Friday, November 27, 2015

Winter's Incubation: A Meditation

Well, so far I haven't done so well with "going dark", but today I begin again.  Went into the studio and let my various sketchbooks spill out before me, every single one of them murmuring stories and pictures at my, ostensibly, emptying out imagination  They have a lot of memories, strings that remain unwoven.  This painting above, for example, which I did in 1993, in a long winter in upstate New York, the windows outside up to the frame in beautiful snow, my summer garden long buried beneath that white cascade.  There are times I so much miss the silence, the beauty, and the danger of those long Northern winters.

The painting was done with acrylics and a sponge, and I always figured I'd do a continuing series of them, but I never did.  It said "past desire, ambition or grief, I rest in the Earth a seed."  I think this was my first "incubation" painting.   The sleeping figure is entwined with all other life, and a shaft of water, or perhaps light, nourishes the dreaming figure that waits for the season of new beginnings.  

Why should we conceive of ourselves as apart from the cycles of Gaia that all other living beings experience?  Perhaps that was the true Original Sin, when the patriarchs began to invent religions and philosophies that somehow made us "apart" from the cyclical, magical animals we are, among so many other kinds of magical animal beings.  Yes, I think that is what "sin" means to me.

You do not have to be good.
 You do not have to walk on your knees
 For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
 love what it loves

 ......Mary Oliver

Here's a meditation I found from a winter in Berkeley, when I had my "Rites of Passage" Gallery.  I still like it.


Close your eyes, and see  a cord
a shining umbilical cord at your naval
that goes down,

into the dreaming Earth.

Into the darkness, the silence, follow,
that luminous cord, 

As you descend into the warm darkness
remove your garments 
remove, one by one
remove your masks.

One by one, take them off
feel the heavy weight of each as 
you let it fall, as you descend. 
Let each mask fall away, but
take a moment to see it before it falls
into the Earth, into the darkness.

Take off the mask of competence,
the mask of your accomplishments.
what does that mask look like?

Take  off the child's mask,  the little one
laughing with delight, the child crying helplessly in an empty room.
Take it off  with tenderness.

The masks of relationship, the masks you wear with others,
the mask of the lover, the mate, the parent,
the mask of conflict, the mask of the warrior,
the mask of affiliation, of responsibility, of duty:
take each one off, hold it in your hand, let it go,
into the darkness, see them fall, 
the question "who am I?"
falling like a feather with them.

And take off the mask of your age
the accumulated years that whisper 
I'm just a kid, I'm middle aged, I'm old, I must, I can't,
I will I should it's too late, I can't.........
take them all off, let go, feel the weight leave you.

The masks of your parents that you also learned to wear,
their fears and dreams in the shape of your face,
 remove them with respect and pity, and descend

to the last masks, the shadow masks

the masks you do not look at, but cling to,
see them in your hands -  and let them go,
into the darkness, into the dreaming Earth.

Rest, and  wait.
Ask  for the dreams
the unborn ones

that wait to be born in you
empty and held in the womb of the Earth
invite them to come, in time to come, 
the guidance and inspiration that will infuse your new year.

Make that prayer  into the darkness,
feel it like a pulse among roots, that deep umbilical
holding you safe.  Rest, and  know you are loved,
held, a seed, a child, a hope, a potential.

Begin to ascend at last.
As you rise, see the masks you've discarded -
one by one, take them in your hands.
Perhaps some you no longer need;
some you will examine more closely in the future.
Perhaps some you will discard, and
some you will wear more lightly.  Feel their weight.

And as you emerge from the earth
into the sunlit world, feel that unbroken cord, shining,
unseen, holding  you to your origin.  And
always, always generous.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanks Giving

 "Our hands imbibe like roots, so I place them on what is beautiful in this world. And I fold them in prayer, and they draw from the heavens, light."

St. Francis of Assisi
"Look, I am living.  On what?  Neither childhood nor future grows any smaller.............Superabundant being wells up in my heart."

Rainier Maria Rilke
"How marvelous is that garden, where apples and pears
are arriving even in winter. Those apples grow from the Gift, and sink back into the Gift.  It must be that they are coming from the garden to the garden."


