The Dowry–Part One

Have you done it?  Have you had your DNA tested to see the percentages of your ancestry?  If so, were there any surprises?

My biggest percentage was Italian on my mother’s side.  Followed by Irish on my father’s side.  Then there are the lesser percentages of surprising origins.  And the curiosity around how did that get in there.

All of this to say that a few years ago, I wrote a short story for an assignment in a Creative Writing class.  One can’t always know where their inspiration comes from or how it is going to express through words or art.  Perhaps it is rooted in the DNA and that cellular memory.  Perhaps I channeled one of my Irish ancestors.    There is some historical significance.  It is presented here in two parts.  I hope you enjoy it.

****
The Dowry
©by Christine O’Brien

“Cursed we is,” Mum says, “to have so many survivin’ daughters…seven girls and one blessed boy.  If not for young William, we’d have no one to leave the farm to.”

Mum’s voice scratches like grainy sand across a washboard.

My older sister, Kathleen, is getting married in a month.  Mum has saved and put together a dowry for her and one for my second sister, Louise.  The chances of a girl getting a match are next to zero unless she has a dowry.  Kathleen says she loves James Flynn, but love isn’t what’s important.

“A girl has to have something to offer besides what’s under her petticoat,” Mum says often enough.

With a good dowry, she’s more likely to get a decent home.  She should be strong of leg too, not sickly, like my youngest sister, Patticake.  She’s got to be able to get out in the field and work beside her mate when times are tough, which times normally are.

Mum just started putting away for my dowry.  I’m three years from being 18–the marrying age around here.  Mum says she doesn’t see how she’s going to save enough to attract a mate for me.

“Chances are,” she says, “you’re going to have to go into the convent.  Father Cullen says he’ll kindly take you and your younger sisters if I can save ten pounds for the lot of you.  You’ll be provided for then and you can pray for all of us.”

“I don’t want to go to no convent!  I don’t want my head shaved!  I won’t wear those ugly black dresses and stupid veils!” I blubbered.

When I first stood up and said this to Mum, she slapped me hard.

“Be grateful you’re going to have a home and God’s own priests to look after you.  You get to do good works.”

“It’s nothin’ but slavin’,” I said, my nose red and running, a fresh welt on my cheek.

“Who’d want a red-faced girl like you anyway?”  Mum yelled.

Yelling is Mum’s forte.  Forte is my new word this week.  I’ve taught myself to read.  Mum knows I read but it’s a secret from my pap.

“A girl readin’ can make a man feel small,” says Mum.

Mum sticks the bible under my nose and points to the tiny print,
“What’s it say?” she crows.

“And why be anxious about a garment?  Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not nor spin, but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these,” I read.

“Ah,” she says, “the lilies.  Ah well they do not have ten mouths to feed, now do they?  Get back to your work,” she says slamming the book closed and dropping it heavily on the splintered wooden bible stand.

I gather my mending from the willow basket.  I’m the third eldest girl with my share of chores.  The five younger children leave me with a pile of well-worn skirts and knickers.  My brother, Willy, is the worst on socks.  Every day I stitch up the holes in a pair of his socks and every day, there’s two more socks to mend!

“Willy,” I say sounding a bit like Mum, “Willy, can’t you for once keep your shoes on and stay out of the brambles?”

Willy looks at me with a crooked grin and long-lashed blue eyes.  He slowly shakes his towhead “no.”

(To be continued)

 

These Times

This is truly a strange way to realize that we are united, as one.  Through a virus.  I’ve been thinking about what I want to contribute at this time, through this blog.

For now, less words and more images.  Starting with earlier paintings.  I took up the paintbrush in 2014.  Words had served me well.  Suddenly, I felt entrapped by them.  The same circle of thoughts.  I needed something different.

There was an online class called Brave Intuitive Painting taught by artist, Flora Bowley.  I think that it was five weeks long.  That was the beginning of my painting journey.  There is an abstract quality to this style of art.  And you definitely are lead by your intuition…which color, what symbol, what emphasis.

When I look back at the first paintings , I didn’t have a sense of what my style was.  For many of them, I can’t remember why I went the way I did with them.  While I don’t dislike the abstract, I seemed to always want to pull a recognizable image from the background that was emerging.

I’m going to post the art I created, one at a time, from 2016 forward.  If I can remember the prompt, I’ll share that.  I hope this uplifts you and tunes you into your own creative nature.  I want to encourage you to pick up a pen, pencil, paintbrush or use your fingers in paint and find and follow your inner creative being.  We all have one.

****abstract.a

This painting is called Lanterns and Fans.  It’s painted on a 12″x12″ canvas.  It was one of my first paintings to sell.  Looking at it now, I see that it is too busy.  And I would find a way to tone it down.  As with many paintings, they are best appreciated in person.  That said, any painting has an energy that comes through it.  And I do remember somewhat the space that I was in while painting this mixed media piece.  I have a feeling for some Japanese symbols, i.e., lanterns and fans.  Colors self-determined and the collage materials were sifted or cut from earlier paintings.

Because I gave myself the freedom to express myself, I think the viewer was able to tap into that sense of freedom.  And a bit of frivolity.

****
Perhaps, today, you can consider some symbols that have spoken to you in your life.  The ones that you come across regularly or feel drawn to.  Take some time today, to draw them.  Draw them several times.  Repetition has a place in art.  It’s practice.  Artists practice a lot!

From War and Peace

I came across this quote that I had copied many years ago from Tolstoy’s
War and Peace.

Natasha said:

“You’re like this house, you suffer, you show your wounds, but you still stand.”

It’s odd.  Words, quotes, the thoughts and ideas of others come to me in moments.  If I write a quote down, it’s usually because I need it at the time.  In that single moment, with the particular circumstances of my life, I was snagged by this quote.  Sensing its significance, I wrote it down on a scrap of paper (as I tend to do).  And, however many years later, I rediscover it.  Like a beacon.  Or at least a reminder.

I read War and Peace once upon a time.  I doubt that I’m going to read it again.  But I remember that I valued what I received from it.  I went through a brief period of reading Russian literature.  Perhaps it was because my life resembled a Russian novel at the time.  It seemed I could connect with the array of characters and some of their circumstances in ways that I could not connect with my friends who seemed more frivolous or superficial in those days.

The thing about a quote is that if it continues to resonate over the years, it could be placed in your file of quotes that ring true over time.  Do you have such a file?

For today, do you have a favorite quote that you return to time and again and feel either validated, supported or refreshed by?  Would you like to share it here under comments?  Thanks.

 

 

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.”

********

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

 

Wordplay & Stream of Consciousness Fun

Sometimes, the mind wants (and needs) a vacation from all of the hard work it does.  Always trying to figure out that which is complex can be wearing.  Following is a fun exercise, a flight of fancy break for the mind and all of its logic

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Spontaneously choose any letter of the alphabet.

Write as many words (and/or phrases) as you can in one minute that begin with your chosen letter.

Then, list the words, one on each line, to begin a sentence.  Write one sentence using the word on that line.  See if you can establish a flow from one line to the next.  Or not.  No effort…see where your stream of consciousness goes.

****
Here’s mine.
I chose the letter “F.”

These were the words or phrases I wrote in one minute’s time:

Frazzled, frayed, fizzle, fleet of foot, fools, frumpy, fried, fiddlestiks, fluffy, flat, fanciful, forgetful, frolic

Then I began each sentence with one of these words or phrases:

Frazzled becomes bedazzled
Frayed is remade
Fizzle sides with sizzle
Fleet of Foot couples with sleight of hand or is it faint of heart?
Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread. Is that because they live with dread(locks)?
Frumpy is better than dumpy–it could be frumpy chic
Fried Fiddlesticks–squid and riddles stick in the brain–loosen up girl
Fluffy or flat–what is–could be pancakes
Fanciful could be a dreamy way to live–Walter Mitty style–does he get
the girl in the end?
Forgetful isn’t the same as wild imagination–it’s just that your mind
dwells in other possibilities.
To frolic is an actual path through life.
Let’s go down by the river and frolic.

