Monday, March 31, 2008

A Dilapidated Door of Opportunity

We came upon it while hiking. It used to be green, still is around its battered edges. A rusted, abandoned car from...when? The thirties? Forties? The car was driven a lot. Once its roof was patched with asphalt. The passenger door was riddled with bullet holes--most likely the work of frustrated hunters, after the car's abandonment. But the kids, who were much younger then, assumed we were looking at Bonnie and Clyde's Ford V-8.

"Blood stains!!" Flan and Oaks shouted in jubilation.

Whatever their origins, the bullet holes contributed measurably to the complicated, oxidized, and yes, old-blood-colored, surface of the door. We were looking at a gem of entropy, what they call a piece of "found art." I wanted it. During the next few weeks, I'd bring it up to Bennie.

"I want that car door."

"Yeah, it's cool," he'd say, "but what a hassle to get it down the hill."

"That car door, I keep thinking about it."

"I know you do. But what a hassle."

"I dreamed about that car door last night."

"I'm sure you did. But what a hassle."

Then one miraculous Sunday morning, Bennie woke up, turned to me and said, "Why don't we skip church and go get your door instead?"

A couple of hours later, the four of us were wheeling our Radio Flyer wagon up the never-ending winding path through the pinons and junipers to Bonnie and Clyde's death vehicle. Even I was starting to think of it in that way.

"That's one ugly door. Even uglier than I remembered," Bennie said when we at long last were staring at the car. "And what a hassle."

I was having a similar thought. Since we'd last looked, the door had acquired a large, rather putrid yellow blotch. It was like a melanoma. But I wasn't about to back down. We'd dragged the kids and the wagon and a bunch of bungee cords for almost mile up a hill in order to fulfill Mom's dream, the thing she'd been hassling Dad about for weeks on end. You don't teach your kids to back down from their dreams.

Getting the door back down the hill was, naturally, a bigger challenge than we'd counted on. It wouldn't lay politely across the Radio Flyer as we'd planned, but kept bursting out of the bungee cords, hell-bent for our shins. So we wound up standing our corroded find upright, balanced precariously on the topmost edges of the wagon. We then took turns, one of us in the coveted position of wagon-pulling, the other three keeping the door upright by holding onto a non-serrated section of the edge. We, after all, had no desire to enhance this artifact with our own blood stains.

As we pulled the door back down the path, I was captivated by the shadows of the pines moving in and out, over the oxidized surface. The changing light altered the colors. It was, by turns, green, then rust, then deepest red. At one time little Oakley, ever the mind reader, began laughing.

"Look at those shadows," he said.

Yes,we drew some unusual looks as we took turns pulling the tiny wagon, a crumpled upright car door balanced precariously atop. One hiker applauded, assuming we were engaged in some massive cleanup project. Most stole sideways, embarrassed glances in our direction--the way you can't help looking at a bewhiskered woman or a four-hundred-pound dwarf.

And yes, like so many actions that provoke temporary disgrace, it was worth it. The door now hangs proudly on a wall at the top of our stairs, commanding the tiny many-windowed room we call The Atrium. Its oxidized, wrinkled surface catches the rays of the afternoon sun and gives off a kind of "been there, done that" brilliance. And that putrid yellowish blotch? It's come to resemble a coyote staring upwards at the ceiling beams.

Visitors have strong reactions. Some want to buy it. Many scratch their head in puzzlement. A few steal sideways, embarrassed glances. The family loves it. And we're the ones who live with it. We're the ones who count.

When I'm feeling stuck--in a painting or in life or in my own indecision, I like to gaze up at the door. It reminds me to carry through on my impulses. To not back down, even if I have to enlist others. And almost always, I do have to enlist others.

Doors of opportunity present themselves at every moment. Often they're not perfect. Life, it has a way of being imperfect, doesn't it? Sometimes it's downright ugly. But even ugliness, arranged just so, struck by your particular light, may astonish you with its beauty.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You: The Big E

This big lopsided E just landed in my lap. I was sitting here at the gallery minding my own business (literally) when The Excellent Blogger Award came flying in, borne by a dust devil. Seems that Daryl, of the deliciously snarky (well sometimes snarky, sometimes not) out & about in new york city had passed it my way. My blog will bear it proudly and I have been instructed to pass it on to ten others. My first thought: ONLY TEN??? My second thought: Even 10 makes for a lot of hyperlinking for this time-challenged 50-something bumpkin.

