Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Meaning of Birthdays

That is me in the middle, wearing cowboy boots. On the right is my brother, Jack, dead since 1999. That is my birthday cake he's holding. Checking out the cake is a cat, nameless to me now. On the left is my other brother, Houston. Behind us is my father's old Ford (back when Fords were king of the road) and the trailer we lived in.
I had my 50th birthday this week, on 1/24, causing me to speculate on the meaning of birthdays. These little celebrations that happen in honor of our birth are so precious. Look at the pink-festooned cake, made by my mother in her little girl's honor. Look at me standing there in my "Aw shucks" stance. I remember being a little embarrassed by so much fuss. I still don't like a lot of fuss, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't appreciate acknowledgment.

Birthdays do give us a little window of time to reflect; that's their gift to us. Now everything in life will be filtered through the prism of my being 50 years old.

Since I'm 50, I'm going to adopt a kind of Bette Davis I'm-gonna-do-what-I-want-and-if-you-don't-like-it-then-tough stance. That means I'll be spending long hours at my various desks, writing. I used to feel guilty about the time I spent behind closed doors writing. I don't want to do that anymore. I feel like Thelma did in Thelma and Louise, when she said, "Something's crossed over in me and I can't go back."

I don't want to go back. Like Thelma said on the edge of the precipace: "Let's keep goin'."

I want to go ahead. And I will.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tragic Sense of Life

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My collage: The Tragic Sense of Life.

Based on Me and My Parrots by Frida Kahlo


It's been a while since I posted! I've been busy with school and research. I determined that this weekend I'd get back to writing and collage.

I had a very productive weekend. I wrote a short-short story about an incident that has plagued me for years. It was a story that wanted to be written, but I didn't know how to do it. It was based on one of those events that feels like a dark, ugly secret. The subject matter was very painful. When I thought about the incident, I hurt.

This weekend, after taking a random book of poetry off my shelf and glancing at an unfamiliar stanza, I suddenly knew how to write the story.

As I worked on the story, I also worked on this collage. Frida knew how to turn her suffering into art. She led me the way.

I've been feeling lately like my writing is trying to take a new turn. This feels like both creation and destruction. The image just to the left of the parrot's halo is of buildings burning down. That's what this change feels like to me. Scary. Flowers are for rejeuvenation. The flowers in my collage are thistle. Pretty, but painful. We have lots of thistle on our property. The birds love thistle seed. The butterfly is symbolic of the psyche.

The parrot is, I've read, a symbol of beauty, wisdom and spiritual knowledge that is tragically imprisoned. That would certainly be true of Frida Kahlo. It's also true of most of us.

I included the graffiti behind the bird to remind me that the creative life must often turn to ordinary things, to seemingly ugly things. Things we think of as base or low can actually be sacred.

I look for the sacred in everything.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Inevitable

Top image: My collage, The Inevitable Process of Aging.

Bottom image: Paul Gauguin's At the Cafe, 1888
Pushkin museum, Moscow.
I did a brand new collage today. Classes start back for me at the university on Monday, and I wanted to do one more art project before I got overwhelmed by my commitments at work.

This one is larger than the others. It doesn't fit on the back of the postcard. I told myself I was going to limit myself to what would fit in the space of a post card, but now I've already gone back on that resolution. All art is like that: it won't stay within the bounds we've set for it!

For awhile now, I've been interested in the cycle of life. Nothing represents that cycle better, I think, than food. I associate the anticipation of a good meal to all manner of renewal. Each meal is a new opportunity to experience the fullness of life.

Our creative life is like food for our soul.

The woman in Gauguin's painting gazes out at us as through we are her dining partner. I feel she hasn't eaten yet, and she looks at us expectantly. I believe she hopes for good things, but I also believe the past has taught her to accept that good things do not, like the old adage promises, always come to those who wait. Therefore, she has always seemed a little sad to me, tired. And lonesome. Since my art school days, I have always attributed her solitary demeanor to the encroachment of middle age, which certainly poses its own quandaries involving change and possible stagnation. Just look at the customers behind her: talk about stagnation!

Yes, Gauguin's model is frozen just at the moment of mild, quiet expectation.

Looking at At the Cafe earlier today, I thought of aging. Not just aging but also the process of life.

The partially peeled orange in my collage represents the hopeful expectation of good things to come expressed by Gauguin's model. The birds at the right, young love. The old man at Queen Victoria's feet is of tiny stature, hardly consequential at all. Queen Victoria stands on an orange sphere. Her image was fun to work with from its original conception to the final touches. The venerable image of the queen transmogrifies into the image of a clown. Her great energy, her great power is dwarfed.

The image, as humorous as it may seem, speaks to me a little bit of the fear we all have of being made grotesque by old age: indeed, the children huddle next to a dilapidated tennis ball in silent awe, and, perhaps, fear of what awaits them in the years to come.

I believe the vulture needs little explanation except to say that I love vultures and do not think of them in a negative sense at all. They are necessary creatures, beautiful in their own way. They represent the magical mystery of life because they clean up the dead things and convert them into new energy. Whenever we die to an old self, the vulture is always there to clean up the carcass of that old life. Without the vulture we couldn't carry on.

I had a very good time making this collage. I have put it up in my writing room to see what it can tell me about a character I'm working with in one of my new stories. I think my experiment of working with imagery is proving useful to me in my writing life. It helps me to discover important imagery.

And, not insignificantly, it's fun!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Rabbit Tree

Top image: Paul Gauguin. Untitled (Tahitian landscape) of the artist's book, aus dem Kunstlerbuch Noa Noa Musee du Louvre, Paris.

Bottom image: My collage, The Rabbit Tree, based on Gauguin's painting.


I was getting tired of the old walls on my blog. Thought I'd slap some bright pink over everything and make a new start. What do y'all think? Is it too much?

I've managed to do a couple of collages since I got out of school for Christmas break. I did this collage, The Rabbit Tree, just before Christmas. I'm still working with Gauguin imagery. Earlier in the month, I had been researching the symbolism of trees. It seemed an apt thing to do with Christmas right around the corner and Cynthia writing about the importance of the Christmas tree in her family.

I didn't know what I wanted to do with my collage until I ran across the mysterious image of the human brain that looks very much like a tree to me. My son's is an illness of the brain, so that image really spoke to me. The cool colors and the starkness of the image mirrored my psyche. When I am stressed or undergoing some dramatic change in my life, I go back to the fundamental question of "Who am I?" That is when I thought about a rabbit.

Once, about two years ago, I asked my husband, Allen, what animal I most reminded him of. He thought for a while and then said, "A rabbit." At first I was indignant: A rabbit? That cute, timid, insignificant, cuddly thing of Easter baskets? Is that how he really thinks of me? I wondered. I said something to him to that effect.

"No, no!" he countered. "That's not how I think of rabbits. Rabbits are quiet, patient, strong creatures who survive underground, in the deep places in the earth. That's where you live, in the deep places of your heart." Needless to say, I thought that was a fantastic answer and further evidence to me that I'd married just the right man.

So, off to do research about the rabbit and the hare! What a fascinating creature in many mythologies. In one Native American culture, for instance, the hare stories are very sacred, the hare representing their Christ. Indeed, when the missionaries came, the indigenous peoples said they didn't need Christ, for they already had hare. The hare was also closely associated, in some cultures, to the moon and to healing, to the stars. So when Spring came, with its thaw, with its rains and its flooding, I wrote a poem to the rabbit. The poem is rough and unfinished, but it encapsulates my thinking during that time.

Looking at the stark image of the brain, reflecting on what my son was going through, I began to think of myself again as that rabbit, living in the dark places of my psyche, gathering food, gathering healing herbs, gathering strength for the days ahead. The rabbit, then, finished off my collage image well.

Here is the poem I wrote about the rabbit:

In this wet season
claws your burrow
with its sharp nails.

I look out my window
and see you sniffing
the ground at the edge
of the blue, fallow field.

Are you flooded out?
Soon, Osiris will gather
himself again. This rain
will stop.


Watching you, I wonder, Has
your winter shyness given way
to the rutting madness of your mates?
Or do you prefer to crouch
at the Virgin's feet? I'd give a house-full
of coppers to know myself again. I yearn
for bucks all my own, their rutting ways.

Rough-Footed Lepus,
Osiris' Boat,
sniffing among the dead grasses,
once a year, gods say you lay
your eggs in our secret places.

Your likeness is everywhere
this time of year: Gingham, pink,
or chocolate-brown,
you ride in children's baskets.

Basket-rider, sawdust-filled companion,
sweet-tooth cure, you once fought
monsters, stood between us and the Great
Manitou. But we've forgotten that.

Moon-Hare, Savior.
You sacrificed your immature ways
for the sake of further development,
and for that you are our Christ.

I watch you, Moon-Hare.
You leap toward the cottonwoods.
I have no fig-tree you can pound
your herbs beneath to make your
magic drink.

I wish I had such a tree.
I would ask you to make a drink for me.

Monday, January 02, 2006


Image of one of my writing desks at home. I currently have five writing desks, each with a different purpose.


First, I would like to thank everyone who expressed their concern for me and my family since my last post. In no particular order: Gretchen, Lily, Vince, Beth, Paula, Cynthia, Robin, Maisie, Vicky, Judith Heartsong, Christina and her mom. Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, meditations, and for the information you shared about our son's illness.

Because this is a public forum and I use my real name, I won't talk about my son's illness in detail, but I will give a brief overview of what has happened the last month. Our son had to be hospitalized at the very beginning of December, just before the end of the semester, my busiest and most stressful time. I went on automatic pilot for a while. There was much to do at work and we visited our son at the hospital every day. Adding to our stress, during the time he was hospitalized, the temperatures here were bitter cold and we had two significant snowstorms, making the road conditions extremely treacherous.

Slowly, I have returned to myself. When I experience a devastation or a lot of stress, I need to retreat and take a lot of alone time. It helps me to sort things out. It isn't that I don't feel connected to my creative life or to my friends, but something important in me shuts down. As a result, I have to rebuild myself.

A lot has happened to me since I've been a Lecturer at BGSU: I lost both parents and a brother, and I had a major, life-altering operation. Not one of those events--not all of those events combined--approached the anguish I felt about our son's illness.

Our family has had and continues to have good and bad days, but I am happy to report that our son is now on promising medications. He is out of the hospital and doing better. I am feeling a sense of balance in my life again, enough to resume the blog.

I have visited your blogs and noticed that some of you posted pictures of your writing desks. So I reenter the world of blogging by offering mine. I have (right now) five desks at home. I say "right now" because I am ever adding another desk. I collect them, it seems. Each desk has a different purpose.

The desk in the photo is one I use to write letters and do typing projects. I am the owner of three wonderful manual typewriters I bought off eBay. This gray one is an Olympia model, made in the fifties. It has a wide carriage and is tough as a tank. I've been using it the last few weeks to type out notecards for my Ohio River Boat Journey project. (Many of you will remember that my husband and I floated down the Ohio River for 8 weeks this past summer and that I'm trying to write a book about it.)

Look to the right of the typewriter: see that big stack of notecards? Those are the cards I've finished. I would say there are probably around 150 cards in that stack alone. And I have just barely scratched the surface of my project.

The open box to the right of the cards is a cigar box one of my sons gave me, actually the son that is ill. I'm using this box to hold the finished cards. I can envision I will need several boxes to hold cards. I haven't done notecards since I wrote my Master's Thesis back in the '80s (From X to I: The Evolution of Salinger's Narrative Method). I'd forgotten how much fun it is to do notecards! Yes, that's right. I love doing notecards!

It is probably hard to see, but on the back of the desk is an old-fashioned glass milk bottle. Inside it is a long stick wrapped with leather, decorated with beads, and topped with a buzzard skull. I collect bones and skulls (more on that sometime). My husband made this stick for me many years ago, and I cherish it. Inside the jar is also a back scratcher shaped like a hand. It has an element of magic to me, and I enjoy looking at it.

Just to the left of the jar, glowing orange, is a turtle nightlight.

Next to the jar is a stuffed bird, another of my Goodwill treasures, a recent acquisition, one I've had to take a lot of ribbing for. As you can see, our youngest son, Brian placed a plastic gorilla on its back when he was here for Christmas, as a joke. That is a quirky habit our sons have: they rearrange my treasures in order to "tell" funny stories. So my bird suddenly has "a monkey on its back" and a hungry lion attacking its feet. My stuffed characters from Nightmare Before Christmas suffer similar terrors, although Sally is forever being saved by Jack or vice-versa. And etc.

Next to the bird is a white monkey-like creature my husband made from clay. We raku fired the piece in our yard just this past summer. The tall blue cat was also made by my husband, back when Bill Bradley was running for president. The cat looks like Bill Bradley to me, so I call it Bradley. Behind Bradley, on the wall, is a mirror.

On the left corner of the desk is a cedar letterbox my husband made for my mother many years ago. When she died, I assumed possession of it. Hanging from the little green lamp is a cloth bird from India, a gift from one of my creative writing students.

The picture on the wall is a collage by Marce Dupay.

Well, that is one little corner of my life.

Again, thanks to all for your comfort and your patience. May we all have a wonderful, productive year.



About Me

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych



Little Deer

Little Deer



Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking Forward, Looking Back