Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Great Goddess Pomona and Abundance

I felt like sharing this mural, to be found in Pomona, California. I recently received some correspondance from the magnificent artist Kevin Stewart-Magee, who had a great deal to do with envisioning the mural, along with an impressive community of artists he helped facilitate in the project. Here's something I wrote in 2006 about it.


Roman Goddess of Fruitfulness, Orchards, and Gardens

Pomona was the uniquely Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards, and her festival, which she shared with her husband Vertumnus, was always on August 13th. Pomona watches over and protects fruit trees and cares for their cultivation, and Her name is from the Latin pomum, fruit. "Pomme" is the French word for "apple".

Pomona was among the Numina, guardian spirits of Roman mythology, who watched over people, places, or homes. The Numina are, in essence, the holy spirits of place, from which the word "numinous" derives. Pomona protected and inspired the abundance of the fruitful gardens and orchards. She had her own priest in Rome, called the Flamen Pomonalis. A grove sacred to her was called the Pomonal, located not far from Ostia, the ancient port of Rome.

Pomona has a special personal significance to me, and I made a mask for this Goddess as a tribute, a history, out of the gratitude that is Her due, and perhaps, as a hopeful invocation as well. For She is truly one of the Goddesses of California, fruit basket to America. My family home is in Pomona, California, a town east of Los Angeles that once was the lovely citrus growing valley of Orange county. Now, and for many years, it's a prime example of urban destruction and despair. Long gone are the orange groves, replaced by freeways, smog, crime, and a deserted, almost derelict downtown. I have occasionally returned to Pomona to visit my brother, who still lives there, and always found it sad and depressing.

I was amazed, in 2005, to discover that an arts colony had moved into downtown Pomona, perhaps because it's one of the few places where rent is still inexpensive in Los Angeles. There are studios, galleries, and coffee houses where previously only empty storefronts, homeless people with their shopping carts, and drug dealers had been.

But I was absolutely stunned, while walking a street I long have regarded as a reflection of the awful waste of urban blight, to see none other than the Great Goddess Pomona Herself, in all Her glory and at least 3 stories high, blessing the land covering it again with beauty and hope. The mural, "Pomona Envisioning the Future," is the final piece of an extraordinary community art project led by artist Judy Chicago, and designed by muralist Kevin Stewart-Magee, in 2003. More than 35 artists and helpers and a year's effort was involved in the mural (shown in progress). The detail above (and I'm looking for a completed view) does not show the images of groves growing over composting heaps of industrial waste, or a circle of people sitting in council to the right of the painting, envisioning a new world, overseen and inspired by the numinous, purple clad, Roman Goddess.

Art, at it's best, can provide us with those lasting and illuminated moments of revelation that give us the strength to, indeed, envision a new, and better, future.

Hats off, and heartfelt gratitude, to the artists and community who brought the Goddess to downtown Pomona. For more information about their project, visit:

"Envisioning the Future: Pomona Arts Colony Project"

and "Envisioning the Future in Pomona"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Walt Whitman in New Mexico

O to speed to where there is space enough and air enough at last!

To find a new unthought-of nonchalance with the best of nature!

To have the gag removed from ones mouth!

To have the feeling today or any day I am sufficient as I am!

To be lost if it must be so!

To feed the remainder of life with one hour of fullness and freedom!

Walt Whitman “Leaves of Grass”

Two days spent at Truth or Consequences New Mexico, at the River Bend Hot Springs, where I can sit to watch the Rio Grande flow before me (I can jump into the Rio Grande if I so desire), and I can pull out one of the 5 books on the bookshelf in the common kitchen area, Walt Whitman, and open it to read the above.

How unhappy I’ve been, for so long! To be lost if it must be so………….sounds good to me, as I sit by the river. The Rio Grande, the Big River. Last night I sat in a hot tub listening to the river go by (as, they say, Geronimo himself did in this very spot, an odd distinction) sat and watched the stars come out. To sit by the “big river” and watch the immensity of stars in a New Mexico sky, well, that gives one some perspective. How fortunate, how incredible, the miracle of being sentient! And then waking up this morning and discovering Walt Whitman’s long ecstatic celebration of body and nature.

