Sunday, August 19, 2018

Waiting for the Barbarians at the Hot Springs

"The Memory Keeper" (2018)

I realize I haven't written for a long time now.  Not really writing, spontaneously.  This was originally intended to be a journal, a journal that began with an artist residency based on my quest to follow the "trail of Spider Woman".  To envision what She might represent, across the ages, across the miles, and across cultures into this crucial contemporary time we live in.  I wonder how far I have come or  strayed from that path, which began  in 2007?
Spider Woman's Hand (2007)

It is my birthday, the last year of my sixth decade.  I guess I have become old, certainly the mirror tells me so, so do my bones.  Sometimes the world seems strange to me, like it's moved on, and, well, here I am, seemingly by the roadside with a few old friends commiserating,  wondering if we have anything anyone wants any more.   And no.  We don't have time to be polite in saying that.

The helper here at the hot springs who handed me a towel is a pleasant, large boned young man with big hands and  a bra under his tee shirt.  He seems like a sweet kind of  person.  I know I'm legally supposed to treat him like a woman now,  but frankly, he just looks and sounds like a  young man in a stuffed bra.  If he takes the bra off, does he have the option to become a man again?  Is womanhood just a "choice" or even a "recreation"  now?  This could get confusing.  Sometimes it seems as if the world has moved on in directions I don't understand.

I often go to a hot spring not far from me, where the waters without fail remove the stress and emotional crusting and debris that accumulates, like lint to Velcro,  to obscure clarity of mind.  At the very least, I relax, and watch old videos that the proprietress makes available.  I've had some great insights and a few visionary "directives" here over the years.  In 2012, for example, I  enjoyed the whole pool to myself late at night under the stars.  Sitting in the waters I "downloaded" an entire Proposal for an art project, neatly presented as a kind of academic paper,  complete with a title: "Numina - Masks for the Elemental Powers".  Seriously.  Sacred waters have power.   That gift later became a series of masks, and my friend Ann Waters ended up creating a play performed in Willits, California called  Numina:  The Awakening.

 And then there was the  dream I had at Harbin Hot Springs in 1999 that foretold the "Masks of the Goddess project".   Sacred places, be they hot springs, mountain tops, or numinous caves the way for the Divine to speak.  My idea of being an artist has always been a bit like being a stenographer, able and willing to do transcription.  Does anyone care about what I "transcribe" anymore?  I honestly don't know.  The "art world" has  apparently no use for me, and I have quit wasting money applying for things.   I cross art world taboos:  religion, spirituality, it's not political, it's not "contemporary", I'm not "emerging" (does that mean I've "emerged"?  Where did I emerge from and when did it happen?).  And yet the Powers that Be keep sending me visions, darn it, that I just have to try to make manifest.

So here I sit at dawn.  This is the last year of my 6th decade.   A friend says I should write a memoir, which seems like real vanity  to me -  although in truth, what I love best are the stories people tell of their lives.  Why should I not enjoy telling my own "epic"?  Memory is all that one finally has left.  At the end, perhaps not even that - I suppose in the passage and logic of the soul, memory gets in the way of new becoming.  Forgive me, I stray now into metaphysics, something I don't particularly do much anymore.  "The World is not with us enough, O Taste and See"  wrote Denise Levertov.  Abstractions get in the way of that important truth, even fascinating  metaphysical abstractions.

This becomes increasingly important at 70.  "O Taste and See!"  You don't need abstractions at 70.  You need sunsets, mountains purple and azure, starscapes, the tender hands of children, the taste of old champagne and fresh bread........... you need to love the World.

I have had one revelation while soaking this day.  A visionary experience that I had, oh, back in 1989, came to me vividly for recollection.  The vivid memory of that experience was preceded by the  image of a tortoise I met recently in my garden.  Tortoise represents to me Turtle Island, the Earth, our patient Mother.  When a tortoise shows up I pay attention.

The vision happened in my old red Toyota pick up truck, in a rest area somewhere in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  It was 1989, and  I had just driven across the country, heading for my summer home at the New York Renaissance Faire.  I became exhausted and pulled off the road, and fell into not so much a sleep as a trance state.  It seemed that my car started flying up into the sky, so that I got a good birds eye view of the landscape below.  What I saw was a misty, green land below, and a great circle of standing stones.  Approaching the Circle was a group of people clad in white, all coming for some kind of ritual. (I reflect that I am going to  Avebury this fall, to attend a conference on Earth energies and sacred sites).

Then I seemed to be flying over a southwestern landscape, red canyon walls that were covered with layers of patterns of petroglyphs that seemed to recede back into the stone.  and then once again, I was flying in my truck, this time over Los Angeles, and below me I saw the freeways of L.A., forming a perfect figure eight, the infinity symbol.  And was over, I was in a rest stop in Virginia.