I reflect today on how amazing and abundant and privileged is my life.   I've never known hunger.  I can eat anything I want, whenever I want, including apples that come from New Zealand, mangoes from the Caribbean, and almonds from Morocco, should I chose.  If I'm cold, I can press a button and get warm, or I can turn a lever and immerse myself in hot water. 

At my fingertips is the greatest Library the world has ever known, and I can research any question (with some discernment) merely by typing in the question.  I can board a plane that goes faster than any bird, and surpasses even the farthest reaches of Leonarda Da Vinci's fruitful imagination.........and within a day or so, be in London, Sydney, or Borneo. 

I've lived with so much possibility, so much luxury.  Everytime I walk into a Super Market, I have to reflect that what most people take for, and was, beyond the wildest dreams of virtually all human beings less than a hundred years ago.  No Phaoroah ever had such comfort as I, and no Queen could travel like me, eat like me, even be as comfortable as me.  And tragically, my lifestyle is still beyond the means of most human beings living now, those who must live homeless  in the streets of Mumbai,  or war torn deserts in Somalia, or the slums of Brazil, or huddled  in sleeping bags in parks in downtown Tucson.  And the wealth I enjoy comes, as Kalil Gibran tells us, from the continual sacrifice of many other lives on this great Life that is our planet, our Gaia.  

I am among the wealthiest, most privileged generation that has ever lived  upon this beautiful, generous  Mother Earth. 

And I reflect that generations coming after me will not enjoy my freedom, prosperity, or possibility, because the time I live in has taken too much. Gratitude, Thanks Giving, is so much more than a holiday, a single "holy day".  Gratitude, it seems to me, is a way of life, a state of mind upon which to found a culture that might be sustainable.  I'm not the first person to say this - this wisdom is found in many, many places and times, among the Lakota giving thanks to the Buffalo, the Sami living with their reindeer, the Quakers sitting in silence in their Meeting Halls. This understanding of the importance of Gratitude, of Reciprocity, is what we must universally regain, in our bones, in our roots, in our empathy.  

Let it begin today, and all days, the profound re-birth of Thanks Giving.

Then an old man, a keeper of an inn, said:   "Speak to us of Eating and Drinking."
And the Prophet said:  "Would that you could live on the fragrance of the earth, and like an air plant be sustained by the light. But since you must kill to eat, and rob the newly born of its mother's milk to quench your thirst, let it then be an act of worship.And let your board stand an altar on which the pure and the innocent of forest and plain are sacrificed for that which is purer and still more innocent in man.When you kill a beast say to him in your heart:
"By the same power that slays you, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed. For the law that delivered you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand."  And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart, "Your seeds shall live in my body,And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart.  And your fragrance shall be my breath.  And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons."
And in the autumn, when you gather the grapes of your vineyard, and fruit shall be gathered for the wine press, say:  "And like new wine I shall be kept in eternal vessels." And in winter, when you draw the wine, let there be in your heart a song for each cup;  let there be in the song a remembrance for the autumn days, and for the vineyard, and for the wine press."

Kalil Gibran

Monday, November 23, 2015

US Department Of Arts & Culture Calls on Artists to Foster Compassion for Syrian Refugees

Mural of Syrian Woman
Artwork by Joel Bergner and Ali Kiwan with the participation of Syrian youth in the Za'atari Refugee Camp in partnership with aptART, ACTED, UNICEF and ECHO.

WomenArts is proud to support the U.S. Department of Arts & Culture in the call posted below regarding the Syrian refugee crisis.

The United Nations Refugee Agency reported this year that the number of refugees world-wide is at the highest level ever - a staggering 59.5 million people worldwide have been forced to leave their homes due to wars, conflict and persecution.  Women and girls  are especially hard-hit because they are often the victims of rape and other violence both during the conflicts and afterwards in the refugee camps.  Check out the latest blog from the Global Fund for Women for more information about women and the refugee crisis.

The USDAC Call To Artists and Creative Activists
The USDAC calls on all artists and creative activists to use our gifts for compassion and justice, sharing images, performances, experiences, writings, and other works of art that raise awareness, build connection, cultivate empathy, and inspire us to welcome those who are forced from homes that are no longer safe.