I’m not sure at this moment in time I have any great and universal thing to say about art, the Goddess, or metaphysics. So I’ll just write about what’s on my mind as I toddle down the road right now, which is the healing of my body and spirit, and the need to just open to life. Rivers are fine with me, at this moment, all the identity or purpose I need.

I’m thinking right now of some dreams I had this winter. I don’t dream often, and so when I do dream, I consider it a significant “heads up” from the unconscious realms, and ponder them carefully. Not long ago I dreamed that I was drinking beer, and suddenly realized was full of bugs – it was infected. It was Mexican beer, and the label said “Rio Negro– black river.

As I see my 6th decade leering at me from just over the hill, I've been working this past winter to make way for a new weaving. I've been depressed, and an effort to help my emotionally troubled brothers has proven both futile and toxic. Constant contact with their habit of negative thinking and addiction has reinforced these qualities in me - after all, we come from the same roots. Drinking “Rio Negro” beer. Taking in Rio Negro spirits. In the name of love or duty, by force of habit, constantly taking in familial negativity and fear, generating it myself and infecting others..........sound familiar? Well, that's what therapy does.......helps a person like me to begin to do some unravelling as well as weaving.

That dream informed many of the choices I am now making, choices to change my circumstance and notions of responsibilities to my family and to myself. And so here I go, in search of a new home. It's a lonely feeling, but it's what it is.

Dreams are so fascinating. Not long after the “Rio Negro” dream, I had another vivid dream.

I’ve watched a lot of tv this winter, and find I'm very out of touch with whatever popular culture is. One program that I watched is called “Lost” – an interesting premise for a TV show about a group of people who are wrecked on a mysterious island with all kinds of psychic as well as physical anomalies. Sadly the show fails to do much with its fascinating premise and very engaging cast (it just falls back to formula violence every single time). Never the less, some of the characters in the show lingered in my imagination, even after I decided it wasn't good for me to watch the darn thing. My favorite character was “John”, a 50 something man who is a kind of explorer and mystic. As the drama unfolds, many of his mystical explorations – and his presumptions - lead him and others into both danger and madness. But there is also an earnestness and candor about this character, a kind of “faith”, that made him my favorite in the show.

In my most recent dream “John” was growing fins on his arms!

I'm no expert on dreams, and admit that my discipline of recording, remembering and deciphering dreams has been long remiss. Still, I have had many times when they were valuable to me, and even occasionally prophetic. Dreams are read, of course, in very subjective ways, like an internal (and increasingly responsive) language of hieroglyphs that one must develop a relationship with.

Using Jungian reasoning, I think John represents an “animus” figure. And the good news is, he’s growing fins, he’s learning to swim, he’s gaining the means to see into the watery depths of our mutual psyche……….an inner empowerment I find hopeful indeed!

I sit here before the Rio Grande, the Big River - with its flash and dazzle, its eddies and swirls, its depths and sparkles and kingfishers and swallows sweeping over it in search of tasty bugs……….I sit here and laugh. I laugh, the river laughs with me.

It’s enough. It’s more than enough. I let Walt Whitman speak the words today, and I, like him, celebrate the gift. Sometimes its good to be "lost".

“All truths wait in all things,

they neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it,

they do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon to be born

the insignificant is as big to me as any

(what is more or less than a touch?)

I believe a leaf of grass is no less

than the journey work of the stars.”

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Angels in Nebraska - Part 2.

I have noticed, in fact, it's become obvious over the years, that we live in a world of everyday miracles. In an earlier BLOG entry (March 2008) I was awed to find, right on the street near where I lived, an autographed copy of a book by Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing - perhaps one of the most magical entries in my "Book of Common Miracles". Where does magic really begin, and when and where are the "Mythic Times", if not here, and now? So as I prepare to toddle down the road again, I want to put this on my blog as well, something that happened in 2005 as well.

In May of 2005 I began the long trip from Arizona to Connecticut for a residency at IPark Artists Enclave; I have been privileged to participate in two residencies there, and I will always be grateful to Ralph, Joanne, and the staff of Ipark for their generosity, support of the environment, and the arts.

It takes me about 5 long days to cross this enormous country. After a pleasant night among the pines in Flagstaff, I stopped at a rest stop in New Mexico, squatting on the ground and enjoying the view. Dusting off my skirt, I noticed a pair of fancy pliers literally at my feet. They seemed a useful find, so I picked them up and put them in my car. By the time I reached Missouri, I decided to take a detour to Nebraska, to find the graves of my grandfather and grandmother in Dewitt, a small village in the prairie near Beatrice. When my beloved grandmother, Glen, died in 1966, my family lived overseas, and my father flew alone back to the U.S. to return her body to Nebraska.

No one had visited those graves in 40 years, my own father, Kent, having passed away in 1976. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to pay my respects at last, to see as an adult the country she filled my imagination with. All I had was a child's memory of driving across the midwest with my family in the '50's, and endless Black-eyed Susans dancing and hissing in the hot prairie winds.

Dewitt is a village of maybe 4,000 people. It is still prosperous, thanks to a tool and die factory that has been successful since the 1920's. Petersen Manufacturing is particularly known for its founder's invention, the Vise-Grip Wrench. Which is why it's called the Vise-Grip Corporaton. 
When I found the old graveyard, I planted some flowers, said what I had to say to my grandmother's spirit and drove on, feeling very glad I made the trip.

After arriving in Connecticut, I cleaned out my car, and there were the pliers I found at my feet in the red dirt of western New Mexico. Stamped on the side was the legend:

"Vise-Grip: The Original"

ANGELS IN NEBRASKA & other conversations...

Getting ready to drive across the country again (which is a meditation retreat for people like me with ADD), I felt the urge to share two magical stories from my 2005 crossing. I've become very fond, by the way, of the prairie state of Nebraska, and the winding river Platte.

In an article from his webzine "Warrior of the Light", Paolo Coelho wrote:

"I let my life be guided by a strange language that I call “signs”. I know that the world is talking to me, I need to listen to it, and if I do so I shall always be guided towards what is most intense, passionate and beautiful. Of course, it is not always easy."

I also so often find myself engaged in what I call the "Great Conversation", and it's not easy to explain what I mean sometimes, even to myself. Perhaps, living a mythic life is often a matter of aesthetic choice.

The conversation seems to become most lively when I'm in movement, whether walking, crossing a trail, or a stateline, or an ocean. Like many Americans, I've been blessed and cursed with restlessness and rootlessness. Between destinations lies a mythic land of flight and migration, a free range for the imagination in the "Bardo" of transit. Perhaps travelling has become my way of meditating, certainly I seem to find so many of my answers, and questions, on the road. Well, the metaphor is an obvious one.

JOURNAL ENTRY, September 3, 2005.

Stopped in Cozad, Nebraska, home of the Robert Henri Museum. The Museum has some beautiful paintings of the tall grass prairies by a local artist, and a few reproductions of Henri's "Ash Can School" paintings. They don't have any of the originals. Henri's father, it seems, founded Cozad, but had to leave rather sudddenly with his sons and wife when he "accidentally" shot a man in a heated argument. He went to New York, changed his name, started the first casino in Atlantic City, and his son went on to study art and become famous. The boy never felt the need to return to Nebraska, although he did live in Ireland, New York, and Paris. Cozad is proud of him anyway.

I'm not entirely sure what kind of legacy this artist will leave. My life seems like a tapestry, on my good days, the threads finally woven with some skill into a colorful tapestry, I see that my hands have achieved degrees of mastery. And then there are days when so much precious life seems wasted, lost, too many disappointments and wrong decisions. That's what menopause, whether you're a woman or a man, seems to be about. An emptying out, discovering things that once seemed so opaque are now, well, transparent. Unimportant. What really matters? What are you living for, what do you serve?

So here I sit, with a very nice cup of coffee and a sandwich at the Busy Bee Diner, where I have a front row center seat for the First Bank & Trust Company of Cozad.

That got my attention.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gathering and Offering, 2.

One last story from the Kripalu workshop. I was fortunate to meet in the class Dana Dakin, founder of the Women's Trust in Ghana. If any are reading this, I urge you to be inspired by visiting their website, and reading in particular "Dana's Story".  I take the liberty of quoting from her was so inspiring to me to hear her story.

"Twenty-three years ago, while living in San Francisco, I met a woman named Olga Murray celebrating her sixtieth birthday. To mark the occasion, she was heading off to Nepal to start an orphanage. Her vision, courage, and determination left an indelible mark on me. In 2003, the orphanage and Olga were still going strong and I turned sixty.

