Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Loneliness, Solitude, and the Life Of The Solitary Artist...

"Loneliness is the poverty of self;
solitude is the richness of self."

~ May Sarton ~

Spinning my way out of loneliness and into solitude...
These two yarns will be plied (spun together as one)
as soon as the twist sets in each. They were spun over
the last two days. This yarn will be called "Cocoon" for
the little cocoons all along the way on the left-hand
yarn, and represent my life as an artist. The plying
represents to me the balance of the life of the artist
with our life in the outside world...

In the last couple of days I have been giving much thought to Sarton's quote, one I've used in my journal-keeping classes for decades. I am not often lonely and enjoy my solitude, in fact, in a cottage filled with 5 parrots, 4 dogs, 2 fish, constant reading and writing, fiber work ongoing, woven throughout my days like the warp and the weft on my looms, my life feels all of a piece, I don't feel cut off as people imagine I must, being once the mother in a family of 5 and now living alone, if one can consider living with so many animals alone. And then there is the garden to tend, household chores and the regular routine of life. I have a favorite retort to those who are certain I must be lonely... "Well, I might, if I had the time." And it is true.

As an only child I learned to amuse myself quite well and my animals kept me company even then. Always a dog, a bird, a menagerie of other little beings, and my nose in a book. My life is not much different today. But I am human, and yes, at times, I do get lonely.

Recently, as I wrote in the last entry, I have had a peculiar string of events wherein I took 3 falls and ended up with a sprained wrist and ankle. The ankle is healing, but the wrist is still quite painful. After writing that last entry I took yet another fall and now have 2 purple knees. I mean this is ridiculous. My daughter came and helped me, my dear friend Jeff came and helped me, all area rugs and throw rugs were taken up and I was sternly lectured by a number of people, rather embarrassing at 53! And while it has been more than a bit of a trial, it has also been a wake up call, to be more mindful, simply to watch where I am going.

The upshot of all of this is that when one reaches middle age and lives alone this is just the kind of thing one fears, injuring oneself and not being able to get help. Now, while I have taken the occasional fall, I don't usually topple over every time you look around, but I believe this series of events has taught me many important lessons. It is a chosen life, at this point, and a very deep one. I go days without seeing anyone and work from early morning until sometimes very late at night, betwixt and between caring for my animal companions, doing my work, and tending my hearth. And yes, despite what I have said, I do get lonely. Not often, but it happens.

The thing is, I have learned to pull myself out of loneliness. This has been a challenging time because the injuries, the pain, the fear of falling yet again, left me feeling very vulnerable, and I became, for a short time, afraid, and felt that deep cutting edge of loneliness that we all, as human beings, feel from time to time. It is an existential loneliness and I believe we must feel it for contrast. As there is little I can do (Actually, I am pushing it typing now with one hand and a few fingers of the other, and the results are sometimes comical as the brace hits the "Option" key and I get all manner of symbols which look like some kind of alien language!) in my current condition, I have found, as, again, I said in the last entry, that I can spin. As I use hand-spindles and not a wheel, I only have to draft out the fibers with my left, braced, hand and the few fingers sticking out can manage that. And there is a calm that comes over one when spinning that is, I believe, impossible to explain to someone who does not spin, but those who know other contemplative arts can imagine the peaceful calm that comes over one. And so when loneliness cut into me, after a brief time of slipping into depression, I pulled out my spindles and fiber and started spinning. I love what Paul Tillich wrote in Courage To Be about the difference between loneliness and solitude...

"Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone."

Coco, who only looked up when I took her picture.
She was gazing steadfastly out the front window
that is at the bottom of the stairs next to the front
door, waiting for the mailman. This is down the
hall and away from the rest of us. She tends to be
a solitary being, but is quite content...

I do learn a lot from my animals. Take Coco above. Usually she is in here with us, but at times she will wander off, sit on the steps looking out of the front window, or lie in the sun as if meditating, not asleep, eyes half open, completely at peace. Animals do not worry about the past, nor do they plan for the future or worry about it's outcome. I do believe dogs can be lonely because they are companion animals and when they have been domesticated and become dependent on their people, lacking the normal state of the pack, they can develop all manner of peculiar and often problematic behaviors from the wrenching loneliness. A content, well-cared for animal is at peace, and one is at peace simply being in their presence. Coco was not lonely looking out of the window. She was simply enjoying a private moment and thinking her pugly thoughts.

The advantage that we humans have over animals is that we can train our minds to take up a task to pull us up out of that well of loneliness by taking a walk, working in the garden, washing the dishes, reading a good book, or any number of things, but as with Pavlov's dogs, it is a learned behavior. It is not one I have always managed well, but it didn't take me long, yesterday, to make the leap from loneliness to spinning, and I am all the better for it.

Too, artists, even, as I said above, may live with others and prefer it that way, but as an artist you are always living outside the norm inside yourself. An artist has a different world view, a different way of experiencing the world and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee best described this, in his book In The Company of Friends, as "remaining inwardly free..."

'Solitude in a Crowd'' -- In all our outward activity, remain inwardly free. Learn not to identify yourself with anything whatsoever.

Some may take this as a negative statement, feeling it to mean having a disregard for those around us, cutting ourselves off from them. I take it to mean feeling centered in our being so as the winds of life life try to blow us hither and yon, and people come and they go, or perhaps even at work in the outside world or on a street corner in a busy city, you know who you are, you are free and content within yourself, you carry your solitude with you wherever you are. You are not swayed by others who don't understand your way of being, nor are you defensive or uncomfortable. When you come to the place, as I have at midlife, living what seems a peculiar, even sad, existence to many (...thinking that one needs to be surrounded by people, going and doing, out in the world "having fun," I can understand that their needs are different than my own, and wish them well on their way, while I feel great gratitude for this quiet life of mine. I used to become uncomfortable and sometimes defensive when people questioned my life. Now I can smile and say, "I'm quite happy thank you, I appreciate your caring." And I mean it, because people really do care, and worry, about anyone who lives outside the norm, outside of what they can understand. Sometimes they even feel challenged by it, or even jealous. It is nothing to be jealous of or worried about. For me, this was a choice, and more, me being me, a necessity for my own well being. And yes I do have family and friends that I see on occasion, I babysit my precious 3 1/2 year old grandson twice a week, but mostly I am in my humble abode, doing the work of the artist/writer, with my animal companions nearby.

