Saturday, June 26, 2010
Twelve years ago, I submitted an essay to a woman enthusiastically engaged in compiling an anthology of women’s invincible spirit as they move through the challenges and obstacles of life’s journey. It was a daunting task. Many agents and publishers were approached only to find the book “wasn’t a good fit” for their needs (a recurring theme for all writers at some point in their career).
Eventually, I let go of anticipation and figured it was another good idea that bit the dust. Years passed. This weekend I retrieved a package from my mailbox. The return address sounded oddly familiar, but I couldn’t place it immediately. I opened the package to find a paperback book, Potpourri For And About Women. Nice, I thought. I wonder who sent it to me.
Under the front cover was a lovely note from the author, thanking me for my contribution to her book. This was a copy in thanks and recognition. What contribution, I wondered. I read on. She pointed out the story name and page number of my submission. Oh my gosh; I’d forgotten all about that piece. I scanned the list of contributors, and there was my friend Marsh’s name too.
I e-mailed Marsh about my literary faux pas at having forgotten I’d even submitted a story. She wrote back, the chuckle obvious in her words. She, too, had forgotten she’d submitted a piece twelve years prior, as had her friend, Susan, whose piece was also in the anthology.
In the author’s preface, she states, “Sharing our secrets and personal life details with others is also one of the primary means by which we humans “connect” with one another.” With that in mind, I offer you my (rediscovered) piece, “She.”
She is an observer—that is the way she participates. She witnesses; she records. She walks along the beach close to the water’s edge.
A sea otter, bobbing in and out of foamy surf, tracks her. A gray pelican dips its wings as it skims the water. The waves lap at the edges of her shoes. Fat seagulls eye her in search of food. She carries only feathers and sand speckled stones gathered from the beach.
A couple meanders by holding hands, enveloped in that aura that separates them from others. She is not part of a couple. She is a woman alone. She tells others she’s become too set in her ways, values her solitude too much to relearn the art of partnering. She tells herself she is withered from aloneness and no longer believes she has what is needed to share. She is left with a quiet longing and the ability to observe.
She parks her chaise lawn chair on the very edge of the water. The surf at high tide comes rushing, swirling beneath her, surrounding her in gray foam and motion. She lets her fingers dangle in the Pacific. She is on an island, a tiny oasis of dull green and weathered white woven strands of porous nylon that holds her inches above being swept away by the pull of the receding water. She smiles as her mind drifts out to sea.
Sitting at the water’s edge, she shares the crusts of her sandwich and a few stray grapes with a seagull. Gulls, feathers puffed in anticipation, beaks agape in expectation, besiege her. She throws her whole sandwich onto the beach and covers her ears at the cacophony that follows.
A walnut colored sea otter floats by just off shore. With whiskers twitching, it arches its sleek back, dives serpent like into the waves, and disappears.
A gray pelican, head, neck, and body forming a flying “Z” skims the surface of the water. He retreats to the peak of a barnacle encrusted volcanic rock and preens himself in the sun.
She rises and plays a game of chase with her bare feet inching her toes ever closer to the receding foam and skip-jumping backward, just in time as the surf breaks and rushes forth to capture lost ground. She loses. Icy water swirls about her and she sinks ever so slightly, as the sand shifts beneath her weight.
She hadn’t noticed a family walking toward her inland along the beach. They’ve come for the day, or perhaps forever—it’s hard to tell. They are laden with beach paraphernalia. A small girl child trails slightly behind wearing a quality of God about her tiny frame. Shiny dark hair hangs straight to her thin shoulders; her skin is the same walnut color as the sea otter. Her sun-browned feet leave miniature prints in the sand. She appears like a tiny packhorse carrying a bulky burlap sack in each arm. A brightly colored serape is thrown over her shoulders, its tattered corner trails behind her in the sand.
The family passes, taking no notice of the woman at the water’s edge. Their voices speak a language unfamiliar to her ears. The girl child pauses to consider the woman. Her almond shaped brown eyes sparkle—or maybe it’s the sun glinting off the cornea of her eyes. A shy smile reveals three dark spaces where teeth were perhaps weeks ago. The woman feels vulnerable and exposed in the girl child’s steady gaze; a chill passes through her, and then her heart warms and softens. She looks away from the child and then back again. The girl says something in that foreign tongue that sounds like, “it’s okay, lady.” A tear slips form the woman’s eye. The girl child walks on.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Long week, short entry. Something I find immensely creative is refrigerator art. Have you noticed how your eyes are drawn to your friend’s or relative’s refrigerator door when you’re standing around in the kitchen? What does it say about us as a culture that we cover our refrigerator doors with snapshots, art work, cartoons, magnets with social/political/spiritual messages, theater tickets, etc.?
If I could figure out how to post more than two pictures on a blog, I’d do a study of all the refrigerator doors in my world that I spend long moments gazing at, looking for faces I recognize or memories I share. “Oh, I remember that party.” “I can’t believe your dog was ever that little.” “Aging hippies against the bomb? Right On.”
I digress. What I wanted to write about today was the one piece of art on my refrigerator door that stakes my claim in the Grandma Club. The grand twins, Linc and Ev, now go to a daycare center that keeps their little hands and minds busy all day with movement, music, games, and art (they also catch lots of colds, but that’s just the trade off). The butterflies at the top were their first art project—finger painting. They were eight months old at the time. I mean, I didn’t finger paint until kindergarten!
Some very brave teachers put out sheets of paper and let the little critters smear colors and goo all over (including themselves). Then the teachers cut shapes of butterflies out of the finger painted areas, mounted them on paper and sent them home to the proud parents.
I love having a picture of the outcome to add to my refrigerator door. Even more, what I would love to have had is a picture of the process!
Now for a SPECIAL TREAT (thanks sister Sus for forwarding this), please check out this video by Ilana Yahav who does fantastic sand art. Truly mesmerizing. http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=3749
Saturday, June 12, 2010
In my Sept. 4, 2009 blog, I wrote about my journey as a song-catcher—how words, images, tunes come to me in a way that I just have to stop whatever I’m doing and write them down. I’m convinced an ancestor has found me and decided I would be the vehicle for her/his thwarted musical expression.
The song, Sundowner (if you click on the picture above, it will enlarge), came first as a title. When I lived in Berkeley several decades ago, I read a lot of Doris Lessing. It was a phase. They were always having sundowner parties with cocktails and friends chatting. I loved the word, sundowner. One afternoon last year, it just popped into my mind as a song title. So where’s the rest of it? I asked of the muses (ancestor?) that occasionally mess with my head. Silence. No fair! I complain. I sense a smirk from somewhere in the ethers.
Months pass and I’m on my computer checking e-mail. A tune drifts into my mind. Hmm. Where have I heard that before? I search my memory for bits and pieces of music from my personal history, tunes from childhood, etc. We were a musical family prone to singing obscure songs none of my other friends knew, like K-K-K Katie, and Doodley Do. But, I can’t place this tune.
The tune repeats itself. Oh—right; this is one of those run to the piano moments and write down the notes. I transfer my pencil scribbles onto music notation paper and grapple with the math of getting four beats per measure including rests. Why does music often come to me in a key with four flats? I change keys and try again. One sharp—that’s do-able. The music takes one and a half stanzas. Well, it’s a start. I wait. I wait some more. I give up and go back to my e-mail.
Weeks pass and I’m vacuuming the living room. Just another sundowner light inspired song… I turn off the vacuum and listen. Do these words go with the tune I wrote down last month? I go to the file I keep on my piano and search through the bits and pieces of paper. There it is, Sundowner. The lyrics fill exactly two measures and one note of the music, leaving over four measures of music wordless. Looks like I’m going to have to effort to fill in the lyrics for the remaining notes. Then of course I’ll need more notes—lots more notes, and more words. Oh, my. The photo on the right shows a few incarnations the song went through on its journey.
It was a long journey stretched over the better part of a year of adding music and lyrics, a little here, a little there. Some of it was provided (thank you honored ancestor), some of it was just plain elbow grease. I took my finished song to my very skillful mentor, Melissa Phillippe, for a tune-up when I’d done as much as I could. “It needs structure,” she said. “Songs have a structure.” She proceeded to draw a chart illustrating verse, chorus, bridge, refrain and how they all fit together to create a song. Sheesh, who knew? Back to the drawing board.
What I wound up with is a short song that I actually like enough to share with you. It says a lot about my spiritual philosophy without being overly wordy. Is it structurally perfect? No, (although it’s less embarrassing than when I first showed it to Melissa) but that wasn’t my goal. Did I feel completely immersed in creative flow while I worked on it? Absolutely. That’s what lights me up. That’s what’s important: Do what lights you up.
