Saturday, October 31, 2009

It's More Than Just a Charlie Brown Moment

It’s Halloween and the autumn leaves crunch beneath my feet as I shuffle down the sidewalk, kicking little puffs of them up into the air and listening as they land with a soft thip, thip. The air is filled with the fragrance of hearth fires, candle wax, and singed jack-o’-lanterns. Orange persimmons hang like heavy globes from the trees and pumpkins grow among lush vines in the garden.

It is the time of the harvest. In my neck of the woods, the grapes are being harvested from the vineyards. Large, succulent, and sweet, they fill lumbering gondolas with varying shades of purple and green.

It is a time of honoring our ancestors, celebrating the Day of the Dead. The veil is thin and spirits cross over. Tonight I light a candle on my altar, chant a blessing to those family members and friends who have died this year. Blessed Be to you and yours.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nature as Art

When it comes to creativity expressing itself, you just can’t mess with Mother Nature. She’ll win hands down every time. That said, in November at the Center for Spiritual Living (, the whole month is devoted to art and creativity. I’m always humbled to be amidst the mysterious and beautiful expressions of art in all its forms. People who may pass anonymously among the throngs all year suddenly hang a watercolor or weaving, place a carving in wood or marble, present a collection of unlikely objects put together to solicit a chuckle or a whisper of awe, or play a piece of music that brings tears to the eyes. Stunning and fantastic jewelry, pottery, quilts, poetry by young and old fill the social hall in a riot of color and texture. The room takes on the crackle and vibration of creative energy.

Toward the end of September each year I feel my body being lulled into the suggestion of winter. I yawn more; I eat more and exercise less. There’s a thickness that begins to settle in my bones and an ache to find my cave and crawl in for the long months ahead. This shot of adrenaline every November jars me out of my stupor and jump starts my own creativity. I pull out my box of clips from magazines and assemble collages on recipe-sized cards, or shop for interesting ingredients to make an exquisite and hefty stew. Those heavy, minor chord songs seem to find their way into my mind and down onto paper during the dark months, or I might take a piece of writing from my own personal slush file and rework it with a concentration that sometimes eludes me in the spring. My favorite thing of course is to fold myself into a comfy chair with a blankey over my lap and read myself into blissful oblivion, cozying up to someone else’s creative expression.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Isn't It Great When Things Just Work

Short post this week. I’ve been pondering how a series of small events, each unique in its own right and perhaps not an obvious part of the whole, can nonetheless impact the outcome. Without each piece in place, the outcome would be different. Sounds like life, right?

As I look back over my journey from childhood in a small semi-rural town in Iowa, to finding my place in a larger city as an adolescent, through individuating and launching myself into adulthood by joining VISTA, moving back and forth across the country, then marrying, moving, divorcing, moving again, marrying again, beginning a new career, having a child, completing my education, divorcing again, changing careers, coming out as a lesbian, partnering several times, stepping out as a writer, singer, actress, songwriter, and now moving into a new role as grandmother…all of that, the good and the challenging, made me, well, me. Some of the experiences were discordant and I couldn’t see how they were all going to fit into what I’d hoped to create as a fulfilling life. Some of the experiences I might have chosen to bypass at the time, but that would have altered the outcome.

Being a visual person, I’m offering yet another amazing video (thanks, Sis) that illustrates this point. In another lifetime perhaps I’ll try advertising. This IS creativity in action. Know as you watch that if just one piece were removed, the course would forever be altered. “Isn’t it great when things just work”:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Co-create With Me

In my post of 9/24/09, On Music and Miracles, I spoke about my journey as a song catcher/writer. In September I still lacked the skill to know how to add pictures to my blog. With every month, my grasp on computer technology grows about a millimeter (unless there’s a smaller measurement), and I now can add a photo here and there. Today I’ve added my recently finished song, If You Don’t Like the Music You Don’t Have To Dance. If you click on the photo, I think it gets bigger so you can actually read it, maybe even play it if you have a keyboard or piano.

