Blog on Hiatus

Hi Everyone Who Reads My Blog…

I hope that you’ve appreciated my art, poetry and essays over these past five years. I’ve taken short breaks at times, but mostly I’ve been here. As a writer, it’s been a good thing for me to show up to this writing space daily.

Life is certainly giving us challenges by the truckload these days. Sometimes, there is the need for quiet contemplation and introspection. It’s been forced on many by social distancing and sheltering at home during the pandemic.

There is so much going on in the realm of politics. In the US, it consumes the media and our minds if we listen to it for very long. There is such a basis of fear in the way the media delivers the news. The most immediate concern to me is Climate Change. We are each individually and collectively affected by this across the planet. I don’t know what has to happen before humans begin to relate to the earth in a more reciprocal way. Heaven help us.

We have leaders, outside of politicians, to guide us in accommodating the changes we need to make in order to survive beyond the next twenty years. There are solutions that can be implemented now. These are covered quite effectively in this book edited by Paul Hawken, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming. I might have mentioned this book in an earlier blog, but it bears repeating. My 25-year old granddaughter and her boyfriend were visiting recently. I handed the book to them to browse through. My granddaughter looked directly at me and said “I’m going to give this book as a gift to everyone that I know!”

It is a book that offers precise information about what we can do NOW to change course. It’s going to take strong leadership to do this. However, behind that leadership it’s going to take each and every person to line up across the earth. Forget the idea of different countries, cultures, religions, beliefs, skin colors, foreign languages–we need to unify to save our earth, which is saving ourselves and all the other amazing species in this one ecosystem.

Blessings to everyone

Christine
Mt. Shasta, CA, USA

Backgrounds

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Backgrounds…creating one can be a boon or a bane to an artist.  Do you create the background first and let the image arise from that?  Or do you begin by painting your subject first and then try to figure out a background to support and enhance the central image?  This painting was all about designing a background first.  As taught by a wonderful artist, Jenny Grant.  PAINT BIG is her way of painting on a large cotton canvas (from a roll) that you later cut into portions and then paint the canvases individually.  You extract a central image from each canvas and embellish it.  Interesting process.  Really!

Creating the background first can be a fun and freeing exercise.  Almost anything goes…except perhaps that you try to use colors that are complementary to one another… or not.  Collage is part of the process as is stamping, mark-making, stenciling, writing, etc.  Once the background is to your liking, you might get an impression of an image that wants to come forward or you might decide to impose an image on the painting.  You don’t typically start off with a subject in mind.  That central figure or image emerges once the background is complete.  This is very much an intuitive process.

Then, there are those who are fearless when it comes to painting a background.  They start with the blank canvas, paint the central image, portrait, figure, whatever it may be. Afterwards, they develop the background around it…again, it could be anything, a complementary or contrasting color, symbols, stenciling, stamping, mark-making, abstractions, etc.

Do I have a preference?  For me, it sometimes depends on what I want to convey.  Creating a background first, in a sense, is easier for me.  The blank canvas is intimidating to many.  And then, sometimes I want the challenge of diving right in to that white of white that is a blank canvas, taking the dare to start there.

Try both and see what your preference is.

As far as this particular painting goes, I was in my painting angels phase.  And they don’t always have to wear white draping garments.  And their wings can be cloaked under a royal purple cape.  I want to stress the freedom to follow your own bliss as an artist.

Enjoy.

The Dowry–Part Two

Pap comes home after a day’s work, after a visit to Flanagan’s Pub.  He trips over two wooden chairs, staggering through the small, crowded parlor to get to the bedroom that he and Mum and Willy share.

He mutters as my mum says, “Senior, couldn’t you come home sober one night a week!  If there was any of me dowry left, I’d divorce you!”

My younger sister, Patticake cries “We’ll be orphans.”

Willy harmonizes with Patticake, “I don’t want to be no orphan.”

“Wipe  your noses and pipe down.  I ain’t got no more dowry since  your pap drank it up.  So I ain’t going nowhere now am I?”

A grunt comes from the bedroom as Pap falls onto the squeaky bed.

“Colleen, go help your pap take his boots off so’s he doesn’t get me own Mum’s rose quilt dirty,” Mum yells at me.

“I hear you, Mum,” I snap back as I run to the bedroom.

Pap is already snoring.  His breathing is deep and the stench of whiskey makes me want to be sick.  Pap doesn’t budge an inch when I tug mightily to get first his left boot and then his right boot off.  I’m thinking I could jump full hard on his belly and he wouldn’t wake up.

I look at his grizzled face.  The deep scar on his upper left cheek looks like a cleared ditch bordered with stubble.  He was handsome once.  From the tintype on the dresser he stares, a dark-eyed man with wavy black hair parted in the middle and slicked down.  Now he looks worn from work, hard living, hard drinking.  He doesn’t know what to do with us kids, especially the girls.  He roughhouses with Willy some, but he leaves us girls to Mum.  I feel sorry for my pap and pat his arm tenderly.

“Colleen,” Mum calls.  “Get out here and snap the green beans for supper.”

“Coming, Mum.”

***
I sit at the knotty wood table, hands washed, sleeves rolled, opposite Kathleen and Louise.  Kathleen peels potatoes with expertise.  Her face is satisfied.  She is going to be James Flynn’s wife.  Louise is slicing the carrots intently.  She doesn’t have a beau yet.  But she’s pretty enough and Mrs. Donovan, the matchmaker, is always looking for the right fella.  The little ones are napping after their hard play today.

Mum stands at the wood-fed stove, stirring the broth, sweat beading on her forehead.  I snap off the tough ends of the green beans and pull out the string as I was taught to do.  In this rare moment of suspended silence, my mind wanders to my 18th birthday.  I don’t talk back anymore when Mum says that I’m going to have to go into the convent.  I’ve read about some girls who ran away from their families.  They bought their passage and emigrated to Australia.  A girl doesn’t need a dowry there and there’s plenty of men who want a good wife.  The day after I turn eighteen, I’m packing my few belongings, taking the money Mum has stashed in the cookie jar with my name on it and getting on a boat to Australia.

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Collage 2

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What I like about collage is that while there is an element of play, there is also a sense of a hidden meaning.  The subconscious is directing the show from its off-stage balcony.  You could look at this piece and see it as pure abstract.  Or a compilation of scraps of paper with a bit of integration through the central figure.  But it doesn’t really matter how anyone else sees this.  The artist is taking disparate parts and making them work together.  In that way, she’s also reassembling things in her psyche that she didn’t seem to know how to sort.  Collage is similar to dream work.  The work of dreams, in my humble opinion, is to help integrate complex elements that you can’t work out with the conscious mind.

You don’t even have to consider yourself an artist to do collage!  Anyone of any age at any time can create a collage.

Here’s how you go about it.

  • Gather papers.  Magazines.  Some of your writing.  Anything that speaks to you that can be glued on a substrate.  Tear or cut images or words that appeal to you in the moment.  I like to tear a paper as I prefer  the uneven edge.
  • Choose your substrate.  Heavy cardboard, cereal box panel, canvas, mixed media paper, watercolor paper (140# weight), whatever you have.
  • Matte medium is a good paste.  Or YES brand of paste.  Or Mod Podge if there is nothing else.
  • Brushes that you don’t care about.
  • Water to clean the brushes.
  • A paper towel.
  • Paints, I prefer acrylics…but gouache works or oil pastels.  I like Caran D’Ache Neocolor II water soluble wax pastels.

Give yourself time apart.  Put on some music if you like.  Arrange the torn or cut papers on your substrate in a way that is pleasing to you.  Take a picture with your camera.  Remove the papers and then glue them on the substrate according to your photo.  Splash or brush on color as you are inclined to (or not).  Let yourself get lost in the process.  Don’t hurry it.  Don’t let anyone or anything infringe upon this time and space.  Getting lost in this process is part of the benefits of this collage journey into yourself.  Don’t be afraid of it, surrender to it.  Let it take you deep and deeper into the unknown.  It is like walking into one of your dreams, only it’s a waking dream.  Trust yourself to go there.  Trust that you’re going to return.

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?”

****
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.

On the Trail

Awhile ago, I took of a photo of an old oak tree that was perhaps misshapen by the elements and because of this, it was fascinating, beautiful to my eye.  I loved the way it bent and twisted and yet reached towards the sky.  Gnarly could be a word to describe it.  I could see the beauty in gnarly although the word, gnarly, doesn’t have a great connotation.

That said, my mind equated it to beauty.  I am neither an experienced nor representational painter.  Yet, this photo image of the tree spoke to me.  I used it as inspiration for my painting of a stylized Tree.  Too many of us think of trees as inanimate, as non-communicative, as unfeeling.

I’m reading a book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer.  She is Native American and her family was shifted from reservation to reservation.  She remembers the Pecan Trees in the various places where she and her family have lived over the generations.  The Pecan Trees–no matter where they are physically located across the country–all produce the fruit, the pecan nut, at the same time.  And, then, they don’t produce for years at a time.  What is gleaned from this fact, is that there is an underground communication system among the pecan trees whereby they concur, regardless of climatic conditions and local geographic factors, to produce fruit.

