The Roots of Story

A garden cannot be hurried. It needs watering–daily, in hot, wilting weather like we’re having. Again, the desire to move is surfacing. There aren’t any likely places available at this time. So, I worked in the garden most of the day, planting herbs in the redwood planter that Philip built for me. It is full and beautiful! It is three square tiers angled one above the other giving me thirteen little plots for herbs. It’s a lovely sculpture for the garden. Now that it’s planted, it’s immoveable.

When I work in the garden, my mind meanders. Today I thought about stories. Have you noticed how stories have a way of sticking with us even after they have outworn their usefulness? Stories upon stories, layered, so sticky thick and that we’ve made seamless through the retelling. We think they are necessary, even the ones that are redundant, like the necessity of war in order to keep peace. Such a multitude of stories all woven in upon the other. Throughout time, we’ve created a whole logjam of stories. Was it because we couldn’t stand the wondrous, bare bones truth of a mysterious existence? Is story intended to protect our vulnerable selves? We do seem to crave complexity. We’ve taken a perfectly fine planet earth and twisted and contorted it into a Disneyland of another sort showing how very difficult we can make things given little or no incentive!

Roger Housden, author of Ten Poems to Change Your Life and many other books, tells a story about visiting Iran to gather information for a book he was writing. As he was about to board a plane at the airport in Iran, he was detained by security. Up until that time, Roger had believed a story that as an Englishman in these times, he had an inherent superiority of sorts…that he lead a charmed life and was exempt from harm. Upon being detained by security, that belief was shed as they took his passport, tossed it in the garbage and told him that it was worthless there. He could die and no one would ever know what happened to him. They offered him two choices–he could work with them or spend the next five years in prison. His long-held story fell away and was replaced by the awareness of his own real vulnerability, creating in him a humility and compassion that has remained with him.

In my own life, there has been an ongoing quest. I try to figure life out or, when I can’t, I might latch onto a story that satisfies me momentarily. Someone once called earth “the planet of story.” Stories in flesh and bone, is that what we are? Drop the stories and then, are we flattened like a steam-rolled cartoon character?

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I’m alone tonight, although I called Timothy at the last minute to invite him to watch a movie–a story to escape from thinking about my story. I was about to say that I’m glad he’s not coming over when he called to say, “Yeah, I’d like to watch a movie with you.” No longer lovers, we both state clearly (with a little longing and then definitely not on my part). I guess, I wish he was a platonic friend, a playmate. Can we transform our relationship into a mild flirtation short of temptation?

While outside, the garden stands, persisting through my naivete or ignorance. The garden. Tomorrow I’ll plant some flowers along a fence.

Goddess of the earth, help me to let go of the stories that aren’t helpful so that I can see the path forward clearly.

The Moon

Being a woman who seeks or quests, I wonder about many things as I go through this life. This year, I’m following a process with the moon. The Moon is My Calendar with April McMurtry is a study of the monthly journey of the moon across the sky and the influence it has on one’s life. It emphasizes a woman’s cycles as she embraces the cycles of the moon. Throughout history, humans have invented various calendars. The moon as a calendar was used long before the Gregorian calendar, a solar calendar system. I am not going to chart the history of the various calendars that societies have created. What I am wondering about is my own relationship with the moon.

I remember, years ago, looking at the moon on one of those rare clear evenings in San Francisco. I was missing my sister who had moved to Hawaii. I remember thinking that “we all share the same moon.” With that realization, I felt a connection to her through seeing the same moon.

In 1995, I had a some big challenges and a moon fascination it seems. In recounting a journal passage:

If the moon could talk to me, what would she say?
“I love you” would be her first words. ” My wisdom is your wisdom. I dwell within you as the light even in the midst of the dark. I will never fail you. No need to fear. I am constant as the sea. We work together harmoniously. There is a good and true purpose for you, for me. I am a reminder that all is right. Don’t look at the smallness; see the vastness, the bigger picture–it’s all around you and within. Within of itself is too narrow–consider the whole, be inclusive. Cultivate an awareness of me–study me; work with me; play with me. Then observe us together as a team. Let me be your light through all of the dark nights. Remember even when brother sun shines, I’m with you. Even then. Rest now.