Every single blog on my blogroll is excellent. Furthermore, there are scads of excellent blogs that haven't made it to my burgeoning blogroll. Yet. SO I am going to tilt the rules a bit. I will start picking a blog or two in no particular order and according to no particular schedule and I will award those blogs THE BIG E. Several weeks ago I'd hit on the idea of featuring another blogger from time to time. I get tired of myself sometimes.

So here's my opportunity. This lopsided E has landed in my lap and I will be passing it to others. I will try not to fumble it. I promise. And those to whom it is passed must feel free to continue to pass it.

Today the tilted E is solemly passed to three teachers whose classrooms I would love to be in:

One of the San Antonio contingent, those quiz-crazed bloggers that would tag God Himself were they not such good Episcopalians. Anyhow, Paschal is a born-again therapist who now wields his remarkable talents in the classroom. From time to time, his blog features rollicking collaborative poems co-authored by "the urchins," his middle-and-high-school students. Or co-authored with The Turtle Queen, the lovely Tina, Love of His Life. Or riffed from various greats. Or simply authored by his own tilted self. A surrealist at heart, he sometimes treats us to his fiction as well as his reflections on supermarkets, proms, and lip balm. The labels of his posts, strung together, read like his version of Finnegans Wake.

Chrysalis Dreams
The very first blog, other than a family member's, I put on my blogroll. That means something. I would dearly love to be in Lee's classroom, although she recently decided that teaching is not for her and she is in the process of reinvention. A multi-talented, intelligent woman who writes with rare honesty about the challenges of nurturing her chrysalis dreams, her abiding faith in God (she's a Cursillista), and her feline family of two. Lee's blog is also a visual delight, with a spacious three-column layout and a simply gorgeous header. Always the encourager, Lee has invariably taken the time to frame thoughtful, generous comments on my own blog. Thanks, Lee!

Life in the Land of the Rising Sun
Ever yearned to see a picture of one of those Japanese toilets that's basically a hole in the floor? What about a vivid description of the dizzying variety of Japanese noodle, complete with gorgeous illustrations? Ever wish that someone might make you feel better about your own in-law situation? Welcome to The Moody Minstrel's blog. An American, Moody says he went to Japan in 1990 for a two-year stint but got a life instead. A talented composer/musician who links to selections of his own music, Moody too is a teacher. The first post I ever read over at Life in the Land of the Rising Sun revealed the kanji, or combination of characters which two students had selected to be Moody's name. They settled on three characters--this blog is replete with oh-so-graceful characters, by the way--which would translate as a wave of maximum feeling. How's that for a moniker? Well, if the kanji fits, answer to it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Making Art, Making Do

I think I need to mention something. The painting I made for Lauren’s auction--Blossom-- I painted in my kitchen. The kids were home for spring break last week, which means I had to clear out of my “studio,” aka Flannery’s old bedroom. So over the bricks of the kitchen floor I unfurled my big roll of plastic sheeting. Up went my paint-splattered easel. The talavera tiles of the kitchen counter I covered with a bunch of old Wall Street Journals. That’s where I mixed my paint, and while waiting for layers to dry, I prepared ingredients for that night's dinner.

The reason I feel compelled to mention this is that there was a time I felt a little apologetic that I didn’t have an official studio. Here in Santa Fe there are dozens of artists with well-appointed studios, replete with northern light. Me, I work in the corner of a polka-dotted bedroom with my high school prom dress hanging on the wall. And last week I was relegated to the kitchen. What kind of self-respecting professional would work under these circumstances? One who has promised she'll complete a painting and send it to New Orleans in two days!

I had been rather pleased with Blossom. As was everyone else. Flannery said she wanted it for college graduation. Bennie said he wanted to sell it in the gallery. I kind of wanted to hang it at home. Several of you kindly said that you would buy it were it not bound for the auction. Everyone was so pleased with Blossom, I was a little skittish about beginning a new canvas. But the next day I set a canvas four times the size of Blossom on my kitchen easel. 24" X 24" is about as big as I would dare in the kitchen. Again, I would be preparing dinner between bouts of painting.

I slathered down layers of paint. I left them to dry. I turned to the counter. I chopped onions. I chopped jalapenos. Back at the easel I scraped off the layers of paint I'd left to dry. I poured on more. I chopped garlic. I chopped cilantro and tomatoes. I gouged and peeled the surface of the painting. I peeled and mashed avocados. I squeezed lime. Guacamole was taking shape. I turned back to the canvas. A painting was taking shape. It was starting to look like an aged adobe wall against which someone has thrown a quart of guacamole in a fit of passion. I salivated. I could go for a jalapeno-induced endorphin rush right about now. I almost tasted it.

