To the Places I’ve Never Been

Clutter has a way of reproducing itself it seems. Today, I ventured into the garage to continue clearing out things that I no longer need or want. I chose one plastic bin and brought it into the house. It is the bin with maps of places that I’d like to go and places where I’ve been. And it’s more than that, isn’t it. There is nostalgia for places that are no longer there–cafes, restaurants, motels, shops, etc.–the many places that were closed permanently due to the Covid virus. There is the remembrance of people I encountered along the way. There are memories of trips I took with someone, although mostly I explored alone.

I decided to make a stack of maps of places that I’d like to go. Bucket list items? There were a few stray papers that I had no trouble tossing. Then, there were the maps of places that I probably won’t visit. A rather big stack…the discarded dream trips. I’m going to package them and leave them on the newspaper stand outside of the post office. Someone is going to find them useful. I suppose I could wait and see if any of my friends might want some of them. No, at the end of the day, I want to feel like I let something go.

Within this bin, there is a surprise or two. I find a letter from an old acquaintance. It is wrapped around a pencil eraser, an emery board and artist’s blending stumps. This was given to me years before I seriously began making art. Reading the letter, I am brought back to a moment in time that I barely remember. His letter begins “Thank you for a delightful lunch in McCloud.” Apparently, I went out to lunch with this man, a gentle soul, sweet and tender. He was an enthusiastic student of life. If I remember correctly, he studied the Bhagavad Gita or some very intense and lengthy text. He delved into the deeper meanings of things and he was joyful. His name was Michael.

I had also tucked in a book published in 1999 “the Y2K Survival Guide and Cookbook,” because we wondered if 2000 was the end of the world (as we knew it)… I’m going to keep it, because, well, what do I know of the future. I found an ad for Stewart Mineral Springs. This was one of the places I relished visiting when I moved to Mt. Shasta. It was without a doubt one of heaven’s gifts to the earth. My sister, Kathryn, visited Stewart’s Springs years before I moved here. She said she felt like the Goddess herself (she was a Goddess). Draped in a flowing white sheet, descending into the Parks Creek pool, she felt transformed. Years later, I followed suit and dipped into the icy pool. It was truly a baptism of sorts surrounded by the abundant nature of this sacred site. It is now privately owned and inaccessible. A loss to the community and others.

And then there’s the article I saved on Blazing Gendered Trails, written in 1996 about groups of women gathering in the rustic outdoors to get in touch with nature…and themselves. Also, a newspaper clipping on Staying in Paris for under $90 by choosing your lodging in a less posh arrondissement. There is a whole newspaper section devoted to a Pilgrimage to the Island of Women, Isla Mujeres, a village off the Yucatan Coast. Waiting in line somewhere, I met a woman and we got to talking. By the time we reached the head of the line, she had written down her contact information and invited me to her retreat place, Gypsy’s by the Sea in Todos Santos…I wonder if she’s still there. Sifting through these articles, I am transported. Imagination is a great vehicle sometimes.

At the bottom of the bin, there is a message to me written in bold red letters:
JUST…
HAVE FUN
LAUGH
LEARN
BE YOURSELF
RELAX
TRUST GOD

…AND YOU’LL HAVE A GREAT TIME!

That sounds like good advice on living life.

Seal is too a Power Animal!

The seal as a power animal is both a land animal and a sea animal, symbolizing adaptability to the water and earth elements. Seal Energy taps into the intuitive while helping you to stay grounded. Some of the other qualities that it represents are playfulness, protection, imagination, strength, good luck, dreams and movement.

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My brother said that this seal looks “somber.” He added “…but who wouldn’t be with one’s habitat being destroyed and population dwindling.”

I told him that if he could see her in person he might think that she embodies power.

“The canvas is 24-inchesx24-inches,” I replied

He texted back, “Yes, I might have misspoken by using the word somber–maybe defiant (which could imply power) would be a better adjective.”

I texted back: “Interesting. I posted the photo on my artist page on Facebook. A friend wrote back: “He is so cute. He looks like he came out of a child’s story book. Beautifully done.”