I’ve been thinking about collaboration lately--not just with my “muse” who drops songs on my head like a pigeon with a sense of humor, but with actual people. YOU are actual people. Want to collaborate? I’m stuck on a song. Mostly I do minor key, dirge sort of Baltic sounding music that’s vaguely spiritual in nature. Lately, some bluesy, jazzy, cabaret sounds have found their way into my consciousness (see above).

The next song is similar, but the lyrics aren’t flowing. Want to play? This is creativity in action. So far I have a tune, and some lyrics. Again, the idea is that we are in charge of our lives, and nothing is going to happen to make things different if we keep doing the same old thing. I need an additional verse or two, or a rework of what I have. And I need a final Chorus with an actual resolution to this dilemma:

V-1: Sitting at the stop sign, waiting for the light to change.
Got my foot on the brake, waiting for my life to rearrange.
They say don’t push the river, and you can count on Fate,
But surely there’s a way in which I can participate.

Chorus: Just sitting at the stop sign, watching my life pass by.

So, if you’d like to lend some lyrics, go to the bottom of this post where it says “comments”, and click on it. If you add your e-mail, I can respond directly to you. This could be fun. I look forward to your input.

PLEASE try this: My sister sent this musical staircase link, and it’s one of the more creative ventures I’ve seen. If you’re not a FaceBook member you might need to create an account (which you can then close) to see it, but I promise, it’s worth it!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Art is in the Eyes of the Beholder

Art is in the Eyes of the Beholder

I work with psychotherapy clients around artistic blocks, self-esteem as a creative artist, issues of self-definition. At what point can you consider yourself an artist, a writer, a playwright, a photographer? Is it external acclaims—a gallery showing, a publishing contract, an opening night, or is it a state of mind? Who gets to say when we’re “there”? And who gets to decide what art IS anyway?

I remember walking through the University Art Museum in Berkeley years ago after the installation of an abstract art exhibit. I stood on the ramp, a few yards away from the largest piece so I could observe the reactions that others were having. Actually, I was looking for validation for my judgments. THIS is art? I wondered. A huge canvas painted black filled most of one wall. Dead center was a round dot of red. Yup, that was it.

“How inspired,” a young artsy woman in a beret said to her colorfully clad friend. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” No, I thought.

“What the…” a professor type pushing a toddler in a stroller muttered, shaking his head has he passed by. Score one for my side, I thought.

I stood for maybe half an hour watching people related to it or not, loved it or hated it; there were no neutral comments. The piece was just a piece. It didn’t get better or worse depending on who was viewing it. It just was. It didn’t suddenly become art. It stirred emotion, speculation, associations, and judgments. That’s what the creative process does.

Extrapolating from that, sometimes you don’t even need a canvas, photograph, sculpture, or book to inspire the creative eye. I was having lunch at a new sushi place with two friends last Sunday. Not only was the food good, the service quick, and the price reasonable, my friend said she also liked the art. She was looking at a blank wall with four holes where once upon a time a picture surely resided. I chuckled, remembering the art museum thing.

We’d been talking about friendships, acquaintanceships, time management, busy lives, only so much energy to go around to so many worthy people and things. I was talking about how I’d let a friendship with a former colleague drift because trying to fit one more thing in was just too overwhelming. Eventually I stopped returning e-mails and phone calls.

“Sort of like the art,” my other friend said, nodding again at the blank wall. “That’s you,” she said, pointing to the largest of the four holes where a bolt once was, “and the other two are orbiting around you,” she said of the 6 penny size hole an inch or so below it, and the 4 penny size hole just below that. Down a few inches was the smallest hole where a screw had been removed.

We all three stared at the wall. “What about that last one, the one at the end of the orbit?” I asked.

“Too far away,” she commented. “That one got screwed.”

