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.

Those Difficult Topics

Poets, writers, thinkers, philosophers, you and I, if we keep a journal or a log, we sometimes document not only our personal journey, but significant events in human history. We note how we are affected by them. We note how the world is affected by them. We bring light to things that many people have trouble discussing. For when do you talk about such occurrences? At the dinner table when everyone is trying to enjoy a meal? In an evening conversation before bed? At the club where you work out? At lunchbreak? There are things that we continually sweep under the rug. There are difficult topics about which we might have an opinion, but don’t have a clue as to what to do.

This piece was written in 2011 following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

1) At my age,
I do not want to
keep house
for a man
to see to his care and feeding
I’ve completed the season of breeding
done with the years of childrearing
It seems that the men on match.com
have the same old requirements
of a woman…

and she is no longer me!

2) The violence of birth
an entry point
we are all players here
what capsule did I take
that made me forget
my origin?
Are these words a tunnel
I follow towards that illusive speck of light?
When I reach the end, I might…
dissolve in a fizz or spark.
Some say a star is flung into the night
“Find your place in the order of things”
says one of the true gods
or is chaos our real plight
and are we destined to try to carve
sense out of nonsense?
or not?
Can I then practice being myself
stop seeking truth long enough to see it
dazzling everywhere?
Can I be satisfied with this?

3) Cleaning the cat’s litter box,
I wonder if nuclear fallout
understands that it must hug
the shores of Japan?!?
I might think I live in a bubble
but then how do I explain this stray germ
that’s taken over my sinuses?
What’s so important today
that I must speak it?
Sometimes words are inadequate
constructed of mere letters
then grouped into sentences,
thoughts, extracted from…air?
The mind is always grasping
for something else
to grapple with.
What does this little woman
with the sinus cold
have to say
that hasn’t been said
a million times over?
As the jet streaks the sky
with a contrail tail
the memory of kids
screaming skyward
shouting with all their might
“don’t crash.”
Did they foresee then
this fragile ecosystem?
A man hiking in the mountains
above Chernobyl
commented on how
“pure” the air
looked from up there
after the explosion.
Mountain climbers breathe deeply
what invisible warfare was  he
unwittingly subjected to?
Are we subjected to?

Something Else–Where does your mind go?

Reviewing an earlier journal can provide the inspiration to
get you writing…

I’ll tell you this…

1)A body likes comfort
lingering in bed this morning
it’s time to put on the flannel sheets
These shores of comfort’s complacency
the call to action
the planet’s doom
Where is my friend
for the end of the world?

2)Errand completed
I drove to a favorite Thai restaurant
Only two other women are sharing lunch
so I get immediate service.
This sinus condition
spicy Thai food is often the cure.
I sip my medium hot red curry
as the restaurant suddenly bulges
with the late lunch crowd.
Two older men
looking somewhat beaten by life,
sit at the table in front of me.
Urgh.  It’s not the view I want
while eating lunch.
I avert my eyes
though they inadvertently rivet
to…
I rearrange the water carafe, teapot
and a bottle of soy sauce,
strategic guardians,
to occlude this less than desirable view
of pants that sit well-below a man’s hefty waist
exposing the infamous butt crack.
I’d change my seat however the
restaurant is suddenly full–
a migration of citizens
hungry for Thai food.
I frown and raise the book I  brought to read —
Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest, and try to read
about the ideology of isms…
how an ism creates a movement
with its own set of dogma
and gathers followers like a dog attracts fleas
and then, believing it is the ultimate truth,
how it proceeds to force
its belief system onto others.
And those who are prone to manipulation
who fear thinking for themselves
get on the tram
and point fingers at the others
who are left behind on the ground
isolated in their own set of beliefs.

3) is activism only
another ism
but if we don’t act
how does the planet
know I care?
and has it conjured up you
and me to be its advocates
called us forth
to “dance our clumsy dance”
fracturing the siren’s song
of looking the other way
when there are cries for help
everywhere?

Plan and be Flexible

In the past few years, many of us have hesitated to make plans. If we did, frequently something came up to alter our course. Flexibility is fast becoming a new practice. If we can’t gather as planned, then hmmm, what can we or I do instead? I’ve heard the phrase in the foreseeable future, and even that doesn’t come with a guarantee. These days, when someone asks me what a typical winter in the mountains is like, I say that it no longer has relevance as to what the weather is going to be like this winter. Things have changed, are changing, and I’m learning how to be flexible in the face of this.

When I’m asked what I’m going to do for the holiday, I hear myself answering “I don’t know.” I had a plan for Thanksgiving and then, it changed. Then I settled on another plan and at the last minute, I changed my mind about attending as I wasn’t feeling good.

We do plan things…but then, how are we when things don’t go according to plan? There are many possible responses. I was disappointed when my first Thanksgiving plan didn’t work out. I scrambled around searching for another gathering to attend. I found one, but then, I reneged at the last moment. The hostess was insistent that I take care of myself and didn’t make me feel bad for not participating. I did bring over a loaf of home-baked saffron bread and apple crumble as promised. The day after the gathering, she brought me a generous serving of the turkey dinner.

It is helpful to be able to adapt to change, to be flexible. We’ve all heard that change is the only thing that is constant…but the phrase doesn’t complete itself. It could be therefore it is wise to learn how to be flexible.

In the ancient philosophy, The Tao, there is a discussion of flexibility. This philosophy considers that everything is relative. There is the belief that any choice we make is dependent upon the circumstances in the moment and not on preconceived notions or plans. Digging in my heels and feeling upset about a change of plan makes me unhappy. Applying the principle of flexibility, calls on a creative solution in the face of a change of circumstances.

****

Here’s a fun poem that I wrote about how to be with some of life’s choices when I wasn’t sure in which direction to go. I titled it The Obvious Next Thing.

Naked, I sit on a hot rock beside the calm lake,
drying my toes.
The brilliant chartreuse elephant leaves crowd around
like curious spectators.
I need additional reinforcements
a growing awareness of my own expertise.
The sincere blue of the sky
contrasts my cloudy thoughts.
In myself, what must I nourish?
A concerned moon is rising over the water.
“Go left, go right, go to Peru, find true love”–
if only it was that easy, if each day I could be
presented with specific directives–
“Eat a salmon-colored mango,
paint leaves the colors of gumdrops,
eat them, their crunchy Autumn texture.”
“Don’t be a little old lady
wearing a particularly strong perfume,
not yet!”

I find a pot of tea is a solution
to most problems.
I put on my socks,
wrap a towel around my nakedness
and stumble home to the beckoning pot
the obvious next thing.

****



Here and Now and Change

I am here. It is now. Now has challenges. The climate changes and devastations, the ways we’ve been misusing the earth. There is a price to pay. Civil unrest. Political themes and schemes. A pandemic that seems to be ongoing without an obvious resolution.

There are things that bind me to life. There are times when part of me wants to escape. I have no wisdom for others. None. Today looks like winter due to the cast of smoke. I find myself craving winter. Winter like an oasis in a too hot, too fiery, too smoky, too long summer. We’re coming to dread summer in the mountains and in the lowlands of the west coast of California. Carefree times–no more.

How can I impose happiness these days? Where in my psyche is there an understanding of how to be in these very risky, uncertain times? I can’t feign happiness.

****
“The Only Constant in Life Is Change.”- Heraclitus

This seemingly opposite quote was coined by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Translation: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

There are times in our lives when we choose change. They are choice points and there can be an easy flow towards the choices. When I met the man I was to marry, it felt like I was in the flow–grown up, living at home, working at a steady job, meeting a man who wanted to marry me…accepting his proposal, moving away, having children. All of these seemed to be in a natural flow. However, in retrospect, I realize that I didn’t give a great deal of thought to the choices. I followed the strictures of a too restricted childhood. Everything was virtually mapped out for me and I complied without a great deal of thought. So while I made choices, while they seemed natural, in many ways, they weren’t my free choices.

At other times in my life, change was forced upon me it seemed. “Grow or die” sort of imperatives. I can look back and see where I made choices that supported growth. Returning to college in my thirties, taking creative writing classes through a woman’s re-entry program. These were self-empowering choices that helped me to make the next changes in my life. Through the creative writing class, I became enamored of poetry. Poetry became the connecting force to my deepest feelings and desires. This deepening of self-knowing helped me to make the choice to leave my marriage, finally. A change, a leap that I knew I must make.

How are you with change? If it is a guarantee that change is the only constant, why do we fight against it? I suppose it is a fear of the unknown. We have the familiar…it’s like the security of the womb before we’re pushed out into a larger world. What awaits us? We want to know something before we can really know it. This then calls upon our adventuring spirit. The admission of: “I don’t know. I am curious. Let’s find out what’s next.”

Then the second quote, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” One understanding is that yes, change can be thrust upon us by outside circumstances, turbulent times. However, in order to truly go forward, we must meet that change with our own deepest understanding and heart-wisdom. All of this is easier said than done.

I am, you are, we are enigmas to ourselves, aren’t we?

Poetry and the Common Ground

Poetry takes the everyday events and elevates them. Poetry takes the extraordinary events and translates them into something relatable. Poetry can be anything from passion overflowing on a page to a quiet meander beside a forest stream. Poetry is inherently an avenue for self-discovery and deepening. It fosters relationality with the reader.