Fascinating, right?  So walking on a trail by the lake yesterday, I encountered a friend riding his bicycle.  We chatted briefly in a casual way.  Then, out of the blue, he says that he communicates with the trees during his seven mile bike ride around the lake.  That when he moved here many years ago, he was impressed with the trees, their beingness.  That he felt he could turn to them for counsel.
Haven’t some of them, the old growth, been standing here for years?”  He added, “Haven’t they seen the whole human play unfold?”

I was shocked by the synchronicity of my painting and his thoughts on trees.  I responded, “You are weird.”  By that I meant wow, how can it be that we’re both on this tree wavelength.  Today it occured to me how the earth, trees, nature, etc. infiltrate our thoughts and beings when we are receptive.  How they speak through us about what is needed to preserve life on earth.  The conservation efforts, the environmental impetus of a world in jeopardy.  Are these quests all earth and nature-instigated?  Humans think they have these brilliant ideas…but who is our coach and guide?  The earth herself, perhaps.

At some point, maybe we realize that we are the spokespersons for our planet.  At some point, we might remember that we are visitors here. We hope to leave this earth home that we’ve only borrowed, intact and viable for future generations.  And, for the other life forms that exist, survive and thrive here besides humans.

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Writing as a Spiritual Practice

I think I first heard it from Natalie Goldberg…that writing was her spiritual practice. It seems that she was practicing sitting meditation with a Zen Master.  She struggled a bit.  Finally, her Zen Master suggested that perhaps writing was her spiritual discipline/practice.  He told her “If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”

Do you show up for writing daily?  Do you get the feeling of connecting with something greater and deeper than your ordinary life through writing.  Do you enter a domain that you did not construct but within which you reside for a brevity of time–non-ordinary time?  Is it outside the realm of what the outer world requires of  you?

I sensed that writing was my spiritual practice in the late seventies.  Out of desperation or perhaps out of my soul’s necessity, the pen and the page called to me like a whisperer in the night.  I hadn’t heard of the practice of journal writing in those days.  It hadn’t become popularized quite yet.  There weren’t bookshelves laden with paisley-covered  empty journals, lined or unlined.

For me, lined spiral-bound notebooks marked the beginning of this practice.  And it was daily, nightly, whenever I needed a companionable friend to talk to.  This newly discovered partner was so receptive.  It stood by me and bore any emotion, sorrow, hope, fear, optimism, resurrection…everything over the years.

Showing up for writing was a daily practice. It offered soul connection, enabling me to process through something and arrive at a better place, eventually.  Sometimes the journey was long, harsh and unyielding.  But the page heard it all with neither complaint nor judgment, like a gentle confessor with the power to heal.  These journals have borne witness to the descent and resurrection over and over again.  Writing as a spiritual practice has been an avenue towards the integrity of my body, spirit and mind.

 

Goals

Goals can give a context within which I live my life.  For a long time, my main goal was survival.  Then, it morphed into the desire for wholeness.  Occasionally, I’ve had a weight loss goal.  Some new years, I’ve made a resolution or two.  How well I stuck to those resolutions varied.

Are you goal-driven?  Are you curiosity-driven?  Are you intuitively guided?  Something else?  All of the above?  Recently, I listened to a podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert and she admitted to being curiosity-driven…that following her curiosities is not only the way that she writes books, it is the way that she lives her life.  Interesting.  Adventurous for sure!

If I’m honest with myself, I would say that setting a goal and achieving it in material terms, hasn’t been my forte.  Recently, there has been a change in the circumstances of my life.  I am now responsible for the maintenance of my little cottage.  As a direct result of that change, I’ve started saving money.  It’s a high priority on the goals list that I jotted down on January 1st, 2020.

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I was thinking about the word aspiration as compared to the word, goal.  One definition of aspiration is “a desire or ambition for which someone is motivated to work very hard.”  To aspire to something isn’t quite the same as setting a goal.  Designing a plan to reach that to which you aspire implies that you have now set a goal.

I don’t consider that I’m goal-driven in the sense that our culture appears to–acquiring things.  I decide on what’s in front of me to do next.  I don’t follow my curiosity as much as I’d like to except when I am painting.  And that curiosity calls forth my intuition as a work of art evolves.

Anyway, following is this short video by Elizabeth Gilbert on purpose, passion and curiosity.  I would add that besides being curious, she is also goal-oriented.  She works with a publisher and has a contract to write a certain number of books.

 

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.

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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.)

 

 

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.

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