More than four million Syrians have been driven from their homes, becoming refugees. Although state governors hold no power to bar entry to the U.S., a short time after the acts of terrorism that took lives in Beirut and Paris, more than half have issued statements rejecting Syrian refugees within their borders. Polls have shown that many Americans oppose accepting Syrian refugees. Poll results from the 1930s and 1940s showed majority opposition to accepting German child refugees and Jews; and from the 1970s majority opposition to the admission of refugees from Southeast Asia.

Once again, we must ask:
  • Who are we as a people? 
  • What do we stand for? 
  • How do we want to be remembered?
As a culture of fear and isolation? Or as a culture that values every human life, extending love and compassion to newcomers needing refuge?

As a people-powered department, we honor the stories of those whose ancestors were brought here by force, those who sought refuge here, and those rooted on this land before others arrived. Together, we can choose to create a culture of belonging, welcoming new culture-bearers. Together, we can live up to the promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome….

We join together in affirming to all public officials and policymakers that a culture of fear and isolation cannot stand. We join together in applying our gifts to sustaining a culture of compassion and justice. We stand together with generations of creative activists in communities across the nation who have been envisioning and working toward a world of equity and belonging for all.

Signed by USDAC Cabinet Members:
  • Maribel Alvarez, Minister of Public Sentiment, Tucson, AZ
  • Valerie J. Amor, Cultural Agent, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Liliana Ashman, Story Hunter-Gatherer, New York, NY
  • Caron Atlas, Minister of Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts, Brooklyn, NY
  • Judy Baca, Minister of Sites of Public Memory, Venice, CA
  • Daniel Banks, Catalytic Agent, Santa Fe, NM
  • Jack Becker, Public Art Mobilizer, St. Paul, MN
  • Roberto Bedoya, Secretary of Belonging, Tucson, AZ
  • Ted Berger, Senior Policy Advisor, New York, NY
  • Ludovic Blain III, Chief Political Wonk, Berkeley, CA
  • Larry Bogad, Minister of Tactical Performance, Berkeley, CA
  • Eric Booth, Head Cheerleader for Teaching Artists, High Falls, NY
  • Amelia Brown, Minister of Emergency Arts, Minneapolis, MN
  • Sarah Browning, Minister of Poetry and Public Life, Washington, DC
  • Con Christesen, Cultural Agent, St. Louis, MO
  • Chrislene DeJean, Cultural Agent, Boston, MA
  • Maria De Leon, Minister of Inclusive Leadership Transformation, San Antonio, TX
  • Martha Diaz, Minister of HIp Hop Education, New York, NY
  • Jayeesha Dutta, Cultural Agent, New Orleans, LA
  • Dana Edell, Secretary of Creative Sparks, Brooklyn, NY
  • Hayden Gilbert, Cultural Agent, Cleveland, OH
  • Arlene Goldbard, Chief Policy Wonk, Lamy, NM
  • Beth Grossman, Cultural Agent, Brisbane, CA
  • Lynden Harris, Cultural Agent, Cedar Grove, NC
  • Mattice Haynes, Cultural Agent, Decatur, GA
  • Jon Henry, Cultural Agent, Harrisonburg, VA
  • Barry Hessenius, Minister of Nonprofit Arts Organizations, San Anselmo, CA
  • Bob Holman, Minister of Poetry and Language Protection, New York, NY
  • Adam Horowitz, Chief Instigator, Santa Fe, NM
  • Denise Johnson, Cultural Agent, Baltimore, MD
  • James Kass, Secretary of Belief in The Next Generation, San Francisco, CA
  • Paul Kuttner, Minister of Cultural Scholarship, Salt Lake City, UT
  • Dave Loewenstein, Cultural Agent, Lawrence, KS
  • Liz Maxwell, Chief Dot Connector, New York, NY
  • Angela Miles, Master of Swag, Philadelphia, PA
  • E. Ethelbert Miller, Minister of Sacred Words, Washington, DC
  • JalĂ©ssa Mungin, Deputy Deputy, Philadelphia, PA
  • Meena Natarajan, Radical Equity Catalyst, Pangaea Division, Minneapolis, MN
  • Martha Richards, Senior Strategist for Women Artists, Berkeley, CA
  • Favianna Rodriguez, Secretary of Cultural Equity, Oakland, CA
  • Julianna Ross, Cultural Agent, Seattle, WA
  • Sebastian Ruth, Secretary of Music and Society, Providence, RI
  • Allison Schifani, Lead Initiative Investigator, Bureau of Speculative Acts & Technologies of Empathy, Cleveland, OH
  • Michael Schwartz, Cultural Agent, Tucson, AZ
  • Shirley Sneve, Tribal Liaison, Lincoln, NE
  • Jessica Solomon, Chief Weaver of Social Fabric, Baltimore, MD
  • Elizabeth Streb, Action Architect, New York, NY
  • Jack Tchen, Secretary of Curiosities, New York, NY
  • Julia Terry, Cultural Agent, Philadelphia, PA
  • Makani Themba, Minister of Revolutionary Imagination, Detroit, MI
  • Fabiola Torralba, Cultural Agent, San Antonio, TX
  • Ali Toxtli, Cultural Agent, Passaic, NJ
  • Carlton Turner, Minister of Creative Southern Strategies, Atlanta, GA
  • Mark Valdez, Minister of Ensemble Creativity, Los Angeles, CA
  • Veena Vasista, ArtReach Coordinator, Santa Fe, NM
  • Lily Yeh, Urban Alchemist, Philadelphia, PA
  • Betty Yu, Cultural Agent, Brooklyn, NY
  • Roseann Weiss, Cultural Agent, St. Louis, MO
  • Yolanda Wisher, Rhapsodist of Wherewithal, Philadelphia, PA
  • Steve Zeitlin, Minister for Art in Everyday Life, New York, NY
1442A Walnut Street #67
Berkeley, CA 94709
Phone: (510) 868-5096
Contact Us>>