I also believe that one must be comfortable with solitude, full within themself, before they indeed do have something to give another person. So many relationships are fraught with problems or end because the two parties are looking for another to complete them. This never works. If I ever again live with another person, I will be bringing a whole person to the table, fully capable of maintaining my well-being on my own, and in that way having an abundance to share rather than creating a continual deficit for the other person, draining them dry. I love what Rilke wrote about two solitudes coming together...

Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.

In the end, I know I am a bit of an odd duck in the world's eyes, but it doesn't bother me. I live my life, I do my work, I find my way through the hard times and rejoice in the happy times and feel grateful for it all. I have always most related, as a description of myself, to the famous quote from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol...

... Secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

I have my secrets, and only the oyster knows them. And Moe, lying here beside me, and the rest of the crew here who share my life. And I am happy. And I can always spin...

Deepest Blessings and Warm Regards to One and All,


Thursday, January 24, 2008

We Work With What We Have ~A Day In The Life of A One Armed Fiber Artist...

"Feeling light within, I walk"

~ Navajo Chant ~

So yes, as the Navajo chant says so beautifully, Feeling Light Within, I Walk... I can't do much running these days with a sprained ankle and wrist, but I can do a little. I can walk. I can move slowly through my days and do what I can do, and in the end, if a little sore, I feel worlds better for the trying. So it came to me yesterday morning that I would do the work that I can do, and share it with you here. A day in the life of a one-armed fiber artist.

Yesterday I started this post, and by the evening my wrist hurt so much I had to quit. I am within a hair's breadth of finishing Cecelia, The Singing Serpent, and latest wearable art piece I have been working on for weeks now, and the end of this entry was going to show the finished Rainbow Serpent. Instead, you can see a detailed sequence of photos of where she is today and what work is needed to finish her.

First of all, I spun a new Dragonfly Cottage 'Spindle Set' Art Yarn, and doing it with a sprained wrist was a challenge but since I just had to draft with my left (sprained) hand/wrist (I've got a few good fingers anyway...), and the spinning was done with my right, I was able to spin a spindle full of a yarn I call "Candyland." As to 'Spindle Set' yarn I am now creating a new line of art yarns that I leave on the spindle for up to 3 weeks to set rather than the usual way which is to make a skein, soak it and hang it to dry, with a little weight to pull out excess twist. I spin up to 12 or more fibers at once in these art yarns, will be using primarily natural but also man-made fibers to create all manner of creative yarns, and the finished yarn is very different left to set the twist on the spindle without wetting it. It holds the twist though it may get a little fluffy on the ends with use which can still be twisted manually and woven in, but the whole effect on the yarn I really love.

These 'Spindle Set Art Yarns' are what I use in all of my wearable art. It takes much longer for the spun yarn to be ready and the pieces are very slow going, but every one is a soul journey. I will now be selling some of my yarns in my etsy shop, Dragonfly Cottage Design Studio, but as I spin yarn for my own projects, others for sale will enter the store slowly. The three I just put in the shop last night, which you can see below, were set the traditional way.

So here below are several pictures of that process. And you will note, in taking several pictures, how the color varies. The colors are so saturated and bright and beautiful but the camera just couldn't catch it properly. I took a lot more pictures than these but wasn't happy with the outcome...

Drafting with a sprained wrist...

The finished yarn on spindle, ready
to be hung. I use large spindles, this
one was a recent gift from a friend,
a 4" whorl, from Ashford. I typically
use 4" whorls and I have one with a
5" whorl.

On nature walks I collect long branches, mostly, here,
from magnolia trees who seem to drop
very long branches
after storms. I secure them
to the walls and hang the spindles
here to set
the twist...

Closeup of spindle hanging...

Then, as the day went along, my wrist needed to rest and so did I, so I puttered about the cottage, communed with my animals, and took a nap with a pug on my feet. (That would be Sampson. He's my "vibrating foot warmer!") After I got up from my nap I decided to put three Wabi Sabi Handspun Yarns (twist set the old way) up in the shop and here they are below. There will be more of each kind coming. If you go to the etsy page you can read about these yarns, what fibers were used, and more.

"One Day At The Circus." A big 11 oz. skein.

"Nights Full Of Mystery and Intrigue," gorgeous night
colors ~ watery blue/teal with hints of rose, cranberry
and black.

"Clara's Heart." A tribute to Clara Schumann. A lovely
2 skein set in maize, rose and mocha...

And then we come to dear Cecelia, The Singing Serpent, one of my line of Rainbow Serpents of the Dreamtime, wearable art pieces. She is what I call a "stole" and is comfortably heavy. The yarns are spun of many elements, are very thick, and this piece isn't going anywhere, it will stay firmly on you!. It would be wonderful over the shoulders of a coat, sweater, and can be dressy or worn with jeans. Each of these pieces is one of a kind and takes a very long time to make...

Cecelia, nearly finished...

When she slithered over and wrapped herself around
my computer, I got the hint. She wants to be fnished
and off into her own life, on her own journey, doing
the work she was meant for. And so she shall be,
this week...

Okay, looking at me with those
googly eyes won't make me go
faster. Snails are passing me on
the road as it is with both a wrist
and an ankle brace. Hold your

And you don't need to stick your tongue
out at me either...

You know when you look at me
that way I go all soft inside, c'mon,
I know you're magical and all, but
magic-making takes time...

Singing to me with your
bright orange mouth wide
open, well, truly it just makes
me kind oƒ ƒeel guilty. Ok, I'll
do my best to get your tail
finished. Whip it on up here.

Okay, tomorrow, after my wrist rests, I'll
finish the tail and put you up in the shop. I
know you're excited. I'll do the best I can...

So it looks like tomorrow will be another busy day as well. Slow going, but busy. But, like the Navajo say, Being light within, I walk... I walk steadily forward. We do what can, we keep moving forward. We walk in beauty. We infuse everything we do with love. And some of the greatest teachers we will have come from the work that we do. As it is made manifest it's teachings reach our soul, and as they do, we keep metamorphosing, changing, growing, and becoming whole new beings. Being an artist is the true path of the shaman. In every moment you must look deep within yourself and go on journeys otherwise impossible. Tears ares shed, sometimes it is frightening, sometimes even joyful, but it is meant to be a deep teaching, not easy. And so we keep on walking. We keep on walking...

Blessings and Love to one and all,


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fish Gotta Swim, Birds Gotta Fly... or, Henry as Sage, Wiseacre, and The One With The Odious Task of Keeping Us All In Line...

While I have been recuperating from my series of ridiculous falls leaving me with a sprained foot and ankle, Henry, grey parrot, man of the house, and Dragonfly Cottage Office Manager, has been on top of things. If you know anything about grey parrots you will know that while some of the things I'm about to say some will think untrue, or find surprising, or think I am joking, anyone who does know grey parrots or has met Henry (even heard him on this side of the phone while I might be talking to someone a continent away) will know that the little man is brilliant. This morning he decided to have a word with the Betas in the Bamboo Forest...

Henry calls every one of the other parrots and dogs by name. When I get up in the morning I get the dogs out and in, give them a treat, get all of their food and fresh water, (That would be Moe, the jolly black giant, and the three little nibblets, or rather, puglets...) and then make my rounds with the five parrots, giving them good morning kisses, singing to them, getting them fresh food and water and treats. Henry is immediately out to play first thing in the morning, and if I don't leave the house he is out all day until I go to bed. He is very well behaved, and either plays on top of his cage or flys over to Solomon's cage (His best friend, a Blue Crown Conure.) or to me. He spends a good bit of the day on my person or the back of my desk chair, and likes especially to poop on the baffled dogs lying under him. Sampson, the little Zen-Velcro pug, is always between my feet and is mostly safe, but Moe, just behind my chair, is an easy target. He and Henry have a long history (They grew up together.) and have been known to sit on the couch together watching t.v. (They are very fond of Law & Order, any of them. They especially like Criminal Intent. I'm not fond of them watching violence on t.v., but boys will be boys.).

Moe is sulking because I won't let him have the remote
control. You know how men are, they never stop flipping
the channels and will drive a person cuckoo with that

As I'm getting the birds food and water Henry sings, "Everybody gets clean water, the babies do get clean wa-ter, fresh food and clean wa-ter...." and as I move from cage to cage he'll say, "There you go Sol," "They you go Sierra," "There you go Emmy-Lou Lou Lou..." and finally, "Tommy Tom-Tom, there you go Tommy..." and he watches me carefully to make certain everyone gets their fair share.

He has always talked to Moe and called him by name, but I was surprised how quickly he picked up not only the pug's names, but my relationship to them and their behavior.

Babs, the little black pug, 12 years old and deaf as a door (meaning she can't hear a word he's saying but it doesn't stop him...) I have loved on and kissed and cuddled like the little black peanut of a girl she is. Henry will say, like a mother talking to a baby, "Hey Babsie, here Babsie, gimme a little kiss..." or, after a recent bit of trouble wherein Moe started going after Babs, first and the other pugs a little, Henry would say, "It's okay Babsie, it's okay, Mama loves you, sweet little thing..." He says, "Sampson, you silly boy," to abovesaid Zen-Velcro pug, and to Coco, who always moves slower than the rest, he will say in a cheerful voice, "C'mon you pokey little puppy..." (She's 11 and hard of hearing and no puppy, but Henry hears me, and talks very endearingly to her.)

So this morning as we were having the morning latte and planning our day...

Henry tells me which mail to delete, which
mail to answer first, when to empty the trash,
what's spam, and by the way, it's time to get
a treat, something like a "Birdie Biscotti"
go with the latte...

... he decided it was about time he checked on the fish. I have been known to have up to six betas and have them for years, but I have given a few to people who dearly wanted them, keeping my two favorites, Vincent (... for Van Gogh, and it was Henry who had to teach me the correct pronunciation of the artist's name. I hadn't believed him until we watched a special on Van Gogh's life on PBS -- you gotta trust PBS -- and they said, "Van GOFF," which is the correct pronunciation and not the usual Van GO. Well, it was a terrible shock to me but Henry said, "I told you so," with a smirk, and I went all pink and kind of hung my head. I am 53 years old, I studied art history in college, and as far as I know every single person I've met my whole life has said, "Van GO," but he was Dutch and it made sense when I thought about it.

The other fish is Yeats, one of my all-time favorites, with a pearly white body and the longest most gorgeous fins in a dreamy blue. He was named for Yeats not just because Yeats is one of my favorite poets, but because he wrote my favorite poem, one that I can still recite aloud today. The poem is "He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven." It goes like this...

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with gold and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night, light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams...

That poem makes me get teary every time I hear/read it, and when I saw the movie made of Helene Hanff's "84 Charing Cross Road," one of my all-time favorite books, and Anthony Hopkins recited that poem in the movie, I thought I had perhaps died and gone to heaven. Once Sir Anthony has done such an impeccable job reciting Keats, no one else will ever do, though now and again I get all melancholy and practically shout it out loud, to which Henry gives me a nip that means "SNAP OUT OF IT," just like Cher shouted at Nicholas Cage after slapping him in "Moonstruck." I'm serious, if everyone on the planet had a grey parrot we'd all behave much better and be less of an embarrassment to those around us.

So, this morning, Henry hopped off of the back of my desk chair onto the kitchen counter behind me and sat for a very long time communing with the betas.

