Getting to “the bones”

I read Women Who Run with the Wolves many years ago. It was one of those books that, when I spied it standing solo on a little pedestal at the East West Bookshop in Palo Alto, California, I felt compelled to pick it up and open it. It was a new release at that time (1992) and only in hardback and expensive for my budget.
I opened to any page and read a paragraph and was surprised to see the relevance to a current situation in my life. Yet, that wasn’t reason enough to spend $28.00 on it! I walked around this very engaging shop and all sorts of book covers caught my attention. However, I gravitated back to Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book. Again, I opened the book to any page. The words jumped out at me and I was riveted.

Recently, I had met a stranger at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I was weaving in and out of the water as the ruffled waves washed gently on the shore. A man’s voice behind me inquired “Isn’t it cold?” I replied that “Yes, it is and I love it.” He asked if he could walk with me. I agreed and we walked and talked on a very deep level for the next several hours. It wasn’t like we were strangers. It was as if we had met lifetimes ago and then designed to meet each other at this time and place and share our life-findings so far.

As we talked, we became vulnerable to each other. The sharing was personal, sometimes intimate and philosophical. As the sun dipped behind the clouds, I began to shiver. He casually placed his red hooded sweatshirt over my shoulders. He was a handsome man, slender, blonde hair cut in a stylish clip for the times. He gave me a large rose quartz stone to hold in my hand as we walked beside the sea. “To calm you,” he said. The entire experience felt comforting, as if I was walking with my Guardian Angel.

We had walked a length of beach and then, finally, turned around to return the way we had come. When we got back to our cars, he gave me his phone number and softly, like a butterfly, brushed a kiss across my cheek. I thanked him and went home feeling loved, guided, protected. I was married and although there was tension in my marriage, I had no intention of leaving my husband at that time. I wasn’t planning on calling the phone number. There was nowhere this relationship could go. Although, I did call it once and got his message machine. I never called it again.

When I opened the book in the bookstore that day, this was the quote that I read:

The Passing Stranger

“…The person who might take us out of the ice, who might even psychically free us from our lack of feeling is not necessarily going to be the one to whom we belong. It may be…another of those magical but fleeing events that again came along when we least expected it, an act of kindness from a passing stranger….Then a something that is sustaining appears out of nowhere to assist you, and then disappears into the night, leaving you wondering, Was that a person or a spirit?”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes from Women Who Run with the Wolves

I bought the book.

Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism is viewed as a philosophical and political movement. It is the wedding of environmentalism and feminism. It is considered a branch of feminism that recognizes the intimate relationship between women and the earth as foundational to its analysis and practice. “Ecofeminist thinkers draw on the concept of gender to analyze the relationships between humans and the natural world.” Wikipedia

I am infatuated. I have been for most of my life but I didn’t realize it had a name. I have been intrigued by the relationship between women and nature. I have lived into it. I have written poetry and essays about it. I have desired and designed it. And, sadly, I have seen how this relationship, its components and unity, continues to be disregarded and maligned.

My mind cannot comprehend the separation of the human race from their environment. Friends explain it to me as “greed.” Ah, that’s what it is. And the lack of foresight in regards to if we continue to do, as we are doing, there is an end in sight. We are creating an uninhabitable planet for many species, including humans, of this place in the universe that we call our home.

We witness the extinction of companion species. “More recently, scientists at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity concluded that: “Every day, up to 150 species are lost.” That could be as much as 10 percent a decade.”

What? Really? Wow! That seems ridiculous. I guess that someone is out there cataloguing this. And it’s upsetting…why do humans think that they are untouchable. That they are an exception, or somehow exempt? Are we too protected and coddled by our society, living our lives vicariously through media entertainment? I don’t want me, my family or friends (or anyone really) to live in anxiety…but…don’t we need to face into the truth and make some changes, yesterday?

Ecofeminism, reweaving the human race into the world, on this planet, with all of the other life forms has become an imperative. As John Muir said “Nature includes us.” There is wisdom in realizing this.

She was made to give
© by Christine O’Brien

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they took and returned to her
in intimate ways
and each was happy.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they plowed and sowed her
to feed the many
who had set up villages
and put down roots
and they took and returned to her
in amenable ways
and each was content.

The earth she says
I was made to give
take from my abundant larder.

and they came with their heavy equipment
and modern ways
scavenged in her very bowels
polluted her waters
bound her up in asphalt and concrete
rumbled heavy machinery over her bare breast
constructed factories and buildings
increased their numbers
to populate these structures.

They said “We will make her subject to us.”
They worked the many to support the few
–a masked feudal system.
And they took
and they took
and they took from her
and it was never enough.
It was her nature to give
and though she felt dishonored
she complied.

The earth she says
I was made to give.
take from my…
however her larder was less abundant
and she felt a certain exhaustion.
To continue giving
to those who showed no appreciation
nor reciprocity
seemed a betrayal.

How much longer could she sustain them,
sustain herself?
Where she had once given
from her abundance,
now she was giving
from her personal storehouse.

“Ah, I am tired,” she said.
“I’ll shake these ungratefuls
from my empty breast.
I’ve nothing left to give.”

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I hope and pray that this is not the story of humankind.
What are you and I going to do? What does your activism look like?

People are Talking…

These days of distancing, mask-wearing, not hugging and isolating, people are talking about loneliness. Not the existential sort of loneliness, but missing the actual physical connections with one another. When you live alone, this is magnified. I used to be able to go out and connect with people in cafes, at musical events and other social occasions. This has been less available. Whenever I met a friend or acquaintance in public, we hugged. No more.

In the film, Shall We Dance with Susan Sarandon, her character is sitting at a bar and talking to a male acquaintance. She is experiencing some challenges in her long-term marriage. She says to him that the thing she found to be invaluable in her relationship was that the two are witnesses to one another’s lives. This really struck me as something important. Perhaps crucial to one’s well-being.

If you aren’t married or in a relationship, then you have to construct friendships that support this need. Extended family and therapists can also be witnesses–it’s not necessarily that we want to be fixed, rather we want to be truly seen and heard. A few years ago, a well-meaning friend trying to console me around the loss of an older gentleman friend, quoted a yoga sutra–something like, “We are going to lose everything–our bodies, our lives, our friends and family.” I thought, if this is meant to comfort me, it’s falling way short! Don’t I already realize this at some level? I took it as her saying, so don’t take it too seriously. Maybe she wasn’t comfortable with my feeling sad and wanted to dismiss it with a wise but inept saying. I responded by saying, “We are here now and we each face challenges and we learn how to be with them or take action around them. Grief is part of the human experience and it’s immediate for me.” Reminder to self my need is not to be fixed or judged. Rather, can she/he be a witness to my experience, to my life in a compassionate way? Can I be that for him/her?

I realized this morning that my feelings of isolation have more to do with not feeling so witnessed. That, at the end of the day, my occasional cynicism is about not voicing what goes on in my daily life to someone. When I meet a friend, I notice how I fast forward talking about my particular life circumstances because I don’t want to sound ungrateful or like a complainer. The message to myself then is that I need to minimize my life stuff in order to accommodate someone else’s potential discomfort. I might conclude that this friend doesn’t want to hear about what’s really going on with me which may or may not be true.

When someone else has a seemingly larger problem, that doesn’t diminish my or your need to be seen or heard. We’re not supposed to be so smart and so wise as to not face challenges over the course of life. I think that we’re meant to learn, grow and come to a place of self-understanding and self-acceptance/compassion. At what age can a person finally say “I’m completely together.” Age doesn’t necessarily equal wisdom. We’re still humans with needs. This is alright. Some things we handle alone, with other things there is benefit in sharing.

My friend asked “Are you feeling better?” “No, not really,” I say. She offers “It will pass,” which disallows what is here and now. Sounding to me like a dismissal again–as if she’s saying, “I don’t want to hear more of your pain. Can we move on to something else.”

I might be judging her responses too harshly. It’s likely that few of us were trained to feel comfortable with another’s grief or know how to best offer support. And, we’ve lost the ability, it seems, to just listen.

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

mom1

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.