Having Her Own Thoughts

The conversations between Daniel and myself were happening simultaneously to a great deal of drama around my parents who were in their final years. Family disruption, conflict, guilt, sorrow, continued abuse of my mom, breakdowns of my dad, struggles with siblings. This all entered into my conversations with Daniel in some way. I confided some of the ongoing story to him.

When a woman is in a relationship where she is being dominated, where she is fearful, where she can’t speak truthfully, she disconnects from her soul self, her true self. She lives outside of herself in other words.

I confided in Daniel that we brought my mother to safety, away from my father who was starving her. We put her in a safe place, a care home with eight other residents. She was there for six months while he wrangled with the administrators and social services, trying to get her back home. My mother was an invalid in a wheelchair at this time and totally dependent. My sister and I visited her regularly. She was always glad to see us as she adapted to this whole new world away from my father. My mother’s eyes lit up when one or both of us entered the room. When we asked my mother a question, we noted how she had to really stop and consider for awhile before she answered. She wasn’t accustomed to speaking for herself. My father typically answered for her or she looked to him for a nod of approval before she spoke. Now, here she was after sixty something years of marriage, called upon to find her own answers. It was fascinating, really, to wait patiently for her to decide what it was she wanted or felt or needed. My sister and I, over a six month period, noticed a certain newfound empowerment arising in her.

In a way, as my mother was remembering herself, my sister and I were discovering her for the first time. My father was able to talk to her on the phone and he tried to influence her through this connection. However, he wasn’t right there in the room. He couldn’t use his icy stare or body language to subdue her. For the first time in many years, she had a sense of safety. And perhaps, a feeling of freedom.

Two other sisters had power of attorney over my parents and, after six months, they decided to reunite our parents in another care home. I was opposed to this as I knew that the same patterns of the cycle of abuse would return. And they did. Old patterns die hard.

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For my mother to have her own thoughts and to finally have a small opening in which to speak them was also true for me to a different degree in the conversations with Daniel. My childhood had been one of being voiceless and invisible and not feeling safe. This carried over into my marriage. Now, with Daniel, I had an opportunity to speak to a man who had once-upon-a-time been an abusive male. A man who was consciously deepening his own self-awareness. I wasn’t going to hold back. I was going to be truthful, authentic and to have my voice heard!

I noticed that during the conversations , Daniel was sometimes so eager to speak that he would interrupt me to interject his thoughts. He is quick and when you’re that quick there is a tendency not to really settle in and listen to the other person. He was so ready with his own thoughts that he didn’t allow me to complete what I was saying frequently. It made me wonder if I was really received and heard. Perhaps not. He admitted this…he was excited about the topic and he was eager to express his thoughts and insights. There was a lack of patience on his part for the conversation to unfold at a pace that felt respectful to me and my point of view.

For someone like me with a history of an abusive father and spouse, that isn’t the best way to have a dialogue. It could shut me down. It could cause me to waiver from my own train of thought. I might fade out of the conversation. I might disappear and become voiceless and invisible once again. However, recording the conversations and making a cd for both of us to review, enabled Daniel to recognize this for himself. Between our meetings, listening to the cd, he observed that he talked too much or interrupted or was overbearing. He vowed to be more conscious of that. Even with the best of intentions, Daniel mostly was true to form and carried on in the same way throughout.

Having the cd served me also in that before the next meeting, I listened and wrote down my questions and observations and was able to interject my thoughts and insights with great presence and persistence the following week. In retrospect, I viewed this less as an opposition and more of an opportunity for both of us. I also considered that Daniel and I would take away from these conversations what we each needed.

Symbol of Woman’s Emancipation

I learned to ride a bicycle when I was about twelve years old. I rode my bike around the neighborhood in the Sunset District in San Francisco where I grew up. I didn’t travel very far or wide. I had six younger siblings and a lot of household responsibilities. In her late forties, my mother got a bike as a birthday present. It was maroon-colored and called Indian Princess. It seemed somehow exotic to me. My father put training wheels on it; my mother never took them off. It never left the garage.

When I married at age 19 and moved to southern California, I wanted a bike but my young husband didn’t agree. After I had my first daughter, I pictured myself riding through the flat neighborhood of Lemon Grove Estates with her in a bike seat behind me. Again, my husband thought I was being frivolous.