* A note about the picture at the top. I went back to the restaurant today to photograph the wall with the holes. No holes. In its place was the arrangement in the photo above. Nice, but it didn’t inspire depthy conversation.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Life as Fiction

When my daughter was born, I knew I didn’t want another child. When you receive perfection, where else is there to go? Also, I didn’t know if I could ever love another baby as much as I loved this little creature that had completely captivated my heart. If you’re a parent, you probably know this sentiment. We’re not supposed to have “favorites” among our children, though I suspect people do.

As I writer, I admit, I have favorites. Paddle, whom I referred to in an earlier blog, is a version of my young Iowa self launching herself from adolescence into adulthood via a long, strange journey. As a fiction writer, I’m able to take all sorts of literary license adding a dab of truth here and there embellished by plenty of creative detail.

In the following excerpt from my collection of short stories, Returning, Paddle has met and is fairly infatuated with Lucas Plum, a new age hippie goddess type who arrives in her battered VW bus at Ginny Hawk’s Blue Hawk Diner in the bayous where Paddle works. Lucas is the embodiment of the world beyond Paddle’s sheltered life. For those of you who have experienced shamanic journeying, especially if you’ve been with me at the time, you’ll recognize snippets of the experience through Paddle’s eyes.

“You staying at the Dew Drop Inn?” I asked, knowing that it was the only place in town to rent a room except for old Miz Hatcher’s place, and that’s haunted.

“Stayin’ in my bus, right out back of the diner. Ginny said I could use the facilities since I’m taking all my meals here,” she grinned. “Yes sir, nothing like rain on the roof when you’re living in a bus.”

At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be vagabonding around the country in an old beat-up bus, pulling in to strange burgs, checking out the locals, sleeping with the sound of rain pelting overhead. Happy as an ant on a cupcake, I’d be.

“I’ve been thinking of journeying tonight, Paddle. Care to join me?” She leaned against the back of her stool and stretched out legs that seemed to go forever. Occurred to me, I didn’t know how tall she was since I left first and never saw her upright all the way.

Before I could answer, Ginny returned with the milk, set it down with a splash. A white puddle smirked up from the counter. “Leavin’ already? You just got here,” she said with a whine in her voice.

My own heart took a brief time-out.

“Not that kind of journey, Ms. Hawk. I’m talking about a shamanic journey, where you look for your spirit guide. You know, drums and all,” she said, as if we had any idea of what on earth she was talking about. “Maybe you’d like to join us?”

Lordy, I thought, and shook my head.

“Only drums we got around here are the set Pepper Frank plays over at the Moose Club for the annual Winter Wonderland Ball,” Ginny chuckled.

“Oh, I travel with my circle drum, made by a shaman down in Santa Cruz, California...special elk skin since Elk is my power animal,” Lucas said.

I was reminded of one of those tent meetings that come to town every couple of years where the Holy Spirit fills the preacher who starts talking in tongues, babbling away so you can’t understand a word he’s saying. Shamans, spirit guides, power animals...what the? I had to admit, I was more than little curious.

At ten o’clock, Ginny hung the Closed sign on the door. I straightened the chairs and swept up while she did the deposit. We turned off the lights and followed Daemon out the back door.

There was an eerie glow coming from Lucas’ old bus, and a funny smell, kind of like burning mattress. We looked at each other, then back at the bus door.

“Well, go on,” Ginny whispered and gave me a little shove, “knock or somethin’.”

“Hey, Lucas,” my voice cut through the quiet of the dark alley. “It’s Paddle and Ginny, come to journey,” I said, as if I knew what that meant. I could feel a knot in my stomach, and my armpits were starting to odor-up on me.

Lucas’ face appeared in the window, and she slid the side door open and stepped out into the night surrounded by that pungent odor.

I covered my mouth and coughed through my nose as quietly as I could. I knew Ginny was uneasy. She had a mean grip on my elbow.

“Welcome,” Lucas said, all serious. She was holding something that looked like a smoldering bunch of weeds bound with string. “First we’ll smudge, then we’ll enter,” she said, as she fanned the smoking bundle up and down, head to toe, and all around first my body then Ginny’s.

“This is sage,” she said, “to purify you, to open your consciousness up to receive the gifts of Spirit. May you be blessed.”

Ginny sneezed, and then giggled. “Bless me, indeed,” she said. I tried to look solemn for the occasion so Lucas wouldn’t think we were making fun of her.

“Come on in and find a place to stretch yourself out. There are some pillows to rest your head on,” she said.

Was this like a slumber party, I wondered? There was one candle sitting on a wooden box that cast enough light to see all the seats, except for the driver’s, had been removed. It was like a little room on wheels.

“Well, isn’t this just cute,” Ginny babbled.

A big mattress covered most of the floor. Toward the back, there was a collection of feathers, rocks, dried flowers, more candles and some pouches arranged on top of a silky scarf. Long, orange colored curtains were drawn over all the windows, and when she slid the door shut, the rest of the world just disappeared. Must be what being inside a mother’s belly was like--quiet, and soft, and warm.

Lucas was sitting propped up by several big pillows leaning against the back of the driver’s seat, a circular drum as wide as her body resting on her lap. A light colored animal skin stretched real tight covered the drum and reflected the candlelight.

“You both comfy?” Lucas tamped out the smudge bundle in a big mother-of-pearl seashell next to her, and picked up a stick with a thick padded end covered in soft leather. The candle flickered shadows that danced quietly along the curtains.

Lucas told us that she was going to keep a steady beat on her drum for a while, and we were to close our eyes and imagine finding a place in nature where we could enter the earth.

“Like a rabbit hole, or a tree stump, or maybe a pond,” she said, her voice soft and far away. And we were to imagine ourselves just letting go and falling down, down, down, farther and farther into the earth until we landed somewhere.

“What if we wind up in Hell?” Ginny said with a nervous giggle.

“You’re perfectly safe,” Lucas assured her, with what I thought was a great deal of patience. “Just listen to the drum and let it guide you.”

She finished her instructions about looking around and asking whatever we saw if it was our power animal, and when the drum beat quickened up, to bring that being back with us in the palm of our hand.

“They put people in the funny farm for things like this, don’t they,” Ginny joked.

“Ginny!” I hissed at her. Honestly, sometimes she acts so dumb, she embarrasses me.

Lucas didn’t seem to mind though. She picked up her drum and began a regular beat with her padded stick. I closed my eyes, shutting out the warm glow of the bus, and looked around behind my eyeballs for that place where I could go down into the earth. The drumbeat made my whole body feel heavy, like it was sinking.

A picture came to my mind of a tree stump I found while hiking in the timbers outside of town. Good a place as any, I figured, and I imagined myself throwing a leg over and easing down into the burned out hole. I could hear the drum, soft and regular, like an anchor so I wouldn’t get lost. I worked my way down past old roots, climbing down farther into a tunnel that just seemed to go forever. Funny, I thought, it’s light enough to see down here under the earth.

When the soles of my feet landed on soft ground, I looked around for a clue as to where I might be. Sand, warm, soft and creamy colored, spread as far as I could see. In the distance, the dunes swept up to meet a robin’s egg blue sky. Not a cloud in sight, or anything else. So quiet, all I could hear was a faint drumbeat from another land.

I squinted my eyes and scanned as far as I could for any sign of life, let alone a power animal. Getting kind of discouraged, I drug my toe through the sand leaving a lazy trail next to my foot. I looked around behind me wondering how I was going to get back, feeling kind of lonely and edgy. Turned back around to see grains of sand starting to shift and scatter, like something was trying to come up from under. I stared at that spot, watching the sand rearrange itself, not sure I wanted to see what it was...the only other living thing in this strange place.

