The Unbeautiful

The question I asked in an early journal (2012) “Can I bring beauty to the perceived as unbeautiful.”

For some reason, this question seems as timely as it did when I asked it in 2012. In the last blog, I mentioned being present and pondered why it seems unsustainable.

I live in a beautiful place. I look out the windows and there is INSTANT BEAUTY surrounding my cottage. Within five minutes, I can be walking beside a pristine lake. We are saying farewell to a winter that sparkled with white snow, tree branches etched with snow, unique snowflakes whirling then landing. We are turning towards the first crocuses, daffodils and tulips–the heralds of spring.

I am always stopped by a spring flower. I pause to acknowledge it. Yet, how quickly I leave that beauty behind and retreat into my head. Into the same old annoying thought patterns. That nowhere land around which my mind circles. I am resisting the beauty that surrounds me. Why? Why do I choose these thoughts over this present beauty? Why this incessant need to solve what is insoluble.

As far as bringing beauty to what I perceive as unbeautiful, I think that’s not really the question. The real question seems to be why am I once again missing the beauty that is. If the unbeautiful represents the shadow in humanity, in you, in me, then as I understand it, it needs acknowledgment from me. “Yes, you’re there too. I welcome and accept you.” And then there comes a time when the fascination with the shadow desires to lessen. Isn’t there?

Our media, in case you haven’t noticed, gives weighty attention to the mess that humans continue to make of things. The media is often a fear monger. I have heard that it takes seven uplifting thoughts or things of beauty to counter one negative message. Yet, we are bombarded by a media that perhaps knows exactly what it’s doing–keeping people in fear and immobilized. An amnesia for what is beautiful takes over.

Some of my friends don’t read or listen to the news. They seem generally happier for it. Is it sticking one’s head in the sand not to read the news? Is it irresponsible not to stay up on world affairs? Some would say so. How much better off am I for reading the news, the conflicting news, the reporting that creates dissension and division? There are things in the realms of politics that have been set in motion that I don’t seem to have control over. There are certainly decisions that I don’t align with…and yet, how is my dread of them going to change anything?

What if I could go out today and really be with the beauty that is around me? What if I could wander in the wonder of what it is to be alive today? What if I could hold the mystery of our being-ness closer and worry less about the uncertainty?

Can I make the unbeautiful beautiful? No, but I can meet the unbeautiful with it’s counterpart of beauty. For everything has a counterpart.

While working on a painting, I remember what one teacher said “work with what’s working.” That’s a good reminder for life. There is a lot that is working and that I can easily take for granted.

Rejoining the Beauty
by Christine O’Brien

The chief beauty of the world
pattern of patterns
To tap into that beauty
to let it be the motivator
of this day
Jane’s tree, Crissy’s flowers,
the amethyst ring,
a smile, the cuddly cat
These things know
what I only surmise
A creator who
set this world in motion
where I join with this source
in my own creation
a masterpiece in the making
Within the stumbling,
the waywardness–
beauty
In the lost or
unlit places–
beauty
There is no waiting for me
to reach that highly evolved state
in the present incompleteness–
beauty
In what’s for dinner and
who I met for breakfast yesterday–
beauty
In the unknown tomorrow
the tentative step forward, the risk–
beauty
In the potential for love,
the yearning for peace–
beauty
The stone in my shoe set free,
rejoining the beauty

****

Music is certainly a way to engage beauty. Remember to listen to music.

Life to Art

Iris

In Spring, the bulbs that have been seemingly asleep underground, poke their heads up through the crusty earth.  Where I live, it’s usually the crocus first.  Then the daffodils.  Next, the tulips.  Finally, the irises.  Several years ago, I planted tulips and irises along the path in the front yard.  Probably not the best decision as there’s a lot of hopping over them by me and any guests who come to visit.  That said, they are there and make their appearance when conditions are right.

This painting was actually based on a photo of a little iris growing beside this path.  The tightness with which it held its bud form was noted.  The very next day, I was shocked (in a good way) to see that it had burst open overnight.

iris

 

 

Like a trumpet sound, it was impossible to ignore.  A beautiful declaration to be noticed and appreciated!

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A bulb holds promise, doesn’t it?  Years ago, I moved into a house in the San Francisco Bay Area with my family.  When we had first seen the house, before we purchased it, I had noticed the abundance of flowers in the backyard…it must have been springtime.  Months later, the flowers had come and gone.  Digging in the backyard, I found all of these gnarly brown flaky things in the soil.  I had no idea that I was tossing bulbs away, the flowers that I had witnessed in the spring.  When I think back on this, I feel sad…I didn’t know.

These days I plant bulbs and look forward to the glorious gift packaged within each tight little knot as it prepares to share its glory!

The garden, nature, is a source of inspiration to artists across time.  It’s no surprise.  Witnessing beauty, our hearts are uplifted.  The artist finds a way to render this beauty…there are so many ways.  I wonder what it is that leads one from observation of beauty to the desire to paint or portray it.  Maybe it’s a desire to preserve it and the feeling that it gave when you first witnessed it.  Or maybe it’s a desire to share it with others.  Perhaps it’s instinctual to want to capture it in an artistic way–to claim it more deeply.  I wonder.

****
Sheltering in place, many more people are buying plants from the garden center.  There’s nowhere to go, nothing usual to do — creating a garden…often a food garden with flowers to beautify seems like a good idea.  Seeking the good in the present circumstances through a return to the soil.

 

The Ballerinas

In these uncertain times, we strive for balance, meaning, purpose.  We hope for the safety and health of ourselves and those we love…and we extend that prayer for our entire family, neighbors, community, state, country, neighboring countries, the earth.  We are in this together.  We always have been.

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I honestly don’t know why I started to paint ballerinas.  Perhaps it is their perfection of form–the way their bodies stand tall and poised, their mastery of graceful movement.  Perhaps it was the memory of a fleeting girlhood fantasy of being a ballerina.  Perhaps it is their delicate beauty.

I began painting ballerinas, several of them, one after the other.  This first painting was a total surprise to me.  It’s one that started out as something else, a compassionate feminine Buddha portrait, and then, it turned into the ballerinas.  At first, the central ballerina was a flower, the bleeding heart.  However, all around her, other ballerina figures were developing.  Suddenly, the bleeding heart no longer fit.  The flower became the central ballerina and she too changed over time.

Ballerinas.1

Sometimes, the way in which the paint or acrylic ink  “dripped” prompted a new figure.  I limited the color palette.

****
Today is a good day to notice beauty.

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.

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.

noname1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Truth”

I live in the mountains of northern California.  In early 2018, my sister, Kathy, moved one hour south of me at at a lower elevation.  Prior to moving, Kathy had fought cancer for several years.  She followed her own instincts in treating it.  In January, 2018, she opted for chemotherapy.

Following is an excerpt from my journal at this time.

Angels meet and greet.  Glances exchanged, hearts engaged, hands touch–sisters–when the end is near, the truth becomes clearer.  I couldn’t drive her to her first chemo appointment.  It was yesterday.  It was rescheduled from last week.  Last week, I had a good excuse–a big snowstorm.  My sister, lymphedema in her right arm–swollen beyond recognition.  A warrioress with literal wounds.  A bandage is swathed under her arm and across her chest.  This wound that hasn’t healed–the bandages need to be changed daily.

My word today is truth.  Her word is courage.

I told her that I couldn’t drive her because I couldn’t sit there beside her in the hospital as she underwent this intravenous process.  I wouldn’t have been the best support.  She thanked me for telling her my truth.  If we can’t be straight with one another now, when?

She got her hair cut short.  She asked me to knit her a hat, which I began working on immediately.  I painted her a picture of a woman surrounded by butterflies.  I think that she’s going to make it.  We need optimism.  Truth is, I don’t know very much.  The mystery is here, is in us, is around us, is us.  Nature helps.  I send her daily photos of the nature where I live to calm and center her.  To support her with beauty.

Truth is, some days I think that she’s doing better than me.  Truth is, love is a strange animal–she is always showing up at odd times, giving us opportunities.

Like that night I sat on a log beside my driveway, stargazing.  It was so peaceful, I shut my eyes.  A visiting cat sat beside me.  Out of the shrubbery beside me, a rustle. Opening my eyes, I see a creature emerging.  I can’t name it immediately.  And then,
Skunk.  A few feet apart, we stare at one another.  Neither of us felt threatened.  I watched him waddle away.  Truth is, it felt like love.  Does recognition equal love?

Truth as an expression of love.  I love you enough to tell you the truth.  Is there something that stands in the way of truth?  At least, I can try telling it to myself.  When my parents were in their declining years and the family was in chaos, I began a poem with this line:

“Truth lies in a shallow grave
while perspectives hang out everywhere…”

transformation.

 

Wardrobes

Moving to the mountains of northern California twenty years ago, a re-wilding has occurred.  There has been subtle permission to become more of who I am.  One obvious change has been to my wardrobe.  When I first moved here, my closet was filled with the clothing I wore while working in downtown San Francisco.  It soon became obvious that these clothes were not practical for life in the mountains. I had a fondness for some of these tailored clothes–the neatly pleated fuschia skirt.  The black belt with the gold and silver cranes intertwined on the wide buckle.  The knee-high boots with a slight heel–a bit of cool esteem.  The black and white checked tailored suit paired with the raw silk blouse.  The fitted, stylish dresses in my favorite colors–turquoise, deep red, navy blue with polka dots, a few soft pastels–each one fit a mood of the day.  Some were concealing, others modestly revealing.

These clothes didn’t come out of the closet once I moved to Mount Shasta!  Each year, I shed more of them.   They were traded for practical and comfortable jeans and tee-shirts.  I searched for the best hiking boots or running shoes–comfort and hardiness are everything.  In the winter, it becomes about layering.  I ordered silk leggings and tops.  Long-sleeved cotton shirts, wool sweaters and vests.  Waterproof outerwear, down jackets.   I didn’t miss trading nylon stockings for the sturdy cotton, and wool sock blends.  I knitted myself a few hats that I could tug down over my ears, and scarves wrapped up under my chin.  Mittens, a variety as, like socks, there was often one missing.    Of course, come summer, all of this was shed for the comfort of light cotton and less is more as the temperature rises into the 90’s or 100’s.  A serviceable swimsuit for dunking in one of the many lakes.

I wonder, Do clothes make the woman?  Or, am I being tailored by my environment?

Living in the mountains brings out an inherent spirit of adventure that had been dormant.  Where does this trail lead?  And that one?  What hidden lake is waiting for me to discover it?  The falling in love with where I live.  The beauty that lures me.  The trail that winds and I wonder what’s around the next curve, up that hill, over that ridge…I must follow.

bear1.jpg

I encountered this bear on a river trail a few days ago.  We were a comfortable distance apart as he posed for a few photos.

Remembering the Connection

invitation.2019

This is another theme of mine that replays itself.  Truly, I don’t understand how anyone (me included at times) canNOT see that everything affects everything.  When my daughters were young and watching Sesame Street, there was a cartoon that they replayed frequently.  It went something like this…If I pop my little brother’s balloon, he’s going to cry.  Mommy is going to come running.  He’s going to point his finger at me.  I’m going to get into trouble.

An effective example of actions with consequences.  So it is with our earth.  We are invited to share in the beauty and the bounty provided by nature.  And, it’s a wise thing to live sustainably and reciprocate in ways that we are able.  How we impact our planet, “our carbon footprint” for one, affects not only us, but the other creatures with whom we share this earth home.  And also, the generations to come.

This painting invites us into the forest and to receive the healing salve of being in nature.  It is an invitation requiring reciprocity.  Please respect this earth–home to many.

 

A Day in the Park

Going north to Ashland, Oregon, without a particular plan, I experienced a day of variety and flow.

Her face
finely chiseled ivory
a cameo portrait
hair woven in braids
and curls piled high
tattoos traced her arms and any bare skin
her clothes were colorful, soft and flowing
her expression–lost in another time and place–
her fingers played the keys of the accordion
while she pumped the bellows gracefully
the soft, insistent, melancholic music
forcing its way into the heart’s land
I placed a few dollars in the accordion case
and she barely nodded as I said “beautiful” and
“thank you.”
I walked into the park
the loud tones of a man’s voice
rose over all other sounds
as he swore and beat on the man
lying at his feet on the ground.

The man on the ground was curled in a fetal position.  His arms and hands shielding his head as a circle of young men gathered and held back all at once.  I hurried two curious young girls along the path catching them up to their mother who finally said “They didn’t need to see that.”

I found a park bench in the shade beside the duck pond on this overheated day.  I marked the rentals in the newspaper out of habit and hope. I watched the mother duck and her nine, count them, nine ducklings being herded here, no here, no there, keep up–the fluffy-headed, wide-eyed ducklings.  “Yes, mother, oh yes mother, oh!”  They do respond to every barked order.  Survival is a serious business and this duck pond, for better or worse, is their home for now.

At a neighboring bench, someone said that the old woman was part Cherokee.  She weaves baskets out of pine needles!  Her old fingers do such fine work and she’s so proud.  She only learned two years ago.  She outdid her teacher…it’s in her cells this knowing how to weave baskets.

I approach the basket weaver.
“Do you teach classes?” I inquire.
$50.00 a person.  Gather some people.

I want to learn from her.  It’s obvious that she knows how to live a fulfilled life.  Teach me that, please.  She touches my arm as if a touch can impart such wisdom or is she reading me?  Her eyes show neither humble senility nor prideful superiority–only a quiet wisdom.  Yes, teach me soon, I’ll pay.  Her daughter, works in a salon, files fingernails.