For a long time after that, I thought that I had outgrown bicycles…that I was now too mature to ride a bike. The notions that we have. At 36-years old, I bought myself a Schwinn mountain bike for women…blue, shiny, sturdy, I took up bike-riding. I rode around San Francisco. I never did get a helmet although I would advise my younger self to wear one now. I rode from Daly City, partway around Lake Merced, down Sloat Boulevard to Great Highway beside Ocean Beach. Along the Great Highway past the Sunset and Richmond Districts, then up into Golden Gate Park. Past Queen Wilhelmina’s Windmill and tulip gardens. Up through the park to ninth avenue and the Big Wreck Baseball Field…and then back again. This became a regular route for me.

I brought my bike with me when I moved to Mt. Shasta. I thought I’d ride it often. I rode it sometimes, but rarely. Mostly, it’s been in storage. When polled recently to see what their most valuable possession was women responded…their car keys. I would agree with that. However at one time, the bicycle was a symbol of freedom for women. It changed fashion and gave them mobility at a time when they were definitely constrained.

“One hundred years ago, Alice Hawkins, a suffragette, cycled around Leicester promoting the women’s rights movement, causing outrage by being one of the first ladies to wear pantaloons in the city. During the fight to win the vote the bicycle became not only a tool but also a symbol for the emancipation of women.”

The American civil rights leader, Susan B Anthony, wrote in 1896:

“I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood.”

This little collage turned into a woman riding a bicycle.

A Reckless Moment

Thank God for the reckless moment in painting.  I am in process with a piece.  Although I’m in motion, the painting is feeling forced.  Who am I trying to please here?  What god am I being obedient to?  The one who is too cautious?  The one who wants to be certain that others will approve?  The one who is critical?  The one who demands perfection?

Then, an abandon of sorts enters.  I swipe my brush across the canvas and a whole new direction is created.  It’s a must…to follow that reckless moment.  Once, in such frustration, I took black and white and squiggled lines across the canvas and left the painting overnight.  The next day, emerging from this chaos was the form of a tiger!  I brought her forth and voila, a whole new painting than was originally intended.

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That’s where the magic is.  When I become too precious about something in the painting, I try to preserve it and work around it.  But then, something else isn’t working.  The freedom for the piece to become what it truly wants to be is sacrificed to save this portion of the painting.

It’s like in writing, you’ve written a line or a paragraph that you think is absolutely brilliant.  The seasoned writer is going to tell you to toss it!  Yes, toss it because now it has become a block to the real writing that wants to come.  Don’t you hate that!?!?

For some reason, when I’m grappling with this inner unrest, I don’t recognize that this is a stage of the creative process.  I forget this almost every single time.  I want this painting to be finished.  I want to be satisfied.  I want my fellow artists to approve.  I want my audience to like it.  I want to be representational in my painting.  I want…I want…I want…

Then, the surrender once again to what is being asked of me.  Go wild.  Be reckless.  Forget the false gods that you have been trying to appease.  Abandon the old constraints and allow the next steps to unfold.  As has been said, be in the flow.

Paint Whimsy

When a painting asserts itself, there is no fighting with it.  Let it come forward.  As far-fetched or unrealistic, other-worldly or alien as it might be…let it come forward.  Are those antennas on top of her head?  Sobeit then.  She gets to have antennas.  The subconscious gets to have her field day.  The artist obeys.

That’s what I’m feeling when I look at this painting today.  I can’t remember my exact state of being when she presented herself.  Or what was going on in my life at the time.  Her expression captivates me today.  I think it’s because she has both whimsy and looks as if what she sees is hopeful.

The caption could read “Humankind, despite their ignorance, greed and selfish ways, is going to be saved…from themselves”  Perhaps because they have enough redeeming qualities or something greater has had compassion for them.

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Then again, she could be a fairy roaming through the meadows.  What does she spy?  Some new delight!

Whoever she is, whatever part of my subconscious she arose from, I’m sure there is more.  Yours too!  What’s hiding in there?  In you?

The thing about whimsical art is that in creating it, there is freedom for the artist.  She/he doesn’t have to measure up to any other standards of fine art.  The artist gets to be surprised as a painting evolves.  She is open to whoever shows up on the canvas.  And whatever direction it wants to go.  She experiments–for that is what play is.  It is serious business, this type of play.

So don’t delay, get down to the business of play!  What might you discover?

Sonnet Two

Not that we shouldn’t desire more
of that which feeds the hungering soul
for such yearning, it seems, opens the door
as we stare out upon a distant knoll.

