The Big Bad Wuss

This really happened a few years ago–although I took poetic license at times. I wrote this from the biker’s perspective. Enjoy.

The Big Bad Wuss
by
Chris O’Brien

I’m the big bad wolf to  her.  I glide my left leg over my Harley, unzip my black leather jacket and pull a pack of cigarettes out of the jacket sleeve all in one well-practiced move. 

Her car window is rolled down, her arm resting on the window frame.  She pretends not to notice me, but I’m watching her watching me as I go through the motions.  She looks like one of those prissy girls.  And I happen to know that Miss Priss’s have fantasies about bad boys.

I saunter over to her car.

“Looks like it’s going to be a long wait.  You might as well get out and stretch.”

“So you think it’s going to be a while?” she says her voice enticingly shaky.

“Could be up to thirty minutes,”  I said slowly exhaling cigarette smoke, squinting my eyes, taking her in.

As she got out of the car, she tugged at the bottom of her red tee shirt.

Cute, I thought.  She’s wearing her blue jeans and a little red tee, but my guess is that she’s a girly girl, more comfortable in a frilly dress and high heels.

The wind caught her long hair and wrapped it around her face.  She pulled a scrunchie out of her jeans pocket.  Bunching her hair in one hand, she wrapped the scrunchie around it with the other.

“Where you heading?” I growled.

She hesitated, “um, Reno.”

“What do you know, me too!  I’m staying at the Nugget.”

She looked up abruptly and blurted out “So am I!”

‘My name is Michael and you’re…” I prompted.

“I’m Michelle.”

“Michael-Michelle,” I said turning the coincidence over in my mind.

Let’s meet for a drink later, I nearly commanded.

“Well, I’m meeting my sister in Reno. It’s actually my Grandma’s 85th birthday.”

“Yeah, well if it works,” I said suddenly casual, not wanting to scare her off.  “The last name is Dalton.  You can call the front desk and get my room number.”

Then, “Say, what’s that puddle under your car?” I asked.

She raised both hands to her face and squealed “A puddle!  Is that coming from my car?”

“Step aside,” I said stoutly.

I squatted.  She squatted close beside me, trembling.  I dipped my fingers into the puddle and rubbed the fluid between my fingers. 

“It feels like oil and water.  Could be the water pump.”

“Maybe I should turn around and go back home.  I’d forget the whole trip but I’ve baked my Grandma’s birthday cake,” she nearly cried. 

It was then and there that I transformed into the valiant prince.

“Don’t you worry, Michelle, I won’t abandon you.  I’ll make sure that you get to your Grandma’s birthday party.” 

“Well, I don’t know,” she said haltingly.  “I don’t want to slow

you down.” 

“I’ve got nowhere to be in a hurry.  That’s it.  I’ve made up my mind, Michelle, I’m getting you to Reno.”

A blend of relief and fear seemed to fix on her transparent face.

Then, I blew it.

Squatting as we were beside Michelle’s car, this amazing intoxicating scent floated on the soft summer breeze.  Leaning in closer to her, unable to help myself, I spoke in a whisper, “Michelle, the better to smell you.” 

She stood up abruptly.

“What are you talking about?  What are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I’ve been in the hospital for over a month.  I had heart surgery.  My heart has lost thirty percent of its function the doctors said.  Your smell, your perfume was so lovely.”

I felt like a fool, everything came blurting out.  I knew that I was out of control.

“I nearly died on the table!  Now, I notice things that I never noticed before.  It’s like I have this extra sensory awareness.  Like, fuck, even the butterflies on that pile of bear shit over there.  Pardon my language.  I used to only notice the shit on the road, now I notice the butterflies, their colors, the way they waver in the air with a delicate uncertainty.  Their fragility.  Life’s fragility.  Your transient beauty!  That fragrance!”

Michelle looked around, seemingly embarrassed by my passionate rush of emotion.

I looked down the road at the long line of cars.  All of them were waiting for the road to be cleared so that they could continue on their way.  Michelle and I were the only ones who ventured out and made a connection.  Everyone else was so damn isolated.  I felt the need to apologize but at the same time, I felt I was being the most sincere that I’d ever been.

Michelle looked at me disdainfully. 

“You’re, you’re an impostor,” she said.  “You’re not a bad boy at all, are you?”

“I never said that I was a bad boy, Michelle.”

“You were playing the part.”

“At first, I admit it.  Michelle, meet me in Reno for a drink, please.” 

