Turbulence at the Boundaries

Growing into understanding and acceptance of change.


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What Really Matters

Sistine Madonna, 2013, In private collection

Sistene Madonna ©2013

A marvelous quote from the marvelous poet Mary Oliver, and one that reminds me to stop ignoring the paintings’ call, the dust-gathering easel, the drying-out tubes of paint, the unused brushes in their rusty coffee can:

“It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.
There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything.
The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”


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“Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.”

Harbour

“…Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water…”

I just got back from two months in Florida.  I stayed with my generous and loving cousin, Susie and her family. They took me in as one of their own and made me feel as welcome as if their home was my own.  They even set up a studio for me to paint in, excited by the idea that they were contributing to my work as an artist.  Their loving acceptance of me and generosity knew no bounds.  I miss them so much, and I can’t wait to get back down to Florida to see them again.

Susie is, among many other things (including a speaker of at least 6 languages) a Messianic Jew.  (For those who don’t know, Messianic Judaism combines Christianity – most importantly, the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah – with elements of Judaism and Jewish tradition and beliefs.) My cousin believes with all her heart that God and Jesus are love, personified. I’ve never held to any faith in particular (I’ve always been of the “spiritual, but not religious” persuasion.)  But in the two months I stayed with Susie, she talked about God that started me down a path on which I never expected to travel.  I wasn’t converted to any particular religion, but my heart opened. Things I always believed that were withheld from me began to seem possible..  What I began to believe in was a fundamental Goodness.

On Friday evenings, Susie would lead us in Shabbat, a ritual in which I found such joy and comfort.  I’m back in the north now, and I miss my cousin’s joyful laughter, our newly found closeness.  And I miss those Friday evenings, the giving thanks over each meal, and the grace in acceptance of the gifts Susie and her family showered on me. The whole experience forced me to slow down, and I began to find comfort in the connectedness of all things.  I kept picturing myself naked and adrift in a slow-moving river.  The water was something other than water; it was energy, too.  Made of color, electricity, movement, it kept me aloft, as long as I held faith, and I allowed it to guide me as it willed.  Where this river is taking me, I don’t know. What I do know is that faith, for me, entails a letting go, a falling, and a surrender to a sublime beneficence.

In Florida I had constant access to the ocean.  It, too, taught me about God and Goodness.

Toward the end of my stay I had a cancer scare. Cancer has always felt like something bigger and stronger than me, and in those fearful first few days, I thought to myself that I didn’t have the strength to fight it.  If I have cancer, I thought, so be it.  I would live out the rest of my natural days and allow the thing in me to take me.   In the middle of all this I went alone to the beach, but the wind and waves were particularly fierce that day.  After watching the heaving water for a few hours I decided to go in.  I battled and pushed my way past the breakers and swam out to a place where the crashing of waves wasn’t so frequent.  Mostly I relaxed into the undulation of the water, but sometimes a wall of it would suddenly tower in front of me.  “Come on you fucker, just try it,” I’d mentally shout, laughing at the same time.  The wave would hit, its power sending me spinning.  But I’d bob up, the fizz of foam sending sparks through my body.

I loved it, even as I realized I was being dragged well away from where I entered the water.  Using all my strength, I pushed and struggled against the current, and even though there were a few moments when I didn’t think I’d make it, I knew I’d be fine.  It almost felt like the ocean was kindly conspiring to teach me something.

When I finally emerged, my things were a good 1000 feet up the beach.  Walking back, the suck and swell of the water never ceased, I saw it as the living, breathing thing it has always been, and will always be. I stopped and acknowledged its grace, its holiness, and thanked it for teaching me that I do, after all, have a powerful will to survive, and plenty of strength to fight, come what may.

And in my heart, I felt its voice, borne of the heaving, ceaseless rhythm, whispering to me, “Live.”

  Psalm 139 –  “…If I take the wings of the morning,  And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand shall lead me…”

“At the River Clarion”
by Mary Oliver

I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.

I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.

2.

If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.

Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God) would sing to you if it could sing,
if you would pause to hear it.
And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?

If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell.
He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing their weapons.
He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician, the poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?

Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least
of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own constant joy
which was better by far than a lecture, which was comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.

3.

Of course for each of us, there is the daily life.
Let us live it, gesture by gesture.
When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?
And should we not thank the knife also?
We do not live in a simple world.

4.

There was someone I loved who grew old and ill
One by one I watched the fires go out.
There was nothing I could do

except to remember
that we receive
then we give back.

5.

My dog Luke lies in a grave in the forest, she is given back.
But the river Clarion still flows from wherever it comes from
to where it has been told to go.
I pray for the desperate earth.
I pray for the desperate world.
I do the little each person can do, it isn’t much.
Sometimes the river murmurs, sometimes it raves.

6.

Along its shores were, may I say, very intense cardinal flowers.
And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them, for heaven’s sakes–
the lucky ones: they have such deep natures,
they are so happily obedient.
While I sit here in a house filled with books,
ideas, doubts, hesitations.

7.

And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river
keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its
long journey, its pale, infallible voice
singing.


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Wings

But listen to me for one moment.

Jump.

You won’t die.
That dark abyss
where you believed you’d drown
is really
the sky.
Vast, blue and clear.

Your wings will unfurl
like great white sails.
And you will soar,
as you always knew you would.

Trust.

The freedom you’ve sought
your whole life
is the only thing
that will save you.

 


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Being Here

20140316_175523“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ” – Pema Chodron

A simple version of the Buddhist definition of suffering:  Being here but wanting to be over there.  That can mean many things: We want things to be different from they actually are; an unknown outcome can feel intolerable; we resist pain; we resist change.  We want everything to stay the same, yet we can’t stand the moment we’re in.

For a long time I’ve walked a tortuous path of constant change. Upheaval has become my middle name and I’ve hated not knowing where my life is going.  The only thing I could do was put one foot in front of the other and live my life as truthfully as I knew how  – but God almighty – how much longer? I’d scream, why me?  All I want is to feel like I’m home, I’m tired of these constant earthquakes.  Is there nothing I can count on?  

I don’t know when it happened but the struggling ceased.  The resistance…just…stopped.  I know longer have to know how it will all turn out.  My life is a continually unfolding path, and I have an actual picture of that path in my head.  It’s vivid and beautiful, winding through deep, deep jungle. Trees tangle and tower overhead, monkeys call, jaguars lurk, orchids reach out of tree trunks, it smells of damp, rich earth. The path is clear, but I have no idea where it leads. I am alone. I am happy.

How did that happen? How did that happen to me, the poster child of the International Society of Angst, Impatience and Weltschmerz?  (I tried to choose words that would make a clever acronym, but fuck it. Who cares?)

Clarity

Clarity

Anyway, back to that path…meditation helped.  Walking helped. Reading the wise words of Pema Chodron helped.  “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look,” she says.

But, in the end I think I was just ready. Something deep within finally relaxed. I still have plenty of shit on my plate, plenty to worry about – but it’s the acceptance of that shitty plate and worry that seems to be the key.  That same acceptance flows outwards in so many ways:  a new approach to painting, a willingness to sit with pain, an ability to be present with those I love.  It’s like there’s finally someone in charge.

So, I’ll keep walking along my jungle path.  Remain in a state of wonder at all that surrounds me now. Here’s a thought: what if I, the proverbial lead-foot lady, actually slow down – now that would make a change – study an orchid – revel in its wild delicacy?  Or even come to a full stop and listen in the stillness for the jaguar or the monkey’s call?

What’s the hurry?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Comfort, Interrupted

Isn’t it something how one day – one hour, even – can feel so eternally and hopelessly hopeless – and then shifts quietly into calm.

Last night, a friend had uttered a phrase so simple, yet so powerful – I  told her that I was feeling down and all I wanted was to watch reruns of “Friends” and eat butter pecan ice cream.  She told me to go for it. “You’ve not got much in the way of comfort in your life now,” she explained.

I walked to the store, taking a very long detour over a quiet road.  The sky was a vault of stars.  The moon was an ethereal crescent, hanging in the west.  I got my ice cream, watched an episode of Friends – “The One Where Ross Gets Married in England but Says Rachel’s Name Instead of His About-to-be-Wife’s Name During his Vows and All Hell Breaks Loose,” and went to sleep.

This morning I got my work finished early and thought I would find a new trail to hike.  I was still feeling low and a little off, but thought the walk would do me good.  My neck waP1010175 (2)s stiff and I pulled my head over to one side and felt a knot that seemed to be causing the stiffness.  Touching that knot set off an explosion of ages-old loneliness and hurt.  I burst into sobs and I couldn’t stop.   It was my friend’s comment about comfort  last night, you see, that accessed a very old memory: I was small, alone, and because of family dynamics had endured years of chronic loss and yearning.  I was invisible, unimportant.  The worst part was the total lack of comfort. I felt like a small child who had just lost everyone she ever held dear.  Water poured out of every facial orifice; it seemed endless.  The pain in my neck increased, my head felt like it was going to explode, I thought I was going to vomit.  I couldn’t see any end in sight.

The little ocean painting to the left is about such episodes.  I am the black ship tossed by waves, hull filling with water, sails torn and flapping.  Help in the form a great ship is approaching – but will it be too late?  Can it reach me in time?  Yet – there is a little boat in the foreground, no sails, no magnificence – just courage and a determination to live.   That boat is also me.  I’ve never exhibited this piece; I always thought it too raw, too rough, and I felt exposed when showing it to anyone.  It’s been sitting in my studio, unseen by most people until today.

So – After about an hour of non-stop crying I knew I needed to take my life back.  I asked for help from a friend who knew how to listen – the man I  married almost 27 years ago and from whom I had separated over 4 years ago.  The crying stopped.  I calmed down.  The headache went away.

Sometimes feelings these strong can make you wonder how you’ll survive them.  You’re caught in a storm at sea, the waves relentless and overpowering.  Boat and RaftThey pound and carry you without mercy, spin you out of control until it…stops.   Calm returns.  Sanity returns.  I can breathe again.

A call for help to a kind friend who listened, and bit of comfort were all I needed to right my ship, repair my sails and send me on my way.  I didn’t drown after all.

I’m so grateful.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

 


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Simple

Wood-Lark

Today is a hard day. I have so many things to do and so many things to catch up on. But I’m sad because I lost a friend yesterday.

The sadness is what’s making everything more difficult. I must learn, I AM learning to not fight sadness so much. When you fight hurt or anger it makes it so chaotic and protracted. Wrestling and resisting loss takes away the essence of it, the reason for its being and makes it fight back – harder.

So today, I’m working on breathing in the loss of my friend. I miss him. It hurts, and that’s all there is too it. It’s not always easy because we all want to run from pain. It feels better though, somehow, surrendering, leaning into the truth and in sitting with the discomfort of each second. Finally letting the lump in my throat release the water behind my eyes.

Accept things as they come to you. It’s not easy, but it IS simple.

This from Thoreaux: “…So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. ”


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Vincent Was Right

To be nothing but honest on the canvas seems to garner viewers who respond with things like awkward pauses, clearing of throats and fake smiles. Ordinarily something like that would be so painful that I would quit. The expectations of others have usually ruled my judgement, and up until now I’ve lamely accepted it. I thought that public acceptance and selling the work was the most important thing. But over the years, it’s felt worse and worse, like a betrayal.

I don’t know what happened, but recently something in me snapped. Enough. I’ve had enough of painting in order to please others. Me being true to myself gives me the courage to go on without fear or doubt. The imagery I’m experimenting with may never see the light of day or a grace a collector’s wall. Here’s the thing: I DON’T MIND. Because it feels so good to paint this way. I feel as free and fearless as a child.

As Yet To BecomeThis painting is just such an experiment, it’s me playing with shape and color with no real regard for the outcome. It’s not finished, but I love the dark shape in the middle – it looks like a face looking down at the white shape below. There’s so much more there than meets the eye. Is the face looming over the white shape (which also looks like a face)? Maybe a reflection, someone looking at the truth of her soul? These are questions for me to play with, and I’m ok not knowing the answers.

To his brother Theo from October 2, 1884, Van Gogh writes:
“If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good – many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm – and that’s a lie… That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares – and who has once broken the spell of “you can’t.”
Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.
But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, “violates”…


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St. Francis

I was running in the little cemetery at night down the street from my apartment, the way I usually do. I love running then; they’re nobody using the place, except the occasional car parked somewhere in a faraway corner. Mostly, though, I have the place to myself. On this night, the day was almost at its end, signaled by the pure glaze of turquoise in the west, deepening seamlessly into indigo, darkening, darkening into the black dome above me. I was so taken with the purity of the color of the horizon that it was hard to take my eyes off it, and as I ran I paid little attention to the rest of my surroundings. When I finally tore my eyes away I was dazzled. The moon, at three-quarters power was so bright, everything around me seemed covered in a silvery powder of light. A few minutes passed, and at that time of day, night falls fast – soon, the turquoise faded into darker blue and I was able to see Orion, a giant, laying sideways in the west. He was massive, being so close to the horizon line, and sure enough, Leo to his left, chasing him and his dog through eternity. Venus hung high in the sky, glimmering, so ablaze she was almost a moon in her own right.

10606240_10152768127331929_9139133112662389888_nThis was the world in which I ran that night and I became so preoccupied with the display that I cried with joy and sadness. I realized how much the universe hinges on opposites – no shadow with light, no beauty without loss. We are a universe of extremes, a constant accounting of balance. It has always been hard for me to witness beauty of great power or scale without a sense of intense sadness. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” Is that what that movie title means? That being human and being open to the pure grace of the world can be too much to bear at times?

I continued my run and stopped, as has become my habit, at the little statue of St. Francis. He is tucked away from the headstones, under some trees, and there is a small bench in front of him. I have started to depend on these nocturnal visits with Francis. He’s stillness gives me space to wonder. I know I’m projecting all sorts of things onto him, but doesn’t that still have value? He acts as a mirror to thoughts I didn’t even know I had. This particular evening I sat and thought about how long he must have stood there. All he does is listen – impassively, compassionately, with infinite patience. Completely without judgement. It’s as if he’s quietly waiting for me to come to the answers myself. Not that he has any answers. He is completely at peace with his place in the world, on his little pedestal, a bird on his shoulder, another bird sitting in his cupped hands. He is absolutely fine with watching the world go by, witnessing the seasons, year after year. He is unaffected by the passage of time. I was so moved by this that I burst into tears. I sobbed as he understanding of this concept of total acceptance without need or expectation deepened within me.

I’m moving again. The fourth time in three years. I had a boyfriend for a small portion of that time, but mostly I’ve been alone. The boyfriend proved to be not what I wanted and my desire to be away from him trumped my fear of being alone. I’ve come to really enjoy time by myself. It’s a state of being I never thought I could achieve. When I’m by myself I experience freedom. Peace. I am unfettered by anyone else’s expectations. I’ve come to realize that I don’t know how to have someone in my life and still have that feeling of separateness and freedom.

The place I’m going is a little town in upstate New York. My life has been very stressful and complicated for a long time – my job was taking too much of my time and was very hard to take, my sister and her daughter are each going through a very difficult time – and they live in this town. I want, no, I need, to be there to help if they need me. My mother lives there, too, and I want to be near her, too. And I need time to paint – something I have not done since I had my other little place in the middle of the woods two and half years ago.

I will miss that little statue and the imaginary sanctuary its presence freely offered. I wonder if there is a cemetery in which to run in my new town. I wonder if there is another St. Francis.


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misconstrued weakness

All of this rings so true. Every word. It’s so easy to feel such deep loneliness when you acknowledge these painful old truths. You think you’re the only one who feels this way, that the rest of humanity is a jolly, normal bunch. This post took a tremendous amount of courage to write. Especially in this culture, where men are supposed to suck it up all the time. Thank You Teddylee.

teddylee's blog

Growing up i didn’t think i was tough, i didn’t know what tough even meant as kid.. if there was a chance i might have thought i was tough or strong it was shut down by always being told i was nothing but a little b**ch or a little girl or a p***y and that’s just to keep it mild, but anything you could say to make a little boy feel like a little girl was said…

i never thought i was tough or strong in all the fights i got into as a kid or an adult, maybe i won or maybe i didn’t, it didn’t matter, i just knew i could handle my own for the most part…

i looked for answers in all i was going through, i was told on a few occasions that ” i was incredibly strong for what i had been through ”…

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