The Written Word

I had “high tea” with an old friend, a man, yesterday. We met at the local art gallery. We were pleased at the presentation of our two unique pots of tea with matching cups on coasters set on a tea tray with a mini pitcher of agave for sweetening our Masala chai’s. He had the black tea version while I had the rooibos (not caffeinated) version. The presentation elevated the art of sipping tea. We felt special. And the whole thing evoked a conversation about an acquaintance of his, a potter in Sebastopol, who at some point in his career visited Japan and returned with the inspiration for a whole new line of pottery with a Japanese aesthetic.

Conversations are funny animals…they start in one place and then wriggle into another entirely different arena. I mentioned that I had begun clearing clutter once again. Not exactly clutter, but I had ripped several pages from a journal dated 2020, not that long ago. I quickly found that on each page was something about which I became curious. This led me to investigate further online, to inquire into why I had thought something was important enough to write down in the first place.

Sorting through my written words, reading them before I decide to discard them or not, certainly stalls the clearing process. There on the same page is a reminder to buy applesauce with a notation of the Werner Herzog film “Where the Green Ants Dream.” I did rent and watch that film and found it to be insightful and sad. But I hadn’t seen the other film, “Neither Wolf nor Dog.” I added it to my list of films to watch.

Then, there were notes from a Permaculture group that I had met with briefly, before Covid. I can let those pages go for now. Then the reminder to “Do something for someone else”– always a good idea. And then to “dress wild.” I wonder if I was feeling too conservative and hemmed in by inner and outer strictures at the time. I don’t think that one took–maybe I added some brighter colors to my wardrobe. Lists that were fulfilled…or not. Tomato plants, applesauce again, reminder to buy a birthday card and book on meditation for one of my daughters. And to call my oldest brother to see if he remembers “the old man” in the neighborhood when we were kids.

As a woman of the age that I am, I wondered on paper about what my job description is these days. Is there an affirmation that I need that might propel me forward in my life…a way to live that is fulfilling to me and helpful to others…I wondered. I added books from my notes to my books-to-read list. And there they were, the directions on how to make a face mask. I pondered in pen if there was a group that embodied artists for social change.

My friend and I duly noted how one can get diverted so easily from an initial task and end up pursuing another direction. How could I resist following the note to listen to an interview by Frederik Skavlan, (a prominent Norwegian TV host, journalist and cartoonist) with Leonard Cohen and his then partner, Anjani Thomas? I told my friend that I’d send him the link to the interview which was quite good. And a link to Pearl, a once-upon-a-time Mount Shasta spiritual icon. In her very late years, there she was reciting a poem about aging and she broke down and cried towards the end of her recitation.

My friend said that when he and his elder men companions meet at another café daily, they discuss what it means to them to be aging. And they comment how they no longer “fit” in this world. And, he also said that they talk about getting rid of stuff. He might pick up something that he either received as a gift or purchased on a whim at one time. He has had it for say ten years or more. It has no particular use other than being novel. He dusts it off, studies it and decides he can’t part with it yet.

I tell my friend that Al Gore was also on the stage in the interview with Leonard Cohen. Cohen had said something like “It’s only catastrophe that encourages people to change.” Al Gore begged to differ on that point…he believes that we are at a critical time on this planet. And that “A course correction is urgent and indicated.” And that we need to employ our foresight to change that course. Hindsight is a luxury that we don’t have in this case.

Later on in the day I listened to four young Norwegian men singing Hallelujah…one of Leonard Cohen’s songs that has global appeal. I find it difficult to easily part with the written word. It takes me down so many tunnels. Enjoy your day.

Pablo Neruda–Is He Ageless?

Discovering Pablo Neruda in every new generation is an adventure in interpretation and application. Sometimes wise words seem specific to a time and place, dated. Then, other times, they seem to be so present that we think they were written for us just yesterday–addressing our current circumstances. We might think that the specific quote or poem must belong to us–our generation, our culture, our humanity as we are today–it is so right on.

I’ve noticed that the most read-across-the-globe of all of my many blogs, the ones featuring anything that mentions Pablo Neruda get the most hits. Why is that I wonder? Is it because he was a man in exile from his native country and others can relate to him? Is it that they too know what it is to love one’s country and to be banished from it? Is it that his words strike a chord of truth and depth that humans share in common. (Poetry can do that.) Is it the emotional impact that is innate to poetry that twangs that emotion within us?