What I realize now it that this vision was about my life..........I've  loved the stone circles in New England and overseas,  I'm made and participated in rituals, I've learned to dowse, I've sensed the footfalls of ancestors, I've been to ancient sites of England.  And I've lived in the Southwest, and followed  petroglyphs of Spider Woman, like touchstones along the path.   Last, how many times have I driven the highways and freeways of America, the infinity loops of Los Angeles, where I grew up?  Those patterns underlay my life, but they are also the underlying patterns of Gaia, of Turtle Island.    The Pattern is not lost, even if it is too large and too ancient for us to see.

Memoirs.  I've been blessed to see more than one of what people call miracles........... and how do you talk about such things?  I think I got out of the prophet business quite a long time ago!  Especially now, when I do indeed feel like an anachronism along the side of the road.....people do not sit at tables facing each other and sharing visions much anymore, they sit before  little electronic boxes in their rooms with the doors closed.   Standing beside the road, sometimes it seems a little lonely.

So why don't I write any more?  Truth is, I'm depressed. I don't feel a need to apologize for that.
 Depression may in fact be an appropriate, if futile, response right now. The Earth is heating up, the oceans are filling up with plastic, California is burning and Florida is sinking, millions of fellow beings on this beautiful world are becoming extinct every week, refugees are fleeing drought and war, and my grandson doesn't have a very hopeful outlook for his future.  We desperately need visionary leaders, and instead,  America is sinking into savagery and fascism under a corrupt regime headed by a would be dictator paid off by a corporate oligarchy.  Goodbye, America.

Still, practically speaking, it doesn't help me, or anyone else, this depression which  I don't know how to come out of , how to get "positive" and "enlightened".  I'm dark and melancholy these days, and I don't believe in numbing drugs or quick fix therapies.  There is something very American about that denial of the spiritual function, and emotional deepening, of depression.

I think about the Roman practice of the Saturn shrine, a somber place that was set aside in their gardens, where one might sit in sacred solitude, and allow the  melancholy  God  to inform and converse with  one's psyche.  There is a place for the voice of Saturn, for the torches of Hecate, in the gardens of our lives.  I claim the right to examine this long life I have been privileged to have, to ensadden about the losses and the disappointments, to be depressed about the eternal violence, greed and stupidity of humanity,  to grieve the daily destruction of the only Mother Earth any of us will ever know, and the decimation of America, which for all it's faults, was also a place of hope and idealism and great innovation.  My country.

When I was a child in the 50's my family toured Italy.  My mother dragged us to many Roman temples and mausoleums and museums, and I am embarrassed to say that all I really remember of it all, outside of the wonderful cats in the Coliseum, are the statues without noses.  They always seemed to be without noses, and in my 10 year old imagination, I pictured Romans as toga clad people without noses.   Much later, when contemplating pictures of those impressive (noseless)  marble statues, I imagined breaking floods  of  roaring barbarians, crossing the Rubicon and riding into civilized Rome, looting the Temples, raping the women (women always seem to be perceived as loot), and shouting with glee as they knocked the noses off of every statue they saw.  That, I believe, accounts for the facial disfiguration of Roman gods or generals.

Waiting for the Barbarians. ( I do not refer here, by the way, to the poem by  C.P. Cavafy,  or the famous book by  Pulitzer prize winner J.M. Coetzee ,  or even the very promising  forthcoming movie which will star Mark Rylance).  I co-opt the term for my own uses.  As an educated, and thus privileged woman, sitting here sipping coffee and enjoying the sound of running waters and dawn birds, sometimes I cast myself as an aristocratic late Roman woman.  How  might she  have felt, sitting in her Atrium with her family, "waiting for the barbarians" to arrive?  In the modern version, will all the sculptures in my sculpture garden be noseless one day, as the barbarians ride in with their motorcycles, hideously angry, sexist hip hop music blaring, NRA assault rifles in hand? Will they gleefully knock the noses off of every Goddess in the place?

Instead of Star trek, is the future to be more like the Road Warrior? A glorious patriarchal dream of one alpha male duking it out with another for supremacy?    Is it decent for me to even care about art, in what sometimes looks like the "end times".........with so much suffering, now, and hovering on the horizon?  And here I am.  I've partaken of the higher benefits of a great civilization, been part of an optimistic generation.

  I just finished a piece called the Memory Keeper.  She holds an overflowing bowl.......... she shares waters from another time, sustaining and growing the seeds of the future.  What else can any of us do, waiting for the barbarians?

Here I am, writing  at last.  I'm being truthful, and personal.  It seems like the day to do it.


Unknown said...

Wonderful article. Depression--how could we not feel? Icall my form re=pression. Love you dearly Lauren. Great story about Rome and statutes. hugs--Lena

Trish MacGregor said...

Beautiful post, Lauren. I think a lot of us aging hippies feel as you do. Depression is probably a natural byproduct of what we see happening with the trump administration & everything else. So we try to find beauty and joy in smaller things.

Barb said...

I love your writing. yes, the memoir!

Barb said...

I love your writing. Yes, the memoir!