Said Eleanor…

I was considering writing an essay addressed to women based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s oft-stated observation “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Then, I waivered for a few reasons. The main one being, I personally know how hard it is to rise above the belief of one’s own inferior status when you are surrounded by a culture, religion or family system that operates from a built-in gender inequality model. And, when your finances are tied in with your male counterpart this compounds the situation.

How does a woman activate within herself the powerful being that has been in dormancy for eons? How does she, despite everything that is pushing against this, rise into her own (uncomfortable) power? How does she source her power in a male-dominated world where “might makes right” and she is hostage to her fears? And as a woman, how does she safely proclaim her feminine prowess when what she brings to the table is unappreciated, minimized and even ridiculed?

At the time that I wrote the following, my mother was eighty-two years old, born in 1920. She married my father in 1941. He won the grand prize, her. She quit her secretarial job, as was expected, bore nine children and lived a life of absolute servitude to him. I heard from one of my sister’s a few days ago. She said that our mom was sitting in a chair in our parents’ house. She just keeled over, fell to the floor and laid their conscious but shocked. Somehow, she got herself up. Shortly thereafter, she went outside to tell my father. He wanted to take her to the hospital. She declined.

My mother runs a household for my father the same as she has since 1941, except that she no longer has her children to help with all of the household tasks. My father does not lift a finger. In his letter to me, he said they eat two meals a day. This preparation is hard on my mom. She doesn’t just throw a porkchop in the broiler. He requires labor-intensive meals and my mom complies. They have two refrigerators stocked with food that she has prepared and other staple ingredients. This is her job, her role–I once asked her “Mom, when do you get to retire?” She answered sheepishly, “I never thought of that.” In questioning her daily routine, I asked her “Do you ever stop, take a bath with bath salts or essential oils and just relax.” She said “I don’t have time for that.” When the facts of his physical and other abuses came to light, I asked her, “Mom, didn’t you get angry?” Her response was “I can’t be bothered with that.”

Where did her anger go? Years later, I realized that part of her anger went into guilt and shame because she didn’t protect her children or herself so well.

Contrary to an enduring belief–men are not intended to be the kings in their castles with women serfs out in the field doing the labor, birthing the children and caring for all things that revolve around home. And in this model, she is also excluded from the decision-making even with things that directly affect her.

So, while I agree in theory with Eleanor’s quote…in practice, after years of ongoing spousal abuse and mental manipulations, my mom had lost the power to make healthy choices for herself when it came to this long-endured relationship. She had been made to feel inferior, probably from birth. And this sense of inferiority carried on right through her marriage to a narcistic man.

Looking at the world at large, I do think that there are some narcistic male leaders making decisions for all of us. As a woman, how does my voice even get heard to affect change in a system that is intent with keeping her in her place? Until a woman can break the ties that bind her to a false sense of herself and comes to realize her personal power, the same games are going to play out. Men continue to dominate. Women continue to take a back seat. We’ve seen a few models of powerful women, but not enough. A surge of woman’s power has to happen en masse to affect real change for the better.

PAUSE

Good Morning! Another beautiful morning when I pause to notice. The pause to notice can be the difference between a good day or a crunched, not-so-good day.

I’ve wasted a lot of time over the course of my life with worry, strife and pressure to conform. While all the time, my ever-patient soul stands on the sidelines waiting for me to pause, acknowledge it and move in the direction that I need to go next. It’s no longer about waiting for a better time or set of circumstances. The soul stands there, hands on hips, frown on its face, tapping its foot impatiently (not literally), reminding me that time is short and I need to get on with it.

“With what exactly?” I inquire. “The life you are here to live!” of course.

There have been times that I wanted to divorce myself. Because…I’m too sensitive, It’s too difficult, I’m afraid, I don’t have what it takes, I’m not talented enough, I haven’t had formal training, I’m not focused. This sweet and familiar litany of excuses.

Life is short and I want to cram everything in which becomes another distraction from what I’m here to do at this time in my life. I can’t remake the less-than-perfect-past. I’d like to set a strong boundary with that! Try as I might, it’s not re-makeable. “Have I learned from it?” is the only question worth asking. Can I move forward now?

Morning Pages

Turning towards this singular day is where the power lies. The morning pages is an exercise that author Julia Cameron named. I’ve mentioned this process in earlier blogs. It’s a sort of “blurting” on the blank page. This helps to clear the stage of yesterday’s stuff and make room for what’s here and now. I don’t always pause in the morning to write the morning pages. I find that when I do, it’s helpful…like removing a clog from a stopped up drain, things flow better.

Apart from pausing to write the morning pages, I do recommend pauses throughout the day. We get on our personal treadmill, driven by our to-to-list. It can be merciless! That’s when I realize I’m enjoying life less. I choose pausing as a practice, a conscious choice to stop and notice how I’m feeling, where I’m at, who I’m with, what I’m doing in this moment. Yes, even and especially our mundane tasks invite us to pause. As I write this, I notice the pen moving across the page–yes, I write with a pen on paper versus tapping at my computer keyboard (that comes later). I watch these words flow across this lined page. I look up and out the sliding glass door and beyond the deck to the Eddies capped with snow. A pause to notice reminds me what is right with the world.

Seal is too a Power Animal!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess it is in how one sees it.

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

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

According to Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being Present

Being Present. Sages believe that there is wisdom in this. Yet, how many of us really live this way? Why don’t we? Too much baggage from the past? Too much worry over the future? Both of which are no longer in our control. We’ve heard that the present is the gift. That we only have power in the present.

Yet, for me, it feels like somehow I avoid the present in one way or another. Thoughts slip in sideways and take me down a path I don’t care to go. And then, the moment is lost to me. I don’t think we can ever effectively escape these sideways distractions. They seem to be integral to our lives. We’re often planning for the next thing. However, once-in-awhile, I have that experience of being precisely where I am, doing (or not doing) exactly what I’m doing. Sometimes, I’m fully present with someone else. I’m seeing them, hearing them, responding to them, experiencing the moment with them. Yet, it’s so rare. How come I can’t harness the fleeting moment and be comfortable within it?

Here’s a poem where I pondered just that…

And Then What?
by Christine O’Brien

on stopping and being present

in this one particular moment

leaving everything pending, undone

unattended

I read that if I died

all the activities

I deemed important

would die with me

for who would be interested

in taking up the threads of my existence

and continuing the odd weave?

sometimes I don’t want

this warp and woof I’ve created.

start anew…

I wonder if there is another me

on another side

of this thinning veil

cheering me on

rah rah

if I could claw a way through to her

merge with her

know the secrets

I already know

live the life

that dreamers awaken to

be real

on this plane

could I drop all the tasks

so self-important

really live while I’m alive? 

oh sweet adventure

oh daring & renewed fascination

now, the wind does howl

and the wood crackles in the stove

spring has slipped backwards

into winter

it’s been a long day

the bath is ready

I’m tired

and anything profound

is more than I desire

this stopping and being present

is so lush.

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Do you feel you are fully present, partially present or rarely present to what’s in front of you? Today? Right now?

Why Am I Here?

Every now and then, it’s a good idea to contemplate this existential question. Today, Thursday, October 29th, 2020 as I go about this day. I’ve decided to put that question at the forefront of my mind. I want to be with it as I weave in and out of the daily activities and encounters. It’s not as if I expect to find a final or definitive answer. It’s more like a present day review that addresses the question: Am I living what I value?

Waking up to a pristinely beautiful autumn day, I might answer “Perhaps I’m here to see and appreciate this inordinate beauty.”

As I sip my morning smoothie made with the abundant fruit harvest, “Maybe I’m here to express gratitude for such nourishing abundance.”

As I stand under a stream of hot running water, taking my morning shower, “More gratitude as I realize this is a privilege, not a right and that there are many others who don’t have running water, hot or cold.”

“Why am I here?” the question echoes and follows me around like a curious puppy discovering the world.

As I wield a paintbrush or write this blog, “Perhaps I’m here to be a creative channel.” And then,
to share my observations and art with others.

Then, as I go out into the world encountering others, it could be that I’m here to be the best version of myself. And to welcome the best version of you, the other.

As I strive to live my personal values, going out into the world, is what I stand in and up for recognizable to you? And do I meet you at that level, recognizing your uniqueness and what you stand in and up for?

Are we each here to welcome ourselves and one another into this grand, crazy, wild, chaotic, uninhibited expression of life!

I feel that one big reason I’m here (or that anyone is here) is to establish right reciprocal relationship with nature which includes us. Yesterday, in a telephone conversation with one of my brothers, he was feeling distress regarding the distancing between nature and people who live in big cities. He said that they have no sense of where their food comes from, how electricity is supplied, nor awareness of the interdependence and relationship between themselves and nature. The “city person” expects these essentials to be delivered to their doorstep. “They are spoiled,” he said. I have been a city person for most of my life. For the past twenty-two years, I’ve lived in the mountains. I do agree that there is a disconnect. And isn’t it then, up to each person to find that missing piece in their lives and reestablish right relationship?

In this time of Covid, there is a common theme of separation and isolation. It has been forced on us by the virus. Yet, if we could begin to re-establish connection to nature, maybe we’d feel less lonely. And, really, as I quest for an answer to why I’m here, I might remember that humans are social animals. And while there is a need for separation at this time, we are a chorus. We need each other. And it is through relationship that we remember why we’re here. For ourselves, for one another. There is a wholeness when you and I meet that can’t be fabricated in solitude. We are born alone and we exit in that way. However, while we’re here, we join our voices, fight for common causes based in our values and play outdoors in nature as often as possible.

For today, I’m going to keep it small…make the question a tiny one that sits there as I quietly observe myself and how I influence life and how life is influencing me.

There’s something else that is coming through powerfully as the day goes on. In this lifetime, I was born a woman. And with that comes a whole other question. I am a witness to how the world I’m born into disfavors women. How it disallows her innate rights of being. How it has enslaved or made women lesser than men in so many ways. Why am I here can be reframed into “Why am I here as a woman?” Is the world ready for women to be all that they can be, in their true power and dignity? I think that it’s about time. What do you think?


Note: I wrote this in October of last year…I decided that today is a good day to publish it as I reconsider my initial question Why am I here?”

She Who Knows

SheWhoKnows.

There is the tale that is told so well by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her world-renowned book,  Women Who Run with the Wolves.  When I first encountered this book, I was in an independent bookstore, The East West Bookshop, down the Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I opened the book randomly and read a passage that was relevant to an experience that I recently had.  The hardbound book wasn’t in my budget.  I replaced it on the display table and walked away.  Then, after browsing for awhile, I was drawn back to the book.  Again, I randomly opened it and voila, another passage that claimed me.  I bought the book.  Every weekend, I’d read a chapter and integrate what I was discovering.  This book felt like a woman’s bible to me.  The mythology and tales that were woven in with a Jungian interpretation touched me deeply.  These tales, passed down from generation to generation, transported me into my own psyche in a way that had never happened before.

La Que Sabe, She Who Knows, was one of those stories.  The story goes…

“In the Southwest the archetype of the old woman can also be apprehended as old La Que Sabe, The One Who Knows. I first came to understand La Que Sabe when I lived in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico, under the heart of Lobo Peak. An old witch from Ranchos told me that La Que Sabe knew everything about women, that La Que Sabe had created women from a wrinkle on the sole of her divine foot: This is why women are knowing creatures; they are made, in essence, of the skin of the sole, which feels everything. This idea that the skin of the foot is sentient had the ring of a truth, for an acculturated Kiché tribeswoman once told me that she’d worn her first pair of shoes when she was twenty years old and was still not used to walking con los ojos vendados, with blindfolds on her feet.”
(excerpt from Clarissa Pinkola Estes)

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When I created this mixed media painting, I had no idea who or what was going to emerge.  But then, she did.  This painting is not about perfection of features…it became about expression of a deep feeling…the woman who has searched inside and encountered her own depths in search of her place in the world.  She does not feign timidity.  Pretense doesn’t work for her.  She decorates herself.  She is radiant and is comfortable with being in her own power.  She is not apologetic for being this powerful.

She has lived her life and learned from it.  She is present with you and deep seeing into human foibles and their underlying strengths.  She understands that wisdom is there for each one of us.  And, she holds patient compassion for herself and others as we sense into our own deep knowing.

Blue Hair!

bluehair

Artists take liberties!  Artistic License, like Poetic License, the artist’s choices reign on the canvas.  Artists are creators on a substrate.  They have the power to paint blue hair and put a cardinal on their subject’s shoulder.  And, once again, to capture an expression.

This class was taught by another amazing artist, Sara Burch.  With this painting, Sara addresses a common artist’s fear, the looming blank canvas!  Believe it or not, there are those of us artists who feel frozen in front of a fresh canvas.

“How or where do I begin?”

Sara Burch’s remedy is to jump right in, laying splotches of paint on the substrate where the facial features might be.  She uses a soggy brush that drips paint and it’s all so casual, playful and easy.  No predesigned face, neither a pencil-drawn face nor a photo of a face to work from.  The artist’s memory of a face begins to lend form to the painting as she crafts the face from the colors she’s laid down.  And then, she mixes up new colors finding a skin tone.  The background color adds more definition to the portrait, popping it forward.  This was a fun and original approach.  Some painters desire to be looser in the way that they paint.  This isn’t easy to achieve believe it or not.

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That idea of perfectionism gets thrown out the window when you paint in this way.  Perfect is not the goal.  There is art that is precise, realism, and I absolutely admire that.  Sara’s approach has to do with letting go in the beginning and then defining and refining the face later.  Any artist finds her own style.  Sometimes by exposing herself to the style of another artist(s) and/or through experimentation.  Being curious is a key element in developing your artistic range.

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Were you someone who colored outside the lines as a kid?  Did you feel shame in that?  Art is an invitation to continually color outside the lines.  To discover the land that lies beyond the defined lines.  Sometimes it could mean giving your subject blue hair.  And other times it could be dripping paint down a blank canvas.  And then, you may have discovered another approach that no one has even dreamed of yet.

A new day is sort of like a blank canvas.  You begin somewhere.

 

 

 

The Dreamcatcher

Years ago, I wove hundreds of dreamcatchers.  It was a very challenging time in my life.  I don’t remember how I discovered the dreamcatcher…but when I did, I found that designing and weaving them was healing and engaging in a way that I hadn’t expected.  I gathered supplies, hoops, twigs, willow, waxed threads, leather strips, feathers and beads.  Each dream catcher was a unique creation.  For me, this indigenous craft held deep meaning…and they were to be shared.  I gave one to each of my family members.  A man I met had a booth at a local flea market.  He sold them, keeping a profit for himself.  What they provided for me in the moment was without price.

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Tracy Verdugo taught a class on painting dream catchers.  And then invited us to write a poem.  This poem is written around the outside circle of the dreamcatcher.

Destiny

Lace and ribbons
decorate the frock.
“Forget the dreams.
Get back to the kitchen
and bake me a pie!”
Banish your fantasy of
happy couples and
floral bouquet apologies.

Re-enter the Goddess–
no partial woman is she!
So, you are somebody
after all.
Tell us what you know.
Emergence is what you requested–
sit down and let’s talk over tea.

A wedge of lemon?  Honey?
Ah, the bitter with the sweet.
This you must experience
for yourself.

Lace and ribbons,
wedding day vows–
disguise your sovereign destiny.

 

 

dreamcatcher

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A dreamcatcher is an indigenous symbol–a web, often with a hole in the center.  It is intended to let the bad dreams pass through and to catch the good dreams.  The dreams that guide you towards your highest visions.

There is both power and presence when we create.  What is the dream of the future that you’d like to paint, color, draw, sculpt or weave?  Make your own dream catcher using collage and paint.  Are there words or poetry that go with it?  Write them on your work of art.  Get lost in this process.  Invite others to participate in making their own dreamcatchers.  Share in ways that are available to you at this time.

Stay healthy and safe.

Deer Medicine

Once upon a time, I was walking in San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica, California.  It’s a beautiful park that retains a wild flavor while being on the outskirts of a big city.  I was hiking along a trail with a lot of switchbacks, up the mountainous terrain.  Suddenly, from above me, a buck (male deer) with a full set of antlers came thundering down the side of the mountain.  He wasn’t so close as to be dangerous, but he was close enough for me to witness his magnificence.  What impressed me most was his power!  My tendency had been to think of deer as gentle, grazing creatures.  Almost fragile!  However, this was no wuss.  There was strength in the body, the muscles, the legs, the form, the energy.

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This painting came from a photo I took of another deer, a tamer version of deer.  This one was within a few feet of me, comfortably foraging.  I painted it in my own naive style around Christmas time.  I added collage.

deeri

According to author, Ted Andrews,
“When you have the deer as spirit animal, you are highly sensitive and have a strong intuition. By affinity with this animal, you have the power to deal with challenges with grace. You master the art of being both determined and gentle in your approach. The deer totem wisdom imparts those with a special connection with this animal with the ability to be vigilant, move quickly, and trust their instincts to get out of the trickiest situations.
The meanings associated with the deer combine both soft, gentle qualities with strength and determination:
• Gentleness
• Ability to move through life and obstacles with grace
• Being in touch with inner child
• Being sensitive and intuitive
• Vigilance, ability to change directions quickly
• Magical ability to regenerate, being in touch with life’s mysteries”

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In Native American Tradition, the energy of deer is described as “gentle.”  It takes both courage and strength to be gentle in these times.  Both with ourselves and with others.

Do you have an animal that you are particularly drawn to in these challenging times?
If you want to find out what your animal guide signifies, you can Google Ted Andrews and the animal of your choice.  See if what he says feels true for you.

Poetry Today (in Perilous Times)…1

Wouldn’t every previous generation say that they lived in “perilous times” or as in the Tao, “interesting times” at the very least?  So many of us have a connotation of poetry as  an archaic (if not boring) language and irrelevant to “modern life.”

How do we get potential readers to cross that chasm of calcified thinking regarding poetry to a reinvigorated and revalued view of poetry?  Is there a place in a relatively newly minted culture where poets and poetry are elevated, revered?  That poetry activates both one’s emotions and values could be one reason that it isn’t welcomed in a society that wants to control its constituents.  There isn’t often comfort in living outside the box.  However, there is power in it.

How does anyone realize that within him/herself, perhaps a dormant inner poet or artist lives?  Sometimes the inner poet comes to life out of despair.  Nothing else seems to suffice.  Nothing else calms or soothes.  Sometimes, she is revived through love.  Sometimes, it is when change is forced and the hand you’ve been dealt doesn’t seem to have an open door–poetry can provide the doorway.

Poetry is not only a bolster for the faint of heart.  In fact, poetry is for everyone and especially in these times.

Consider Wendell Berry, novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, an earth-connected poet of our times.  I love his bit of a poem about salad

“Wash your hands, get them good and clean,
Hurry and find a basket
Let us gather a salad, and so unite
To our passing lives this seasons fruit.”

How relevant is this four line stanza to your daily experience of life?  These days, you better be sure to wash your hands!  Of course, too many of us don’t have a garden to gather lettuce leaves for a salad.  Perhaps there is a farmer’s market nearby or at least a marketplace that gives you that feeling.  However, you gather your salad fixings, to pause and remember our unity to the food that we consume is like a prayer.  Our lives are fleeting and the food we eat to sustain us lends quality to our lives (or it doesn’t)…well, it’s all expressed in this stanza.

Poetry can bring awareness and value to the things we take for granted.  It provides the pause we need in our overly busy lives.  Giving attention to such things makes for a more conscious society.