LIFE AS MYTH

Index

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JOURNAL

Index

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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

Index

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LIFEWORKS

About

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ARCHIVES

Index

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JOURNAL 2017
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SECRETS OF THE HIDDEN GARDEN

Mary Magdalene at her writing desk (detail), 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.

 

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COMING WINTER 2017
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THE OPENING OF DOORS

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

 

. . . 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.

 

 

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AUTUMN 2016
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THE LESSONS IN ART AND LIFE

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.

 

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. 

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.

 

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AUTUMN 2016
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WALKING AT WALDEN'S POND

Skyscape at Walden Pond; Concord, Massachusetts.

 

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau, essayist and poet, influential to Mahatma Gandhi's thinking on passive resistance


 

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AUTUMN 2016
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LEARNING TO IMPROVISE

Brooklyn Heights, New York.

. . .  Shortly after I married, I applied for a job at a mid-sized Southern newspaper.  The editor who interviewed me said that a degree in television journalism prepared me to become a newspaper reporter about as much as a degree in Home Economics.  No, he didn't hire me but not too long after that I got a job at a small FM radio station.  The broadcast studio was embedded in the South Carolina backwoods and adjacent to a trailer park.  I wrote and read the morning drive news, assisted by a technician who was blind and sometimes typed my copy on leftover black construction paper. 
 

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AUTUMN 2016
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ON THE ROAD TO BRIGID'S WELL

brigid

Brigid's Well. Liscannor, Ireland. The word "spring" has Dutch and German roots (springen). The early meaning was ‘head of a well’ or ‘a sudden surge or stream’. This contributed to the evolution of the word's meaning as initiate a beginning.

. . . Lottie / is yarning me, shaggy-dog-dogging me, / on the miracle-lore of Brigid’s well, / how Brigid appeared to a village girl / and how there was a healing done and how / pilgrims find their way to St. Brigid’s well.

 

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AUTUMN 2016
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THE BEAR



. . . According to Norah, the bear once had a metal ring through its nose. It was the juggler’s idea -- to pierce the nose with a ring -- so that he could prevent the bear from running away. When settling down each night, the juggler secured the bear by looping rope through the ring and then tying the bear to the back of his circus wagon.

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AUTUMN 2016
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SCHEHERAZADE IN MANHATTAN

A view of Manhattan skyline from the Brooklyn Heights promenade.

. . . He needs a cigarette.  He pats his shirt pocket looking for his pack and, only then, he remembers why he is here in a Brooklyn coffee shop.  He glances back up; he sees her for the first time (he had almost missed her altogether); it is possible that he falls in love with her right now.           

 

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AUTUMN 2016
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RIDDLESPEAK

Sidewalk art installation, Dublin.

I was in Dublin, standing at an intersection near Temple Bar. I had almost gone to Montana but, in the end, I didn’t. On a whim, I had purchased a deep-discount travel package to Dublin and that’s where it happened.

 

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JOURNAL 2016
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A CALL TO WONDER

The dance of Miriam from The Golden Haggadah, artist unknown. ca 14th century. The British Library, London.

It is so difficult to describe what the sky and the water do here -- but it is like they are one seamless curtain of silk, a silk that is every shade of blue.  Because the horizon is so open, you can see an unlimited expanse of that blue silk and it ripples and shifts every time the light breaks through the clouds to dance on some distant stretch of waters.

At the furthest most point, there is a beautiful beach with very fine white sand.  It sits in a deep basin with mountains rising up on either side and the water is a deep turquoise which turns powder blue further out. And in the distance you see the backs of blue-violet mountains rising out of the ocean. 

The Celts told of a place called Mag Mell. According to their myth, you only find it by accident -- usually when you are in a boat which is driven off course by a storm.  What makes this Celtic paradise different from so many others in world mythology is that it is not an afterlife realm of shadows or eternal punishment. It is something altogether different. Mag Mell, meaning "the plain of joy," is a place of eternal youth and beauty, a place where sickness and death do not exist, a place where all those things which are beautiful in this Life finally come together.

 

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SUMMER 2016
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A LIVING TAPESTRY

(above) Mahatma Gandhi was a great spiritual and political leader in India during the twentieth century. At the forefront of the Indian struggle for independence from Great Britain, he advocated resistance to tyranny through nonviolent noncompliance. His life and philosophy were an inspiration for civil rights movements around the world. Gandhi spinning. Location unknown. Late 1920's.

 

Imagine a tapestry.

It contains thousands, perhaps millions, of individual threads. When the threads are woven together, something larger forms and an overall design emerges.

Now imagine that tapestry woven out of living threads, each thread having the ability to change color and shape. And as each thread changes, the tapestry responds and transforms as well, allowing a different design to be revealed.

Your life is just like a single thread in a living tapestry.

 

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SUMMER 2016
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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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SUMMER 2016
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A SHINING 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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SUMMER 2016
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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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SPRING 2016
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WHAT I MIGHT BE

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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SPRING 2016
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MORE THAN THE EYES REVEAL

Ursa Major, a spiral galaxy known as The pinwheel galaxy. By European Space Agency & NASA. Acknowledgements: Project Investigators for the original Hubble data K.D. Kuntz (GSFC), F. Bresolin (University of Hawaii), J. Trauger (JPL), J. Mould (NOAO), and Y.-H. Chu (University of Illinois, Urbana). Image processing: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble). CFHT image: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/J.-C. Cuillandre/Coelum. NOAO image: George Jacoby, Bruce Bohannan, Mark Hanna/NOAO/AURA/NSF [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

It might not be so much that we are all unrealized mystics and saints but that we have the power to apprehend truths that are beyond the intellect. In other words, we have the capacity to behold the world and see something more than our eyes alone reveal.

 

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SPRING 2016
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THAT MOMENT AND THAT FACE

A marsh with stars and fireflies. Usher. 2012. Private collection.

There is a deep wisdom in the waters and stones and softened light of Inwood Hill Park. A wisdom that can be experienced but not known. A kind of evergreen wisdom that heals what it touches. And though I struggle now to capture it in words, perhaps I can simply point to it and you will see it, too -- without my naming it.

Over the past ten years my face has changed. I see it mirrored back to me daily. Age has played most liberally upon it -- but that does not quite capture what has transformed it. At times, my face is the face of Eve, the face of Eve at the moment her teeth broke the skin of the apple, at the precise moment she was shattered with knowledge.

That moment and that face. That's where I'm pointing.

And another moment. A cool and damp spring twilight.  I was wrapped up in a man's sweater and marveling at the azure and coral in spaces left by green black poplar leaves when someone mirrored back to me, "I look at your face now and I can see the child you must have been."

That moment and that face. That's where I'm pointing.

 

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SPRING 2016
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SUNRISE OVER SANDBAR

Sunrise over sandbar (detail), 2010. Private collection.

...My first counseling job was in a small outpatient clinic in Far Rockaway Beach. I commuted there from Manhattan on the A train. The trip took me through Brooklyn and past the stop for the JFK air train -- then over marshes and salt water bogs with houses on stilts and further still over a trestled bridge until finally, almost two hours later, the train arrived at Far Rockaway Beach.

The clinic was on the second floor of a small commercial space, just a few blocks away from the subway station.  The agency windows faced a strip of storefronts and fast food diners.  In the afternoons the heavy oily smell of Kentucky Fried chicken crept into the back offices through the ventilation system. 

 

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