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Posts from the ‘Art’ Category

No one likes an old angry woman

Screaming Woman By Betsy Lewis

Screaming Angry Woman: Mixed Media Collage 11″ x 14″ By Betsy Lewis

My 61st birthday approaches. So far, the “golden years” have been anything but peaceful. I have been angry, spitting angry, a lot this year. I’ve learned (again), that no one likes an angry woman. People wish angry women would just go away, suck it up and be demur and quiet. Probably even more so if you are an OLD angry woman. You’ve lost the bargaining chips of youth and beauty.

And if you are an old angry woman, there will be repercussions — and often repercussions that impact you financially.

I learned this year that you are never too old to be sexually harassed. I spoke up, justice was not done and I took a blow financially. I learned that, although I was being dangerously harassed by my next door mentally ill male neighbor, I would be the one told to leave by my landlord because I demanded (sometimes angrily) to be able to feel safe in my own home. I took another financial blow when I had to move.

I know we are all talking about anger, hatred, violence and war in light of recent national and global events. Many of my friends on Facebook are preaching love and peace. I know I am a privileged white woman, so my experience is not the same as a person of color. I also know there is no hierarchy of oppression. I am angry about it all. I would love to feel peace and love by just saying it, thinking it or wanting it, but honestly I just can’t jump there on a whim.

I need some sort of bridge for me to get there.

So, meanwhile, I am still an old angry woman, but thinking about how I can be a tiny part, with the time I have left, of making that bridge.

 

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Lost at Sea

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I was molested by a relative when I was a preschooler.

Some of my memories of this are murky; others are surprisingly vivid. I remember blue-jeaned legs, a round red face, and not being able to breathe. The most disturbing emotion, which can send my heart racing even today, was fear for my baby brother in the next room. I was his big sister, entrusted with his care. I loved him with all my heart. His happiness and suffering I felt as my own.

I also remember what I was wearing at the time – a blue sailor dress with a red tie. I loved Popeye the Sailor Man and felt invincible in that dress. I remember standing on the couch in my dress with my arms out like Popeye – showing off my muscles. That dress and the big sister status — it had to be heady.

In one fell swoop, in that one miserable day, a terrorist entered our home and changed the course of my life forever.

When my parents reappeared to save me, I remember longing to sail off on a fairy boat with my mother.

That this occurred, is not a particularly unique thing. It is estimated that one in ten children are abused before the age of 18.

I believe my parents and other relatives knew what happened but, as was typical of the time, it wasn’t talked about. I am guessing they all assumed (hoped) I was too young to remember.

And I didn’t for a time, but eventually the clues kept appearing, memories returned, and certain mysteries about my life started to made sense.

A month or so before I moved to the Oregon Coast from Portland, I found an old photograph of a little girl at a thrift store I haunted for vintage art supplies. She cost a full $1.00, which was a steep price for where I was shopping. But, after I kept returning to look at her, I splurged and bought her. After I settled into my new coastal house, the first thing I did was pull the photograph out and begin a collage not knowing why or where I was going with it.

When I had finished, I saw a sepia toned phantom of my past – the Popeye girl in the sailor suit.

That little girl had gone away and I would never know her. I was consumed with grief. I call this collage “Lost at Sea”.

There is a memorial to lost sailors in the coastal town where I lived then. Their names are carved in stone and I think about the people they might have become had they lived.

If I could, I would carve the words “Betsy the Sailor Girl” into the stone. Instead, I made this collage memorial to the girl I was who was lost at sea – who didn’t become who she was meant to be, but lived to become another – no better or worse, but who, frankly, has had to swim through a tsunami to get this far.

The Invisible Woman?

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Me and Invisible Me

 

Last week a sales clerk gave me the senior discount automatically — without me having to ask. Whoa! That was a first.

I had dressed up too. Made an effort. Had my makeup on. I’d also recently lost a few pounds. I thought I looked good, middle-aged perhaps, but certainly not a senior. Apparently it is time for a reality check.

Or quite possibly, the clerk hadn’t read these breaking news stories:

Middle age begins at 60, says researchers

Middle age now lasts until 74 as baby boomers refuse to grow old

God bless the baby boomers. We are not going down without a fight. If we don’t like the rules, we’ll change ‘em. You wait. We might just outlaw old age altogether.

I am still sorting through what old and senior will mean for my life. My memory slips now and then. I sometimes strain to remember the title of “that book.” “You know the one,” I say to my friends of a similar age. They nod. They DO know, but can’t find the words either. Apparently we can now communicate telepathically. This is good news.

On the other hand, I can no longer learn a new language (I’ve tried), knit an Icelandic sweater, or move a furniture item of any weight and bulk up a flight of stairs. I am having to face up to some new limitations. Sometimes I look in the mirror, stretch the skin on my face, and toy with the idea of surgical intervention.

There are the jokes about aging and there will be the optimists piping in with things like: “Age is just a number!”, ”Aging is mandatory, but growing old is optional!”, “Embrace your age!” etc. My favorite one is, “You are only young once, but you can be immature for a lifetime!”

I see other people are sailing through just fine. I came to parenting late, having spent the last 15 years using my dwindling energy to make sure my children survived to adulthood. I have emerged from that absorbing effort to find myself a senior. It is going to take some getting used to.

And why am I surprised I am old?

Because inside, as other seniors will tell you, it is a different story. Inside I am stunning, a force of nature, a blizzard, a tropical storm, an avalanche, a hurricane — for god’s sake. I have it going on. I know what’s what. I have big ideas, plans and dreams. All systems are go.

And finally I have a voice!

But will anyone listen to me – senior that I am? What are these words I hear whispered on the wind: “Irrrrrrelevant” . . . . . . “Invvvvvisible”

There is something familiar in this actually. It is my home turf in many ways. As a woman I have been grappling with some stage-of-life version of “invisible” my whole life. From petitioning for the right to wear pants instead of dresses to school, to the right to choose, to the right of equal pay for equal work – to name a few.

So now it looks like I must add ageism to sexism.

And how about love and the “invisible woman”? I would like to fall in love again. I thought I would be over this by now, but apparently it goes along with being a human of any age. I’d like a chance to do it better and make – ahem – better choices. But, as my neighbor lady says, “That’s a topic for another time and a bottle of wine.”

The advocates push old as bold and empowered. I am having trouble building up enthusiasm – but maybe I’ll get there. Obviously I need consciousness raising. But, there are the grand words and then there is the reality — which seems to me to need a total societal remodel — which I do not feel up to tackling at the present time.

Being old and getting even older is the unknown. I have few close models. My parents didn’t make it to 60, like I will – if my luck holds – this August 2015. I am a little scared. The end – MY END – is coming closer. Losses are multiplying faster. If I don’t go first, I will lose someone.

So I guess it is time to get busy making long awaited dreams come true – which I am doing as best I can.

Hopefully my body and my bandwidth can keep up the pace for a good long time.

Collage artist

The Collage Artist

School Daze: Living and Thriving in an Elementary School Classroom

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They say you can’t go back, but I am trying.

I live and work in a 1200 sq. ft. elementary school classroom on the Oregon Coast. My landlord, a school teacher, purchased the whole school about 10 years ago and remodeled 8 of the classrooms into apartments. Besides these apartments, there is an old school gym and cafeteria used for community events, basketball practice, weddings, a model train show at Christmas, and the annual crab feed.

There is endless work still to be done on the buildings and grounds. The school exterior is pretty scruffy, but the entry hall is finally being painted and an onsite laundry room is being installed as I write.

We residents are the “Bobcats” – mostly middle-aged or older – 3 artists, a couple building a boat by hand in the local shipyard, an emergency room physician, a young man who works in a local restaurant and a retired couple. The apartment manager is easy going and goes barefoot, regardless of the weather.

We are colorful enough to inspire a sitcom. Truth can be stranger than fiction sometimes.

You can see a slide show of my space below. The school was built in the 1960s. The landlord added a kitchen and shower to each classroom, and the toilet and sink have been refurbished. There is new carpet, linoleum, updated lighting, ceiling fans, new paint, a security system, and double-paned windows. The room still has many of its original features – a vaulted ceiling, blackboard, pencil sharpener, coat closet, flag — and those huge windows we used for staring and daydreaming as kids — as our teacher droned on and on.

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Unlike Portland, where anything extra requires an “additional fee” and a contract, the management here is generous and accommodating. They have loaned me several heavy art tables from the auditorium (and even lugged them over to my apartment for me.) They also constructed a little sleeping cubicle for me out of old folding doors.

I’ve furnished the place with colorful second-hand things. The area is economically depressed, so most things are relatively affordable and I’ve discovered wonderful artists who are painting and restoring furniture pieces. I’ve added some school “props” to further fuel my back-to-school fantasies: a 1950s globe, a metal locker, old books, a school bell, a child’s chair, a hall pass and a shiny red wooden apple. I just stopped short of buying a pull down map of the world.

My windows are south-facing with great light and the weather has been wonderful. The closest walking beach is only two miles away. The rent is low, utilities are never over $60 and WiFi is free. The people are unpretentious and friendly. I am learning how to cook seafood and there are many things still to explore and learn.  I can’t see any reason to leave here for awhile.

Until recently, I drove back and forth between Portland and the Rogue Valley frequently, but I am making a commitment now to stay put and get some work done — until September – when I head east to Pendleton for a bang-up rodeo party for my 60th birthday.

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At the schoolhouse I am creating a new body of work I call “Shipyard Abstracts”.  All my work, both painting and collage, has taken on a maritime theme — mostly inspired by beach-y finds and the local shipyard full of rusty things and the weathered leavings of abandoned and decomposing ships. I am still making my up-cycled aboriginal inspired pieces, and if all goes as planned, I will photograph and post them in my new Etsy Store this weekend. I also continue to enjoy doing social media work for a couple clients.

It is a huge, peaceful and deeply quiet place —  where I can breath, spread out and heal from the past decade.

It has not escaped me that I have managed to put myself back into school – to a time and place that was safe and predictable for me as a child — when my family life wasn’t.

I think I will just stay here awhile until I grow up some more.

I am Monica Lewinsky

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#IAmMonicaLewinsky by Betsy Lewis

“Humiliation is a more intensely felt emotion than either happiness or even anger”   Monica Lewinsky

I avoided watching Monica Lewinsky’s March TED2015 Video titled: The price of shame — like the plague. I don’t like shame. People who have made shameful mistakes, been found out and publicly humiliated, make me extremely uncomfortable. They remind me too much of my own mistakes and humiliations.

And, frankly, it is a lot easier to have someone else embody shame, (and  hate them for it), rather than face up to shame in myself. I like to think I don’t do that, that I am more conscious than that, but in the case of Monica Lewinsky — I think I did. Before watching her talk, she was merely the blue dress or the beret and all they symbolized. After watching her talk, I see a full human being, a woman who is courageous, articulate, and purposeful.

A few days ago, I started to put together a collage in my usual way, with no particular intention. I put down the face  . . .  and then the fish over that . . . and thought to myself, “Oh! . . . . . humiliation.” Monica Lewinsky’s story had been working some sort of magic in my subconscious — and apparently it was something I needed to express.

I also began to wish to do something in solidarity with her – the woman who has been taking the “hits” for all of us, for far too long.

I can say — “I am Monica Lewinsky.” All of us can say — “We are Monica Lewinsky” – but there are big differences. We may have fallen in love with our bosses or someone inappropriate — but that person was probably not the President of the United States.  And for those of us over 50, before the onset of the instant connectedness of the internet and social media, our youthful mistakes were usually only an embarrassing legend in our own minds or in the minds a handful of people or in our local community.

Back in 1998, when her story broke, and she was all of 24 years old, Monica Lewinski became the first of a new genre of scandalous internet sensations. The stories and sordid details about her spread like wildfire and could be viewed by anyone at any time — and forever. In short order, she made history. Her shame became a legend world-wide, and she — a target. No wonder her parents feared for her life.

Now, what she calls “technologically enhanced shame,” is commonplace. Countless individuals, often young people, are cyber-bullied every day — sometimes with tragic results. Public humiliation has become big business. And, as Monica points out, “The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars.”