(Note: WomenArts is the new name of The Fund for Women Artists,
a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Reclaiming the Art of Conversation........Sherry Turkle

Over the years I've ranted so often about the loss of conversation, the way I experience, in spite of the "connecting" of the internet, an increasing  loss of "communion", at least within my own species. I still enjoy the company of cats and trees.   I especially seem to rant about the loss of the "conversation coffee shop", places where you could go in and maybe encounter a stimulating you encounter a wall of laptops, as impregnable as the Berlin Wall in the Cold War. 

But that's true everywhere else as well.  When I began renting rooms in the house I inherited, I had visions of groups of people sitting around the table drinking coffee and eating scones, and lively talks ensuring.  That has happened sometimes, but mostly I've learned that, well,  people rise with their Smartphones and go to bed with their Laptops.   And I am entirely invisible - good preparation, no doubt, for a future incarnation as a poltergeist.

Currently, for example, I have a young intern here for a few weeks.  Last night we were both in the kitchen, me making a salad and her waiting to make tea.  Immediately she pulled out her phone, as she stood not 3 feet from me, and was lost in cyberspace.  When someone pulls out a phone, or even has one in the visual proximity, as Sherry Turkle demonstrates, they are communicating that "you are as interesting to me as a turnip, and  not important enough for me to give you my attention".  A first rate conversation stopper there......

I left the room without even saying goodbye.  I did not offer her any of the salad.  She didn't notice.

I remember a few years ago I went with a group of friends to a fancy Indian restaurant, one with sitar music in the background and lots of Ambience.   We noticed a nicely dressed  couple at a nearby table - both had their smartphones in their hands, head bent over the flickering lights, with of course, the flickering light of a candle and wine glasses between then.  They didn't stop, and we were amazed - being somewhat intoxicated, we started to imagine what they were doing.  Talking to each other?  Ordering?  Having phone sex?  Lucky for us, they didn't notice us either.

My friends often rant about the same loss of interpersonal communication as well, and because most of us were young adults in America B.C. (before Computers) we've variously attributed this loss of Conversation to being older, everyone being too busy,  we're all mostly without families, or we're  much more boring now,    Resignation has set in, and one can always go home and watch Netflix with the cat.  So when I discovered Ms. Turkle's book, and then was able to enjoy this interview on an  interview site I subscribe to, I was delighted to hear her articulate what I've so often felt.  

owned by your phone?

Sherry Turkle credit Peter Urban“Technology doesn’t just change what we do, it changes who we are.”

Ever wonder what your mobile device is really doing to your relationships, your happiness…your life?
Today’s guest, famed MIT Professor, bestselling author and researcher on how technology affects the human condition,Sherry Turkle, has been studying questions like this for decades.  In her new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, she looks at what phones and the technology that rides inside them are doing not just for us, but to us. Put your cell phone on the table when your with someone else, she offers, you’ve just destroyed the possibility of deep conversation. Without even realizing it, everything gets superficial. You don’t go deeper, because you want to be able to scratch the near-addictive phone-checking itch. And that’s okay when the convo is light, but not when it gets real.
conversationWe also talk about how apps and texting are destroying empathy and  making it harder and harder to develop real relationships.  We talk about what computers and mobile devices do to classrooms and learning, seeing how some professors who at first welcomed them are now banning them and why. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Death in the "City of Isis"

 AP/Jerome Delay
"Three terrorists believed in their own minds that they were holy warriors who would die "martyred" in their holy war and that they would live on in Paradise.One of the terrorists, Cherif Kouachi ........told French investigators that "the wise leaders in Islam told him and his friends that if they die as martyrs in jihad they would go to heaven" and "that martyrs would be greeted by more than 60 virgins in a big palace in heaven." This refers to the hadith, or saying of the Prophet Mohammed, that martyrs will enjoy the favor of 72 virgins."
           Peter Bergen
As I, with so many people around the world, mourn those  who died in Paris, I cannot avoid a  grim synchronicity that accompanies this latest act of  murder in the name of a "god" (and no, I will not capitalize the name of this murderous  patriarchal god, who  has had so many violent names in so many violent eras of human his-story.)   
My friends in the Women's Spirituality community, the Fellowship of Isis, and women and men  concerned with mythology and archetypal psychology,  have been disturbed that ISIS, the group claiming responsibility for this latest atrocity,  has been given, ironically, the name of the great Mother Goddess of ancient Egypt (I.S.I.S.).  

Isis with Her infant Horus, believed by many to be the origin of the famous Black Madonnas at pilgrimage sites throughout Europe; winged Isis who may also be the earliest "angel".   This  Mother Goddess was beloved for a millenia in Egypt.  In the later days of the Roman Empire Isis was imported to Rome,  and temples were built to Her, including those found at an outpost in Gaul named for  Her.    Many people do not know that  Paris, par Isis, once meant "city of Isis".

