The Personal is Universal

These conversations get intimate and we weave in and out of the personal and address universal themes. We are trying to be authentic. We considered whether or not these conversations might be something that others could relate to.

Are these perhaps the conversations that we would have liked to have had with our intimate partners in the past, but they didn’t happen? They couldn’t happen.

Daniel: What does the picture look like so far after three sessions. The old paradigm and the new paradigm we’re trying to create. The old one of not talking, not coming to the table. The new one is us coming to the table and talking. I feel that this is what we’re doing here. A new paradigm for a partnership. Both have to be into their self-awareness, self-honesty so that they can talk.

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Our conversations were highly stimulating and there was never a lag time during the hour plus that we talked. These were serious topics, but sometimes, the humor would slip in. Once I was so sure about something that I wanted to say. Daniel’s focus was on me and I totally spaced it. I started laughing at myself. Daniel wanted to know what was so funny. He assumed it was about him or something that he said. I had to explain that I was laughing at myself. Humor is so important, isn’t it. Not taking oneself so seriously all of the time. I need to remember this.

Me: A person has to be sufficiently open and aware. We have to reach a certain stage of self-honesty. I agree with you that bringing it to the table and dialoguing is part of the new paradigm. It’s not so easy when a couple is deep into a relationship to have these conversations. Egos get in the way, old unconscious patterns get in the way, fear or anxiety. These conversations would be different if we were established in a relationship. It’s a different dynamic when a couple is living together.

Daniel: We separate at the end of the conversation…we have space. We process what was said after we part company. Have you found that sometimes you can talk more freely and openly to a stranger? It’s because we’re in the same frequency…that we’re able to share with a total stranger.

Me: Sometimes I share something intimate with a stranger and afterwards I’m shocked–how could I share that with a stranger!–as you said the frequency is there.

Daniel: We’re not total strangers. This is the most contact we’ve had. There’s been a buildup of trust and comfort. My relationship with you has always been one of a very even keel. I never attacked you. I never put you down. I’m a little erratic at times. Instinctively towards the very beginning, I felt comfortable, easy-going, support, you pulled out my good qualities. It’s the frequency thing…this is flowing as it is. Unlike, Fiona, (a friend of Daniel’s) it was hostile and aggressive until we got to know each other better.

Me: If it feels uncomfortable, it’s good to voice that too. There’s more that charges me around this and makes me feel this is really worthwhile. I honor what we’re doing here.

Daniel: You need to be around a male that is comfortable for you. Safe. As opposed to not. We don’t have stuff with each other.

Everything Daniel says doesn’t have to send me into a reactive place nor does he have to be triggered by whatever I say.

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In a long-term relationship, how does one initiate the conversations that are wanting to be held? When talking hasn’t been at the forefront of relating, where do you begin?

A Mature Man…

The conversations continue…Daniel and I were discussing my expectations of my husband when I was a young wife and mother.

Me: When I was newly married, pregnant a year later and when my daughters were growing up, I needed a partner, a helpmate. What I got was the puer aeternus. I do commend my ex-husband for supporting our family economically. There are some men who don’t do that. However, every structure of safety and a healthy environment in which to rear children was torn down by his drunken disregard for the sacred task of rearing our children. Not to mention his disrespect of me.

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Now, in my middle years, I no longer need that type of helpmate. My task of being the woman who can only love as mother is complete. Now I want a mature man who can meet me as an equal and love me wholly as a woman!

Daniel chuckled and asked wryly “Christine, would you know how to be towards a mature male?”

The question seemed to hover in the air between us. I wondered out loud.

Me: “I’d like to think that I’m capable of learning…that if a man were mature and self-aware, I’d like to think that I could up-level, to grow as a result of our relationship. In a healthy way. Rather than being brought down to a level of the immature male. I’ve been there and done that.”

Daniel, noting that it was only theoretical, applied the question to himself…would he know how to relate to a mature woman?

Aha!

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Longer life spans have created different needs and/or new desires for what a woman seeks in a relationship with a man. It’s after we get tossed from the old paradigms, when they prove false, unreliable, like the betrayals that they were that change can begin to occur. When I was twenty-seven years old, I literally vomited up the false beliefs about my childhood. I had thought I had a good childhood. I had relied on what my father had said “Your parents are you best friends.” When I began to see that my childhood was based on a terrible fiction, I became depressed. I went into the underworld. I had to go there to unearth what was false and discover what was true.