Where do poets come from? Years ago, in my late thirties, I returned to college. I signed up for a women’s re-entry program with a designated curriculum. Creative Writing was one of the classes. Within this writing class was a segment on poetry. Poetry had always seemed unattainable–both in deciphering what the poet intended to say and in writing my own pen-to-page poem. I hadn’t realized that at this single moment in time, poetry was exactly what I needed. In the morning, I’d roll out of bed onto the floor. Poems gushed from me into my notebook! I was astonished. Suddenly, I who had been brought up to be seen and not heard couldn’t stop writing poetry. Poetry provided an opportunity to write about my life and to integrate the experiences of my life. The poetess in me was born!

Awhile later, I read some of my poetry in intimate circles, then in front of larger audiences. Typically, the women in the audience connected with my words, with me through my words. While the poet and/or writer writes alone, the words of one woman’s experience, my experience, created a common ground–a place of recognition for the listeners. When shared, the poetry became a link between me and other women who know what it is to be a woman in these times. The struggle to claim one’s own identity, to find her voice, to grow out from under the societal expectations of what it is to be a woman–i.e., the common ground. Bringing light to what has bound us, vanquishing the inner shackles that don’t encourage our wholeness, our truth–now laid out before you and me through a poem. How grateful I am to have found this voice in me.

Writing poetry, we don’t merely look and see something objectively. We become deep see-ers. The writer connects with her subject in a visceral way. The poem then has the capacity to bring the reader into the experience. Another crucial thing, when we see deeply and connect with something outside of us, we establish a relationship with it. From that perspective, we begin to see it’s value and the part that it plays in our lives.

Poetry has the capacity to connect us to the themes of our lives–and there lies the common ground once again. We each have life themes that we share in common–birth, death, love, angst, hope, freedom, faith, fear, trauma, renewal, grief, quandaries, and more.

****
What is the value in claiming your inner poet in the world today? Your inner poet is a soulful creature. Engaging soulful awareness of yourself widens the opportunity to do so with others and of what we name as inanimate. Everyone and everything becomes more than merely players and props. The inanimate is then valued and we begin to care more deeply. Things are not there only for our pleasure, entertainment or consumption. They are appreciated for what they intrinsically are. And then, there’s the possibility of fully embracing the earth that is our very sustenance.

****
What is the poetry that connects you to yourself, your neighbor, to other women or men, to the earth, to life? Trust poetry to provide the common ground.


I genuflect

I came across this poem I wrote back in 2009…my dad was resisting allowing in-home-help for my mom.  When we were finally able to get someone in to help my parents, when my father finally acquiesced, I wrote a poem of gratitude for this corps of helpers.  Caregivers are underpaid and unsung heroines and heroes.  They do women’s work which, as we realize, is undervalued across the globe.

****
I genuflect
before all life
and the caregiver who
washes a sink full of dirty dishes
and changes diapers
or empties bedpans
bathes my parents
–to those who wash urine-soaked mattress pads
with grace.

I revere the life
which enters in a bloody burst
catching its first breath in a cry
and releasing its final breath in a shudder
and everything in between
–especially women’s work
which great corporations
like hotels, restaurants,
the hospitality industry
model themselves after.
Women have always
prepared our food,
cared for the sick,
done the laundry,
and not been paid for
their necessary labor.
i.e., my mom
–now my dad has to pay wages
for her care after sixty-six years
of her unpaid service to him.

To pay for women’s work
is a tough pill for him to swallow
wash it down
wash it down
and cough up the money
for these worthy and necessary chores
from worthy givers of care
to my more than deserving mom.

****
Ultimately, my parents moved to a care home.  Their needs were met by caregivers making minimum wage. There is a real humility in accepting help as we age.  And caregiving is a humble profession that deserves to be elevated.  Where does any one society place its value?  This becomes obvious in what they put their money towards.
My father passed away in 2010 and my mom died six months later.

How to work with the “Malaise”

Malaise: “…a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”

How are you coping with it? The long stretch of not being sure how to proceed? The risks, the frustrations, the doubts and uncertainties, the news, the misinformation, the truth that “no one really knows for sure.” What are the long-term consequences of getting the vaccine? How long does it last? What’s the best one for you? What’s the best one for me? Who can you go to for answers? What if you are one who chooses to wait and see before you get the vaccine, if ever? What is the underlying cause of this virus? Where did it actually originate? What’s the best preventative? Can we gather or not? How many feet apart? Wearing masks, indoors or outdoors? Double-masking? Whaaaaat?

And do we have to face more of this in the future? Is it a result of climate change and what we’ve been doing to our planet? The virus goes to the lungs…are the lungs of the earth sending us a message as we carry on with our deforestation…the trees, the lungs of the planet? A good question–is the earth giving us FEEDBACK? How are we interpreting this?

