Mail Art

What is it?

So much of the time, we feel helpless in the face of what is so big…like a declaration of war or climate change or personal events in our lives. We can feel dwarfed and ineffectual.

Lately, I am asking myself a few questions:

  1. What’s going on? i.e. What’s the problem? or What’s bothering me?
  2. Is there anything that I can do about it?

An elderly friend was given notice to vacate the rental that he has occupied for over twenty-five years. He started putting the word out to his friends, acquaintances and clients. In this small community, there aren’t that many housing options for seniors. The two senior housing apartments have two-year waiting lists. He had a friend post for him on Craigslist. He also called me to be on the lookout for a room or apartment for him. As spring approaches, housing becomes even more limited with the arrival of tourists.

So to answer the first question, I could easily see the situation. My friend needed to find housing. I asked myself if there was anything that I could do. There were a few things. He is computer-illiterate. I told him that I would post his rental need on a local hub online. I also inquired at the local Community Center to see if they had any ideas or leads. I reported back to my friend what I found. Whether or not those things bear fruit is irrelevant. I could be satisfied that I did something to help a friend in need.

On a larger scale, we are faced with being witnesses to war (probably throughout human history). For me, this brings up a lot of feelings–everything from sadness, to anger, to frustration, to feeling inadequate in the face of it all. Then, I try to sit quietly with it, allowing the feelings to be fully felt. And I do what is called Focusing as drafted by Eugene Gendlin, Ph.D. in the 1950’s. I try to find a word or a few words that distill what I’m really feeling. I try to deeply describe it and go beneath the layers of my initial reactions. When I feel somewhat satisfied with what the word or words are, then I sit with them quietly.

Checking in with myself in this way, I ask if there is anything that I can do to lift myself up and feel like I have something to contribute.

That’s when I remembered Mail Art, also called Correspondence Art. Mail Art is flooding the post office with handmade or painted art in the shape and size of a postcard. The origins of mail art can be traced “back to the Dadaists and Italian Futurists in the early twentieth century. However, the New York artist, Ray Johnson, is considered to be the founder of contemporary mail art. In the 1950s, he began sending out small-scale collages he called “moticos,” some of which included simple instructions for the recipient.” (Wikipedia)

My most recent mail art below was intended to bear witness to the war in the Ukraine. As this little postcard travels to its destination through the system, others who handle it see it along the way.

photo of woman and sunflower

There was one other time when I did this. It was following “911.” When that feeling of helplessness swamped me, I bought several postcards, wrote little poems on them and sent them anonymously to family and friends. This act/action helped me and I hoped that the the recipients felt comforted like receiving the benefits of a prayer.

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I’m curious to hear how you respond to challenging things in our world. Do you have a go-to resource to guide your process in instances where you feel helpless?

Put on Your Science Cap

I was talking with my younger brother last evening. I didn’t want to get into anything too heavy as it was late and I don’t like to end the day on a low note. However, the conversation moved from him getting a root canal this week, to the pain in his recently replaced hip and then, onto the Ukraine, Russia and NATO. That quickly morphed into a discussion about Climate Change and the Climate Refugees in Alaska due to the permafrost thawing! Permafrost was the word that stuck with me this morning.

I do what anyone who is curious does, I googled PERMAFROST in Alaska. That lead me to Google and a definition for permafrost.

“a thick subsurface layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year, occurring chiefly in polar regions.”

Then back to an article about Alaska and how the thawing of this layer of soil, the permafrost, is affecting some of the indigenous tribes in Alaska.

We may think that we live in a protective bubble, but bubbles have been known to burst. Foresight, in such cases, is better than hindsight. I’m not sure what we’re waiting for. Women are the ones who are most intimately connected to the earth. We are her spokeswomen. When is there going to be a stepping forward and a united “We’ve had enough! There’s a better way.” We can’t be so timid as to let things go from bad to worse thinking that some savior is going to descend and rescue us. We are the saviors of the world and that is without conceit. It is with ownership of a shared responsibility for not only ourselves but all the other species on this sacred planet.

When are we going to be mature enough so that we can see that helping our neighbors (and that includes everyone with whom we share the planet) really should be our chosen task.

For inhabitants of earth to go forward, and that’s you and me and our neighbors around the planet, we’re going to have to understand some cause and effect. What we’re facing is larger than a pandemic and not defensible with war weaponry.

What’s Trying To Get Your Attention?

Today, there’s so much vying for my attention, your attention, for attention! I live in California where there are summer fires…a clear and present danger. We live in the midst of a pandemic. Our scientists around the world have scrambled around creating vaccines whose efficacy and for how long is being questioned. Then, what is the new virus that is surpassing the present one? Water is our most precious resource and across the world, there is scarcity. Air quality, in some places, is poor. Climate change is making the news, at last. The earth is being misused and yet humans with the apparent power continue in the direction that they have been going.

The earth is giving us feedback. Yet, we stick our heads in the sand and think “That’s not about me!” or as an acquaintance said with a shrug of his shoulders, “That won’t happen in my lifetime.”

The ancient ones shared their predictions, not to alarm but to make us aware. If we don’t acknowledge what’s happening, we play the same hand over and over again and get nowhere. The technological lures distract us condoning detachment from what is real and what sustains us? The very basics of survival. The Indigenous tribes share their wisdom today and what is Indigenous within us knows the truth of our interconnectedness to our planet and all of life. Although we seem small and insufficient in the face of orchestrating change, this is exactly what we’re called to do. To be a participant in what’s next. What are we waiting for? Where, when and how do we take action?

A poem by Annie Dillard reminds us There Is No One But Us!

There is no one but us.

There is no one to send,

nor a clean hand nor a pure heart

on the face of the earth,

but only us,

a generation comforting ourselves

with the notion that we have come at an awkward time,

that our innocent fathers are all dead

– as if innocence had ever been –

and our children busy and troubled,

and we  ourselves unfit, not yet ready,

having each of us chosen wrongly,

made a false start, failed,

yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures,

and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved.

But there is no one but us.

There never has been.

Why are so many people dissatisfied, disillusioned, frustrated or angry? What is the source of this distress? Is it that we don’t recognize the unity that we are called to–earth, air, fire, water, animals, insects, sea creatures–humans–not superior to but responsible to and we are included in this vast nature.

There are languages–deeper ways to communicate than we realize. There are those messages that we ignore or misinterpret, the inner whispers that we shush. Then, there is the yearning–yearning which propels us forward into the unknown, the seeming unknown yet it is knowable if, if, if we listen.

Is there something trying to get your attention?

Is the Whole Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts?

I wonder. The whole is made up of the incorporated parts…if some parts are less than, broken or in some way incapacitated, doesn’t the whole suffer?

This quote has been attributed to Aristotle. However, I read recently that the author is unknown. I don’t know in which language this quote was first spoken. Perhaps Ancient Greek. Was it correctly or incorrectly translated? Where did the original author place emphasis…what did he actually intend by what he said? We perceive things with our own knowledge lens.

If I’m baking something and I have an inferior product or an ingredient that has gone sour, it’s going to affect the outcome…the cake, the bread, whatever. I depend upon wholesome ingredients. That’s the metaphor for us humans–each one of us gets to do our individual work. In that way, we combine to making the whole a better one.

When looking for change in the world, we must first look within. Recently, I said something to my sister-in-law like “We have got to step up and be active about climate change.” She turned it around and said “They need to do things differently.” She took herself out of the equation. She wasn’t seeing how her voice could make a difference or how her choices were also complicit if she didn’t do something differently. As long as we take ourselves out of the equation as a component or a change-maker, then there won’t be anything new. The parts either weaken or strengthen the whole.

There are many ways to interpret this quote to fit one’s particular needs. Another perspective is that the whole is better than could be expected from the individual parts. That a communal solution to a problem is going to be better than one person’s problem-solving ability. A community, the more heads are better than one, is superior to the individual. That, combining the educated solutions, a distillation of wisdom can be produced by the whole.

Yet, I return to this…the whole is the sum of its parts. If a part is inferior, the whole is affected. My ex-husband was a fire-fighter. He entered the fire department in San Francisco at a time when women were fighting for their right to be firefighters as well as other jobs that had been in the exclusive domain of men. I interviewed a woman firefighter for a class that I was taking at the local community college. She was nearly six feet tall and buff. She worked out regularly. A question that many of the wives of firefighters asked was “Could you pull my 200-pound husband out of a burning building?” This strong young woman was capable. Yet, this field of work requires teamwork. If there was a 5’4″ female (or male) who couldn’t do their part, the whole team is weakened.

These are some of my early morning musings. I’ve heard this quote for a good part of my life. Sometimes, we hear something often enough, we think that it must be true. Ah, not necessarily so. There is always room to question what we assume is so.

What are your early morning musings?

Here and Now and Change

I am here. It is now. Now has challenges. The climate changes and devastations, the ways we’ve been misusing the earth. There is a price to pay. Civil unrest. Political themes and schemes. A pandemic that seems to be ongoing without an obvious resolution.

There are things that bind me to life. There are times when part of me wants to escape. I have no wisdom for others. None. Today looks like winter due to the cast of smoke. I find myself craving winter. Winter like an oasis in a too hot, too fiery, too smoky, too long summer. We’re coming to dread summer in the mountains and in the lowlands of the west coast of California. Carefree times–no more.

How can I impose happiness these days? Where in my psyche is there an understanding of how to be in these very risky, uncertain times? I can’t feign happiness.

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“The Only Constant in Life Is Change.”- Heraclitus

This seemingly opposite quote was coined by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Translation: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

There are times in our lives when we choose change. They are choice points and there can be an easy flow towards the choices. When I met the man I was to marry, it felt like I was in the flow–grown up, living at home, working at a steady job, meeting a man who wanted to marry me…accepting his proposal, moving away, having children. All of these seemed to be in a natural flow. However, in retrospect, I realize that I didn’t give a great deal of thought to the choices. I followed the strictures of a too restricted childhood. Everything was virtually mapped out for me and I complied without a great deal of thought. So while I made choices, while they seemed natural, in many ways, they weren’t my free choices.

At other times in my life, change was forced upon me it seemed. “Grow or die” sort of imperatives. I can look back and see where I made choices that supported growth. Returning to college in my thirties, taking creative writing classes through a woman’s re-entry program. These were self-empowering choices that helped me to make the next changes in my life. Through the creative writing class, I became enamored of poetry. Poetry became the connecting force to my deepest feelings and desires. This deepening of self-knowing helped me to make the choice to leave my marriage, finally. A change, a leap that I knew I must make.

How are you with change? If it is a guarantee that change is the only constant, why do we fight against it? I suppose it is a fear of the unknown. We have the familiar…it’s like the security of the womb before we’re pushed out into a larger world. What awaits us? We want to know something before we can really know it. This then calls upon our adventuring spirit. The admission of: “I don’t know. I am curious. Let’s find out what’s next.”

Then the second quote, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” One understanding is that yes, change can be thrust upon us by outside circumstances, turbulent times. However, in order to truly go forward, we must meet that change with our own deepest understanding and heart-wisdom. All of this is easier said than done.

I am, you are, we are enigmas to ourselves, aren’t we?

Frolicking

Frolicking in my fool’s paradise

How long can this go on?

The air quality had been so pure

Now the wildfires have begun north of here

I plug in the air purifier

and pray it cleans the air

fools paradise

head in the sand

feet in the air

or head in the clouds

feet on the ground

which is preferable?

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Another summer of smoke.  The wildfires began in June in the forests and mountains of northern California, USA.  And in the flatlands south of here.  Then, there are new ones cropping up to the north, east and west.
Yesterday was a pure air pristine day.  We are dependent upon the direction of the wind.

Earth, air, fire, water.  What is your relationship to them?

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Living in the mountains for twenty-two years now, my connection to the earth has been amplified.  Although, before this, I grew up and lived by the ocean.  I would never say that I understood the sea.  I had an intimate relationship with her nonetheless.  I sought her out for comfort…and found it.  Her dynamic qualities captivated me…they do today too when I visit.

And the mountain has its own trance.  As I continue to write this post, it’s now mid-August and we’ve had two months of smoke.  Waking to smoke daily, a pall over the new day.  The spirit descends as I pull back the curtains to yet another day of smoke…

But today, the sky is blue and a smile wraps my face…we are so dependent upon our elements.  Across the planet, weather–the elements–is the media star these days.  Floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes–we are bombarded.  The earth certainly is demanding our attention.  Is she giving us feedback for the ways in which we’ve disrespected her?  Can we see this as feedback, learn from it and do some things differently, more respectfully, reverentially?

Global warming, media fact or fiction?  Where I live, I have no doubt of climate change.  I don’t need to read the news to know that.  Why is there an argument…what sort of lens are people looking through that they don’t see this?

Forecasting the Weather

I wonder when people first began forecasting the weather.  When did it actually become a science with some predictability?  I learned that “It was not until the invention of the electric telegraph in 1835 that the modern age of weather forecasting began.”  It became more of a science through the research of two men in the Royal British Navy, Sir Francis Beaufort and Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy.  As is typical with any new discovery, these men were initially ridiculed in the press until their work gained scientific credence.   Their findings are the basis for today’s weather forecasting knowledge.

I imagine that indigenous cultures have always been and continue to be in touch with this phenomena. They lived and live their lives in close connection to the earth, to the land from which they’ve risen.  They have an understanding of this planet and its intrinsic relationship within the entirety of the cosmos.  They certainly related to the moon and its cycles.  While there may have been superstition around extreme weather patterns–thunder and lightning storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters–they had a sense of their place in the earth’s unfolding story as told through nature’s cycles and rhythms.  I can only imagine what that would be like, to have such a deep connection.

Every man I’ve ever dated understood weather-forecasting and the terminology associated with it.  They  described what it meant if a storm rolled in from any of the four directions.  Each one of them explained this all with great seriousness and in detail…”This storm is coming from a westerly direction.  You see, at different latitudes, the earth has conveyor belts of air which affect weather like the westerlies and the trade winds.”  At which point, my eyes would glaze over because, let’s face it, I’m not a weathergirl in that sense of the word.   “That storm was unlike the one that is forecast for today”…a man at the video store said “it’s coming–see those clouds piling up–the storm is coming from the south.”

Just tell me if we’re expecting rain or snow, how many inches, high winds or sun, thunderstorms, temperature extremes–How many degrees Fahrenheit?  The rest is beyond my comprehension.  That said, I look daily at the ten day forecast. I’ve done this over the past ten years at least, maybe twenty since I first moved to the mountains.  In San Francisco, my home for nearly fifty years, the weather was predictably foggy where I lived.  Although, of course, I can’t explain why fog forms.  The rare sunny day was a surprise, a pleasing one.  Anything above 80 degrees entitled every San Franciscan to go to the beach!

Anyway, our meteorologists have the ability to forecast when a storm is coming, how big of a storm (how many inches of snow or rain), the temperatures–freezing or moderate, how long the storm is going to last, etc.  When I first moved to Mt. Shasta, CA, I often heard the refrain:  The mountain makes its own weather.
In other words, regardless of the forecast, the mountain has its own climate.  They also say, If you want to know what the weather is, go outside.
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Things are changing though–climate change is real–are we comprehending that now?  Do we see how the way that we use the earth, is affecting some of these changes dramatically?  We are in summer where I live in the mountains of northern California.  We are noting that it is fire season.  A time of wild fires and uncertainty, high risk.  We have had many drought years.  This, I can understand without elaboration.  I’m in the middle of it.

It’s not too hard to see that we don’t want to go in the direction of the choices that we’ve made heretofore in regards to climate change.  What, my dear reader, are you and I going to differently?  When do we begin
to be the change that we want to see?

How to work with the “Malaise”

Malaise: “…a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”

How are you coping with it? The long stretch of not being sure how to proceed? The risks, the frustrations, the doubts and uncertainties, the news, the misinformation, the truth that “no one really knows for sure.” What are the long-term consequences of getting the vaccine? How long does it last? What’s the best one for you? What’s the best one for me? Who can you go to for answers? What if you are one who chooses to wait and see before you get the vaccine, if ever? What is the underlying cause of this virus? Where did it actually originate? What’s the best preventative? Can we gather or not? How many feet apart? Wearing masks, indoors or outdoors? Double-masking? Whaaaaat?

And do we have to face more of this in the future? Is it a result of climate change and what we’ve been doing to our planet? The virus goes to the lungs…are the lungs of the earth sending us a message as we carry on with our deforestation…the trees, the lungs of the planet? A good question–is the earth giving us FEEDBACK? How are we interpreting this?

Some of my friends are trying to live their lives with business as usual. There are others who are working around the curtailments. There are others who go between the malaise and working on one or another projects. For them it’s like swimming against the currents. Progress is slow, if any. Sometimes they go sideways, detouring into a mindless distraction. Some have a new addiction to the news, their computers. And they are suffering for it. As for me, I’m trying to sort through a lifetime of writing. And to maintain the little cottage where I live better. A little garden. The goal is to bring some order to the world that immediately surrounds me. The one I think I have some control over. In incremental ways, daily. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or overnight.

What about you? How are you coping?

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I wrote this poem in March of 2012. I don’t remember what was going on in my life at the time. It was a year after my mom had died. A year and a half since my dad had died. I’m guessing I was rousing myself and redirecting my life after the challenges of their final years. The thing is…perhaps we’re always rebounding from something or other in our lives. Yes, it’s true, the magnitude of what has resulted from the virus is different because it’s global, not only us. Yet, we do know some of what it takes to rebound.

Betweenland
by Christine O’Brien

Footing is precarious
The old, familiar ledges
eroding beneath my feet
before I have something
solid in place
If trust were substance
I’d stand upon it
finding safe ground
in the midst of dissolution
From there,
I’d look out upon inner continents
–the old ones disappearing
as the new ones surface
The discontent and yearning
from which they’ve sprung
in my own sweet soul
calling more of me into being
The woman that I am
standing on this plot of land
looking across the horizon,
now so close,
to see the other one
stretching out his hand
towards me


a quote from Thoreau

“I wish so to live ever as to derive my satisfactions and inspirations from the commonest events, every-day phenomena, so that my senses hourly perceive, my daily walk, the conversation of my neighbors, may inspire me, and I may dream of no heaven but that which lies about me.”  
Henry David Thoreau

For me, this quote symbolizes the independent spirit while recognizing the interdependency we have with our neighbors and the natural world. That said, the larger world is on our doorstep…through the ever-present media and its variable perspectives, we are bombarded with world events, political unrest, glaring social inequities, climate change, etc. It seems that while it is wise to be present with the commonest events and daily phenomena, we cannot bury our heads in wonder to the point where we ignore the outer chaos. What a helpless feeling though when we look at the state of human affairs.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting outdoors with three wise women poets. We were celebrating a birthday of one of the women, eating quiche, rhubarb pie and banana bread. We discussed that helpless feeling that arises when we ask the question: How does anyone wed oppositions? I, myself, experience my own inner duality…how do I present as a unified whole with such a split? Within families, there are opposite viewpoints, family members polarized against one another. Within my community, there are examples of polarization, immobility, the inability to see the other’s perspective. When both sides claim to have the final truth, how do we meet in the middle? We see how people go to war over opposing ideologies. There is a faction of people (me included) that considers war to be an obsolete way to handle our differences…yet there is ongoing warfare.

