As I journey on in this remarkable time of loss, I am encouraged and heartened not just by the loving support I have in my life but by what I am learning about myself: the old stumps I drag behind of family suffering, the incredible power to heal and say farewell to encumbrances and embrace new goals. Sometimes my head buzzes with fireworks — both illuminating and dangerous. Here I am, in the december years of my life (maybe just late autumn?) and yet here are new ideas, previously unconsidered possibilities and lessons of faith and trust. How grateful I am to be alive, and I’m going to co-opt a quote I heard from Norman Lear who described his family as having “lived at the top of its lungs and the ends of its nerves.” An excellent way of being in the world. I aspire to it.
Here’s this week’s adventure story -— after a particularly meaningful and healing session with my counselor who is a combo of skilled therapist, spiritual director and gifted healer, I headed up to the Oakland hills for my fave trail through the redwoods to absorb the powerful work of that afternoon. As I parked in the lot by the Joaquin Miller Park visitor center, avoiding street parking as they warn of break-ins, I heard red-shouldered hawks calling and saw red tail hawks circling above. The groves of trees embraced me as always (and I hugged them back); they comfort and soothe. Back to my car, I started it up and it made the worst racket! Like my muffler had fallen off. Not knowing exactly what to do (my mechanic had already gone home for the evening) I decided to limp home to Alameda, coasting downhill most of the way, glad for the electric engine that kicked in, avoiding freeways and laughing as I bombed through the Fruitvale district, attracting attention from the clamor of my engine. White-haired old lady in her hobbled Prius. Made it home (whew!), thankful for my safe arrival. A generous neighbor looked at my noisy vehicle and pronounced, “Your catalytic converter was stolen.” It’s in the shop now, getting repaired and is covered by insurance. Should be good to go, as my mechanic assures me she’s got quite a few miles left in her.
I also want to share this poem; couldn’t believe it arrived in my inbox, so perfect:
YOU WHO LET YOURSELVES FEEL by Rainer Maria Rilke
You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins behind you.
Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.
Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.
The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.
This painting: one of the owners of my marina has a fabulous garden (on land) and I took a number of photos of her lilies which, thanks to my Christian background, always make me think of Easter and new life.
10″ x 10″ watercolor, pen on paper = $130
Have you ever had Stevie Wonder singing to you in your headphones and managed NOT to dance? (I dare you to try.). This past weekend as I went to my cache of photos of wildflowers from the Marin Headlands, brought out my paints and cranked up the music, I had to take multiple dancing breaks from my watercolor expressions. All my curtains and doors were open, so I went into my bedroom where I could have a private Songs in the Key of Life dancefest. It was great (and terrific exercise), and I gratefully soaked up those moments where life felt like a celebration again. I always feel happy to see the swallows coming back in Spring, too — they collect mud in their beaks at low tide just out my window, to build their nests up on the Barnhill silos. They do this fluttery dance while they harvest the gooey stuff, never quite landing. It’s beautiful and balletic.
So the end result of my painting/dancing afternoon was this guy, complete with its ant visitors. Do head for the hills if you can as the flowers are spectacular. Oh, and one more thing — Alcatraz is partly open again. Please visit, and bring friends, as revenue from this tourist spot supports GGRO (and other GGNRA programs) and we are struggling to survive, due to the pandemic. Thank you.
7″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $65
Anyone watching the impeachment trial? Jamie Raskin is my new hero. The House lawyers are presenting a strong and dramatic case, and what gob-smacks me is that Raskin is doing a terrific job after losing his troubled son, who was in law school, to suicide last December. My sister died in November and I can barely rub two neurons together, so I admire Mr Raskin and have great respect for him. Talk about grit. (By the way why is no one talking about how gleeful Putin must be these days, watching our troubles?)
So here’s the latest addition to my collection of calla lily paintings. There is a secret stash of lily plants I pilfer from; they bloom every year in a neglected corner of a certain spot in Marin County. I suppose I shouldn’t help myself but I don’t think the flowers are missed, and I only take one or two blooms. Surreptitiously. Which gives me a thrill, kind of like when I shoplifted costume jewelry from Woolworth’s in Corte Madera when I was 13 (my criminal career was a short one after I nearly got caught). Maybe I’ll turn into the cliche of the old woman klepto. Don’t know. Maybe you should keep an eye on me.
10″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $90
What could be better to lift one’s spirits than dramatic blooms like these that magically grow out of a bulb that was a gift from a kind neighbor? It’s a kind of miracle, and things that are alive bring lightness to my tired soul — from these stalks erupting into dramatic blossoms to feisty finches at the feeder to cormorants diving for wiggly little worms. Focusing on the natural world is a wonderful and encouraging distraction. I’ve been watching this stalk of green grow up out of a ceramic pitcher in my living room for several weeks and — voila! Big showy white flowers! Another stalk is also ascending so maybe a second act is on its way. Such simple, glorious beauty growing out of a bumpy bulb (my experiment with growing sunflower sprouts has been slightly less successful). I’ve been watching the stalks grow, itchy to paint the flowers once they popped. I was happy to get my watercolors out today after a morning of sadness, followed by the lovely news my sewage outtake hose had disconnected outside my home (all fixed now; again, Angela’s kindness via a phone call alerted me to the yucky problem she discovered while walking past my house; Vern to the rescue!). I’m fairly snugged in now, warm and comfy as the rains come and the winds start to pick up. Yet again I am saved by putting one foot in front of the other even when my insides are roiling with grief. A story on NPR today helped as well — about people hitting the “pandemic wall” as we desperately hope this terrible virus will someday fade into the background though now it continues to hunt us and scare us and keep us from each other. I have hope but my dark moods I’m sure are part of the state of things we humans now struggle with. We’re all hanging in there. And we will keep doing so. We just need to keep paying attention — to our feelings, to each other. How lucky I am to have warm and kind humans in my life!
10″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $90
I thought I’d post today (don’t usually do on weekends) as I’m soon heading up to Seattle & can’t predict my coming days in terms of painting and blogging. And I wanted to share this painting I did today. I’m sitting writing this on my couch, hoping some trick-or-treaters come by who live in the marina. I just love the darling costumes. [Here’s a Halloween memory — living in a kid-filled neighborhood in OR when my kids were small, two costumed kids knocked on the door and I still remember them — that area used to be a big logging area, and the little boy was dressed like a logger, with a plaid shirt, a pillow to indicate a big belly, a hard hat and big boots and drawn-in stubble on his chin. Adorable. His “wife” was in a ratty bathrobe, fluffy slippers and curlers in her hair.] But I digress. This orchid, a generous gift from my amazingly wonderful neighbors who took me out for lunch [outside seating] for my birthday, has vibrant, show-stopping magenta and purple blooms. I hope to keep this plant alive (2 ice cubes a week, I’m told). Anyways! Life in upside-down, crazy 2020. I had a truly terrific birthday, which is amazing these days. I felt happy and celebratory that I was born 68 years ago. OK back to my couch. Dinner’s in the oven, it’s a beautiful clear October day, hummingbirds are at my feeder, I had a fun bike ride today to go see the big container ships on the estuary, and I appreciate the countless gifts in my life today. Thank you for reading my posts, as it means a lot to me. Happy for this vivid, interesting, unpredictable existence.
10″ x 7″ watercolor, pen on paper + $90
I painted this female wolf as a tribute to animals that sometimes visit me and bring me their medicine in my meditations and dreams. She is powerful, wise, fierce, brave, protective and takes no bullshit. I painted this from a photo in a book about the packs of wolves in Yellowstone Park, some of whom I got to see on a winter trip there years ago.
I have always been attracted to top-of-the-food-chain predators. Wolves in particular fascinate me, as they are social animals, family-oriented, robust and stick together (if you are similarly interested, I highly recommend the book, Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowatt). This is more than I usually share about my spiritual journey, as it is such an intimate experience, but I draw a great deal of strength from my prayers, meditations and contemplations. Which makes me sound waaaay more spiritual and noble than I truly am (I swear like a sailor and like cocktails). But I have learned to develop these practices and they heal me and give solace and direction and joy. It’s kind of my own designer religion, Created by Emily.
You can probably tell from this painting that I love this creature. She comforts and guides me, and I’m kind of outing her by sharing this but she won’t mind and I wanted to honor her. The journeys I have had over the past weeks have been memorable and heartening as there has been a convergence of life events that are healing old childhood wounds of loneliness and lovelessness — spending time in Mill Valley where I grew up, visiting with my sister who is dying of cancer, and today is my birthday. I always hated birthdays; they made me feel alone and isolated but today I truly celebrate my birth, and believe I belong to this glorious family of humanity. I welcome that little baby, a boomer born into the world in 1952. This is a great leap for me, and I am proud of these soul-celebrations.
OK now it’s time to go frost the birthday cake I made today and have my own little party. After that I’ll do a ritual, letting go of old, stinky, mouldering beliefs that I’m done with. I will forgive myself, forgive my parents, and welcome my future.
10″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper
I woke up today having decided a few things. I’d love to frame this in a spiritual way but the deal is, I QUIT. I decided the time to retire is now. What am I retiring from? Here’s my list: 1. Carrying worry for my family. I cannot control the well-being of my sibs who are ill, my children who have their own lives to figure out, the well-being of my grandkids. None of these things are my responsibility; hell, my kids are in their 40s and whatever they need to sort out is up to them and I have zero control over how we relate to one another. 2. Art career path. I have no ability to manipulate its trajectory. I will never be an Instagram influencer or a Facebook darling. I am walking away from The Struggle of trying to be successful. Instead, I renew my commitment to paint every day, to show my work when I can and to express myself authentically and keep finding my own voice. And scream it at the canvas. 3. Trying to control my future. I’m here today, and I am showing up. I can’t determine who I will love, how I will find comfort, when I will die. Nor can I worry about the economy and how it affects my old-lady money. What I can do: Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Let go of the outcome. This is my mantra. Today the ambulance came for an elderly, ailing neighbor. I did not see the ambulance take him away, so today may have been his last day (not sure). Someday the ambulance may come for me, and I won’t waste my energy trying to resolve situations over which I have no control. I am not abdicating responsibility. I am, however, taking leave from trying to fix things I cannot.
OK so here’s about the persimmon! (How can I tie this in to my blabbering?) There’s a healthy, huge persimmon tree behind our marina laundry room. These fruits are gorgeous. I love their color, and as they ripen I’m sure I’ll paint a few more of these beauties. Maybe the parallel story is that these guys ripen ONLY according to nature’s schedule. I’m plenty ripe and juicy myself, as I steady myself for my 68th birthday. Don’t think any rot has set in yet but I’m not entirely sure.
[I would like to add, please vote, everyone, if you haven’t already. Just saw a 104-year-old woman on the news interviewed at the polls (on her own 2 feet!) where she voted and she said, adamantly, that in all her years she has never experienced a more important US election — and she’s lived through two world wars.]
10″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $90