Looking Back, Learning Something, Going Forward

It’s snowing–like the early days when I first moved here to Mount Shasta. The blanket of white is in place and now the snow is falling heavily, coating the tree limbs and sticking to the walkways, driveways and streets. I probably won’t go very far by car today…and if it’s icy, not on foot either. I’m fine with that, for today. I have plenty to do here.

Last week I shampooed the carpet in my dining/office/art studio–an all-in-one room. I was expecting company at the end of December and it felt like a good start towards cleaning and preparation. That and baking pies, cooking meals and freezing them. Then, I got the notice that my daughter’s family couldn’t make it. Their son, my grandson, has three mandatory basketball games scheduled over the Christmas holiday! I thought this was a time to gather family together! I wrote to the coach at the high school. I objected, to no avail. Apparently no one else has challenged this tradition in the sixteen years that it’s been happening.

So, change of plans. I am sifting through my writing to see if it might be of use in future projects. The thing is that I like my writing. I learn about myself when reading an early journal. I witness my predicament as a woman at a certain stage of life. I realize the links this writing has with other women across the planet. I appreciate when I write as if I’m a writer that someone might actually read. I have fun employing metaphors. In rereading something I wrote all those years ago, I recognize the passion I felt at the time.

Here’s an example that took me on a journey. I wrote in third person–it’s been noted how writing in third person gives a degree of security when sharing something that you deem to be very personal.

They were skimming photos of nieces and nephews that he’d known from their past life together. She barely flashed a photo of herself with her new boyfriend but it was enough to hit him like an icy splash of water in his face. It smacked his dream down–the dream of her coming home and resuming family life with him. She noticed his response and felt sad but not like she should fix it.

I wrote this on the heels of my divorce after thirty years of marriage. The divorce was a long-time coming. I chose not to leave while our two daughters were in school. And then I left, gradually, but finally.

A good friend of mine has said more than once that “When your spouse dies, you grieve this very big loss and society expects that of you. However, when you get a divorce, there is less recognition and compassion for this very big loss. ” That would include the loss of your ideals, your dreams, your mate, your growing old together, family gatherings where you can both be amicably present. There can be a sense of having failed and sometimes shame. it’s every bit as hard as death and usually as final.

I had every reason to leave. He played the part of an abusive alcoholic with occasional bouts of sentiment. I played the part of the battered wife who tried harder. We were young, nineteen. Both of us fresh from dysfunctional childhoods, both lacking a real sense of who we were and what we desired for our lives. These many years later, I feel the loss although less potently. I have reviewed time and again, contemplating if there was a point where we could have healed our marriage. I realize that I had sacrificed too much in trying to make it work. Both have to want it and both have to try. There is that lopsidedness that women employ to try to make it work. It’s got to be a mutual effort or not at all. My mom, in her final years, made a wish that I would have someone to grow old with. Her marriage of seventy years modeled the second class and disrespected position that she held within their home. I wouldn’t want that and I don’t think that I want to care for a man in his waning years.

Taking a walk has been a way to gain perspective when I’m facing a difficulty.

Her lower back ached like an old blues song, whiny and deeply felt. Each breath tugged at the ache; a yawn immobilized her. This one-hour walk which had seemed like a good idea, a positive way to begin the new day, had turned out to be a test of her endurance. Why this pain–this relentless sob of pain? It caused her to mark each step; no sudden uncalculated moves.

Reading this early writing, taken out of the context of my larger life, I recognize the struggle of someone (me) who was trying to find my way while clearing out the clutter of other’s ideas of who they think I should be. I had been, like my mother, the woman who endures and stays in a marriage no matter what. Then, I no longer was
that woman.

She wondered what her life had been about as she lay there on the sofa staring out the cottage window–the new poufy-valance curtains she’d sewn defying the ruggedness of her environment. The heating pad warmed the small of her back while the hot water bottle heated her stomach–she was a toasty sandwich in between. And there were no definitive answers. She was as dichotomous as the opposing genders, as sun is to moon, ocean to desert; wizened parent to defiant teenager. Everything she desired she didn’t desire. Grown up while staunchly rooted in a forbidden childhood. “This isn’t good for you!” “But I want it!” tantrums at times.

The story continues until it doesn’t.

Panoply

Sometimes I hear a word and I put it in a holding place if I don’t look it up immediately. Panoply was one of those words. I liked the sound of it…how it looks and yet I had no idea what it meant. If I were to conjecture a meaning I might say it’s an abbreviated way of saying piano play perhaps? There are many words that have become archaic…we hardly ever hear them and they go to the ancient graveyard for rarely used words. I had a boyfriend once who used archaic words regularly. He had been an early reader. Both of his parents were deaf. He got his amazing vocabulary from the classics and other books that he encountered at an early age. And, sadly, most people wouldn’t have an understanding for some of what he was saying.

Panoply: pa-ne-plea/noun/Greek panoplia, fr. pan-+hopla arms, armor, pl. of hoplon tool, weapon–more at Hoplite. (1632) 1. a: a full suit of armor b: ceremonial attire 2. something forming a protective covering 3. a: magnificent or impressive array (the full-of a military funeral) b: a display of all appropriate appurtenances (has the – of science fiction…but it is not true science fiction–Isaac Asimov)

Pan…Greek from pan, neut of pant-, pas all, every; akin to Toch B pont-all) 1. all: completely (panchromatic) 2a: Involving all of a specified group b: advocating or involving the union of a specified group 3: whole: general.

Hoplite: A heavily armed infantry soldier of ancient Greece.

Merriam-Webster

How many of us remember, if we were even taught, how to translate a dictionary definition? Reading the above definition, there are parts I can relate to and other parts that I really don’t understand the reference. My father was a wordsmith–he loved looking up words in one of those huge dictionaries that was placed upon a wooden lectern-like stand, accessible and for quick reference…though not as quick as Google. He loved thumbing through the dictionary pages to find the word of choice and then to study the etymology of that word. The definition of etymology being “the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.” He believed that a deep understanding of a word was a clue to a deeper meaning to whatever he was reading. An understanding of a word’s origin could tell him so much more than what the author of the book might have intended. It could also take him on a vicarious journey as to where that word had traveled from originally.

Do we take words for granted? If we are avid readers, and especially women, we shouldn’t take words or literacy for granted. And, if we are women who write, we should have a devout relationship to words. There was a time, not so distant, when women were not allowed to learn how to read or write. A literate woman was an exception. It’s hard for me to comprehend this. If it wasn’t for me being able to read and write, would I find another way to express the feelings and thoughts that well up in me begging to be scripted? My answer to that question would be “yes.” However, what I expressed through art, embroidery, sewing, quilting, tatting and other womanly arts might not be so translatable by the highly lauded logical mind. It wouldn’t be so credited in the male-oriented versions of history.

Honestly, in my life, when I get caught in a circular pattern of words and thoughts, I toss the mighty pen aside and look for another way to express what is inside of me. I look for an escape route from the tyranny of thoughts that go nowhere! There are countless ways to quiet the mind–knitting, quilting, gardening, drawing, painting, etc. Staring out of a window on a snowy day in the mountains, like today–there are no words…

Poetry and the Common Ground

Poetry takes the everyday events and elevates them. Poetry takes the extraordinary events and translates them into something relatable. Poetry can be anything from passion overflowing on a page to a quiet meander beside a forest stream. Poetry is inherently an avenue for self-discovery and deepening. It fosters relationality with the reader.

Where do poets come from? Years ago, in my late thirties, I returned to college. I signed up for a women’s re-entry program with a designated curriculum. Creative Writing was one of the classes. Within this writing class was a segment on poetry. Poetry had always seemed unattainable–both in deciphering what the poet intended to say and in writing my own pen-to-page poem. I hadn’t realized that at this single moment in time, poetry was exactly what I needed. In the morning, I’d roll out of bed onto the floor. Poems gushed from me into my notebook! I was astonished. Suddenly, I who had been brought up to be seen and not heard couldn’t stop writing poetry. Poetry provided an opportunity to write about my life and to integrate the experiences of my life. The poetess in me was born!

