The Dowry–Part One

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

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

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

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The Dowry
©by Christine O’Brien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To be continued)

 

His Book of Questions

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

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

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

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

Pablo Neruda

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

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

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

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

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

Question

 

 

Stopping the Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Enjoy Writing?

“What are the greatest pleasures of writing fiction?” is the question the interviewer posed to Jennifer Egan and Carmen Maria Machado.  This short video, less than three minutes, is very revealing about writer’s process.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, do you find pleasure in writing?

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These two authors declare that they are on opposite ends of the spectrum as to how they approach their writing.

Are either of their approaches true for you?  While Jennifer seeks “escape” through writing, Carmen enjoys “organizing her mind into a narrative form.”  What about you?    Or is there something else entirely that guides your writing process?

For me the pleasure in writing comes when I engage “the flow.”  Then I feel both compelled and supported.  That is when I notice that things in my world become synchronistic.  There is a sense of no separation between me, the world, the words on the page.  It is both my process of self-discovery and a broader curiosity that propel my writing.  The real gift for me comes in being able to share what I’ve learned with others, inspiring them and inviting them to embark upon their own inward journey of self-awareness and integration through writing.

WRITING PROMPTS:
What brings you the greatest pleasure in writing ?  What is your “golden door,” your favored entry into writing?  If you aren’t sure, consider things you’ve already written and recall how you began and what lead you onward.

Portals

Any writer, poet or artist seeks a portal, an opening, a place to begin.

Some mornings, I randomly pile books on my bed.  And I leaf through them, hoping for something to leap out at me.  When I crafted creative writing workshops, there was a certain magic that happened.  I had an idea that I was exploring and I’d open a book and the exact poem, quote or passage would find me!  That’s the thing, we never know where there might be an opening, a place to begin.  Yesterday, receiving news of a long-time friend’s serious illness, I was reminded that–ah, yes, sorrow and grief are portals.

portal2

Following are a few quotes, stanzas from poems and excerpts from various books:

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“The body is the starting place for what we know,”  from Sheila Bender.

“While I did watch, Brave Horatius did come and stand by my side.  He looked up at me. In his eyes were askings.  I made explainings.  I told him, The sky is filled with clouds, which look like ships”  from Opal Whiteley.

and then:  from Denise Levertov,
“The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer…”

or Allen Ginsberg:
“All afternoon cutting bramble blackberries
off a tottering brown fence…”

and then, Wayne Dodd:
“All day I have been closed up
inside rooms, speaking of trivial matters.
Now at last I have come out
into the night, myself a center
of darkness.”

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The thing is that any of these excerpts, stanzas or quotes could be a portal that leads you or me into whatever we’re going to write about next.  (Noting, also, the privilege that is ours by tuning into these various writers’ voices and getting a sense of who they are and what they value.)

Are you curious?  That is one of a writer’s greatest gifts–curiosity.  You discover a portal, you enter, courageous once again, asking your questions, finding your answers while staying open for the unexpected.  Do you feel, at times, like the solo journeyer, the seeker, out in the universe on this great writer’s quest?

WRITING PROMPT:
Look for portals today.  Carry your pocket notebook or handheld recorder to archive anything that comes to your attention as a possible portal for your writing. Choose from one of these possibilities and write for thirty minutes. OR, borrow one of the excerpts above as your portal to today’s writing.

Are you surprised by where you went in your writing today?