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.

Paying Attention

How come we elect leaders who don’t know how to effectively lead? How come we don’t elect leaders who embody the higher values of humanity? Why do these men (as they are mostly men making these big decisions for the whole planet) have the idea that to over-power is real power? Where did the notion that conquest equals power originate? What has lead them to believe that war, a show of physical bravado and military invasion, somehow lends them an air of superiority? As they force the submission of others with less defenses, they assume that they gain respect.

Why we vote for leaders who don’t value human life, planetary health and who disrespect the rights of all is beyond my way of thinking.

I wrote this poem on September 7, 2020 when the world was facing into the unknown of the Covid virus. So much has happened since then. Sometimes, poetry is a way to manage the confusion and emotions that we experience.

Paying Attention
by Christine O’Brien

One daughter thinks that the world
might be coming to an end
The other daughter focuses on
getting her daughter to her 8th grade Zoom classes
I paint a painting of a clouded leopard
indigenous to Southeast Asia
He was believed to be extinct
not yet, not quite, but they’re rapidly
taking away his hardwood forests
Before that, I painted the Spirit Bear
who lives in sector five of the
coastal rainforests on the islands of
British Columbia
His forests were designated to be decimated
by lumber companies
It was proven that this bear is a unique species
neither albino nor mutation
For now the forests are saved
What havoc humans have wrought
who can forgive this?
How are we communicating with one another,
as human beings?
When one says one thing
and the other hears something else
what hope is there?
And then, there’s the debate about wearing a mask
Meeting friends, one wears a mask that slips
below her nose frequently
the other doesn’t wear a mask at all
I wear a mask, pulling it away from my face
occasionally
so my words aren’t muffled
What are we doing?
In 1918, there was no vaccine research
People either died of the virus then or
they developed an immunity
The man who came to sand and stain the deck
has a crush on who he thinks I am
He says that he doesn’t want another woman friend
he wants a girlfriend and his blue eyes pierce my own
Slow down, way down
The lizard I photographed
the one that posed on the boulder beside the lake
I read that their pushups are meant to show
prowess
or to claim territory
the little studs
Native Americans perspective is that life goes
in circles
not linear
I like to think as my sister-in-law suggested
that we are in the continuum
Forget numbering your years
Be in it, this life, this continuum, this unknown
risky place

Horse

This horse painting appears to be total whimsy.  However, it appeared at a time when I felt the wind had been knocked out of me, out of many of us.  It was the occasion of the 2016 presidential election in the United States.  The helplessness and shock that I felt with the election of someone whose values were so opposite to my own, to so many of us.

The one word on this mixed media piece is WISDOM.  I felt that this was what was needed more than anything.  This seemed to be lacking in the newly elected administration.  I painted and collaged this white whimsical horse as a way to cope with what was ahead.  As I prayed for a leader who loves the earth, mankind and all of our relations.

Horse1

In one sense, this could be seen as a political cartoon or a bit of satire.  After the election of 2016, things were (and continue to be) extremely serious.

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Picking up a brush, pencil, paints, clay, charcoal, pastels, watercolors–any creative tool can help you to cope with what is challenging.  It can give you a field of expression when you feel powerless or without a voice.

I have several art journals.  They are a private expression of things that seem too large to manage; the word could be unwieldy.  Words and images blend on these pages to express what I feel and have trouble sharing with others.  Or understanding myself.

What about you?  Do you have a journal for your writing and art?  Or several?  Use them.

Speaking What I Know

Several years ago, I participated in a theater group.  One of the classes involved choosing, memorizing and reciting a piece.  When something has meaning to me, I am able to connect with it and recite it with presence.  Otherwise, I’m not very fond of public speaking.

This is the piece I chose to recite–an excerpt from a book entitled Woman and Nature by Susan Griffin:

“He says he is not part of this world, that he was set on this world as a stranger.  He sets himself apart from woman and nature.

We are the bird’s eggs.  Bird’s eggs, flowers, butterflies, rabbits, cows, sheep; we are caterpillars; we are leaves of ivy and sprigs of wallflower.  We are women.  We rise from the wave.  We are gazelle and doe, elephant and whale, lilies and roses and peach, we are air, we are flame, we are oyster and pearl, we are girls.  We are woman and nature.  And he says he cannot hear us speak.  But we hear.”

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Herein lies one secret to speaking in front of an audience.  To feel connected to what you read or recite brings power to your voice.  I see acting as something quite different.  In that case, you stand outside of yourself to play the character or you in some way inhabit the character.  However, that feels more difficult and less desirable to me.  To feel passionate about my topic infuses my ability to stand up in front of an audience and speak with authenticity.

I like to be prepared.  I had to become deeply familiar with Susan Griffin’s words.  I would have expressed my love of and deep connection to nature in different words.  Her flow of words, her particular associations, although they expressed a shared belief, weren’t my own.  Memorization of her words and where to put the emphasis when I was reciting was somewhat challenging.  Yet, I met the assignment. It occurred to me that my audience’s values were different than my own–that the subject matter might be something they hadn’t deeply considered.   Regardless, I recited with passion and the hope that my message was understood at a level deeper than the words themselves.

Finally then, it is not up to me how anyone receives what I say.  It is not up to me how anyone interprets my art.  It is only up to me to share it.  That’s what I came here to do, it seems.  For now.

butterfly

 

Grounded Poetry with Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is “an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer,” to name some of his credentials.  I’ve been infatuated with his poetry for a long time.

Feet on the earth, grounded, present, receptive are a few of the words that I would use to describe Wendell Berry.  I see him as a practical visionary.  His poetry reflects his values.  I’ve included a couple of very short clips of Wendell Berry reading.  If you want more (and I hope that you do), there are plenty of youtube videos of him…one is a lengthy interview with Bill Moyers.

How to be a poet by Wendell Berry

 

and this one…

 

As I’ve said before, there is something about a poet’s voice reading his or her own words.  With Berry’s poetry, though these clips are short, I enter the trance-like state that his poetry evokes (especially when I listen to these poems a few times).

Wendell Berry is one of those people who lives his values.  He has a message and he is compelled to offer his discoveries to the world.  And he does.

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We’ve discussed writing about where your passion lies.  Are you doing it?  For that is where you are going to find the most energy.  Your words become more than words…they become winged messengers.  Have you noticed this for yourself?  Even when you’re speaking to someone about your subject–the one for which you have deep care and concern–something in your tone of voice heightens and strives to engage your listener.

WRITING PROMPT:
For your journal, remembering what you are passionate about and writing it down, again, refreshes your perspective about your subject.  Have you had any new insights lately about where you’d like to go in writing about your passion?  Or any thoughts on how you’d like to creatively bring this to the attention of others?