I guess it is in how one sees it.

I didn’t plan to paint a seal. I didn’t plan to paint an animal. I mostly paint intuitively. I painted what emerged from the canvas and today, it is this seal.

I grew up by the ocean in San Francisco, CA. There was a big rock that we called Seal Rock because that’s where the seals loitered. There was a coin-operated tower viewer through which we could watch the seals as they clambered over the rock, as the waves dashed the rock, as the fog drifted in over the rock and hid it all from our sight.

According to Wikipedia

Seal Rock (or Seal Rocks) is a group of small rock formation islands in the Lands End area of the Outer Richmond District in western San Francisco, California. They are located just offshore in the Pacific Ocean, at the north end of the Ocean Beach, near the Cliff House and Sutro Baths ruins.”

As I type these words from Wikipedia, a nostalgia washes over me like a soft salty ocean wave. And then drifts across the sand into ocean’s memory. I knew these places and like the seals we grew up beside, we took them for granted. It’s often in memory that things take on a lovely patina and sometimes we linger there over the words and the images that they conjure. Lands End, Sutro Baths, Cliff House, Ocean Beach, Seal Rock–all in my backyard as we lived four blocks from Ocean Beach and The Great Highway that ran the length of the beach from the Sunset through the Richmond District. We rarely could see sunsets in the Sunset District. The fog was so thick! The foghorns played our nightly and daily lullaby.

We weren’t allowed to go to the beach on our own. As I got older, I got permission to take my younger siblings there. We walked from Moraga Street, crossed Lawton, Kirkham, then Judah where the streetcars ran. We turned down the street from 44th Avenue to 48th Avenue. At Judah and 48th, there was a tunnel which ran under the Great Highway. We ran through the tunnel, screaming, our voices echoing. The tunnel smelled of urine and the ocean. We probably ran and screamed to chase off any unsavory characters who might be lurking nearby. And then, like a light at the end of life’s tunnel, there was the ocean big, bold and vast. We were so small beside her.

When I was a young mom, I used to take my daughters to Ocean Beach and we’d sit on a cement wall gazing out to sea having our hot chocolate in thermoses with doughnuts. We would sit beside the mesmerizing ocean. The constancy of the waves, the intrusion of the foghorns, the taste of salt on our lips mixing with the bittersweet chocolate. People of all ages and sizes bundled against the cold, running, walking their dogs, walking with a companion or alone. I never really felt alone when I walked solo beside the ocean. I considered the ocean like a mother to me. Familiar and all-embracing.

Memories…a friend is writing her memoir. Mine would be wrapped in sea salt, waves, barking seals, my siblings, fog, and yearning.

This painting of a seal has taken me back in time and conjured up these memories.

Mastery of Illusion

Art is that, the mastery of illusion.  You’ve created a world on a canvas.  Can you get your audience to believe it?

When I look at my paintings, I realize that this is exactly what I’m doing.  I inhabit the canvas for awhile creating a story.  Whether it’s from an actual photo or my imagination is irrelevant.  In any painting that is being viewed, there is a sense of being transported.  If you love where you go, if you have the purchasing power, if you deeply desire recreating this experience and the concurrent feeling again and again, you buy the painting and place it in your home or office where you can see it regularly and renew the feeling that you enjoy and the illusion that it implies.

In any painting, there are things that are left to the imagination.  For example, I could paint a landscape and the viewer automatically extends the landscape beyond the canvas and sees more.  If I decide to only draw or paint a portion of the human face, the viewer completes the face in their mind’s eye.  When there is an imperfection, the human eye makes the correction in some way.  It’s interesting to witness myself doing this and to consider that you, the viewer, also do this.

lost in the woods.final

The title of this painting is Lost in the Woods.  The story is based in fact of a time when I was literally lost in the woods on the mountain.  It’s also about the ways we get lost in our own inner worlds at times, in our thoughts, in our fears, in our own self-doubt.  I created this illusion on a small substrate, a wood panel.  Your imagination takes over when you see this piece and you add to the illusion or story that I’ve initiated.  Can you find the three figures as she makes her way through the woods?

Fascinating that we embellish what we see, don’t you think?  In your own life, in what other illusions are you participating?

Adventure of Another Sort

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Making art is available to anyone!  The only vehicle you need is your imagination and a bit of daring.  I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, we are all artists.  We are all writers with a story (or more) to tell.  We are all poets because we each have a voice.  We each have an imagination.  We can engage fantasy worlds if we allow it.  And, there is value in this.

I had a special friend, now gone, with whom I could engage a sort of time travel–imagining places we’d never been, people we hadn’t met, odd creatures, other times, alternate realities, outer space, the vast universes.  We had enlivened conversations.  We wrote poetry together.  He always rhymed–it got annoying at times.  I asked him if he could try not rhyming.  I don’t think that he could.

It is true that writing, poetry and making art, whether it be painting or crafting or knitting or sculpting…these provide the means and opportunity to access deeper ways of being and seeing.  When we take the time.  When we make the time.  We give ourselves excuses that we aren’t an artist or poet or writer.  I beg to differ.  It is perhaps that we don’t dare ourselves to explore these aspects of ourselves.  Some of us have more time on our hands these days, forced as it is.  One young man has decided to systematically learn to read and write Japanese during this pandemic!  What challenge could you give yourself?  Something that you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had the time to explore.

And it is an exploration.  And it is an adventure.  It involves discovery of the inner landscape.  The one where we don’t dare go…might we not return?  There truly are universes within.  We are a reflection of the macrocosm, our little inner microcosmic world that we often overlook because we’re outward oriented.  Which is good–actually a balance between both is better.  These days, with the virus dictating our movement in the world, what an opportune time to take this journey.

Who is in there after all is said and done?  Who wants to be seen and heard, primarily by yourself?  Do you give yourself this time and space?  Are you going to make it happen?  Get a journal, write, draw, splash color, cut and paste.  Express what’s been untapped on the blank page or canvas.  It’s a good thing.  You might discover–yourself.  Begin.

What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?

butterflyfairyqueen.2018

This dear red-haired fairy with a wise and perhaps mischievous look is ready to lead you beyond the garden gate.  She has something interesting to share with you.  Are you ready to follow her?  This painting is currently on exhibit in an art show.  I love this painting and don’t intend to sell it.  There are some things that I don’t want to part with yet.

Being that my art is mostly intuitive, I consider the possibility that there is a message for me within a painting.  And perhaps it wants to be shared with others.  “What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?” could be a metaphor for us today.  What lies beyond what is familiar?  It takes courage to lean into that question.  And it takes courage to be with the not knowing.

I had a friend who went on a vision quest to East India.  He encountered block after block in his travels.  Exhausted and disheartened, he landed in a small household with an elder man and his wife.  He told the elder man of the travails on his journey.  Feeling frustration and disappointment,  he finally surrendered and said “I just don’t know how to proceed.”  The elder man smiled and said, “Ah, master Edward, you’ve reached the end of knowing.  Now you can discover something else.”  I’ve always appreciated this story.

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As a writer, poet, artist, it’s fun to engage the imagination and let a story unfold from my art.  Today, looking at this painting, I ask myself “What is the story that goes with this painting?”

Following is an excerpt from some writing I did to begin to create her story.

I followed her.  It seemed as if her feet barely touched the ground.  I lumbered along behind her, feeling a bit clumsy.  My little garden gave way to a meadow of waving wildflowers, yellows and purples puddled like splashes of paint on an expansive canvas.  I’d always felt that earth was a constant paradise.  Now, I knew it.

I caught my breath, a sudden crack in my demeanor,
“I can’t be gone long,” I said aloud.  “I’ll be missed.”

I thought to myself “probably not for weeks though.”  Living alone, an artist living alone, leads a somewhat solitary life.  I just wanted to reassure myself, to assert myself to her that I had connections.  So I definitely needed to be returned to where we started from before too long.

Then, curiosity overtook me and I followed quietly losing any sense of time.  My senses were heightened.  Sight was crystal clear.  In fact, my glasses seemed an unnecessary annoyance.  I took them off and slipped them in the pocket of my shirt.

