Asking the “Right” Questions

Sometimes, when we inquire into ourselves we ask better questions than at other times. Sometimes, we look to someone outside of ourselves to ask the questions of us. Looking back at a journal writing from 2001 (so long ago already), there were six questions asked of me. I don’t remember the circumstances of the inquiry, but I find them to be interesting enough to share here on my blog. I invite you to use them in your own inquiry if that interests you. I apologize for not being able to give credit to the source.
I wrote my answers to these questions in 2001. I wonder how my answers might be different today.

1. What concept, metaphor or principle is at the center of your life and how does it motivate you?

I do believe, even in times of confusion and uncertainty, that there is a reason(s) beyond what I can see for this earthly existence. Beyond my illusions. Someday, perhaps, we’ll know that this wasn’t for nothing. And, that there are higher ways of being while having our human experience.

2. What do you desire from life. What are you seeking to accomplish, create, assist and support?

I desire inner peace and harmony–a wholeness of the being I am. I seek to bring the wholeness of being into creative projects which foster my own development and the evolution of others–supporting and assisting them, through creativity, to integration and self-empowerment. I seek to actively express my personal glory thereby giving others the same permission to be radiant.

3. What circumstances would provide you with optimum conditions for satisfying your needs and fulfilling your expectations?

An organized base would be a good start. A directed focus. A mentor or guide. An intuitive connection with a higher self. Remembering who I really am. Loving, fearlessly and fully. What circumstances? Sort of an inner state of self-acceptance and trust that I’m being guided and that things are going exactly as they should. Risk-taking while trusting I’m cared for. Small dares to myself. Ultimate feeling of safety at deep levels.

4. What values and virtues do you admire and strive to engender in yourself and others?

Honesty with self and others. Connection to higher motives and my own wholeness. Respect given and received. Compassion given and received. Self-trust. Health of body, spirit and mind. Respect for the earth. Honoring my own presence and life experience.

5. What are the fundamental activities and behaviors that express your deepest intentions?

Conscious self-care: eating healthy, exercise daily, time in nature, studying, self-development, patience with myself, striving to grow, understand and fully accept myself.

6. What do you feel is the particular talent and perspective that you give to any relationship or endeavor?

A strong desire to learn, healthy curiosity and inclusiveness.

2001 Journal Writing

Today, I had a Zoom conversation with three other women. These women are seniors, spanning twenty years in age. It was interesting to me to realize that they continue to ask similar questions of themselves as they strive to make sense of life and their particular reason for being or raison d’être as is sometimes heard in French. The most senior woman, in her nineties, said that she believes that our singular life matters to the universal wholeness while two others seemed to be questioning that since everything is temporary or transient, what is their value over the span of time as we know it?

I offered why can’t it be both? While we are here for this length of days, our energy is affecting the whole. We might be remembered for a few generations if we have children and grandchildren…but then, we are like the stardust distributed across the vast universe. We concluded that we do matter. That felt like a good way to leave the conversation.

People don’t often have opportunities to have these deeper conversations, do they? We are caught up with getting through a day and handling our to do list and whatever presents. However, to realize that we matter and that one gesture of kindness at the grocery store today has made a big difference to the person who you offered to let go ahead of you in line. The homeless man at the post office who held the door open for me and thought that he had to explain that now he has to receive his mail through general delivery. The friend who invited me for a walk and this gesture that makes both of us feel less lonely in the world. I do matter. You do matter. We do matter.

Is the Whole Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts?

I wonder. The whole is made up of the incorporated parts…if some parts are less than, broken or in some way incapacitated, doesn’t the whole suffer?

This quote has been attributed to Aristotle. However, I read recently that the author is unknown. I don’t know in which language this quote was first spoken. Perhaps Ancient Greek. Was it correctly or incorrectly translated? Where did the original author place emphasis…what did he actually intend by what he said? We perceive things with our own knowledge lens.

If I’m baking something and I have an inferior product or an ingredient that has gone sour, it’s going to affect the outcome…the cake, the bread, whatever. I depend upon wholesome ingredients. That’s the metaphor for us humans–each one of us gets to do our individual work. In that way, we combine to making the whole a better one.

When looking for change in the world, we must first look within. Recently, I said something to my sister-in-law like “We have got to step up and be active about climate change.” She turned it around and said “They need to do things differently.” She took herself out of the equation. She wasn’t seeing how her voice could make a difference or how her choices were also complicit if she didn’t do something differently. As long as we take ourselves out of the equation as a component or a change-maker, then there won’t be anything new. The parts either weaken or strengthen the whole.

There are many ways to interpret this quote to fit one’s particular needs. Another perspective is that the whole is better than could be expected from the individual parts. That a communal solution to a problem is going to be better than one person’s problem-solving ability. A community, the more heads are better than one, is superior to the individual. That, combining the educated solutions, a distillation of wisdom can be produced by the whole.

Yet, I return to this…the whole is the sum of its parts. If a part is inferior, the whole is affected. My ex-husband was a fire-fighter. He entered the fire department in San Francisco at a time when women were fighting for their right to be firefighters as well as other jobs that had been in the exclusive domain of men. I interviewed a woman firefighter for a class that I was taking at the local community college. She was nearly six feet tall and buff. She worked out regularly. A question that many of the wives of firefighters asked was “Could you pull my 200-pound husband out of a burning building?” This strong young woman was capable. Yet, this field of work requires teamwork. If there was a 5’4″ female (or male) who couldn’t do their part, the whole team is weakened.

These are some of my early morning musings. I’ve heard this quote for a good part of my life. Sometimes, we hear something often enough, we think that it must be true. Ah, not necessarily so. There is always room to question what we assume is so.

What are your early morning musings?

The Need for Change

“The need for change
bulldozed a road down
the center of my mind. ”
Maya Angelou

This quote from Maya Angelou is likely something we can relate to at different times in our lives.  I know that it has been true for me over the course of my life.

Personally, I recognize the too tight box I’m living in.  Or the habit that persists that really wants to be let go of.  Sometimes it’s a closet of clothes that I no longer wear.  Other times, it’s a deep desire for something different than the same old, same old.  Shifting a perspective can be, as one of my sister’s said, like bending steel.

Whatever it is, how do I allow change in?  How do you invite or choose necessary change?

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At this time, change is thrust upon us externally.  Any external change is going to cause whatever complacency we might have to be disrupted.  We have become aware of that in these uncertain days.  What is within that hasn’t really been working is called to the forefront and we have to DEAL WITH IT.  Whatever it is.

I’m not sure when Maya Angelou said the above quote…and what was exactly going on in her life.  Years ago, I read one of her biographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  I remember it being about her early years, childhood and young womanhood.  It entailed her reaction to a childhood where she experienced some of the cruelties of life.  A period where she didn’t speak for five years after a horrific event occurred. She was pregnant at 17 with her one and only child, a son.  She lead a chaotic life for awhile–was a prostitute, owned a brothel, ran wild.  At some point, she pursued higher education and eventually became a scholar, a professor, writer and poet and rubbed elbows with some of the amazing people of our times including Nelson Mandela.

If you don’t know Maya Angelou, if you don’t know of the rich tapestry of her life, I encourage you to read one of her several chronological autobiographies.  And, you would discover how she made pivotal choices that changed the course of her life.  I also encourage you to read some of her poetry which is typically about a woman’s self-discovery and identity.  Her poetry is something that I connect with–it reaches beyond any differences of race, creed or color.

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All of that to ask “What in your life needs to be changed?”  When faced with this question, I sometimes begin by clearing some clutter, cleaning out a drawer or a closet, journaling about a mindset, writing a poem that releases something old (or several) and writing poetry that invites in something new.  Painting can also foster the change you want to make in the outer world.  There are other supports for the changes you want to make.  A circle of friends, sharing and talking about something new that you and they want to bring about helps.  Prayers for guidance helps.  Consider the supports and resources that are available as you choose to change something.  You’re not alone, truly.

Always, be gentle with yourself during the process.  It’s often about recognition.  And then we go from there.

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I had to post this poem written and read by Maya Angelou because all I see is a woman of power.  She was forty years old when she spoke this poem.  Her voice, wow!  Her presence, wow!  The way that she occupies the poem as she recites it, wow!

Try Something New

landscapea

Being an artist who is committed to growth, it helps to try something new and different.  In this painting, I completely surrendered to Nicole Wikman’s process to paint a landscape.  I love the outcome.  Although it isn’t my style, I learned several very helpful techniques that I can apply elsewhere.

She reiterates the value of a horizon line.  She has a unique technique of laying down a colorful sky.  The brush dances between colors in the sky to reflections of those colors in the water.  The way in which the land and trees are placed establishes perspective and lends depth to the painting.  These are valuable techniques to practice and learn.

That said, I love this piece, and it doesn’t feel like me.

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Land and Sea are big themes for artists.  A contemporary artist, Janette Kerr is known as the “foul weather” painter.  It seems that she spends weeks on boats heading into storms.  There are so-called adrenaline junkies out there and while I’m not one, I applaud the curious nature that leads one into the eye of the storm.  Her work is phenomenal!

 

 

Yearning

now1This was one of my first attempts at merging art and poetry.  I write what has been termed personal poetry.  This sonnet was the first poem in a series of twenty-one poems that I was determined to write.  I illustrated the first two poems of this grouping.  It’s not so easy to do, I found.  This poem was written several years ago…the mood at the time.  Poetry is a great way to manage our various moods and emotions and to help us move beyond or integrate these passing energies.

I’ve written poetry for at least thirty years.  Within that span of time, there were periods when I didn’t write poetry.  The tangles that we can get ourselves into with words.  The things we tell ourselves.  As author Byron Katie has reiterated “Is it true?”  The things we say to others–did they receive it as we intended it?  The words we hear– are they fact, theory, opinion, judgment?  How do other people’s words–the media–color your own thoughts and opinions?  Where is the truth in these tangles?

That’s why I chose the paintbrush over the pen for a few years.  No words!

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This blog has become a commingling of art and words with which I feel comfortable these days.

 

 

That Feeling of Spring

Spring3

Splashes of color,
drips, droplets, dabs,
sprinkles, sprays
–marks, translucents,
opaques, frivolity, whimsy,
abstract, realism,
imagination, fantasy,
figures disappearing
into a mist…

When making art, you can create what you desire, design and allow.
The artist can choose to be detailed, intricate and precise.  The artist can choose to be abstract as heck and expressive.  And there is everything in between.
That is why I believe that

EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST!

As I also believe that everyone has a hidden poet (because everyone has a voice), I also believe that everyone has a hidden artist.  Perhaps one who has been shamed into
hiding, but she’s there just the same, waiting to be invoked, invited, induced to come out and play.

That is what this painting was to me.  This was painted at the beginning of my discovery of art as a possible way to express myself.  Playing on Aquabord, a substrate that was new to me, the paint flowed in a surprising way.  Yes, substrates make a difference as to how the paint behaves.  Substrate is the surface on which the artist paints.  There are many types of substrates these days!  Sometimes, any substrate works.  I’ve painted on gessoed cardboard.

With so many online opportunities to learn while playing–that is the perspective to take when you are beginning to paint or painting after many years of not painting.  Or at any level of experience.  Play and learn.  Make many mistakes.  And carry on playing, learning and practicing.  Like any practice, you have to do it daily.  Best to plan it into your day.

 

Synergy

I appreciate the concept of synergy…better yet, I appreciate the actuality of synergy.  To consider that things are more effective when they work together than when they stand in isolation is fascinating.

Alphabet letters, individual symbols tossed in a heap, would be a jumble.  Combine them meaningfully, a word is created.  Then string words together to make a sentence or grouping…have we expressed a concept?  A concept can then be the basis for a story or a poem.

As a writer, your particular perspective or voice has influenced your choice of words.  Those words are poured into a form–an essay,  poem or story–whatever your chosen vehicle of expression.  Have you related something that has personal meaning to you?  Ideally, it would have meaning for others beyond you, the writer.  There is great synergy in that blending, isn’t there?

Definition:  “Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The term synergy comes from the Attic Greek word συνεργία synergia from synergos, συνεργός, meaning “working together”       Wikipedia

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What I especially appreciate about poetry, as concerns synergy, is that poetry is typically a synergy of feeling, thought and artistry.  And, when a poem is effective, it touches others. Poetry has the capacity to unite us on the universal themes that apply to anyone regardless of what separates us.  

beyond this doubt
© by Christine O’Brien

Sullen is the feeling of this new day.
Who would choose to be in my company?
Are there words of wisdom I could relay
to soothe this hurt, a better way to be?

It seems I’m frozen in this sorry place.
Writing words, drawing images to abate
this well-contrived and crafted stubborn face
which staunchly hides behind this well-wrought gate.

We’re each here, wondering as we go
what is this “mortal coil” all about?
How do we find a path that is in flow?
Is there relief and trust beyond this doubt?

Is there a best way to be with the unknown?
What is this curious life I strive to own?

Haven’t we all felt sullen at times?  Don’t we ask the larger questions?  Wouldn’t we like to feel lighter as we face uncertainty?

 

 

Photos Are Evocative

A flat tire over the weekend with no possibility of repair until Monday, I was on foot.  I recommend it…not the flat tire, but walking through your neighborhood.  When I spied this “doggie in the window,” I grabbed my smartphone from my backpack and took a few photos.  This one tugged at my heart.  I could certainly make up a story around it.  Would I write it from the dog’s perspective?  The owner’s?  My own?  Hmmm.  It’s really all my own, no matter which perspective I choose.  Or, I could paint it…

doginthewindow.2018.jpg

There is nothing like a visual to evoke a memory, a feeling or some other emotional response.

Writing Prompt:
If you were going to use this image as inspiration for your writing today, how would you begin?  Does it inspire a poem, perhaps?  Write it!

“My name is love…”

“My name is love
supreme my sway
The greatest god
and greatest pain,
Air, earth, and seas, my
Power obey,
And gods themselves
must drag my chain.

In every heart my throne I keep,
Fear ne’er could daunt my
daring soul;
I fire the bosom of the deep
and the profoundest hell
control…”

from Don Quixote Part II
by Miguel de Cervantes

L O V E

Love.  It amazes me that we fall in love.  As if it were a puddle, pool or lake.  Do we trip and fall? Are we walking, unawares, and suddenly we’ve fallen in loveInto love?

Everyone writes about love at some point, right?  Do they?  Do you?  How do you define what seems ineffable?  Intangible.  And, has attached to it one’s particular perspective on the definition of what love is.

When you say “I love you,” what are you really saying?

In the quote above, Cervantes has personified love–made it into a person with great power.

This poem, written and read by Edna St. Vincent Millay, surprised me on many levels.

First, the quality and tone of her voice.  Secondly, I had not read this poem before…listening to it for the first time, I felt a certain trepidation–where was she going to land?  And, finally, hearing the conclusion, I felt deeply moved.

Contemplation:
A poem touches us because we fit the meaning to our experience.  Does this feel true to you?  When writing, how do you personify love?

 

Smell

Caged Freedom

Smells
Animal dung smells
hang heavy in thick air of suspense.
The stink of carnivore dung
is quite different than the
oddly sweet scent of herbivore dung.
I’ve become expert on such things
as I feverishly stride
through long afternoons of dejection.
They feed me plenty and often~~
raw, red horsemeat, scent of blood.
My cage is hosed down three times-a-day
watering away wild odors.
My trainer—we are faithful to each other
~~he sweats profusely—mustily
as he trains away fierceness
and retrains fierce pretense.
I cooperate
growling and scowling as we rehearse.

Performance night a collage of smells
–clowns acrid greasepaint
–tightrope walkers
reeking of cheap perfumes
–concession foods
popcorn and hotdogs vie for supremacy.
All the people blend into one
odoriferous stench
of fear, excitement and their daily dramas.

Sometimes,
between cage and circus tent,
I catch it…
a whisper of deep forest fragrance
wrought with imagination
of strange stalking beasts
of birds with multi-syllabic calls
olfactory descent into wild ways.
And I stop
–right there–

in that wild breeze pause.
I tug at the rope that collars me
and rear up slightly
on cramped hind legs.
I groan a roar that crawls deeper
than any loneliness.
Then, it’s gone
–the smells of today snap me back
camouflaging uncivilized dreams.

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Everyone has a nose.  They come in all shapes and sizes;  their purpose is universal. Though we don’t rely on them in the same ways that animals do, we do count on them to warn us of smoke or beckon when our favorite pie has come out of the oven.  Besides being great for breathing and filtering the air, noses are olfactory memory generators!

Several years ago, I attended a Writer’s Conference in Ashland, Oregon.  I chose to work with poet and author, Kim Addonizio, over the five days of the conference.  I am so grateful to have had this experience.  One of the final assignments was to write a poem based in the sense of smell.

I returned to my room and sat there for awhile, tallying the possible directions I could  go with this theme.  Suddenly, it fell into place.  Being an empath, I never really liked circuses.  One brother is an animal right’s activist.  I’ve taken my kids to a few circuses, but we felt unease.

In the poem above, I became the circus tiger in the cage and wrote from that perspective.

Writing Prompt:
The invitation is yours to write a poem or prose with the sense of smell as your prompt.  Follow your nose and see where it takes you.

tiger.2014.final