Thursday, April 28, 2011

Carolyn Myss

When I lived in Vermont in the early 80's, I became interested in energy work, and went to see a famous energy worker named Eleanor Moore, who lived in Peterborough, N.H.  I remember when I first called her to set up an appointment, there was a powerful scent of peppermint throughout my studio after I set down the phone........later she told me nonchalantly it was one of her guides, leaving herbs.  

Once I went to visit Eleanor, and a young woman was sitting in her conference room, her bald head wrapped in a scarf.  I sat there with her a long time, and finally Eleanor came in, and my appointment began.  I asked her who the woman was, and why she wanted me to hang with her, and she told me she had cancer, she  needed me to give her some extra energy, and didn't I see the blue light coming out of my forehead for her?  I had to answer that I did not, and forgot about it.  A year later I went to visit Eleanor again, and asked about the young woman.  Her response amazed me:  "Oh, that girl!" she said, "she just had to get even with her father, so she went and died!"

Eleanor's uncharacteristic lack of compassion surprised me, and at the time, I didn't have any understanding of either psychology, or energy medicine.  Years later, I discovered  Carolyn Myss and her book Anatomy of the Spirit , which helped me to heal from illness, and to release a life that ended with a divorce, in order to go forward into a new life.  Her way of  dealing with our "energy bank account", and our unconscious "shadow energies"  helped me to, as she puts it, to "pull my spirit back" from the past, in order to go forward.

Carolyn is a tough, passionate spiritual leader who isn't afraid to "tell it like it is", and I've been grateful to her ever since.  I'm still on the road, without much time to write, but wanted to share here a few of her brief talks for anyone who isn't familiar with Carolyn.  Among many other ideas, she coined the term "woundology", which is widely used now in spiritual and psychological  circles - a difficult insight that I had to look at for myself.  

As she recounts, in 1988 Myss had an experience that made her realize the power that lies in "being wounded". 
"One day, in passing, I introduced a friend of mine to two gentlemen I was talking with," says Myss. "Within two minutes, my friend managed to let these men know that she was an incest survivor. Her admission had nothing whatsoever to do with the conversation we'd been having, and in a flash I realized that she was using her wounds as leverage. She had gotten to the point that she defined herself by a negative experience." 
Once Myss became attuned to this phenomenon, which she called "woundology", she saw it everywhere.
"In workshops and in daily life I saw that, rather than working to get beyond their wounds, people were using them as social currency, they were confusing the therapeutic value of self-expression with permission to manipulate others with their wounds. Who would want to leave that behind? Health never commands so much clout!"
 At this point,  Myss began to realize that people did not always want to heal. Why People Don't Heal and How They Can shows how choosing to stay stuck in woundology often comes at a terrible price: the loss of health.

"We are given a finite amount of energy to run our physical bodies, our minds, and our emotions, as well as to manage our external environments, and when we choose to siphon off this energy to keep negative events in our histories alive, we are robbing that energy from our cell tissue, making ourselves vulnerable to the development of disease." 

Once this path is seen as the true energy debt that it is, choosing health means choosing to release the weight of the past. Too often, this is something that people just can't or won't do, because it can also be a life ploy that negotiates for them.  Myss also teaches that
"While the practice of woundology is a common source of illness, personal negativity is not always the cause; as contradictory as it seems, sometimes illness can be the answer to prayer. Our spiritual development is meant to culminate in an ability to see things impersonally, to recognize the greater meaning of life's challenges apart from the literal events.  To that end, illness can physically guide us onto a path of insight and learning upon which we would otherwise never have set foot. It is an unparallelled catalyst for expanding personal consciousness."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day

 We have a beautiful mother

Her green lap
Her brown embrace
Her blue body
everything we know.

Alice Walker 

Here she is reading the poem: 
It's EARTH DAY, and I wanted to share two of my favorite poems, above, by Alice Walker, below, by  Drew Dellinger reading his beautiful poem "Hymn to the Sacred Body of the Universe" at the 2003 "Praises for the World", created by singer and songwriter Jennifer Berezon, who it was my privilege to see perform in 2008.    I'm not able to embed it so here's the link, performed at the event:

I think it was Joanna Macy who coined the term "world as lover, world as self".  May that understanding reach our hearts now, as we celebrate, indeed, our Beautiful Mother, and All Our Relations.

hymn to the sacred body of the universe

let’s meet
at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs
let’s meet
at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs
for one instant
to dwell in the presence of the galaxies
for one instant
to live in the truth of the heart
the poet says this entire traveling cosmos is
“the secret One slowly growing a body”
two eagles are mating—
clasping each other’s claws
and turning cartwheels in the sky
grasses are blooming
grandfathers dying
consciousness blinking on and off
all of this is happening at once
all of this, vibrating into existence
out of nothingness
every particle
foaming into existence
transcribing the ineffable
arising and passing away
arising and passing away
23 trillion times per second—
when Buddha saw that,
he smiled
16 million tons of rain are falling every second
on the planet
an ocean
perpetually falling
and every drop
is your body
every motion, every feather, every thought
is your body
is your body,
and the infinite
curled inside like
invisible rainbows folded into light
every word of every tongue is love
telling a story to her own ears
let our lives be incense
like a hymn to the sacred
body of the universe
my religion is rain
my religion is stone
my religion reveals itself to me in
sweaty epiphanies
every leaf, every river,
every animal,
your body
every creature trapped in the gears
of corporate nightmares
every species made extinct
was once
your body
10 million people are dreaming
that they’re flying
junipers and violets are blossoming
stars exploding and being born

god is having déjà vu
I am one elaborate crush
we cry petals as the void
is singing
you are the dark
that holds the stars
in intimate distance
that spun the whirling,
world into existence
let’s meet at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs

(drew dellinger)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Feed and Plant and an Angel


Sparrows and juncos, all hungry
they too are planters of trees, spreading seeds
of favorites among fences.  On the earth
closed to us as a book we cannot

yet read, the seeds, the bulbs, the eggs
of the fervid green year await release
Over them on February's cold table I spread
a feast.  Wings rustle like summer leaves.

Marge Piercy, "Available Light"

I've been having tantrums lately, about feeling isolated and alienated and unsure of where to go or what to do.  I share these feelings, with an increased intensity and frequency, with many others these days.  The river is running very fast now.  The river is running like a torrent now.

I also tend to feel that tantrums, as long as they don't hurt anyone or become collectively a war or a riot.............can be very useful.  Children have tantrums;  eventually they exhaust themselves, and sometimes the tantrum's end is about learning new boundaries and maturity.  Tantrums for grownups can also not only vent, but reveal.  We spend so much time in our heads, in the "should be, used to be, would be, could be" realm of experience, which seems real at the time but usually isn't even mildly useful to the what is...... and meanwhile, as a wise angel who briefly turned up recently to set me straight said - "There's the NOW, patiently watching, saying 'well, are you done yet?"

Change is the only certainty.  The NOW is. 

So I had something happen magically, that was profound for me.  Sometimes when these things happen, it's easy to say to yourself, "well, that's silly", but as that Angel ("Angelos", from the Greek, originally meant "messenger") reminded me, "you listen, so you noticed."

I was facing a three day weekend at the Renfair in Los Angeles, selling my masks alone now, and early in the morning went to my car to open the door and hit the freeway, costume and lunch in hand.  Tucked into the handle of the door was a piece of dirty white paper.   When I pulled it out, I saw that it was folded into one of those paper airplanes that children make.  And when I unfolded it, I saw that it had two words, block printed in pencil in a childish hand, one on each side of the paper.  On one side it said "FEED", on the other "PLANT".

"Wow, that's really strange" I thought, and tossed it aside.  Why would some kid put it there?  And on I went to the Faire.

[nov%2017%20008%20Medium%20Web%20view.jpg]As I was setting up in the blissful quiet before the stampede of merrymakers,  a participant, dressed in a nobleman's costume, with a great burgundy  hat against and a white head of hair, came by and we had one of those brief conversations that can seem divinely channelled.  He affirmed the value of my work,  and the continuity we participate in as creators, whether we remember that or not.   All the people who interact with my masks, all the people who now make masks and wear them.   I needed to hear that.  And   he also reminded me of the inevitability of change, the suffering that comes from not accepting the "what is" of the moment.  Tantrums we can have, or very real grief - but we still have to get up, open up, learn,  grow, and deal.

I have a wrapped quartz crystal - on the first day I gave an extra mask to a man who didn't have much money and wanted one for his partner.  He came back later and presented me with the crystal, which he had mined himself in Arkansas. What a splendid gift!  My angelic friend (I don't know his name) immediately noticed my crystal, and said it was to help me.  So the conversation led into the morning's synchronicity, my little "paper airplane".  I think, had I not encountered this person, I would have completely forgotten about it.

He commented that it was "Written in the hand of a child learning his or her letters, in pencil.  Basic.  Not like the abstractions we "adults" make.  Like the work of real farmers is basic, the ground that supports us.  Without their labor, without the alchemy and generosity of the land and the farmers, none of this" (he made an expansive gesture indicating the vast urban complex called Los Angeles we were standing more or less in the center of) "none of this would exist.  The farmers and land sustain it all.  All the "higher" sophistication of our civilization falls apart when the land fails to care for us, and the true farmers, not those chemical factories, but true farmers..........aren't understood."

I might add that I thought it was Earth Day, and I'd somehow forgotten. I was wrong, but I think that gives further weight to his observation. "Feed and Plant is a profound message for all of us.  Especially now."  And then we shook hands, wished each other a great day, and parted ways.  My energy had completely changed, and I stood there with my mouth open.

"FEED" and "PLANT".   All of my  alienation, loneliness, lack of purpose, all those grand complexities...... if Angels deliver the occasional message in the form of  grubby paper planes, and then send an occasional human representative just to make sure attention is paid - well. that's otherwise called Grace.   I may not be a farmer, but we can all be farmers, literally by planting and growing even if it's a window box, getting our hands in the Earth, connecting with the alchemy and gift of the Earth.  As a universal message, it should be Earth Day everyday.

We all can, and do, "plant".  As an artist, I can plant beauty, inspiration, I can encourage others to do the same.  I can recognize the "trees" I'm planting, and have planted,  in my life.  Feed yourself and others with what sustains and nourishes.  Plant seeds that will feed the future, plant seeds that will grow into trees.  It doesn't need to be complicated at all.  Even sparrows do it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dutch Wind Sculptor Creates New Form of Life!

I have to thank my friend Charlie Spillar for this BBC Video about the Dutch sculptor Theo Jansen and his "Strandbeests". 

The man is pure genius, and I'm in awe of his vision!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mything Links

Kathleen Jenks MYTHING LINKS

I'd like to introduce Kathleen Jenks wonderful Mything Links site, and I'm touched that she chose to open her Spring Equinox page with one of my favorite poems, based upon the Celtic Goddess the Morrigan, warrior Goddess, bringer of Justice, and also the one who  remembers those who have fallen, bearing the brave away to the Summer Land. 
 I think, re-imagining that poem, that true justice has to be circular and gestalt: founded on the empathy that arises from experiencing "both sides now".

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Loneliness in America?

Americans' circle of close confidants has shrunk dramatically in the past two decades and the number of people who say they have no one with whom to discuss important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at the University of Arizona. "The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants" said Lynn Smith-Lovin, one of the study's authors. "This change indicates something that's not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action."

The study compared data from 1985 and 2004 and found that the number of people with whom Americans can discuss matters important to them dropped by nearly one-third, from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004.
Researchers also found that the number of people who said they had no one with whom to discuss such matters more than doubled, to nearly 25 percent. The survey found that both family and non-family connections dropped, with the greatest loss in non-family connections.

The problem with an art and spiritual blog, which I guess this is, is that I feel reluctant to write about anything "personal", even though I'm a believer in the notion that the "personal is political". And spiritual.  I think, for this post, I'll step outside of my own taboo.

Yesterday I saw something that happens everyday, but it stayed with me.

I'm staying near the Renfair in Los Angeles, working at the show. It's not like the old days, when we were an "encampment" that lived and worked together for months.........this show people turn up, or their employees turn up, do the weekend show, and go home. .

I was looking for a post office, which I found.  There was a long line, and a nice looking gentleman, with a badge that said "Allesandro" was the "maitre'd" of the operation.  In the section between the postal tellers and the long  line was an older woman in a wheelchair.......I could see that she often came to the post office because she knew everyone's names, and in that unfortunate and busy place, she was trying to engage the tellers and Allesandro with conversation by asking a lot of questions about mailing options, asking where the bathroom was, and making some personal comments in the hope of response.  The people in line were annoyed because she was taking up time, and space, and the tellers smirked.  Finally she apologized, and told everyone she was "under the influence of legal drugs", meaning I assume painkillers, and away she rolled, looking embarrassed, down the street.

I didn't think she seemed like a crazy person............on the contrary, she had an intelligent face and a pleasant voice.  She was just desperately lonely, and here was a place with people who were "familiar", and where the hum of  activity was going on.  She was like a stray dog, hoping for a scrap of affection or attention in a place where she surely wasn't going to get it.

Did I do anything?  No, but I sympathized.   I have a better social mask than her, and I have legs and a car, so I'm better off.  I can go look at stuff and talk to myself (quietly) at the library, or a mall, or at the beach if I so choose.    I'm here for a month, and well stocked with books.  I am resigned to the idea that other than on the phone, I'll pretty much not talk to anyone.   And because everyone I know is so busy, I'm reluctant to call anyone anyway.  No one has time anymore, do they?

Besides talking to customers, and telephones, I won't lose my vocal cords, however.  There will be a thousand ritualistic interactions with tellers that will go, as regular as clockwork: 

"How are you?  Find everything you were looking for?  Have a great day!"

and I will answer in the same ritualistic ways "Fine!  Yes!  Thankyou!".  

Once or twice, being ornery and  infantile, I've responded with things like "no, I was looking for enlightenment" or, "well, actually I have been having an out of body experience" .... but all that does is throw an uncomfortable cog into the machine which pisses them off.  O brave new world.

Out of the same kind of lapsed memory the poor woman in the post office has (I bet she once lived in a small town where everyone knew the postmaster)......I still go to coffee shops, and sit there with a cappuchino looking for a receptive face.  But I think that avenue to conversation closed long ago, with the advent of wifi.  I'm used to being invisible, which isn't such a bad thing at times.  Should I be embarrassed to even be sharing these thoughts?  Probably.  I'm a mask maker.  I should know better.

So how do you meet anyone in America?  Well, I guess most people do it through family and work.  People like the Post Office lady have fallen through the cracks, and are very difficult to see - am I the only one who saw her?

I don't think people still have cocktail parties or dinner parties or bars where you can hear each other over the pa system, but I could be wrong about that.   My work puts me on the road often, or in a studio alone.  Although I meet lots of people on my travels, it's rare to find people with time to engage in social ways, and when I'm in a situation like my LA show, I don't try anymore.  Yesterday I met to give some money I owed to a nice lady who lives here, has worked for me for 4 years, and it would never in a million years occur to her to invite me to her family's home for dinner.  Her daughter, who also worked for me, came with her, and in the course of our meeting she was texting somebody, which left no doubt in my mind about how uninteresting I was to her.    My former apprentice has had a mask business, thanks to me, for 7 years, and she's never found time to have a visit with me for longer than an hour, although she comes to Arizona every year.   I just lent some masks to a former colleague for a ritual event up north - she found time to write me an email thank you.  Would she find time to call me personally?  Nope, and I wouldn't expect it.   

I don't blame people, they don't have the lens that I have. I think if you asked the people I mention above what they think of me, at least two of them would say they love me.   They don't feel themselves becoming invisible, perhaps, not yet.   I wonder if I'm the only person who feels this way, sometimes?  Is it a failure on my part?  Probably. 

I once had a Facebook account, but I closed it.  The idea of having 500 "friends" I couldn't talk to or touch in any personal way, with whom I could only have the most trivial exchanges of superficial to me.  There were people there I once slept with, or gave birth to, or ate meals with, or they stayed in my house, or they own art I made.  Now our exchanges are limited to 6 words, with an "LOL" on the end.  We've already done away with the use of paragraphs (except, thankfully, in the eloquent world of blogs!).

And I still don't know what "LOL" means anyway.  I'm a complete anachronism.   I'm probably one of only maybe 5 people in the entire world who think Facebook is scary.  For some it's spiders, for me, Facebook.

 I know, I know, this is indulgent.  I should meditate, workout, take a long walk,  look up "". You're a Lightworker, Lauren, buck up here, think Positive and Manifest, etc.

Meanwhile,  sometimes, the mask slips off, and I wonder.  Am I really any different than that lady in the Post Office? We're all in this together.        

I should have asked her  to have lunch with me.  But, I suspect, if I had, she would have looked at me with something akin to terror or suspician, and refused. Maybe I should have tried anyway.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Environmental Arts in Iran & Afghanistan

"As if to help us change our perspective on war, discoveries within quantum physics suggest that the belief that we can achieve a position of dominance in relation to nature, life or each other is, ultimately, an illusion. Each of us is an expression of a vast sea or field of creative consciousness - invisible, and as yet barely recognised by us. We are all connected to each other through our participation in a great living web of life. It would seem that we are, literally, "our brother's keeper".

Anne Baring,
"The Web of Life"
I went to high school in Kabul, and although I have never been back to Afghanistan  or Iran, where I also spent time,  that part of the world is in my heart, and I try to keep informed. (AISK had a class reunion in 2003 - that would have been an experience!)
I felt like sharing some images about contemporary environmental art, and remembered a post in 2009. While surfing for "environmental art"  I found the above photograph created by participants in an environmental arts festival in Iran, in 2007 (Iranian Radio)  The story and images are also to be found at the Green Museum. I found the images so striking I wanted to share them again -  I take the liberty of re-copying here.**  And below, a show of  contemporary environmental arts in 2010 at the University of Kabul.  Amazingly, all participants are women, a stunning show of courage and creativity on their part. 
Color, Leaf, and Kavir:
Environmental Art Festival of Kerman

Nov 16, 2007

"The festival began in Vahdat Hall at Shahid Bahonar University in Kerman, with speeches and discussions on the concept of environmental arts.

On the third day of the festival artists gathered in Shahdad Kavir and presented their works in a kavir (desert) background. This area is one of the most attractive outlooks of Kavir because of its statue-like walls.  200 young artists and art teachers of Kerman Province joined the festival."

"The participants were mainly from Kerman province coming from various universities. The initiative was taken by the scientific association of the painting course of the Saba Arts and Architecture School of Shahid Bahonar University. Environmental art festivals have been held during the last few years in various parts of the country. The Pardiss international center has created seven festivals. " (

“Area Pollution,” by Arezo Waseq,  Center for Contemporary Arts, Kabul University.

August 6, 2010
KABUL, Afghanistan — For one week in June two auditoriums at Kabul University hosted a large exhibition on the themes of pollution and the environment.  The exhibition had two remarkable qualities: All 18 participating artists were women, and the genre was modern art, a rarity in Afghanistan. Even today Kabul and Herat are the only Afghan provinces — out of 34 — to have a faculty of fine arts in their universities.

A collaborative piece titled “Fall in Spring,” 
by Arefa Honryar, Zarghona Hotak, Sodaba Mehrayan, Sara Nabil and Arezo Waseq
In the 1990s came the Taliban. Music was banned, and art was limited to calligraphy and the drawing of immortal shapes........"When the Taliban left in 2001, we had seven professors and eight students in our department,” Professor Farhad said. "But in the past three years, the art scene has changed in terms of inclusiveness and creativity.  Today, I have 700 students  and close to 20 percent of them are girls. Quite often, I have to turn down students because we don’t have enough space for them,” Professor Farhad said, his eyes gleaming in triumph."

“Health and Fission,” by Manizha Ahwad
"In the first couple of years of President Hamid Karzai’s government, the appearance of women on television was frowned upon. Television channels broadcast only male singers and artists.  Gradually, the presence of women increased, but it cost the lives of several young women in the media to get there.  Zakia Zaki, Sanga Amach and Shaima Rezayee are among the many female artists and presenters who were killed for the crime of appearing on television and trying to widen the role of women. Some female artists continue to battle the stigma, while others have turned to single-sex art centers that are more socially acceptable.  The Center for Contemporary Arts — Afghanistan is one of these centers. Founded in 2004, it welcomed both male and female artists, but Mr. Omarzad soon realized that it was women who were most in need of a safe environment in which to work. For Environment Day, auditoriums at Kabul University were turned into galleries dedicated to the theme."

Scream’, by Marzia Nazary

** some other environmental arts sites : (
ecoartspace blog
Environmental arts (Orion Magazine)
Art + Environment
CSPA Connect
Deep Craft
Ear to the Earth
Earth Artists NetworkSEEDS
The Art of Engagement

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dalai Lama's Quote

"The world will be saved by the Western woman" said the Dalai Lama during the September 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit.  Since then, many have been pondering what His Holiness meant by that statement, which also represents a "call" to women to take action.  For many, his comment highlighted the truth that women are emerging as leaders of the global change movement.

The "Return of the Goddess" indeed, which to me means, among many other things, Restoring the Balance to our divided collective human psyche.  

In a previous post, I also pondered  the term "Crone", and possible other ways of expressing the idea of a wise older woman as we emerge into the largest, most educated, and most long-lived, older population the world has ever known.  One of my favorites was "Saga", "she who speaks", the teller of a long story.  Discussing both the Dalai Lama's words, and reflecting on the meanings of "crone" as well, I found a great blog by  Canadian  writer and ecologist  Nina Munteanu,  and take the liberty here of quoting from her, since she says it much better than I could.
"Marianne Hughes, executive director of the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC), pondered the idea of the aging women as hag (originally a representation of feminine power) and how it relates to the Dalai Lama's statement on her blog.

“I'm not entirely sure what [the Dalai Lama] meant,” said Hughes, “But I am wondering if when he travels across the globe and sees so many of our sisters impoverished and repressed he sees western women of all ages in a position to speak out for justice and to take on the responsibilities of “the hag”... to take loving care of the planet and its people.”

The original meaning of the word “hag” in Gaelic referred to a saint with great powers who was responsible for the land, the waters and the people. The term had since been distorted through patriarchal propaganda; “the Hag” is currently being redefined as a strong, beautiful and ageless woman and has its similarities with “the Crone”, the third stage of a woman’s life and evolution from maiden to mother to crone."........"By the year 2008, postmenopausal women will comprise the largest demographic group in America. With our increased lifespan, the ancient tripartite divisions of Maiden, Mother, and Crone are more meaningful in women’s lives as the Crone stage occupies one third of our lifespan. Moreover, our current Crone generation (those born in the forties and fifties) is the first in the history of humankind that can claim (and HAS already claimed) economic autonomy and power."**

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"The Transformative Mask" - Mask Making

Working with Masks and  Myth

"Our work was not to re-enact the ancient myths, but to take those myths to their next level of evolutionary unfolding. Artists are the myth makers."
 Katherine Josten,  Founder,  THE GLOBAL ART PROJECT

Every mask is the beginning of a story, because each mask is inhabited by a being waiting to reveal itself, whether a universally recognizable archetype, or an eccentric,  very personal inner persona that can communicate in surprising ways.  Masks can heal by speaking with a voice that we can't, and masks can provide an opportunity for transpersonal experience as well, when we engage with sacred and universal archetypes.   In traditional cultures, such as Bali, sacred masks were viewed as a means for the divine - the gods, goddesses, ancestors and animal powers - to bless the living through ritual theatre.

Making a mask is a process, but it's only part of the process - those who will use the mask complete the journey.  And because the "spirits of the masks" come from the Mythic Realm, there is really no end to the journey at all.  Just a circle of new telling.

In my workshops, we learn to sculpt a theatrical mask from our faces, explore personally significant stories and symbols, and learn approaches to storytelling with masks, with discussion about community performance and ritual theatre.  I've found it's best to "invite the spirit of the mask" by beginning with a shared "Shrine".  Participants  bring objects that are personally  sacred and meaningful.  Our "Invocation" is sometimes a creative visualization exercise.    After we've created a "Circle" to work in, we "get plastered" in pairs as we take casts of our faces with plaster impregnated bandages. These will become plaster positives on which more durable leather masks can be then modelled.  

Plaster  casts can also be used to create masks and sculpture from clay and other media.  See below for a few examples from other students.

Preparing materials

Taking Face cast

Ready to remove

Casts of class members, Kripalu Institute
Modelling and shaping mask with Leather
(Courtesy Nancy Solomon)
Finished Wearable Leather Mask
(courtesy Barbara Gregson)
Casting Mask in Clay

Cast in Clay made into Personal Icon
(courtesy Lorraine LeConte)

Leather sculpture with Torso cast

 With gratitude to Nancy Solomon for the kind use of her photographs (copyright N.Solomon 2010)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Saga and Crone

“…the word saga has been translated out of its original meaning, which was ‘She-Who-Speaks,’ that is, an oracular priestess, such as were formerly associated with sacred poetry. The literal meaning of saga was ‘female sage.’ The written sagas of Scandinavia were originally sacred histories kept by female sagas or ‘sayers,’ who knew how to write them in runic script."

”Barbara G. Walker, The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom, and Power  **

I've never liked the term "Crone" as it's used to speak of women in the third phase of life, although I like, of course, the meanings that are currently re-associated with it (Maiden, Mother, Crone).  But part of my dislike of the word has to do with the meanings that were associated with it in the past.  

Here's what wikipedia has to say about the word:
"The crone is a stock character in folklore and fairy tale, an old woman who is usually disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner, often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing. She is marginalized by her exclusion from the reproductive cycle, and her proximity to death places her in contact with occult wisdom. As a character type, the crone shares characteristics with the hag.  The word "crone" is a less common synonym for "old woman," and is more likely to appear in reference to traditional narratives than in contemporary everyday usage.The word became further specialized as the third aspect of the Triple Goddess popularized by Robert Graves and subsequently in some forms of neopaganism."  
"Saga" is a Scandinavian word that means "a long, ancestral or heroic story".  I've been thinking that I prefer to use this word to "crone".  A long, wise story, woven into the threads of many stories.  I like that much better. 

According to mythologist Barbara Walker, Saga also means "She Who Speaks". Similar to the masculine "Sage", a Saga is a wise old woman, a female mentor and teacher. Similar, but not, to my mind, quite the same in it's meanings, and that is because of the context of "story" that imbues the word and its origins.   She-Who-Speaks is the potent teller of story, because she embodies a long, interwoven, generational, story - a Saga.  In pre-literate cultures, the Saga and the Sage held a thread that was woven through many lives into the past, and her/his long  memory was the precious gift that kept the stories and knowledge alive.  

So the next time I attend a 50th  birthday party for a woman, I'll say:  "You're becoming a Saga".   

**(Quote is taken from the website of The SAGA Centre for Studies in Autobiography, Gender, and Age, University of British Columbia )

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Revisiting the Muse

I was going to delete this article from my website (I wrote it in 2005),  but just didn't have the heart to.  Recently I drove by where the Muse used to be, and as always, sigh.  Since it was torn down in 2005, and whatever deal was made fell through, ironically, it has remained a city block wide, fenced hole in the ground.  A big hole.  That kind of says it all.


The former Muse Community Arts Center, where I used to have my studio, is fenced and empty, in preparation for her imminent demise. I've been told She stood empty some 7 or 8 years ago, the old YMCA building no one, except a few visionaries, wanted any more. I'm not writing about the history of the Muse, or the brave people who founded her, and why. I don't know if they feel saddened, or rewarded for their efforts, or just relieved to have the building sold and done with. I’m also not writing about those who are trying to relocate some part of her essence else where. I just want to remember the life, and death, of an urban Muse.

In those 7 or 8 years, a theatre developed, and classrooms opened. Reasonably priced studios filled with painters, sculptors, alternative healers, and non-profits. An occasional gallery hosted shows of professional artists, aspiring artists, and young people just learning to express their imaginations. Drummers drummed, dancers danced, actors created personae, students came and went with easels in hand. A reiki master and a new age minister held classes on Sundays, along with the Vineyard Church, who also provided donuts and coffee for the homeless as long as they sat through the service. A Buddhist lama taught for a weekend, and people in red and orange robes filled the halls. A month later, the Fetish Ball took over the Muse, and people in leather and tight corsets filled the halls. 

Kucinich gave a rally to an enthusiastic crowd, the Gay/Lesbian alliance held their Christmas party, and teenagers in tuxedos and pink chiffon held proms to loud rock and roll music. At 7:00 in the morning shoes were lined up outside the door of a classroom as the morning yoga class stretched and ohm’d. In the afternoon, high school kids made graffiti art in the parking lot, while pottery kilns shimmered their heat in the sun. At 7:00 in the evening, the building vibrated to the studded feet of a flamenco class. The Muse was more, so much more, than a building. She was alive, a celebration of Tucson's diversity, an engine and generator of creativity.

Sometimes residents fought with each other, and artists gossiped in the halls. Dirty dishes in the community kitchen were always a point of contention. Management came and went with various degrees of competency. But the Muse struggled along. Because, for all of it, the Muse was full of love, and human diversity. Her last year found her depressed, like someone with a terminal disease. People began leaving, doors stood open to empty studios, fighting among those who remained was more bitter than it had ever been before. And now the Muse is empty again. Haunted, and awaiting burial.