I often wonder what my part is today…growing this woman self, growing her out of the past that deemed woman second class, quieted her, effectively erased her voice from history. Writing poetry gives voice to what needs to be acknowledged and furthers the writer’s process. Ideally, it offers something to the readers.

The Future
© by Christine O’Brien

She blazes colors…
If I am to be a vessel for change
I can no longer be invisible,
nor quiet.
I review my early writings
of a woman chained to
outworn, disrespected roles.
Her models were false impressions
of what a woman should be.
Disloyal to herself,
while surrendering her salvation
to him.

She is silent in the midst
of her degradation.
She follows the mores
of how she has learned a woman
“should be, should behave.”
She has depths to which
she hasn’t dared to descend.
She has forgotten her worth,
her right to equal partnering,
muffled her voice,
disguised her face and figure.
She is depressed.

Her fire has gone into hiding,
but it is not extinguished.
Eruptions are scary
when you think you are only
malleable, adaptive, accepting
yielding and penetrated.
What does a spiritual,
grounded activism look like?

Too many of my women friends,
and me too, don’t look beyond today
or tomorrow…
“What’s for dinner,
are my needs well-met
is my family safe,
for now?
Have we defended against the virus,
sufficiently?
Are our cupboards full?
Are the essential workers
able to provide for us, hold us up?
For how long? 
Are the borders secure and
the air space protected?
Do we realize our interdependence? 
Yet?”

For if my sisters and brothers around
the globe–China, Africa, the Balkan Islands,
Indian Reservations, my next door neighbor–
are suffering, thirsty or hungry. 
If my clouded leopard in Malaysia,
my Spirit Bear in British Columbia,
my Tundra Swan’s very existence
are threatened, then so am I!
If the earth’s respiratory forests
are ingraciously removed
will I have the breath to speak
of upcoming peril?
Wouldn’t I rather
see the salvation that comes from
humanity arising,
not only in America
but across this expanse of earth–
our common, ever-shrinking home?

What, dear woman, with inner fire,
are you waiting for?

Ecology

Why is ecology important? Ecology is the basis for a state of one’s personal and global well-being.  It recognizes the interdependence between people and nature (which includes us)  that is vital for food production, maintaining clean air and water, and sustaining biodiversity especially notable during this time of climate change.

Why is biodiversity important?  Each life form adds to an environment that works for many.

“Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play. For example, A larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops. Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms.”

I might think I’m an independent person.  But if I consider everything that sustains me…water, air, food, sunshine and how all those things are delivered to me…I’d soon realize how very dependent I am.  Interdependence sounds better.  But it can only be effective if I live in a reciprocal way.  Not just taking things in…but giving back and sharing the bounty with others.  And respecting and caring for the source, the resources.

Many humans seem to think that they stand outside their environment.  I mean, they might live in a house or housing.  They might have a garden or a few plants on a balcony.  They might live in the city or a rural area.  Yet, they often think that they are separate from their environment.  That the effect of one on the other isn’t important.  There is also the peculiar notion that nature has to be dominated and that “humans know best.”

I wonder how we awaken to this interdependence and the need for reciprocity.  I wonder how corporate interests can continue to do irresponsible logging of tropical forests and fracking or dredging for oil.  I wonder how they don’t seem to consider the ways that this is impacting the local wildlife, the indigenous peoples there.  How it is drastically affecting climate change and that across this beautiful earth, we are all going to suffer for this irresponsibility.  Neither the very poor nor the very wealthy, neither the ignorant nor the very wise, neither kings, queens nor presidents are going to be spared if we don’t gather our wits and understand this vital relationship soon.