The attack on Paris by Islamic extremists who have taken, ironically, the name of this Great Goddess of the ancient world is paradoxical.  The Divine Feminine throughout world cultures is about serving and nurturing life.  These religious fanatics are about co-opting those powers to serve the subjugation of women, and  death to all  who don't "believe" in the absolute  authority of their "god" .  
A further synchronicity  occurs that they chose Friday the 13th, no doubt because that day is long considered unlucky.  But  if considered from the viewpoint of  Europe before monotheism,  quite the opposite is true.  Friday the 13th was sacred to the Goddess - first, because Friday is named for the Norse Goddesses Freya/Frigga, representing love, sexuality, and child bearing, and second,  because  the number 13 has been associated with women since prehistoric times.  There are 13 lunations in a year, and 13 menstrual cycles.  Hence (not unlike  the long mythic descent of Mary Magdalene from disciple or wife  of the historical Jesus  to reformed whore)  a day once devoted to a Goddess became co-opted as  "bad luck".  
I remember a conversation I shared once  with Dorit Bat Shalom, an Israeli artist I know  who brought Israeli and Palestine women together in “Peace Tents” to share their stories  in the 1990's.  Just before the invasion of Iraq, Dorit said : "How can there be  peace  without the Goddess?"  The Shekinah is the feminine aspect of God in Judaism. Dorit went on to say "The Shekinah has been driven away from the holy lands. We cannot heal without her ." 
Indeed, endless strife takes place in the very heart of what was once the fertile homeland of the Great Mother, of Inanna, Astarte, Isis,  Asheroth.   The question Dorit asked stayed with me.  How indeed can there be peace, in the Mideast or elsewhere, when deity, and human values, are personified and polarized as almost exclusively male? A mythos that denies the feminine half of humanity, in Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and elsewhere......has left us a humanity divided against itself , and the more polarized the society, the greater the violence.  The male archetype carried to its ultimate extreme,  unbalanced and unmitigated,  is a killer.  
The "return of the Goddess" means,  to me,   restoring Balance to the profoundly divided collective spirit of the human race.   When half the human race is disenfranchised, enslaved, hidden,  that means that half of the collective mind of humanity is split off from itself.   Whenever we pray to "Him", regardless of which patriarchal religion we are aligned with, we are inwardly  reflecting that split, right there in what we literally say is Holy/Wholly  and, by omission, what is not Holy/Wholly.  The disenfranchisement of the Divine Feminine and corresponding feminine values, taken to its greatest extreme, results in violent cultures that worship war,  and entitlements that enslave and degrade women.    Every  fascist and genocidal culture, from Nazi Germany to the Taliban,  has from its very inception taken away the rights of women,  every single one.    
But so few people see how important the arising of the Goddess energy is to the psyche of humanity, and as the Dalai Lama himself pointed out in his famous comment, to preserving the world itself.   So few people can see how  much patriarchal culture has co-opted Her life-giving energies.  Perhaps this is the reason I notice such synchronicities, in the midst of such great tragedy.  This is what Clarissa Pinkola Estes called "the River beneath the River of the world", the collective Dream of humanity, the mythic language.

1) "the Legend of Isis"
In ancient Egyptian mythology, Isis was the symbol of healing and the protector of children.
Often represented breast-feeding her son Horus, the legend of Egypt crossed the Mediterranean sea to influence the Phoenicians in Byblos (Jbeil), Lebanon, Greek and Roman civilizations.
Isis of Paris
As early as the 15th century AD, many Parisian historians believed that the city of Paris owed its name to the Egyptian goddess Isis. There are various manuscripts from around 1402AD at the “Bibliothèque Nationale” in Paris which contains drawings of the goddess Isis garbed as a medieval noblewoman seen arriving by boat to Paris and where she is greeted by nobles and clergymen under the caption “The very ancient Isis, goddess and queen of the Egyptians”.
In the 14th Century, Jacques Le Grant wrote: “In the days of Charlemagne (8th century AD) there was a city named Iseos, so named because of the goddess Isis who was venerated there. Now it is called Melun. Paris owes its name to the same circumstances, Parisius is said to be similar to Iseos (quasi par Iseos) because it is located on the river Seine in the same manner as Melun”.
After his return from Egypt in 1799, Napoleon was to develop a curious interest in the Egyptian goddess Isis, and eventually set up a special commission headed by the scholar Louis Petit-Radel in order to verify whether or not the claims made by Gilles Corrozet and others that Isis was the true tutelary goddess of Paris was tenable. After sometimes, Radel reported to Napoleon that the evidence he had examined supported the claim that the “Boat of Isis” was the very same as the “Boat of Paris”. Impressed by Radel’s report, Napoleon issued written instructions on the 20 January 1811 to the effect that the Egyptian goddess and her star be included on the coat-of-arms of the French capital city.

3)  Moon Goddess stone and  Yoni receptacle at heart of Mecca:  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

November and Thanks Giving

I have failed, in the course of pursuing my threads and poetics about November, to add that November is also the month of Thanksgiving. And that makes sense to me ~ how can we talk about the closing of the year, going "into the dark", and honoring ancestral strands ~ without, finally, arriving at GRATITUDE? Gratitude is the soil, the enzyme, the only appropriate medium to plant any seed in.

by Eleanor Lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, "Last night,
the channel was full of starfish."
  And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Where Have All The Artists Gone?"

