The Power of an Autumn Cold

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“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses couldn’t drag me away

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain”

 

I caught cold whilst riding horses two Fridays ago; lately, I have been going riding with a few other families on Family Night at the local riding club. One of the benefits of rural life is that people get together to ride horses and have potlucks with wine and beer in the dark of a Friday evening; it is beautiful to watch all the teenagers racing their horses around the arena, teaching littler ones to ride horses at all, and then to, occasionally, get up on a horse oneself and try to conquer that lifelong fear of horses that was borne from being thrown at a Girl Scout camp all those years ago. We have been taking the teenager, River, because he told us a while ago that he really enjoyed riding horses. Two Fridays ago, the origin point of today’s tale, he told me he had changed his mind.

Have you ever raised a teenager? I have not, but I do teach them each and everyday and have done for many years. Next year is Lucky 11 in public school, and 15 in total. Anyway, I digress. River told me in the car, after mopily being convinced to ride bareback on a paint named Zoomey, that he really didn’t like riding because he had nothing in common with the other kids there. I asked if it was because they are all girls? He responded that they don’t have a lot of brainpower, and that all of his friends use their brains a lot. I asked, are you talking about playing video games? Moving on to the kitchen in which I was trying to restrain myself from, what Maw Maw calls, braining him while he told me that everything that Cody and I take him to do and everyone we introduce him to makes him uncomfortable, but when he is at home with his mother, he is totally comfortable, not shy and talks constantly. In this moment of teenage darkness, I chose the high road and told him I thought he should get out of his comfort zone and that we just want to make him happy. Inwardly, I was consumed with anger.

This was the beginning of the Transformative Autumn Cold: one that, even today, Sunday, nine days after initial exposure, still holds on to my lungs and nasal passages. It has a lingering force that can only mean one thing; I am supposed to learn something from it. So here’s hoping.

{Please bear with this tangent-filled exploration of my human psyche today. It all makes sense in the end.}

When I was 18, I became very ill which was, at that time, a mystery illness. I was hospitalized and was out of school for almost an entire semester. I lost most of my hair, had congestive heart failure, and an incredibly low blood count. It wasn’t until almost 20 years later, when I lucked into an amazing hematologist/oncologist who did a genetic fact-finding mission of my entire extended family’s bloodwork, was it discovered that my cousin Jackie and I both have agammaglobulinemia, a genetic disease that usually only affects males, but in our case, impacted two females of the same generation on the Blythe (paternal) side of my family. It was a crazy experience that was definitely transformative and taught me to appreciate every day of my life, and that my life had a purpose, although at the age, I didn’t understand what that was or even what that meant.

As I got better, slowly, and with the help of traditional and non-traditional doctors, I left home and moved to Austin, Texas to go to college at UT. After attending debate camp several times during high school, I had fallen in love with Austin and thought it was the bees knees of cities, and, I think, it was. A lot of people still think it is, as seen by the 150 people who move to Austin each day now. I would disagree, but I am able to as I now live in the country and like the slow life much better than the hustle-and-bustle-avocado-toast-trend-of-the-moment that seems to be the lifeblood of Austin these days. Oh, and not to forget all the music festivals.

I digress, again. Since getting sick two Fridays ago, I have experienced a lot of frustration. I was frustrated with River, and with the concept of blended families in general. I am not even sure if I would call ours “blended” as sometimes I think that Cody is treated like an afterthought, or a necessary chore, rather than an equal member and a father to River. (There goes that anger again!!!).

Digression.

In addition to raising a teenager in a blended family, Cody and I also take care of his aging grandmother, Maw Maw, who is in some sort of “rapid decline” as the medical people call it, but who, herself is in some strange space of denial-bargaining. She seems to think one day this will all stop; we know that it will, but not in the way that she wants. It is crazy disorienting to take care of someone who you “know” (?) is dying who herself has not acknowledged it truthfully to herself, except when occasionally she asks us to shoot her, throw her in the river, leave her out with the garbage, etc. (yes, these are statements that have all been uttered). I don’t know how to react to Maw Maw or tell her what I think. I just try to listen, keep her comfortable, and get her to eat something.

