LIFE AS MYTH

Index

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JOURNAL

Index

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JOURNAL 2018

What I might be

Coming in 2018

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JOURNAL 2017

Secrets of the hidden garden

Index

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JOURNAL 2016

A call to wonder

Index

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JOURNAL 2015

1001 stories

Index

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JOURNAL 2014

The poetics of grace

Index

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JOURNAL 2013

A living myth

Index

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JOURNAL 2012

The seeds of wisdom

Index

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JOURNAL 2011

Life as myth

Index

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JOURNAL 2010

A vision quest

Index

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JOURNAL 2009

A feminine myth

Index

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JOURNAL 2008

Impressions at sunrise

Index

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JOURNAL 2007

Following a white hart

Index

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JOURNAL 2006

Scheherazade project

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LIFEWORKS

About

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ARCHIVES

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JOURNAL 2017
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SECRETS OF THE HIDDEN GARDEN



Mary Magdalene at her writing desk, Sotheby's lot, c. 16th Century.

 

I am hopeful that while we consider the global crisis at hand, guidance has actually come up out of the earth. Paradise lost and found, side by side.

It's spring and Life as Myth is going through a transformation of sorts.

There's no timetable for when things will appear or what material will supplement the collection of essays or just exactly what I'll say. I'm opening myself up to wherever the road might lead me.

 

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THE GARDEN GATE

Psyche entering the garden (detail), John William Waterhouse, 1903. Harris Museum, Preston, UK.

 

If we return to the old home as to a nest, it is because memories are dreams, because the home of other days has become a great image of lost intimacy
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

My mother has a rose garden. On cooler summer mornings you can find her there, gingerly working her way around the rose canes, her head enveloped by a large straw hat.

My mother's garden has evolved over the years, largely due to her desire to wean herself and her roses off pesticides and fungicides. For a while it seemed this choice meant fewer and smaller roses, more plentiful mildew and aphids. But my mother is very patient and she persisted with her garden.

Over time and through experimentation, she soon discovered that by replacing her showy (and high maintenance) hybrid teas with heirloom and "antique" varieties, her tiny garden developed a natural immunity. By simply adjusting the composition of her garden it slowly became more disease, pest and drought resistant. And quite surprisingly, none of the aesthetic was sacrificed. In fact, the rambling beauty of her garden is now far more rich, the experience of its perfume more sweet.

I know why you are here.

Let us leave my mother's garden for a moment and consider an evening many years ago in a brownstone on the east side of Manhattan. The instructor began the evening by saying, "I know why you are here." He then picked up a small index card and read,

"There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of man where the divine used to be. Sartre."  And then he looked at us for a moment before adding, "That is what brought all of you here tonight."

I did not realize then that a God-shaped hole was the reason I had selected that seminar but maybe he was right. The "God-shaped hole" is just another way of saying -- we are a society that has lost our myth. We are a society that has lost our relational compass and we are trying to find our way. We know that something important and fundamental is gone. And to describe that as a "God-shaped hole . . . where the divine used to be" seems pretty spot on. That God-shaped hole, our lost myth, whatever you choose to call it, plays out in all of our relationships and I am going to reflect on one dimension: the way it is playing out in our planet garden.

Is this the end of the world?

Drought and famine and disease. Species extinction. Civil instability due to compromised and limited resources. Katrina and Darfur are only just the opening chapters to an unfolding epic that is straight out of end times mythology. And just how much we can do depends on how quickly we act.

How did things get so out of hand?

There are many ways to answer that question but I will offer my own perspective: the planet is the expression of our myth. Remember myth is the system for meaning and relationship and the myth we are living is based on the monomyth. The monomyth is a mythological framework which places a premium on the individual, conquest of the environment and personal reward. When creation is seen through that lens, creation ceases to be part of us. Creation becomes somehow outside of us, something to be conquered and exploited. When our human numbers were smaller, this paradigm served us well without long term consequences. All that changed with the advent of the Industrial Revolution.

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, extraordinary advances in science and technology catapulted humanity forward. But the post-industrial monomyth had a darker side as well: hazardous waste and pollution, the depletion of natural resources, ecosystem exhaustion. Change was not confined to science and technology. There were also major socioeconomic and cultural changes which reflected a valuing of thought over feeling, science over mystery, technology over Nature.

And now, just two hundred years later, we are on the precipice. The life-sustaining balance between Nature and Humanity is in jeopardy and, as if that weren't bad enough, it would seem there are a whole lot of us walking around with a God-shaped hole in our heart. But the crisis at hand provides us an extraordinary opportunity. An opportunity to re-enter the garden, the original garden, and the myth that was lost. Alice Walker wrote:

I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible--except as Creator: hand and eye. She is involved in work her soul must have.

When Alice Walker contemplates her mother's garden she laments what might have been. She observes her mother in the garden and sees an icon for all the women who, because of their color and gender, were limited in their personal and creative expression. Women who might have been great painters and poets and writers but for a racist and patriarchal system that enslaved, exploited and silenced them.

The same mythic underpinnings that exploited those women, exploit the earth. Nature has long been associated with the mythic feminine. For thousands of years, while the sacred feminine dominated, civilization was centered around a life in harmony with the natural world. In modern times, the patriarchal myth has eclipsed the matriarchal one, resulting in a world where Nature and Humanity are at odds. The consequence is a planet approaching freefall.

Yet, as the world receives the grim news from throughout our planet home, a message from the past has provided us with a blueprint for the future. Near Stonehenge at Durrington Walls (UK) a recent archeological dig brought to light a society in harmony with natural cycles. I am hopeful that while we consider the global crisis at hand, guidance has actually come up out of the earth. Paradise lost and found, side by side.

It is certainly not necessary to abandon modern science and technology in order to bring our relationship with the planet and each other back into balance. The paradigm shift that is necessary here requires both our present and our past myths to inform our future one. And this makes the memory of our mothers and their gardens more than a story, it makes it an essential part of a unifying vision. A vision of how to be in relationship with the earth. As Creator: hand and eye. And it is only through this relational approach to the planet that we can address the challenges at hand and fill the god-shaped hole in the heart of our collective myth.

 

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ONCE UPON A TIME

The garden polyptych. (from top, left to right) No. 1: Annunciation (Matins), No. 2: Dreams (Lauds) private collection, No. 3: Birth (Prime), No. 4: Spirit (Terce), No. 5: Adoration (Sext) private collection, No. 6: Communion (Nones), No. 7: Grace (Vespers) private collection, No. 8: Completion (Compline). (below) The madonna of the roses, Stefan Lochner. 1448.  Wallraf Richartz Museum, Koln, Germany.

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"Once upon a time" -- what does that mean? It suggests the beginning of a story, one from the past, probably a fairy tale. But there is something very special about the phrase. Unlike "happily ever after" that signals an end to the story and our imaginative journey, "once upon a time" is full of possibilities. With those four words we enter a place apart from our everyday experience and outside the constraints of ordinary time.

Time is the governing feature of the journey from "once upon a time" to "happily ever after". But, if we allow it, Time is far more creative than the progression of hands around a watch face. Time is wild, irrational, a trapeze act that can move forward and backward and then maybe not at all.

Here are two ways to think about how Time works. First, one from Life. Then, one from Art.

The garden polyptych (above) is a new series I created for a November exhibition. I love illuminated manuscripts and they were an influence on this work but stained glass is probably a better metaphor for the project, as the piece narrates the transformation of color through the lens of one day. Consider. If you watch a stained glass window you will see it change. The window glass remains fixed but when combined with light, as it is meant to be, the glass transforms over time. It's more than the shifting of colors. If you watch carefully, it can also hold the flickering shadow of branches or a bird's wings. It can shift the light in the interior space, as a chapel brightens or dims or holds a puddle of rainbow light on floor and walls. The garden polyptych considers the fundamental truth of the stained glass: Time is at play in the world.

Turning to art. The relationship between light and Time is at the heart of French Impressionism and the work of Claude Monet. In a departure from traditional indoor studios, French Impressionists worked in out-of-door venues where the shifting environment provided not only a new lens on the world but required a new technique to express that. Broken color combined with broken brushwork reflected observations outdoors. Paintings took on a sketchy and unfinished quality. Artists also began shadowing with color rather that black and gray and the overall result was highly evocative, conveying a sense of light and atmosphere.

Claude Monet explored atmosphere in the natural world throughout his life. He had a particular interest in serial studies which included haystacks and poplars, Rouen Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament. His most memorable work, however, is The water lilies series. These 250 paintings, created during the final three decades of his life, are all the more impressive when considered in the context of his life: Monet was 58 years old when he began the series and for the last ten years of his life his vision was compromised by cataracts. He wrote to a friend of his changing vision, My bad sight means that I see everything through a mist. Even so it is beautiful, and that's what I would like to show (1911).

Guided by his memory of color or by the shifting truth of his own eyes, Monet continued the series until his death. This prolonged study leaves us with more than the remarkable vision of a lily pond. It showcases Monet's own personal transformation with aging. We cannot fully appreciate the scope of Monet's accomplishment with one painting. We must consider the interplay of art and artist across Time.

Returning now to my own "once upon a time". The garden polyptych is a new series I created for a November exhibition. I didn't know that I would be painting a garden across time but after several false starts, a garden emerged. Then when it re-emerged, I entered the world of "once upon a time" or a world of possibilities. I've been exploring The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a story telling cycle for several years and suddenly the possibilities for that narrative thread opened up into my visual world. What excited me about this garden was the way time is anchored to daily living and yet still transcends it.

One of the problems with fairy tales is the expectation that one moves from "once upon a time" to "happily ever after". The underlying assumption is, I suppose, that what happens after "happily ever after" is just not interesting enough to write (or whatever happens after a princess marries a prince, or a knight defeats a dragon, etc). What I want to suggest is that we view "once upon a time" instead as full of possibilities -- possibilities that open up with each day we live, each heartbreak we suffer, each joy we glimpse, each unexpected garden we find, each time a shaft of rainbow light puddles on the floor.

 

THE LITTLE OFFICE IN THE GARDEN

This brief explanation of The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary may provide a helpful context for The garden polyptych. The Little Office is an old liturgical form popular in the Middle Ages. It is not only a spiritual practice but a dynamic storytelling cycle that transcends time, by spiraling back on itself and beginning again. The format is a weekly devotional cycle consisting of psalms, hymns and sacred readings. By the tenth century it was in widespread use, showing up as standard text in the book of hours. By the fourteenth century it was obligatory practice for all clergy. Since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, The Little Office has endured in print and practice as an alternative to The Divine Hours. This option accommodates those who simply prefer The Little Office over The Divine Hours and also those who choose to center their daily spiritual practice around the Virgin Mary.

Each panel of The garden polyptych coincides with an hour found in The Little Office. Here Mary becomes the garden, revealing herself through form and color, over time, and within the miracle of one created day.

 

THE HOURS

The eight canonical hours are distinct intervals of time between the daily prayers. In the Roman and Anglican traditions the canonical hours are also known as 'offices'. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, they are called 'the divine services' and The Books of Hours is called a Horologian (Ωρολο´γιον).

Matins (The Annunciation)

Lauds (The Visitation)

Prime (The Nativity)

Terce (Annunciation to the Shepherds)

Sext (Adoration of the Magi)

Nones (Presentation in the Temple)

Vespers (Flight into Egypt)

Compline (Coronation of the Virgin)

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THE TEACHING OF THE FLOWER

My paternal great-grandparents in front of the family home, early 20th Century, Claxton, Georgia. My great-grandmother, Winnifred Hendry Smith, holds her youngest daughter Norma in her lap. My grandmother, Rosa, stands at her mother's right shoulder. (below) Detail of early 20th Century crazy quilt, attributed to Winnifred Hendry Smith. Her artistic legacy includes work in paint and textiles. Many of her works perished in a house fire.

THE TEACHING OF THE FLOWER

The Buddha was on a mountain teaching when he picked a flower and held it up. The disciples looked at him in bewilderment until one, Mahakasyapa, began smiling. The Buddha said, I have the true Dharma eye, the mind of Nirvana, the true form of no-form, and the flawless Dharma gate of the teaching. It is not established upon words and phrases. It is a special transmission outside tradition. I now entrust this to Mahakasyapa.

Through this teaching of the flower, the Buddha shows that enlightenment is beyond theories and teachings, and is possible through the intuitive experience of Life.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.
Siddhartha Buddha (563 - 483 BCE), spiritual teacher

There is nothing better than finding a new friend and Marie Howe qualifies as that for me.   Earlier this summer I met her through an interview on American Public Radio and Speaking of Faith’s series  "Repossessing Virtue:  Marie Howe and Laura Ingalls Wilder".  In the interview Howe describes how she and her daughter are embracing a simpler everyday existence.  This gravitation to the simpler things paralleled changes in her professional life and her reading of the Little House on the Prairie series with her daughter.  

In life as in art, Howe explores the wonder of the everyday and the beauty of communal living.  This reverence for simplicity and relationship is what I hear in her poem, “What the Living Do”.  Throughout the piece she holds up small jewels of daily living and in doing so she venerates life itself.   Her veneration is the fear,  "terror" if you will, of that which is holy.  When we encounter the divine, ancient texts command that we show respect through our fear or, if you will, "terror".   Howe knows this though she would choose other words for fear, probably awe or wonder.

That first interview with Howe inspired me to look for more of her work, as spoken word, online.  There is a recording of “The Gate” from NPR’s On Being with Krista Tippett.  Howe’s language and voice are finely tuned, stripped, spare and light, yet deeply intimate.  The poem is quite beautiful as a written piece but it is breathtaking to hear Howe give voice to it.  

"The Gate" draws from her brother's AIDS-related death, an event that Howe frames as a personal awakening.  She chronicles her discovery of the transcendent in the everyday through her brother’s recognition of these beauties.   When Howe writes in “The Gate” of a moment in the kitchen with her brother, we are there with them.  Her brother becomes our Buddha-teacher, illuminating the mystery as he holds up a cheese and mustard sandwich and says,  This is what you have been waiting for. 

The death of Howe's brother is the gateway to a richer life experience not only for his sister but for us as well.  Through Howe's poetry, we awaken to a deeper truth, the truth that it is the ephermal daily miracles that matter most.  According to Howe, it is this truth that we have been waiting for. 

 

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TAP YOUR HEELS THREE TIMES

Savannah childhood.

My very first memories are of my childhood home, Lamara Apartments, a duplex community in Savannah, Georgia. It is January, just after my sister was born.  I am sitting on the concrete stoop and the green space just outside our duplex sparkles with snow.  Just past my feet there is a tiny snowman that my mother made; its eyes are two small pieces of red cinnamon candy and they are slowly staining the snow a deep rose red.  My mother leans out the back door and checks on me and then returns inside.  A new sister and a miraculous Savannah snow, my toes and fingers aching with cold, a small snowman with stained cinnamon eyes.  The first memories of home.

Flash forward many decades to another place, another time and another snow.

In the winter of 2014, I was living in the upper most reaches of Manhattan and it was to be my last New York winter. It snowed heavily, stirring that old childlike thrill as it thudded against coat, caught on eyelashes and hair, crunched beneath boots.  My big dog Sophie and I took long walks in the nearby nature preserve. Sometimes I let her off leash and she barreled forward, her nose buried in the powdery white, occasionally turning her head over her shoulder to feast on feathery flakes caught in her fur.  But, for all the snowy magic, something was missing: a sense of roots, of safety and belonging maybe, a sense of home. This was not home as I knew it -- the one from my coastal Savannah childhood, all marsh mud and chiggery Spanish moss and salt sea air.  Not like the one from my midland Georgia adulthood either, with a crookedy cottage on a crookedy creek, sandy flood plain alive with chipmunks and slippery black snakes, and a Great Blue Heron walking the creeks shoals on stilted legs looking for fish. Somewhere "home" waited for me and in the spring of 2014 I decided to leave New York and return to Georgia, the last place I remembered that felt like "home".

The return to Georgia has gone in very unexpected directions. It feels less like taking up where I left off and more like starting all over again. And if I thought moving back would mean fewer problems and cares -- well, wonder of wonders, the problems I had to manage in New York have followed me down the eastern seaboard and set up residence here as well.

Hmmm. Is it possible for any of us to find our way home again? The answer is no and yes. On the one hand, no, we can't return to the worlds of our childhood or our young adulthood or whatever familiar and comfortable "home" where we once resided. On the other hand, yes, we can. Or, to put it another way, -- yes, we can return home because -- "Home is knowing. Knowing your heart, knowing your mind, knowing your courage. If we know ourselves, we're always home, anywhere." This homey quote is probably familiar to you if you have ever witnessed the exchange between Glinda the Good Witch and Dorothy at the conclusion of The Wizard of Oz.

Here's my own personal returning-to-Kansas-discovery. Somewhere in me still lives the child from the Savannah beaches and marsh, the mother and wife and artist of the North Georgia creeks and flood plains. I treasure those times but I remember them (I hope) with as little nostalgia as possible. The key has been to truthfully hold the reality of home, allowing for both its perfections and its flaws. Somewhere in that idea, there is a truth that is larger than "home". Somewhere in that idea of home, there is a key to how we hold our relationships, our work, our lives, about how we hold our very world in our hands.

You always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.
Glinda again to Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

I return again to home, my new-old home, and the place I dreamed about during a snowy winter in New York. In my neighborhood there are eight free-range chickens five doors down. From time to time the eggs are for sale on Facebook. One homeowner recently hired a herd of goats to clear out a side yard overtaken by thickets. There is another neighbor who has built a small dog house in their side yard for the exclusive use of a territorial possum (who never plays dead). At Christmas the entire area is a crazy display of over the top lights and inflatable decorations. During a downpour, my garage floods, the storm drain clogged with eroded landscape mulch. My little house is still a stenciled-half-painted-patched-up-work-in-progress but welcomed the first official family celebration earlier this year. And just before that celebration, in the neighborhood park, on a small wooden bridge near a stand of dancing water grasses, my son gave his fiancé her ring. My hands are reverently holding it all, a home brimming over with chickens, goats, stenciled floors, crazy holiday lights, possum houses and love on a bridge over water grasses.

 

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A LIVING THREAD

(from top to bottom) Savannah childhood. Easter egg hunt. circa mid-century. The Princess and the Goblin (illustration: Following the thread) published by Blackie & Son c. 1911. Visiting grandparents. With my mother at my grandmother's house, Augusta, Georgia. circa mid-century. Augusta childhood. My mother (right, in her grandfather's arms) with her grandparents. Location unknown, circa 1930s.

... Every moment she kept feeling the thread backwards and forwards, and as she went farther and farther into the darkness of the great hollow mountain, she kept thinking more and more about her grandmother, and all that she had said to her, and how kind she had been, and how beautiful she was, and all about her lovely room, and the fire of roses, and the great lamp that sent its light through stone walls. And she became more and more sure that the thread coud not have gone there of itself, and that her grandmother must have sent it.
The Princess and the Goblin
(Chapter XX: Irene's Clue). George McDonald
, 1872.

CIRCA 1930'S

My mother grew up in Augusta, Georgia and in 1939, when she was six, there was a polio epidemic. The school board closed down all the schools as a precaution but she caught it anyway. A neighborhood friend also contracted it at the same time. My grandmother blamed the whole business on a glass of lemonade. It seems both girls had purchased nickel glasses at a neighborhood stand ten days earlier and my grandmother decided that the lemonade was the link between the children and their two cases of the polio.

For two weeks my mother was in isolation on an infectious disease ward. She was strapped to a bed the entire time, her arms and legs snugly wedged between a series of sand bags. After discharge her routine at home did not vary much. For the better part of that summer, she remained in bed, arms and legs immobilized.

In July, my grandfather took my mother to Warm Springs to be fitted for braces. He had just purchased a new car and in order to accommodate an immobilized six year old, he built a palette for her to use while traveling. She was tightly strapped to the board which was then positioned across the back seat of the car. In this way, father and daughter made their journey.

For two years my mother wore her set of Warm Springs braces: a pair for her legs; a single metal support for her back, connected to two metal trays for her arms. She returned to school in January 1940, still in those braces. Another neighborhood child who had contracted the disease returned to school at the same time. Every morning she saw him, his sister pulling him to school in a red wagon.

 

 

 

In July 1942 her recovery was complete. My grandfather took the abandoned leg braces and hung them on a peg in a back corner of the basement. Three decades later, when he paid off the last medical bills, the braces disappeared.

CIRCA 1960'S

My grandparents' house was a small, white clapboard cottage in the "Hill" section of Augusta, Georgia. There were pansies in the front borders and two large pine trees standing sentinel on either side of the front lawn. My grandparents had a child late in life, my aunt (eight years my senior). My grandmother bought her white French Provincial bedroom furniture and a white, cat-shaped, shag rug. Sometimes when we went to visit, my sister and I had the special privilege of sleeping in that bedroom.

Around the time my mother's braces disappeared from the hook in the basement, I was visiting my grandparents for the weekend. Saturdays seemed long on those visits. Every now and then the next door neighbors hosted their grandchildren on coinciding weekends and we would play with them. Occasionally, my aunt, newly licensed, would take me for long rides in the family car. On this particular Saturday, however, there was nothing to do once the morning lineup of cartoons was over. Bored and restless, I distracted myself by studying my grandmother's collection of Irish Dresden figurines which occupied several shelves of a living room bookcase. It was there that I first discovered The Princess and the Goblin.

I read the book throughout the afternoon and evening. At bedtime, after my parents turned out the lights, I used a flashlight from my grandparents' hall closet and read under the blankets. When you are small and reading about goblins in the middle of the night that experience stays with you. I remember being both terrified and unable to put it down.

My life was changed somewhat by that story. Like Princess Irene, there was a door to the attic stairs in my bedroom. After reading the book, that door and those stairs came alive for me. For years afterward, I sometimes fell asleep imagining a mysterious, unknown grandmother residing up those stairs, waiting to love and comfort me.

I never owned a copy of The Princess and the Goblin as child but I reread the book whenever I visited my grandparents. Then on one visit I couldn't find it. My aunt assumed I had taken it home with me to Savannah. I hadn't and the book was never found.

CIRCA 1980'S

My mother-in-law was a master gardener, an accomplished cook, a well read and well-traveled Southern matriarch. In her late sixties she still rode horses regularly.

Though her life was rich and varied, my strongest associations of her are connected to literature. She read almost anything she could get her hands on and rarely left the house without a paperback in her purse. In fact, when giving a book to a family member at Christmas, she always read it first, not wishing to miss one single literary experience.

Shortly after I joined her family, we discovered our mutual love of The Princess and the Goblin. I told her my experience of the story and she said that in her childhood she had read and loved it as well. For Christmas that year, she gave me an 1887 edition of the book. It is one that had been in her family and is the same edition that I read under the blankets at my grandmother's house so many years ago.

FOLLOWING THE THREAD MORE RECENTLY

My mother told me recently that the copy of The Princess and the Goblin I read as a child was originally a gift that she received from a family friend, the summer she was recovering from polio. Now when I think about this story I also imagine my mother as a small child, propped up in her bed, weak and a little bored. I see her as she is tearing away wrapping paper, then opening a green bound book to a page with the image of a little princess fleeing from goblin terrors.

And when I remember this story, I also connect my mother-in-law to its telling. There is a picture of my mother-in-law as a little girl on a backyard swing, dressed in white batiste and lace, long ringlets down her back. In my imagining this child leaves her swing for her mother's lap. Her mother, just past the camera's eye, opens a green bound book, and reads about the haven of a loving grandmother with two melted stars in her eyes.

And finally, there is my own experience of this story, buried under a canopy of blankets, flashlight in hand, following the princess down into the goblin caves. Her story forms a personal connection between me and two other distinctly different childhoods. Through it I can weave another strand in my personal web of community and family.

But what might The Princess and the Goblin point to about my own nature? If I follow its thread through my life, it not only creates connections with other people but it also sheds light on how my own life path has evolved. How interesting it is to me, as I write on this Sunday afternoon, that as a child I was so affected by the story of a young girl whose adventures took place in the mysterious lower realms. It makes me think that even as a young child I was a budding symbolist, mythologist. It provides me with a thread that weaves through my life, through the richly storied worlds of theatre and psychology and more recently, writing and visual art.

 

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THE BOOK LADY

 

 

(above) 6 E. Liberty Street. Savannah residence of my grandmother, Rosa Smith Usher. Her brownstone has changed hands several times since her death. Most recently, it is home to several small businesses, including the independent bookstore "The Book Lady". First birthday, 6. E. Liberty Street. Savannah, Georgia. I am standing on the stoop of my grandmother Usher's brownstone, the same place where "The Book Lady" sign now appears.

 

. . . On Saturday mornings, after a breakfast of Oscar Mayer link sausage and scrambled eggs and small slices of cinnamon pastry, I retreated to the rooms on the abandoned fourth floor.  The smell here was all grandmother, all soft and sweet, like musty cotton felt.  This was my writing cloister, a windowless room in my grandmother’s Savannah brownstone, its primary feature a 1920 black Olivetti typewriter.  I was ten and I was writing my first novel, manually extracting one letter, and then one word, and then one sentence at a time.   It was a murder mystery with a heroine remarkably similar to Nancy Drew.   For a month or two, I took the completed chapters into school and, with the indulgence of my fifth grade teacher, read them aloud in class.  However, Destiny intervened at Christmas when I read Little Women and decided to write and direct a stage adaptation of Alcott's novel instead. 

 

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WHAT I MIGHT BE

Self-portrait near a bridge over the River Liffey, Dublin. Usher.

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Lao Tzu (604-531 B.C.), philosopher, author of Tao Te Ching

Someone in the southeastern United States recently bought one of my paintings and yesterday I mailed it to him. In order to save shipping costs, I packed the box myself. The end result weighed just over seven pounds and measured an unwieldy 33" by 41" by 3". In other words, though light in weight, the box was still long enough and wide enough to be extremely difficult to carry. Unwieldy-ness notwithstanding, since the FedEx satellite store was only a few blocks away, I decided to carry it there myself.

While making my way up Broadway, the box slipped and shifted constantly. I tried several ways of carrying it but none worked for very long. Finally I had an inspiration and lifted the box up to my head and in that way I successfully made it to the FedEx store. What a comical sight I must have made, like some Dr. Seuss imagining -- a quite tall, so freckled, white lady with a box growing out of her head.

Which brings me to what happened yesterday on the way to the FedEx store: I experienced the workings of my mythic eye. My lens on the world is my "mythic eye." That means I tend to use symbols and metaphors when interpreting the world around me. And yesterday my mythic eye contemplated the spectacle of walking down Broadway with a box growing out of my head and saw something larger.

It's kind of hard to explain but in that particular moment I felt connected to other women, possibly all other women, women and how they work through their day, whether raising children or governing countries or walking around with boxes on their head. And I saw my part in that bigger picture as both unique and yet also universal. For a few moments I experienced the beautiful groove of my life and how amazing that felt to be in it. And interestingly, I understood in that moment that joy is not only found at my easel -- but it is also found in the simplest experiences of everyday life.



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