Awhile later, I read some of my poetry in intimate circles, then in front of larger audiences. Typically, the women in the audience connected with my words, with me through my words. While the poet and/or writer writes alone, the words of one woman’s experience, my experience, created a common ground–a place of recognition for the listeners. When shared, the poetry became a link between me and other women who know what it is to be a woman in these times. The struggle to claim one’s own identity, to find her voice, to grow out from under the societal expectations of what it is to be a woman–i.e., the common ground. Bringing light to what has bound us, vanquishing the inner shackles that don’t encourage our wholeness, our truth–now laid out before you and me through a poem. How grateful I am to have found this voice in me.

Writing poetry, we don’t merely look and see something objectively. We become deep see-ers. The writer connects with her subject in a visceral way. The poem then has the capacity to bring the reader into the experience. Another crucial thing, when we see deeply and connect with something outside of us, we establish a relationship with it. From that perspective, we begin to see it’s value and the part that it plays in our lives.

Poetry has the capacity to connect us to the themes of our lives–and there lies the common ground once again. We each have life themes that we share in common–birth, death, love, angst, hope, freedom, faith, fear, trauma, renewal, grief, quandaries, and more.

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What is the value in claiming your inner poet in the world today? Your inner poet is a soulful creature. Engaging soulful awareness of yourself widens the opportunity to do so with others and of what we name as inanimate. Everyone and everything becomes more than merely players and props. The inanimate is then valued and we begin to care more deeply. Things are not there only for our pleasure, entertainment or consumption. They are appreciated for what they intrinsically are. And then, there’s the possibility of fully embracing the earth that is our very sustenance.

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What is the poetry that connects you to yourself, your neighbor, to other women or men, to the earth, to life? Trust poetry to provide the common ground.


What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?

butterflyfairyqueen.2018

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.

Being in the Creative Stew

Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?”  or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”

The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew!  For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on.  Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings.  “What?  What?”  I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.

I have been known to call this the “fertile void”.  Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed.  Inwardly, I churn.  I feel discomfort.  An inner edginess.  And resistance too.  All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?”  Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.

When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step.  They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing.  Flat out, nothing.  Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out.  When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief.  “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place.  It looks like there is no forward movement.  How long is it going to last?  Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??

At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively.  The impasse is in place.  Do something to take your mind off of it.  Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at.  Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.

Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing.  Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor.  Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.”  or “I appreciate your sensitivity.  It comes through in your poetry.”  During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is.  Sometimes, a direction presents  in a dream.  You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.

Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it.  We ride it out.  We trust.  The flow returns.

threefaces.1

 

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?

 

 

Sometimes, it is just practice

a bright idea, a rush of enthusiasm…these spark you and you begin to write and then…nothing…flat…blah…halt.  a false start.  the flow is gone and you put the poem or manuscript in the bottom drawer of your file cabinet…the shame pile…more unfinished work!

what if it was just a momentary thing.  not meant to be a love affair of any note or a long term relationship.  can you accept that?  could you even shred it?

For me, these false starts are a way of moving the energy.  As a writer, especially one who writes almost daily, I am open and available to ideas that zoom in…and then often they zoom out without coming to fruition and completion.  Not every idea has to be developed.

One question to ask of yourself is…”Do I always need a product?”

Sometimes, writing is just practice to facilitate your process.  You jot down the bright ideas, but you’re already working on something that is going somewhere. When you get to a stuck place in your life’s work writing, you can get easily distracted by yet another brilliant idea.   You then get waylaid from your story that has to be told, the one that you deeply desire to complete in this lifetime.  These engaging nova star ideas that race across your mind are a way to keep the channels open while you wait for what’s next in your great work.  You follow the star–and then, it plummets.  Nothing.  Nowhere to go with it.  Oh yes, where were you with the project at hand?  Get back to it.

These fleeting ideas show me that I’m in the flow, receptive and available.  I wrote it down, followed its lead and then realized that it is going to land in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet.  Perhaps I’m going to pick it up again one day and follow it further.  Or, I’m going to shred it immediately after I write it although the temptation to keep it is there as what I’ve written so far is, to my thinking, splendid.  These little writing flings…sigh.

 

 

What Do You See?

As a writer, how do you PRACTICE describing what you see?

Following is one of my favorite poems that illustrates deeply seeing and then portraying what the poet observes.

Nude Descending a Staircase
© 1961 by X. J. Kennedy

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.
We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.
One-woman waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long cape
and pausing on the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.
I appreciate this poem because it not only succinctly describes a nude woman walking down the stairs, it creates an imagery whereby I, as the reader, also see her.  And, in her descent of the staircase, I note the action of her walking, the movement.  This is a great feat in poetry.
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We’ve seen artists with their pencils and art journals sketching what they see.  As a writer, do you practice writing word sketches?  These word sketches can be used later on in other writing that you do or to simply facilitate your ability to observe.  Either way, it’s not time wasted.
Writing Prompt:
Here’s  fun exercise.  Take yourself outdoors to a park bench and sit with your pen, a  journal and notice people, your surroundings, the array of dogs?  Find the precise words to describe the flowers, trees, any movement.  What adjectives or metaphors come to mind as you allow yourself to really see someone or something?  Jot them down.  Practice doing a word sketch…or several.
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Thank you to X.J. Kennedy for permission to print his poem.
“From In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems (Johns Hopkins University Press), copyright 2007 by X. J. Kennedy.  By permission of the author.”

The Story of Pandora’s Box

I’m guessing you’ve read this Greek myth.

For the writer, writing has a quality of opening Pandora’s Box. When I write, I’m opening up more than my journal or notebook, I’m opening the unknown.  In the unknown, everything, all possibilities, exist.  What is going to be roused in me or you remains to be seen.  That which has remained hidden to yourself is given an opportunity to emerge. This can feel scary. Feelings can be tweaked, excavated trauma (I’ve referred to this in an earlier blog).  You decide if it’s worth bringing up again in this unearthing.

With writing (especially fiction and poetry) and art-making, there is nothing straightforward.  You don’t just sit down and write and remain unruffled.  You are taken places.  You volunteer for this journey a bit unwittingly.  “Yes, I’m a writer therefore, I write!” What you soon come to realize is that you have gone down a rabbit hole and you are being compelled as much as you have chosen the journey.

Who or what are you going to meet along the way?  White rabbits, card soldiers, tin men,  fairy queens, purple people eaters.  You don’t know.  It’s yet to be discovered.  Which Pandora’s lid is going to be opened in you?  What is going to leap out from your own inner underworlds and scare the heck out of you?  How did that get in there?  You can turn tail and run; slap your journal shut and find another interest.

Or you can continue the venture of discovery and inner sorting through the writing process.

Writing Prompt:
Consider how you manage your own writing journey.  If you are writing Non-fiction, are you less likely to encounter the unknown?  Or, in your research, do you uncover something that sends you there–into the unknown–regardless?  If you are writing fiction, do you get thrown off course when you are diverted down the rabbit hole?  What does getting back on track look like for you?  Or is the diversion where your writing really wants to go?  Is there a best way to sort the chaff from the gold and carry on?  Scan_0004

 

 

 

 

 

Opening my journal…
opening to the unknown.

Making Waffles

web22I light a candle and play soft mood music as I prepare cornmeal waffles from scratch.  With a wire whisk, I  blend the eggs and buttermilk in my favorite bowl.   I add the dry ingredients–cornmeal, flour and baking powder–to this mixture.  I stir in melted butter.  I’ve done this for countless years.  When I am present with this alchemical process, I am truly in my life.  My presence is one of the ingredients.  It is a ceremony.

Preparing an occasional gourmet meal, making a fancy dessert or mixing up a batch of waffles are some of the ways that I stay grounded.  As a writer, it is easy to float away into a world of the mind, ethereal imagination and fluid wordy inspiration.  However, hands-on, food preparation is of proportionate value to me. Isn’t it a balancing act at times?

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I love good films about humans and food.  Babette’s Feast, Chocolat, Mostly Martha, The Big Night, Julie and Julia, Eat Drink Man Woman, Chef, even Ratatouille!  Only a few of  the many wonderful films with this theme.

I am curious as to why I find these films so uplifting, satisfying and inspiring.  Possibly because they elevate something that I have valued throughout my life.  They take food preparation to a sensual and even “glamourous” height.  Food that is so basic to our survival also provides endless enjoyment.  To participate in the alchemical process of the creation of a meal and then to share the outcome with others is sublime.

Writing Prompt:
For your journal, what is something (other than writing) which you enjoy that takes you out of your head and into the moment and/or process? Do you tend to this daily?