Such an upheaval can occur at any time in one’s life. Daniel grew up in Wales. His reaction to his dysfunctional childhood was to detach from his parents at a very young age, ten years old. He physically left home and school when he was sixteen years old. He had seen what marriage looked like and decided that it wasn’t for him. However, he did marry, twice. Due to his background and lack of self-awareness, both marriages failed.

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What I needed and desired in a man when I was young and planning a family had evolved. Once that sacred task of childrearing was completed, what was I looking for in a relationship with a mature male? What I desire now is different than what I needed then. I certainly don’t want to bring up an immature male at this time in my life.

Me: When a woman says “I want a mature man, are there any out there?” I wondered out loud to Daniel.

Daniel: Is that her intrinsic truth? Does she really want a mature man? Are there any out there? There are very few as you know…

Daniel noted that when a man marries young and has a family, by the time he’s in his forties, he’s looking around for a younger woman…He puts all of that aside and starts over again…doing the Peter Pan thing, trying to stay young because now he’s got “a young chick” by his side.

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In the past, Daniel was drawn to women that he considered to be “mature women.” He was also often intimidated by who he thought that they were–that they were smarter than him. When he came to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter, he was attracted to these focused career women. He considered them both as objects of desire and sources of learning. They represented wisdom and maturity to him. Although he was intimidated by them, he stuck it out for a period of time because he knew (even back then) that it was about consciousness-changing. When the women lost their allure to him, when he realized that “they weren’t as smart as I thought they were,” he abused them over a period of time.

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As a woman of many years now, if I choose to be in a relationship with a man again, I have to do my own work of becoming conscious, self-aware. A mature man, one who has done his deep work likely won’t appear on my radar screen unless or until I do what I need to do to grow in self-awareness. That’s as it should be.

One thing that was probably beneficial for Daniel and me as we held these weekly conversations is that we were both clear that we weren’t romantically interested in the other. If that had been the case, I think the conversations would have gone in a different direction and perhaps not have been possible.

Let’s Talk–between a man and a woman

Last week, when the smoke in the mountains of northern California cleared sufficiently, I sat outside in the backyard with a male friend. I mentioned that I had recently watched the film, The Princess Bride. One of the antagonists was boasting that he had a brain that could outwit Socrates and Aristotle. My friend wondered how it would be to engage in a conversation with Socrates and Aristotle. If they were there with us today, in my backyard in conversation, what would that be like? I said “First of all, being a woman, I wouldn’t be included in the conversation.” It isn’t big news that in Greek society, women had a place; it was in the home and their occupation was within that domain. To this friend’s credit, he said that I’d be included in the conversation if he had anything to say about it!
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Let’s back up to 2009. For several years, I’d been considering the possibility of conversations with a man. I didn’t have a particular man in mind. One day, at the local health food store, a man who actually had done some yard maintenance for me, stood behind me in the checkout line. I turned to him, his name is Daniel, and I nearly blurted out “Would you be interested in having some poetic conversations with me about the way that men and women relate?” Without hesitation he replied, “Christine, I’m your man.” For twelve weeks, we met once a week for an hour. Many more questions arose.  I recorded our conversations, made a cd for both of us so that in between meetings, we could review what was said and witness how we listened, how we spoke, and any other observations.

Premise for conversations:  Having survived a highly abusive childhood within a dysfunctional patriarchal family paradigm, I married young.  I stayed in this abusive relationship for nearly thirty years.  I was a battered wife.  Out in the dating world, I encountered some very immature men.  I had questions about men; about how men and women relate, about expectations in a relationship, about why men think that they have permission to behave in an abusive way towards women, to dominate them.  These are questions that every woman should be asking, if not for herself and her daughters, then for her nieces, her sisters, for the women across the earth that are disrespected by men in a patriarchal culture that disfavors women.

Highlights of Conversation One: 

As pointed out by great thinkers and authors, it is unlikely that Mars and Venus, through all of their grand efforts over time, are ever going to achieve a perfect unity.  In the film, Jerry Maguire, the male character played by Tom Cruise, gives his “I need you” speech.  One phrase that has been repeated over the years is his line “You complete me.”  It’s weird because I seem to remember her saying the line.  Regardless, I do remember cringing when he said it and thinking “DON’T FALL FOR IT.”  Had I become a cynical middle-aged woman who had seen too much of things gone wrong?

When, in our first conversation, Daniel said that he was an incurable romantic and that line, that thought that someone else completes him, enraptured him.  As a woman who had been beaten down by immature men, I was all for my own sovereignty.  Screw that.  I complete myself!  And, if a man brings something to the equation that doesn’t smack of co-dependency, then I might let him get a foot in the door.  Otherwise, no thank you.  My sovereignty had been hard won. 

Back to the thought that on this earth plane, according to some spiritual teachers and philosophers, men and women can never truly unite.  Isn’t that good?  When, I wonder, are we each going to find the value in what the other brings to the table and appreciate what we can create together.  Why create an opposition when there can be a cooperative? Women do not need to try to define themselves using masculine terminology.  Women don’t have to aspire to excel in left brain logic…leave that to the men.  Bring in our right brain wisdom to balance the logic.  Bring in the intuitive. Bring in the imaginative, the mythic.
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Ten years after these conversations, I asked myself what prompted me to want to engage this dialogue with a man (and a man I hardly knew)!  Where did I find the courage to initiate these conversations after the history I’d had with abusive men?  Where did my silenced voice emerge from and why then?  And, discovering that in his earlier life, this man had been verbally abusive to women and had no conscience about his behavior, made this all the more daring on my part.  As he began to “wake up” and do his own inner work, he became more approachable.
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In these times, the women of Afghanistan are facing the degradation and removal of their rights as human beings. Their rights to safely walk the streets, their rights to education, their rights to be represented at the bargaining tables and more. Where does this hatred of women stem from? Complex, right? Yet, there it is insinuated throughout known history and across cultures.

What can you trace in your family system that reeks of misogyny? When do we outgrow this crap!?

Grandmothers

Recently, in an online Zoom class, the discussion went to “What’s a good story you’d like to share about your relationship with one of your grandfathers?”

I came up with zilch! Good stories about either one of my grandfathers’ relationship to me were non-existent. This wasn’t the first time where I felt a longing for a grandfather (remember Heidi and her grandfather in the Swiss Alps). My Irish grandfather on my father’s side was an alcoholic for most of his life. I have a sad image of him slumped in an old upholstered chair staring out the window from the second story of his house in Bernal Heights. I remember someone saying that he had only six teeth left, his hair was white and sparse and he had nothing to say to a little girl. The other Grandfather, the Italian one, would slip out of the house rather quickly when my parents arrived with their nine children in tow. He had a beautiful garden out back in the open fields of Mountain View and I only remember being allowed to go out there a few times. He wore a beat up hat and overalls. I understand that he was an accountant and wore a suit during the work week.

However, I do have memories of my grandmothers. The Irish/German Grandmother on my father’s side was diabetic. She tucked boxes of chocolate in drawers, cabinets, under beds. One week she would come to visit and her legs would be swollen with fluids; the next week, she twirled her skirt and ta-da, skinny legs. She once gave me a pink and purple feather duster. I guess she knew that I was one of the little serfs in my parent’s house. That’s how I thought of us at times, like a feudal system. We, the children, the serfs, had to do the work to keep the kingdom thriving. I have other memories of her, Lou short for Louise.

My Italian Grandmother Anna was born in Palermo and she was brought to America with her brother and parents when she was six months old…Ellis Island. She is the one I witnessed into her old age…she lived to be ninety-one years old. As a girl, I didn’t feel either favored or disfavored by her. When she pronounced my given name of CHRISTINE, it sounded stern to my ears. I was usually Chrissie. She was an authoritarian figure, the matriarch. I got the impression that my grandfather was the submissive one. She was groomed by her mother to be an opera singer. She did sing in some of the churches in San Francisco. The family had moved from the east coast to the west coast. Those stories are sketchy.

One year, I bought a cassette recorder. Two of my brothers and I thought it would be a good idea to interview Grandma especially in regards to our Italian lineage. She was in her late eighties at the time. I have those tapes to this day and have made copies for family members. When we showed up on her doorstep, her greeting would sound so weak…”I have nothing to say really. I live the life of a recluse.” By the end of the conversation, her voice had regained the old strength and she was once again the final authority on everything, the matriarch that we remembered.

My grandparents, I can only guess at what life stories, traumas and dreams they did not disclose that affect me and the future generations in this lineage?

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So do you have stories of your relationship with your grandparents? How do you preserve them or pass them on?

A Scene

Landscape drawing and painting is a whole other territory, no pun intended.  It is one area where I’ve only started to scratch the surface of what there is to know and put into practice.  There I was, on the McCloud River one sunny day.  The elephant ear plants, the rocks crowding the scene, the greenish color of the water–how on earth does an artist begin to capture this?

In a sense, making art is all about impression.  What is the feeling I get when I see this sight in nature?  How do I want to show a river, contained yet in motion?  So I play…with form, light, shadow, image, movement, whimsy.  And while it looks nothing like the original setting, it has an energy about it that I appreciate.

I framed this painting and it sat in a gift shop for at least one year.  Then, they gave it back to me as it hadn’t sold.  I stashed it…until a couple of months ago.

But WAIT!  It wasn’t done!

It went from this…to this.  I named her River Goddess.  When I put this piece in a members only art exhibit at a local gallery, it sold within one week!  I knew that she would sell.  A man, a lawyer, who’d never visited the gallery before purchased the painting.  He was on a tour of the gallery with his rotary club.

Any artist’s journey with a painting is a distinct experience.  It is a tender relationship. Something unique is brought forth through you.  It’s an honor to share in the creative process.  I really do believe that it’s accessible to everyone.

What are your thoughts…how do you invoke your creativity?

My Mother’s Hands

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This mixed media piece was to be my entry in an upcoming art show.

It was also a challenge to myself to integrate poetry with paint.  In some way, it was a homage to my mother’s life.  The photo is of her at age seventeen.  She was a beauty.  My mother died in 2011 at age 91.  From my perspective, her life had been a long, hard road. I’ve written so much about her, about our relationship, about her relationship with my father.

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One of the layers of this painting is a poem, My Mother’s Hands.   After writing the poem  on the canvas, I remember feeling vulnerable.  I was revealing her story to an audience who might not understand the battered wife syndrome.

The poem begins:

I wonder if a palm reader back then would have foretold
–a long life
–an unloving marriage
–an abusive spouse…

…and then I smudged some of the words with gesso and paint.

In the last three years of their lives, my parents were in a care home, a house in a neighborhood with eight elderly residents.  Another sister and I alternated visiting them during the week.  Two other sisters orchestrated their care from afar.  The brothers remained aloof until the very end as they didn’t feel at ease with our father.

In her later years, my mother’s hands were contorted with arthritis.   Her fingers had trouble gripping a spoon and then navigating it to her mouth.  But she had lost so many of her abilities that I didn’t want to help her too much.  I watched as the spoon wobbled towards her mouth.  Her mouth like a quivering bird anticipating food.

My father in the background would say “These are not the golden years.”  I could see that.

One sunny day, we were sitting outdoors under fruit-laden orange trees.  My mother said “I wonder where we go from here.”

“What do you mean, Mom?” I asked.

“After we die.” she said.

“I thought you believed in heaven,” I said, trying to offer comforting words.

My father said “There’s nothing.”

“Dad,” I said, “I thought you had a dream of heaven.  You said it was beautiful.”

My father said, “It was lonely.  I was the only one there.”

In slow motion, my mother reached for my hand and held it–an unfamiliar gesture.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I’m sure thoughts of my mother weave through my mind on any given day.  For one reason or another.

I wonder what she’d be thinking about the state of the world today.  She once asked me to write her story…I’m not sure which one…the one of the devoted wife who stood by her husband no matter what abuse.  Or the possible woman who hid herself away and didn’t have an opportunity to blossom.

Duck Whimsy

I love this painting even today.  It touches me in a way that I don’t expect.  The original image was in a nature magazine.  I portray it in my own whimsical style.  The black and white of the duck, the furry duckling going for a ride, the shadow on the water and the background of total colorful whimsy–I find them entrancing…and fun.

When you enter into a painting, when you are so engaged that everything else in your life and the world falls away, if only for a few moments, you are in the creative vein.  What a special timeless place to dwell.  What a gift.  This is something artists and writers share and understand deeply.  Everyone has the ability to enter, but not everyone does.  It saddens me to hear someone say that they don’t have a creative bone in their body.  I know otherwise.  I truly do.  Many of us over the course of our lives stand on the precipice of our own creative vein.  But we don’t take the leap.  Why not?  “I’m not an artist,” is the refrain.  Or, “I’m not good at that.”  I disagree.

duckfour (1)

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If you dare to take my dare…find a magazine with images.  Choose one that you like.  Start with something easy.  Trace over the image a few times.  Get a sense of what it feels like to trace this particular image.  Then, draw the image on a piece of paper, in a notebook, whatever you have.  Draw it today, draw it tomorrow, draw it everyday for one or two weeks.  Notice the lines in the image.  See if you can spot shapes.  Notice the lines and shapes in relation to one another.  Let your hand practice drawing what you see.  For it is in showing up and practicing that we get good at something.  Don’t strive for perfection.  Let it be your perspective, the way that only you see it, that guides your hand.

Engage with it and notice where you go.

Stay safe and healthy.