1995 Journal

I must have needed her, the qualities of the moon then. Her mystery, her darkness and her illumination. Her retreat and her full expression. I must need her again today. The dreamy state that she creates as she journeys through her cycles. And yet, the grounded quality as I unite with her in her waxing and waning. In our culture, we are steeped in artificial stimulus–bright lights, big cities, eternal television and media influences. There is the consumer mindset–I need more to be happy. The moon helps one to see what is necessary in the present time. She returns us to the cycles of initiation, gestation, fruition; finally, retreat and diminishment. Then we begin again and with each new cycle there is the opportunity to deepen our connections to ourselves and all that is.

As I write this blog, the moon is a waxing quarter moon in the sign of Taurus. As the door opens wider for creativity, we find that the moon is exalted in Taurus. “Astrologers describe the Moon as “exalted” in Taurus, which means the qualities of fecundity, nurturing, sustenance and fertility are most easily expressed.” In my life, I see fecundity as many new ideas coming my way…and the ability to nurture some of them into being while caring for myself. Isn’t that most important for any one of us? We care deeply for ourselves so that we can birth, sustain and share our gifts as we move more fully into the wholeness of our being.

Moon blessings to you.

Butterfly Offering

Butterfly

Once upon a time, I walked along a sandy beach, depressed and not clearly seeing the way through.  The proprietor of the motel where I was staying happened upon me in this state of being.  He said to me “We’re here this long,” gesturing a miniscule amount between his thumb and forefinger.  “We’re as insignificant as a grain of sand on this beach, so enjoy your time here [on the planet].”

For me, in the moment, that was what I needed to hear to bolster myself.  And, it was only part of the story.

I love the principle of the butterfly effect.  “The Butterfly Effect” is not a thing in and of itself. It is just a metaphor for the principle of Chaos Theory.”

Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

The term is often ascribed to Edward Lorenz who wrote about it in a 1963 paper in the New York Academy of Sciences.”

“Chaos theory is an interdisciplinary theory stating that, within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals and self-organization.  The butterfly effect, an underlying principle of chaos, describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state (meaning that there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions).  A metaphor for this behavior is that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane in Texas.”

…In The Vocation of Man (1800), Johann Gottlieb Fichte says “you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole”…

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We are all looking for meaning to our lives, singly and collectively.  That “a very small change in initial conditions [even from a far away location] had created a significantly different outcome,” gives me hope somehow.   Considering the times that we are living in and that we cannot see the whole that is unfolding, how can we find comfort in considering The Butterfly Effect?

We cannot know the effect we have on others, on life, on weather patterns, planetary momentum, even politics.  On a microcosmic level, was there someone along your life path who said just the right thing at the right time in a moment of your life where their words caught somewhere in your psyche and turned you around?  Was there an action you took one day, that looking back, was pivotal in the whole of your life?  And then, you cannot determine how a word you spoke or an action you took affected another person or perhaps a weather system.  What is true for us personally, is true for the macrocosm.

Everything is connected in such an intricate way that it is hard for the mind to comprehend.  It’s truly beyond logic and has been labelled quantum physics.  To my way of seeing, that’s another term for mystery.

Mystery

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It was strange to see this cat girl emerge.  She was painted just before the time that women were donning knitted pink cat hats.  They were called “pussyhats” and worn in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington DC.

A little recent history lesson from Google:

A pussyhat is a pink, crafted hat, created in large numbers by thousands of participants involved with the United States 2017 Women’s March. They are the result of the Pussyhat Project, a nationwide effort initiated by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, a screenwriter and architect located in Los Angeles, to create pink hats to be worn at the march for visual impact.[1]

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As an artist, have you noticed this…not only does your art respond to the political and socio-economic climate, but sometimes it is almost predictive.  Artists, poets, writers, creative beings have a heightened sensitivity.  It’s no surprise that they can tune into something before it hits the press.  And express it through their art.

Obviously, my girl’s hat isn’t pink–but the concept of woman merging with cat, with her wild nature–and yes, she has magic–are reminders to myself.  A woman is an enigma to the male of our species.  Rather than men fearing and trying to dominate what they don’t understand, why not honor her?  Why not seek her out for wise counsel?  Why not be curious to know her more deeply?  Why not recognize that she has gifts to share (that he does not possess) and lend value to them?

That men are making most of the rules, guiding the politics of our lives, belies the fact that women comprise over 50% of the population in America!  2019 census shows 168.08 million women versus 161.48 million men!  When are women going to realize that they have more power for change than they are exercising?

There are so many things in place in our society (and world) that we know are morally wrong and socially unjust.  Women know this deeply…if they could gather their courage and unify their voices, change for the good would occur.