Some of my friends are trying to live their lives with business as usual. There are others who are working around the curtailments. There are others who go between the malaise and working on one or another projects. For them it’s like swimming against the currents. Progress is slow, if any. Sometimes they go sideways, detouring into a mindless distraction. Some have a new addiction to the news, their computers. And they are suffering for it. As for me, I’m trying to sort through a lifetime of writing. And to maintain the little cottage where I live better. A little garden. The goal is to bring some order to the world that immediately surrounds me. The one I think I have some control over. In incremental ways, daily. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or overnight.

What about you? How are you coping?

****
I wrote this poem in March of 2012. I don’t remember what was going on in my life at the time. It was a year after my mom had died. A year and a half since my dad had died. I’m guessing I was rousing myself and redirecting my life after the challenges of their final years. The thing is…perhaps we’re always rebounding from something or other in our lives. Yes, it’s true, the magnitude of what has resulted from the virus is different because it’s global, not only us. Yet, we do know some of what it takes to rebound.

Betweenland
by Christine O’Brien

Footing is precarious
The old, familiar ledges
eroding beneath my feet
before I have something
solid in place
If trust were substance
I’d stand upon it
finding safe ground
in the midst of dissolution
From there,
I’d look out upon inner continents
–the old ones disappearing
as the new ones surface
The discontent and yearning
from which they’ve sprung
in my own sweet soul
calling more of me into being
The woman that I am
standing on this plot of land
looking across the horizon,
now so close,
to see the other one
stretching out his hand
towards me


Responding to the Call or not…

Fear of being judged.

Sometimes I don’t respond to the call.  Sometimes, the universe delivers precise messages that it’s time to do an art show.  Locally, invitations come to me.  I find a reason to say “no, thank you.”  I make excuses that seem true in the moment… “I’m grieving.”  or “It’s too costly to get frames and prep the art for a show.”  or “I’m mostly self-taught–I haven’t gone to art school.”

In retrospect all of these reasons (excuses) seem false, constructed to protect myself in some way.  Our art is, after all, our progeny and we protect it accordingly along with our fragile artist’s ego.  Behind all of this, is the fear that others are going to judge me and my art unfavorably.  Time to get past that.

You cannot be discovered and invisible at the same time!

Recognizing and making opportunities.

Think about the attention that has come your way through your art or writing or poetry–when you deign to share it.  That old “don’t hide your light under a bushel” parable comes to mind.  Given a gift, it is meant to be shared.  I have to remind myself of this when I humbly dismiss an invitation to have an art show or decline to read a poem publicly.

Notes to self:  1)When someone says that they like my art…that they want to purchase something because it speaks to them or that they’d like to see more of my art, say “Yes”.  2) And, when they say that a painting is something they could live with comfortably and appreciate daily, don’t dismiss that.  Share more of what you do with them.

I’ve been thinking about the unlikely places to share my art as well as the generous offers from a local hotel and a gallery.  Take a little expedition within a thirty mile radius of where I live.  Who could host a piece or two of my art.  I’ve made  up those business cards–but I could give them a fresh look.  And then, actually hand them out!

If not now, when?

Truly, can any one of us measure the length of our lives?  We didn’t come here to be invisible.  We are each an expression of something that the universe has brought forth for a good reason.  We are meant to be seen and heard.  With due respect for others of course.  It’s not a competition.  It’s more like an ARRAY.  What a beautiful word.  In an array of flowers, there is not one that has to be the most beautiful.  Again, reminding me of the word “synergy” where the parts aren’t greater than the whole…they work together in a harmonious array.

STOP PLAYING HARD TO GET!

So it is with your art…joining the league of artists, each a star in his/her own orbit.  What a brilliant idea!

Another quote I love and refer to time and again:

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”   – Audre Lorde

****
What I’m saying is:  Any one of us is being called on in some way to express ourselves at this time.  I heard the phrase recently “You are here on purpose.”  Wow, that’s a good one to contemplate.  What you are working on or creating in your life right now, what would it be like to share it with another, others, the larger community?

Mary Oliver

“Who made the world?”  In one of her famous poems, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks this question.  Like a young child’s voice asking her parents “Who made the world?”  or “Where did I come from?”  or  “How did I get here?”  The young, if allowed, ask those existential questions.  And like this and many other poets, Oliver follows the thread of her thoughts and goes from the broad to the specific.

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

****
I want to know
WHO MADE THE PINEAPPLE?
I mean this pineapple
the one delivered with my food order
this past week?
Who designed the layered, tufted top
the prickly, hexagon designs
outlined in yellow-green?
Who conscribed it to be juicy sweet
a treat

pineapple

Who made the pineapple?

***
Can you find something to be amazed by today?  Something that causes you to stop in your tracks and really see and admire it?  One definition of admire is “to regard with wonder, pleasure or approval.”  If I took the time, I’m guessing that throughout the day, there would be many things that I could admire.  I could dwell in amazement.