A few weeks ago, I took advantage of the in-house teacher counseling service at my school and went to a session with our school’s counselor, Mrs Williams. I talked about the struggles I have with taking care of Maw Maw at home, teaching 8th graders at school, and having a teenager at the same time. She told me to trust the universe and remember that Maw Maw’s age is a blessing, that each day is a blessing, and that I am there solely to make her comfortable and try to keep her happy. Other than that, I cannot fix or change anything and that it is really up to God, whoever I conceive of them to be. I agreed and had a mental image of my garden in the spring: full of flowers and butterflies and bees, and I remembered how happy being in the garden makes me, so I, at that moment, tried to consciously remember to shift my perspective from helping to supporting. That shift is a difficult one that I have to concentrate on each day, especially on days when Maw Maw won’t eat, or she calls me “that woman I live with”, her heart rate goes above 130, or whatever.

The last aspect of this current experience of transformation-via-autumn-cold is that my oldest friend and I are in a spot of disagreement, or perhaps a better phrasing is uncertainty about our relationship. I went to see her in India in June, and during that trip, said a lot of things that hurt her feelings, but she didn’t tell me any of this until an email I got last week. She works for the government, and lives in different places around the world for chunks of time, and then gets zoomed back to the US before zooming off again. She planned an amazing trip for us, and everything we did was beautiful and inspiring. Of course we didn’t get along every moment, but I have never traveled with anyone that I got along with every moment. Perhaps, most definitely, this says more about me than any friend that I have traveled with, but nevertheless, I was hurt by the fact that she didn’t tell me any of this while we were in the same space together, during which time we could have talked about this and she could have told me she thought I was being a jerk, and I could have told her that I was super worried about her and it was coming out the wrong way, and we could have found a place of peace. But now, she is about to zoom off to another country and the likelihood of us being able to talk about this in a meaningful way is quite limited until I see her again. And my takeaway from the email is that she doesn’t want to see me again, at least not for a while.

In this specific situation, unlike my frustrations with River and Maw Maw, I feel adrift. I am 100% sure I make mistakes, because I often do with people: ask anyone who knows me well. I can be harsh, overly-emotional, tactless, too optimistic, too domineering with my opinions, etc. These are aspects of myself that I was unaware of until I went through years of therapy to find out who I really was under those onion layers. Despite me *mostly* keeping those tendencies in check these days, or at least being very aware of them when they pop up and being active at fixing them and reinforcing the relationships they impact, occasionally they pop up especially with older friends, who have known me since I was 10, and knew me better when those layers were under wraps than now, when they are unwrapped and under psyche-scrutiny each and every day. My friend wrote to me that we are in different places in our lives, which of course is true; this is something I have been thinking of in terms of all my friends as I approach 40 years old. Some of us are single, some are married, some have kids, some don’t. Some live in far off places, some very close. Some have professional jobs, some have no jobs (lucky ducks — I think). Some are consistently sad or anxious, some are happy at their core, some don’t know how to be, some question themselves (all), some are blinded by ideas, and some see clearly. Some think they see clearly and yet are still blinded (all, again). Some are all of these things in intermittent moments: aren’t we all? While we are all in different places at this juncture that I call 40, but some friends may call 42, or 35, or 32, we can all be great friends to each other because we love each other and accept each other as flawed human beings who experience all the iterations (and more) listed above. Right? In what perfect moment are friends at the same point in life? I find it to be impossible, but more significantly, not important. I love my friends very much, and that force is much stronger than any job or house or partner, etc.

So, I sit here, at noon on Sunday, still sniffling, and wondering about all of these ideas. Teenagers, dying grandmothers, oldest friends who can’t really talk with each other; it is a quagmire.

Unless……

Yesterday, I moved a lot of wood: giant chunks, small branches, and a lot of in between sizes. They all came from cutting down a 236-year old post oak tree in our front yard that died. It was an amazing tree and we have many giant stumps to play with for the rest of our lives. It was hard for me to believe that its first year of life was in 1783: I have no idea what was going on here in 1783. Who lived here? Did someone plant that tree or was it just one of those magic, random occurrences of nature? I love that someone built our house just behind that tree and one more, as if they were planted for this house, when of course it was the other way around. As I moved all those chunks of wood, back and forth to the woodpile using the wheelbarrow, lifting heavier pieces just to see if I could, dumping them in loads, over and over again, I felt better.

I think the reasons I felt better were a combination of exercise-created-endorphins and an understanding of how I have changed in the last few years. Five years ago was the beginning of my last winter in Maine, when I lived in a cabin on a lot of land next door to a lovely neighbor and pig farmer who looked out for me. I heated my house with wood and really experienced solitude. I wrote many entries here during that time, whilst sitting at a round, pine table with my woodstove to the left and my sweet kitchen off to the side. There was so much snow that winter, and I lived on a property that felt like the target point of the whistling wind that came between two mountains across the road. Sometimes I would go outside in the evening to get frozen wood and would just wonder what the hell was happening? How did everything get so hard? It wasn’t until deeper in that winter that I realized two things: it had become that hard because I made it so, and that it actually wasn’t hard. I just wasn’t seeing clearly and especially wasn’t seeing all the people around me who loved me.

When I moved back to Austin the next late-spring, I was in a relationship for the first time in over four years, and really struggled with the same struggle. I asked: why is this so hard? Why can’t I run away? I don’t want to be here – or do I? Do I want to teach again? All of that time, I had these wonderful friends around and a lovely boyfriend who just loved me and wanted me to be happy. Cody had his own growing to do, but he did it, but in terms of me, he was always loving and encouraging. I had this barrier up that said something like…you can’t be happy because if you do, they will find out all these bad things about you and then what will you do? It was something like that, and was couched in my experience of getting pregnant at 15 and living in an alcoholic family with a Vietnam vet for a father who never let his own bad experiences go and a mom who sought to control everything at everyone’s expense. It is fascinating to me how we can get locked in our own psyches without our knowledge, because some series of experiences can be so painful or frightening. I was lucky because I did discover the key to my own salvation: forgiving myself, grieving for that painful experience, and finally seeing all the people around me who just plain loved me. It was then that I could love them, too.

One of my takeaways from my last 5 years is an understanding that I have no control over anything (I still struggle with this: referencing that convo with River, my issues with wanting Maw Maw to get better when it is not up to me, or being hurt and bewildered by my friend’s email). This popped into my head yesterday whilst moving all those loads of wood.

Another is that I have changed over these interim years, thanks to my friends, myself and cognitive behavioral therapy. It took years of talk therapy to get to the discovery of the need for CBT. I think it saved my emotional life. I realized yesterday, whilst in the woods, walking back to the front yard, that I am so valued and appreciated by people at my school, and I have the power now to recognize that and build on it. I don’t think I could see that clearly before, because I couldn’t believe that people would see me that way. I got divorced back in 2009, and I realized that the last time I felt this valued was just before the divorce; it was a great discovery to me that the experience of divorce, in the moment, set me further back on this journey. But then again, that experience was what spurred this self-discovery of the last 10 years, so there you go. I also feel so appreciated and valued by my friends. I feel terrible that my oldest friend doesn’t feel that I feel that way about her, even though I do. I think that old habits die hard, and apparently I crossed a line for her and can only hope she forgives me.

My last takeaway here is that life just keeps moving forward each day. I have found the key to juggle all of the dishes spinning in my life right now is to remember this in every moment I possibly can. My coworker Nicole says that nothing phases me right now, and my other coworker Tori says I have such a “chill vibe”. I think they are sweet, and definitely wrong about this sometimes (the emotional swings still happen!), but I love those notes of appreciation and I look at them at lessons in remembering to stay present whenever I can, in remembering impermanence and the lesson of trying to be equanimous. It helps me find peace in this chaos.

The only power I have in this situation is to love my people: love River especially when he makes me crazy. Love Maw Maw and try to make her laugh a couple of times a day. Love Cody and thank him for loving me, too. Love my friends and try to make sure they know how much I care about them, but not in a way that offends them.

I think I appreciate this cold now, can bless it and send it off into the autumn wind that is blowing around my house. Is that rain?

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Slowly

 

The Sailing Ship – Bishop Charles Henry Brent

What is dying?
I am standing on the seashore.
A ship sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object and I stand watching her
Till at last she fades from the horizon,
And someone at my side says, “She is gone!” Gone where?
Gone from my sight, that is all;
She is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw her,
And just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her;
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “She is gone”,
There are others who are watching her coming,
And other voices take up a glad shout,
“There she comes” – and that is dying.