Post Script: There is a good chance this song will actually be performed in October in a Talent Showcase format, sung and played by jazz musician/singer extraordinaire Randal Collen. I ask you, does life get any better than this?
PSS: check out Melissa's website at www.MelissaPhillippe.com
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Whether you’ve had this experience or not, whether you believe it’s a form of creative imagination or brain chemistry in action, or just a lot of "hooey" (a term that lives in the cobwebs of my Iowa childhood), I have what I choose to think of as past lives recall. My friend Nancy is a hypnotherapist, and offered to lead a small group of friends in a journey backwards to connect with other lifetimes we may have experienced. Her protocol was gentle, and nothing was suggested in the way of information or material; the format was more about posing questions for our subconscious to ponder while in a light hypnotic trance. For example: Are you male or female? What is the year? How old are you? etc., getting more specific as we move deeper into recall, and adding any noticed sensory experience.
I’ve had other spontaneous recall experiences in my life—one while sitting at a stop light downtown during the Christmas rush. I “saw” myself as a forty-ish matron in a dark coat, a pillbox sort of hat, and black sensible shoes like the ones my grandmother used to wear, standing on a flight of steps under a clock tower. The afternoon sky was chalky gray, the weather was cool and slightly drizzly, and a flock of pigeons were flying overhead. The clock bonged and I said to myself, “I guess it’s time to go pick up the children.” I sense my position was as a nanny, somewhere in Europe—England, most likely. All of this happened between the change-over from red light to green.
In another recall, I was a woman in my early twenties, wearing a long plain dress, barefoot, and being dragged by men at either side of me down a path toward scaffolding where I was to be burned as a witch. As I was bound to a post, a looked out over the gathered crowd and saw their looks of pity, excitement, fear, lust, sadness. I remember the smell of smoke, the early lick of flames, and then nothing. I’ve often thought this may be the reason I’m not called to do fire walking at the various spiritual retreats I’ve attended over the years.
Here is what I recall from the experience with Nancy:
I am a woman either in my late twenties or early thirties—hard to tell, certainly of the age to be considered a spinster by current standards. Years don’t seem too important, they just pass. My name is Jesa—something—Jesamine, maybe? I don’t hear my name spoken often. The date is early 1800s, maybe 1802.
I seem resigned to life. I am standing in a meadow of fairly high golden, tawny field grasses. It’s hot, but the breeze is blowing making the grasses sway. My complexion is ruddy from too much sun. I can feel the swollen patches on my cheeks, my forehead and chin. We’re on the plains, somewhere west of where I came from, which is slightly east of the center of the country (which would later be called the Ohio valley area).
We’ve gotten this far by covered wagon, which is sitting off a short distance from where I stand. It wasn’t my idea to travel this way, or to even travel at all. This trip has been hard, hot, and dirty. I’m standing next to my horse which has a riding blanket thrown over her back. I lean my cheek against her flank. She’s hot and sweaty. She smells of dusty horse and dry weeds. There’s something very comforting about her physical presence.
Somewhere not too far away in the field is the carcass of a buffalo. The cooking meat has been removed, but the smell of blood and the sound of flies buzzing around the remains makes my skin crawl.
There is a man I am traveling with. I don’t feel love towards him; I’m not sure I’m married to him, but he is the person moving me across the country. Perhaps I’m to be a mail order bride? To be delivered into a fated future somewhere west of here? I sense there are others traveling with us, but they’re not present at the moment. I prefer being here by myself. What I learned is that I can survive; I can make it through adversity; I am strong.
What I need to do before I leave this place is move ahead in time and see what lies before me.
I am not yet at my destination. I am on the porch of a wooden shanty. There’s a wood railing around the porch against which I lean. I look out on the dusty dirt streets. It’s a small community of settlers. I am still on my own, but I have this little house. I’m still not sure why I am here, why I left my home. I need to do something with my days, so I create a library of sorts in an abandoned shack, where people can bring any books they’ve brought with them to exchange with others. Perhaps I’ll meet people that way.
About an hour has passed when we are called back by Nancy’s voice, back to the present, back to the room, back to the circle of friends to reflect silently for a moment on our journeys. Later, we will share our stories along with food we’ve brought. “Traveling” seems to have left us ravenous.
To reach Nancy please see her blog at: