Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Girl in a Gypsy's Dream

Riding the Storm Out

It will never cease to astound me (ok, and I admit, sort of rankle me) when someone says, "I wish I was like you." I mean... huh! My first reaction is "Why?!" Not as in, "why would you want to be like me," but as in, "why wouldn't you want to be like you?" I cherish the uniqueness I see in others, the ineffable singularity that makes them the Who that they are.

Even so, I can understand the discomfort that comes with being in one's own skin. If you haven't accepted who you are, it can be really itchy and even painful. I suppose from that comes wanting to be in someone else's skin, thinking that it probably feels quite cozy. I should know. I do know. But, someone else's skin isn't nearly as cozy as you'd like it to be, or think it to be.

The thing is, I never in all "those" times wanted to be like anyone else. I just wanted to be okay with being me. I wanted someone to say, "Hey, y'know... whatever it is in you that you feel, it's alright." Mostly I wanted to hear that from myself. More than anything I wanted to hear that from myself. But, like the song says, "Forgiveness draws its first breath with hesitation."**

I've come a long way. A really long way. Looking back is like looking through a telescope. I can see the girl, I swear I could almost touch her, but she really is miles and miles away. What I carry is the memories we share. I know... I know that sounds a tad psychotic, but really, it's pretty damned healthy all things considered. Think about it this way. You can't be a champion swimmer if you're still the kid that was too scared to jump off the diving board. You can't become a gypsy if you're still the kid that's afraid to step off the front porch. Get what I'm saying?

You have to leave that part of you behind. I had to leave that part of me behind. I simply refer to that part of me as The Girl. The sad, scared little girl who one day discovered she was grown up and tried to cope with it all using the same mentality she'd had for over 40 years. Now that, friends n' neighbors, is psychotic! So when someone says, "I wish I was like you." I have to shake my head and say, "No. Trust me. You don't." Because, feisty gypsy that I've become, everything I am now is (still) tied irrevocably to The Girl. And her memories, her take on the world, are No Fun.

I told you all that to tell you this. I had an amazing dream the other night.

In my dream I was The Girl. I was The Girl at about fourteen years old. I was walking through a snowy field. It was dark with just twinkling stars for light. I was wearing a flannel gown and only had slippers on my feet, but I was only barely shivering, and I really didn't notice it. I was in love with the way the world looked just then, so sparkling and clean. I began to weep. I thought, "This is crazy! This is... I'm a fucking freak to be out here like this! No one else in the world is out here. No one else. No one sees this. Just me. Why do I have to be so damned different?!" My vision wavered through my tears. I felt the stars creep a little closer, as if a ceiling had just lowered. I wiped at my eyes with the sleeve of my gown. I looked about me and written in light on the snow was a single question, "Why do you think you should have to be like others?" It hit me with enough force to knock me down in the snow. I began to cry again, but this time with relief. I saw the steam of my tears rising from my cheeks. I thought, "This is enough. More than enough. This is quite good."

*Antigone Rising, Open Hearts and Doors

Monday, August 30, 2010

Beggar at the Feast

The Soft Gooey Center

Last week was another very good week. Two particularly good things happened that really had, and still have, my creativity all keyed up. The first was an outing with my friend Robin to Ben Franklin. I bought a few art supplies, but I think what sparked me more was just being around all that creative stuff. Plus, Robin is a creative soul too, and just sitting and talking about our mutual artsy predilections had my fingers feeling dancy and aching for color.

The second thing was a huge box filled with all manner of art supplies. It landed on my doorstep courtesy of my dearest pal Laura. Opening it was... well... if this had been a movie, I would have been a young boy finally receiving a Red Ryder BB Gun. The box held two totes full of dozens of rubber stamps, paints, brushes, etc. I was overcome and undone.

Most importantly, the box held freedom. It held acres for my wandering imagination. Acres? Try worlds. No, try a whole Universe or two. I've had so many ideas in my head and not quite the right tools to implement them all. Between my excursion with Robin and the box from Laura, I'm more than geared up for the journey.

And what a journey it's been already! I didn't just jump into the vortex... I dived! I can't get enough. The ideas just keep building. It feels.... it feels... volcanic in terms of size and ability. It's as though everything I've been experiencing this past year has been mere rumblings and the real activity is just about to start. I'm excited, more excited than I've ever been about anything.

Do I know where it's taking me? Oh, no. Does it matter? Not a bit. This is one journey that is absolutely and only about the ride. Where it takes me, at least at this point, is irrelevant. All I know is this:
  • I will never again look at things without it being a view toward something artistic, whether it ends up becoming art or coming out in art. My "eye" has changed.
  • Everything, and I mean everything, around me is alive and humming with color and shape
  • Everything has a face of some sort. I don't know if this happens to other artists, but I've noticed it becoming more prevalent with me the past few months. I see faces in everything, everywhere... eyes, mouths, hair... they're everywhere. They're in the woodgrain of the desk, in the configuration of leaves on the trees, in the nap of the carpet and the oil slick on the pavement. Everywhere.
  • I'm so much more me than I've ever been. I've found my muchness.
  • It's pretty damned amazing when every day feels like the best sex you've ever had, whether or not there's anything physically sexual going on.

This is good, folks. This is my life at a fine place. I may be a beggar at the feast, but oh... oh oh oh... what a fine feast it is.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Policing the Laundry

Mountain Dream

Here we are again at poetry Saturday. I'm beginning to like these Saturday posts... you? Just a little something different to wind down the week. Again, I'm taking Sunday "off." I'm beginning to like that too, now that I've managed to hurdle the guilt of not writing for one entire day (egads! the horror!). It gives me a day to refresh, rethink, regroup.

The following poem is one that I wrote about 11 years ago. It was sparked off of a comment John made while we were at a laundromat. As he sat watching things spin in the dryer, he remarked with a sigh, "I wonder what the whales think of us..." That small, but profound, spark set off the tinder that became this poem. It was one of his favorites.

Enjoy and have a wonderful weekend!

Saturday Night at the Laundromat

Policing the laundry,
machines spinning
an endless cycle of dirt
that measures the days -
you with your things,
me with my things,
our stuff mingling
like so many mis-matched socks,
and we just wait to fold.

The dryers hum a litany.
You roll your eyes heavenward
to say if there was really
a real god
there'd be no laundry.
This is why
I am thinking of atheism
(that spiritual fig leaf)
as I fold underwear.

It's all too real,
this business of our lives,
the place between
pleasure and progress,
where we are stuck
in a minefield of mundanity -
we worry about the steps, but
nothing ever does explode.
Hey, the towels are fluffy,
the sheets are warm.
It's absurdly important.
Yeah. I, too, wonder
what the whales must think of us.

It's done again, and
we face another week
of things gradually
filling a basket.
I slip my hand
into yours,
and ponder
how complicated it can be
to simply live.

© Barbara Ann Black, 2010-2011

Friday, August 27, 2010

See the Sea

Wind Goddess

No one who has ever sat beside the sea and experienced her eternal power and gentleness can have any questions that the sea knows that she is just that, the sea. Nature has such an ability to be exactly what she is, with no pretense, and she does not even have to stop and think about it.
~Anne Wilson Schaef

I love that quote! Thank you Thinking Too Hard.

We all have a true nature within us. We all have a thing that we are more than anything else. Most of us aren't that thing exactly. Most of us don't know how to be that thing, much less be that thing without pretense. Most of us haven't a clue how to be that thing without stopping and thinking about it.

Even when we know our true nature (and I believe that few of us have acknowledged that, much less figured it out), and are pursuing being that very thing, we find ourselves unable to do it without question and doubt. I'm no different. I've come to a point in my life where I know there are certain things I was born to do, to experience, to be. Still, I find myself thinking, "But... what if no one else gets it?"

And so what if they don't? Does that matter? Should it? I don't think so. I think when you're being who you need to be, and being that with everything you've got, the rest falls into place. The water sloughs off, the mud settles, and the gold shines through. Anyone who can't see that it's right for you can go pound sand.

I should know. There's a reason my daily affirmation includes, "I am a writer. I am an artist. I am creative." There'd be no need for an affirmation if I completely believed it. Years and years ago, when my younger brother asked me to play piano for his wedding, my first response was, "Really?!" Earlier this year when friends asked me to design their wedding invitations, my first response was, "Wow! Are you sure?" A couple of weeks ago when someone asked to buy one of my paintings, my response was, "Are you kidding?!" Part of those responses was the delight in being recognized, but I'll admit that a bigger part was astonishment that they considered my work worthy, wonder that they "got" it.

Yet, I've become bolder. I've gotten better at sticking my foot in the door and saying, "Hey, I'm here!" I just need to learn to shout it. If my work is honest, if it is a reflection of my true nature, then letting the world see it isn't at all pretentious (and being pretentious is a fear of mine because I can't stand pretentious people). If what I do is what I am, then there's no shame in it.

Take me for what I am,
who I was meant to be
and if you give a damn
take me baby, or leave me

I will keep pushing, keep creating. I have to. I'm Barb Black and I have to be Barb Black. It's only natural.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Let the Healing Begin

The other night I was exhausted. I sat slumped and heavy lidded on the sofa while some mindless drivel leaked from the TV. Steve said, "C'mon, Sleepy Girl... let's go to bed." In the wheedling voice that any three year old has mastered, I said, "Carry me." (Of course, this wasn't going to happen. I've never been one of those petite women that men like to hoist around. It just isn't in the cards. I wouldn't wish me on anyone's back!)

There are times when we have to allow others to carry us. I'm really lousy at that. I'm the one who takes care of people. I'm the one who makes sure everyone is comfortable. I very rarely ask for help. It's hard for me to accept anyone's help, hard for me to allow anyone to take care of me. I'm the one who says, "I'm fine." Even when I'm not. I was taught at a young age that "no one wants to know your woes, you put a smile on it and quit complaining." So I cover well. I'm quite the actress. Like a badly made casserole, I smother it all with a sense of humor (cheese) and make it palatable.

So, this past year with Steve has been a huge adjustment for me, because he does take care of me in so many ways. Never mind that he handles all the household finances while I'm playing artist and pretending that someday I'll be a well-paid artist. I can't begin to tell you what that kind of support means to me. He makes me breakfast on the weekends. He rubs my feet. He'll do anything to make me comfortable and happy. I'm still learning to accept that.

Sometimes we need to allow others to carry us. Sometimes it's best if we do. I don't know how I could have made it through this past year without Steve. I certainly wouldn't have done as well as I have. I definitely wouldn't have had the artistic freedom that I've had. I've stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know he's there for me as solid and sure as these mountains I love.

A while back I listed the things he's done for me and thanked him. Then I asked, "But... what's in it for you?" He held me a little tighter and said, "You're here."

Love like that will carry me forever. I'm learning to enjoy the feel of air beneath my feet.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Rhythm of the Soul

I know that I'm doing myself a grave disservice when I sit down to play my piano and the keys are dusty. Granted, I'm not the world's most enthusiastic duster person, and never will be, and that's okay. However, when the keys are that dusty, it means that I haven't been playing, and that's not okay.

Music is what I have always turned to, before there were words to write, before I knew how to write, before I did my first finger painting, before I had my first box of crayons. Music has always been there for me, the friend who has never failed.

I can remember being four years old, and I know I was four years old because I remember that it was right after we had moved into the new house on Bonnie. I had just started kindergarten and was enjoying my first cold of the season. I was sitting on the toilet (yes, I was) and amusing myself by singing, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in my crackly cold-enhanced voice. Evidently I was the only one amused, because it wasn't long before my mother knocked at the door and said, "It's time for you to be done in there, young lady."

It was that Christmas that Dad bought a piano for "the girls," for Mom, Nancy and me. It was a sturdy Baldwin console piano. In my later years I learned that it had the best honkytonk sound of any piano I'd ever play. But, that Christmas it was new, and shiny, and foreign, and wondrous. Mom, still possessing a decent skill level after years of abstinence, sat down and played some tunes. I marveled at the way her fingers flitted over the keys, making recognizable songs come out of the big box.

I was curious. I was beyond curious. I couldn't stand not knowing how to play. My first song was Jolly Old St. Nicholas. I taught myself after Mom showed me where middle C was, taught me the rest of the keys in the octave, and how they corresponded to those mysterious dots all over the page. I only played the right hand. It was all I knew. Still, I was playing! Of course, as kids do, I'd often plunk at all the keys, running my fingers over the entire keyboard, pretending I was performing some grand classical piece. That's when Mom would say, "That is not a toy! Kindly stop banging on it." That was her word for whenever we played something she didn't like, or played too loudly... banging.

Piano lessons began a year later. I remember sitting down with the teacher and proudly telling her, "I already know how to play!" "Really?" she marveled. "Play something for me." So, the chubby little fingers of my right hand plunked out the melody to Jolly Old St. Nicholas. "Ahhh," said Mrs. I. "How about the left handwork?" "Oh..." So, she taught me the lower octave, and how that corresponded to the not quite so mysterious dots on the page. I ate it up. I wanted more songs. I wanted more knowledge. I wanted to know all the notes. I wanted to know what the numbers meant, and the lines and squiggles. I wanted to play.

So began my love affair with the piano. A few years back (can 25 years be considered a few?) I began writing my own music. It started innocently enough. I was going through some chord progressions with my left hand, and idly picking at single notes with my right. Wait a minute! What was that? I played it again. Hey, that sounds like something! I took it out a little further, then played the whole thing again. I realized I was humming. I played it again and this time words came out, "Walk softly, when you walk into my heart, Love." I was captive and captivated, down the proverbial rabbit hole for all I was worth. It had been shortly after dinner when I started playing, when I looked up at the clock, it was nearly midnight. And I had written a song.

I still play it. It's fairly rudimentary in terms of song writing prowess, but it's a sturdy tune, even if I do say so myself. It's got a beat and you can dance to it, and the lyrics, albeit sort of smarmy, aren't completely shabby. Over the years, and after almost a decade of being without a piano, I've gotten a little rusty at reading music. Something doesn't connect between my eyes and my hands quite the way it used to.

That old Christmas song book has been well used over the past 44 years, and is showing the signs of age. It's held together by tape that's been taped over, and taped over again. There is no longer any binding, save for the tape. I still play out of it every year. With both hands and with great love.

I've never had another force in my life like the piano. I've never had another friend as solid and sure. In the words of Stephen King at the end of his novella The Body, "Jesus, does anybody?"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Beautiful Bruise

The Muses

A very long time ago, back in my youth, (y'know... when the earth was still new), I was ice skating with friends and family. We were playing a fast paced game of tag. As I lurched toward my intended victim, I twirled, lost my footing and hit the ice with an audible WHAP!, landing on my right thigh and butt cheek. I remember sitting against the snowbank (to whence I'd slid), and feeling slightly stunned. But, kids being the resilient bundles of energy that they are, I jumped back up and into the game. I didn't think of the fall again until later when I saw that I had a bruise the size and color of a Texas sunrise, a bruise that would stay with me for a good two weeks. I didn't mind. Every time I saw that bruise I was reminded that we'd had a blast that day on the ice. It was a beautiful bruise.

I have a gimpy left leg. Yes, for all you Politically Correct, Overly Concerned, Uptight Wankers out there... gimpy. Having lived with a paraplegic for 9 years, and having my own mobility issues, I've earned the right to say the word gimp if I want to. Stand down. Lighten up.

Anyway. I have a gimpy left leg. It's something I've had to deal with to some degree since I was 17 years old. I had some minor surgery that turned into a major infection that turned into a life long (well, until I was 45 at least) ulceration, that turned into several more surgeries and a whole hell of a lot of nerve damage. The leg is as fixed as it is ever going to get. Thankfully, I haven't had any more ulceration issues since 2005. Even more thankfully, I got to keep my leg, and there was a serious threat that I might not get to. I have a huge, gnarled scar on my left calf that looks as though I got bit by a shark. Really, there's a chunk missing. Indeed, this is what I tell people (who don't know me) who are rude enough to inquire, or say something completely uncouth like, "Oh my god... your leg!" "Oh," I say glibly. "I was bit by a shark."

The nerve damage has left most of my lower left leg completely numb, or in some spots, only kind of sort of numb. Along with that is the strange throbbing, tingly sensation, much like you'd feel if your entire leg fell asleep. I've learned to live with it. It also gets very achy and even painful if I'm on it too long, particularly if I have to stand still for very long. The worst part of it all is that the completely numb part encompasses my entire foot, along with the nerves and muscles that operate my foot. So, I have to be careful when I walk. I have to be conscious about how I place my foot. Altered terrain makes me nervous. I don't go up or down steps without holding the railing.

Even so, it's my leg. It still works. All the agony I went through, and sometimes still tolerate, reminds me that I'm still here, walking under my own steam. It reminds me that I have a lot to be thankful for. In it's own way, it's a beautiful bruise. It is an admonition to be cautious, but to not give up; to be aware, but not ungrateful. The reminder in the rainbow of a bruise, in the black, blue, violet, ochre and green, is: You're still here. Get back up and get on the ice.

I'm wondering... can I still ice skate?

Monday, August 23, 2010

So, Then...

Icarus Dreams
I was fairly wistful last week, and, I would even say, a little down. But, it was okay. I needed to allow myself to feel. Just because we have a positive outlook on life, doesn't mean we're numb to some of the more difficult aspects. It doesn't eliminate sorrow.

It began when I shipped John's ashes and his favorite Hawaiian shirt (that I made long ago) to Timothy. I had actually been looking forward to doing it. It has taken Timothy and me a long time to honor John's wishes. I felt good about it after talking to Timothy and hearing his plans. When it came down to it, the implementation sucked. There was something that felt so wrong about packing him into a box to be shipped. As if he was something to simply be sent away. Cargo. Plus, I've had the carved wooden box that serves as his urn (I hate that word) in my possession since a week after he died. There was something comforting about it - as if he'd never really left, or was not gone for good.

I felt unexpectedly bereft. Even a little lost. It did no good to remind myself that everything that was good about John was still safe inside of me. But, there's no turning back from a promise. So, I sealed the box shut and wrote Timothy's address on it. I brought it downstairs and told Steve I was ready to go to the Post Office. Once there, Steve grabbed the box, and I grabbed the lighter stuff that I had ready to ship. I watched Steve walking slightly ahead of me, so strong, confident, and beautiful, so loving and loved, carrying the remains of my late beloved, in a box addressed to Timothy. Irony is never lost on me. It seemed fitting somehow that he was part of John's final journey - the three men I love most in this world, Steve, John, and Timothy, all captured in one brief scene.

We walked up to the counter. My other packages were posted first, then came John. The postal clerk asked, "Anything hazardous, liquid, flammable, glass or perishable?" Perishable, I thought. No, the perishing has been done already. I realized that I must have hesitated a moment over long because I could feel both the clerk and Steve looking at me for an answer. "Uh, no," I finally said. "Insurance?" asked the clerk. Insurance. Yes, I want insurance that this man standing next to me won't go the way of the one in the box. I want insurance that he will be here until the end of my life. Again, finally, I said, "No. Thank you." "Okay then... $13.81," he said as he affixed the postage to the box and set it in a bin with many other boxes. I noticed that my hands shook as I pulled the money out of my wallet. I gave him the best smile I could manage, thanked him, and walked away with leaden feet. I noticed the way Steve's right hand brushed the small of my back as he held the door for me with his left. I noticed that the sun was far too bright. And all I had left in me, all I could think, was, "So, then...." Nothing more would come, except that. "So, then..." It was always John's favorite thing to say when he was trying to figure out the next indicated thing.

I adjusted. I took some time and wrapped my head around it. I made some funky-ish art and got the soul gunk regurgitated. I hugged Steve a few extra times (a worthy remedy for any occasion). It helped that the heat wave took a turn and a cold front moved in.

It helped, and it didn't help. The cool weather was cool enough to be a harbinger of the coming Fall. Everything artistic in me screamed for Autumnal colors and patterns. As always, a cool Fall day makes me think of my Dad. So, as I often do when threatened with emotional overload, I went up to my studio. I took down Dad's old box of pastels. It's been around since the 60's at least, and in my possession since 1982 when Dad died. In all that time, I never used them. I just like to open the wooden box and look at the glorious array of colors, relatively untouched by Dad as well. I've never used them, that is, until now. It occurred to me that the last time I held the box, opened it, and looked at the colors, I didn't consider myself an artist. I wouldn't have even thought of using them. But. Not. This. Time.

This time, as the scent of wood and chalk hit my nostrils and evoked the expected sneeze, I didn't just sigh, close the box back up and put it on the shelf. Instead, I grabbed my sketch pad and went to work. All that color. All that blank paper. I was lost - this time in a good way - for hours. All the while, I had Dad's voice at the back of my head saying, "There ya go, Punkin..." and could sense (more than see in my mind's eye) John smiling and nodding at me, and finally, Grandma weighing in with, "Vell now..."

I'm surrounded by ghosts, but they're my muses. They're the ones I turn to when I'm stuck on a project or when I need a little oompf in my inspiration. With the sorrow comes beauty. With love and remembrance, come color and shape. With allowing myself to feel everything, I have everything to give.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Once Upon A Saturday


I'm taking the weekend off from this blog again. So, I leave you with a bit of art and one of my favorite poems that I wrote a few years back. See you Monday.

Too Much To Say

my silence is so rarely
the voice
with nothing to say
most often
it is a river of words
that flood
too closely together
the volume of the torrent
deafening, falling
upon these stones
that weight and trip
my saying something
or anything

Friday, August 20, 2010

Urgent! Urgent!! Emergency!!!

Now that I have your attention. Your urgency is not my emergency, nor is it likely to be an emergency to most other folks.

We've forgotten the true nature of an emergency. Instant gratification has made us soft and completely impatient. We want assistance and answers and solutions, and we want them now! Drama Queens abound. A couple of weeks ago, a facebook friend posted, "I see the f-bomb being dropped a lot. F this, F that. What are you going to say when it's really serious? When it's really an emergency?" Amen, Bruthah D, amen.

Anyone who has paid attention to the news for the past couple of days, especially anyone in the Greater Puget Sound area, has heard about the sonic booms that were created by two F-15 fighter planes chasing a float plane out of closed airspace due to President Obama's visit to Seattle. The Pierce County 911 lines were jammed when they were flooded with calls by people worrying about the big noise. Big noise... cause for concern? Certainly. An emergency? Nuh uh. Some poor old guy having a heart attack because of the big noise? Yes, an emergency. Too bad he couldn't get through for help.

With all the heat here this past week, I've had the pleasure of listening to the neighbor kids splashing around in their pool. A couple of days ago, one of the kids started screeching and screaming as if his life depended on it. "Agggghhhh... NOOOO... Help!" resounded alarmingly through the neighborhood. I mean, the kid was shouting bloody murder, holy hell, whatever you want to call it. I was genuinely worried. I rushed downstairs from my studio, was about to run outside and save the day, when I heard his mother, "What!? What is it?" The kid whined, "There's a leaf in the pool!" I stood inside the doorway, livid. I had thought the kid was in real trouble, and my heart was lurching in my chest from the adrenaline rush, but no... there was a leaf in the pool. I could have throttled the mother for simply saying, "Oh," and picking the leaf from the pool. Really? Why not offer the kid a popsicle for being so damn brave?!

Back in the day, we'd run all over the neighborhood. We were not, under any circumstance, allowed to scream. In my mother's words, "Unless your hair is on fire, or you've experienced the loss of a limb, I do not expect to hear that kind of noise coming from you!" No doubt, getting caught screaming over a false "emergency" would have, indeed, given us something to cry about. By the time we were doing things that would possibly have caught our hair on fire, we were not about to tell my mother about it. And, no one ever did manage to lose a limb.

I have friends who gripe, with good reason, about those in their work worlds and the "emergency" issues that put them through the proverbial ringer on a daily basis. I remember those days well (and don't miss them one damn bit!), days where it wasn't enough to simply plow through my own work load without someone coming into the office in a panic and saying, "Oh my god! Help! The copier is jammed and I was supposed to get this sent out yesterday!!! Fix it! Fix it!!!" Clearly, two things were a little fuzzy in this person's focus (lack thereof), and had completely escaped their consideration. One was that, if it was due yesterday, it was already late and panicking wouldn't help. Two, failure to see the enormous pile of shite on my desk did not constitute the reality that I had enough of my own problems to deal with.

Mind now, I'm not saying that there is anything at all wrong with asking for help, just take it down a few notches. Casually approach the person whose assistance you're seeking and ask, "Excuse me, if you have a moment, would you be willing to help me with something?" There. See how easy that is?

So, my fine reading gang, it's obviously time to define emergency.

Emergency: ~noun
1. an unexpected occurrence or occasion requiring immediate action, help, or relief
2. a sudden instance of danger demanding immediate remedy or action
3. a patient requiring urgent treatment

Next time you scream and holler, kindly consider the above parameters. Is your little crisis truly an emergency? If it isn't, then calm down and shut up. Because, as Mom used to say, "One of these times you're really going to need me and I won't feel like listening."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stone Soup & Another Tall Tale

Stone Soup is on the menu today, kindly pass the verbage.

Sometimes I want to write, I want really badly to write, but stuff just doesn't tumble out... or maybe it's more that it doesn't just tumble out. The thoughts are there, but there's no cohesion, nothing that says (Much like a dog needing someone to throw the frisbee to be chased), "There ya go, Baby... run with it!" I had such a morning the other day. So, as I was trolling for ideas, I turned to my facebook friends. They never fail to dissapoint, and certainly never fail to amuse. I now have enough topics to last at least a week or more.

Kathy suggested, "Verbal Stone Soup. Pretend you need a topic and the tribe writes it for you." A few responses later, Laura commented, "Actually, I think we sorta have written her post..."

For those of you unfamiliar with the Stone Soup story, because, let's face it, you grew up under a rock (cue raucous laughter), here is the synopsis: Weary travelers (gypsies!) come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty pot. They're starving when they arrive, but the villagers are not willing to share any of their food. So, the travelers fill the pot with water and drop a stone into the pot, then place it over a fire in the village square. Curious, one of the villagers asks what they are doing. The travelers tell the villager, "We are making stone soup. It tastes wonderful, although it still needs just a bit of salt to improve the flavor. If only we had a bit of salt." The villager doesn't mind parting with just a little bit of seasoning to help them out, so it gets added to the soup. Another villager comes by and inquires about the pot. The travelers again mention their stone soup, citing that it still hasn't reached its full potential. The villager hands them a couple of potatoes to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each hearing the story, each contributing their own ingredient. After all is said and done, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

So, you see the correlation. I'd kind of forgotten the story until Kathy mentioned it, but it used to be one of my favorites to read to kids. It's a wonderful message about generosity, kindness, giving back, and what happens when we all pitch in together.

And then the other shoe dropped. Laura said, "See what you can do with: fishing, ignorance, free-falling, hemp, dictators, weaving, aeroponics, drama addicts, hamsters, lunch, balls and bruises... And Zingers- that's what's for dinner... Oh yeah, I also left out "visiting childhood homes"...

Here goes (why do I suddenly feel very like Karen von Blixen?)...

Two dictators, Mundungus and Ataxia, clothed in light hand-woven hemp shirts, were perched high in a tree. Fairly ignorant, as only dictators can be, they thought it would be an advantageous spot from which to fish, as they could see all the way down to the river bottom from where they were. They'd been fishing for a while without much luck, and were beginning to get hungry. Mundungus suggested that Ataxia open the picnic hamper that dangled from a nearby branch. Knowing what a wonderful cook Ataxia's wife was, he couldn't wait to see what kind of lunch she had packed for them.

Ataxia leaned down to grab the hamper, but the wicker weave was caught on a branch. He gently shook the handle, trying to free it, but it wouldn't budge. Finally, seeing Mundungus's glare, he grasped the handle firmly and gave it a hard yank. Of course, as such things happen, the hamper came free so suddenly that it threw Ataxia completely off balance. He tumbled from the top of the tree into a free fall, plummeting to the river below and certain it would be his death. Instead, he very efficiently caught a large lower branch, thereby breaking the fall. The downside was that he caught it with his crotch. Naturally, this completely took the wind out of him and he toppled the final five feet to the ground, groaning and clutching at his bruised balls.

It wasn't long before Mundungus, now entirely grumpy at being made to wait for his lunch, made his way down, albeit far more gracefully. As he flicked a bit of bark from his shirt, he looked down at Ataxia with disgust and said, "Oh, do stop being such a drama addict! It's only your balls. Get over it - you're not dead! Get up! I'm hungry." At this they both thought to look around for the hamper that surely must have fallen just as Ataxia did. Just as surely, they discovered that it had fallen into the river, completely ruining the contents.

Ataxia knew he couldn't go back to his wife for more. She was going through her change of life and not always in the most amenable moods. Still, he felt that the lack of lunch was completely his fault and he didn't want Mundungus to be angry with him. He said, "I'll tell you what, 'Gus... m'dear old Mum lives just a frog's leap from here. I know the way well - I grew up in that house! She'll be glad to feed us. Come, my friend!" And, so they followed the river bank until they came upon Ataxia's mother's house.

It was a pleasing little cottage set back just so from the river bank. It so happened that it was entirely surrounded by all manner of plants - plants in buckets, hanging from strings. The maze of hoses that was woven across all of this dripped water into and over everything. Mundungus looked at the perplexing collection and said, "What's all this?!" "Oh," replied Ataxia, "Mum's into aeroponics... grows the most delicious vegies and what have you!"

Politely tapping on the door frame, they entered the house. An old woman came toward them, hobbling away from a bubbling cauldron. "Hello, Mum!" Ataxia greeted her. "I hope you don't mind, I've brought my friend Mundungus for a bit of lunch. We were fishing and there was a something of a mishap, and I'm afraid we're both famished! We've walked here all the way from the redwood grove." "Oh dear, son," she replied. "It's well past lunch. In fact, I've already eaten supper. I've got the hamster stew boiling for breakfast, but it won't be ready for hours. Little critters are tough y'know, plus the flavor's all in their wee bones, and they need a longish cooking time."

Ataxia had forgotten how strange some of his mother's habits could be. However, five minutes in his childhood home brought them all rushing back again. It was a dizzying feeling that was very akin to his recent plunge from the top of the tree, and about as pleasant as the resulting blow that had knocked his balls into his tonsils. Even so, his thoughts were of keeping peace with Mundungus who could be a surly, if not threatening dictator at best. He didn't need a war on his hands, dealing with his wife's menopaus was enough for one man. So, he said, "Mum, you must have something. Even a simple nosh. Really, we're both ever so peckish."

The woman went to the pantry, humming an old ode the entire time. Ataxia and Mundungus merely looked at each other as they heard her rummaging, the sound of jars crashing to the floor mixed with the noise of boxes being rattled, and always the high pitched humming. Just as Mundungus leaned toward Ataxia to whisper, "Really, mate... it's not that big a deal. I'll manage, let's just g...." The woman burst from the pantry, waving a red and blue box over her head, and crowed, "ZINGERS! That's what's for dinner!!"

Thus it came to pass that the two dictators went on a fishing trip and ended up feasting on a supper of snack cakes with an old crone. It was already dark when they made ready to leave. Mundungus, more than ready for some fresh air, thanked the old woman and told Ataxia he'd wait for him outside. Ataxia hugged his mother goodbye, wondered at the odd acrid, peppery scent clinging to her clothes, decided not to ask, and thanked her as well. As he paused in the doorway, breathing in the cool night air, he thought, "One really can go back home again, but I think it's best if one doesn't."

~~%~~ The End ~~%~~

The moral of this story is: Mind the size of the frisbee.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Fishing. I don't fish, but I often tag along for the ride. It's not that I'm opposed to me fishing, it's just that it isn't something I'm inspired to do. I'm much more content hanging out and reading a book, or sketching, or writing, or... just hanging.

I appreciate fishing though, and for more than "let's put something yummy on the table tonight." It's the concept that I love. I love the graceful dance of the old men down at the river throwing in a line. I love the stillness of the wait. I love the sights and sounds of nature doing its work. I love that it brings diverse backgrounds together.

Stillness. Any good fisher will tell you that it's about stillness. You don't go to the water with a blaring radio and a lot of chattering friends. No, you go to be quiet, to be still, to acknowledge that you're part of something bigger than you.

We've forgotten how to be still. It got lost in the industrial revolution. Everything sped up, machines whir. We're mired in sound clutter. There's a constant surge of information. Gadgets grow off of us like prosthetics. Gone are the days when dark meant lighting a candle, when entertainment meant telling a good story, or playing an instrument or singing, when relaxing was a day in the shade allowing the line to drift. We've forgotten how to simply breathe in the quiet of a moment.

Steve and I have a nightly ritual. Before we head to bed we sit out on the deck and watch the stars, or clouds, or whatever is out there. We're typically quiet, just listening to the night sounds the world makes, occasionally remarking a satellite sailing by. Last night was no different, save for Steve letting out a contented sigh and saying softly, "I really love sitting out here with you at the end of the day. It's my favorite time."

Stillness. Get some. Oh, and so we're clear... simply doing nothing does not mean you're being still.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Quiet Time

I once had an aunt and uncle, well, they were probably really second cousins once removed, but in terms of the Hungarian family, when you're a child, anyone over 21 is an aunt or an uncle. Anyway, she was deaf and mute, he was blind, deaf and mute. She could read lips and would speak to the hearing folks of the world in the non sibilant way of the deaf. To communicate with each other required them signing into each other's hands. Watching them together was a thing of beauty.

The recall that is clearest in my mind is a Sunday afternoon at some family gathering probably forty years ago. We were all seated around the dinner table. Little Helen - her mother being Big Helen, which was odd because Big Helen was tiny and Little Helen wasn't, but... oh nevermind. Little Helen and John (her husband) sat next to each other. Throughout the meal their hands touched and their fingers danced. The result of which was an occasional outburst of laughter from the two of them. Sometimes Little Helen would relay what had passed between the two of them, other times, she would not.

What was clear to me, even at that young age, was the way he looked at her, and the way she whispered to him.

Love, it is oft said, is blind. At the very least, it is myopic. Real love doesn't see warts. It doesn't see flab, wrinkles, bad hair, no hair, funky teeth, or even a wheelchair. Love sees the beautiful and only the beautiful, and it has no choice in the matter. That's simply what love is. Any line that starts with, "I love you, but..." has nothing to do with love at all. There are no qualifiers, no discounts, no conditions. Love is, or is not.

I believe that love is also silent. It is in the unsaid. Proclamations are easy. It's what we speak without words that roars. It is in a touch, a glance, a smile. It is even in a tear, rolling effortlessly down the contour of the face. Sometimes the unsaid, the silence of love, comes while we are speaking. It is what's heard between the words. It is the lone, clear note that lingers after the phrase is played.

In a recent conversation with my dear friend Timothy, I told him about the time that my late mate John fretted over a gift for him. I said, "You have no idea the time we spent picking that out. It took all day. We went to the art store and back and forth over a few objects, went to lunch and discussed it, then back to the store, and John just paced around and couldn't decide." Timothy interrupted, "Did you hear what you just said?! That's why I love you!" Perplexed, I responded, "Huh?" "You said paced.... that's just... you're beautiful that way." (For those who are still saying, "huh?"... John was confined to a wheelchair.) Most people don't think of those who are wheelchair bound as pacers, but John was definitely a pacer. The booger was rarely ever still. I said to Timothy, very matter-of-factly, "Well, he did! He paced all the time! He just used wheels to do it."

But I caught Tim's drift. He had heard what I wasn't saying. He understood the blindness of my love for John, because he shares that blindness. Neither of us ever saw a man in a wheelchair. We just saw a man, who, for all his frailties, insecurities, and bravado, needed to be loved.

Not long ago, as I was snuggled up against Steve, I smiled up at him and asked, "How did I get so lucky?" He shrugged, and said, "It seems the first half wasn't so great, shouldn't the second half be wonderful?" All the unspoken love in that sentence came rushing at me. I lowered my head back onto his chest, letting my hair fall over my face to obscure the single tear of my unsaid.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shift Change

Two very good things happened last week.

A while back I mentioned that someone wanted to use my story in his book. That someone is Scott Trudo at Live Your Passion. Of course, I was beyond flattered that he thought my work and my story worthy of using in his work. The book goes by the same title as his website, Live Your Passion. True to its title, it's all about how to create and live the life that you want to, that you're drawn to, that, yes, you're passionate about. Well, I'm happy to say the book is now published! I can't recommend the book highly enough. If you're ready for your life to change, you can purchase a copy of the book, Live Your Passion, by Scott Trudo here.

The other very good thing that happened last week is that I sold a painting!!! I was absolutely floored when the purchaser asked to buy the above artwork. She further blew me away when she mentioned that she wanted to hang it in her bedroom with a work by Picasso. I keep thinking, "Barb Black hanging on a wall with Pablo Picasso... unreal. Un-flippin'-real!!!" Close on the heals of that is the likelihood that I've sold yet another painting to another person (just waiting to iron out the details).

Whodathunkit?! I'm in a published book and I'm selling my own artwork. I mean, yes, this is what I've longed for, hoped for, worked toward, but... did I really, truly, deep down believe it? I'm not so sure. I'd like to think that I did, but in all honesty, I've had my doubts. I still have my doubts. It appears I'm human after all.

What's important here is that I'm open to it, I'm allowing it. As Emerson once said, "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen." I decided to follow my art path, decided to go with my passion. I quit saying, "I'm not an artist," and instead latched on to the affirmative, "I am an artist." I decided that it didn't matter how my inner critic felt about my work, but that the work itself was allowed to be. My inner critic (that rat bastard!) will always be there, judging, sneering, scoffing. There will always, always be that voice saying, "It is not good enough." I've merely chosen to listen to a different voice, a voice that says, "Be true. Make it honest. Let the rest fall where it may."

When you live your passion, when you follow what you believe you were born for, everything, good and bad, (still) comes into play. Life happens and the Universe doles out awards and demerits as it sees fit. The difference is that you're working for it and not against it.

I told you August would be a month of shifting paradigms and exacting change. My goal this week is also my affirmation for the week: Let 'er fly!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Two Gypsies



I have wandered
into your land -
its verdant cry
has pierced my soul.
Mine are
the dust-covered colors
of a violent sunset;
see my skirts swirl
ablaze in the summer wind.
My heart is
a magician’s cache
of tricks and turns –
invisible to the eye,
startling with their vision.
My wit is
a dark night cast
with stars that shine
promise of other worlds.
My eyes are
a noon sky –
have stared too long
at suns and moons,
have seen days
become years.
I am deeply ancient.
I am tabula rasa.
I knew you
when you were born, yet
discovered you only yesterday.
I will always
be this curious and wise
gypsy woman –
dancing in the wind,
walking on fire,
wading the river,
for the lush pine grove
that whispers in the evening,
that sings my soul’s music
in a voice that is yours.
© Barbara A. Black, 2010

The poem was actually written in 1998 as I sat next to a quiet stream in the mountains of northern California. It still holds true. The picture was just painted this past week. I am taking the rest of the weekend off (from my blog). I will see you all bright and early on Monday! Stay safe, live well, laugh oft, and in all things love.

Gypsy out.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Remedy

I came across my first grade report card the other day. In the comments section, among other comments lauding my 7 year old intelligence and perspicacity, was, "Barby tends to giggle a little too much." Obviously, some things never change. What's too much? And what the hell was I giggling about? I've always been easily amused. Even when I'm not amused, I will invent amusement.

I'm one of those people who makes up stories about strangers in airports. Sometimes all it takes is a headline: Man Who Licks Cats Flies to Nashville for Secret Rendezvous with Dog Lover or Woman Returns from the 1980s to a Shocking New World. I am also liable to play this game at the grocery store. I even play it at Disney World, and it's not like a body needs extra amusement at Disney World, right?! But people make it so easy down there. You see families all wearing the same t-shirts and you can't help but think: Family of Five Escapes from Hanes Factory With Only the Shirts on Their Backs. Then there's always: Angry Mob Attacks Man for Wearing Dark Socks, Sandals & Bermuda Shorts. But, that one is just too easy.

The biggest issue here - and I don't really see it as an issue, but others sometimes do - the biggest issue is that I'm often found chuckling to myself. I'm not an internal laugher. When it's funny, I really do laugh out loud. Even if it's only funny to me. Even if no one else is around. Laughter is healthy. Well, unless it's insane and followed by copious drooling, or diabolical and followed by unspeakable acts, it's healthy. I assure you, my laughter is neither, it is merely mirth music.

I love that report card though. I may frame it and put it where I can see it. Why? I'd like to think that when my ashes are scattered, someone will be laughing (even if it's through tears), and say, "Barb was always laughing about something."

Is there a better remedy for daily life? I think not.

Woman Who Giggles Too Much Loves Life

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Let's see... who or what can we blame today? After all, nothing is ever our fault is it? Clearly something or someone else is the cause of all our problems - never mind that we're the ones demanding oil based products, driving vehicles with hideous emissions, consuming goods at an astounding rate. Let someone else take the heat for all the failure in the world. We've got enough to deal with already. After all, we've worked our asses off to have our fine homes, big cars, and products, products, products. Freedom is our right, not a privilege.

Whiners of America... unite! That's right.... all y'all... gather together where I can get a clean shot... I mean... a group photo. I hear people complaining all the time, grown people who should know better! "My parents made me like this... my spouse forces me to think this way... our government is full of idiots who keep us down... my kids... my job... my boss... my my my I, I, I..." Bullshit. BullllllSHIT! Did you hear me? Bullshit!

What separates the real humans from the sniveling malcontents is personal responsibility. Yes, it is all about you... you got that much right. However, it's all about you and the grace with which you handle your life.

Your world is out of control and you don't know what to do? Well, in the words of Calamity Jane (as spoken on the HBO series Deadwood), "Join the fuckin' club of the most of us." Every one of us faces obstacles and agony of some sort every single day, and some more than others. You don't get a badge for that. You don't win a prize for that. You get over it. You move beyond it. Maybe every now and then you get some kind of little reward, but that's just bonus material.

Are you stuck? It's your fault, your problem, not anyone else's - get moving.

Are you tired of all the problems you see in the world? In the words of Ghandi, "Be the change you wish to see..."

Can't handle working so hard for "nothing" any more? Guess what... you can sell your house and live in something smaller and cheaper, you can get rid of your huge car and car payments and drive something cheaper, take a bus, ride a bike, or walk, you can also shop for groceries far more efficiently than you do. Quit eating out. Learn to cook.

Tired of doing all the work yourself? Stop shooting for a fairytale life. Life is messy business. If you're constantly trying to pick it up, straighten it out, or keep it clean, you're missing out. At a Christmas gathering a couple of decades ago, my sister was tired and out of sorts. Someone told her to lighten up. She whined, "Yeah, well... I was up baking cookies until three in the morning and then I made the crab dip and I had to decorate and...." My brother calmly replied, "No one asked you to." I learned a lot from his quiet statement. It was one of those small sentences with huge impact.

The point here is, all the whining, bitching and complaining isn't going to change your world at all. Only you can change, and you can change only you. The best thing I took away from a childhood spent in the Catholic tradition was, "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa." My fault, my fault, my greatest fault.

I don't have to like stuff, but if I don't, it's up to me to change my attitude, proximity, or position. If I don't at least try to do that much, mea maxima culpa.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

7 Easy Ways to Defeat Your Own Purpose

When Goldfish Dream

Okay kids... let's try a little reverse psychology. See if it works. It often does for me, but then, I'm always up for some sarcasm. Honestly, I need a break from trying to bolster everybody's spirit. So, for all of you who never want to achieve anything greater than you already have, for those of you who enjoy mediocrity, this blog's for you, Baby.

Granted, I'm no expert, but I have proof in my own life that these work. In fact, they work quite well and really take very little effort.

Here are 7 Easy Ways to Defeat Your Own Purpose. That gives you one for each day of the week. Feel free to apply them to whichever days you prefer, and use more than one (or even all)at the same time if you're feeling extra spunky.
  • Convince yourself you don't deserve anything good. After all, what have you ever done for anyone else? Why should you be rewarded for doing something that seems natural to you?
  • Don't try. What's the point in trying if you're only going to fail? Besides, everyone else is better at it than you are.
  • Watch a lot of TV. Yes, a lot! Yessiree... flop on the sofa and saturate your mind with any and all mindless banter and unintelligent drivel. You'll feel better for it. You need the rest anyway.
  • Quit interacting with others who have similar interests. This one is important. It's likely they're just trying to steal your good ideas anyway. Plus, they're probably snobs who won't show you any kind of support.
  • Do not attempt anything new! While this might sound like fun, an inherent evil lurks therein. It's called learning. It's just an attempt to get you to better yourself.
  • Do not read. Ever. This one should be obvious, but people often fall into the reading trap. I'm telling you, even if it's for pleasure, you could find yourself learning something or even... egads, the horror... inspired.
  • Try not to treat your physical needs with respect. Exercise is just going to wear you out. Proper sleep is a waste of time. Good nutrition... meh... who needs it?! We're all going to die eventually anyway.

So, there you have it. Easy as that! Let me know how it goes... if you're up to it. Don't strain.

Now do you realize how ridiculous you sound sometimes? Yes, you. You know who you are.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Strangers in a Stranger World

Portion of Strangers in a Stranger World

Creativity flourishes when we have a sense of safety and self-acceptance.
~Julia Cameron

Fear seems to be a common thread among my artsy friends. Some of it is fear that anyone could understand - fear of not getting it right, fear of being misunderstood, fear of rejection, that kind of stuff.

Some of it is a little more esoteric.

There's a fear of being pushed over the edge of Crazy. Yes, I know I've touched on this before, but I'm seeing it more and more as a prevalent theme. Do I tame the beast or does the beast devour me? My friend Dave likes to say, "I know how touchy you artist types are." And I always think, "Touchy... or touched?!" You know as well as I do that it's a fine line. Just ask Mr. Van Gogh.

But... I digress. It's fear we're talking about here. Fear of letting loose our creative sides. Fear of seeing just where the beast will lead us. And, if we're being honest with ourselves, fear of never coming back. Let's face it, it's like Nietzsche said, "...if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you." What was once conjecture is now my reality. Once I opened the gates, my creative world got bigger, and it only keeps expanding. If ever I should be labeled as courageous or intrepid, it was in that single act, in opening the gate and following the beast.

It's been a wild ride, and I'm pretty sure it's only just begun. My beast only gives me hints of where it's taking me on a need to know basis... one paint splotch, one fine hair's width line, one word, one musical note at a time. But I'm not afraid any more.

I'm more afraid of the death I felt within when I wasn't allowing my creativity to flourish. Not everyone gets that, and that's okay. My own mother doesn't get it. C'est la vie. Some things are more important than fearing the beast... or my mother. I've learned that with proper balance (meditation, socializing, etc.) that the beast can't take me anywhere I'm not willing to go. And someone always loves me enough to make sure I've got a return ticket.

Strangers in a Stranger World

Monday, August 9, 2010

So... What If

Ever ask yourself, "What if?" Sure you have. We all have. What If I'd taken that other job? What If I'd never met him/her? What If I'd just said a kinder word instead? What If I'd walked away instead of screamed? What If I'd chosen vanilla over chocolate? Don't tell me you haven't ever asked What If.

What If as a retrospective is a by product of self-doubt and remorse, of dwelling too much in the past. Granted, we can always give it a positive skew and take notice of the sacrifices others have made for us, starting with the obvious: What If my mother had decided three children was enough?

Reflective What If is generally a waste of time. It's not a forward motion phrase and we don't ever get essential, helpful answers. But... just imagine if we were to make it a forward motion phrase and take it from past tense to future tense? Let's just give that a whirl, eh? How about, "What If I walk for an hour every day?" There's a What If with a real answer. I will lose weight, I will get in shape, I will feel better, I will be happier with myself. Wonderful use of What If. What If turns into I Will. A quandary turns into an imperative. What's more affirmative and assertive than I Will?!

Creative minds are always asking What If? It's critical to the creative process. Without the creative What If, we'd all be doing paint-by-numbers, word-search puzzles, and playing Guitar Hero instead of drawing, writing, and composing music. (Hell, without What If we'd still be sitting in the dark, worrying about being eaten by predators!) The creative mind asks, "What If I take the giraffe out of Africa and put it in the middle of New York City?" "What If my protagonist discovers that her father was wanted for war crimes?" "What If we change the C major chord to C minor?" These What Ifs can make all the difference.

Wisdom doesn't just comprise knowing what we want, it also has to consist of knowing what we do not want. What If can help us determine what we don't want as much as it can determine what we do want. It differentiates extremes. What if I just stop eating? Well, I'll lose weight, but I'll be dead. Nope... don't want that. Let's try to find some type of medium.

I told you that August was going to be a month of shifting paradigms for me. In light of that, I'm exercising my forward motion What Ifs. I really need to be physically healthier. So, I'm starting with these two this week: What If I walk for an hour every day? ... and... What If I cut out any kind of processed sugar? I won't bore you with the answers. We're all smart enough here that we know the answers. I will keep you posted on my progress though. In the meantime, let me know what your Forward Motion What If is...?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Life's an Itch

I'm itchy... been itchy for a few days now. I have little hives that keep trying to drive me insane. I don't know why or what they're from. Nothing in my diet has changed (although... *ahem*... it should), all household soaps and detergents are the same, no pets with fleas to point the finger at. I'm just itchy. This happens from me from time to time, always with no explicable reason. It's my theory that I was a snake in another life and on occasion I still have the urge to shed my skin.

As annoying (maddening really) as it is, I think it's much like the restlessness that my mind and spirit go through. I think it's just a physical form of restlessness. A longing for... newness. An itch that can't be scratched, so to speak. At first I tried to tune out the itch. I figured if I occupied myself enough I could just ignore it. Itchiness refuses to be ignored.

So, I paid attention to the itchies, trying to determine what was required of me. Sometimes a thing just demands our assiduity whether we like it or not. Short of joining a nudist colony (not bloody likely!) and microwavable meals off of paper plates (ew!), I have to do laundry and wash dishes. Bills need to be paid. People need to be fed. Vehicles require gas and upkeep. Even in art... supplies need to be bought, tools need to be cleaned and pencils sharpened. You get the picture. It can't all be fun all of the time.

Sometimes ya just itch for no good reason (as if there would be a good reason for itching?). Sometimes ya just gotta do what needs to be done.

And sometimes a cool, soothing bath in epsom salts is all that's required.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Paper or Plastic?

I clearly remember the feeling of panic as I turned around and realized that my mother was nowhere in sight. We were at a huge grocery store (my GR readers will recognize Meijer's Thrifty Acres... acres was right!). I'm not sure how old I was, but I recall that my eyes were about level with the shopping cart handle, so I was at that three and a half feet tall age. I must have stopped to look at something just as Mom moved on to the next aisle. I looked down the next aisle, but didn't see her. I began looking down other aisles. In a building fit of terror, I looked down every damned aisle in the store. Surely she didn't leave me in the store and go home? I finally gave up and went to the courtesy desk.

Motherless and heartbroken I stood on tiptoe at the courtesy desk. In a squeaking sob though, in retrospect, I'm sure the person at the desk knew exactly why I was standing there), I forced out, "I... can't... find... my... Mooooooooommmmmmmm....." Through my own wailing I heard, "Mrs. Black, please come to the courtesy desk. Your daughter is looking for you... Mrs. Black, please come to the courtesy desk." It wasn't a comforting thing to hear. It implied that although I was looking for her, maybe she wasn't looking for me. What if she had gone home? What if she didn't care? She had four other children, so losing one probably wasn't going to be a big deal. I'm sure that the eternity I spent contemplating these things was really only a matter of minutes, and very few minutes at that, because there was Mom, walking determinedly and forcibly toward me.

"Quit crying. This is why I tell you not to wander off," and she firmly took my hand and led me back through the store to finish her shopping. I know now that her anger came from fear which came from deep love. At the time I felt like I was at fault for being lost. At the time I felt like she didn't have a clue how horrible it felt to be a motherless child, if even for a few minutes. Something galvanized in me that day, something became steely and hard. I knew I was never again going to allow myself to feel that penetrating sense of panic, much less be punished for it. And I never have.

We can choose how the events in our lives will affect us. We can meter our reactions. Life is going to keep happening. It's the only certainty other than death. Will you meet it head on, take what you want, and pay the necessary costs? Or will you be the one whimpering at the Courtesy Desk of Abject Fear & Self-loathing? It's your choice.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Execution of a Routine

I sometimes marvel at my lack of creative focus. Back when I was working in "the real world," I used to think that artists, writers, musicians and their ilk woke up with a clear idea of where they wanted their work to go for the day. Now I'm not so sure there are many who do just that, and I think it's okay if they, nay we, don't. I think it's just fine and dandy.

Don't get me wrong. I do wake up with ideas. Truth be told, I also sleep with ideas, I eat with ideas, I do laundry with ideas, I have conversations with ideas, my most intimate moments are fraught with ideas. Ideas follow me around like a freakin' relentless Greek chorus. However, I've yet to wake up, or even be fully awake heading up to my studio, and think, "Hmmm... today I'm going to take a ripped out corner from an old Pottery Barn catalog, swipe some gesso across the page, add a ghostly image of a woman.. and..." (see above picture). It just doesn't happen that way for me.

When I did the above bit of work it began as I perused the old PB catalog. I was actually looking for a chair that I could use in another piece, but the pictures hung on clothesline caught my eye. I ripped it out and spent some time looking at it. It gave me a sort of white washed, dreamy feeling. So, after I glued it down, I swiped the gesso across the paper. It started reminding me of how I felt when I was in Hungary, which meant that I needed to add some paprika colored streaks for my own satisfaction. The faded girl came next because I feel that although Hungary is a huge part of me, it's so far away. My time there feels as though it was in another lifetime. Next came the postage marks and validation stamps, then the writing, because all good memories should include writing. Certainly my memories of Hungary have made their way into my writing. I finished it off with the ferns because I wanted to bring it back to earth, I wanted to enhance the organic feel that I was getting from it.

So, there it is. None of it planned, all of it executed. I was happy with how it turned out.

That's pretty much how my days go too... none of them planned, all of them executed, and I'm happy with how they turn out. I have my little routines. I need my first cup of coffee out on the porch, no matter the weather, just to greet the day. Actually, that's maybe my only routine these days, because once the caffeine kicks in, it's anybody's game.

Maybe lack of focus isn't quite the appropriate phrase. One woman's lack of focus is another woman's free-spiritedness? Hmm. I may not know exactly where I'm going, but I'm always on the move, and the scenery... well, that goes without saying.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What a Doll

A couple of months ago I asked for blog topics in a facebook post. Amongst other replies was one from my friend Heather, asking, "How do you feel about Barbie?" I didn't know whether she meant as a moniker for myself or the doll or what. I didn't ask. I just pondered. Obviously, I've pondered it for a while, but only on and off.

I've never really felt like a Barbie. I was called Barbie for a short time in my much younger years, and as an affectation, even took to writing it Barby. But none of that lasted long. I've never felt like a Barbie, Barbara, or (fie upon the thought) Babs, only Barb. Just Barb... one syllable, easy, no one mistakes it for anything else. Occasionally people still call me Barbie just for fun, but to me it's the same as calling someone Sugarpuss. It's just a term of endearment, really.

As for Barbie, the doll, I've never had much use for her either. I didn't have Barbie dolls as a kid. I wasn't much into playing with dolls, save for the one sad, wretched, abused bald baby doll that was a hand-me-down (nay, a cast-off) from my sister. She battered the poor dear and then abandoned her. I tried my best to wipe the crayon and marker off of her blinky-eyed face, lovingly soaped and washed the three short sprigs of hair she had left, and swaddled her in a soft "banky." That was pretty much it for my playing with dolls gig. Imaginative child that I was, I was much more content opening mud pie bakeries or homesteading under collapsing huts made of broken branches and old beach towels, or staging my own theatrical renditions of all things Rogers and Hammerstein.

My very brief stint playing with Barbie(s) didn't come until I was nearly eleven years old. A new family moved in on the block and I became fast friends with Sue - she was one of four girls. One afternoon we were playing with her collection of Barbie(esque) dolls. I wanted to change the clothes on the one I had... I was in the mood for glitz and glamour, not beach togs. As I started to peel the tiny shirt off of the fake plastic torso, Sue, wide-eyed and horrified, pleaded, "No... no, don't do that." "Why not?" I asked. "Because..." she explained in a whisper. "Because my Mom doesn't want the littler girls seeing their boobies and po-pos." Even at that young age, I thought, "Huh?!" But, I let it rest, and before long we moved on to some other game. So began and ended my barbie doll career.

I've never been able to get worked up about the whole feminist view of the self-esteem damage caused to young girls because of the so called "perfect" body that a Barbie doll imbues. For one thing, there's nothing perfect about it. It's a plastic doll that stands, what... nine inches tall? It's a toy. To any girl raised with proper self-respect, a toy should have about as much impact on her self-esteem as a peanut butter sandwich.

So, all of this has been floating around in my head since Heather asked, "What do you think about Barbie?" In truth, I didn't think about Barbie until she asked. However, all of the Barbie flotsam and jetsam kind of came together the other day when my friend Angela (whose imagination I adore) posted some garden pictures, including her creatively inspired "Barbie Bricks."

This is the best use of all things Barbie that I've seen... ever. With Ang's permission, I'm posting her blurb about them along with a few of the pics. At the very least it's good for a laugh. More than that, for me, is the message that you can get creative with anything. Anything.

"Here are what I like to call Barbie Bricks. We use two 80 pound bags of cement and encased the Barbies in different positions, with the idea we bury the bricks to only where it just looks like I stuck dolls into the ground and you can easily pull them up. When you make the attempt you can’t because... well, they're in 5 inches of concrete underground... I was going to hide them around the yard, but the dog already ate one Barbie. I did not want them to find and eat more so it had to be in the garden… So here is the showcase of Barbie Bricks."
~Angela Crabtree

PS (post-posting note) Please check the comment section below this post for the full story on Barbie Bricks!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Morning Howl

Last week I posted a Leon Russell song on facebook (courtesy of youtube). My friend Melina commented on it, noting that Leon is still making music at 67 years of age. Then she said, "You can't silence a voice that needs to sing." I found it rather ironic that she said that because I had had much the same thought as I watched a special featuring Sir Paul McCartney just the night before. There he was, 68 years old, belting out "Let It Be" for probably the millionth time, but you'd never know it. He sang it with all the passion of a new lover. Granted, his voice was showing some warbly signs of age, but he still hit the high notes, and he still "brought it" with all the fervor of 40 some odd years ago.

Fast forward to a few days later. I was reading my friend Matt's new blog, Meaningful Derangement (here). His use of poetic imagery completely swept me away to another place, another time... to a place I didn't belong, but to where he was kind enough to allow me to be a voyeur. I wrote to him, "You, my friend... you were meant to write."

I love seeing people do the things that they were meant to do. I love feeling the passion that comes with it, that tangible essence of who they are and what they love.

Until recently, I didn't really allow myself to do the things I was meant to do. I dabbled in some, but I wasn't passionate about any of it. I didn't allow myself because, partly, I didn't know I was meant to do these things. The other, bigger part of it was that I felt I needed to conform to the mold. I needed to stay in the box - the box that was clearly labeled, "Do this. Don't do that." Ugh. No wonder I was unhappy. No wonder I felt completely unfulfilled.

It's curious to me, but not entirely surprising any more, that as soon as I started following my passion a gathering formed. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by others who are equally passionate about what they're doing. It was unparalleled energy. I hadn't experienced it before in my life. It was like pouring gasoline on a fire. I ignited.

And one day I realized... It's not just that I want to do art, it's not just that I want to write. I was meant to do these things. For better or worse, I was meant to. It doesn't matter what becomes of it. It's the doing that signifies.

It only took me about 47 years, but like Melina says, "You can't silence a voice that needs to sing." Eventually, what you are meant to do will find you. All you have to do is open the door and bid it welcome.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Temporal Madness

The other day while perusing Magpie Girl's blog (here), I read, "I believe you don’t have to be mad to be an artist, but a little bit of crazy helps. Creative people see things differently. Sometimes this makes you feel nuts. (Me too!) The key is to manage the crazy, so the madness becomes an asset." It resonated so loudly within me that I very nearly called the woman and invited her for coffee!

Are you prepared to take a dive into the deep end of my head?
~Jason Mraz

I don't know how many times I've had an idea or an image in my head that left me thinking, "Maybe I'm just crazy." Too often this thought has kept me from implementing the idea, or pursuing getting the image worked into a tangible form. I'll even go so far as to admit that, at times, it's been a bit frightening.

You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you're lookin' for.
~Billy Joel

A few months back I finally found peace with my inner "madness" though. I came to the conclusion that... so what? Maybe it is madness, maybe I am crazy, but... ought there not be a purpose to it?! I began to create those images, to get some of those more insane thoughts out on paper (or whatever medium struck me as valid at the time). Therein, I found the key to managing "the crazy." It's been ultimately satisfying and freeing.

The Mad Hatter: Have I gone mad?
Alice: I'm afraid so. You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are.
~Alice in Wonderland

I'm convinced that all the best people are at least a little bonkers. This is certainly true of those in my inner circle, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I love people who look at the world in a slightly (and maybe more than slightly) off-kilter way, people who see faces in the trees and galaxies in a blade of grass. They keep perspective interesting and fresh, they lend a sense of child's play to an otherwise mostly serious world. Even better, they are usually the kinds of people who believe the impossible is possible.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I'm off to get "a little bit crazy"...

‎A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind.
~Eugene Ionesco

Monday, August 2, 2010

Time Eaters

Of all my talents, I am most proficient at wasting time. If ever there was a transgression, wasting time is a big sin. In terms of crime, time wasting is an atrocity. In both lexicons, it's right up there with murder. Yes, it is, because no matter who we are or what we do, it's a limited resource. We only get so much, and in the grand scheme of things, what we get is negligible. No matter how rich we are, we can't buy more of it. There is no bartering. Years ago when a friend told me that her breast cancer had returned, she said, "I was hoping for a little more time. It looks as though that's not meant to be."

A little more time. So often we hear, "I wish I had more time in a day..." Another oft heard is, "Geez! Where has this month gone?!"

Just a minute ago I blinked, and suddenly my high school classmates aren't just parents, but they have grandkids. It feels like just last week that I was twenty years old and my 54 year old father had died. Yet, here I am, nearly 49 years old and living with a man who is the age my father was the last time I saw him.

Even so, I waste time. I waste lots of time. I can find a thousand mindless and meaningless ways to kill a day. I'm guilty. Mea maxima culpa.

There are lots of different terms for things that cause the fatuous wasting of time... Time Eaters, Time Munchers, Time Bandits, Soul Starvers. You get the idea. I'm afraid my Time Eaters have been getting quite fat lately. I haven't bothered to exert much control over them. Why? No idea really. Guilty. Just... guilty. Guilty enough that it's weighing on my conscience. Weighing on my conscience enough to the point that it's starting to annoy. Annoying me enough that I'm ready to do something about it.

It's time to kick some Time Eater ass. Time for a take down. I don't have enough time as it is, so why should I share so much of it with them? The best way for me to deal with the situation is to identify the culprits, and stand them in the public square, so to speak. So, allow me to introduce the two worst miscreants...

Culprit One: The Online Thief. This little bastard is a smooth talker. "Just check your email real quick," he says. "Look, you're making them all laugh, and that other bit is an interesting conversation. Don't log out of facebook just yet!" "Oh, why don't you just take a sec to google that and see what it's all about." "Look! Movie quotes... you love movie quotes!"

My counter attack is to do exactly what my mother used to do when we would whine for her attention. She flat out ignored us. Worked like a charm.

Culprit Two: The Sleep Pirate. This evil doer is a very slick trickster. He likes to make me think that because I'm staying up late, or getting up early, that I'm accomplishing more. However, the less I sleep, the more likely I am to spend an hour or two (at least) on either side of somnolence just wandering around trying to perk up. Not only that, lack of sleep leaves me in a torpor.

My counter attack is, simply, to set a goal. I need to give myself a deadline for going to bed and stick to it. Not only that, but if it's earlier than my deadline and I'm tired and yawning, I will go to sleep rather than fight it out.

Rehab is not an option for these two. They just need to be put away.

Oh, and just a little side note for all of us over achievers (yes, I'm one). Relaxation is not a waste of time. It's a necessity that centers us, gives us balance and focus.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Wails of August

The Ugly Truth

It's a new month... welcome to August. Typically, August is my least favorite month of the year. Generally speaking, good things do not happen to me in August. The exception to that rule is August last year, when I found myself madly in love with Steve and moving in with him. Even so, August is usually a month I just... get through. It's usually hotter than I'd like (then again, anything above 70 degrees is excessive in my book). Unless there's a vacation planned, there's not a whole lot happening. I'm used to August though. I get through it and then it's September again, when weather begins to cool, days shorten, my Muses awaken from their long Midsummer Night's dream, and I "get back to normal."

If I were a year, I would begin in September and end in August. August, for me, carries with it a feeling of death and neglect, a thing old and withering like Summer vines. This has always been so. I remember, as a young child, I used to love knowing that August was nearly over. School would begin soon after. I could go back to devouring knowledge, rather than being forced into some continuous playground where I never felt I belonged. Of course, this thought pattern only furthered my certainty that I was... weird, a misfit. Regardless, September always felt like a beginning, rather than 3/4 of the way through something. It still does.

I'm way off track with where I thought I was going when I started this post. Oh well. That's me in August... scattered and grasping for one last sip of unsatisfying silty water... or something.

At any rate, since last August was an anomaly in my lifetime of Augusts, I've decided to give August another chance to redeem itself. Of course, I can't expect anything out of August that I'm not equally willing to do do myself. So, I'm taking this month to change up a few things, enact a few paradigms. You'll be hearing about them, no doubt.

After all, even if August is an ending... isn't every ending a new beginning?

august:  [aw-GUHST (adjective)] - inspiring reverence or admiration; of supreme dignity or grandeur; majestic.

We'll just see about that... hmmm?