today?

What do you want to talk about that you haven’t given voice to yet?

What do you deeply know to be true that is different from all the belief structures that your society, culture has overwhelmed you with?

What needs to change?

SPEAK about it.

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We see the Himalayas.  The air is clear in areas where it’s been polluted for years.  Nature is in the forefront of our vision right now…especially as we experience spring in the northern hemisphere.

It seems that which we have put in the background, at the bottom of the list, is thrusting itself in front of manmade institutions and systems and saying

REMEMBER ME! I’M HERE!  I’M YOUR MOTHER!

Mermaids II

If I were a mermaid living in the ocean, I’d be angry with humans.  The ocean is, afterall, my home.  I want my environment to be pristine.  For myself and all the variety of wondrous sea creatures who also live here.  When my environment is polluted by the ignorance and greed of humans, well I can’t just get up and walk away, can I?  The integral relationship of the ocean with the moon and our ecosystem that keeps things “working” is being drastically damaged by destructive human activities.  Witnessing the devastation that humans have wreaked on my home, I’m wondering what I can do to wake them up!

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As we get more and more distanced from nature, we are going to feel the effects.  Because, as John Muir has said, “Nature includes us!”

As sophisticated as we might think we are, as much as we think we’ve conquered nature and that we are civilized above and beyond the natural world…that’s false thinking.  We are nature, nature is us.  We have a biology and so does the earth and the sea and the whole ecology in which we are included.  I’m likely preaching to the choir here!

This mermaid reminds me of a warrioress.  She is both tender and tough when necessary.  She is ready to go to battle for her home, the ocean.

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In 1995, an amazing film was released, The Secret of Roan Inish.  The music was haunting, the scenery enchanting, the acting authentic and the story–magical and mythological.  This is where I first heard of “the Selkie.  And, I feel that the sea is portrayed as a character itself.  Effective personification!

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The phrase “If I were” is a good way to begin writing.  Especially when you’re feeling stuck…”If I were…”  Those three little words open the door to imagination and possibility.  Go ahead, WRITE!

The Dreamcatcher

Years ago, I wove hundreds of dreamcatchers.  It was a very challenging time in my life.  I don’t remember how I discovered the dreamcatcher…but when I did, I found that designing and weaving them was healing and engaging in a way that I hadn’t expected.  I gathered supplies, hoops, twigs, willow, waxed threads, leather strips, feathers and beads.  Each dream catcher was a unique creation.  For me, this indigenous craft held deep meaning…and they were to be shared.  I gave one to each of my family members.  A man I met had a booth at a local flea market.  He sold them, keeping a profit for himself.  What they provided for me in the moment was without price.

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Tracy Verdugo taught a class on painting dream catchers.  And then invited us to write a poem.  This poem is written around the outside circle of the dreamcatcher.

Destiny

Lace and ribbons
decorate the frock.
“Forget the dreams.
Get back to the kitchen
and bake me a pie!”
Banish your fantasy of
happy couples and
floral bouquet apologies.

Re-enter the Goddess–
no partial woman is she!
So, you are somebody
after all.
Tell us what you know.
Emergence is what you requested–
sit down and let’s talk over tea.

A wedge of lemon?  Honey?
Ah, the bitter with the sweet.
This you must experience
for yourself.

Lace and ribbons,
wedding day vows–
disguise your sovereign destiny.

 

 

dreamcatcher

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A dreamcatcher is an indigenous symbol–a web, often with a hole in the center.  It is intended to let the bad dreams pass through and to catch the good dreams.  The dreams that guide you towards your highest visions.

There is both power and presence when we create.  What is the dream of the future that you’d like to paint, color, draw, sculpt or weave?  Make your own dream catcher using collage and paint.  Are there words or poetry that go with it?  Write them on your work of art.  Get lost in this process.  Invite others to participate in making their own dreamcatchers.  Share in ways that are available to you at this time.

Stay healthy and safe.

Deer Medicine

Once upon a time, I was walking in San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica, California.  It’s a beautiful park that retains a wild flavor while being on the outskirts of a big city.  I was hiking along a trail with a lot of switchbacks, up the mountainous terrain.  Suddenly, from above me, a buck (male deer) with a full set of antlers came thundering down the side of the mountain.  He wasn’t so close as to be dangerous, but he was close enough for me to witness his magnificence.  What impressed me most was his power!  My tendency had been to think of deer as gentle, grazing creatures.  Almost fragile!  However, this was no wuss.  There was strength in the body, the muscles, the legs, the form, the energy.

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This painting came from a photo I took of another deer, a tamer version of deer.  This one was within a few feet of me, comfortably foraging.  I painted it in my own naive style around Christmas time.  I added collage.

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According to author, Ted Andrews,
“When you have the deer as spirit animal, you are highly sensitive and have a strong intuition. By affinity with this animal, you have the power to deal with challenges with grace. You master the art of being both determined and gentle in your approach. The deer totem wisdom imparts those with a special connection with this animal with the ability to be vigilant, move quickly, and trust their instincts to get out of the trickiest situations.
The meanings associated with the deer combine both soft, gentle qualities with strength and determination:
• Gentleness
• Ability to move through life and obstacles with grace
• Being in touch with inner child
• Being sensitive and intuitive
• Vigilance, ability to change directions quickly
• Magical ability to regenerate, being in touch with life’s mysteries”

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In Native American Tradition, the energy of deer is described as “gentle.”  It takes both courage and strength to be gentle in these times.  Both with ourselves and with others.

Do you have an animal that you are particularly drawn to in these challenging times?
If you want to find out what your animal guide signifies, you can Google Ted Andrews and the animal of your choice.  See if what he says feels true for you.

Haiku in Turbulent Times

What I’ve appreciated about Haiku is the command to be present.  It is in the observation of the present moment that makes Haiku timely now.

Four years ago,I wanted to paint a piece that integrated Haiku.  I found this Haiku from Gyodai, an early Japanese poet…I couldn’t find his time period.  I let the Haiku inspire the painting.  It’s a busy painting, but in the moment, it felt right.

“Snow is melting
Far in the Misted Mountain
A Cawing Crow”

Gyodai

 

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Here’s the thing about Haiku…it’s accessible to everyone.  You could be anywhere, for instance sheltering at home.  Grab a pen, pencil, piece of charcoal, crayon, whatever…and follow the formula.  Here it is:

A brief introduction to haiku.  So far as we know, haiku originated in Japan.  Short poems, usually three lines long, haiku has a total of 17 syllables…5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line and 5 syllables in the third line.  Traditional haiku usually contained a season word that indicated in which season the haiku was set.  The season word isn’t always obvious.  Haiku are little philosophical gems, sometimes with humor.  They can describe almost anything.  Often, they describe daily situations in a refreshing way–creating a new experience of something familiar.  It is always amazing to me that some poetic forms, such as haiku, endure.

I invite you to write haiku.  You choose the time of day.  Sit in your most comfortable chair or go out into the forest, up a mountain or by an ocean or lake.  Whatever is permissible where you live.  Take a few deep breaths and settle in.  Deeply notice something in your surroundings.  Honor it by writing a haiku.  Truly–nature, the things we use and take for granted, animals, other people, everything, everyone likes to be noticed and honored.

In writing your own haiku, strive to “give a new
experience of something familiar”.  Try to adhere
to the 5-7-5 syllables (or as close as you can get to
it).

Blessed day to you.

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.

 

 

On the Trail

Awhile ago, I took of a photo of an old oak tree that was perhaps misshapen by the elements and because of this, it was fascinating, beautiful to my eye.  I loved the way it bent and twisted and yet reached towards the sky.  Gnarly could be a word to describe it.  I could see the beauty in gnarly although the word, gnarly, doesn’t have a great connotation.

That said, my mind equated it to beauty.  I am neither an experienced nor representational painter.  Yet, this photo image of the tree spoke to me.  I used it as inspiration for my painting of a stylized Tree.  Too many of us think of trees as inanimate, as non-communicative, as unfeeling.

I’m reading a book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer.  She is Native American and her family was shifted from reservation to reservation.  She remembers the Pecan Trees in the various places where she and her family have lived over the generations.  The Pecan Trees–no matter where they are physically located across the country–all produce the fruit, the pecan nut, at the same time.  And, then, they don’t produce for years at a time.  What is gleaned from this fact, is that there is an underground communication system among the pecan trees whereby they concur, regardless of climatic conditions and local geographic factors, to produce fruit.

Fascinating, right?  So walking on a trail by the lake yesterday, I encountered a friend riding his bicycle.  We chatted briefly in a casual way.  Then, out of the blue, he says that he communicates with the trees during his seven mile bike ride around the lake.  That when he moved here many years ago, he was impressed with the trees, their beingness.  That he felt he could turn to them for counsel.
Haven’t some of them, the old growth, been standing here for years?”  He added, “Haven’t they seen the whole human play unfold?”

I was shocked by the synchronicity of my painting and his thoughts on trees.  I responded, “You are weird.”  By that I meant wow, how can it be that we’re both on this tree wavelength.  Today it occured to me how the earth, trees, nature, etc. infiltrate our thoughts and beings when we are receptive.  How they speak through us about what is needed to preserve life on earth.  The conservation efforts, the environmental impetus of a world in jeopardy.  Are these quests all earth and nature-instigated?  Humans think they have these brilliant ideas…but who is our coach and guide?  The earth herself, perhaps.

At some point, maybe we realize that we are the spokespersons for our planet.  At some point, we might remember that we are visitors here. We hope to leave this earth home that we’ve only borrowed, intact and viable for future generations.  And, for the other life forms that exist, survive and thrive here besides humans.

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