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?

Can You Help Me To Understand?

So there it is. In this time when we experience heightened awareness of our patterns of communication, we come up against a belief system in someone else that is so contrary to how we see things. It is their “white to our black”–an opposition, and we can’t get past the distinct differences. There are many opportunities to explore this over the course of one’s life. We’ve seen it in our politics a lot lately. And, sometimes up close and personal, within our own families.

While there may be some situations where I am able to put myself in someone else’s shoes and get an understanding of how they might feel, there are some beliefs or perceptions that I really don’t get.

So what am I to do when the divide between me and someone else seems high and wide? I don’t know exactly where I heard this line: “Can you help me to understand?” The rest of the question might be “Can you help me to understand why you see it that way?” or “Can you help me to understand why you believe as you do?” or “What experiences in your life have lead you to this perception?”

These questions don’t feel confrontational to me. Any one of them would cause me to pause and consider the formation of my perceptions. If we’re both clear that the questions are an effort towards better understanding, that might help too.

When such a question is posed, there can be no attachment to trying to change the other person’s view. It is asked with an honest curiosity to get to know someone a little better, without judgment. That’s easier said than done. With someone else, can we deeply listen without confrontation or judgment? Can we decide that we don’t have to defend against the expression of someone else’s perceptions?

Yesterday a friend said something about her own thoughts that go astray…the ones that she disapproves of in herself. She is trying a new tactic–to witness without judgment and allow the thought to come in and go out. It seems that the better we get at doing this for ourselves, there is hope that we can then practice this with another. We cannot tell our mind “Don’t ever have that thought again!”, voicing our disapproval. Rather, we notice it and see it as a cloud passing through.

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Humanity, on the whole, is young. We are finding our way, discovering what it is to be an evolving human being. We have a diversity within this being human. That diversity offers us an opportunity to explore and learn about the many aspects of what this means. Reviewing human history, I witness a less-than-genteel, coming of age as we move past the survival mechanics to a more tolerant and inclusive view of life on earth. However, we teeter between our evolution and the survival instincts–i.e., antiquated war as a means to handle conflict! We don’t seem to be very far along.

When I wonder how are we ever going to have a meeting of the minds, let alone the hearts, the words active compassion surface as power words. Perhaps, in any efforts at communication, we need to bring this quality into the center of the circle engaging active compassion as the basis for any discussion where there is a great variance.

Today, this is only me thinking on paper. Please take from these mind meanderings what you want and leave the rest. And, I’d like to hear what you think in response. Truly.

Art in Your Life

How many times have you said (or heard someone say) “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body?”

My reply is “I don’t believe that.”

We are all artists in some sense as we imprint our life upon the blank canvas of each new day. The fact that the arts have not been stressed in a world of academia, resigns many of us to the theory that we are not creative. We see art as the territory of an elite group of eccentric individuals, not for “the common man.” And the number of these individuals who make it to the respectful ranks of successful artists, supported monetarily by their art, is even smaller. So if you can’t make a living at it, the competition is stiff, the chances of positive recognition are slim, then what’s the point of integrating it into an academic curriculum? What benefit could it possibly have? How could it improve the quality of life?

Big questions with lots of diverse theoretical answers. Some answers have been researched in a structured way; many have personal experience to back them up. What has been your experience with art? How has it influenced you? Have you discovered that ‘creative bone’ or allowed it to lay dormant? Time and money are often factors. Who has the time to take an art class or go to see the art show? And making art can certainly be an expensive hobby.

We are all artists to the degree that we choose to be. An artist and one who appreciates art become one in synchronistic moments. Practicing an art form or experiencing someone else’s art can be life enhancing. Who sets the table with a vase of arranged flowers and pretty place settings thereby elevating herself and her guests? Who stands in awe of a stunning sunset? Who becomes breathless over the blue sky brushed with wisps of white clouds? Who admires the evergreens and bare deciduous trees frosted with white snow? Who witnesses the burst of flowers in spring and laughs with birdsong? Who is revitalized by the last nectarine on the tree, untouched by bird or bug. If you are among any of these, you are a lover of the arts.