It was a wordless communion, but the betas actually swam to the front of the bowls and at one point Henry put his beak on the outside of the bowl just where Vincent was. You could honestly tell that they were really communicating. It was actually a very poignant moment, because what I thought at that juncture is that if birds and fish and dogs and one cattywompus woman can get on so well in one little cottage, why do so many people have such a hard time. Here skin and fur and feathers and fins of all colors, shapes and sizes live in perfect harmony. Even the skirmishes with the dogs are quickly over and right now, the birds are all asleep, the dogs are as well, snoring pugs are here and there making what has become a very comforting sound to me, and we all get on just fine.

I've been thinking that Henry should perhaps call the United Nations and offer his services. If he can run this varied group this well -- He's from Africa; Solomon, Emmy Lou and Thomas, all conures, come from South America; the pugs originated in China; Moe is a good old-fashioned American boy; and I'm half French and half Polish -- he ought to do a better job than what's being done right now. In fact, I know he'd be running the White House a lot better. As long as they served him his Latte and Birdie Biscotti first thing.

So here we are, on a Saturday night, a soft rain falling outside, the animals asleep, and I am once again ruminating on how very lucky I am. Henry walks tall and carries a big stick, as the saying goes, but he's really a lover, not a fighter, and that's what I love best...

Henry and I having a Good Morning kiss...

We wish you all a peaceful night, a happy life, and that you treasure the little ones who make life more worthwhile and joyful, and if you need any advice, you can write to Henry at Dragonfly Cottage. He's thinking about starting an advice colume. If "Dear Abby" could do it, he can do it and have his latte and read The Sunday New York Times all at once. Nobody has anything on Henry...

Maitri, humble servant to Himself...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Everyday's A Good Day..." The Poignant Words of My Dying Mother, Who Has Become A Heroine To Us All...

If you click the above quote, it will take you
a beautiful page of e-cards by the magical
writer, Paul Coelho...

There has been a beautiful song running through my days, of late, and they are the words of my mother, who, three years ago, was given a very short time to live. I believe she has lived this long because of her amazing positive attitude, and faith, and the entire family and all who know her have been incredibly inspired by her. No matter how much pain she's been in, how sick, going through blood transfusions, hospitalizations and more, whenever I call to check on her the first words she says are, "Everyday's a good day."

Now, one knows that the reality of her situation has been grim at best, and it has been three years of terrible struggle with every kind of drug imaginable, experimental treatments, even Chinese medicine, but now, she is coming into her final times, and yet, if you called her today, she would tell you that every day is a good day, and she reminds me that that is the way I should approach life. And I am trying Mom, I'm really, really trying.

Take yesterday for example. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a hard time leaving my house. I do go a couple of times a week to babysit my 3 year old grandson whom I adore while my daughter is working on her Masters degree. I have to go there because he is allergic to my animals. I can go there because it's close, and Rachel's home is very homey and safe to me. I usually do whatever needs to be done on the way home, as quickly as possible, like grocery shopping, picking up meds, and so on. Yesterday was a different kind of day, following a peculiar series of events in the last few weeks.

Yesterday I had to go to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned and then straight to babysit. Now, I am not and have never been afraid to go to the dentist but it's that going out thing again. Well, I went and I babysat and all went well, until...

I have to back up here to tell you about the peculiar string of events that have happened since just before Christmas. I have longsince been called everything from a klutz, to, and more frequently, "The Absent Minded Professor." My mind is always zooming along and my body seems to have been bumping along on the ground behind me. I have broken bones, sprained things, and am always an array of different colors from having tripped over thin air and konked myself somehow. I lead a fascinatingly peculiar life. This time it started the Saturday before Christmas.

Now, it must be said that my feet are lopsided and cattywompus and most of you who have followed my writing for some time have heard of my ridiculous travails with my feet. You wouldn't know I was a dance minor in college and had had 15 years of ballet and tap, and in college Modern Dance, Jazz, etc. It's amazing I didn't kill myself or give someone a concussion with those feet. But my dainty feet days and slim body went by the wayside some time ago and in the late 90's I developed a tumor in my foot, had surgery, after a year of the doctor trying to avoid it, that cut everything to the bone in the arch of my foot, leading me to a year of sometimes hilarious and mostly not so hilarious debacles as I went from wheel chair, to crutches (I fell and broke the same foot that was healing the first day on crutches. My doctor nearly killed me!), and finally, able to walk unaided, one year later, and lurching about at odd angles because my foot was just never going to be right again, I just shrugged and got used to it. Bell's Palsy left me with a wonky face, the wonky foot fit right in. Except...

Well, you see, the scar tissue goes up around the inside of my ankle, the result being that my ankle will collapse and I will take very odd falls as if for no reason at all. Trust me, I am extremely grateful when no one sees them. I'm a Circus Show all by myself. But then came the day, December 2004, just before Christmas, that, coming down my staircase the ankle went and I flew down the stairs with not so much the greatest of ease, landing absolutely on my tippy toes as if I were still in toe shoes, and then fell over on top of my feet. I heard a bone crack, and I was seeing stars, and I was in the worst pain I'd ever felt, and I was home, alone, at 11:00 at night, with the phone what seemed like ten miles away. I screamed. I cried, and then I drug myself down the hall and made it to the phone and called for help. My dear ex-husband to whom I am still really close said, "DON'T MOVE, I'll be right there."

How he got me in the car I will never know, but when the doctor in the emergency room looked at the x-rays he said, "You didn't just break both feet, you shattered them." 6 months in 2 casts, walkers, all the rest, and another year before I could walk unaided. I believe I have bad foot karma. I ended up with a dandy handicapped placard that I am embarrassed to use, and feet that are cattywompus for life.

Ok, so now I go along walking carefully and do pretty well. I'm never going to walk in straight lines, I limp a little, but I'm used to it. It's just that the ankle still will just give in now and again, and I cling to the stair railing when I go up and down as if to life itself, which brings us to the present...

It was the Saturday before Christmas, as I said, and I was outside at about 11 pm. I am used to walking four dogs and we walk quite well together. Unfortunately, that night, heading straight toward us, was a big black hairy dog the size of an 18 wheeler (...well, it looked that way as he came barreling straight at us!). His poor owner, some distance back, was running as fast as he could yelling, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry," and the thing is it was just a big goofy friendly dog who got excited and wanted to play, however, when you are walking four dogs in the dark of night with Frankenstein feet that wobble about and the four dogs all of a sudden go berserk, it is not a particularly good situation. I clung to those leashes for dear life and planted my feet as firmly in the ground as if I were a tree, which in the long run did not prove the best possible solution. I mean, my dogs didn't get away, the poor man chasing his dog finally caught him and was still saying how sorry he was until he was out of earshot (He may still be saying it today but as I don't know him personally I'm not really sure.), but my poor feet, sunk deep in the ground, as the dogs all went running around me in a circular fashion, twirled me like a swizzle stick with my feet firmly in place, which means that I twisted myself rather badly from the ankles up to my lower back, spraining one foot, twisting the other badly, hurting my lower back and down into my hip, and found myself yelling "SH-T," a lot as I limped pitifully home. The dogs romped merrily as if nothing had happened, and I sunk into a chair, took ibuprofen and put the heating pad on my back, and wondered if I would ever move again. Finally ankles wrapped and my ridiculous self put back together as well as possible, I smiled all through Christmas week (Why ruin anyone's Christmas, it only worries everyone and to what end?) and tried to act as if a steam engine hadn't rolled over me.

But now I was on a roll. The next week I was doing something or other and I have no idea how it happened but I slammed my left wrist and sprained it. Now IT is bandaged up and hurts like the dickens just as other areas are starting to feel better. That was until yesterday.

Yesterday, coming out of my daughter's after babysitting with my sprained wrist and still healing back-through-ankles, I tripped over an old paving stone in front of their darling little 1939 bungalow and fell, well, pretty much flat on my face. It was not a graceful nor especially pretty fall. I suppose I shrieked (I think I was too busy thinking "SH-T!!!" again to remember...) and my daughter came running out of the house yelling, "Oh my GOD, MOM, are you alright???" to which I replied, "Of course I am, just a little tumble." I wobbled up off of the ground with her helping me, and smiled real big and said, "Don't worry honey, I'm just fine. Go back in to the baby." I waited until she was safely inside and then kind of drug myself limping to the car like Igor, Dr. Frankenshtein's sidekick. As I sat there with my wrist shouting something at me like, "I sure didn't need THAT!" and with the rest of my already banged and bruised parts having their say, which I'm far too polite to repeat, I sat there behind the steering wheel trying to steady myself, and then I drove myself home.

Luckily, I wasn't too much the worse for the wear. I ached and I was tired, and I wanted to cry. And as soon as I opened the front door the four dogs came bounding at me all whimpering, barking, screeching and then the parrots joined in and I laughed. You're right Mom, Everyday IS a good day. I limped across the room and got their leashes and we went out for a SLOW walk. They were on their best behavior, (Dogs KNOW, you know...) and I looked up at the sky and said, "Thank you." because nothing else got broken or sprained (...except my ego!) and it was a beautiful day, if crisp and cold, and I felt just enormously happy walking my little family of furry beasts, tails wagging, little faces looking up at me, and when we came in they got a treat, and Henry the parrot came out and sat on my shoulder looking at me warily, kind of like, "What in the WORLD did you do THIS time?" (Birds know too...) and I told him I'd just had a little tumble but was fine. If I felt like I was 103 at that moment it didn't matter, because I would be just fine, and I was in a room full of birds chirping, singing, and talking, dogs cuddling near, having a lovely chat with a friend who called, and after a hot shower and whatnot was moving pretty well (You know, at snail speed, which is good enough for me anyway...).

That was yesterday. Today is a new day. If I'm a little sore it doesn't matter. The cold air outside is crisp and makes one feel lively. The dogs are just in from a walk and tearing around the house being funny, tossing their beds and toys and rolling on the ground, being goofy, and Babs, the tiny black pug, was barking her head off, which she is wont to do when she gets excited to which Henry, the grey parrot, said, "Babs, Babs, you're alright, whatsa matter, you need to go out???" (And yes, he said all that and talks so much people are shocked. Grey parrots are astounding birds. He calls all the dogs and other birds by name and talks to them, things he's heard me say, and more!)

And so as I start another day, I think, with my mother, that "Every day is a good day," and with Coelho, that there are miracles and magic moments and new stars being created if only we have eyes to see, and live with our hearts open, and always, always, know that every day is a good day, despite what may have happened, despite death knocking at the door, despite weather patterns and illness, and things just seemingly not going our way (that's a whole 'nother post!) I am doing just dandy, and I am happy, joyful even, and right now my big black boy dog and my little fawn boy dog are beside me offering up their noses for kisses, and I can't imagine a more wonderful life.

Blessings to each and every one of you, and remember what my mom says. She's right...



Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Quest For The Holy Grail, or, Finding The Sacred in 2008...

"A grail question is a question whose primary purpose is not to elicit data or information but to open up a situation to a new perspective ... reveal the sacred in a situation or can bring to light creative possibilities that we otherwise might have missed seeing."

~ David Spangler, A Pilgrim in Aquarius ~

The Holy Grail... A Cup, A Chalice,
A Woman's Womb, A Search For
The Divine Within...

"The midlife passage is, at bottom, a quest to find one's soul, and it is not uncommon to find people at this stage of life embarking on all sorts of physical and spiritual pilgrimages in an effort to find an ineffable something, a symbolical Holy Grail.

~ Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crossing To Avalon:
A Woman's Midlife Journey ~

I don't know when it was that I first read Crossing To Avalon, but it changed my life, and I have read and reread the book countless times, used it in the classes I teach, and find it continually, if at times fleetingly, as a leitmotif in my life. I am 53 years old, a midlife woman, mother and grandmother, peri-menopausal and approaching Cronehood, and at the beginning of last summer I realized that my Grail Quest had begun.

I didn't know exactly what would change, what I would find, what I might become, but I knew all of that would happen, and it truly didn't matter how long. I trusted the process and let life lead me. I remembered, over and over, when the times got rocky, a now unknown author saying, "Trust the Process, it's larger than you."

Three years ago next month my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, an uncommon, and terrible form of cancer. It is in the blood and bones and is a long degenerative disease. She was given 6 weeks to 6 months to live, and we all began to grieve as she put her affairs in order. She became a heroine to all of us because despite the painful proddings, medications that made her sick, and a really rough road when you thought she couldn't last a day longer, she would say, "Everyday is a good day." And she has tremendous faith and has said from the start that she is not afraid to die. But three years have gone on, it has all become harder and harder, she is now blind and failing in every way, the Grail is before her. I have begun to believe, living through her prolonged period toward death, that perhaps our whole life is a Grail Quest, and perhaps the beginning of it comes when we realize who we really are, what we are really meant to do here on this earth, and begin to do it. And it will not always be easy, but purpose and meaning will drive us on. Faith will ease the way.

Late last Spring I had a tremendous feeling welling up in my body and my perception of things began to change, my body began to change, times were turbulent and joyful and everything between and beyond and I knew with every fiber of my being that this would be the beginning of great change in my life, and so has it been and is it now and on into the future. I started a blog called "Gathering, Yielding, Opening, Ripening..." and that indeed was the best description of my summer. Gathering to me all that was good, all that I loved, yielding to the sometimes scary but always rewarding challenges, opening my heart to all that was new, to everyone around me, and making compassion and loving-kindness the ground of my work, my writing and my life, as it shall be from here on out, and yes, with middle age I was ripening, like a fine wine, learning who I truly was, what was important, and what I'm meant to do.

Of course my faith in myself has wavered, and at the same time my faith has deepened enormously, by leaps and bounds, in a way that surprises even me. It carries me through each day, each moment, and keeps me afloat. And little did I know that when the darkest times began with my mother, late summer to the present, with what seems finally her decline, as Doris Grumbach once wrote, she is coming into the endzone, and in despair, and frightened, and in a tunnel of darkness, a funny thing happened, or a funny little girl happened to me. Her name is Babs, she is a wee tiny girl, a black pug, 12 years old and deaf, and I fell in love on sight...

Wee little Babs...

One look at that face and I was smitten, and it began a relationship with Mid-Atlantic Pug Rescue which has become a big part of my life, and I am dedicated to helping them for the rest of my life. A portion of the proceeds of my fiber work goes to MAPR, and it has deepened both my relationship with my fiber work and the rescue and my work is even more fulfilling. My big darling dog Moe, a lab-doby mix that we adopted as a puppy from the Humane Society, and who is now 13, wondered what in the world this creature was, much like my dear friend Joseph who has had pugs himself. When I said to him, "Now I've got 2 dogs!" he replied, "No, you don't have 2 dogs, you have a dog and a pug." And he was right. These little people are different than anything I've ever known in my life. They are JOY incarnate and they came just in the nick of time, when I needed that burst of joy to help me through a dark autumn. But it didn't stop there. Nosirree, not by a long shot.

In September, one month after Bab's arrival, I was told about a little boy pug, between 7 and 8 that was so afraid to be left, having been passed around and having had a long sad history, even adopted out twice from the rescue and returned, that they asked me if I'd be interested. I said, "Yes," and in came my Velcro Pug. He is under my feet as I type, with all the other dogs as well as Sampson asleep. He slept with me from the first day on the couch when I took a nap, and in the bed at night along with Babs. I was giddy with joy at their antics, I could hardly contain myself, and all the while I faced what fall would bring, these small creatures bounced about the house bringing kisses and love the likes of which I've never seen, and for a woman who lives with 5 parrots, all of whom I hand-raised and who are now a decade or so old, give or take, 2 fish and by September 3 dogs, that's saying a lot. Sampson sticks to me like glue, likes to sit on a pile of pillows which I call (...instead of "The Princess!) "The Pug and the Pea." Everyone else is on their bed, or the couch or a chair, and Sampson is on a pile of pillows if not with me.

If you look closely on his forehead you will see
a heart amongst his many wrinkles. This boy

was made for love...

There we were toddling along the side of the road and all around, big Moe and the 2 pugs whom I called, "The Jolly Black Giant and the Two Little Nibblets," never imagining that in November the 3rd pug would come. Coco, perhaps the softest, prettiest pug in the world, 11 years old and hard of hearing, came to join the crew.

People don't much want the older ones, and they bring me so much joy. They have been through a lot in their little lives and to give them love and affection and a wonderful home became my mission. It has changed my life in untold ways. I have always been involved in animal rescue, even started and ran a non-profit shelter for disabled and unwanted parrots and other domestic birds. But Coco tipped the scales and I ran out of hands. I said I could easily walk three dogs, so 4 would be okay, 2 on each side. Well, we practically stop traffic walking down the road and people I don't even know have been so kind. After living here 5 1/2 years and barely leaving my little cottage, I have begun to get out and meet people. There's nothing like dog people. It doesn't matter what kind of dogs you have, but that you have a dog and are out walking it means you are in a Secret Club and I've made many dog-friends walking my pack. And indeed, by the time you get to 4, you have a pack. Cesar Millan would be so proud of me. We walk very well together (except when Coco pokes and tugs at the leash and sits her little behind down and says, "I'm not through with this spot.").

What the dogs have taught me, that stands me in good stead on my quest, is that all kinds of people, as well as animals, will have their distinct personalities, their oddities and idiosyncracies, and sometimes problematic something-or-other, but so do we. These pugs, as well as Moe, the birds, and all the animals that I have had have taught me patience, tolerance, love in spite of whatever comes our way, as well as being very attentive and in the moment at all times. Animals do not bemoan the past or worry about the future. They are just here now. I have studied Zen Buddhism for 30 years and it wasn't until I got the pugs that I fully realized what that meant. Moe is such a sweetheart, so compliant, and just wants to be loveable and make me happy. He is very gentle and submissive and one can almost take a dog like that for granted, though I love him with all my being. Pugs, on the other hand, come with a handbook. The give it to you when they walk in the door and these are the things they expect for you to learn.

Coco has taught me patience, to relax, take a deep breath, and just wait. I look at the stars more at night, commune with Mama Moon, and now I watch, closely, all four dogs and know their signals, when they are going to go, what their routines are, when they've found their spot, how they will handle their potty situation, and I even watch chuckling as the girls, Coco and Babs, actually do synchronated pottying (sometimes both ways!) by stopping, going round and round in perfect rhythm like the synchronated swimmers you used to see, and at the same moment squat down and do their business. It is downright hilarious. They walk together on the left side. The boys look at them baffled, as if girls are just weird, and I never intended to separate boys from girls but Sampson worships Moe, wants to be near him, and pees on every single spot Moe does. He seems to take great pride in that.

Another funny thing is that with 7, count 'em 7, dog beds in the living room for 4 dogs, 2 of whom are usually on furniture anyway, Coco, the, well, chubbiest little pug, gets in the smallest bed. She loves it, and sometimes is hanging half way out, sound asleep. Today I saw Moe get in that bed and almost fell over laughing. It fits Babs, the tiniest one, just fine, but to see a lab-doby mix curl up in it is hysterical. Moe is usually stretched out on the couch.

Moe on "his" couch...

Coco on her favorite bed (she actually
rotates sleeping on 3 beds!)

What, you may be asking by now, do pugs and all the other animals here have to do with my Grail Quest? They came to teach me many lessons about myself, to correct things that needed to be corrected, to teach me new skills, to show me that despite what was going on there was joy and laughter along the way, and that disabilities are simply other ways to live. Little Babs is deaf as a door but we manage just fine. Coco is a poker and will eat every thing in sight if she can (...which has certainly made me watch my own tendencies!), and little Sampson, who came with (as they told me at pug rescue) "Abandonment Issues," (... to which I replied, "That's okay, I've got them too.) has taught me what pure, unadulterated love and presence can do to heal an aching heart. They even managed to heal a rift between my dying mother and I, and gave me the will to go through some very hard times lasting many months. Moe is quieter. He just loves me. Pugs tug at your pants and say, "Listen here now..." And you learn to pay attention!

And finally what I have come to learn, and love, most, about this quest I'm on, is that I don't have to worry about the outcome. It will be what it will be, my own particular Grail is there waiting for me, already inside of me, and allowing me all the time and space to find what I need to find. And I'm on the path, and it is a cliche but it is true that "it's not the end that matters, but the journey that matters in the end." I am enjoying the journey.

Everything is sacred to me. My precious grandson, the wonderful people my 3 children are becoming, the kind relationship my ex-husband and I have maintained, my dying mother and the peace between us after a lifetime of a very difficult relationship, as well as every little blade of grass which to a dog may be the most fascinating thing in the world.

My grey parrot Henry will sit on my shoulder for many hours a day while I work and take nibbles of what I'm eating, give me many kisses, sit on my arm bobbing up and down as I type, or finally just sit on the back of my chair and go to sleep. You've no idea what an honor this is. Parrots are still very close to their wild nature, having only been domesticated in the last decades, while dogs and cats have been domesticated for thousands of years. They startle easily, trust comes slowly if at all, and when he puts his head down, very close to me on my shoulder, so I will rub his head, and he closes his eyes completely relaxed, I am sometimes moved to tears. To gain the trust of a grey parrot, one of the wariest parrots of them all, is a gift greater than diamonds to me.

My quest to find my own true nature has taught me that I, raised a very privileged child, am a middle aged woman living a very simple life. Living with my animals, living in a small space crowded with books, fiber tools and supplies, plants and animals everywhere, and being more interested in learning about the trees, wildflowers, and all the little wildlings that live outside in my own back yard than traveling the world, loving my animals, my family, my friends as I do, having a rich and varied life even though my circumstances mean I seldom leave the house, being always interested in everything, leading a magical existence with dolls and spindles and crochet hooks that look like gnomes, and listening, now, in the dark, with only one small light on, to snoring dogs and the ruffling feathers of sleeping birds, just may be the grandest thing on this earth, I know that my quest is to find and love the sacred, no matter how small. To love, to love fully, completely, openly, and, though it might seem trite to many, I am moved, like Don Quixote, to reach the unreachable star. I have always had a childlike innocence that I felt ashamed of, made to feel it was silly or downright unfathomable for a grown woman. But I have learned that that is perhaps my best and most tender quality, because I do believe so completely in what I believe, what I dream, in whom I love. And so I will end with the lyrics from The Impossible Dream, because I can never hear them without crying, and now I realize that it is because it is so true of me as well, and on my quest I have learned that this is who I am, a woman who will never quit tilting at windmills, and I am proud of that, and it makes me stronger everyday...

"To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star."

~ Music by Mitch Leigh and Lyrics by Joe Darion ~

I wish you all well, wherever you are, on your own Grail Quests. I will be on mine all the days of my life, and I shall cherish every bit of it, even though some of it will only come in retrospect. I suspect the pugs and the others will keep me on track, and I will never stop trying, when my arms are too weary, to reach, the unreachable star.

Warm Regards and Deepest Blessings to One and All,
and Follow Your Dreams, always...


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Maitri's New Year's Rockin' Eve Spent Cutting Hair, Spool-Knitting, and Watching The Ball Drop at Midnight...

This is what I call the "Chop-Shop" school
of hairdressing. Don't laugh. Be BOLD, try
it sometime, even if you have a grey parrot
in the background shouting, "NO, NO,
don't do it! You'll look HIDEOUS!"

To say that I am not exactly a party girl is putting it embarrassingly correctly. The Golden Girls whooped it up more than I do on New Year's Eve. I'm always grateful just to make it until midnight and not fall asleep between 9:00 and 10:00. As I write this it is now nearly 9 p.m. on New Year's night, and I am writing with pugs snoring loudly all around me. Yes, we rock here, we really do. Really. (I heard you laughing, by the way...)

Well, I'd had a nap yesterday (I'm a real ball of fire!) so I was going to make it up. I promised myself that I would watch the ball drop at midnight and then pray for all those poor people in Times Square that they might make it out alive. Have you seen that crowd? It's positively horrifying. I turned the tv on about 5 minutes to midnight, I was on the phone with one of my dearest and best friends in Canada, (of course she had 2 hours to go up there before the calendar turned for her), but she whooped it up with me for a minute and I got to wish someone other than dogs and birds, "HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!" We shouted and after a lot of well wishing it was now 2008 (at least here) and I ended up not going to bed until 2 a.m. I got busy watching t.v. and doing fiber work, and I felt like some wild, unruly hooligan up that late!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. So, I cut my own hair, taking the scissors and just having at it! Wheeeeeee, such fun, and FREE! I also color my own hair with color kits (main brands only cheap) from the Dollar Store which would make me quite the thrifty one except that that money and more goes to feeding 5 parrots and 4 dogs. Well, we all have our priorities!

So after cutting the hair, showering, and coming downstairs in a fresh clean cotton caftan (Oh, I felt so good...) I settled into spoolknitting. This spoolknitter is a "Mighty Mama" made by Noreen and Jim Crone-Findlay, not only my dear friends but makers of most of the tools that I use. You really need to go to their site and see their goodies!

Well, I was spool-knitting with one of my favorite Mighty Mamas (I have several and adore them all and they each were special orders and have very special meanings to me...), which is the most gorgeous Phoenix, and it says around the spoolie, "Like the Phoenix I rise again and again..." This has been such a potent symbol for me throughout my life. Here it is, and the yarn that I spun and let sit for a few weeks has a tight twist which creates wonderful ripple effects for this project, and in fact is what I call one of my "thin" yarns which makes some people shudder. Most people would consider this a thick yarn, and my art yarns are very, very thick with many elements. It's fun doing all kinds of yarns, and this particular yarn I'm spoolknitting will be the center of a very large piece....

Spoolknitting right off the spindle...

Spoolknitted Handspun...

I spoolknitted for a couple of hours and then moved to working on Cecelia's face. (Cecelia is one of my Rainbow Serpents, wearable art, and if you look through the last few entries you will see her in process. She is named for St. Cecelia, The Patron Saint Of Music.) Someone wrote in here and gave me good advice. I was at the end of my rope having spent days beading and crocheting, working on her face. These serpents are whimsical and so must their faces be. And she had to have a mouth to sing! But I just wasn't happy with it and I was ready to rip it all out and start over on the face. The reader wrote in and said, "Don't rip it out! Let it sit for awhile and then come back to it with new eyes. You may see her differently." And she was right. I looked at this peculiar, whimsical little face made of old Chinese beads and a lot of crochet in many colors of yarns with the wide open mouth, singing her songs to the heavens, and my heart just melted. And so I will keep the face but still have some work to do on it. Here you can have a little peek of the face in process...

There is a good bit of crochet yet to be done, but I'm
happy with her face so far. The turquoise edge goes all
the way around, very wide, but is folded back on one
edge while I was working...

They say that what you are doing as the old year turns to the new will have a great influence in the year to come. I am finally so at home with what I'm doing I found it just right to be doing my fiber art as the year turned. And I will be working very hard in the weeks ahead to make as many things as I possibly can to get up in my shop and will see a very active store as the year moves ahead. This is very exciting for me and it feels just right. I have a wonderful feeling about 2008. I think it is going to be a very good year in many directions!

So yes, we had our "New Year's Rockin' Eve," it just wasn't, by the world's standards, quite so rockin' as the rest. But we live a quiet life here and our transition from the old year to the new reflected the life that we live and love so well.

In ending, I want to leave you with a wonderful quote from one of my all time favorite books. It is a book of essays by writer Jim Harrison who is well known in many genres, a real outdoorsy big burly man, as well as a gourmet cook. Tough and tender. Thoughtful, a Zen man, and so much more. His essays were pure revelation to me, and I have not only read this book several times, but nearly 8 years ago, on a trip out to California (From NC) with my then partner, we took turns driving and the one who wasn't driving spent a good deal of the time reading this book aloud. She was enchanted and it is, to me, a very magical book. The book is Just Before Dark, "Collected Non-Fiction," and was published in 1991. Here's a little line that Harrison wrote that fits this time so well...

"I have a good memory, though good is somewhat questionable, since there is a tendency to over-remember life rather than to look for new life to be lived."

I think this is so important because there is the tendency to cling to the past (good or bad) and get stuck there. Change is growth, and it's time for all of us to draw a line in the sand, step over it, and turn our back on the past and look out into the vast expanse of the future ahead. The good memories will always be with us, but we needn't let them rule today. Too many people get stuck and are so afraid of change that it begins to be like wearing that old comfortable pair of shoes. Too often they are falling apart on our feet and we still refuse to let go. It's time for us to look to the future, to look for the new life to be lived. I am incredibly excited about all that will be coming to me in the year ahead. I hope you can feel that too.

And so I wish you all a happy, healthy, glorious new year. Embrace the changes, celebrate each day's lessons, and "look for new life to begin." How could we have a better new year than beginning it this way?

Many blessings to each of you, and love to you from my animal family and I here a the cottage. In the next entry you will hear about how this has been the Year Of The Pug, and all of the many lessons I have learned from these funny, adorable little dogs. Find something to love, love it well and with your whole heart, and the radiance of that love will fill your life and days....