Based on the adage that life is lived in thirds,
the first third you learn, the second third you earn, and the final third you return,
and with Olga as a role model, I decided to greet the youth of old age with my own way to give back."
Dana Dakin, The Women's Trust (Ghana)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Gathering and Offering

I've been meaning to share this particular work from the MASKS OF THE GODDESS workshop in April at Kripalu - while I always am moved and astounded by the work others do, I found this work especially moving. Ilana has graciously allowed me to share photos of the masks she made, and sent me the poem she wrote in the workshop. I found it so profound......a message intimately hers, but a deeply transformative image for me as well, and others in the group.

Ilana is a well known Midwife and Birth Coach  from New York City.  She is a slight woman with intense eyes, and her hair was gone sparse because she's been undergoing  chemotherapy, which she shared as began our introductory Circle. 

We begin our four day process with a "shamanic journey" to the Underworld, to encounter the Goddess, in whatever form she may care to appear, as we prepared to create our masks for Her. Often I ask participants to see if she gives them a gift of some kind, and almost always something meaningful is presented.

Returning to the "above world", after our trance, Ilana told us she had met a Goddess all in white. She emerged from the darkness to dance before her. Her dance was like a figure 8, the "eternity symbol" - gestures of gathering on one side, and giving forth on the other, a flowing gesture of taking in and giving forth.

It happened that another of the participants was a professional dancer (a ballerina, actually) the course of the workshop she gave Ilana a white dress she had brought with her - it was Ilana's size!

One of the masks she made was "scarred", but contained a bright red, open heart.  Above is the white mask she made, a basket on one side, and flowing forms on the other. She decided to put flowers on it after completing the mask. And here is the poem she wrote - I feel privileged to share it.

8/12/08 Postscript:   I am sad to have to add that Ilana passed away 4 months after this workshop.  But when I think of that, I think the  Goddess who came to her, and the poem she wrote, were all about leading the Way.


Ilana Stein

Gather towards the West
Gather towards the North
Gather towards the South
Gather towards the East
Gather Above, gather below and gather the great Mystery

Gather what you’ve studied
Gather what you’ve learned
Gather how you’ve lived, and gather what you’ve earned.

Gather what you’ve loved and gather what you’ve lost.
Gather what you’ve soiled and gather what it’s cost
Gather what you’ve wasted and gather what you’ve saved
Gather what you’ve shopped for and gather what you’ve tasted

Gather who your friends are and gather how they’ve cared
Gather your relations and gather how you’ve fared
Then Gather birth and celebrate, gather death and cry
Gather hope, regret and longing and gather up the why

Gather up the waiting, gather struggles, gather challenges.
Gather all the goals you’ve met and gather up the bravery
Gather faceless fear and all the broken promises.
Gather yesterday today, and gather time tomorrow

Gather what you’ve ruined and gather when you’ve failed.
Gather up the personal and gather up the frail
Gather up the culture and gather up the myths
Gather all the songs you’ve sung, and all expressive art
Gather dances gather dreams and gather up your heart

Gather in the garden and gather at the beach.
Gather on the mountain and gather what’s in reach
Gather in the workplace, and gather on the roads
Gather in the home you’ve made and gather all you kin
Gather your impatience, your frustration and your greed.
Gather up the words you’ve said and gather what you need.

Gather up your journey and all the time you’ve spent
Gather up your courage and walk inside your tent.
Gather up your secrets and and gather up your wisdom
Gather what you’ve forgotten
Gather what you’
ve meant.
Gather faith and Reverence

Gather truth and and gather lies,
Gather secrets great and small
Gather wisdom of the ages and wrap them in your shawl
Gather sickness, Gather health gather tenderness and rage
Gather all your stories and gather on the stage

Gather up your gatherings, and stir the basket’s bounty
Gather all remaining threads and search across the county
Look out among the human beings, look out among relations

Then offer up your gatherings to all nations and creations

Offer to your children and offer to your kin
Offer to the hungry, to the needy and the grim
Offer to the blessed and offer to the prim
Offer to the kings and queens the princess and princesses
Offer to the beggars, paupers, jesters and priestesses

Offer to the little birds the chipmunks and the deer
Offer to the badger, mole, the frogs, and yes the bear
Offer to the green spring shoots, the white and yellow crocus
Offer to the budding trees the bushes and the rushes