For what is art but a capturing of one moment in a photograph, on a canvas, on film, in a poem, a dance, a sculpture or acted in a play? How fortunate that some of us can take what nature has provided and transform it into our own individual expression. Why wouldn’t we want to experience this pleasure in as many ways as possible? Art viewed, participated in and discussed is a forum for communication with other viewers and/or fellow artists. Whatever emotions it might touch–love, anger, joy, grief or passion, it achieves the purpose of opening us and providing an opportunity to share with another.

There are a variety of mediums to choose from. We each have unique tastes and we begin with a curiosity to explore one of them. One person might enjoy molding clay, another plays with paints and yet another loves words. Experimenting and experiencing are the best teachers. When was the last time you attended an art exhibit? When was the last time you listened to classical music during dinner? Have you always wanted to take a photography class? On a sunny day, picture this–you, watercolors, a paint brush and canvas sitting in the backyard giving yourself permission to come out and play. For today, why not place a vase of your favorite flowers on the kitchen table? See what opens up for you and those who live with you. The artist in you is longing for recognition.

Enjoy!

Writers, Rabbit Holes and Curiouser and Curiouser

My watercolor version of Sir John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland (in the attic)

Alice of Wonderland fame had a curious nature.  Falling down a rabbit hole probably wasn’t brilliant.  However, it lead her into a fictitious world, one that Lewis Carroll fabricated brilliantly.  Was it a political parody?  A not so subtle way to expose and mock the then current political climate in England?  Was it only a fantasy, a child’s tale?  To be taken at face value?

Regardless, writers are curious beings.  They pursue various white rabbits in their quest for a story.  They research and sniff things out.  They discover, uncover, unearth, expose and bring things to light to share with their readers.  Ha!  Curiosity, it has been said, keeps one young.  The exploration can lead you into all sorts of encounters.  However, if it’s a white rabbit that you meet, you might be careful about who you tell.

In my childhood, the oft repeated phrase was “Children are meant to be seen and not heard.”  What clever person invented that one?  Asking questions and having a questing nature is how we discover and learn about the world that we’re born into.  The autocratic family system in which I grew up disallowed individual thinking and discouraged asking questions.  You were served what you were served and it was for your own good–you best swallow it in its entirety.  Some of my siblings chafed under this rule and were given the strap.  Others went into denial… ‘everything is fine’.  And then, the belief that everyone lived like this seemed true.  There wasn’t a lot of connection with the outside world.  Isolation is important in this type of system.  

It takes awhile, after one leaves such a home, to feel safe enough to express yourself freely.  It takes awhile to even realize what your own thoughts are.  But when you begin to come out from under the veils of fear and trauma, you start to notice things around you that just aren’t right.  And  your questions rise to the surface.  If you feel safe enough, you pursue those questions with an avidness, a rising hunger, a quest for your own truth in the midst of a world in chaos.  So, your early childhood, in a sense has trained you to recognize the non-sense that much of the world is buying into.  You have insight into the fragmentation, the separation, the isolation, the not seeing what is really going on (i.e. the elephant in the living room).  When your experiences take you into situations where questions aren’t encouraged, you have a nose for something isn’t right here.  

What I’m noticing is that there are many people across the planet who don’t question the status quo.  I witness how we continue allowing atrocities, warmongering, class differences, economic stratification, ageism, sexism, racism–all those ism’s.  And then there are those who do question, thankfully.  Climate change is real…do we stick our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise or do we roll up our sleeves and head into the fray and see if we can learn from the wiser elders, the indigenous ones, those who love the earth?  

No one person can address all the inequities by themselves.  I wonder what might happen if you or I or anyone chooses one thing to be curious about, to study and learn about?  At some point, you might feel the desire to share what you’ve learned.  At times, you could feel inspired to speak with newfound authority on  your topic of choice.  You might be inclined to educate others from that place of passionate awareness

One thing!  One thing only to be curious about and to explore.  What would you choose?

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?