Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who Likes to Pay Bills?

A while ago my answer would have been an enthusiastic "NOT ME!" It's downright stressful to watch my bank balance disappear before my eyes. Not to mention all the guilt feelings that creep in for unnecessary purchases (of course they felt essential at the time). I spend time in my studio every day with my colors and stamps and paint (and glitter) and a ton of other stuff to feed my creative muse. It occurred to me that I could put those colors and stamps to good use and make a painful task into something positive.

You might not believe this but I actually enjoy paying my bills now! My favorite stamp says, "Wishing you a day full of good things." I just purchased another one at Impress in Seattle that I'm eager to use: "Always jump in the puddles." It is a joy to send good wishes to the person on the other end of my payment. Before I started this I was sending my bills out into mailspace and there was no sense of a human being "out there". It makes me happy to think that after opening up hundreds of envelopes someone might feel like smiling for a moment during their day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Before My Eyes

When sparrows sing, when robins call
With the throb of joy or pain,
Who tenders their feathers when they fall?
Who carries them when they are lame?

Are parent birds forever near?
Do they hear their children's cries?
Will raindrops soothe their stinging tears
When a fledgling falls and dies?

Meredith P. Barrueto
March 24, 1992
After watching a fledgling fall from its nest

I've just about finished an illustration of my mother's poem "Before My Eyes". While I was working on the canvas I was reminded of the Bible verse about sparrows: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God." (Luke 12:6). The penny referred to in this passage is a tiny copper coin called the assarion. It was probably the least valuable coin the Romans produced, today it might be the equivalent of  a half a cent, maybe a whole penny. The passage continues with a reminder about God's care for each of us: "Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worthy more than many sparrows."

Tamale as Studio Muse
Meanwhile, my cat Tamale has been diagnosed with kidney disease. Fortunately, it was detected in the early stages but let me tell you, it has caused me some stress. I've had to learn how to administer the feline version of  kidney dialysis treatment in the home (we call it kitty dialysis). I look into his lemon lime eyes and wonder if he's in pain, wonder if he knows that the needle I'm sticking into him is to help him. Then there are the supplements--glucosamine and fish oil--and the prospect of x-rays and acupuncture to help ease the discomfort of an arthritic elbow (do cats even have elbows?). I have fretted over converting these kitties from dry food to wet, which it turns out is much better for cats and especially for cat kidneys (dry food dehydrates). But they don't seem to understand that. I have bowls of water scattered throughout the house to make sure Tamale gets plenty of fresh water. All of this is not cheap - not that I'm complaining but there are people without health insurance who can't afford their monthly meds and I'm contemplating acupuncture for my cat? In the midst of it all I found myself comforted by the verse about the sparrows in an unexpected way. Traditionally it is interpreted as a reminder of how precious each of us is to God but the other day I felt I was being reminded that Tamale is under God's watchful eye as we are and the sparrow that fell out of the tree two decades ago.

I see a my mother's heart in the poem she wrote and know that the same eyes that observed the fledgling sparrow also watched over me and my siblings, Kristin and David, as I grew up. And it is that kind of love that Luke speaks of when he refers to the sparrows; God's mother-heart and watchful eyes care for all of creation, even the tiniest "cheapest" parts.

P.S. The photograph of the sparrow to the right
was taken a month or so ago at the same time as I was working on the canvas. We found it lying on the ground in our yard panting rapidly. Wilder put it up in a tree so it would be safe from the cats and it passed away shortly afterwards. This little sparrow was a special gift of synchronicity.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's All a Game

Whenever my siblings and I were teasing each other mercilessly or doing something silly (and not much has changed now that we’re middle-agers) my father would say, “It’s all a game.” To him this was a reproach – as if we were wasting time and energy fooling around instead of taking life seriously (which in all honestly is what we were doing). The point was a little lost on me because I never felt I was bad to find a reason to laugh or play. Maybe I had an instinctive sense that I needed a sense of humor to survive, or maybe I sensed that play is one way, maybe the best way, to deal with the seriousness of life.

