LIFE AS MYTH

Index

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JOURNAL

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JOURNAL 2020

Once upon a time

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JOURNAL 2019

The golden thread

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JOURNAL 2018

Mary & Co.

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JOURNAL 2017

Secrets of the hidden garden

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JOURNAL 2016

A call to wonder

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JOURNAL 2015

1001 stories

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JOURNAL 2014

The poetics of grace

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JOURNAL 2013

A living myth

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JOURNAL 2012

The seeds of wisdom

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JOURNAL 2011

Life as myth

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JOURNAL 2010

A vision quest

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JOURNAL 2009

A feminine myth

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JOURNAL 2008

Impressions at sunrise

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JOURNAL 2007

Following a white hart

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JOURNAL 2006

Scheherazade project

Index

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LIFEWORKS

About

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ARCHIVES

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AUTUMN 2020
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THE OPENING OF DOORS (2016-2019)

Did you ever write a letter to yourself, one that you meant to revisit at a later time? I think the same idea is behind marking the interior frame of doors with your children's heights. If you look back at the series of scratches you can see how much your children have grown. I wrote the entry that follows exactly two years ago and boy does it stir up feelings to re-read it. Anyway, here it is again. Another life marker. One more scratch on the doorway.

 

Saint Mary Magdalene from the Master of Palazzo Venezia Altarpiece Panel, artist unknown. 1350. National Gallery, London.

I met with a friend this week, someone who moved from Atlanta to New York around the same time I did. We had coffee and played catch up with our lives. One of the interesting things we talked about was this idea -- on the one hand, social media helps us stay in touch and on the other hand, it does sort of photoshop our real offline experience of living. So, as I write this tribute to living in Manhattan for the better part of 15 years, I also realize that I have not captured all that has been so truly magical and inspiring and beautiful about my time here nor have I shared what has been heart-breaking and painful and tragic about my time here. Or, in other words, there's more to each of our stories than meets the eye.

No matter what happens next, I think the biggest gift that I will take away with me is the writing life. Manhattan is where I came into my own as a writer. Whether I will ever achieve professional success as the world measures it or whether my success will be the simple writerly ways that I carry forward, I am most grateful for all the opportunities and experiences here that centered around a writing life. Mom and Dad always encouraged me to write (Mom specifically suggested children's books with illustrations) but, being rather contrary I suppose, I decided that I wouldn't. It took Manhattan and a life too large to understand any other way that made me into a writer. And it turned out that my dream became remarkably similar to my parents' dreams for me too.

I close with this picture of Mary Magdalene which I was lucky enough to see up close and personal in the vaults of the National Gallery of London. They had removed it from the exhibition hall and when I asked about it, the docent who heard my story, suggested a way that I could ask permission (and just see what happens). It was the best present imaginable when they opened their doors to me.

This painting was once part of a large multi-paneled altarpiece. The National Gallery has both the Mary Magdalene and Saint Peter panels. When the artist (aka Master of the Palazzo Venezia Madonna) was creating this altarpiece Italy and Venice were gripped by the plague. This artist, probably assisted by apprentices, spoke through all that death and suffering by creating this. Now that's all kinds of wonderful.

For those who aren't familiar with the Mary Magdalene story, she was the first to receive the news of the resurrection or the "disciple to the disciples", as she is sometimes known. I love thinking about the story of hope and survival that this artist is telling from a point in time where the world is collapsing under the weight of the plague. Life and Death side by side. It's all there in the painting. And it's all there in the un-photoshopped wonder of our lives.

 

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AUTUMN 2020
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THE GOLDEN THREAD (2019)

No experience has been too unimportant,
and the smallest event unfolds like a fate,
and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide fabric
in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand
and laid alongside another thread
and is held and supported by a hundred others.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (April 23, 1903)

 

Artwork: Green Tara, gouache on paper, Usher, 2019; Green Tara, Mural detail, artist and date unknown.

Over this past year or so, all the appliances in my kitchen broke. Disposal, stove, dishwasher, microwave. Everything, except the refrigerator. Contrary to the ancient wisdom that says don't leave things broken because that will attract more broken things into your world, I let them rest in peace in my kitchen and reverted to no-microwave, no-disposal, patch-and-mend-dishwasher and toaster-oven living.

Then last spring I had a conversation with the kitchen fairy. You see, the appliances weren't the only problem. The DIY kitchen cabinets featured doors made out of old windows and, consequently, wouldn't pass safety codes, much less an energetic bump from one of my mammoth dogs. And the giant concrete laundry basin that masqueraded as my kitchen sink never drained properly and was home to black mold (all the time).

To repair or not to repair? No easy answer. There's the possibility I might have to leave my home next year so why bother? But we decided, the kitchen fairy and I, that I should probably just take a step in faith and pull everything out. The house would probably sell for more, if it came to that, and I could actually cook in the meantime. In late June I began what was to be a four month process of redoing the kitchen.

There were losses along the way. One of the cabinet shelves collapsed due to flimsy shelf clips and heaved my mother's blue willow china on to the floor. Lost quite a few pieces to the clip debacle. Then one of the carpenters dropped a screw driver from a terrible height on a pile of pretty painted dishes. Seriously, how that sharp-shooting screwdriver managed to navigate through boards and cabinets to land squarely on a helpless little dish is nothing short of remarkable. I picked up the various broken bits and put them on the dining room table to toss out later.

Then one more break -- when I fell hauling construction debris to the street -- spraining one uninsured foot and breaking the equally uninsured other. I couldn't drive. I couldn't walk. I crawled around on my hands and knees. I slept on the sofa for weeks. I cooked frozen meals in a toaster oven on a trunk at the end of the sofa. Shortly after my fall, the carpenters disappeared after receiving their first paycheck. Life didn't stop for chaos but thanks to a whole lot of help from friends and family the groceries arrived, there was help with trips to the orthopedic clinic, etc. Even the remaining subcontractors found all kinds of ways to extend unexpected kindness. Hauling away debris. Buying me a pair of plumber's knees to cushion my crawling.

This brings me back to the lesson of the broken dish.

My son saw the ceramic remains, ready for the garbage heap, and asked why I didn't just repair it. Had I heard of kintsugi? Kintsugi means "golden joinery". Using a lacquqer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum, artisans repair broken objects in a way that highlights the damage. When an object breaks, that's just part of its story and a reason for celebration. How had I never heard of this?

Hearing my summer story a wise friend asked whether there was a lesson that Life might be offering me. Well, that's a complicated idea, I said, while crawling to the toaster oven. But maybe Life did want me to learn something new. If I can apply kintsugi principles to last summer, to all my summers, maybe I'll see my life with new eyes -- messy, unpredictable, sublimely beautiful at the broken places.

 

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AUTUMN 2020
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WHAT WE MIGHT BE (2018)

A lotus breaking the surface. Yun Shouping. 17th century, Qing Dynasty. Palace Museum, Beijing.

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

As a symbol of rebirth, the lotus (interchangeable with the water lily) appears throughout world mythology. Its earliest mythic origins might be Egyptian where the lotus and the water lily are interchangeable icons for creation and rebirth. An eight-petalled flower, bearing a striking resemblance to later Buddhist depictions of the lotus, also shows up in the stone face of a 7000 year old passage tomb in Loughcrew, County Meath, Ireland.

Though rooted in muddy and watery habitats, lotus are never wet or soiled. A drop of water on a lotus leaf or blossom will roll off, carrying dirt and debris with it. This journey of the unblemished lotus, from mud and water into air and light, has become a symbol for the journey of the soul.

 

 

 

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AUTUMN 2020
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ONCE UPON A TIME (2017)

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.

 

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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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AUTUMN 2020
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COMING TOGETHER (2016)

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 2020
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A LIVING TAPESTRY (2012-2015)

Self-portrait (New York City).

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 2020
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A SPRINGBOARD TO LIFE (2015)

scheherazade

(above) A mystical conversation. Odilon Redon. 1896. Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, Japan. (below) Scheherazade. Sophie Anderson. c. 19th Century. The New Art Gallery, Walsall UK.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Maya Angelou (b. 1928), American poet

In 2003, I moved to New York City to attend graduate school in psychology at New York University. It was my time at NYU and most particularly an independent study in the final year that was a watershed for my life. The independent study focused on the connections between gender bias, narrative and the emergence of the Self. That study reshaped my identity as a woman and as an artist. It also inspired a self-narrative paradigm which I named the Scheherazade Model. Scheherazade is the famous Arabian storyteller who told stories to save not only her own life but the lives of other women. Her storytelling cycle prevented the death of countless women and, very importantly, it transformed the heart of a kingdom.

In 2006 I launched a web site, The Scheherazade Project. The goal was to have a place that I could have a voice, explore the narrative work I began at NYU and, quite simply, begin my writing life. Over that first year, I wrote about the three prongs of the Scheherazade Model: mythology of self, mythology of other and mythology of planet.

 

This paradigm emphasizes the elevation of feminine values. Feminine values, also known as intrinsic values, focus on the importance of community and harmony, as opposed to masculine values which center on the elevation of the individual and the mastery of the environment.

The way we tell our stories directly affects the way we live our lives. And our storytelling is largely based on the monomyth, also known as the hero's journey. The monomyth has several distinguishing characteristics. It centers around an individual who is almost always male. It also values skills which enable the hero to master the environment and realize personal achievement (e.g., career, awards, money). These values are commonly referred to as extrinsic or masculine, as opposed to feminine values which are grounded in harmony with the community and the environment. What can be lost when our stories are skewed to the masculine is a recognition of our essential interdependence with creation and each other.

This shift toward the feminine that the Scheherazade Model incorporates is important both individually and globally. On an individual basis, feminine values are the ones that are more strongly correlated with a sense of well-being and satisfaction with life. This is true for both men and women as they age. On a global level, an embracing of feminine values is a necessary step toward lessening hostility and violence. By focusing on our interconnectedness, we can create a world in which there are fewer divisions between us, a world in which we share more equally in our natural resources and abundance, a world in which we exist in harmony with each other and with our environment.

This model is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all paradigm. Your personal myth or story will reflect the wisdom, values and experience which are unique to you and your life. But the Scheherazade Model can serve as a starting point for you, a springboard to new imaginings of your life and our world.

 

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SUMMER 2020
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A NEW WAY OF LIVING (2014)

The madonna of the roses, Stefan Lochner. 1448.  Wallraf Richartz Museum, Koln, German.

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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SUMMER 2020
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EVERYDAY JOYS (2013)

(above) EEG: a measure of Joy. Usher. 2013. (left) Saint Mary Magdalene from the Master of Palazzo Venezia Altarpiece Panel, artist unknown. 1350. National Gallery, London.

 

According to the myth, at dawn on the third day after the crucifixion, the Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint the body.   As she neared the entrance, she discovered that the guards were gone and the tomb was open.   An angel sitting on the discarded entrance stone greeted her.  Trembling and bewildered, some accounts say, she fled. Whether or not she fled or simply stayed and wept, the Gospels of John and Mark agree that Jesus, in resurrected form, first appeared to Mary Magdalene alone.  During this encounter he asked her to spread the news of resurrection. The Magdalene is the key to this myth of stones and tombs, of death and rebirth, because "she" is the messenger of new hope and new life.

Life evolves in seven year cycles. If you have lived long enough, you can probably identify them. Find a major event from your past -- a marriage or possibly a serious illness. Counting forward or back, see if you experienced another major Life event at the next seven year juncture. If you continue counting, a road map of your life emerges. 

This little web site, quite dear to me, is at the conclusion of a seven year cycle.  This site has been my writing home and because of that, it has served as a transitional space between the part of my life where I had all the answers -- and the next part where I have mostly unanswered questions.

2013 is fast approaching its wintry conclusion.  As I attempt to discern meaning from this year's writing and work, I have returned to the message of joy I first described in an essay seven years ago.  Since that time, that joyful revelation has taken on deeper meaning.  Without further ado, a new look at old things.

 

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"Pickering's Harem," so-called, for the group of women computers at the Harvard College Observatory, who worked for the astronomer Edward Charles Pickering. Harvard Computers at work, circa 1890, including Henrietta Swan Leavitt seated, third from left, with magnifying glass (1868–1921), Annie Jump Cannon (1863–1941), Williamina Fleming standing, at center (1857–1911), and Antonia Maury (1866–1952).

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, that moment came not at my easel -- but while managing the details of my daily life.

weavers potter actress mother activistsinger nurses writer

(top to bottom) A group of women weaving, Italy, ca. 1900; Jean Seberg, American actress and activist, 1972; A group of Parisian art students. ca. 1896; Hedy Lamarr, actress and inventor, 1944; A farm mother and her child. ca. 20th Century. National Archives; Rosa Parks, civil rights activist, pictured here with Dr. Martin Luther King, 1955; Mahalia Jackson, gospel singer, 1962; "Instructing nurses on the use of respirator for a polio patient" unknown photographer (May 23, 1958), location unknown, General Records of the Department of Labor (Record Group 174), National Archives; Virginia Woolf, feminist writer, 1882-1941.

 

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SUMMER 2020
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THE RIVER OF LIFE (2012)

pomegranate

Self-portrait, Dublin. Liffey River, 2012.

. . . Why did Dublin have such an impact? Timing, partly. But there's more, something about Dublin as midwife to story. And the story was born there, at a crosswalk near the Liffey River. 

You see, 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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SPRING 2020
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WAKING DRE
AMS (2009-2011)

madonna

 

(above) Madonna del Parto. Piero della Francesca. ca. 1459. Museo della Madonna del Parto, Monterchi. (left) Madonna del Parto, Taddeo Gaddi, Chiesa di San Francesco di Paola (Florence) (below) Nardo Cione. ca. 1355-60. Museo Bandini, Fiesole. Madonna del Parto [Madonna of childbirth].

 

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart . . . Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
C. G. Jung

The Madonna del Parto is a fresco painting by Piero della Francesca. One historical account reports that Francesca completed the piece in seven days while in Sansepolcro for his mother's death [1459]. The painting features a liberal amount of blu oltremare, also known as ultramarinum [beyond the sea], obtained from imported lapis lazuli. Popular with Italian painters in the fourteenth and fifteenth centures, blu oltermare was also very expensive, at times exceeding gold in cost. Artists were sparing in their use of it, reserving the color for the robes of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child.

The motif of Madonna del Parto is one found in Tuscan art beginning in the 14th C. In these paintings, the Madonna usually stands alone and holds a closed book over her belly, signifying her embodiment of the incarnate word. Here Francesca reveals her within a pavilion, with two angels opening its panels. This opening is then mirrored in the panels of the Virgin Mary's robes. One interpretation describes the pavilion as representing the original Ark of the Covenant. In this context, the pregnant mother of Christ then becomes the vessel for the new covenant.

 

cione madonna del parto

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JOURNAL 2020
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LIFE AS MYTH (2011)

Beatrice. Odilon Redon. 1897. Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Beatrice is the legendary muse and great love of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri.

Myth is an attempt to narrate a whole human experience, of which the purpose is too deep, going too deep in the blood and soul, for mental explanation or description.
D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) novelist, poet, essayist

Symbolism was a multi-disciplinary arts movement, most active in the late nineteenth century. The Symbolist movement rejected naturalism and realism in favor of spirituality, the imagination and dreams. One development which contributed to the movement was the emergence of modern psychology.

The work of both Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Carl G. Jung (1875-1961) was particularly influential to the development of Symbolism. During this period, they provided ground-breaking insights into the interpretation of imaginative, symbolic and dream material. Freud believed that repressed aggression and sexuality are at the root of human behavior. In his therapeutic practice, he explored dream material for insights into these unconscious drives and their effect on human behavior. He noted that some patients repeatedly relived past traumas in their dreams. According to Freud, over the course of repetitive dreaming, the dreamer often added details about the nature of the original injury. The function of this process was to help the patient obtain mastery over the traumatic event.

Jung, a protege of Freud, disputed his mentor's premise of aggression and sexuality as the sole motivating forces behind human behavior. His areas of research broadened to include not only dream material, but art, mythology, religion and philosophy. His major contributions to the field of psychoanalysis are the Jungian archetypes and the concepts of synchronicity and the collective unconscious.

Paul Gauguin organized the first Symbolist art exhibition in 1889-90 at the Paris World's Fair. Better known Symbolist visual artists include Redon, Gustav Klimt, William Blake (as both artist and poet), Edvard Munch, Gustav Moreau and Arnold Bocklin. Historians credit Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) as the forerunner of Symbolist poetry. Symbolist poets include William Butler Yeats, Stéphen Mallarmé and T. S. Eliot. The extensive list of Symbolist authors includes Edgar Allen Poe, George MacDonald, and Oscar Wilde.

 

 

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JOURNAL 2020
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A VISION QUEST (2010)

  

(left) Archangel Gabriel annunciate, (right) Virgin annunciate. Fra Angelico. 1431-33. Institute of Arts, Detroit. The annunciation found in Luke 1 describes the visitation of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. In this story, the angel is sent by God to Nazareth to give Mary the news of the impending virgin birth. The annunciation is a popular motif in Christian art and is associated with the office of Matins in The little office of the blessed Virgin Mary.

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart . . . Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
C. G. Jung [1875-1961], Swiss psychiatrist

Over the past several years I have explored the 'feminine' as it is expressed in art, collective values, and world mythology. During 2010 not only did I journal on the four synoptic gospels and several illuminated manuscripts but I continued my exploration of the feminine in my personal religious tradition, Christianity.

A vision quest is a sacred rite of passage found in the Native American tradition. In this ritual boys on the verge of manhood undertake an arduous wilderness experience which they believe will reveal their life's spiritual direction and calling. They also believe that during this rite they will find the guardian spirit who will guide and protect them through the rest of their life. This idea is one which resonates with 2010: a quest for the guiding feminine principal in my personal tradition. And any search for the feminine in Christianity will always lead to the complex figure of Mary.

At this writing the image that is strongest for me is that of the very young woman who has an encounter with an angel. Luke describes her in that moment as entirely human and her humanity speaks to me. She is tentative, afraid and puzzled by the instruction the angel brings but she commits to it nonetheless. I use the word 'commit' intentionally here because I believe that this moment is often interpreted as one of passive surrender rather than active commitment. This moment illustrates the traditional 'feminine' value of service to the collective good. But it is also a moment which illustrates the feminine passive coupled with the feminine active. In other words, surrender to the events which one cannot control while committing to how one will respond and act within those events. And that is the guiding light which I take with me from the writing of 2010.

 

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THE VIEW FROM THE CENTER (2009)

A mother owl with chicksA bird with flowers and leaves. Usher. These pieces of art were prototypes for projects that I did with my clients during this time.

 

During 2009, I began editing and organizing my writing from the previous three years. My focus was on further development of the self-narrative paradigm which I began during graduate school at New York University. The paradigm was a reaction to the prevalent patriarchal monomyth and resulted in a broadening of my framework for meaning. The three working categories are mythology of planet, mythology of other, mythology of self. The foundation of feminine or intrinsic values suggests that being in community, in intimate relationship with planet, people and self, can provide a meaningful framework for living.

This period in 2009 also coincided with my earliest work in the use of visual arts within my counseling practice. The experience of my work and my clients has contributed greatly to my understanding and development of this paradigm.

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What inspires me most about Paris is her sense of open horizon. Broad avenues, low graceful buildings and abundant natural space combine in a way that is as dégagé as an afternoon cup of coffee at a sidewalk café. And nowhere is that Parisian sense of uncluttered space and time more pronounced than at La Place de la Concorde.

Situated at the intersection of a major north-south and east-west axis, the plaza center is punctuated by a tall narrow obelisk, rather like an architectural exclamation mark to the extraordinary views which fan out from its center. From this vantage point you can see the Arc de Triomphe (west), the Madeleine (north), the Tuileries (east) and, across the Seine, the Palais Bourbon, (south). It is the axis mundi of this beautiful city of art and light. Axis Mundi, meaning the central pole of the earth, is a universal mythological concept which describes the place where heaven and earth, spirit and matter, and/or the four points of the compass meet. There are many forms that represent the concept, including specific geographical locations. According to mythic tradition, an experience of the axis mundi often correlates with the receipt of divine knowledge or gifts. The divine gifts can take many extraordinary forms: healing, writing, painting, prophecy, dreams and visions. However, La Place de la Concorde was not always imagined as a centering force for harmony in Paris.

In 1763 the plaza first came into being when the city erected an equestrian statue to celebrate the recovery of King Louis XV from a serious illness. Thirty years later, during the French Revolution, the nature of the plaza changed dramatically. The newly formed Parisian government replaced the equestrian statue with another imposing piece, entitled Liberté, and then placed a guillotine in the plaza center. They renamed the site La Place de la Revolution. From 1792 - 1795, there were more than 1300 executions on that guillotine, including such notables as Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and Robespierre.

The plaza assumed its current incarnation in the mid-nineteenth century. Renamed La Place de la Concorde (the place of harmony), it was during this period that the Luxor Obelisk was erected in the location where the guillotine had once stood. At the same time, eight statues and two fountains with mythological themes were installed, which flank the plaza and obelisk to this day. This re-imagining of La Place de la Concorde as was a conscious effort on the part of Parisians to move from a troubled past into a more hopeful future.

How are we, each of us, so very like this plaza? We are like this plaza in that we also stand at the intersection of two eternal axes. The center point is Life, the intersection between Birth and Death. And we, each one of us, select the purpose and symbols that flank that center.  

 

Symbols and purpose. These are the essence of personal and collective myth, the myth which lies at the heart of how we perceive the world and our place in it. Like La Place de la Revolution, we can choose to create a place of separation and conflict within us and around us. Or we can transform our center to a place of harmony, surrounded by myth and mystery. If we are indeed like the metaphors we embrace, then just imagine what would happen if we re-imagined our center by changing its symbols and purpose. Just imagine what horizons might open up before our eyes.

(left) Yggdrasill: the world ash, Oluf Olufsen Bagge, 1847.   This year's image, the world tree, is also known as Axis Mundi (meaning the central pole of the earth).  It is a universal concept which describes the place where heaven and earth, spirit and matter, and/or the four points of the compass meet. There are many forms that are used to represent this idea, including plants, trees, humans, geometric forms, objects, and specific geographical locations.  According to tradition, the experience of the axis mundi often correlates with the receipt of special knowledge or gifts.

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WINTER 2020
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THE NEW HORI
ZON (2006-2008)

The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.
Maya Angelou

For the first part of our lives we are living the life of our adaptive self. The adaptive self is the one who engages the world in a way that is a direct result of the instruction of Society. At a certain point, however, the constraints of the adaptive self begin to chafe and there will be an internal call to seek something more. When this occurs varies between individuals. The degree of difficulty and the individual willingness to answer the call also varies. But, whether the call is heeded or ignored, once it is heard, the individual is never the same again.

In order to find what you seek, you must first push off from familiar shores. Ambiguity, ambivalence, anxiety. When moving from adaptive to authentic self, these are the markers of a journey which is moving into unknown waters. The degree to which we are able to sustain the tension of these three influences is considered a mark of psychological maturity. And the degree to which we can tolerate the experience of ambiguity, ambivalence and anxiety is the degree to which we will be able to move closer to the potential which is within.

 

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SUNRISE (2008)

(above) Keem Beach, Achill Island, Ireland.

(below) Mary Magdalene at her writing desk.  Master of the female half-length.  16th Century.  Private collection.

 

During 2008 I had the good fortune to travel and work for an extended period in the west coast region of Ireland. That trip provided an opportunity for me to explore my cultural identity and how that impacts my writing and my sense of who I am. The visual experience of those landscapes still guides my voice and provides me with a personal connection to the extraordinary literary and story telling tradition of Ireland. An excerpt from my journal during that visit follows:

 

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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I love the whimsy of this particular painting, Mary Magdalene imagined as a Renaissance lady at her writing desk, her signature jar of myrrh close by.  Every time I look at her I smile -- and so she serves as the image for 2008, bringing whimsy and a smile into my writing life.

There are many stories concerning the relationship between Christ and Mary Magdalene.  One holds that she went to the tomb at sunrise on the day of the resurrection.   As she neared the entrance, she discovered that the guards were gone and the tomb open.   An angel was sitting at the entrance and greeted her.  Accounts of what happened next vary, but the Gospels of John and Mark agree that Jesus, in resurrected form, first appeared to her alone.  During this encounter he asked her to spread the news of his return. This selection of a woman, as the messenger of the resurrection, confers special status on Mary Magdalene and her standing within the early Christian community.  This is a fairly unique phenomenon in Christian writings.

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FOLLOWING A WHITE HART (2007)

[top] Interior panel of Wilton Diptych. Egg tempura on oak panels. 1395. The National Gallery, London. [right] Verso.

 

The white hart of the Wilton Diptych was the representative image on my web site during 2007 In mythology the hart serves as spirit guide or divine messenger. In early Celtic mythology, for example, the appearance of a hart could indicate that the Otherworld was close at hand and that a mortal now stood on sacred grounds. In Arthurian legend, if one encountered a deer in the woods and followed its lead, then the individual immediately embarked on a great adventure.

We can look to the various myths as inspirational sources for our lives and as frameworks for meaning. Albert Camus said it best when he observed, "Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them." In other words, the myths are there as messengers and guides, but we must decide to engage, to breathe life into them, to follow the lure of a great adventure. My personal white hart myth includes both a life in the arts and, for the past ten years, a quest for the divine feminine. Looking back over the last decade, I can see how that particular framework for meaning has informed and shaped my life.

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Very recently, while considering the panel above, the repeating hart motif caught my attention. Though it's possible that I have seen this painting before, I don't remember ever noticing the white hart. Art is full of mystery and points toward something just beyond words, just beyond our knowing. This image serves that function for me. It is a signpost, a perfect visual metaphor for my own private myth, the representation of the bridge between faith and creativity, myth and meaning.

 

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SCHEHERAZADE PROJECT (2006)

A mystical conversation. Odilon Redon. 1896. Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, Japan. (left) Scheherazade. Sophie Anderson. c. 19th Century. The New Art Gallery, Walsall UK.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Maya Angelou (b. 1928), American poet

Prior to New York and a writing life, or about four years ago, I relocated to New York City to attend graduate school at New York University in clinical counseling. It was my time at NYU and most particularly an independent study in the final year that proved to be a watershed for my life. The independent study focused on the connections between gender bias, narrative and the emergence of the Self. That study reshaped my identity as a woman and as an artist. It also produced a self-narrative paradigm which I named the Scheherazade Model, after the famous Arabian storyteller of the same name, who told stories to save not only her own life but the lives of other women.

In 2005 I launched a web site, The Scheherazade Project. The goal was to have a place that I could have a voice, explore the narrative work I began at NYU and, quite simply, begin my writing life. Over that first year, I wrote about the three prongs of the Scheherazade Model: mythology of self, mythology of other and mythology of planet. The focus was on feminine values, community and harmony, as opposed to masculine values, individuation and conquest.

I was slow in finding my way and there were frequent rewrites, editing, misdirection. The web site has been rechristened and reimagined several times. But, looking back now, I realize that is part of the process of discovering and claiming your own voice. It is also part of the process of discovering and naming your own life.

 

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