She had wings. Did I mention that?  And red hair, not ordinary red hair, electric red hair!  And she wore a hat like nothing I’d ever seen walking down the streets of Brisbane, California.  It was sort of conical or maybe like an Egyptian headpiece.  It suited her.  I called out before I could stop myself.

“Who are you?”

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Story-writing is fun.  You don’t sit down with an outline (or at least I don’t).  You are guided by your imagination, whimsy, flow of creative thought, perhaps, in this case–the fairy realm.

If you want to take your art to another level, study your painting and let it inform you as you give it voice.

Why not?  Have fun.  Then share it with someone you trust or someone you think would appreciate it…or perhaps really needs this story at this time.

The Ugly Stage

When painting a portrait…you soon arrive at THE UGLY STAGE!  That is when your mettle as an artist is tested.  You don’t see how you can possibly convert this ugly piece into a thing of beauty.  This is the time–you’ve been working on this for awhile already–when you want to walk away and abandon the piece.  It’s hard to imagine something
“pretty” coming out of this.

That said, experience has taught you that this is only a stage.  Stay with it.  Don’t give up too soon.  So you go forward in conversation with the piece to see what’s next. Then, what follows that?  You step back and then forward and bring this being forth to become who she is determined to be.

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Sometimes, often or always, there is a message in a painting.  The artist may have a clue  before she begins painting.  Then again,  it could emerge during her process with a piece.  Blending words with art is often an intriguing way of stating the message.  The word that sits in the lower right corner of the piece is “STORY.”  Like each one of us, the subject of this painting has a story to tell.  While we may not have a sense of her exact story, we get the idea that she has a depth of experience.  Those eyes convey something.  The mouth, neither smiling nor smirking, shows determination.  There is character in her chin…and so on.

If she were the heroine of your short story, who would she be?  That’s the thing about art, each person views a piece and then their imagination begins to conjecture a story.  We do that when we meet someone new also.  “Who are you?”  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  Then our judgments and old information come in and create a story before we even really know who we’ve actually met.  Interesting that we do this.  Make up stories all of the time.

Mermaids II

If I were a mermaid living in the ocean, I’d be angry with humans.  The ocean is, afterall, my home.  I want my environment to be pristine.  For myself and all the variety of wondrous sea creatures who also live here.  When my environment is polluted by the ignorance and greed of humans, well I can’t just get up and walk away, can I?  The integral relationship of the ocean with the moon and our ecosystem that keeps things “working” is being drastically damaged by destructive human activities.  Witnessing the devastation that humans have wreaked on my home, I’m wondering what I can do to wake them up!

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As we get more and more distanced from nature, we are going to feel the effects.  Because, as John Muir has said, “Nature includes us!”

As sophisticated as we might think we are, as much as we think we’ve conquered nature and that we are civilized above and beyond the natural world…that’s false thinking.  We are nature, nature is us.  We have a biology and so does the earth and the sea and the whole ecology in which we are included.  I’m likely preaching to the choir here!

This mermaid reminds me of a warrioress.  She is both tender and tough when necessary.  She is ready to go to battle for her home, the ocean.

mermaid.1

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In 1995, an amazing film was released, The Secret of Roan Inish.  The music was haunting, the scenery enchanting, the acting authentic and the story–magical and mythological.  This is where I first heard of “the Selkie.  And, I feel that the sea is portrayed as a character itself.  Effective personification!

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The phrase “If I were” is a good way to begin writing.  Especially when you’re feeling stuck…”If I were…”  Those three little words open the door to imagination and possibility.  Go ahead, WRITE!

The Point of Inspiration…the Opening

How do you begin a short story?  It helps to have a good idea, one that has sparked your own curiosity and imagination.

Sometimes, as in this case, it can start with a class assignment.  Several years ago, a writing instructor offered this prompt…Write about a secret revelation.  Does that get your imagination going?  It did for me.

At the time, I had become fascinated by the spires of Bryce Canyon (having come across a photo of them in a magazine).  That seemed like a good opening, a starting place.  And, perhaps, a good way to capture my reader’s attention.