Offer to the sand and mud the concrete and the buildings
Offer to the cook and maid the seamstress and the butler
Offer to the farmers - offer to the farm
Offer to the doctors and offer for no harm

Offer to the visionaries offer to the artists
Offer to the frightened, offer to the scared
Offer to the endangered and to the unprepared
Offer to the hurting, offer to be healed,
Offer to your neighbor and offer to the field

Offer grace and offer peace offer possibility
Offer privilege trust and faith
Offer gratitude amazement wonderment and awe
Offer loving kindness, compassion, joy and love

Offer up your story, offer honor and integrity
Offer for community Offer your vulnerability

Offer what you’ve learned and offer what you have
offer what you know
Offer what you’
ve shared
Offer both your ears, your shoulders and your tears
Offer all you’ve gathered, offer all your cares

You’ve gathered through the springtime,
the summer and the fall.
And you’
ve offered season’s greetings without going to the mall.

Now rest and build your strength up. Cycle with the moon. Cycle through the mystery time. Close your eyes and sleep. Dream the dreams of where you’ve been.
Dream of where you’re going – dream the dream that dreamers dream.

Then gather. 

Leaving and Arriving

Sometimes with the bones
of the black sticks left
when the fire has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving
you are arriving.

....David Whyte

Yesterday, while waiting in the heat of Tucson's eternal traffic (which becomes more painful now that it's 100 degrees and above and I don't have an air conditioner in my car), I found myself fancifully saying out loud: "Well, why don't you just give me a sign or something? For heaven's sake, I'm one confused cookie here.........".

The truth is, I've felt the need to go somewhere else, and do something else, for a very long time. I've been feeling isolated and stagnant in Tucson for far too long, isolated and unsure of what to do next. Like many people who find themselves at a major crossroads in their lives, I know I have to make a change, and I'm scared. All the "what if's" of a lifetime come to the surface.

Then I drove a bit farther, and my thoughts turned to an email I recently received from Marc Gold, one of my personal "heroes". Marc is the founder of the 100 Friends Project, a small non-profit that benefits many desperately poor people - and Marc travels extensively in pursuit of his work. I was thinking about what an inspiration he is, and the thought crossed my mind - "well, if he can do something like that, why can't I do something in my own small way?"

Suddenly, stalled in heavy traffic, I saw a magnificent monarch butterfly flutter over cars, cross my windshield, and fly across the street to disappear. A sign indeed! And, I might add, be careful what you ask for..........when I got home, I picked up a book of poems I've been studying by David Whyte. The above poem is the page I opened to at random.

I recount this little bit of grace from the Universe..........another story for my "Book of Common Miracles".

Now, to get off of my timid butt, and just begin.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Community Clay at the Creative Spirit Center

I woke up this morning determined to see if I could pack up my old car and just hit the road to points East ASAP. Actually, I would very much like to see Community Clay, at the Creative Spirit Center in Midland, Michigan, where some of my own work is being exhibited as part of the show. Their castings of community members is a continuation and new exploration of the interconnectedness motif begun with my project, sponsored by the Alden Dow Creativity Center, last summer. I'm so grateful they are doing this, and if I can't make the opening, I'm hoping that soon I'll at least be able to see the show, and see again my collaborator from last year Kathy Space, and Sarah Gorman, of the Creative Spirit Center.

I've applied to numerous places for residencies to continue this project, in new permutations, this winter - among them, the Henry Luce Center at Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC, the Irish Museum, and Raumars in Finland. The Irish Museum, I have to admit, I'm crossing my fingers on. I would dearly love a chance to explore this mythological theme with theological students as well. And Finland in January, well, I guess the project would tend to take on a slightly more "internal" motif. Although who knows. Maybe it's time I learn how to ice skate.

I've recently learned about a way to publish very small editions of art books, ie, highly illustrated with color photos. I'm excited - this would give me a chance to publish a limited edition version of MASKS OF THE GODDESS, as well as the Spider Woman Project.

At any rate, travel is what I need now - this will be the year of my "pilgrimage". Who am I now, and where am I headed? It seems strange, as I touch the fringes of the last year of my '50's, to say that I really don't know. I've spent years now wanting, no not just wanting but needing, to do something wholly new. I've been lingering at a crossroads for so long that even my bags are threadbare - time to go.