The antidote for shame? The things she said saved her when her life became unbearable — compassion and empathy from other human beings. She quotes Brene Brown, a researcher and authority on vulnerability and shame, saying: “Shame can not survive empathy.”

In the online world, we can foster minority influence by becoming upstanders. To become an upstander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation.” Monica Lewinsky

I admire Monica Lewinsky. At age 41, after a decade of silence, she is using her horrific experience in a unique and productive way. She is doing what admirable people do who survive a great trauma – she is making meaning out of her story and using it to help others. As a living example of the power of compassion and empathy to heal, she is helping others cope and heal also.

The internet is a force that can be used for good or evil. There is power in your clicks, beyond the advertising dollars. Like Monica Lewinsky, we also have the power individually and collectively to become upstanders and spread compassion and empathy in place of shame.

And while you are doing that for others, give yourself a break. Shine some compassion on yourself, for  your own shame. You are only human  — just like Monica Lewinsky.

Watch the TED2015 video of Monica Lewinsky titled The Price of Shame.

Helpless

"And it all came tumbling down"

My startling, chaotic dreams seem closer to real

than the face I show in the light of day.

So many tangled threads to follow and sort.

So much to not know.

I’ve lived many lives,

now houses of cards that left with the tide.

I am longing for something real today.

But the only thing I can strive for is being human.

And that is no work at all.

Betsy Lewis 3/2015

Self-Portrait: Woman with a Key and Clocks

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What’s up for me in 2015?

Time. (And being in control of it.)

I’ll be turning 60 this year — and this fact is working powerful magic for me.

Up to now, I felt I had plenty of time — eternities of time. I didn’t ever think about how I used my time. I just went along, spending it haphazardly on things as they came up. This wasn’t all bad. My unconscious ruled, and it has been an interesting unfolding of a life. But now it is different.

I am aware of limitations in all areas of my life, and TIME is a big one.

That explains the clocks above my head. The big key is important too. I am taking charge. I will open and lock the doors for myself now. My hands are big, over-sized and strong. I want to make things. The E and L  are my initials. I use my given name, Elizabeth, when I mean business. (I love doing self-portraits. I never know exactly what will show up — but it is always revealing.)

I think the cowboy getup, (clipped from a Sundance catalog), is a little more shallow — a wish fulfillment. I dreamed of growing up to be a cowboy as a child, and as an adult would like to dress like a Sundance catalog model!

A woman in the apartment across from me just had her 2nd knee replacement surgery. After her first surgery, I drove her to a couple PT appointments, waited for her and drove her home. That’s the nice person I am, but I felt resentful — and that is key too. Ironically, I barely know this person, yet I felt obligated to BE THERE for her. This 2nd surgery I am refraining from offering. She has financial resources, there are cabs and she has friends and family who could help her. I don’t blame her – who wouldn’t want to save $ and get a ride from a neighbor. I was the one who OFFERED to drive her that first surgery! This second surgery, she seems to be getting along just fine without me. I don’t have to feel resentful and a true friendship between us has a chance of developing.

In many other ways, I am refraining: Not doing work that doesn’t inspire me, declining social invitations, limiting visitors, letting myself be the introvert that I am and the extrovert that I am — when it fits.

I find myself taking refuge in being almost 60. I am OLD for God’s sake – give me a break! But, I have never really needed an excuse.  I am well aware of how my past, my upbringing and my gender has led me to ignore myself — especially as a mother. As hard as it is, I am working on letting my children figure things out by themselves.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be there for others in the future. But, I will be discriminating and consider myself first (gasp . . . did I just write that?). I just have to see those clocks, me as the holder of the key and those big hands screaming, “Make something now!” — to remind myself. I think the kick-ass boots are a nice touch too.

There are things I want to do. I don’t want to die regretting not doing them. There is no guarantee that all those people, for whom I have sacrificed my own needs, will come to my funeral and say nice things. And who wants to spend their precious time securing glowing eulogies.

I am also thinking about buying those boots and taking myself off to a dude ranch for my 60th birthday!

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