“Comfortable complacency” is fine
–we all need pauses in our quest for more–
Grateful for the banquet on which we dine
fingers laced, beside the fireplace, shut the door.

But when the bell tolls the eleventh hour
mustn’t we from our sedentary rise?
Step into our uncomfortable power–
this before our comforts become a vise.

The hungering soul feasts on freedom.
Quick!  They are capturing the kingdom.

 

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I wrote this poem a couple of years ago and again tried to merge poetry with imagery.  I’m not really pleased with the painting…but I think the message is current.  Truly, it doesn’t seem like we can hide behind our “comfortable” doors any longer although we mostly shelter in place.  I think that we are asked to be activists in a way that is true to our nature.

When any one of our freedoms is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  When our neighbor’s freedom is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  For truly, if my neighbor isn’t well-cared for by our society, then I’m affected too.  We’re in this together.

Remember, Spaceship Earth, so-named by Buckminster Fuller?  We’re all here together riding around on this very small planet.

“How can I serve?”

I frequently ask this question of myself.

 

These Times

This is truly a strange way to realize that we are united, as one.  Through a virus.  I’ve been thinking about what I want to contribute at this time, through this blog.

For now, less words and more images.  Starting with earlier paintings.  I took up the paintbrush in 2014.  Words had served me well.  Suddenly, I felt entrapped by them.  The same circle of thoughts.  I needed something different.

There was an online class called Brave Intuitive Painting taught by artist, Flora Bowley.  I think that it was five weeks long.  That was the beginning of my painting journey.  There is an abstract quality to this style of art.  And you definitely are lead by your intuition…which color, what symbol, what emphasis.

When I look back at the first paintings , I didn’t have a sense of what my style was.  For many of them, I can’t remember why I went the way I did with them.  While I don’t dislike the abstract, I seemed to always want to pull a recognizable image from the background that was emerging.

I’m going to post the art I created, one at a time, from 2016 forward.  If I can remember the prompt, I’ll share that.  I hope this uplifts you and tunes you into your own creative nature.  I want to encourage you to pick up a pen, pencil, paintbrush or use your fingers in paint and find and follow your inner creative being.  We all have one.

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This painting is called Lanterns and Fans.  It’s painted on a 12″x12″ canvas.  It was one of my first paintings to sell.  Looking at it now, I see that it is too busy.  And I would find a way to tone it down.  As with many paintings, they are best appreciated in person.  That said, any painting has an energy that comes through it.  And I do remember somewhat the space that I was in while painting this mixed media piece.  I have a feeling for some Japanese symbols, i.e., lanterns and fans.  Colors self-determined and the collage materials were sifted or cut from earlier paintings.

Because I gave myself the freedom to express myself, I think the viewer was able to tap into that sense of freedom.  And a bit of frivolity.

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Perhaps, today, you can consider some symbols that have spoken to you in your life.  The ones that you come across regularly or feel drawn to.  Take some time today, to draw them.  Draw them several times.  Repetition has a place in art.  It’s practice.  Artists practice a lot!

Freedom…

Freedom is a choice.  Is it?  Stand beside the ocean in your birthday suit.  Or walk into that floral painting .  Daffodils?  Delphiniums?  Crocus?  Lupine?  Horizon lines.  Yesterday, someone said that as artists, we are fascinated with painting horizon lines.  The sky meets the sea.  The land touches the water.  I roll in flowers in fields of forever, at least in some dreams.  If I ruled the world…every day might be the first day of spring.  That jubilant season.

Truly, in the mountains I don’t want spring to come too soon.  I want the deep cold that encourages spring flowering and summer fruiting.  I whisper to the cherry tree and the bulbs beneath the earth, if they are listening, don’t blossom too soon.  The deceit of a false spring could halt the blossoming and inhibit the bees when temperatures fall to freezing again.  I wonder if the trees can understand my language–if they know I care.  Do they witness my own wishy-washiness when it comes to not using plastic?

Is this a fantasy that I’m living?  Is this reality a tiny wedge (Kathy would ask “a wedge of cheese”) in an orgasmic universe?  I want to say omniverse although I’m not sure why.  Is that what the big bang means–one giant orgasm that sprung the worlds into being?  Can I say that here?  Freedom to write what I want, to have my own secular thoughts.  The ones that were forbidden by a childhood of too little freedom with an autocratic ruler.

It occurred to me again, that I really only found my voice recently.  No wonder I save volumes of my writing.  I won’t say everything on this blog.  Some things I hold sacred, private.  Having freedom entitles one not to speak when one chooses.

Yesterday, at the lake, I noticed the sky.  The clouds were reflected in the water.  I thought I could dive into the sky.

Freedom, claiming it, takes courage especially if you’ve been oppressed.

Freedom’s close companion is responsibility.

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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.

 

 

 

Wardrobes

Moving to the mountains of northern California twenty years ago, a re-wilding has occurred.  There has been subtle permission to become more of who I am.  One obvious change has been to my wardrobe.  When I first moved here, my closet was filled with the clothing I wore while working in downtown San Francisco.  It soon became obvious that these clothes were not practical for life in the mountains. I had a fondness for some of these tailored clothes–the neatly pleated fuschia skirt.  The black belt with the gold and silver cranes intertwined on the wide buckle.  The knee-high boots with a slight heel–a bit of cool esteem.  The black and white checked tailored suit paired with the raw silk blouse.  The fitted, stylish dresses in my favorite colors–turquoise, deep red, navy blue with polka dots, a few soft pastels–each one fit a mood of the day.  Some were concealing, others modestly revealing.

These clothes didn’t come out of the closet once I moved to Mount Shasta!  Each year, I shed more of them.   They were traded for practical and comfortable jeans and tee-shirts.  I searched for the best hiking boots or running shoes–comfort and hardiness are everything.  In the winter, it becomes about layering.  I ordered silk leggings and tops.  Long-sleeved cotton shirts, wool sweaters and vests.  Waterproof outerwear, down jackets.   I didn’t miss trading nylon stockings for the sturdy cotton, and wool sock blends.  I knitted myself a few hats that I could tug down over my ears, and scarves wrapped up under my chin.  Mittens, a variety as, like socks, there was often one missing.    Of course, come summer, all of this was shed for the comfort of light cotton and less is more as the temperature rises into the 90’s or 100’s.  A serviceable swimsuit for dunking in one of the many lakes.

I wonder, Do clothes make the woman?  Or, am I being tailored by my environment?

Living in the mountains brings out an inherent spirit of adventure that had been dormant.  Where does this trail lead?  And that one?  What hidden lake is waiting for me to discover it?  The falling in love with where I live.  The beauty that lures me.  The trail that winds and I wonder what’s around the next curve, up that hill, over that ridge…I must follow.

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I encountered this bear on a river trail a few days ago.  We were a comfortable distance apart as he posed for a few photos.

For the love of collage–embracing the irregular

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Semi-Wild Collage by Christine O’Brien 2018

What is it to me?  Laying down bits and pieces of scrap paper and then, being open to what emerges from chaos. In the initial stages of collaging, there is little direction.  I might have a theme in mind…or not.  I might choose a color scheme…or not.  I might lay down only words–upside down, right side up, sideways, any which way…or not.  Patterns?  Drama?  Comedy?  What wants to be conveyed?  Show me as I go.

I started with my painted purple elephant.  I printed her out in three different sizes realizing that I had a 6×6-inch birchwood panel to work with.  It was like the Goldilocks’ story…the first elephant was too big, the second one too small…the third elephant was “just right.”

I had a stack of mandalas that I’d drawn and painted a few years ago.  Sorting through, I gravitated towards patterns with stripes and dots, some words, shades of purple and magenta.  After placing and gluing the torn papers down, I collaged on the elephant.  I noticed the woman’s face in the far left corner.  Her face needed a neck and then she developed into the figure. I applied acrylic paint to bring some elements of the piece forward.  At some point, I knew I it needed silver leafing. In other words, I was in conversation with the piece as it evolved.

While collage can be an odd assemblage there is a point at which I desire to bring order to chaos.  And, I want to retain the wildness, the freedom I had in creating it.  Yet, I also like something recognizable.

One thing about collaging, you learn to be comfortable with stages…there is the drying time to consider between applications.  This allows you time to step back and see what wants to be seen.  Sometimes a new direction presents.  Do you follow it or stay  with your original intention for the piece?  Do you flow in another direction or exert  your own influence?  It’s always different and without a real formula other than trusting your instincts.

Finally, I appreciate finding the integrative component…whether it is color, design or pattern–whatever it is that brings cohesiveness and completion.

Consider This:
To make art, you don’t have to have the most expensive materials.  You really only have to make yourself available to it.  The muse is there, waiting for you to SHOW UP!  Have you been saving scraps of paper?  Is it time to do something with them?