****

Every thought, word, or phrase can go somewhere or nowhere.  We live without certainty and we die without knowing how we came to be here.

Permission to have a little fun along the way.

(Share what you wrote if you like.)

 

 

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

****
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?

 

 

New Words and a New Year

The year 2018 is upon us.  WOW!  We each ascribe our own symbolism to crossing the threshold of a new year.  Don’t we?  By framing your intentions or resolutions with words of your choice, do you empower them?  Are these words the boat that glides you over the waters of the year to come?  Or do they create the storms ahead?  I wonder.

****

One way to freshen your writing is to choose “new words”.  Several years ago, I attended a creative writing workshop presented by a visiting poet–Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge.  She had a bowl of “word tickets.”  I grabbed a handful of words written on tickets.  We were each given a pocket dictionary in case we didn’t have a meaning for the words.  I looked up the obscure words and found a few other appealing words which I wrote down in the process.  I had my own little “word pool” puddling up on the floor beside me.

The mind is an organizing tool.  It took up the challenge inspired by this word pool.  How do I make something  sensible, harmonious and yet personal from this pool of words? Had I not been invited to do this exercise, this poem would not have been written.

Come Closer Star
© by Christine O’Brien

I come from a long line of bakers
desserts like late afternoon light in a box,
on a plate, on the dingy table beside the
compact refrigerator storing our leftover takeout;
hummng a white noise which lulled us into
night reveries.
I remember the poster of the Arnos, its
curling corners like dreams of travel
eaten by fast flame.
I try to forget your green eyes,
the unripe berries that they were–
unborn cities, gravel torture
and unbidden truth.
The swirling Rings of Saturn
on the ceiling;
pinnacles of Oberhausen steel
and the metallic
taste on your tongue.
I remember that Friday,
the marching band on the street below
the droopy violets on
the window ledge.
“Come closer Star,” you say.
I used to be your prayer
in ordinary time.
You pluck one red poppy
stash it behind my left ear.
The cat scampers
over the cobbles below
and what used to suffice is
empty.

****

Writing Prompt:
If you could choose your words for the upcoming year, what might they be?  Over the course of the day, notice the words that have appeal for you as heard in  conversations, the radio, television, walking down the street, etc.  Write them down. Go on a dictionary excursion to bring in some fresh, new words.  Write them down.  Design a poem integrating both your initial words and the new  words.

Have a blessed, happy new year.

deer1
Farewell to the old…welcome in the new.

 

Pablo Neruda–“The Word”

Pablo Neruda was a renowned and prolific Chilean poet and diplomat.  He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.  The fictionalized 1995 film, The Postman (Il Postino), takes place in Italy during Neruda’s time in exile.

Neruda loved his native language, Spanish (Chilean).  He wrote in this native tongue; there have been beautiful translations of his work.

The following bit of prose, translated into English, transmits this love and the preciousness of words to him. This is only a partial excerpt from Neruda’s homage to “The Word”.  I’m sorry that I cannot give credit to the translator as it wasn’t available.

The Word
by Pablo Neruda

“You can say anything you want, yessir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend…I bow to them…I love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down…I love words so much…the unexpected ones…the ones I wait for greedily or stalk, until suddenly, they drop…Vowels I love…they glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew…I run after certain words…They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem…I catch them in mid flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them.  I set myself in front of the dish.  They have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, oil, like fruit, like algae, like aggates, like olives…and then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go…I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves…Everything exists in the word…”

Writing Prompt:
A brief meditation.  Get quiet, shut your eyes, take a few deep breaths.  Continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  Experience the release of what you think you know with each out breath.  Experience your openness to something new with each in breath.  Ask for entry into the land of the WORD.  In your imagination, construct that land.  Visit it for a few minutes as you continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  When  you feel ready, open your eyes.  Pick up your pen and let your words flow onto the page–write your own homage to the word.

peony

Words that conjure or impassion

Following is a list of only a few of the many words that I like:

Words.1

Reverie

Ecstasy

Genuflect

Sublime

Ridiculous

Freedom

Grope

Reconnoiter

Grace

Figment

Rhapsody

Unity

Discombobulate

Umbrella

Surreptitiously

Filament

Peace

****

Words have power.  We know this as writers.  They move us to action; they stir desire; they incite; they rally; they quiet; they infuse; they placate; they calm and comfort and so on.  Some words we love for their meaning.  Other times the sound of an isolated word…the way it trips across the tongue, tickles us.  Sometimes it’s the look of the written word–the spelling, the way the letters cluster that interests us.  Who can say what word fascination is really about?

WRITING PROMPT:
What are your words…the ones that when you hear them you are moved in some way. Make your own list of evocative words.

Something to ponder:

  • Do you think that antiquated words frame a belief system?
  • Do new words invoke something new?

It seems to me that each word is its own inspiration–that is, a word can take the writer on a journey into their own experience in some peculiar and unique way.

Try it:  Choose a word from your word list and let it be your writing prompt…write a paragraph, a page or a poem.  Have fun with this wordplay.

 

Creativity Breeds…CREATIVITY

I have been writing since I was age 27… quite awhile.  In 2014, I grew tired of words. Words engage inner patterns and I found myself going in circles with my thinking and writing.  I abandoned words…for a few years.

In the place of words, I found intuitive painting.  For the first time in my life, I wielded a paintbrush as a tool for self-expression.  I was a total beginner!  I engaged in a wordless conversation with each new painting.  Playing with color, shapes, imagery and symbols, opened inner doorways that words alone had not.  I discovered that I had the courage to allow a painting to unfold and become what it wanted to become.  I also discovered that the creative process is the creative process regardless of the way it expresses.  While I came up against obstacles or blocks as with writing, I made marks on the canvas that moved me through them…and I found the flow.

In these few years of not writing, I realized that I missed words.  I enjoy creative writing and considered how I could marry words and images, poetry and paint. I realized, experientially, that one creative expression enhances the other.  Often you think of yourself as this or that…writer or painter or crafter. When, in fact, you have access to any creative opening out there at any time. You only have to choose it and then, as with writing, show up and practice it. Today, I plot and write a blog and I make other art. I knit or craft or cook a gourmet meal.  It’s summer here–I walk in the forests and beside the lakes and take photos.

****
You broaden your creative repertoire, not necessarily to become a famous artist or writer.  You do this because it expands you (it feeds your hungry, vast and expressive psyche) and your writing.  It really is about giving yourself a playground to explore all sorts of other media of self-expression. These days, there are many online art classes…many wonderful teachers. The art journal, mixing words and images, is an interesting and fun way to engage with both words and imagery.

Walking this morning, I encountered a woman I hadn’t met before in this small community. A conversation ensued & suddenly she stopped and beheld a field of flowers. She said “I love the way the light and shadow are enhancing the colors.  Isn’t that beautiful!” My response was “It is beautiful. Are you a photographer?”  It turns out that she is a photographer.

When you draw (or paint or use color or sculpt or take photos), you notice things in a deeper way.    This way of noticing makes you privy to nuances of color, light, shade, line, form, texture, etc….these are translated into descriptive elements for the writer or poet. This can only improve your writing.

WRITING PROMPT:
What other creative activities inspire, expand and enhance your writing? Gardening, cooking, sewing, crafting, knitting, pottery, playing a musical instrument, woodworking, jewelry-making, doodling?

In your WRITING journal, draw something.  Sit down in front of an object of your choice and draw it.  Use a graphite pencil and draw the lines–no judgment.  Don’t erase.  If it’s not quite right, play with it until it feels complete to you.  Then write about your process of drawing…your feelings, comfort or discomfort, the lines and shapes, the object itself, whatever you discover as you draw.

strawberries.drawing

WRITING TIP:
Drawing develops your focusing ability as it challenges you to render what you see. Drawing helps you to really see something and notice things that you might otherwise overlook.

*The first online art class I took, BRAVE INTUITIVE PAINTING, was taught by Flora Bowley.