Magpie Artworks by Cheryl Smith

Lately I’ve felt the pinch of a struggling economy and a variety of financial responsibilities. Fear of losing financial security and guilt about my spending habits have often pulled my spirits down and sucked my energy away. While my wallet has been getting skinnier I’ve tried to be more responsible and make better choices. Just when it feels like I’m starting to make a little progress there’s some mini-crisis that has to be attended to: the tires need to be replaced, the washing machine breaks down or I bang my knee and need to go to the doctor – two steps forward, two steps back. It doesn’t help that this triggers childhood issues of deprivation and scarcity.

Jester Dog by Ed Heck
But I’ve noticed something else is happening in the midst of it all; there’s a little spirit of gamesmanship going on. It’s the challenge of tracking prices and watching for coupons; learning to enjoy using what I have and discovering things I’d forgotten I had. There’s a certain delight about not buying something that I don’t need or postponing the purchase of something that isn’t essential, as if I’ve foiled the spendthrift gremlin. This has gotten me thinking about my father’s words and how they apply to the “game” of life. It reminds me of children and animals at play. This is how they learn the skills of adulthood. Their behavior implies that play is the teacher; it’s the creative seed bed for productive living. If I can hold fear at bay and invite a spirit of play into the ring then I'll not only feel better but will have access to the creative resources that are a part of being human.. Fear paralyzes and blocks creative problem solving and it's no fun. Play is joyful and it's healthier: less fight and flight chemicals are circulating in the body, more endorphins. It opens us up to a well of creativity and inspiration. The jester in literature and theater is often the character that makes people see things from a different perspective, which is exactly what one needs when things look impossible. I am throwing the gauntlet down to myself (can you do that?) and trying out a spirit of play in another area of my life that is causing me some grief -- and there are so many to choose from: relationships, work, body image, health, need I go on? I'll keep you posted.

Harlequin Seated in a Cafe by Picasso

Addendum: My father was a gifted prankster himself (it's all in the genes). His mischief was very clever, creative and never did any harm. My hunch is that even as he frowned on our "games" he was actually enjoying it - he just couldn't let on. Thanks, Dad for your spirit of play.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

One of my favorite things to do over the years has been to attend the Ashland Shakespearean Festival. Dear friends Laura, Linda, Jeantte; theater; restaurant hopping - wonderful! When we weren't having a rousing discussion about the plays, the productions and the actors we'd sometimes talk about the following question: If you could invite someone to dinner from any period in history, who would it be and why. We elaborated on this by dreaming about what we'd serve for dinner or where we'd take them. Of course it's impossible to limit it to one person so we'd up the guest list to three and talk about how these various people might interact with each other. More recently I asked this question at one of my workshops and found the answers to be moving, inspiring and sometimes funny. It was a great way to get a glimpse into each person's uniqueness.

Lately I've been working on a vision statement for my business. It is important to me that everything I do in my work flow from my core self so that it is completely honest. I decided that one way to get to know that deep part of me was to explore who inspires me and why - and since I'm making the rules I decided to invite as many people as I wanted. Below is my shortlist (in random order). I'd enjoy learning who you'd invite to your dinner part. Perhaps you have some favorite recipes, restaurants, or places that you'd use for your guests.

David Whyte - is a poet who uses poetry to bring beauty and soul to the corporate world. He is author of one of my favorite books The Heart Aroused.

Cheryl Richardsonl - is a champion of self-care and a great source of inspiration.

The Dalai Lama - he radiates love, compassion, gentleness and good humor.

Joe Vitale - is a powerhouse of energy and creativity. He is not embarrassed to ask for what he wants and to expect it with openness (rather than entitlement). He manages to have a healthy relationship with the material and spiritual worlds.

Greg Mortensen - his vision transcends cultural, religious and political walls. He has served others by building schools in the mideast for girls under extremely difficult circumstances. He is the author of the book Three Cups of Teaof Tea.