Instead, I brought Winds of Change into the gallery the next morning. I hung it on the wall. IT SOLD WITHIN 48 HOURS. Oh, if life always offered such immediate gratification, I would have a well-appointed studio replete with northern light.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I believe in karma, although not in any linear way.

Karma is like a blossom emerging from winter's dark limb. It was a long time coming. During the winter, magic was occurring deep in the Earth, the place where the roots of the plant beings become entangled with our own lives. Plans for that bloom were set in motion generations ago. A flower was dreamed by someone's great-great-great-great-grandmother on a moonless winter night. The dream was handed down. Every generation dreamed.

And then, in my garden, on a morning in spring, a blossom comes forth. It is there because in the past someone cared enough to dream.

In July of 2006 a woman stood outside the gallery window smoking a cigarette, gazing intently at my "Deep Sleeper."

I stuck my head out the door to say hi. "This is just beautiful," she said. "Let me finish this terrible habit, and then I'll come in for a closer look."

The woman was from New Orleans. Lauren was in the throes of renovating her post-Katrina home. She purchased Deep Sleeper, telling me, "This will give me something nice to look at while we rebuild." A friend of hers, Amy, came in the next day. Amy bought another of my paintings, one called GridLuck. Amy had not only lost her home but her entire neighborhood. And yet both Lauren and Amy said they were "the lucky ones." "We can rebuild," they said.

Since that time, Lauren has thrilled me by purchasing two more paintings. One of those purchases came at a time when the gallery was frightfully slow. That painting sale was just what my spirits needed. Perfect timing.

And now, I receive a letter from Lauren. It seems that in the course of several years of going on medical missions in Antigua, Guatemala, she has befriended a family who has undertaken to raise enough money to build a school in the village of Ciudad Vieja. In Ciudad Vieja 70% of the population cannot read or write. Lauren is holding a silent auction in New Orleans for the Vieja School project. She has asked me to contribute a painting.

The roots of the dream in Antigua have become entangled with her own dreams for the future. And now with mine.

What I've come up with is Blossom. Here's hoping a bidder will see it as I do--a harbinger of hope, a belief that our dreams touch each other. An awareness that Someone in the heart of winter took the time to dream for us.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Higher Flower Power

I wrote this almost seven years ago. Don't know about you, but sometimes I learn something by reading old words I'd almost forgotten I wrote. It's like recovering a little piece of self I'd almost lost:

Spring, 2001

Hey, this meditation thing works!

I mean I’m getting flowers once a week from a husband who hasn’t given me flowers in fifteen years of marriage. Oh, there were the two times I gave birth. But even the velvety red blossoms of long-stemmed roses pale in the aftermath of that kind of excruciation. I’ve always longed for posies outside of a hospital room, and on an ordinary day, a day on which my cervix hasn’t just taken a quantum leap in the possibilities of expansion. A surprise bunch of daffodils arriving at my desk on, say, a Tuesday afternoon in late September, would be heartening. Maybe, on a lackluster winter morning, a single iris appearing atop the breakfast bar, along with a double espresso. Such flowery gestures didn’t happen once in fifteen years. Not so much as one lousy carnation. Not even on my birthday. That is, not until a few months ago, when I began a meditation practice.

No, I haven’t been praying to the Powers-That-Be for bouquets of hot pink dendrobium, purple snapdragons, morning-glories, and birds-of-paradise. It’s the peace of mind I’ve been after. I’ve gotten a measure of that, and, at this point, I’d say the blossoms are more of a perk. You see, last fall I climbed unscathed out of a totaled Buick. I did have a touch of what they call “cervical strain,” and while waiting for the emergency room physician to prescribe muscle relaxers, I learned my blood pressure was topping off in the red zone. Like an overinflated truck tire, I was on the verge of blowing. They call high blood pressure the Silent Killer, and although I know that sooner or later my own killer will arrive, whether silently, like a cat burglar, or preceded by a fanfare and drum roll, I’m in no hurry whatsoever to meet him.

And I remembered reading a book about those Tibetan monks who, by simply retreating into the vast expanses of Oneness, can modulate their vital signs with the finesse of John Coltrane on saxophone. Such things have been measured scientifically by Harvard medical professors, who huffed and puffed their way up a steep Himalayan trail, hauling stethoscopes, spygnomanometers, and rectal thermometers. The monks actually allowed themselves to be hooked up to such instruments before, during, and after their taking that quiet, interior leap into Oneness known as deep meditation. What the docs learned is that when it comes to such internal variables as blood pressure, body temperature, and pulse rate, those Himalayan monks have got their chops down. They are to diastolic readings what Sarah Vaughan was to vocal chords.