Then the head of a snake, the size of my foot, came poking through the sand, followed by a long sleek body that just kept coming. It was about as long as two brooms handles. This was no normal snake, no indeed. It was the color of sunset, all coral and pink with slices of gold and purple wound through it. It glowed in a way that made the sand shine all round it. Two dark beady eyes turned themselves on me and a golden tongue flicked in and out, tasting for my fear.

We just stared at each other. I tried to blink, but couldn’t. Then I remembered Lucas’ words, and though I couldn’t even move my little toe, I managed to croak out, “Are you my power animal?” And please don’t kill me if you’re not, I added to myself. My throat felt as dry as the sand I was standing on.

Without breaking eye contact, the snake began a slow slither my direction and just before reaching my feet began to coil around and around on itself, making a swirling sunset in the sand. Long beams of color shot out in all directions, splashing me, and the dunes, shooting rays up into the sky.

From the center of the coil came the words, “Step into your Dessssssssstiny.” I swear that snake smiled at me.

My jaw hung open like a broken screen door. Then I heard it, the drumbeat, quickening, louder, insistent. Come back, come back, it called. How was I going to bring the sunset snake back with me in the palm of my hand? Surely, I’d die trying.

I bent my knees slowly, quietly as I could, and leaned forward, bracing myself with my left hand in the fine grainy sand, and reached real careful-like toward the snake. Swirls of color splashed over my hand and arm and up my body making me tingle.

Just as my hand touched the coiled body, there was a pouf and bright sparks of color shot every which way. Then there were only glistening embers of color, a glowing coil of ash where the snake had been.

The drumbeat was louder and more insistent now, demanding my return. I reached out and grabbed a handful of cool, colorful ash mixed with grains of fine sand.

When I turned around, the tunnel that had deposited me here reappeared. I followed it through the dim light, forward and up, finding footing on roots and rocks and dark, rich earth. Sky laced with overhanging tree branches and leaves came into view as I poked my head back up through the stump.

Just then the drumbeat stopped. I blinked and looked around me. The candlewick flickered and sputtered quietly. The smell of sage lingered in the orange glow. I heard a long, low snore coming from Ginny, stretched out, mouth open, just to my left. Lucas sat still as a goddess, a beautiful smile on her face, drum resting in her lap.

“Welcome back,” she beamed at me. “What do you have in your hand there?” she asked, nodding at my right hand, all balled up and resting on my chest.

I rolled over on my left side and pulled up to a sitting position, my right hand still curled, guarding my treasure.

“Sunset snake ash,” I said, not knowing what else to call it.

“Well, Paddle, if Snake came to you, that’s powerful medicine, all right,” she said in just above a whisper, nodding her head. Her coppery curls bobbled and dangled, and reflected the candlelight.

Then she said, “And if she left her skin, that’s a sure sign that a new beginning is on its way.” A tingle shook my body like a draft of cold air on the back of my neck.

Just then, Ginny snored, sputtered, coughed and woke herself up. She rubbed her eyes with her knuckles and rolled over on her side. Through a huge yawn, she said, “D’I miss the party?”

I swear, some people are just hopeless.

“Nope, you’re just in time,” Lucas grinned at her, as she pulled out a round chocolate cake from next to the driver’s seat, and a bottle of red wine with the cap already unscrewed.

“To the ancestors,” she said as she tossed some cake crumbs on the floor of the bus. “To the Mother of us all,” she said as she added a drizzle of wine to the crumbs on the floor. Then she passed the cake and bottle around. We each took a big hunk of cake followed by a swig of port.

“If this don’t beat all,” Ginny said, through a mouthful of chocolate.

The rain tapped out a steady rhythm on the metal roof of the bus as the bottle of port made another round, and then another. I don’t know when I’d ever felt so pleased with myself.

To read the complete story in the context of the collection, please hold a good thought that the agent in Ohio sees the value in this story and offers to find a publisher.