Freedom & Forgiveness

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Veil Nebula

It has been three months, give or take, since I wrote My Story on this blog and went through the experience of processing that event from twenty years ago. Still, it mystifies me that we can hold memories and experiences in our hearts and minds for so long and not be able to see them clearly until through a process of heart-work and attention, can achieve a moment of clarity, seeing ourselves as we truly are. While it feels like a very heavy weight has been lifted from my perception of myself in my life, it is still a great mystery to me: why do we hold secrets from ourselves and others and why are we afraid of vulnerability?

I may never know the answers to those questions, and it may be that part of my journey on the Earth is to explore those ideas with myself and others. I feel a shift happening in my course of work on the Earth; I still feel that teaching is my purpose, but I am wondering if it is time to start teaching in a different way, forum, or circumstance. I am choosing not to worry too much about it and let it all unfold.

Since I started writing here, almost four years ago, so much has changed and so little has stayed the same: many moves, changes of fortune and circumstance, friends, love, and discoveries. Thinking of the person I was when I wrote that first post from Maine, when I had just ridden the park loop bus around Acadia and had decided to stay and live in Maine, I am happy for her, and happy for me. So much processing over so little time coupled with so many beautiful and sometimes heart-wrenching experiences. I think of ice skating, and watching the first snowstorm of my life fall outside my windows whilst watching every episode of Six Feet Under. I think of drying flowers on my porch, en masse, and later drying so many more flowers in the ante-room of my studio at the Tool Barn, both projects related to sharing beauty with other people. I think of the Halloween parade in Northeast Harbor, and Dan’s barn, Lisa’s cabin on Cranberry Island, and Sam’s small paradise on Islesford. I think of the one room schoolhouse on Islesford that I almost taught within, and the many wonderful girls I met this past year. I think of giant fish made out of paper, and sculptures made out of junk, and the woman I taught at Haystack who built her broken back out of brass and copper. I think of all the people that I met, and how much I miss them. I think of all the people I love here in Austin, and how much I missed them.

Life is like a seesaw in so many ways: most of the time we are aiming toward a peaceful level of equilibrium, but life’s many feathers of fortune fall on either side, shifting us slowly (or quickly) up and down. It is a matter of balance, as it is constantly shifting out of balance. Like the seesaw, it’s all about riding along, moving upwards and downwards, watching the trees and bushes blur, smiling at the person across from you, and trying not to bump your butt too hard if the other one jumps off, or if you push too hard and end up thumping against the ground.

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Heart Over Head

Spring solstice arrives
Lighting the flames of true love
While Pelicans dive

From the I Ching Weekly — reading for the week of March 16th, 2015

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It has been a narrow passage
All is opening
Spirit hails love
A joyous returning

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When a wound has become infected it will not heal unless the poison is removed. This is your condition now. You have been in battle and now you are returning. A bit battered and deeply tired but you are returning and are mostly in tact.  It is your ego that has taken the hits and is feeling the wounding. The ego would have you retreat and be with shame…don’t go for it….there is no shame and no blame, you are human after all and this is part of the process to wholeness and light.

On this return it is simplicity that will salve the wounds and heal the spirit. Old relationships too are being made ready to be healed as you come back to the source, the primal mind, made free of a troubled ego.

It is as if the tides have changed and the tide of change that washed away what you built, desired and cared for is now bringing back the very things you thought were lost. This is a joyous time and a time to celebrate in humility and grace.

These are the winds of change you have felt would come, they have. This time the winds carry no danger, they carry promise; the promise of love, abundance and stability.

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The great forces of Gaia can at one-minute blow winds that devastate the landscape, feed fires that blacken the earth, then comes stillness wherein there is the miraculous returning of life. These are of the universal laws of life and death, leaving and returning.  All is in natural order. You stand now at the point of the freshness of return while behind you lies old useless patterns of behavior and convoluted associations that have been fraught with difficulties.

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Thinking and analyzing will not have summer return in winter; now it is to either trust the energy of returning or get embroiled in an unpopular and unsolvable puzzle of obstacles on a road leading nowhere. So it is with your situation now. Don’t think it through, this is not the time to analyze your situation, you have done that and you are exhausted from it. Give yourself, and those around you, a break.

There is occurring not only a return to clarity of thought and vision it is also a return to innocence; time when what is now returned to your field of energy will inspire creativity and confidence.

Surrender; let this cycle of gradual progress toward love and success happen with no thinking. Know that the coming tide moving you inevitably forward is unstoppable. Let it happen. Allow yourself to ride this wave to the shore, arriving refreshed and rested, not tired and weak from effort. It is your choice., it has always been about choice.

The necessary re-birth will be realized not by pushing forward through the jungle of old patterns and promises. The energy will be found by returning, by following the breadcrumbs left on the path so you could find your way back to from whence you came. In you was a knowing that seated somewhere in the recesses of your monkey mind, the primitive sense of wisdom, where you knew this time would come.

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Your ever so gentle and intuitive primal mind swathed in innocence will guide you back to where success and abundance is waiting for you. When you get there it will feel familiar like remembering some lines from a poem you read or was read to you as a child. It is in that light of innocence where you will find the power of the creative and the strength to bring to completion and welcome that which you most desire.

Don’t be surprised when you find members of your tribe coming your way to fill the gap of aloneness that you have been feeling. They could not find you before; you were behind a wall of self-involvement and judgment that obscured your authentic self. Open your heart and minds ear to the returning souls and beloved ideals; talk story with the tribe; let yourself be loved. You have been so damn good at giving and fixing; now is the time to LISTEN and to receive.

Your mind has been busy and noisy not able to hear or see which way to turn, where to seek the knowledge necessary to extricate yourself from the hold the ego had on you. Now in this returning you are being shown promising bypaths to where self-knowledge will be found and it is this self-knowledge that holds the key to your freedom. Freedom to love and be loved, speak and be heard and the gift of coming to stillness where you can listen…fully listen to the coded sounds of nature as she speaks to you through the perfumes of nature, the calling birds song, the flowing waters and the beating of your true loving heart all in harmony with the sentient beings of this, your home planet, Earth held in the loving grace of Gaia.

Take to heart these words this week:
Be love and teach peace

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A Late Night in Pittsburgh: Compare/ Contrast

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Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.”

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Assata Shakur 

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port.

Photodiary: Harbingers of a Maine Autumn…

We have entered the very beginning of the waning season: the light, less gold, more cottony-white, as I heard it described yesterday, slants sharply across the horizon and through the branches of trees. The swamp maples are already changing to red, the leaves are beginning to bleach, the seed heads on flowers dessicated, brown, crackled like bark or the wizened hands of an old woman, the reeds in the ponds are tipped with gold, no longer green from end to end.

Last year, one of my first posts here was of photos of my new, tiny town on the coast of Maine. Last year, everything was new and my life to come here was full of unknowns. Now, a year later, this place still surprises me every day with its dynamic change, its eccentric personalities, its size, and its amazing beauty. I think I am beginning to know it better.

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I’m Not Young Enough To Know Everything

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan


426299_3462935531267_2111031890_nMy brother and I at the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, London…in 1986…

My first tattoo is quite terrible, and in a terribly predictable spot on my body. My “Tramp Stamp” is of one of the faeries from the book “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens” by J.M. Barrie. This specific faerie was drawn by Arthur Rackham, my favorite children’s book illustrator, and is a depiction of one of the faeries who carry lonely, orphaned and abandoned Peter to safety. The tattoo was made many years ago, when I was all of nineteen, at a tattoo shop on 6th Street in Austin, before I knew anything about getting tattoos. It fades with each passing year, and needs to be retouched very much. But, the sentiment of it remains.

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Today, I am reminded, from the advice of my wonderful friend Julie, to be grateful everyday for all the things that are happening. To keep the faith, so to speak. I wrote the following in my journal the other night. I typically don’t combine my journals with the blog, but will today…

“Always remember each lesson, each truth as it is revealed, and be grateful for each, even if in hindsight.

Always remember the power of being true to myself, and that boundaries don’t have to be walls.

Always remember the raw beauty of love, of being in love, even if I fall in love with not the right people…be able to love, and to really understand love as accepting the differences between myself and other people and being able to see the beauty of others through seeing the world through their eyes: to accept others, to really forgive.

To let people teach me, even if their way is confusing or difficult or different from the way I would like.

Remember to be grateful just to have this time to make these realizations. To understand unconditional love and do my best to let go of fear. To be peaceful and loving and happy. To accept people’s faults and my own. To believe people’s compliments.

For more on the Snow Moon, you can read Angel’s more detailed interpretation of the impact of February on the psyche here…..

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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.

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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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