This little poem written by Pablo in his Book of Questions…what feeling does it raise in you? For me, when I pause to sit with a poem, reread it several times, that’s when it reveals a deeper meaning to me.

If the butterfly transmogrifies
does it turn into a flying fish?

Then it wasn’t true
that God lived on the moon?

What color is the scent
of the blue weeping of violets?

How many weeks are in a day
and how many years in a month?

from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions

****
We can only wonder what prompted Pablo Neruda to write this poem. We can take any one of Pablo’s questions and receive them like a Buddhist koan (a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment…Wikipedia).

What is your interpretation of these, Pablo’s questions, within this poem? What was his intent as the poet? Is he pondering the inadequacy of logical reasoning in this human existence? Is he tongue-in-cheek, teasing the reader to think outside the box of logic? Is he tickling the mind to go beyond what we perceive as the truth of anything?

And then, why not? Why doesn’t a butterfly become a flying fish? Anything is possible in the realm of imagination. Where can you go if you expand your thinking and become more inclusive of that which seems preposterous? Then, where can you go if you expand your mind to be inclusive of another culture, race or creed, another perspective, a greater universe?

****
I’ve had days, like yesterday, that felt like a year in a day. My daughter and her husband have been fighting covid. A family member had a stroke and ended up in ICU. My Aunt Marie, my mother’s youngest and last living sister, died. And I found out about it on Facebook!

How can we translate the nonsensicalness and inconveniences of life into something that makes it less personal and more palatable…or at least not suffer so much over what is inevitable?

Pablo, for every question you ask, I have at least fifty more to toss at your feet…wherever you have landed. Have you, Pablo, turned into a mushroom or are you a planet that we haven’t discovered yet out there in the vast and unknown universe?

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.
****
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.

A Painting Odyssey

abstract.1

Embarking upon a journey is one way to look at creating a painting.  The artist begins with inspiration!  Inspiration can lead to action or non-action.  Preferably, it’s action.

When I take a class, I am provided with the inspiration and instruction.  And, of course, at some point, my own inner guidance takes over.

This abstract is prompted by fine artist, Sherry Lynch Woodward’s expert and fun lesson.  It is the beginnings of a landscape painting.

Sherry makes brilliant use of color and she enjoys mark-making and using tools that add texture and interest to a piece.

When I look at this abstract today, I can imagine going in many different directions with it.  I see a shoreline, an ocean, or a lake, maybe a building.  What do you see?

I also decided not to go any further with this piece…the journey concluded early because I liked it as is…the inference of images gives me a pleasing feeling.  I like the way the colors work together.  I don’t need to define anything further.

I don’t paint many abstract paintings.  When I first started painting in 2014, I searched for recognizable images in a mishmash of colors and marks on a canvas, I wanted to define an image…and quickly.  Today, I’m beginning to feel a bit differently about that.

I think that abstract accesses a different part of the brain.  The part that can’t quite see what the future is going to be.  And with that, there is a way of meeting what is to come with curiosity, acceptance and yes, grace.  Abstract, the unknown, have a unique appeal for me at this time.

Ocean in Abstract

abstractocean1

This abstract was done in a class with artist, Laly Mille.  I divided the 9″x12″ 140# watercolor paper into four triangles.  They can be cut into individual paintings if I so choose.  When I look at this abstract painting today, I think I would leave it as an ocean study.  In my thinking, abstract equals the artist’s impressions of a subject.

There are the colors that I’ve associated with the ocean.  There is, perhaps, a horizon line.  There could be rock formations not far from the shoreline.  And there is definitely sky.  With clouds.  A mood is created.

When I present an abstract painting, I don’t like to discuss it very much.  I like it to stand alone, to represent what it represents and to allow the viewer to be drawn into it and have their own interpretation.  To encourage the viewer to fabricate a story around my impressions of the ocean.

 

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.

****
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)

 

Ladder to Heaven

laddertoheaven

With the guidance of artist, Marie Ndolo, I continued to work on the human face.  So much to learn.  And hair, how to paint hair that looks sort of real.