Pat Krishnamurthy - I admire the way she stays connected to her own art while using it to bring meaning to others. I felt her spirit of service when I met her several months ago.

C.G. Jung - I admire his courage to separate from his religious roots and to forge his own connection to the Divine; his courage in bringing man's religious nature into the science of psychology; his courage separating from Freud; and his emphasis on relationship on all levels. I love his ideas on symbolism, synchronicity, dreams and the creative instinct.

Nelson Mandela - I am in awe of his ability to live forgiveness and to bring it to the leadership of a country ruled by prejudice and hatred.  I respect his vision and creativity in reconciling a people divided. One of my favorite movies is about his life after being released from prison: Invictus.

D.W. Winnicott - His book Playing and Reality made a huge impression on me as well as his ideas on play, the true self versus the false self, and holding. His gentle, wise spirit when working with parents and children is very inspirational.

There are countless more people I could mention - and might still but it's a start...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thumbelina & Hope

I remember a powerful scene in the movie Shawshank Redemption. Andy has just gotten out of the hole after spending a month there for playing music over the intercom system - music that awakened something in the inmates they had forgotten or never knew existed. One of the inmates comments about how difficult and lonely it is in the hole. Andy responds: 
Andy: I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company...[points and taps his head.] It was in here. [gestures over his heart] And in here. That's the beauty of music. They can't get that from you. Haven't you ever felt that way about music?

Red: Well... I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it, though. Didn't make too much sense in here.

Andy: No, here's where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don't forget.

Red: Forget?

Andy: That there are places in the world that aren't made out of stone. That there's... there's somethin' inside that they can't get to; that they can't touch. It's yours.

Red: What are you talkin' about?

Andy: Hope.

Red: Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It's got no use on the inside. You'd better get used to that idea.

Andy: Like Brooks did?

Although I've never been in prison (so far) I understand exactly what Red is saying. But several weeks ago I was sharing with friends and realized that hope no longer felt dangerous to me. It felt like something precious of mine, like a bird that I needed to care for and protect no matter what happened in the "real" world. I was reminded of Thumbelina, a favorite fairy tale from childhood. In the story, a woman who had no children dreamed about having a little girl but the dream never came true. She went to a witch who gave her a magic grain of barley, which the woman planted. The grain turned into a lovely flower and inside it was a little girl no bigger than a thumb. Thumbelina is snatched by a frog, a beetle, and a spider, and eventually ends up with a field mouse whose plan is to marry Thumbelina to a rich mole. She's already been through alot, and now this! It looks like she'll be married to an old furry half-blind mole and stuck in dark underground tunnels for the rest of her life. During a visit to the mole the field mouse and Thumbelina come across a swallow that looks dead. The mole nudges the bird and says, "That'll teach her! She should have come underground instead of darting about the sky all summer!" That sounds a little like something Red might say. The mole's words horrify Thumbelina who secretly nurses the swallow back to health. The bird carries Thumbelina off to freedom and of course, she meets her prince.

Life is full of big and little deaths and disappointments and it's easy to give in to cynicism and give up on hope. This fairy tale reminds me to take care of my hopes and dreams because they are a part of me. I don't know when, if or how some of my hopes will be realized but I don't need to. I just need to follow my heart like Thumbelina did as her heart went out to the wounded swallow. I made a shrine on the theme of Thumbelina as a way of working with the symbols and ideas of the story that was and still is so meaningful to me.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Spider Woman

It's funny the journeys that a project can take you on. This started with the prompt "Something Old" announced on the blog Mixed Media Monday. My first thought was to find images of beauty in older women, something one doesn't see much of in the media. Somewhere in the the assortment of pictures (google image search) was an image that related to the First Nation myth of Spider Woman. Now that idea had some real energy and it took off from there. I used silver thread to string a spider web on the door of the box, which I'd just purchased at Found in Portland for $8.00. It didn't have any glass - perfect! It wasn't easy at first - broke the trim at one point - but then it started to flow and I got a taste of the joy of weaving and a new respect for spiders. I used a bead loom to create a mini-weaving and some embroidery thread to create balls of yarn. A trip to a leather store yielded a piece of rabbit skin and some deerskin. The little pot was made with air-drying clay. This was such a joy to make.  
"Spider Woman appears in stories throughout the Americas, even throughout the world. She is found among the Fates that weave destiny. The name Penelope in the Odyssey means "with a web on her face - the one who sees with "webbed vision. In Pueblo mythology Thought Woman, Sun Father, and Corn Mother are the most important deities. These primal deities are interdependent. Thought Woman, the Spider Woman, is the creatrix, who imagines things, and as she thinks them, they become. This is the creative impulse she passes on, originating from the primal center of the Web, an eternally generative thread continually expanding." (From: http://www.rainwalker.com/)
Spider Woman possessed supernatural power at the time of creation, when Dine (Navajo) emerged from the third world into this fourth world...It was Spider Woman who taught Dine ancestors of long ago the art of weaving upon a loom. She told them, "My husband, Spider Man, constructed the weaving loom making the cross poles of sky and Earth cords to support the structure; the warp sticks of sun rays, lengthwise to cross the woof; the healds of rock crystal...Through many generations, the Dine have always been accomplished weavers

One day, a peaceful cave-dwelling Dine youth was hunting in Dead Man's Canyon...Suddenly, he saw an enemy tribesman who chased him deeper into the canyon. As the peaceful Dine ran, he looked quickly from side to side, searching for a place to hide or to escape. Directly in front of him stood the giant obelisk-like Spider Rock [where Spider Woman lives]. What could he do? He knew it was too difficult for him to climb. He was near exhaustion. Suddenly, before his eyes he saw a silken cord hanging down from the top of the rock tower. The youth grapsed the magic cord, which seemed strong enough, and quickly tied it around his wist. With its help he climbed the tall tower, escaping from his enemy who then gave up the chase. When the youth reached the top, he stretched out to rest. There he discovered a most pleasant place with eagle's eggs to eat and the night's dew to drink.

Imagine his surprise when he learned that his rescuer was Spider Woman! She told him how she had seen him and his predicamnet. She showed him how she made her strong web-cord and anchored one end of it to a point of rock. She showed him how she she let down the rest of her web-cord to help him climb the rugged Spider Rock. Later, when the peaceful youth felt assured his enemy was gone, he thanked Spider Woman warmly and safely descended to the canyon floor by using her magic cord. He ran home as fast as he could run, reporting to his tribe how his life was saved by Spider Woman. (From http://www.firstpeople.us/)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Little Serendipity

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.     ~Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, Flight to Arras, 1942

Serendipity is one of my favorite things. Jung called it synchronicity, which sounds very serious. To me it's a wink from the universe.

I keep hearing about the importance of exercise for the thinking brain, the emotions, and all the body parts. It's always a struggle, partly because I'm tired and partly because I've got all these achy bits (my hunch is I'd be less sore if I exercised more). But I needed exercise for my body and to air my brain this afternoon; it was time for a walk. I decided to take a slightly different route than usual and set off at a, for me, brisk pace. It started to sprinkle but it was a gentle, spring rain that made me feel invigorated. On my way back home I encountered a lady with a polka dot umbrella who commented on the beautiful green of the Pacific Northwest. She ended up sharing her umbrella with me while we walked and chatted. I learned that she's a retired teacher from California. I learned that she has a beautiful grandaughter who sang to a squirrel with a hurt leg. I learned that she came from Ireland and was descended from a long line of teachers - her great grandmother was what they call a "hedge teacher"* We visited for several blocks and then, about a block from my house we took different roads. I walked no more than 10 steps and caught sight of something green laying on the ground. Yup, that's it in the picture - a shamrock. I have no idea how that shamrock got there but I do know it made me smile.

*Hedge teachers preserved Irish culture by secretly teaching the language, history, and tradition of the Irish at a time when it was forbidden by the English penal laws of 1702 to 1719: "no person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm..." Ah, the spirited Irish soul!