“I just want to swing my car around and go home,” she said.

Then she looked into my eyes and kissed me hard on the lips.

Writers, Rabbit Holes and Curiouser and Curiouser

My watercolor version of Sir John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland (in the attic)

Alice of Wonderland fame had a curious nature.  Falling down a rabbit hole probably wasn’t brilliant.  However, it lead her into a fictitious world, one that Lewis Carroll fabricated brilliantly.  Was it a political parody?  A not so subtle way to expose and mock the then current political climate in England?  Was it only a fantasy, a child’s tale?  To be taken at face value?

Regardless, writers are curious beings.  They pursue various white rabbits in their quest for a story.  They research and sniff things out.  They discover, uncover, unearth, expose and bring things to light to share with their readers.  Ha!  Curiosity, it has been said, keeps one young.  The exploration can lead you into all sorts of encounters.  However, if it’s a white rabbit that you meet, you might be careful about who you tell.

In my childhood, the oft repeated phrase was “Children are meant to be seen and not heard.”  What clever person invented that one?  Asking questions and having a questing nature is how we discover and learn about the world that we’re born into.  The autocratic family system in which I grew up disallowed individual thinking and discouraged asking questions.  You were served what you were served and it was for your own good–you best swallow it in its entirety.  Some of my siblings chafed under this rule and were given the strap.  Others went into denial… ‘everything is fine’.  And then, the belief that everyone lived like this seemed true.  There wasn’t a lot of connection with the outside world.  Isolation is important in this type of system.  

It takes awhile, after one leaves such a home, to feel safe enough to express yourself freely.  It takes awhile to even realize what your own thoughts are.  But when you begin to come out from under the veils of fear and trauma, you start to notice things around you that just aren’t right.  And  your questions rise to the surface.  If you feel safe enough, you pursue those questions with an avidness, a rising hunger, a quest for your own truth in the midst of a world in chaos.  So, your early childhood, in a sense has trained you to recognize the non-sense that much of the world is buying into.  You have insight into the fragmentation, the separation, the isolation, the not seeing what is really going on (i.e. the elephant in the living room).  When your experiences take you into situations where questions aren’t encouraged, you have a nose for something isn’t right here.  

What I’m noticing is that there are many people across the planet who don’t question the status quo.  I witness how we continue allowing atrocities, warmongering, class differences, economic stratification, ageism, sexism, racism–all those ism’s.  And then there are those who do question, thankfully.  Climate change is real…do we stick our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise or do we roll up our sleeves and head into the fray and see if we can learn from the wiser elders, the indigenous ones, those who love the earth?  

No one person can address all the inequities by themselves.  I wonder what might happen if you or I or anyone chooses one thing to be curious about, to study and learn about?  At some point, you might feel the desire to share what you’ve learned.  At times, you could feel inspired to speak with newfound authority on  your topic of choice.  You might be inclined to educate others from that place of passionate awareness

One thing!  One thing only to be curious about and to explore.  What would you choose?

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?

Adventure of Another Sort

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Making art is available to anyone!  The only vehicle you need is your imagination and a bit of daring.  I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, we are all artists.  We are all writers with a story (or more) to tell.  We are all poets because we each have a voice.  We each have an imagination.  We can engage fantasy worlds if we allow it.  And, there is value in this.

I had a special friend, now gone, with whom I could engage a sort of time travel–imagining places we’d never been, people we hadn’t met, odd creatures, other times, alternate realities, outer space, the vast universes.  We had enlivened conversations.  We wrote poetry together.  He always rhymed–it got annoying at times.  I asked him if he could try not rhyming.  I don’t think that he could.

It is true that writing, poetry and making art, whether it be painting or crafting or knitting or sculpting…these provide the means and opportunity to access deeper ways of being and seeing.  When we take the time.  When we make the time.  We give ourselves excuses that we aren’t an artist or poet or writer.  I beg to differ.  It is perhaps that we don’t dare ourselves to explore these aspects of ourselves.  Some of us have more time on our hands these days, forced as it is.  One young man has decided to systematically learn to read and write Japanese during this pandemic!  What challenge could you give yourself?  Something that you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had the time to explore.

And it is an exploration.  And it is an adventure.  It involves discovery of the inner landscape.  The one where we don’t dare go…might we not return?  There truly are universes within.  We are a reflection of the macrocosm, our little inner microcosmic world that we often overlook because we’re outward oriented.  Which is good–actually a balance between both is better.  These days, with the virus dictating our movement in the world, what an opportune time to take this journey.

Who is in there after all is said and done?  Who wants to be seen and heard, primarily by yourself?  Do you give yourself this time and space?  Are you going to make it happen?  Get a journal, write, draw, splash color, cut and paste.  Express what’s been untapped on the blank page or canvas.  It’s a good thing.  You might discover–yourself.  Begin.

What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?

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This dear red-haired fairy with a wise and perhaps mischievous look is ready to lead you beyond the garden gate.  She has something interesting to share with you.  Are you ready to follow her?  This painting is currently on exhibit in an art show.  I love this painting and don’t intend to sell it.  There are some things that I don’t want to part with yet.

Being that my art is mostly intuitive, I consider the possibility that there is a message for me within a painting.  And perhaps it wants to be shared with others.  “What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?” could be a metaphor for us today.  What lies beyond what is familiar?  It takes courage to lean into that question.  And it takes courage to be with the not knowing.

I had a friend who went on a vision quest to East India.  He encountered block after block in his travels.  Exhausted and disheartened, he landed in a small household with an elder man and his wife.  He told the elder man of the travails on his journey.  Feeling frustration and disappointment,  he finally surrendered and said “I just don’t know how to proceed.”  The elder man smiled and said, “Ah, master Edward, you’ve reached the end of knowing.  Now you can discover something else.”  I’ve always appreciated this story.

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As a writer, poet, artist, it’s fun to engage the imagination and let a story unfold from my art.  Today, looking at this painting, I ask myself “What is the story that goes with this painting?”

Following is an excerpt from some writing I did to begin to create her story.

I followed her.  It seemed as if her feet barely touched the ground.  I lumbered along behind her, feeling a bit clumsy.  My little garden gave way to a meadow of waving wildflowers, yellows and purples puddled like splashes of paint on an expansive canvas.  I’d always felt that earth was a constant paradise.  Now, I knew it.

I caught my breath, a sudden crack in my demeanor,
“I can’t be gone long,” I said aloud.  “I’ll be missed.”

I thought to myself “probably not for weeks though.”  Living alone, an artist living alone, leads a somewhat solitary life.  I just wanted to reassure myself, to assert myself to her that I had connections.  So I definitely needed to be returned to where we started from before too long.

Then, curiosity overtook me and I followed quietly losing any sense of time.  My senses were heightened.  Sight was crystal clear.  In fact, my glasses seemed an unnecessary annoyance.  I took them off and slipped them in the pocket of my shirt.

She had wings. Did I mention that?  And red hair, not ordinary red hair, electric red hair!  And she wore a hat like nothing I’d ever seen walking down the streets of Brisbane, California.  It was sort of conical or maybe like an Egyptian headpiece.  It suited her.  I called out before I could stop myself.

“Who are you?”

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Story-writing is fun.  You don’t sit down with an outline (or at least I don’t).  You are guided by your imagination, whimsy, flow of creative thought, perhaps, in this case–the fairy realm.

If you want to take your art to another level, study your painting and let it inform you as you give it voice.

Why not?  Have fun.  Then share it with someone you trust or someone you think would appreciate it…or perhaps really needs this story at this time.

She Stewards the Earth

SheStewardstheEarth.2

Do you upcycle your art?  Valuing her face, her direct look, her expression, I wanted to utilize her in a new painting.  This then became a mixed media piece.  I collaged her face, painted her dress with an earthy color and added symbols.  I did some texturing on the canvas prior to drawing and painting the buffalo.  I also used some “resist” to have the underpainting show through.

All of this to symbolize White Buffalo Calf Woman.

There are many tellings of this story.  Here is one.  (It’s one-and-a-half minutes long.)

I titled this piece “She Stewards the Earth,”
because I believe that women have a deep
connection to the earth.  That in some ways,
we are more deeply aligned with the earth
than men.  That perhaps we are an avenue of
communication between humankind and the earth.
I feel that our bodies are sensors to the disharmony
that the earth is experiencing due to our misuse.

What do you think?

The Ugly Stage

When painting a portrait…you soon arrive at THE UGLY STAGE!  That is when your mettle as an artist is tested.  You don’t see how you can possibly convert this ugly piece into a thing of beauty.  This is the time–you’ve been working on this for awhile already–when you want to walk away and abandon the piece.  It’s hard to imagine something
“pretty” coming out of this.

That said, experience has taught you that this is only a stage.  Stay with it.  Don’t give up too soon.  So you go forward in conversation with the piece to see what’s next. Then, what follows that?  You step back and then forward and bring this being forth to become who she is determined to be.

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Sometimes, often or always, there is a message in a painting.  The artist may have a clue  before she begins painting.  Then again,  it could emerge during her process with a piece.  Blending words with art is often an intriguing way of stating the message.  The word that sits in the lower right corner of the piece is “STORY.”  Like each one of us, the subject of this painting has a story to tell.  While we may not have a sense of her exact story, we get the idea that she has a depth of experience.  Those eyes convey something.  The mouth, neither smiling nor smirking, shows determination.  There is character in her chin…and so on.

If she were the heroine of your short story, who would she be?  That’s the thing about art, each person views a piece and then their imagination begins to conjecture a story.  We do that when we meet someone new also.  “Who are you?”  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  Then our judgments and old information come in and create a story before we even really know who we’ve actually met.  Interesting that we do this.  Make up stories all of the time.

Red

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The story of Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t one of my favorites…however, it did impact me.  Early on, I rewrote the ending…the wolf was a good guy and everyone sat around together having tea in my final scene.

This painting was inspired by a class called Barn Painting, taught by Alissa Millsap in Paint Your Heart and Soul, 2017.  Entering the realm of this piece, it was painted on an 8″x8″ birch panel, I quickly decided that it wasn’t going to be a barn.  It was going to be  grandma’s cottage in the woods.  And then, in the forefront, I placed Little Red Riding Hood and her companion/friend the wolf.  I just realized that here I go again, making the wolf an ally.

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Taking a class from a fellow artist, I am presented with a formula of sorts.  This artist showed me the techniques and tools that she used to create a barn on a substrate.  I was guided through her process.  While I borrowed techniques and used the tools, I diverted and made different choices, incorporated my own style and personal perspective to create an original painting.  I was relatively new at painting faces, so this Red Riding Hood’s face is rather juvenile.  Yet, I like her and think that she works with the piece.  I love the wolf…a friendly fellow (so long as he’s well-fed).  The wolf is made whimsical and less frightening with the wisps of pastel colors in his coat.

In direct contrast, the color RED is dramatic and immediately eye-catching.  Some artists love the drama of red while others hide from it, modify it or use it sparingly if at all.  I’m learning to have a liking for a true red.  Used without apology.

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If you are familiar with the chakra energy system, you probably remember that red symbolizes the root chakra located at the base of the spine.  The root chakra can represent our origins, our quality of feeling grounded in present reality, living in connection to the earth and our core self.  We cultivate this connection by the choices we make in our lives.  Many people have a need for healing their family history–yes, root chakra taps into that.  To support this energetic healing, a person might eat red foods, wear red clothing, carry a red stone or crystal, write or make art around their family history, and if necessary, see a therapist and work on that early family bond.

When I wear red, it seems that I want to be noticed.  Red is not for wallflowers.

What’s your experience with the color red?

 

 

Synergy

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

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

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

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

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

beyond this doubt
© by Christine O’Brien

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A portal

…is an entry point, a place you might not usually notice…for a moment, it is visible.  And then it seems to dissolve into the ethers, defined as “the essence of the universe.”  You enter rather spontaneously or you might miss it entirely.  A lost opportunity.  Hesitation, over-consideration, distractions camouflage the opening.  If you enter, you are in new territory.  You can be certain of disorientation.  Remember Alice in Wonderland and the rabbit hole?

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I remember a time when I was hiking at Southgate Meadows on Mount Shasta.  It was my birthday.  A friend had tied a scarf, a birthday gift from her, around my curls and I had set out alone.  After hiking a couple of hours, I came across a bubbling spring.  The sound of it was like a herald.  A man, also hiking, stopped and told me that this spot was  a portal.  He said that if I sat and listened for awhile, I might be able to hear the quality of musical notes that the water running over the rocks was creating.  That a certain combination of sounds produced an opening, a portal.  He wandered on.  I sat and listened.  There was definitely a music of sorts.  However, I can’t say that I found the entry point.

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In writing or painting, the writer or painter looks for a portal…an entry point to the story that wants to unfold or the painting that wants to evolve.  I think that there might be two portals–one for the writer to begin writing and then one for the reader to be drawn into the story.  One for the artist to enter the painting and one for the viewer to bear witness.  Each entrance requires a surrender…which is the consent to be changed by something external to us.

Have you discovered such portals in your life, in your creative pursuit?