She appears contemplative.  She is pondering the higher realms.  In this painting, the color red is an earthy color, keeping her grounded.  The blue is more ethereal and the image of the ladder floating in space is definitely other-worldly.

Tilting a face, drawing and painting the angle of a face is a challenge.  And, doesn’t a tilted head give a whole other tone to the painting.  Do you think so?  A tilted head is almost like floating a question in the air.  Or listening for an answer, perhaps.

I’ve always liked the image of a ladder floating in space.  Ladders, we climb them to get to something up higher, out of our reach.  It seems like a good symbol for this painting.  Sometimes a stairway suffices.  But no, I like ladders.

Like the one that Georgia O’Keeffe painted, Ladder to the Moon (1958).  The painting is of  a wooden ladder suspended in a turquoise sky.  I wondered what prompted her to paint that?

Here’s what I found out…

“A long, homemade ladder used to lean against Georgia’s house at Ghost Ranch so that she could climb up onto the roof and gaze out at the vast desert landscapes. Sometimes she would even climb up there several times a day. At night she would climb up on the roof if she wanted to gaze and fall asleep under the stars.”

 

john-loengard-georgia-o-keeffe-climbing-a-ladder-outside-ghost-ranch-her-desert-home_i-G-26-2694-3VTUD00Z
“In the picture, a large wooden ladder is leaned against an outer wall of a patio from where it rises up into the sky with the Pedernal Mountains in the background. Some say her immediate surroundings at Ghost Ranch were the inspiration of this piece of art. Others interpret the painting as a religious work. In Pueblo culture the ladder is used to symbolize the link between the Pueblos and cosmic forces. The fact that the ladder is pointed up in the sky may represent the link between nature and the cosmos”

Standing Rock

Remember Standing Rock?  That protest was the inspiration for this painting.  Across the world, many were outraged when reading the news about the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline that would run beneath the Missouri River and through reservation land.  This was a direct threat to the region’s drinking water, as well as to the water supply used to irrigate surrounding farmlands. The construction would disturb ancient burial grounds and cultural sites of historic importance.

When I was 16-years old, attending an all-girl Catholic High School in San Francisco, we were required to choose a research project.  I chose to investigate the status of Native American Tribes across the United States.  I sent letters off to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and various tribal affiliates.  I received lots of mail in return.  And reading material.  I was shocked to realize the poverty that our First Citizens were living in.  And to read about the high rate of alcoholism was upsetting.  Also, it struck me that a salesman would visit a tribe and sell them refrigerators when he knew full well that they didn’t even have electricity!

Doing this research, the Native American Peoples found a place in my heart.

How many times do the powers that be violate a treaty, withdraw support, move tribes around, encroach on Native American lands and lives before they realize that it’s morally wrong and stop doing it?  Here is one question to be asked in such instances:  “How would I feel if it was happening to me and my family?”

If your answer is something like “I would protest!”  Or “That’s not right!”  Then, why should it be different for the tribes of Standing Rock (or any other group of people)?  Don’t they want to protect their families like I do?  Don’t they deserve respect like I do?  Why do their rights matter less than mine or yours?  Is it too late to make amends?

IMG_9226

Today, I read a recent article on the present day state of affairs around the DAPL–Dakota Access Pipeline…

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Prevails
  as Federal Judge Strikes Down DAPL Permits

This is a victory, but the battle isn’t over.  One cannot assume that once a right is won, it is forever sealed and held sacred.  But for now, a victory.

A dear friend traveled to standing rock and stood with the people in solidarity in opposition to DAPL.  She expressed that there were other benefits of being there.  To witness the tribes who had once opposed each other, here, standing together for a common cause was powerful in and of itself.  Something for all of us who find ourselves in such oppositions today to learn from.  The expression “United we stand.  Divided we fall” was directly experienced.

“Pray under the sky
bare feet on the ground, 
humbly.  That you may 
feel the connection with
all that is and live from
this understanding.
It is so.”

I believe that this prayer is from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Red

card10

The story of Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t one of my favorites…however, it did impact me.  Early on, I rewrote the ending…the wolf was a good guy and everyone sat around together having tea in my final scene.