Recently I made a trip to a little town in New Mexico that I used to live in, Truth or Consequences, along the Rio Grande, once called New Mexico Hot Springs (how it got its name from the 1950's game show is another story).

When I started visiting there 15 years ago I was drawn to it because it was inexpensive to live there, had a friendly, eccentric community of older artists, mystics, alternative healers, poets, and dreamers, and a main street with little artist run galleries.  The pace was New Mexico slow, which meant, shops tended to be open if they felt like it, and all the food was "slow food", but good when it finally arrived.  There was a juice bar called Little Sprout that featured juice and art on the wall, and a big pink former apartment building with inexpensive studios for artists to rent (I ended up renting one for a season).  My dream was to be a New Mexico artist there, and for one season, until family illness forced my return to Tucson, I was.  I even had a show in a local gallery.

I love hot springs,  finding them sacred places that not only heal, but can open "the doors of perception" in various ways. The hot springs at T or C, once called New Mexico Hot Springs, and by other unknown names by earlier native inhabitants, were considered sacred ground - Apache, Mimbres, various other Pueblo peoples, and wandering Yaqui  could go there to heal without fear of  war.  Geronimo and Cochise went there.

 I also love rivers, and the Rio Grande, a turquoise ribbon in the red-brown expanse also brought me there.  A big draw in T or C  was the River Bend, a hostel ($20.00 a night with  more expensive private rooms with a shared kitchen and common area if desired).  They had a number of pools built over the Rio Grande (some of them were built by volunteers who worked there in exchange for free "rent").  It was a pleasure to go to the pools every day at dawn or sunset,  where you could always be inspired by the view and the interesting people you met while soaking  there.  For example, I remember meeting a German man who was biking across the country while writing a book, various kinds of healers and mystics, travelling writers, poets and artists, a group living in an old style bus who were building straw bale houses, an artist who had some unusual theories about the Pleides,,,,,,,,,,,,the pools, and T or C, were an interesting, friendly haven for travelers, eccentrics, artists, and  visionaries without a lot of financial clout, in other words.

I went back to T or C a few weeks ago, and was dismayed by how much it has changed.  Gone are all of the galleries on main street (except Rio Bravo, which has an endowment), including that of eccentric, big hearted Ruth.   (T or C, like most small American towns, long ago lost the prosperity of its old downtown to Walmart and the big box stores on the outskirts.  But it felt much more impoverished now than it did a decade ago.).  Main street now has a lot more empty storefronts, and the galleries have been replaced with junk's sad looking.  The big pink artists studios complex is now just another hotel.  The Black Cat Bookstore is still there, and still hosts poetry readings once a week in season, but the Little Sprout is gone.  There are a few of the "old time  health spas" from T or C's era as a place where people went to "take the cure", but many have been converted into much more gentrified hot spring spas that  are expensive and, to me,  resemble gated communities in the midst of some  pretty obvious New Mexico poverty.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment to me is the River Bend.  Because the pools looked out over the Rio Grande, affording a chance to watch the sunset or sunrise on the river, and because its original layout had a large common area, even a campground along the river, it was a real community gathering place.  It began as a hostel, and although it had more expensive rooms (with a common area to cook) it retained two mobile homes with bunkbeds.

When the original owner retired its character completely changed. The mobile homes were hauled off, the building with a common area became private suites, the campgrounds were plowed over and new private casitas built.   It is a gated community indeed now, with big locked artistic metal walls that make any visibility into that once open courtyard impossible.  Rates begin at $85.00 a night and go up from there, no shared anything, and, on a personal note, an unfriendly  staff that looked at me suspiciously when I inquired about renting a pool to soak in for an hour (I had come off the road, and looked rather disheveled no doubt).

They are prosperous,  obviously, and that prosperity is gated away, physically and spiritually, from the rest of the community. The waters remain the same, but the demographics have changed.  Yes, it is the American Dream - if you can make money, make it.  People like me, who  it might be said brought energy and interest to the place in the beginning,  now stand before a hostile staff and an economically barred gate.  No one seems to notice that something, other than generosity and a sense of community, have been lost along the way.  It's just the "way it is", isn't it?  And "old hippies" like me are relics of the past, along with communes and love-ins.

