Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Our Lady of the Saguaros

Our Lady of  Tumamoc Hill

There are unexpected poetics along the popular trail that winds up Tumamoc Hill, smack in the center of Tucson and affording a great view of the whole city.  It is also a Sanctuary for the asking, and sometimes the Goddess appears at unexpected moments.

I felt like sharing this Shrine, with its mosaic  Madonna standing at the trail head (or, at the end of the trail, depending on your perspective).  The Shrine occurs on someone's house, an old house that stands at the trail head to  Tumamoc.  Tumamoc  is  near A Mountain. A  Mountain (which might be more appropriately called "A Hill") is an extinct cinder cone that features a large "A" on it's pointy side. The "A" came to special prominence in 2003, when patriots painted it red, white and blue as George Bush prepared to invade Iraq, and anti-war protesters painted it green in the middle of the night. For about 6 months, you never knew what color the "A" would be, but eventually the patriots won and it remained  a garish red, white and blue until last year, when it transfigured into a simple white A.  Changing times.  At any rate, the trail is taken very  early in the morning before the heat comes. It rises gradually among a grove of saguaros, and affords a wide view of Tucson, and the sunrise among the Catalina Mountains.

I don't actually know what the shrine is called, but I call it "Our Lady of the Saguaros". Because, as you walk up the hill, you pass chaparral, medicine plant, sage, and impressive Saguaros. Native people called them the "fingers of God", and indeed, they often do seem to be making Mudras, telling slow stories about time, heat and the desert, if one can only find the means to read the sign language they speak.  Right now, having bloomed white flowers in April and May, their tops are crowned with red pear shaped fruits, which the birds are tearing open to eat. It's quite wonderful to see those red tops, and masses of finches and doves gathered on the tops of the desert trees, happily feasting.

May we all find "Our Lady" (by whatever name) waiting for us at the end, or beginning, of the Trail.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Great Era to Be Alone: "the Flight from Conversation"

 "We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party...........As we get used to being shortchanged on conversation and to getting by with less, we seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. "
Sherry Turkle*,  NY Times SundayReview | OPINION

I really like the work of Sherry Turkle , who writes so cohesively on something I so often have thought about,  i.e., the increasing loss of a conversant society.   On my cynical days,  I sometimes feel that a world devoted to  consumerism is also reflected in how people relate to each other - as disposible.  After all, all you ever have to do is push the "Delete" button.

I come from the Dark Ages, a time before PC's, the Internet, before cellphones, even before cable TV.  If you wanted to talk to someone, you met them for conversation, you called them on the phone that was usually at your home or a phone box, or you wrote a letter.  None of this was instantaneous, it took a bit of planning. You were never available 24/7 - no one could call you while you were driving a car, nothing bleeped in your pocket demanding your attention while you were talking to your husband. 

I grew up on coffee houses in the Bay Area, the Cafe Med and Cafe Trieste for example, where people went to converse, a far cry from the impregnable wall of laptops you encounter in a coffee shop now, their operators often with headphones on so they can be more effectively plugged into cyberspace.  I'm not sure why they go to coffee shops at all, but I guess they at least want the semblance of other human beings around, even if they don't have the skills or inclination to talk to them any longer.  And why should they?  How can the messy "real world" compete, after all, with the Internet?  

And then again, maybe they are sitting in that coffee shop oblivious to even the bodies around them, and that nod to human interaction is wrong.  It's purely the wifi and caffiene.  

I do know that I no longer try to engage people at random in conversation.  And I don't call people I know personally, because it seems more  like an imposition now.  And I don't send emails or letters much either, because no one seems to have time to answer, or I'm lost somewhere in the Spam filter.  Every one is so busy now.  It's a good thing  I have cats and lots of books.

In the Age of Connection, it's a great era to be alone.
The Flight From Conversation


WE live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.

At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are.

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.

Our colleagues want to go to that board meeting but pay attention only to what interests them. To some this seems like a good idea, but we can end up hiding from one another, even as we are constantly connected to one another.

A businessman laments that he no longer has colleagues at work. He doesn’t stop by to talk; he doesn’t call. He says that he doesn’t want to interrupt them. He says they’re “too busy on their e-mail.” But then he pauses and corrects himself. “I’m not telling the truth. I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted. I think I should. But I’d rather just do things on my BlackBerry.”

A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the campus of a high-tech start-up, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. A senior partner at a Boston law firm describes a scene in his office. Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. “Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits.” With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken.

In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people — carefully kept at bay. We can’t get enough of one another if we can use technology to keep one another at distances we can control: not too close, not too far, just right. I think of it as a Goldilocks effect.

Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little — just right.

Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.

We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.

Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying, “I am thinking about you.” Or even for saying, “I love you.” But connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another. In conversation we tend to one another. (The word itself is kinetic; it’s derived from words that mean to move, together.) We can attend to tone and nuance. In conversation, we are called upon to see things from another’s point of view.

FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, “We are consum’d with that which we were nourish’d by.”

And we use conversation with others to learn to converse with ourselves. So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. These days, social media continually asks us what’s “on our mind,” but we have little motivation to say something truly self-reflective. Self-reflection in conversation requires trust. It’s hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect.

As we get used to being shortchanged on conversation and to getting by with less, we seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. Serious people muse about the future of computer programs as psychiatrists. A high school sophomore confides to me that he wishes he could talk to an artificial intelligence program instead of his dad about dating; he says the A.I. would have so much more in its database. Indeed, many people tell me they hope that as Siri, the digital assistant on Apple’s iPhone, becomes more advanced, “she” will be more and more like a best friend — one who will listen when others won’t.

During the years I have spent researching people and their relationships with technology, I have often heard the sentiment “No one is listening to me.” I believe this feeling helps explain why it is so appealing to have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed — each provides so many automatic listeners. And it helps explain why — against all reason — so many of us are willing to talk to machines that seem to care about us. Researchers around the world are busy inventing sociable robots, designed to be companions to the elderly, to children, to all of us.

One of the most haunting experiences during my research came when I brought one of these robots, designed in the shape of a baby seal, to an elder-care facility, and an older woman began to talk to it about the loss of her child. The robot seemed to be looking into her eyes. It seemed to be following the conversation. The woman was comforted.

And so many people found this amazing. Like the sophomore who wants advice about dating from artificial intelligence and those who look forward to computer psychiatry, this enthusiasm speaks to how much we have confused conversation with connection and collectively seem to have embraced a new kind of delusion that accepts the simulation of compassion as sufficient unto the day. And why would we want to talk about love and loss with a machine that has no experience of the arc of human life? Have we so lost confidence that we will be there for one another?

WE expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship. Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone. Indeed our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved.

When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device. Here connection works like a symptom, not a cure, and our constant, reflexive impulse to connect shapes a new way of being.

Think of it as “I share, therefore I am.” We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings as we’re having them. We used to think, “I have a feeling; I want to make a call.” Now our impulse is, “I want to have a feeling; I need to send a text.”

So, in order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.

We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.

I am a partisan for conversation. To make room for it, I see some first, deliberate steps. At home, we can create sacred spaces: the kitchen, the dining room. We can make our cars “device-free zones.” We can demonstrate the value of conversation to our children. And we can do the same thing at work. There we are so busy communicating that we often don’t have time to talk to one another about what really matters. Employees asked for casual Fridays; perhaps managers should introduce conversational Thursdays. Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.

I spend the summers at a cottage on Cape Cod, and for decades I walked the same dunes that Thoreau once walked. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the water, the sky, the sand and at one another, talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices.

So I say, look up, look at one another, and let’s start the conversation.

*Sherry Turkle is a psychologist and professor at M.I.T. and the author, most recently, of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.

** For more on Sherry Turkle, a previous post:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Story Center - The Healing Power of Telling Our Stories

Ts' its' tsi' nako, Thought-Woman, the Spider
is sitting in her room and what ever she thinks about
appears.  Thought-Woman
named things and as she named them
they appeared. She is sitting in her room
thinking of a story now:
I'm telling you the story
she is thinking.
Keresan Pueblo Proverb
On the Trail of Spider WomanCarol Patterson-Rudolph

In the Pueblo People's mythos of Tse Che Nako, Spider Woman who is also called Thought Woman the Creatrix spins the worlds into being with the stories she tells about the world.  Like a spider, she spins from her own substance the great Web of being, and within that web all beings are connected by Her threads.  This power of storytelling the World into being was also given to us.  And there is also great healing in telling our stories, in not being left mute. And great healing and growth in learning to listen, really listen.  

Here's a wonderful project that originated in Berkeley.  The short videos are often powerful, and they are made by people from all over the world, all walks of life.   

Learn From My Story: Rural Ugandan Women Share Difficult Childbirth Experiences and Talk  About the Relief of Overcoming Obstetric Fistula


We create spaces for transforming lives and communities, through the acts of listening to and sharing stories. Since 1993, we have partnered with organizations around the world on projects in Storywork, digital storytelling, and other forms of digital media production. Our selection of public workshops supports individuals in creating and sharing stories.


Friday, July 15, 2016

"She's Beautiful When She's Angry": Documentary about the Women's Movement

I recently saw a great documentary, on Netflix, about the second wave of feminism in the 60's and 70's  that occurred with the advent of Betty Friedan's THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE, the formation of  the National Organization of Women (N.O.W.) and led into the struggle for equal pay and equal rights, the right to birth control and abortion, and openly addressing the universal violence toward women.  

I remember it well, because I was there!  I met some of these women, they were my heroines.  I marched in San Francisco, I attended consciousness raising groups. 

I've seen so very much change in my lifetime because of that time, and those leaders, and there is still so much farther to go.  An important film, beautifully made.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Mask for Freya

Without realizing it, we may be honoring the Norse Goddess Freya every week, on Friday,  "Freya's day". This may also be the long forgotten reason that fish was a traditional meal on Fridays.   Freyja was  the daughter of the sea god Njord, and like the ocean goddesses Aphrodite and Mari, was a goddess of love, associated with the ocean and fish.  

Freyja flew over the earth and  wept tears  which turned to amber.  Amber is sometimes called "the tears of Freyja".   In classical art, Freyja is sometimes  shown with the Gods and Goddesses of Valhalla on the "Rainbow Bridge", coming and going to the earthly realm.  

Freyja's greatest treasure was the Brisings' necklace. The Brisingamen necklace was crafted by four dwarfs with such artistry that it glittered like a constellation of stars in the night sky. Around Freyja's lovely neck it became an emblem of the fruits of the heavens and earth. Freya wears "the jewel whose power cannot be resisted." Brising meant "fire", specifically the fire of an enlightened mind. The winter constellation we today know as Orion was called "Freya's Gown" by the Norse and Teutons, and the sword belt in Orion was "Freya's Girdle."

Freya was a member of the Vanir, one of the 2 branches into which the Germanic gods were divided. It has been suggested that the Vanir represent earlier,
pre-patriarchal deities, which may account for Freyja's association with the cycle of life, from birth and sexuality to death.  The Vanir became supplanted by the younger Aesir, but in earlier mythologies, she was all-encompassing in her attributes. 

She was the patroness of women who attain wisdom, status, and power -  the Valkyries - ordinary women who became priestesses and warriors.   The Valkyr at last became Norns, the Goddesses who weave the fates and histories of people and of nations. As chief Valkyrie, Freya's origins may indeed be among the much earlier Goddess religions of Old Europe.
Freyja could fly in a chariot drawn by two cats, and she is associated with the love of cats.  
"Freya's Cats on the Rainbow Bridge" by Katherine Pyle

"Love is one of those treasures where the gift and the reason for giving are one and the same. When love is given freely, its existence becomes self-fulfilled, needing neither acknowledgment or permission to live on. The people of the Norse peninsula and Iceland gave expression to this inexplicable force in their lives in the Goddess Freyja. Honored as the Goddess of love, Freyja was called on to assist those who needed to bring the magic of love back into their lives.
Freyja's inspiration led the way from one age to another, as new discoveries replaced old beliefs and methods. Freyja symbolized the shift form wood to iron, an inevitable transformation, that brought both happiness and pain. Imagine the people of the north singing her song while sharpening their swords and tending their iron cooking pots that fed their families. Through it all Freyja was the muse for transcendent love. She cherished and sometimes cried golden tears over the death of her husband, Od, one of the gods of ecstasy. You can still see Freyja in the night sky wearing her favorite necklace made of precious metals and gems. Only now she has become known as the Milky Way. 
Calling on Freyja, you acknowledge the love that lives on, from age to age — from the very earth's beginning, beyond today, and into the infinite future. Asking for the strength to love, even when the outcome is uncertain, you draw on a power that illuminates and transcends this moment. 
Bring to mind a situation you want to infuse with love's embrace. Ask Freyja to help you find the source of your heart's desire, for she embodies the enduring power of love in your life. Let the thoughts and feelings that arise be your guide."
Donna Peck, 2006

artwork by Howard David Johnson 

Monday, July 11, 2016

New Work for July.........

An onion,

All those layers.

just when you think you can name yourself,
you discover new layers,
you’re forming a new skin,

a new ring.

But there's a core.
And where does that core start?

"Sow" , clay mosaic (2016)

What's been so fun about being in the ceramic studio all summer (in spite of the hot kilns) is that I don't know what I'm doing.  I let the clay kind of tell me what to do, and it's such a great Conversation!  Plus, I've been able to re-connect joyfully with "Flow", meaning, I look at the piece (or lump of clay) and I see what it can become, a picture comes into my mind of where to go next.

It's also been very liberating to kind of disassociate myself from the internal critic and "art world".......I'm letting myself just make what I enjoy, and not worrying about whether it's "good" by anyone's standards.  

"Sow" (2016)

"Reliquary for a Lost Forest" (2016)

"Quan Yin"

Friday, July 8, 2016

Spring at Santa Fe Dam, a Preserve in Los Angeles

Finally processed these photos from May..........this is actually the park, near Azusa and right in the heart of Los Angeles, where the California Renaissance Faire is held.