This painting was inspired by a class called Barn Painting, taught by Alissa Millsap in Paint Your Heart and Soul, 2017.  Entering the realm of this piece, it was painted on an 8″x8″ birch panel, I quickly decided that it wasn’t going to be a barn.  It was going to be  grandma’s cottage in the woods.  And then, in the forefront, I placed Little Red Riding Hood and her companion/friend the wolf.  I just realized that here I go again, making the wolf an ally.

****
Taking a class from a fellow artist, I am presented with a formula of sorts.  This artist showed me the techniques and tools that she used to create a barn on a substrate.  I was guided through her process.  While I borrowed techniques and used the tools, I diverted and made different choices, incorporated my own style and personal perspective to create an original painting.  I was relatively new at painting faces, so this Red Riding Hood’s face is rather juvenile.  Yet, I like her and think that she works with the piece.  I love the wolf…a friendly fellow (so long as he’s well-fed).  The wolf is made whimsical and less frightening with the wisps of pastel colors in his coat.

In direct contrast, the color RED is dramatic and immediately eye-catching.  Some artists love the drama of red while others hide from it, modify it or use it sparingly if at all.  I’m learning to have a liking for a true red.  Used without apology.

****
If you are familiar with the chakra energy system, you probably remember that red symbolizes the root chakra located at the base of the spine.  The root chakra can represent our origins, our quality of feeling grounded in present reality, living in connection to the earth and our core self.  We cultivate this connection by the choices we make in our lives.  Many people have a need for healing their family history–yes, root chakra taps into that.  To support this energetic healing, a person might eat red foods, wear red clothing, carry a red stone or crystal, write or make art around their family history, and if necessary, see a therapist and work on that early family bond.

When I wear red, it seems that I want to be noticed.  Red is not for wallflowers.

What’s your experience with the color red?

 

 

Everyone Needs an Ally

angel

This painting was prompted by a class in Paint Your Heart and Soul. Not initially knowing what a painting wants to express, I allow the images to show their presence.
I added the wolf and turned the figure into an angel.

What was new to me in this class was learning how to paint a lacy dress.  I couldn’t imagine how an artist could imply lace fabric.  I’m not 100% pleased and I appreciated acquiring a new art tool.  Another painting challenge for the artist is PAINTING HANDS!  I remember the painstaking effort to paint this one arm and hand.  I was pretty pleased at the time and by no means have I come close to mastering hands.  Sometimes an artist, not wanting to take the time and effort it requires to paint a hand let’s it disappear off the page, in a pocket, or hidden behind a skirt or another shielding object–a bouquet of flowers, a table or anything that fits with the painting.

This angel has an ally.  He is an ethereal wolf…part of the night, yet real to her as she is real to him.

****
In 2018, I encountered a gray wolf as I was driving down the mountain from Bunny Flat.  I had visited a new friend who was camping there.  We spent a sweet time together getting to know each other.  The vista was smudged by smoke from surrounding fires.  At this higher elevation, the air was breathable.  At one point she offered to lead me through a qigong set.  I agreed.  For the next twenty minutes, we moved our bodies in harmony with the nature around us.  A magical time.

I left her well before the sun set.  As I was rounding a curve in the road, I spied a large animal not very far ahead.  He seemed to be in no great hurry.  I slowed the car.  As happens, my brain tried to comprehend what this creature was.  Bear, no.  Dog, no.  What’s that in his mouth?  Finally, as I drew closer, my mind settled on a gray wolf with another rather large animal in his mouth!  He slipped down the side of a slight slope.  I pulled my car into the space beside the road.  I got out of the car, no fear only wonder.  I watched as he slowly meandered off into the shrubbery and trees.

The sense of wonder I felt stayed with me for a long time.  A visitation from a rare animal has meaning for me.  In the Native American Tradition, wolf is a teacher.  From Jamie Sams book, Medicine Cards:  “Wolf is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine.”

When I returned home, I googled the Gray Wolf.  I remembered reading that the Gray Wolf had crossed the border into northern California a couple of years before.  They were being tracked and protected by a team of rangers.  Their exact whereabouts were kept a secret so as to avoid hunters.  Then the team lost track of the sly wolves.   How fortunate I was to see one of these amazing beings that memorable day.