I Dream of Sweet Caress from You

One of the stranger aspects of the COVID life is the lack of connection and, especially, hugs. We have stopped shaking hands and hugging because we are all afraid of catching or giving this disease to each other. It seems we are missing something larger than just a hug.

AF Archive/AP Stock Photo

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a paleoanthropologist and moving to Africa to study the origins of humans. I read books by and about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas. I loved the stories of the gorillas the most.

COVID, as of today, has killed 246,000 Americans and 1.32 million people worldwide. When I started writing about it back in March, that number was this boogey-man number that was thrown about by experts as our worst-case scenario. Now it seems like an undercount, or a lowball prediction.

Today I felt sad, it must be the time of the year, or perhaps just the lingering effects of the anger I felt the other night. I felt so lonely and so sad, and as if I am missing out on something living in the country and not the city. I miss my friends in Austin, but I miss them in the sense that I feel our lives may be shifting ever further apart, not just because of geography, but something else.

COVID is grating on all of our nerves. Raw, lonely, sad, disappointed, exhausted: everything feels worse than it normally would right now. I won’t share with you the various horror stories from around the country: suffice it to say, we are in dire straits. Our government seems to be in trouble and at the whim of a despotic man with the emotional age of a 7th grade boy in a fight, and the man coming in is quite wonderful but holy hell is he inheriting a mess.

I was thinking about the 90s yesterday as I was touring Lamar University: they were a totally different world. No smartphones, no white supremacist proto-fascist movement maybe trying to take the government and cast doubt on our elections systems, no global pandemic hitting us worse than any other country. It sure makes you wonder. What else will happen?

I miss hugs, and students, and sounds in the halls. I miss feeling connected to many of my friends. I miss my husband and myself not being so crabby sometimes. I miss a lot of things. I wonder how many we will gain back?

DATE: 15 November 2020

#Cases of COVID in the US = 11.1 million

#Deaths by COVID in the US = 246,000

Death Rate in US = 2.22%

#Cases of COVID Worldwide = 54.3 million

#Deaths by COVID Worldwide = 1.32 million

Death Rate Worldwide = 2.43%

Being Guided

Clouds may block the moon
Covering your reflection
Still I see your face

I experienced a lot of wending and winding in the month of October, and as we slip into November, it seems much the same. With October came the loss of my jewelry studio of 10 years: a wonderful place that I shared with like-minded spirits and its beautiful owner and wrangler of souls: Bob. I miss that place, and hope we find a new venue soon. I am experiencing a lot of friction at school with teachers whose ethos don’t match mine, and my great, ever-expanding heart is more than a bit bewildered at what seems like powering the Shame Train in the direction of 7th grade little girls rather than thinking about them as the delicate little fledglings that they are. 7th graders…so special. Then, an agreement and a plan to take over a friend’s farm, a process that has involved a huge amount of time and energy over the last year fell through at the last minute, due to differences in expectations.

I am endlessly fascinated by humans, and by our ability to change our lives so fundamentally, so quickly. The friend who owns the farm is about to have her own baby, but can’t seem to see that the reality that we have a 13 year-old would make us want to live on the farm, as originally agreed, by ourselves. It is strange to be a step-parent who is now fully-oriented in the direction of this kid’s success. I have all these little girls who I work with every day, and while I think of him slightly differently because he lives in my house, I care about each of them just the same: I think about the power of their self-determination, and my own determination to give them access to knowledge without limit, with laughter and love.

Nevertheless, I am disappointed, a bit worried, and a bit sad. But, the clock of time and life keeps turning, and I found myself on Saturday afternoon touring the UT Austin Art Building as part of the MFA Open House. I learned that the program is fully-funded, that all grad students teach, and that, as a grad student, I would have access to all the studios, all day- and night- long. It seems like an amazing opportunity. As I was walking back to my car along San Jacinto street, I was reminded of being a student there over ten years ago: wandering around under tree branches and in the shadow of buildings. There are many new buildings now, and I am older. I think that if I am afforded this chance, I will spend every day, in the morning, drinking coffee under this one very crinkled Live Oak that grows between the Art Building and the Texas Memorial Museum, just thanking my lucky stars that led me to this.

So, I digress. But, all is not lost, or bad. The theme for this month is, indeed, “Turning the Soil”, and it would seem that is what is happening. Stirring the pot a bit, turning over new and old leaves, exploring ideas and options, focusing on the fact that the right thing will happen, even if I can’t see it right now. We went and looked at a property in Elgin yesterday: an old house that needs work and sits on 5 acres. I immediately thought of learning how to use a chainsaw and hacking down some trees to create a campground back in the property somewhere. I thought of creating spaces for birds to eat yummy birdseed and live in the old trees. I thought of the old building on the property that we think is an abandoned brick house with trees growing out of it: very Secret Garden. Neither of us ever thought of living in Elgin til we drove out there yesterday and saw all the old Victorian houses, the horses in paddocks, the Cottonseed Oil Mill, the old depot, the downtown of Southwest-style brick buildings and tiny shops: a place for a farmer’s market, a co-op, and a thrift shop. I thought: good enough for me! Life is full of surprises: if you don’t watch it, it will change on you in a blink, as my grandma would say.

I think it’s time to wait this out, finish the art projects that need to be added to the portfolio, stand tall, and look inward.

Maintain an open heart in your stillness;
This cycle of obstruction shall pass
Walk with peace in every step.
#12
Above      Qian/Gan        Heaven, energy, spirit power
Below       Kun        Center of the Earth, responsiveness

Gloriousness & Wretchedness

Fear

“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. ” 

Pema Chodron

Dandelion Flowers Wallpapers 05

Fear sat behind us on a beige couch as we ate dinner together at a short table. Fear sat and watched, and waited for us to notice its presence as we talked and laughed and touched.

Into the kitchen, it followed us as if it knew that one of us would look up and see it staring us in the face. It had been a glorious afternoon and evening. Fear stepped in and overtook a simple request, twisting it into something with a meaning it didn’t really have. Fear caused silence and a lack of joy: it caused confusion and awkwardness and a smidge of sorrow. Later, in bed, it caused us to turn away, and later still, to miss each other somehow, and to drift away.

What happens when fear drives the bus? What happens when it overtakes simple affections and communication and steers us away from each other? All too easily can this happen, and sometimes, only a couple of hours or days of clarity can help shed light on something so murky as those feelings of: Will s/he listen to me in the future? What is happening here? Is this meaningless, or meaningful?

I think the answer lies somewhere in the area of deep breaths and clear thoughts, of truly listening to the other and attempting to meet their needs even if it inconveniences our own momentary desires. There can be such anxiety in moments, as if the whole world hinges on a singular passing segment of time, when, with perspective, we of course can see and realize that we are all, after all, only living and acting out of our own beliefs and our own minds in that selfsame moment. It is so difficult not to ascribe deep meaning to things like the sweet words lovers speak to one another late on a fall afternoon, or to a feeling of uncertainty very early in the morning.

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Time, in its passing, teaches us that although we may notice the moments and feel them intensely, that perhaps instead of acting based on reactive decisions made in those moments, that we should see the experience as a whole, and take a deep breath, a step back, and realize that…the only thing to fear, is Fear itself. And keep moving: understanding that the value of the whole outweighs momentary confusion or inconvenience or uncertainty or that dirtiest of dirty words, insecurity.

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”

~ Pema Chodron

Yoga-For-An-Open-Heart

A Tale…A Tail

owl by arthur rackhamIt was late October, and a girl was carried in by the currents and tides through dark blue water; washed ashore on the rocky beach. Eyes opening in the autumn light, she noticed large rocks cracked by glaciers, and tall fir trees growing up like jagged teeth along the horizon.

Naked she was, and alone: scared and not just a bit mystified. Under her pale body and dark hair, flat on the beach, was a grey, furry skin, as if she lay upon a blanket. But of course, this was no blanket but one aspect of her true self: a seal skin, a selkie, she was.

Gathering her skin around her like a shroud, she peered up the hillside and into the town. The fog was curling around the boats, the trees, and herself as she gazed and wondered at where she was, and how she had come to be there, anyway. Above one eye was a large, red mark, as if a tentacle had stung her across the left side of her face, or she had been hit hard by something long and wooden. Her head felt heavy in her hands; holding it just so, the early morning light stung her eyes, and she began to cry, knowing that she was alone there on that beach.

undine_by_rackhamThe pebbles dug into her skin and so she stood up after a while, again shrouding herself in her skin against the cold, against the light, against the unknowns that, no doubt, were roaming unchecked in that tiny town of white houses, grey roads, black, sea-striped stones.

Out of nowhere, as she stood, a prince arrived in a strange carriage. Black and silver it was, and he was like a rainbow. He seemed to appear out of nowhere, for all of a sudden, she found herself in a flower garden, and he in the middle. He seemed to grow out of the flowers, as if they were a part of him, but yet he smelled of sawdust and strange Eastern songs echoed around him, in the autumn light. He whisked her into that carriage, taking her on a long drive through windy mountain roads, through trees whose leaves were changing from green to red, orange, yellow and brown. Suddenly, there was a bonfire in a granite fireplace, and people stood around her, everywhere. She was shrouded again, in another costume: this one of a sprite unknown to them, with antlers growing from her now longer hair, a cape of ivory, face sweet, lips parted to drink and eat intoxicating things from a long and dusty table. A small woman out of the crowd stared and asked: “are you real?”

…..

Time passed, and sometimes she found herself in Italy, sitting at an old wooden table eating olives and garlic and drinking red wine through dark cold nights when the Moon hung in the sky, glowing brightly like a frozen pearl. The nights grew colder, crisper, and one morning, as she went walking, she saw hoarfrost upon all the plants by the roadside and she stopped to see the landscape glitter. The day came when it was time to mark time, and the prince whisked her to a beach and told her stories that made her feel disoriented, fascinated, and protected, in a way. In the light of a campfire, she wondered if she saw the real him, as sometimes his eyes would fill with tears, and then away he would run, again. His carriage changed from silver to black and back again, and picked her up and took her from place to place like the princess he told her she was. After a bit of time, so intoxicated she was with his flowers and his scent and the fortress in which he lived, that she almost forgot where she had hidden her shroud. Many months before, she had taken it and folded it ever so thin, like a delicate piece of origami, and tucked it inside a secret pocket. When she became afraid, she made sure she could feel it, touch it, know that it was still there; she was afraid that someone was trying to find it and take it for their own. She knew, but hoped herself unique, that once her skin was taken, she would stay, trapped, forever.

selkie2

Over time the chariot began to rust, and the flowers faded. The rainbow cast over the prince became thinner, and she began to catch glimpses of someone else, as if an image was held under dark water, as if she was catching the silhouette of a tree in a puddle on a rainy day. She stayed quiet most of the time, watching and listening, and he liked her that way. His rainbow slipped away, but his beautiful hands gave gifts and his icey blue eyes laughed and she was held in their spell.

One early morning, they were driving through Russia and the snowbanks were piled high on the sides of the carriage tracks. The ocean water, teal and tossed about by wind, was pulled into meringue-like peaks as the carriage was pulled forcefully along another windy road. Above their heads flew eagles, dark against the white sky, and more and more snow fell, spinning in huge spirals, buffeted by a strong Eastern wind. That day his colors were orange and grey, set apart from the white, swirling background of an almost Eastern landscape.

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Over time, the snow melted and she found herself living in a tiny fishbowl on a ledge. The fishbowl was very small and in fact most people thought she was a doll living in a dollhouse, and still doubted whether she was real: still wondered where she had come from. Safely inside, she stared out the walls of the fishbowl and watched as people found her, and waited outside to see what she would do. Guarding the now hidden mark above her eye, she ventured outside and painted the veranda a deep green, like the color of the water from which she had come. When the ice left, she kissed the wind and flowers appeared below her feet, and suddenly she found herself living not on a ledge, but in a town, alongside others who wished just to know her, wished to laugh with her, eat dinner, and go swimming, which of course, was her favorite thing to do.

The prince, now old and wizened and thin, no longer a rainbow and full of light, for he had betrayed his mask and shown her his true self long ago, one night while they were dancing, would not let her go, and did everything in his power to give her beautiful things and talk with her about wonderful ideas, and in one moment, even tricked her so as to think that he loved her truly. She slipped, and her precious seal skin flew out of its pocket and later, she found it in a pile under the kitchen table, tethered into place by the leg of a blue wooden chair. Promises of love were circling her head and she was drunk on confusion and bewildered at the prince, for she knew him yet he was promising her the world. Gathering her skin around her, for the first time in many months, she stood upon the veranda, and stared out at her ocean, now a lighter green as the summer sun shone down upon her pale skin. The flowers were every color and curled in great vines through the garden, protecting the spaces that she had made whilst alone in the early spring.

rackham mermaids

The prince arrived and tricked her again, denying that he had ever promised her anything, that she had misheard him, that she was lying, that she was being cruel. In bewilderment, she cried and saw her face in a mirror, saw the damage above her eye reappearing as her tears fell. She lay under a striped blanket in a train car, and could see, finally, his face, his poor, sad, confused, and afraid face, his body, drawn, his wrist hurt from years of steering that carriage against the tides, his throat sore from lying to himself, his light fading, his hope just barely alive. She looked at him, gathered her skin around her and smiled a perfect, understanding smile, as he lay beside her, battling with himself.

On the last evening, he whisked her away to a castle in the woods, a wooden castle painted of blue with gardens of moss and a small path that led to a lake. He took her there, installed her in a room, and went to sleep. As he slept, and he looked so peaceful for one of only a few moments that she could remember, she kissed him upon the lips and silently slipped out of the locked door: escaping locks had always been a skill of hers, for as long as she remembered. Walking softly over moss, she stopped to pay attention to the curved branches of trees, to listen to the calls of the loons on the water. She walked into the woods, and with each step, pulled her skin in closer, moving back into the body she had lost many months before. After what felt like hours, or maybe days, she reached another beach, this one calm and warm in the early summer morning. She slipped into the water, silent as….

A seal.

2adf6f232cc145973fd211204f499687Swimming through warm, summer water, in the early morning, she began to realize that she was not just one or the other, but both, entire. She reached that beach that had once been so cold, so grey, so uninviting and alien, and pulling herself up onto the land once more, basked in sunshine, folded her shroud away again, touched her face, remembering her past injury with her fingers, as if it was a tattoo of white, hidden from all but her. She stood up, saw the fishbowl above her on the hillside with its gardens and train car, and walked. Walked and walked and walked: home.

A Laborious Mosaic

 

“She was very aware that it was temporary. She was not defensive about it; she was offensive about it. She would say that it was an attribute. Everything was for the process–a moment in time, not meant to last.” Arthur C. Danto about Eva Hesse

I have been accused of being a perpetual boyfriend-chaser.

I have also been labeled a love addict.

Tis too true — I love falling in love, being in love, feeling love. Although, I must admit that I do not truly know what it is to be a participant in mutual, building, sustainable love. I love helping people and I love loving others. I love feeling them need me; I love attention.

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That being said, I choose the wrong partners almost every single time. OK: every single time so far. I choose partners who are selfish, who cannot really love another person. I choose partners who are emotionally unavailable. I choose partners who are artistic and aloof. I choose partners who are needy and manipulative. I choose partners who see me as someone, as one someone, and I change into that person. I am a chameleon for men. I have written here earlier that I am the Queen of Running, and that I can adapt to almost every situation. Maybe my spirit animal should be the chameleon, or one of those amazing walking sticks that look like leaves, or a black panther or the moth that has cobra heads on its wings. I have changed for whomever comes across my path and shows interest in me. I am natural nurturer, and if someone lets me take care of them, I will. I will care and nurture and support until I am left, hollow and exhausted, usually about two years later.

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The exception to the two year rule was my husband, who I was with for almost seven years. We made it those seven years for various reasons. We split because we had never learned to communicate, could not disagree in a productive way, he had no motivation to really be a partner to me, he depended almost entirely on his parents who were always going to be more important than me or us. We had become roommates, friends, not lovers. Our life had become routine, so routine. Our life was managed by me, nurtured by me, maintained by a series of expected movements and dependable, predictable routines cultivated over the years. I worked the stable job, I managed the money, I organized our life: I was the one that held it all together. We could have kept that life going for a little while longer, maybe another two years, but the progression of life was not there: we had stagnated. There is a saying about relationships that they are like sharks: they have to keep swimming or they die. Ours was a sleeping shark, drifting downward into the depths. I simply cut off its fins and forced it to sink faster when I asked, after months of painful deliberation, that we separate.

Camouflage - Find The Animals - 8

The other exceptional thing about my ex-husband is that he was easy-going and meek. He was artistic and creative, but not passionate. He didn’t possess the animation, the mad energy, the lust for life, that many other lovers have possessed. He didn’t spin in mental and rhetorical circles, or live in a house that was crumbling and had no refrigerator. He didn’t have long hair and love to go backpacking up the sides of mountains with no map, he didn’t write me poetry and weep in my arms, he didn’t ride bicycles until 7 in the morning and come home drunk and angry at something inside himself. He didn’t live in a foreign country in a beautiful house, separated  from what he really wanted but with enumerable possessions, and he didn’t pretend to be someone he was not by dulling himself with alcohol or drugs, spinning records on weeknights, using philosophy as a tool for avoiding people and experiences, but he was, in the end, like all the others, a liar.

When my friend asked my other friend if I was a perpetual boy-chaser, she was referring to my seemingly endless pursuit of the passionate man, the man whose madcap dash through life is something akin to a drug for me: something that I will seek and find, even unconsciously. Put me in a city of millions or an island of a few thousand, and I will still find this man. I find him everywhere, even when I am not looking. This spirit of chaos, this spirit of degradation, of manipulation, of skewed love, of lust, of power, of personal disaster will be rooted out, as if there is a magnet or a hidden sign emblazoned on my spirit, heart, or soul…..here I am, it says.

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Another friend of mine says that it is like I have two minds: one that knows what I should do, and one that tricks me into torturing myself, into the painful place of this type of relationship. I can tell you where it comes from, but it doesn’t really matter, and you can probably guess, anyway. Many of us have these same issues, coming from that man that we grew up with. Suffice it to say, my father suffers cruelly from what David Foster Wallace called The Terrible Master, and I look or act or sound or remind him of someone from his past that recalls the painful terror that echoes through his inner dialogue. Since I was about thirteen, I was a fairly easy target for his frustration, his failure. I listened, I internalized, I began to question if what he said was true. And almost every person I choose as a partner reflects those questions back at me and I end up telling myself the same thing: if I can just stay here a bit longer, then he will get better/happier/more stable/more successful/more loving/more open/more motivated and will be able to show me what I need. I know he will. And of course, he never does because he was unable to, all the way at the beginning.

leopard-camouflage I read a beautiful article today about an artist named Eva Hesse, a woman that previous to today, I had never heard of.

“At this point,” Hesse wrote, “I feel a little guilty when people want to buy it. I think they know but I want to write them a letter and say it’s not going to last. I am not sure what my stand on lasting really is. Part of me feels that it’s superfluous, and if I need to use rubber that is more important. Life doesn’t last; art doesn’t last.” 

Born in Germany but who lived a short time, part of her short life, here in the United States, Hesse was a 1960s modern artist, a sculptor who sought to navigate through her world and interpret it through her sculptures of industrial materials, anatomical forms, and repetition. She named her pieces with coy names, or ones that reflected scientific discoveries of her age, or her opinions on the direction of the movement she participated within.

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One of the things that I love about being a woman, and especially a woman artist, is our ability to craft work based on our experiences and our lives. All of us, man or woman, has a life whose path is fraught with pain and difficulty, as I said before, Life can be Suffering. (I have amended that Buddhist belief for my own devices.) Woman artists have a unique capacity, I think, to craft and exhibit that pain and make it remain beautiful. Look at Frida Kahlo‘s self portraits, or Georgia O’Keefe‘s flowers, or Eva Hesse‘s sculptures, Annie Leibovitz‘s portrait photography, Yoko Ono‘s drawings and sculptures, and, more simply, the huipils of women in Central America whose embroidery communicated the stories of their culture as the Spanish decimated their people with disease and domination.

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Traditionally, women are seen or expected to take on this role of nurturer as if that means that they are to bend, to be flexible, to be willing to support no matter what. I believe that one of the great gains of feminism is an understanding of how those roles can be both male and female, and that women, too, can be ambitious, business-like, healthily selfish, and strong. I believe that the women’s movement is about choice, and that men, too, can gain from an understanding that feminism helps men break out of their codified existences of cold, emotional distance or “strength” at any cost. Feminism is all-encompassing, if we let it be.

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To get back to my original point, of being the boyfriend chaser, the love addict who seeks the wrong sort of love in place of the real thing, I am seeking to combine the understanding that it is time to find self-love and then real love, it is time to create art out of the understanding and final comprehension of these experiences, to channel the spirit of other woman artists who have broken their patterns and found their inner artist. As one line from one of my favorite poems says: it is time to eat my last meal in my old neighborhood. In many ways, the tiger trap I found myself in lately, was a gift because all I had to do was look up, grab those pieces of bamboo, and begin climbing out.

Climbing out, for me, as a woman artist, as a person whose own experience and own Terrible Master has clouded her judgement for so long, involves speaking to other people, and sharing these experiences. Today I read this article, and found it gut-wrenching, so I am linking to it. Today I spoke at length with a new friend and she opened my eyes in ways that others had not been able. Today I recommitted to being a woman artist and making this journey work, whatever it ends up being, wherever it ends up going. When I get into that boat of my dreams, every morning as I wake up, and make the conscious decision to do this, to really do it, to being the artist that I am, it is about looking these fears and decisions and successes and challenges in the face and moving through them, slowly. It is about taking moments to savour the beauty of everyday experience, like ice-skating alone today down a creek bed. It is about standing up with a straight back and liberating the self from years of patterned behavior. It is about writing, and looking, and creating, and melting metal into new shapes and forms. It is about trusting others, but trusting oneself most of all.

Being a woman is being “of fierce delicacy and passionate fragility,” and of recognizing that those two aspects are not weaknesses, but beautiful pillars to share with the world through art, or writing, or speaking, or however else you choose to communicate.

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successful developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”

Anais Nin

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