“…The Courage to Start All Over Again”

****
For the past two weeks, I’ve been tackling a lifetime of family photos. There are picture puddles all over my living room floor and stacks on and around my dining room table. There are albums that I’ve started and others that are yet to be decided upon. This is truly an intense immersion and not for the faint of heart. It invokes time travel and then grounding back into present time.

These photos commemorate a thirty-year marriage that finally ended in a divorce. They take me through all the stages of my two daughters’ growth–the birthdays, holidays, graduations, sports, scouts, family gatherings, siblings, the feasts I prepared…and then, the remembrance of the dearly beloved departures. These moments in time preserved in photos. And when I see them, I remember the stories that surrounded them. The mother-in-law who held tightly onto her son, my husband and her jealousy that seeped into our relationship. The father-in-law who always had to assert his macho superiority. The ex-husband who danced between his anger and sentimentality. The adorable daughters discovering themselves and the world. My dear siblings, there were nine of us, and our highly dysfunctional parents. And photos of me, young, pretty, naïve , trying to find my way through the chaos of the past and the then present.

There are times that I’m judgmental of myself–were there things that I could have done differently? Were there choices I could have made that would have improved the quality of my life and those closest to me? Yes, there are some regrets. But didn’t I do the best that I could with what I knew? I see how I can fall headfirst into that Pandora’s box of photos and spiral down with that undertow of regret. And then, don’t forget the generational trauma that has been added to the mix. Truly, there’s always that which is bigger than the small picture frame through which I’m viewing my life. There’s always a vaster landscape. I’m not alone on this wild journey. We all have our boxes and albums of family photos, and today there are the digital ones.

It seems like human frailty, vulnerability, happenstance and more are part of the whole. They are right beside courage, victory, endurance, determination, love. In life we co-exist with everything both inside of us and outside of us. There’s so much we don’t know about the soul’s journey. So much.

Recently, I listened to an interview with a young woman who had lots of struggles in her early life. She had been full of self-blame and there was early trauma involved. It touched me when I heard her say that she had cultivated a way of sending a beam of love to those hurting places within herself. Beaming love to those memories, losses and old trauma. I think that’s a good practice.

With all of that said and all that goes unsaid, I turn to the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” And I want to add, bring reverence to your whole experience, make it sacred.

What are your life Aha’s? Part One

I’ve had several that I recognized as such. The first one was when I was very young. It’s only in retrospect that I named it as an “aha moment.” I was five-years old, in kindergarten. For some reason, the kindergarten classroom wasn’t placed very strategically. We had to walk across a bustling, chaotic and dangerous schoolyard to get to our classroom. There were boisterous boys bouncing balls, squealing girls scrambling and tagging, nuns towering and trying to maintain a semblance of order. To get to that classroom in the far corner of the schoolyard, a little person as I was, I had to brace myself in preparation for running the gauntlet. I took a deep breath and began my journey. Halfway through, I had a sudden awareness that there was a ways to go yet and I froze between the classroom and the place that I had started.

I didn’t panic, but I stood there for a good long moment to catch my breath and observe the length of yard I had left to traverse. After a few breaths, I suddenly felt that I was strongly in my body. It was as if I had roots, strong roots that went up my sturdy legs. I felt this deepened sense of connection to the earth below the asphalt of the schoolyard. I was one with something greater. My young mind couldn’t explain what I was feeling, only that the feeling was strong and deep. I was connected to something deeper and greater and that felt powerful! Feeling low to the ground, I continued across the schoolyard without instance.

Throughout my life, recalling this one moment in time, I have held on to the belief that I am part of a whole. That wholeness claims me daily. When I feel like I’m out there, a leaf in the wind, I can call back the sense of what it felt like to be so grounded. When I face challenges that send me reeling. I can remember that felt sense in my body that gave me stability, strength and courage to lean into the challenge.

****
What about you? Can you recall an instance in your life where you felt a connection to something greater? How does this serve you today?

Harriet Martineau

Being that March is Women’s History Month, I leafed through my book The Underside of History by Elise Boulding. I did one of those exercises where you open the book to any page and whatever catches your eye first, you go with it. My finger landed on a photo of Harriet Martineau. I had never heard of her before which isn’t surprising as most of women’s history did not land in our history books.

According to Wikipedia, Harriet was born on June 12, 1802 and died on June 27, 1876. Wikipedia states that she “was an English social theorist often seen as the first female sociologist. She wrote from a sociological, holistic, religious and feminine” perspective. She earned enough money to support herself and, as you can imagine, that was rare for a woman writer (or any profession occupied by a woman) in those times.

Martineau advised “a focus on all [society’s] aspects, including key political, religious, and social institutions.” She thoroughly reviewed the status of women as being under men. The novelist, Margaret Oliphant, called her “a born lecturer and politician… less distinctively affected by her sex than perhaps any other, male or female, of her generation.” The young Princess Victoria appreciated Harriet’s work and invited her to her coronation in 1838.

In the years 1834-1836, Martineau traveled to the United States to study the political economy and the moral structure of the young nation.  She took a strong stand with the Abolitionists against slavery. While in the United States, she observed the stance on education for girls and women. She wrote about her findings in a few books, two of which are:  Society in America (1837) and Retrospect of western Travel (1838).

“The publication of Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy (in nine volumes) found public success…By 1834, the monthly sales . . . had reached 10,000 in a decade in which a sale of 2,000 or 3,000 copies of a work of fiction was considered highly successful.”

****
I’ve wondered about this before and it bears repeating now–if women had grown up learning about the amazing women who preceded us, we might have developed a better esteem of ourselves. When students are taught that it was mostly men who made history worth telling, then women recede into the back pages of history, playing a subservient less distinct role as influencers of humanity unfolding. Boys grow up thinking that they have more value and girls less impact on positive evolutionary changes.

If I had known about, say Harriet Martineau, I might have understood that as a writer, there are many possibilities for me. I might have grown up knowing that I wasn’t limited, by virtue of my gender, to what I could accomplish in the world. The spirit of adventure, curiosity and daring that Harriet lived might have opened other doors for me. I might have realized that I could oppose the conventions of what a woman could do as Harriet did. Noting that Harriet is only one of many women who slipped through history unannounced, I can only wonder what other astonishing women once lived.

She didn’t seem to doubt that the world was her oyster. Standing outside the constraints of her culture, gender and times, Harriet showed great courage in spite of ridicule for being a single woman, having a contrary opinion and some physical infirmities. She affirmed her right to be and to become. There was a period of five years where she retreated from society to heal a very large and painful ovarian cyst. When she recovered, she returned to pursue her public life with vigor.

An excerpt from Harriet Martineau’s writing:

“The intellect of women is confined by an unjustifiable restriction of… education… As women have none of the objects in life for which an enlarged education is considered requisite, the education is not given… The choice is to either be ‘ill-educated, passive, and subservient, or well-educated, vigorous, and free only upon sufferance.”

Mystery

cat1a

It was strange to see this cat girl emerge.  She was painted just before the time that women were donning knitted pink cat hats.  They were called “pussyhats” and worn in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington DC.

A little recent history lesson from Google:

A pussyhat is a pink, crafted hat, created in large numbers by thousands of participants involved with the United States 2017 Women’s March. They are the result of the Pussyhat Project, a nationwide effort initiated by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, a screenwriter and architect located in Los Angeles, to create pink hats to be worn at the march for visual impact.[1]

****
As an artist, have you noticed this…not only does your art respond to the political and socio-economic climate, but sometimes it is almost predictive.  Artists, poets, writers, creative beings have a heightened sensitivity.  It’s no surprise that they can tune into something before it hits the press.  And express it through their art.

Obviously, my girl’s hat isn’t pink–but the concept of woman merging with cat, with her wild nature–and yes, she has magic–are reminders to myself.  A woman is an enigma to the male of our species.  Rather than men fearing and trying to dominate what they don’t understand, why not honor her?  Why not seek her out for wise counsel?  Why not be curious to know her more deeply?  Why not recognize that she has gifts to share (that he does not possess) and lend value to them?

That men are making most of the rules, guiding the politics of our lives, belies the fact that women comprise over 50% of the population in America!  2019 census shows 168.08 million women versus 161.48 million men!  When are women going to realize that they have more power for change than they are exercising?

There are so many things in place in our society (and world) that we know are morally wrong and socially unjust.  Women know this deeply…if they could gather their courage and unify their voices, change for the good would occur.

What is something you, as a woman alive today, are called to take a stand on?  How are you going to align yourself with what you know to be true and correct?  Is there an action you know that you need to take?  One step at a time…dare to take the first one.

 

 

 

Poetry in Perilous Times (3)

We have not had very much precipitation in the mountains this winter.  We’ve had three big storms that deposited a lot of snow in the city proper and on the mountain.  However, it was quickly washed away with rain at the lower elevations.  February brought idyllic spring-like weather.  While we enjoyed it, we also felt some trepidation.  The summer and fall of 2018 were frightening to us living in this highly forested area.  Fires sprung up in every direction around us.  We were told to be packed and ready to evacuate…but where to, we wondered.  Some of us stashed non-perishable food staples in the car, packed a suitcase, a tent, sleeping bag, bottled water, clothing, important papers, etc.

The smoky skies extended throughout the summer months starting in early July through October.  It was an intense panorama of smoke-filled days and nights.  We wore masks when we ventured out.  Typically, summer is a time to appreciate the lakes and hiking trails, to walk briskly, climb, swim and breathe deeply the fresh mountain air.  Not then.  Honestly, there is a certain dread of the coming summer.  Without a winter of sufficient rain and snow, we pray for our own safety and that of our forests and forest creatures.

I wrote this poem in September of 2018…

When the not-so-far ridges have been obscured
by smoke for months…
When your mind is clouded with confusing thoughts…
When what you once perceived proves to be false
or limiting…
When you sip your morning
cup of tea and place one foot
in front of the other
and say yes to this new day,
you have learned faith.

The smoke hangs on the ridge waiting for
directions from the wind.
The firefighters are out there
day and night manning
bulldozers, helicopters, heavy machinery–
we trust them to do their jobs–
to be wisely directed by those
who understand the nature
of fighting fire in a heavily forested area
with up and down rugged terrain.  We
have to trust them.  We have to trust
and to hold onto faith that everything is
going to be alright…
and until then,
that we can bear it–
be strong
be patient
and live our lives truly
and boldly.

We have to trust that we have
sufficient courage,
to share our gifts and
to proceed
into this new day.
We go forward into the uncertainty
on wings of prayer, hope and trust
and faith
and whatever love looks like today.

Then, I go into the garden to harvest tomatillos.

tomatillos

As of this moment, it is snowing and accumulating.  Yay!  And the rest of March might bring more precipitation.  We hope so.

 

A Sense of Girding Her Loins…

The “me too movement” and the film, Bombshell have drawn attention to the way women have been treated in the workplace (and in general).  The objectification of women is nothing new.  It’s brought forward by the current generation’s awareness of it.  Recognizing that the Equal Rights Amendment has not been ratified by Congress gives rise to the question of what a woman can do to support her own causes, her own life and liberty.  In this country (the USA), women have a great deal of freedom.  Yet, some of us carry an inner sense of oppression.  Is that because it’s in our DNA, something we’ve inherited from generations of oppressed women? Is it a seemingly innate quality of submission?  Consent to be objectified?  A way we win approval?

Two years ago, I made a costume for a local Fiber Arts Show.  I was feeling the grief around the decline of my sister’s health.  I was surveying my own life and the ways in which I was taught to submit to men…my father, my husband, my bosses in the workplace.  I noted how my life was designed around not upsetting the dominant male ego.  And certainly, the disallowance of knowing more than him even when it concerned my body and personal well-being.

At first, I was going to call the costume Ravaged.  Then I decided on Girding Her Loins.  Finally it became Reclaiming.  What was there to reclaim?  All of the qualities of power, courage and strength that a woman gives over to another.  Like–her voice, her own thoughts, her truth, her wisdom, her intelligence, her intuition, her feelings, her free choices, her values and more.

This dress became a tactile representation of something that had been missing in my life.  The expression of  my right to be fully me as woman without shame or self-deprecation.  It has been about claiming my own entitlement to my life without having to deny my own truth and gleaned wisdom.

 

 

 

My Sister

It’s one month past the year mark of my sister, Kathy’s passing.

Kathryn Jane O’Brien, November 17, 1955 -December 19, 2018.

Over the past several years, I have witnessed my sister, Kathryn, up close as she continued her battle with cancer.  I have seen the qualities of courage, strength and love personified through her.  Love being the constant force.

Selfishly, I did not want her to leave.  Finally, with love, I coached her to leave.  As did other siblings.  She fought the long hard fight with great dignity and respect for herself and others.

Once she committed to Hospice care, her capabilities decreased rapidly.  Over the past few years, she had been managing increasing pain, wearing a compression sleeve for the lymphedema in her right arm, having her lungs drained weekly, thoracentesis.  Her open wound had to be cleaned and bandaged daily.  She hardly complained.

A month before she engaged hospice care, she emailed me in the morning to say that she was a “shipwreck.”  I told her “I’m coming down.”  We spent that afternoon together and a few hours the next day.  For the moment, she had regrouped and was going to go continue the fight for her life.

Then, three weeks later, she was done.  She called our other sister who lived nearby, Susan.  Susan cleared out a room for Kathy in her home.  A hospital bed was delivered.

Bandages, swathing, wrapping, weaving
what battle has she returned from, has she?
The wasteland of her body resounding
reflections of an earth in jeopardy.

How does she heal what seems like a riddle?
Which rhyme does she summon, where lies the key?
In such a haystack, is there a needle?
How does she unwind this tangle, does she?

Is there an apology forthcoming?
or a salve of forgiveness to be applied?
Questions in midair, balance beam teetering
spanning a chasm that seems far and wide.

What falling before this Phoenix rises?
resurrection modeled in each sunrise.

 

 

 

“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.

 

Healing as a woman

Hard and Soft.Woman'sQualities

I was inspired to create a dress for an upcoming Fiber Arts Show.  I drew a design.  I purchased a square cut,  woman’s small, magenta tee-shirt and a dress form.  This picture illustrates the final outcome of my process.

Earlier in the year and for several months, I faced some big challenges.  I needed to tap into my courage and presence while offering support to others.  That became the intention for this dress.  A woman is called upon to be both hard and soft.  She needs to be tough while retaining her tenderness.  Woman as warrior, woman as fierce when necessary–woman in charge of her own body, her sexuality.  This art piece addresses the need for a woman to reclaim her birthright–to be a whole human female person.  Some of the embellishments have symbolic meanings.  I’ve written a few words or phrases on the  light pink fabric strips–these are some of the things that she reclaims–sovereignty, her voice, choice, the right to say yes or no,  freedom, connection, health, her body, courage, self-nurture, her right to thrive.  I’m certain that you can add to this list.

Healing as a woman is a journey unique to each woman in any culture and in a world that neither elevates woman nor her sacred tasks.

Writing Prompt:
As a woman, how do you express your hard and soft?  What in you needs to be healed and/or reclaimed?
As a man, how do you honor and encourage a woman’s empowerment?

NoteFor those of you local to Mt. Shasta or nearby, the Weston’s Fiber Arts Show 2018 Reception is today, Friday, the 22nd of June, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Snow Creek Studios Art Gallery on Mount Shasta Boulevard.  There are many amazing fiber artists exhibiting their work.  The show will be on display for approximately one month.  We hope to see you there.

 

Frida Love–Why?

Recently, I purchased a copy of The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self Portrait…Alas Rojas.  Reading her diary, seems like eavesdropping on a very personal conversation in an otherwise quiet cafe.

Her drawings, her actual handwriting, her thoughts, sorrows, loves and fears, revealed to strangers, you and me.

As an artist, I am one of many who love to draw and/or paint Frida.  Her facial features are so distinct, her continuous eyebrows, her dreamy & fierce eyes–a congruity of beauty.  She was/is a figure of renown.  Her style of dress proclaimed loudly “I have arrived.”

Why do I “love” her?  I guess it is because she rose above what could have been a defining obstacle.  Her chronic and intense pain became a platform for her art. However, she did not personify “victim.”  In my estimation, she met her life head on with curiosity, courage and style!

Frida is someone who rose above adversity and created a life for herself.  And, admirably created art to be shared with others.

Wow!

Writing Prompt:
Do you know of Frida Kahlo?
Google her, read about her
and view her art for inspiration.

Frida.03.2018

A colored pencil drawing.
Not nearly  a perfected Frida
…but she’s a great face to practice with.
I’d love to see your Frida drawing/painting!