The pianist in the ice cream parlor trying to sell me his cd.
“I really just came in to buy ice cream,” I emphasize.  I buy a cd, finally, for two thirds of the price–he’s a good salesman, but can he play the piano?

I got the last haircut appointment in a little shop off the boulevard.  The perfect cut.

This day held all a day could hold, all that life could hold.  Beauty and violence, the extremes and beauty prevailed.

****
Do you ever choose a day of flow without any particular plan?  Have you written about it?

Bear with me…

Having lived in Mount Shasta for three years, I continued to feel like a stranger in a strange land.  As if I had fallen into a life and world that were so foreign to me.  Following is an excerpt from a journal written in 2002…

Tonight after dark, I walked the loop road around my wild new neighborhood.  Tree spectres, star navigators, I felt like an orphan returned to her original home, finally and afraid.  I didn’t know this terrain.  I knew huddled box houses, concrete, asphalt-paved city streets, skyscrapers,  city lights and the sound of foghorns.  Now, living in the mountains, I walked along snow-berm lined roads and felt out of place in the deep quiet that is induced by snow.  I looked to the stars for guidance, but didn’t grow up reading them.  Foggy nights and shuttered windows allowed neither awareness of the stars nor the sun’s rising and retreating.  Is it too late for me to become familiar with nature in her rawness?  Aren’t I the daughter of this more truly than anything…or anyone?

Though the road was partially lit by a slightly waning moon, I carried a flashlight.  I had chosen to move here, to be so displaced.   Even with this yearning to connect with nature, I was surprised by a lurking fear.  What strange stalking beast might be watching me?  Yes, there are bears, mountain lions and bobcats here.  A few barking dogs raced down paths to announce themselves…and me.

A few days ago, at Castle Lake, there were about ten fish, trout I think, about 12″ long, each one laid neatly at the base of a pine tree around which a circumference of snow had melted.  The fish lay dead, intertwined, resembling a celtic knot.  A single fish laid a few trees away.  Where do fish go in winter when this mountain lake freezes over to a depth of several feet?  How did this neat pile of preserved fish get here?  Away from the water on a higher plane–the water hadn’t risen that high.  A mystery.

Were the fish, a bear’s bounty abandoned perhaps when s/he was unexpectedly intruded upon?  A bear who fished the lake before it froze, laid them in a neat design beneath the tree and then was driven off by a hunter, perhaps?  Or his suspicions of one?  Or was it an offering of some sort?  Or perhaps a bear scared a fisherman off…but then why did he leave the fish?  The cluster of fish frozen beneath all of that snow for weeks and now a temporary melting and no bear to claim this defrosted bounty.

I’d written a mini-writing workshop to share with a circle of friends about winter–exploring their feelings–about this one in particular.  This winter had lavishly dumped 90-inches of snow over our town in less than one month!  That’s a lot of snow to move around to clear pathways, driveways and streets.  Berms grew and city streets were narrowed, slushy and hard to navigate.  A precarious and often impossible situation.  Some days, I stayed  home and checked the weather reports regularly, looking towards a break.  Emerging into January, a new year, temperatures rose to the 40’s and rain fell for two weeks dissolving some of the berms.  And then, a dry spell, a few visible sunsets causing a body to halt in her routine to witness the translucent alpenglow on the mountain.  The beauty, ah yes, I remember why I moved here.  Such breathtaking beauty and nature pounding down the door.

Really, though, what does any of this rambling have to do with bear?  Or abandoned fish?  Or my winter themed writing workshop?  Only everything!  Terry Tempest Williams and other writers of our times, have likened the hibernating bear to the in-dwelling hidden deep feminine!  The introspective cave dweller.  The female bear who births her young in the spring.  Winter gestations, hibernations, cave dwelling–not to be feared but appreciated for allowing one the time and space it takes to gestate, find her voice and create.  Isn’t that what I’m doing here?  In Mount Shasta?  According to Williams…if you should meet this bear in the wild, open your blouse and show that you’re a woman and you will be allowed to pass unharmed, so the story goes.  And where has my cat wandered to after hours?  It’s well past closing time.  I hope she hasn’t encountered a bear.

And tonight, when I told my lover let’s lay in silence for awhile, “Let’s not talk,” he pinned my hands and I growled like a bear in captivity.  Then he left.  I felt angry because no man could contain me any longer.  Now I have a voice and sometimes I displease a man.

 

Nowhere to Go...Dec. 2001.jpg