What is something you, as a woman alive today, are called to take a stand on?  How are you going to align yourself with what you know to be true and correct?  Is there an action you know that you need to take?  One step at a time…dare to take the first one.

 

 

 

Look Up!

Living in the mountains, I have an opportunity to see the stars at night.  This is an advantage over living in a big, artificially lit city.  When I lived in San Francisco, beside the ocean and not the inner city, I could occasionally see the stars at night…when it wasn’t foggy.

Looking up at the night sky, I get a sense of both my smallness and my connection to something greater.

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Ever since I learned Nikol Wilman’s technique of painting a sky, I adapted it to create the background for a few of my paintings.

Drawing and painting a face looking upwards proved to be very challenging.  Yet it was what I envisioned and I forged on to make it happen.

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How often do you look up?  While walking in nature, I’m frequently looking down in order to see where I’m stepping especially if the terrain is rocky or has tree roots.  On such walks I find that it’s important to stop and take time to look out and to look up.  Expanding my field of vision in this way, I get out of my small mind thinking.  It’s certainly not all about me!

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I love this creation story as told by Wilfred Buck.  We have such a connection to and longing for the stars.  This story is not so far-fetched.  Our lives here are more mystery than certainty.

 

Wilfred is from Lake Winnipeg in rural Manitoba, Canada.  His tribe affiliation is Cree, also known as Ininew, one of Canada’s largest First Nations groups. He is an amazing storyteller.  If you have six minutes to listen, I think you’re going to appreciate this lovely creation Story.  Try closing your eyes as you listen and imagine.

“We come from the stars,” Buck says.

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?

“Truth”

I live in the mountains of northern California.  In early 2018, my sister, Kathy, moved one hour south of me at at a lower elevation.  Prior to moving, Kathy had fought cancer for several years.  She followed her own instincts in treating it.  In January, 2018, she opted for chemotherapy.

Following is an excerpt from my journal at this time.

Angels meet and greet.  Glances exchanged, hearts engaged, hands touch–sisters–when the end is near, the truth becomes clearer.  I couldn’t drive her to her first chemo appointment.  It was yesterday.  It was rescheduled from last week.  Last week, I had a good excuse–a big snowstorm.  My sister, lymphedema in her right arm–swollen beyond recognition.  A warrioress with literal wounds.  A bandage is swathed under her arm and across her chest.  This wound that hasn’t healed–the bandages need to be changed daily.

My word today is truth.  Her word is courage.

I told her that I couldn’t drive her because I couldn’t sit there beside her in the hospital as she underwent this intravenous process.  I wouldn’t have been the best support.  She thanked me for telling her my truth.  If we can’t be straight with one another now, when?

She got her hair cut short.  She asked me to knit her a hat, which I began working on immediately.  I painted her a picture of a woman surrounded by butterflies.  I think that she’s going to make it.  We need optimism.  Truth is, I don’t know very much.  The mystery is here, is in us, is around us, is us.  Nature helps.  I send her daily photos of the nature where I live to calm and center her.  To support her with beauty.

Truth is, some days I think that she’s doing better than me.  Truth is, love is a strange animal–she is always showing up at odd times, giving us opportunities.

Like that night I sat on a log beside my driveway, stargazing.  It was so peaceful, I shut my eyes.  A visiting cat sat beside me.  Out of the shrubbery beside me, a rustle. Opening my eyes, I see a creature emerging.  I can’t name it immediately.  And then,
Skunk.  A few feet apart, we stare at one another.  Neither of us felt threatened.  I watched him waddle away.  Truth is, it felt like love.  Does recognition equal love?

Truth as an expression of love.  I love you enough to tell you the truth.  Is there something that stands in the way of truth?  At least, I can try telling it to myself.  When my parents were in their declining years and the family was in chaos, I began a poem with this line:

“Truth lies in a shallow grave
while perspectives hang out everywhere…”

transformation.

 

Reminisce

Six days before she died, my sister Kathy requested that our niece from San Francisco bring Lucca Raviolis, the best sourdough in the world and a bottle of Sangiovese wine.

Five days before she died, Kathy told me in detail how this particular sourdough recipe was crafted–that is, for excellent bread, the absolute best starter is essential. And this chef, a man, has devoted his time, energy and curiosity to creating the best sourdough starter.

Two days before she died, she said “We need a buzzword.”
I replied “Do you mean a word that when I hear it, I’ll think of you.”
“Yes,” she said.
After a few lame words, we decided on the phrase “Life is but a dream.”

And then, she lapsed into the strangeness of this whole experience of preparing to die.  The questioning as she turned towards what is unfamiliar, not talked about much and unknown.  She and I tossed our questions into that void called Mystery.

Earlier, she had asked if I could find her a couple of cotton nightshirts.  With a neckline that was high enough to hide the scars on her chest.  I went to Penney’s and bought something button-up that didn’t seem quite right, but a possibility.  Returnable.  At Macy’s, I found some too-fancy-ones, with lower necklines and Christmas reindeer and the other one with stars.  I took photos and texted them to her on the smartphone.  No, the neckline was too much of a scoop.

I found a sale rack…all of the cotton/polyester nightshirts had Christmas images or words that didn’t suit the solemnity of this occasion.  “Au Revoir” felt painful to my heart.  I finally settled on “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and blah.”  Which she loved as…there are no words really to express what is profound.

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Ours was a “divide and conquer” household with father’s rules and moods taking precedent.  Yet, sisters leave an indelible mark on your heart and being.  There is something sacred with sisters that is separate from the father’s code.  It’s in the bones, this understanding.  That even if we part and go our separate ways, we always know that there is a holding place, a heart haven where, when we meet again, we enter easily and laugh, cry, get angry and share deeply without pretense.  It’s just that way.

And there is always food involved.  Kathy’s perfectly formed, perfectly packaged and always yummy cookies.  Or something, anything Italian…can we claim garlic bread on the finest sourdough as part of Italian cuisine?  Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs or Kathy’s frittata.  And cheesecake with chocolate curls all around.  Or her recipe for San Antonio Stew.

This is not a complete romance, or maybe it is for don’t even the best-matched lovers have their quarrels.  There were times when Kathy seemed to separate from the family and her friends became more important.  We learned to accept that.  Yet, we came together again and again.  I have 8 mm movie film of her coming to the Easter or Christmas dinners in my home…her long dark cascading curls bouncing as she ran indoors from the spring or winter rain.

Mystery

Life is mystery, even with all of the belief systems we apply to explain it.  Life remains a mystery.  We learn to live with the unknown.  Though we might be seekers, with all of the seeking, the mystery remains, winking at us from the sidelines.  The unknowable.

Like, how did this plant end up in my garden?  Then, what prompted it to take over one third of the garden with it’s shoots and tendrils that wrap around anything along the way?  I posted a photo of it on Facebook to see if someone could identify it.  I got these responses:  some sort of vegetable, citron watermelon, crossbred squash, disguised watermelon, some sort of melon, Cinnamon Girl pie pumpkin, courgette (zucchini), Cucurbita pepo (round zucchini squash).

mystery.jpg

I like the surprise within the mystery.  At times, the clouds part and I get a bit of clarity.  But then, the veil drops, the sight is limited, the mists conceal truth.

Writing Prompt:
How do you live with mystery?

Being Alright With Looking Foolish!

IMG_9111This blog and the two following indirectly touch on the subject of  VULNERABILITY.  For when you share your work–painting, poetry, prose, thoughts, woodwork, sculpture, write a blog, etc., you are being vulnerable.

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It was deep winter in the mountains. An elder friend was in hospice care, settled in a home further north of where I live. The roads were impassable.

While I longed to visit her, I didn’t want to put myself in jeopardy.  Instead, I painted, not knowing where I would go or what needed expression.  Before long, I found myself painting with my fingers…and, of all things, a pink cow!  To this day, I don’t know why I was compelled to paint a pink cow using my fingers.  The tactile experience of painting with my fingers seemed essential.  This creative process helped me to transform the feeling of helplessness in regards to being unable to visit my friend.

Why did this help?  I don’t have an answer.  Some things really do dwell in the mystery or the deep unconscious and cannot be fathomed.  Perhaps they are before words.

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Poetry has also provided this sort of harmonizing effect for me.  When my father-in-law was dying, I turned to poetry.  Trying to understand my relationship with my parents or to make some sense of a long-term marriage that was ending, I turned to poetry.  Journal writing has been invaluable to me when facing life’s incongruities.  However, like painting, poetry has a way of containing wayward emotions while transforming them.

WRITING PROMPT:
For your journal:  Has art and/or writing and poetry helped you to express, uplift or in some way transform your difficult feelings?  Can you tolerate looking foolish in order to express and then share something that is deeply felt?

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Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer