Monday, May 23, 2011

A Portrait of Site #511

I pulled open a trap door in the ground
And propped it up like a sentinel
Guarding a secret cave-
Cool and pungent.
A ladder dropped below the surface;
its legs disappearing into the black
sparkly ether of the cosmos.

Beloved Readers,

Here she is–site# 511, splayed out in a meadow slowly becoming a forest.
Last week I bought a plot in the natural burial grounds at the Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers Georgia, not far from my home in Decatur. No embalming, no vault. Shroud only or pine box with pegs. Simple flat natural rock marker will be engraved locally. And only native Georgia plantings allowed. The family can dig the grave or the monks will arrange to have it done-three and a half feet deep.

She seems so diminished. A couple of GPS coordinates describe her. She has a slight slope and a sandy clay complexion. Adolescent trees surround her head and feet–dogwood, red oak and red maple. A thread of muscadine slithers across her belly. Seedlings advance upon her chest.

I'm struck by her guileless affrontery, staring back at me in the portrait without any sign of fear or regret. She is not a mountain top. She is not a tower. She is not a pyramid or a hero on a plinth, but a humble place in time. I peek at her flat, wide torso. I need to make friends. Run my fingers through her dirt. Stroke her leaves that overhang. Press my footprints in her face.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rocking Our Fears in the Cradle of Loving Kindness

Dearest Readers,

Fear of Death is my bogeyman. I've embodied it in drawings and creatures like The Body Processor and The Life Trapper, below, who suck in body parts and spew out spiritual energy.

Recently I've been making "Safety Wear", which are magical clothes designed to impart protection against harm, risk or anxiety. Some of the clothes are enabling attire, like the Bravery Jacket (left) and the Consciousness Cape (right) to keep me awake and aware.

Last weekend I volunteered as an aide at the Decatur, GA Shambhala Center for the Level 2 Spiritual Warrior program. I discovered new insights that I had not recognized when I attended the program as a participant.
Rocking Our Fears in the Cradle of Loving Kindness is a slogan in Shambhala Buddhist meditation practice that means to embrace our fearfulness instead of struggling against it. In Western culture, this seems anti-intuitive. We're exhorted to "Get over it", or "Move on" with our lives and not let fears get the best of us. I recall the shocking scene in the movie Patton, when the eponymous general slaps the face of a frightened soldier, to make him shape up and be a man. Repressing my fears doesn't work for me. When I meditate, suppressed thoughts have a way of popping to my mind. Instead of aggressively slamming them down, Buddhism encourages me to investigate them with curiosity, examining their nuances, how they manifest in my body, in my thoughts and storylines. It is a patient technique that requires its own fearlessness, and at the same time a gentleness to myself in the process. Art and Buddhism are tools for my spiritual courage.

A Joyful Heart

Monday, May 9, 2011

Death, Motherhood, Family and Adrienne Rich

Darling Readers,

For Mother's Day, I am reprising a video I did in 2002 to the memory of my mother who died in 1997. It is called The Question Box?, The Moment of Death 4 minutes 20 seconds.

The Question Box? looks at the moment of death from the eyes of a daughter witnessing her 89 year old mother's passing. Why do we have to die? What happens to memories? Is there peace in acceptance? Like Mom, I am afraid of Death. I am seeking reasons for bodily annihilation with the hope of essential redemption. She was a daring car driver, charging through Vermont and NJ snow, driving nursing school friends down to Florida for a vacation trip through the white stuff.

Yesterday on Mother's Day I was treated to brunch at "Sun in My Belly" restaurant in Atlanta by my dear friend Ruth Schowalter and her husband Tony. I was her surrogate Mom for the morning. I think I played the part well. In the afternoon I met with Ruth again, and friend-artist- writer Harriette Grisson in Robey Tapp's backyard garden where we created an altar extraordinaire from a throne-like brick barbecue. We moved, danced, placed objects on the altar and burned our offerings to the little statue of Our Lady of Guadaloupe who was a stand-in for the spirit mother, whoever she may be. For me she was the essence of my Mom and all mothers, full of love, compassion, power and healing balance. For others she was the mom we wish our moms to be, and the creative juice of the universe. In the evening I had a sumptuous dinner cooked by my son at his and my daughter-in-law Linda's home. We drank beer and wine, played with Jack and Rosie the grandkids in the sandbox on the front lawn, and lounged in the glorious weather. This evening was shared with Linda's mom, Sheila and her husband Bill Sharp. I am truly blessed with such friends, artists and children. Wish you were here, Mom.

This morning I began reading Adrienne Rich's feminist classic, Of Woman Born, 1976, subtitled Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Thank God for Adrienne's mind and her writing skill. This book will be a pleasure of real energetic experience and truth-telling within the bigger forces of "custom, tradition, money, and institutions behind it...and the pressures on women to validate themselves in maternity." Much has changed for women and motherhood since the 70's, but little has also changed. Motherhood embedded in the social politics of 2011 still feels like a greeting card. We are honored (thank you) for our sacrifice and loving care of children, but we could also be in danger of losing social safety nets for poor mothers and children under Tea Party pressures to cut government services. In Sunday Mass yesterday, the officiating priest asked the mothers of the congregation to stand for a blessing. It felt creepy not to ask all adult women to stand and be honored. We women all had mothers and have surely nurtured children along our way, whether we actually carried an infant in our bodies. We are teachers and role models to nephews, nieces, cousins, and friends' kids. Hurrah for us!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama is Dead and the Hand to Hand Project

Although the intent of this blog is the unfolding of a personal and artistic spiritual journey, I've been encouraged by some of the Hand to Hand collaborative artists to make an exception, and write today about the killing of Osama Bin Laden early this morning. Hand to Hand which ended last August, was a daily witnessing of the events of the War in Iraq using gloves or hands in any artistic media in response to that war's daily news events. The approximately 200 national and international artists and I followed the war day by day for 7-1/2 years.

I understand the connection between Al-Quaeda in Iraq and the Hand to Hand Project, but I did not at first see the need to respond to Bin Laden's death as a natural consequence of my following the War in Iraq. The Bush administration tried to link Saddam Hussein with Bin Laden and 9-11 to justify invading Iraq, but that theory was later debunked by the 9-11 commission.

On June 17, 2004 I created a glove artwork in response to the headline in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the Commission's finding of no evidence of a link. The only other time I responded to a news story about Bin Laden during the H2H Project was on January 20, 2006 when Bin Laden issued a video suggesting a truce and also attacks.

While following the Iraq War for so many years, I was continually disgusted by the brutalities we humans inflict upon each other in the name of ideals such as religion, and democracy, or base motives like anger and revenge. I am saddened that the USA felt it necessary to kill Osama Bin Laden, and not take him prisoner to face legal justice. The wheel turns and we perpetuate hatred in response to hatred.