The Point of Inspiration (in 3 parts)
© by Christine O’Brien

     She was either to blame or to be credited for his secret passion.  It was certainly a fate of sorts, meeting her below the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

Pointing upwards and to the east, she handed him her binoculars, saying “That’s Inspiration Point.”

And then, in a quick breath almost inaudible, “Do I inspire you?”

“What did you say?” he asked shaking his head as if he had water in his ears.

Swiftly, she changed the subject “Have you been here before?”

“Never,” he answered.

“How about I be your tour guide for the day?  I know these spires like, like…”

“…the back of your hand,” he offered.

“I was looking for an original metaphor,” she said.  “I hate cliches.”

“Cliche or otherwise, I’m all yours,” he said, noting her muscled calves and tall sturdy frame, a spire herself he found himself momentarily thinking in metaphors.

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Does this opening make you curious to know more?  About the characters?  About where this story is going?  How is it going to lead to a secret revelation?  If it has caught your interest, then, it’s done what was intended.  It has hooked you as the reader.

 

 

Writing About Yourself in Third Person

Over the years, she had a variety of interests. bakeoffcookbook1965
Baking and cooking “from scratch” lead her to
gourmet cooking for her family and friends.
She enjoyed preparing a few ethnic dishes
–enchiladas with red chile sauce,
chicken tamales; Asian soups and stir-fry;
her mother’s Spaghetti and Meatballs.  One year,
facing into another cold and snowy winter
in the mountains, she tried her hand at
Eastern Indian fare.

 

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Writing about yourself in third person, as if you were your own fictional character, is an exercise we’ve looked at in an earlier blog.  You know your history, quirks, qualities, likes and dislikes.  With all of that background information, you can readily fictionalize yourself…put yourself in a circumstance and consider your reactions based on what you know of yourself.

You can apply this same type of exploration when it comes to your fictional characters, the ones that your imagination has conjured.

Giving your character a DOSSIER enables you to write a character with believability. Before you put your character in a situation, don’t you think that you, as the writer, should have that omniscient author’s privilege of knowing them fully? In order to effectively write this character(s) it is necessary to understand where they’ve come from, what their motivations are, what they are distressed by, how they dress, who and what they love, etc.  There are fictional character dossier templates online.  Enjoy the process.

Degas as Inspiration

Looking through an art magazine, I came across the image of Degas:  Les Femmes Qui Se Peignent.  I have not posted a photo here due to possible copyright infringement.  However, I suggest that you Google it to get an image of where the inspiration for this short prose poem came from.

Inspiration is an interesting thing.  One gets inspired and then either does or doesn’t do something with that inspiration.  Once I engaged the inspiration, imagination took over.  And who can predict where the writing goes from there?

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She’d Get By, Right?
© by Christine O’Brien

There had been weeks of gray skies.
She’d get by, right?
In the meantime, dress simply
keep a positive focus
and send loving thoughts to everyone
you’ve ever met.
When memory slips in, turn away…

“Let me be your guide,” he said
as he tucked a sprig of gypsophila
beside her ear, already too familiar.
He isn’t practical she thought.
Yet, there is poetry in his eyes.
She told herself that she needed more space
but his teal eyes could too easily
dissuade her from that idea.

This relationship wasn’t going to be–
convenient.
He worked in a high rise
while she had earthy values.
The night sky had to be star-studded
not city light lit.

The morning they met,
she was sitting by the sea
combing her hair
while the gentle waves teased her feet.
He told her that she looked Indian
and asked if he could braid her hair.
What type of woman allows a
strange man with teal eyes to
braid her hair?

“In honor of the new moon”
he winked leaning into her resistance.
It didn’t take very long for her to realize
that she was falling for his line, his leanness,
his too too teal eyes.

These months later,
entrenched in weeks of gray skies
she asked herself if the heartache was worth it.

She decided that it was.

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Writing Prompt:
Inspiration and imagination are never very far away.  Get your inspiration and take the time to follow it.  Write a prose poem or a prose piece.