What’s their secret? A kind of temporary amnesia when it comes to “the smalls.” Not only do they not “sweat the smalls,” they don’t allow them to enter their mind at all. At least not during the meditative state. And just like the pop psych book says, when it comes to thoughts, they’re all “smalls.”

SO at 7 a.m. I’ve been getting the kids off to school, then climbing our little spiral staircase to the landing. There’s a window facing east up there and that’s where I sit, not in any lotus position, but simply in a chair, my palms opened upwards, in the direction of the smoke detector and the heavens beyond. I start by clearing my mind with om chanting. The cool thing is this often sets the metal stair rail to vibrating. Sometimes it sounds like a pipe organ, sometimes like a small set of wind chimes set tinkling by a soft afternoon breeze. All I know is that, from time to time, my mind does empty, in tiny but deep lapses. For a moment I forget that my husband, who prides himself on his unerring sense of direction, wouldn’t know his way into a florist’s shop if my life depended on it. I forget about florists altogether. I release any expectations I have of showy blossoms appearing out of the blue. There’s just the blue and whatever it brings. My opened palms tingle. The stair rail rumbles a deep, satisfying chord. Peace. Emptiness. Good vibes.

Later, when I’ve had my fill of this calm emptying, this Love Supreme, I like to hold my tingling palms out in the direction of others I care about. My spouse, for example. The palms are little energy centers, and after mine have soaked up all those good vibes, I turn them outwards, towards the garage, where Bennie is busy packaging art we sold at our gallery, paintings and pots which will be picked up by UPS. I turn my palms in the direction of my husband's hands, which so deftly wield a tape gun and bubble wrap. I send my love in wave after wave to my husband. I send my gratitude for his finesse with packing tape and corrugated cardboard, his ability to send five oversize terracotta pots packing, safely, over three thousand miles of land and sea, to a customer in Thailand. I gather all my love and likewise send it packing, in a sure trajectory, across the roof, across the tops of the junipers, over the winding stone path and into the garage, towards the wrapping table, where my husband wraps Kraft paper around a work on canvas. I aim for his heart.

Later, I am in the kitchen, brewing espresso. The back door opens, my husband walks in, takes me in his arms, and, out of the blue, kisses me. The lips too are energy centers. A Love Supreme. Ask Coltrane.

Post Script, 2008: A couple of days after that out-of-the-blue kiss, Bennie brought me the first of countless bouquets. And I am happy to report they are still arriving. Go ahead. Give meditation a whirl. How could it hurt?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

3 Tags: 4 Voicings, 5 Posts, 123 Pages, & My Life as a Superhero

While I was happily unplugged in Playa del Carmen, pursuing indolence with a white-hot focus, the San Antonio contingent were up to their usual obsessions. They took online quizzes--The Nerd Score, The Weird Quotient, The Randometer (to discern one's level of randomness, very Nietzche), What Superhero Are You? They relayed memes across cyberspace. They tagged me. And they tagged me. And they tagged me. I almost wrote ragged me.

For starters, Lee tagged me for what I'll call Revisiting the Past. Her instructions were thus:
Go back through your archives and post links to five of your favorite blog posts:
Link 1 must be about family
Link 2 must be about friends
Link 3 must be about you
Link 4 must be about something you love
Link 5 can be about anyone or anything you choose.

Here's what I came up with:
1. El Rancho de las Brujas, my account of a beautiful day I spent with Bennie and the kids at Ghost Ranch. Family, nature, speculation about reality, enchiladas. These are a few of my favorite things.
2. Hell on Wheels, inspired by The Dante Inferno Quiz, discovered by--you guessed it--the San Antonio Contingent. Subsequently taken by numerous of my other blogging friends, all of them more than happy to join me in various Circles of Hell. What are friends for, right?
3. Doing It the Hard Way, ranting about a frustrating day in the studio, wearing sideways heels, making chicken pot pie.
4. Savoring the Sweetness, a description of Flannery's 21st birthday dinner, complete with Italian food and Oakley showing up in a suit.
5. Sweating the Smalls, my take on the Native American sweat lodge.

Not a lot to choose from though, since I started blogging last September. Sorry.

Also, JS tagged me for a meme that in and of itself should score decently on The Randometer. Here are her instructions:

1. Grab the nearest book that has 123 pages in it.
2. Go to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Type the fifth sentence and the next three.
5. Tag whomever.

I grabbed Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and here's what I found:

OK--so we are all one, and divinity abides within us all equally. No problem. Understood. But now try living from that place.

Yeah. Try living from that place.

Then Paschal kicked my lazy butt back into the real world with this little tag:
Determine what superhero you are, a little research if need be to flesh out the back stories, and then fire at will 4 voicings. In his case, Paschal riffed "very loosely" off Lucille Clifton's "Notes to Superman."

Simple, huh???

Who could I be but Spider Woman?

Especially when a whole minute of internet research turned up this gem about her powers: Spider Woman can generate bioelectric "venom blasts," that she uses to startle, stun, or kill her prey. These sometimes leave her depleted of energy. She also exudes pheromones, which cause a general feeling of "creepiness" around her, as well as the "occasional" attraction some men feel for her. Repressing these pheromones using drug therapy also repressed her powers, so she decided to live with her sometimes unpredictable body chemistry...

That's what I call real superheroism--deciding to live with one's unpredictable body chemistry so as to hang onto one's powers. I'm a midlife woman. Enough said. Even so, I would expand this notion into--deciding to live with one's limitations so as to hang onto one's sanity. That can feel like a task requiring super powers, but it's the source of any real power. With boundaries come strength. With walls come focus. Shut me up. I'm starting to babble more platitudes than a self-help book.

Now, to get to the four voicings. OK, lemme see.

1. What about an exterior view of my "Alternative Medicine Cabinet"? One of the ways I work with the uncertainty of life, my own limitations, is by playing with art. It's my "alternative medicine." When I open that door, I become Spider Woman. Power is mine. I can cling to walls. Beware the opponent who stands in my way: I will spurt venomous pheromones. Don't try to take away my venom. It's what makes me Spider Woman, the one who weaves the web, connects the dots, keeps it together.

2. A "poem" I wrote in response to an earlier of Paschal's tags. I was so new at blogging then, I didn't know what "tag" meant, and so I posted the response at his own blog. The idea was to write in response to 5 words: vineyard, root, rescue, perseverance, divided. I opted to use these words in a poem:

Your Old Shoe

digging in the moonlit
for your old shoe
I didn't find it
but did stumble
on the root
of your grandmother's
weeping willow
then I found
of all things
my head
it sprang out
of an old
whose rusty crank
I turned
my head
it popped up
again and again
each time
it smiled at me
I smiled back
thinking now nice
and how rare
an experience
to rescue
one's own head
that's what I call
and to think
damn them
they said
we were divided.

Superheros, Spider Woman included, have rescuing in their job description, right? "How rare an experience to rescue one's own head." Get it?

3. Now, an interior view of "Alternative Medicine Cabinet," an experiment in working with limitations, ensnaring simple (ugly even) things into the web, turning them into "art." Some of the things: plastic medicine cabinet, tongue depressors, plastic medicine bottles, cork bottle stoppers, Mexican milagros, used toothbrush, stolen aphorisms from various sources, archival paper, ink.

4. An excerpt from another of my poems, Go with the Flow, a poem written for a friend on her birthday, a textile artist. Like Spider Woman, she spins. She weaves. She dyes. A poem about...what else?...aging:

...In school we were taught the heart is a pump. Its steady observance of whatever flows
can cause a restlessness. Memories accumulate.
The heart's tributaries swell with pain. They can burst.

In a long silk scarf, or a canvas by Renoir, dark-colored rivulets
may burst into beauty, a flock of birds startled from the branches of a tree.

Sometimes I imagine that the heart isn't really a muscle or a pump, but a small red scarf
wound round and round an axis, deep within the chest, and it turns.
That as the years unfurl, so does the scarf. That as the scarf unfurls, so does beauty.
That as this beauty unfolds, so does peace.
That the red scarf, unraveled by beauty, unraveled by peace, begins to disappear,
birthday by birthday, like a magician's scarf. And one day, we just give up resisting...

Now, I'm supposed to tag people. Being Spider Woman, I tag everybody. I tag the cashier at Whole Foods. I tag the driver who cut me off this morning. I tag Brad Pitt. (Come on pheromones. Do your job.) I tag the prophet Isaiah. I tag Dick Cheney. (What do you have to say for yourself, man?) I tag the entire city of Roswell. I tag Mars and Venus. I tag the inside of my desk drawer. I tag the other side of sleep and this side of paradise. I tag The Worldwide Web. In other words, I tag you.