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?

Aha’s: Part Two–You’re Not Alone

We got married at age 19! We had been married for seven years. Our daughter was five years old. My immature husband had tugs towards freedom. He didn’t want to be married anymore. He never discussed his unhappiness or yearnings–one day, he just announced that he was leaving. In shock, I begged him not to go. Couldn’t we possibly work things out? Why didn’t he talk to me about his longings? But then, he talked so little. He was after all, a macho man who heroically kept his feelings and thoughts to himself. I remember dramatically falling to the ground and grabbing his leg as he tugged me across the kitchen floor. That was it! He was gone! And there was nothing I could do about it. I had no idea where he was going. He left no way to contact him.

That night, I cried into my pillow as my daughter slept in the room next to mine. The next day, one of my brothers came to stay with me, sleeping on the living room sofa. I had to get my bearings, figure out what I was going to do. We had bought our little fixer-upper house at a “steal” so our mortgage was reasonable. I could manage the payments with support from him. But I couldn’t think straight. My mind was going in a roundabout–what had I done wrong? Why did he leave us, me? Was I really on my own? How could I be a single mom? I wasn’t prepared for this. My mom had stayed with my dad through every sort of hell. Aren’t we bred to stay in a marriage no matter what?

After a week or so, I told my brother to go home. “I’m going to have to make it on my own sooner or later,” I said. “I might as well start now.” That first night, I got my daughter to bed at the usual time. The long evening was ahead of me. I was emotionally exhausted. I thought I might as well call it a day also. The bed faced the doorway to the kitchen–it was an old house probably built in a hurry, without a hallway. I remember lying there, crying. I said in a muffled voice, “I’m alone, I’m so alone.”

In that precise moment, I felt the most calming presence. It seemed to be present in the doorway, although invisible. It spoke clearly, yet without a voice: “You’re not alone.” The sense of calm deepened. I felt no fear. I fell into a deep and restful sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I knew what I needed to do and I proceeded in that direction.

A week or so later, my ex-husband came back. My intuition said, “Don’t take him back. He needs to grow up.” My upbringing said “You need a husband, a man. You can’t be a woman on her own.” I let him return and life got very difficult after that. He became a raging alcoholic and I stayed through it all until our two daughters were grown and left home. You can be married and feel the loneliest when there isn’t open communication…or love.
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The message “You’re not alone,” held my hand through many a lonely time after I finally left my marriage. Sometimes, I try to recreate the experience and that calm feeling that accompanied it. At the beginning of winter, lessening of light and shorter days, I can slip into an existential loneliness. Sensing into this existential feeling, I began to realize that loneliness is a human condition and it’s also not true.

On one such wintry evening, I was working on a painting of a polar bear. I couldn’t quite capture something as I painted. I stopped and sat down with my pen and paper.

“It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
the stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting does anyone care?”

In that poetic moment, my own loneliness joined with a polar bear out there in the frozen wilds, alone on an ice floe watching his world melt. What was to become of him? My loneliness met with what I perceived as his loneliness. I was immediately less lonely. I was part of something larger than my small self in my little cottage. I was part of this earthly home, connected to that polar bear, to all of life.

When I can fully grasp that I’m not alone, I invoke that deep calm.
“You’re not alone.” Those words resonated with me then, and they do today.

Follow Your Mind

Practicing presence isn’t as easy as you think. I was given a challenge to focus on one thing for an hour.

This day in early November, I had a no particular plan but many possible options to choose from. I chose to work on a knitting basket of incomplete projects for one hour. I moved a little table to the back porch. I made myself comfortable on the sunny back porch with a cup of yerba mate tea. It felt rather decadent to devote this time to a single task. Settling in, I realized I didn’t have the directions in the basket to make the knitted rosette. Ah, they were nearby and easy to retrieve. Settling in again on the back porch, I thought it would be good to set a timer so that I wouldn’t miss a 3:00 p.m. appointment. I got up to do that. Returning to my spot, I noticed a plant that needed attention…pruned a few leaves and gave it some water.

Now where was I? Beginning to knit my rosette, right. I noticed a car driving through the back alley as I refocused on the knitting in front of me. My thoughts shifted to my oldest daughter, age 42, and with a learning disability. A sudden concern followed by a feeling of anger. What’s my role here? Remembering that she’s an adult in charge of her own life with her own helpers, guides and angels. Back to what’s my part here? To be myself with her and allow her to be herself with me! There’s nothing wrong and no one to fix. Urgh.

Back to knitting, warm sun on my face and arm. Cast on 66 sts. I wonder how long it takes to complete a rosette. The wind outside shakes leaves off the fruit trees. Should I get a cookie from the freezer to go with my tea? Did I leave Cee’s box of cookies in the car? I haven’t had the satisfaction of uninterrupted knitting in a very long time. I’ve got to send a card to Nan! Then, I don’t want to be anywhere else right now.

What would it be like to continually find respite in each and every moment? Like sinking into life without resistance? Repetitive motions, warm afternoon sun, sleepy reverie. Purl one row, knit one row, purl one row, yawn. Stand. Stretch. The mailman hasn’t come. What if I could notice all thoughts as neutrally as that one thought? Aha, the mailman just came, leaving two packages which I save to open later. A wave of sadness, a desire to take a time out of my life and do what? I notice a pain in my left knee; the neighbor’s barking dog. I want to defrost a cookie. I take two cookies from the freezer. Thirty minutes left. Time is getting short. A bird’s tweet. Mind wanders to a caption on a painting I happened to see earlier–“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” I notice how I like some thoughts and others, I don’t like. Is the goal not to get snagged by any of them? I should take a B vitamin. Return to presence with activity at hand. It takes a while to settle down and settle in. Being present with someone or something is to give the best of myself. It helps to do things that make me feel settled inside, like knitting this rosette. Giving quiet presence feels important. I have awareness of this but seldom do it or allow it. I’m used to fragmentation and doing things piecemeal. A little time for this or that, scattered energy. Annoyance. Dissatisfaction. Thoughts veer to the next thing on the to-do-list and the next.

Puffy white clouds, blue sky, sun. I miss having my good old friend to talk with although the other part–the unruly angst between us wasn’t worth it or was it? Could we have grown through it? The porch turns cold as clouds cover the sun. What would it be like to be minding my own affairs and allowing others to mind theirs?

There’s the timer! One hour to knit a rosette! Anger when I get into someone else’s business. Back off. I finish off the rosette. Sometimes, I like being a stranger somewhere. Sometimes, I like anonymity. I like anonymity or just being new to a place, new to people–just passing through.

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Is there a moral to this one-hour of focused attention. I notice how I sit somewhere and go anywhere and what thoughts trigger me. Am I open to what I’m seeing following this exploration? I see that attention moves quickly. To bring attention to what is present is a real practice. Am I gone or present to every thing that comes into my life? When am I most present? What holds my attention?
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Have you ever followed your mind? What did you experience?

Put the Kettle On

This snowy morning, I rise and one of the first things that I do is to put the kettle on. I had the fleeting thought that people throughout time and in present time likely do the same thing. Whether it’s placed on an electric or gas burner, on a campfire, on a woodstove or whichever, I’m sharing a tradition that people have done ever since the discovery of fire!

“Honey, put the kettle on.” Sometimes that translates to a coffee maker or an electric teapot. However, it signifies a ritual that we share and understand cross-culturally and around the globe. It’s a unifying ritual.

In the morning, this morning, I take my cup of tea and return to bed, placing the teacup on the nightstand beside the bed. I place my notepad on the pillow on my lap. I take a smooth writing gel pen and I write. I write to clear a space. I write freely anything that comes to mind, the pen to the page. Expressing something in this way moves stuck energy. It doesn’t involve a thought process. This and my morning cup of tea are helpful and healthy morning rituals.

Any feelings that rise, I give them recognition as Rumi suggests in one of his poems, The Guest House.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
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This morning, I feel a low-grade anger and wonder if anyone else wakes up with this feeling. I don’t want to analyze it, only recognize that it’s there. Gently. With my pen, I catch the thread of feelings, the inner unrest and pen them to this paper. The paper has become the container over the years for that which puzzles, troubles or tantalizes me. The paper–the scads of journals collected over the years, my personal texts–the sacred texts that chronicle this woman’s inner and outer pilgrimage. There is a certain irony…I want to write a book. These cumbersome and unwieldy journals tell my story. It has been harrowing, wending, winding, convoluted, gone forwards, backwards and sideways, inward, outward and upside down.

My confidantes, these journals when none others can be so present and non-judging. Gratitude for writing, for the journal and for today.
So, that is sometimes the way I begin my day. I do love beginnings.

I wished the mailman a Happy New Year yesterday.
He said “We’ll see.”
I said “I guess that we will.”
He answered: “Let’s see what unfolds.”
I agreed…”and then flow with it.”

So happy new year to my readers. May your new year unfold in a loving way. May you find the rituals that support your being. And may we discover more unifying rituals across the earth.

What are you feeling?

Things are scrambled.  There is disorientation.  My brother in San Francisco doesn’t drive.  He relies on buses.  The buses are running but it’s always a risk.  Who else is going to be on the bus?  What are their personal habits of cleanliness and responsibility towards others?  He can’t get to his usual places to shop for the food he usually eats.  He is eating more canned food.  His health is suffering.  He isn’t getting the exercise he normally gets.  He lives alone, is a social being and feels cut off from his connections.  His lifestyle has been severely curtailed.  He lives minimally with a small carbon footprint.  Even with that, this is rough.

After a recent conversation with him, I felt sad.  I told him that he needed to eat healthy.  That much he could do for himself.  The stores where he usually shops are over-crowded making him less likely to shop there.  I told him he could have fresh produce delivered.  Regardless, he is down-hearted by everything that is going on right now.  Living in San Francisco, he feels the impact more than I do where I live.  Less freedom of motion.  His is one story among many…one good reason for kindness towards one another.

Expressive.1

This face came about from what I was feeling in the moment.  The words that I wrote  were:

There is so much that is going on that is challenging for many at this time.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.  An ongoing sadness and simultaneously, an awareness of the extreme beauty that surrounds us.  Concern for self and family and community, the world–the earth.  Humans haven’t lived softly on this planet.  Why have we distanced from the earth who sustains us?  There are so many questions hovering in the air.  I like to think that where there’s a question, nearby is an answer.  We have to pay attention–become conscious of the feedback that we are receiving from the earth and her other creatures.  We aren’t alone in this.  Why do we forget?

Then, yesterday, sitting in my tiny garden in the backyard, leaning into the uncertainty, a little hummingbird settled nearby, framed in a wire rectangle of the fenced enclosure.  It visited for an indeterminate time and we studied one another.  The rarity of such an experience always feels like an honoring.

This painting is a reminder to not run away from your feelings.  As they arise, do acknowledge them, embrace them, sit with them, be patient with yourself through them.  It is in this state of acceptance and bringing comfort to them that they are recognized and eased.  Have you noticed that?

In the midst of uncertainty, some things feel right with the world.  We look for those things.

Take good care.

Gazing

This painting feels like something we’re getting accustomed to as we shelter at home.  It’s such a challenging time for many of us, each for our own reasons.

I call it Gazing…living in the mountains when the snow is heavy on the road and there really is no place you can go, you look out from the inside.  The snowplow hasn’t come and you can’t get your car out of the garage.  Time fades away…what day is it, what time of day?  Where was I supposed to be?  This might be comparable to some of the feelings that you’re having now.

The painting is mixed media.  It began as a copycat painting following the style of the Japanese artist, Yoshiro Tachibana.  I love his art!

Over time, this painting morphed into something that made it more my own.  An online artist/teacher invited us to look at other contemporary artists and to choose one of their paintings to inspire our own art.  It was fun for me to emulate his style…and challenging.  I had difficulty getting the window frame looking correct.  And her hands, and elbow…the candle sitting on the ledge.  Afterwards, I set the piece aside as it felt like it didn’t belong to me.  A year later, I revisited the painting and made it mine with collage and whimsy.

 

Gazing.

As a beginning painter, studying the art of other artists, copying is a way of learning about colors that work together, the placement of objects and other creative design details.  Through initial imitation, you can then branch off into your own style.

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Find a contemporary artist whose art you like.  Choose a piece and copy it to the best of your ability.  Spend time with it.  Don’t rush it.  Walk away, return, walk away.  Once you feel satisfied (not looking for perfection here), stylize it to make it more your own.

Always, always give credit to the original artist.  

Being in the Creative Stew

Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?”  or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”

The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew!  For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on.  Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings.  “What?  What?”  I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.

I have been known to call this the “fertile void”.  Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed.  Inwardly, I churn.  I feel discomfort.  An inner edginess.  And resistance too.  All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?”  Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.

When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step.  They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing.  Flat out, nothing.  Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out.  When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief.  “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place.  It looks like there is no forward movement.  How long is it going to last?  Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??

At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively.  The impasse is in place.  Do something to take your mind off of it.  Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at.  Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.

Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing.  Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor.  Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.”  or “I appreciate your sensitivity.  It comes through in your poetry.”  During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is.  Sometimes, a direction presents  in a dream.  You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.

Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it.  We ride it out.  We trust.  The flow returns.

threefaces.1

 

Where the Green Ants Dream

A few weeks ago, I watched this 1984 film directed by Werner Herzog.

 

It touched me deeply.  Afterwards, I had no one with whom to discuss the film and all that it brought up for me.

Sometimes, putting my thoughts and feelings into a poem helps.

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Some days a sad gloom
descends
and the cello sounds like
melancholy
the sky is gray and
cloudy
Then I remember
again
that I miss you.

Last night, I watched
a Werner Herzog film,
Where the Green Ants Dream.
Aboriginal Australians
in opposition to
the mining company
blasting explosives
searching for what?
The green ants of
this sacred part of the desert
would be forced to move
taking with them the dreamscape
where the future of the peoples
is dreamed into being.

And I thought where the heck are you?
I need to talk to you about this.
My own thoughts are noisy and circular.
They make me dizzy with their roundabout.
You would challenge or agree, but at least
it wouldn’t be only me in reaction
to the air.

I wanted to ask you if you think we have
a good purpose here…the white folks?
If we are orchestrating our own doom
or if there is hope for us
If the planet and all of
its inhabitants would be saved?
Or would we be the lemmings
we seem to be?

Would you agree with
what the tribal elder said–
that we are we asking the stupid questions?
The ones we formulate with our small minds
the minds that aren’t inclusive.
The it’s-all-about-me mind,
the consumption-oriented mind.
I’d like to talk to you about this
before it’s too late.

Do we consider ourselves to be more
advanced
because we crafted these complex
systems?  Identified, classified, named things?
The very systems that distance us
further from nature, the earth and our origins?

Why can’t we be satisfied with not knowing,
with the mystery?

Are you hiding now
within that same mystery?

In the New Year

2020 feels auspicious.  In the mountains, we are expecting snow and rain, that wintry mix.  I am appreciating winter for a good winter promises an abundant spring.  These days, I am also grateful for the inward time that winter proffers.  Did I use that word correctly?

A little poem, a couplet, that I came across in one of my journals:

A bed of earth below which lays
a startle of forceful green relays
the message that beneath tamped earth
there is the promise of rebirth.

 

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I’ve been painting again.  I wasn’t painting for awhile.  I’ve been grieving three intimate losses in a ten month period.  You might know that grief is it’s own country.  When you go there, everyday life takes on a different sheen.

Anyway, this painting began with a large sheet of watercolor paper (18″ x 24″).  I wrote down my feelings about grief.  Then, surprisingly, emerging from this came my version of “Puss n’ Boots.”  See below.

Blessings to everyone as we go forth.

pussn'boots3

The Gold in Your Journals

You witness your daily life experiences on the pages of your journal.  You share your reflections, fears, hopes and dreams.  Your feelings of the moment.  Your encounters, reactions and more.  This journal is not only a confidante, it is the keeper of your records.  As a journalist, you follow yourself around with pen and pad writing down the details of your experience(s) firsthand!  You describe place, person, thing, incident, occasion, a vista, your own feelings, reactions, goofiness.  You write down dialogue and phrases caught on the wind in a cafe.  You really don’t skimp on writing down these details.  They could be useful in your blog, a book, an essay, a poem, whatever.

Your powers of recall are amazing.  But what you recall is typically a feeling or an image, sometimes a smell.  You don’t remember the specific details, the exact feeling, the precise colors, your immediate reaction or the words of a conversation or your thought process.  As was noted in an earlier blog, it is through the image details that your writing rises out of the ordinary into the authentic and believable.  Writers paint word pictures.  Therein lies the gold in your well-kept journals.

Excerpt from an earlier journal…

“Once you lose the ability to speak, you really appreciate it,” my father slurred following a stroke.     (Having been a girl and woman without a voice for most of my life, I thought but didn’t say–tell me about it)

He tried to recite a poem Elegy in a Country Churchyard.  I couldn’t understand a single word of it!

My mother wore his yellow bathrobe, his watch on her wrist.  His wallet was in the bathrobe pocket with two medications that he was taking.  Like a high-schooler wearing her boyfriend’s lettered sweater.

When the doctor mentioned the question of life supports, her face screwed up as she tried not to cry.

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I wouldn’t have remembered these details had I not written them in my journal.  As a writer, have you mined the gold in your journals?