Who grieves for her? Certainly, I do. The Muse, who hosted so much vitality, who delighted in the sounds and colors of so many, now is abandoned on the corner of 5th and 6th, her parking lot empty, a chain link fence around her to keep out squatters. On her grave, I've been told, condo lofts will rise. I don't know the the corporate developers that bought her, and I don't care. They represent the forces of gentrification, "real" estate, and unquestioned "economic progress". In Tucson's so-called Historic Arts District they have imminent domain, and as downtown becomes more profitable, artist studios, galleries, and gathering spots, like the Muse, have become increasingly sparse.**

Artists are marginalized in America. I don't know if this is true elsewhere. Maybe it's easier to be an artist in Rome, or Paris. I’ve spent my life on this continent, and have observed that my peers spend considerable emotional energy trying to justify their endeavor in the face of a popular culture that, essentially, considers them superfluous. A few of my colleagues got famous; some landed jobs that made them middle class. Most of us didn't really care that much; we got by, and the rewards of a creative life were enough. But now, urban life is becoming expensive, even in Tucson. And rural enclaves, like Bisbee, and Sedona, and Jerome, have also become costly. 

The land the Muse was on is valuable, because the surrounding area has become interesting. Thanks to the artists, writers, cafes, bookstores, and clubs that have come to inhabit the area. For the past 10 years, people fleeing the cost of living in California are coming to Tucson, and developers are, from my perspective, barely able to contain their glee, by the proliferation of housing developments also blossoming like mushrooms in the surrounding, pristine desert. That most of these "McMansions" are inappropriate for their use of energy and water is another issue. 

There are many empty storefronts and warehouses now, with high rents, that undoubtedly await the advent of a Starbucks, or a Gap, or a Cost Plus. And meanwhile serve as a tax break.  In fact, there are precious few art spaces left in the "Historic Arts District". 

My question is, what is real value? In my book, the energy the Muse generated is "real value". If the city of Tucson really wants to encourage an arts district, why not give artists, and other social innovators, what they need: space. Inexpensive leases, rent control, protection, and respect for the energy they bring?The Muse was not derelict: it was full of tenants, a well insulated building. The waste of a creative community is a terrible loss to all of us. And I personally find the waste of the building as well is obscene. The roof could have been fixed, the air conditioner renovated. A few professional arts administrators could have been employed to keep it in the black. 


Property speculation is intrinsic to our economic value system. But what about community goodwill speculation? Creativity speculation? What equity do the people who inhabited the Muse get for raising the monetary value of a neighborhood by, in essence, raising its energy? Real estate investors that buy up arts areas for gentrification are sometimes beneficial, but more often they are predatory, too often displacing the lively, and vital innovation of these areas with calculated, and expensive, formula. Without any motivation other than profit, they have no concern for the living organism that is a community. They are making money from the unpaid creative energy of people, well, like me. 

Recently I learned about a nonprofit in Phoenix called Arizona Citizens for the Arts. The organization is described in it's website as "the charitable arm of Arizona Action for the Arts (that) increases discussion and awareness of the importance and impact of the arts in achieving quality of life, educational excellence and economic health for all Arizonans and Arizona enterprises."

While I am glad such an organization exists, there is also something deeply disturbing to me about the notion that we need charities devoted to convincing Americans that art and creativity is something that can, just maybe, contribute to education and the quality of life. Is it possible it's no longer obvious? And, in the language of profit, I find it very depressing that the arts need to be justified because they can make money, providing "economic health" and accommodating, in some fashion, capital "enterprises". 

What is real value? Can we can no longer justify even the creative impulse, the masterful creation of beauty, and the healing depths of self-expression - unless we are convinced they can make money? What, then is "real value"? 

I'd like to affirm that the arts are the soul of any given community, and of any given civilization. They embody the conscience, the aesthetics, the history, and often, the future of an evolving culture. They celebrate what is best in the human experience, our highest aspirations and our complex human diversity. 


Farewell to the Muse. You will be missed. 

Copyright Lauren Raine 2005

**As i write, that's no longer seemingly so true.  The recession has been pretty good for artists, at least, art spaces seem to be re-appearing.