Spa Landia

A friend called the gentrification of  places we remember as small  enclaves for "artists, cultural creatives, mystics, and soulful eccentrics" Spa Land.  Another word for such interesting, colorful, and messy communities of people and places (before they become Spa Land)  might be "innovation", something that is never very profitable in the beginning, especially if you are in the arts.

It may sound unrealistic in our capitalist society, but many of us aging "cultural creatives"  feel cheated.  We can't afford to do our thing anymore.   We're the people who made these places interesting in the first place, raising the energy with our creativity, while real estate agents followed behind with calculators and teal green formulas for making money off  that attractive glow that was developing where  we landed.  We're displaced - not exactly homeless, but studio-less, gallery-less, arts community-less.

People not unlike us brought our studios and food Co-ops and poetry readings and Reiki classes and crystal sculptures  to Sedona (yes, I remember when crystal dealers sat on the side of the road there with card tables, and there was no such thing as a Teal Green MacDonalds, and people made medicine wheels at the entrance to Boynton Canyon, before there was an exclusive tennis resort and all those "keep out" signs) T or C, or Bisbee, or  for that matter the Haight Ashbury, Soho, the East Village and the Left Banke. 

I've seen it happen everywhere  since more fortunate times  - watching artists warehouses and galleries and small theatres close down  to become restaurants, expensive "live work" condos, or chain stores.   And sadly, no one seems to notice this particular kind of impoverishment, but impoverishment it is.  It's as if people can't tell the difference between a small theatre hosting local playrights .........and Starbucks.  As Ursula Leguin wrote in one of her novels, "no one can tell the difference any more between the true Azure and blue mud."  

I've also seen the ironic other end of the phenomenon:    empty storefronts  waiting for the high rent that property management people feel is "market price", places that previously were lively generators of energy (like the former Muse Community Arts Center) reduced to disposible    "investment property".  What about "investing" in cultural creativity?

Tucson is a good example - there is literature about Tucson's "art district", but compared to what I remember in the 80's, I don't know where it is.   Art galleries  generally don't make money, especially if they are showing experimental or innovative work, and especially now, when so many small businesses are leaving the planet as Walmart and Monsanto become the new global Monarchy.  Without subsidizing rent for an "arts district" in some way now, or at least having some kind of rent control,  it's just not going to happen.

Cafe Trieste, early 60's, North Beach, San Francisco.  

Artists and their Communities as Cultural Incubators

"Yet part of the reason for our collective ignorance about the critical importance of the arts is because we believe that the innovation in the lab — something we can monetize and quantify — is worlds apart from the experimentation in the studio."  
Sarah Lewis, SALON, "Scientists aren't the only innovators!  We really need Artists"
I've kind of reached an age (66, the age of being a cranky old lady, a dirty job but someone has to do it)  where I have no patience for the "why we need arts" argument, as if the human experience was somehow about making money and science, and  human creativity and expression was entertainment or an elective.  

Rainier Maria Rilke, Van Gogh, Herman Melville, Tesla, Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Paul Gaugain, Egon Schiele, Franze Schubert, William Blake, Vermeer, most of the Impressionists, Cezanne, Rothko, Pollock, and most of the Abstract Expressionists and Post Modernists........and so on..........

What does this august lineup of historically extraordinary people so celebrated in the arts and the development of Western civilization share in common?

Cheap rent.  Along with poverty in their time.  

Would there have been an Impressionist Movement if there had not been creative but cheap lodging in Paris, and cafes to hang out in and share their ideas? Would there have been Post-Modernism, Abstract Expressionism, a Rothko and a Jackson Pollock,  if there had not been big cheap spaces to rent in Soho's warehouse district?  Would there have been the Beat Poets, the Summer of Love, the Visionary Arts Movement, and all the accompanying social, spiritual, and even technological innovation that came out of that place and time , if there had not been cheap tenements to rent in Haight Ashbury?

Here's something interesting about displacement, by the way, from Bill Moyers, "When the Rich Took Over Our Neighborhood".

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mask Arts Workshops in Tucson

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