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Posts from the ‘Art’ Category

Introducing pLaNeT PoRtLaNd

The Violin Shop on pLaNeT PoRtLaNd

The Violin Shop on pLaNeT PoRtLaNd

Working almost full time in the wake of losing my pension has put a severe cramp on my artistic output. Introspection-wise I am still functioning but not putting much of it into writing. The Portland Nine writing group, which meets once a week, has been my only expressive outlet.

However, just as my head was about to explode from the log jam of my creative ideas, I discovered phone photography. It has allowed me to squeeze some creativity into my busy days. I usually take a walk each day anyway, so now I am bringing my phone/camera along with me and snapping shots along the way. (I’ve programmed the camera to make that gratifying shutter click noise too.)

Me on the hunt as the intrepid phone photographer

Me on the hunt as the intrepid phone photographer

Later, I art-ify (my word) the images — once again quickly and right on my phone. I’ve set up a Tumblr blog — just for posting these images — with minimal words. I can also do the posting from my phone which saves time. Oh, the wonders of modern technology!

I’ve called my new photo blog “My Year on pLaNeT PoRtLaNd.” It is at: http://planetportland.tumblr.com. Give it a visit if your like. If you have a Tumblr account you can follow it too.

I have been on my walkabout now for nine months – the perfect gestation time. Lots of lessons learned. I am currently crafting a bulleted list (for speed and ease of reading ) of walkabout pointers to be published here soon. I also signed a lease for one more year at  the apartment in Portland, Oregon. There is a lot I have yet to experience and learn from this very quirky and inspiring place I call pLaNeT PoRtLaNd.

I still have some Walkabout Woman portraits I am working on, albeit slowly . . . on real paper and with real art supplies!

That’s it for now. I hope everyone is enjoying Spring — in whatever form it is emerging in your life! Here’s one last phone/camera image:

My place of work, aka the poetry corner, on pLaNeT PoRtLaNd

My place of work, aka the poetry corner, on pLaNeT PoRtLaNd

Folding my mother back into my body

Walkabout Mother

Walkabout Mother

My mother told me that a mean old rooster used to chase her around the yard, so her father chopped off its head — but it still ran around headless.  I was but a girl myself when she told me this story and I didn’t like thinking about a bloody headless rooster. But, what terrified me the most, was the idea that my mother could be afraid. I counted on her for bravery.

Occasionally, I was allowed to go through an old trunk of her things from childhood. I found a dream book she had made in high school. Into it she had cut and pasted magazine pictures of  the rooms of her dream house. When I compared the pictures in this scrapbook to our house, I knew she had not achieved her dreams. I also found a picture of her sitting bareback on a horse when she was just about my age. She was barefoot and dirty. She had grown up in Kansas during the dust bowl. Her father was a bootlegger and the story is he was murdered by his gang.

My mother was quiet. I had to watch her face for signs of how she felt about things.  I knew when her eyes flashed and she pressed her lips together tight, she disapproved — but wasn’t saying the words. I was vigilant. Those eyes and lips were my barometer for good and evil.

When I was 12, my mother had a cerebral hemorrhage. She just barely survived brain surgery. (This was before the days of laser surgery.) When she finally came home, she was not the mother I had known. Eventually, I realized that she was gone. This was a problem because there was a body walking around that looked like her. People congratulated me on having my mother back alive.  No one was saying, “I’m sorry your mother came back a zombie.”

As a teen, I had no compassion for the mother zombie walking around. The person I had counted on for bravery was as clueless as I.  Abandoned, I had to go it alone. Hatred and anger girded me for meeting the daily shock of loss and confusion. I had trouble reconciling my experience with what people were (or weren’t) telling me. In time it became easier to just assume I was crazy.

The last time I had seen my mother, before she became the zombie, was the day before her surgery.  My father brought us – her four little kids – to the hospital. Since kids weren’t allowed in the patients’ rooms, we met in the lobby. I remember she looked especially beautiful that day – a new hairdo, make-up, red lips, and pink cheeks that matched her paisley pink robe.

It was like any other day for us, however. We were fighting and running around like the wild Indians we were. I was the oldest and had some inkling of the gravity of the situation, but no one told us that this could possibly be the last time we would see our mother. We probably wouldn’t have been able to comprehend this if they had.

My mother knew, of course. She knew she was coming to say goodbye to us. She came looking her best, so we would have that one last memory of her. She never cracked, even though she must have been stunned, and racked with fear and grief. She was good. We never suspected.

This is why I chose her as the subject of  my second walkabout woman portrait.

Not because she was a good actress and didn’t let on about her feelings, but because she carried the great burden of a mother’s love for us and met this, her most dire challenge, in her own way, and with grace and bravery.

I’ve lived with this mother portrait for awhile now, so I know that it comes from the child who found out her mother could be afraid and wants to make it all better, and from the teenager who wants to atone for her behavior.

I’ve swooped down like a little Joan of Arc and given her the things from her dream book. I’ve broken the neck of the villainous old rooster and triumphantly hung its head around her neck. I’ve adorned her with hearts and rhinestones as proof of my love. I’ve  released the words from her lips that she never spoke and, since I can’t know what they would be — they have manifested as alphabet blocks.

The child who did this portrait doesn’t know yet, that even if you are good and love baby Jesus, bad things can happen, that things aren’t always fair and that there are some things you can’t fix even with a superhuman effort.

This Mother’s Day I feel the tragedy of her life cut short and have only compassion for the motherless daughter I was. I can see now that those years of cutting off my mother — cut off parts of me from myself.

And as these things go, my mother’s walkabout is also my own. Am I doing it for me or her? The line is blurred. I do know that fear is being vanquished, love has triumphed and the rooster is beginning to crow in my own voice — and with words I do recognize.

Beginning here, I am  slowly folding my mother back into my body.

Hoping for a miracle . . .

"Hoping For a Miracle", Mixed Media Collage by Betsy Lewis

“Hoping For a Miracle”, Mixed Media Collage by Betsy Lewis

My defense mechanisms of choice have always been denial and fantasy. If an important situation or person is not to my liking, I can usually spin it or them into line with my fantasy version. I have avoided a lot of misery through the years this way! The collage above captures this pretty well. There, for all to see is my magical child-like self banking on a miracle! (I don’t plan these things.)

In my last blog installment I shared that I am teetering on the edge of a “fiscal cliff” of my own– seeing the pension that was funding my dreams suddenly and mysteriously evaporating before my eyes.

It is only at night now that I sink into bag lady fear. For the most part, I am practicing what I preach and living in the moment. And I still have hope that this has all been a  dreadful mistake, or that there is some way to negotiate a better outcome. I also know that law is its own sort of madness, with rules and precedents that aren’t always based on what I think is fair or just. But sometimes life surprises me.

Yesterday this beautiful poem by Marlene Mish arrived by email:

Hope

Hope teeters upon the wings

Of your broken heart,

Balancing loneliness and despair.

Hope sits in the hollow stillness

Next to the raw places within you

And lights a small candle.

 

Hope believes that next time

The story will come out different

And gives you courage to stand

And take a step.

Hope is all there is

When all there was is

Gone.

 

Hope teeters upon the edges

Of your wary spirit

That has lost it way too many times

And grabs your collar before

The tears engulf you

And shouts, “You made it through !”

Hope is a distant voice whispering a lullaby

When all others

Scream, “Give up!”

 

Hope is the last word of God

You hear before you close your eyes,

The only proof that you are not alone.

“You are beautiful, my child.

Why have you forgotten again?”

 

Hope is the one gift that survived Eden,

The only language of love,

The last promise that won’t be broken,

And yet it teeters

On the edges of things

While you look for answers

Somewhere else.

Marlene Mish, August 24, 2003

Marlene shared a little bit about the inspiration for this poem:

Today is a good day.

Today I can see clearly that life is a series of ups and downs and that no matter how hopeless things can get, no matter how broken I may feel, I know that the sun will rise at dawn and I have a choice whether to greet it. But that wasn’t always so.

There have been times when I felt defeated by life, defeated by my own choices, defeated by the demons what swirl around in my soul, waiting to take root.

I wrote this poem in 2003 on such a day when sorrow had overtaken me, when defeat was all around me, when I had lost my way. I share it only because it is so hard to remember who we are on such days and I need to remind myself every once in a while that most isolation is self-imposed even though I have always sought out someone to blame.

I have made some progress on this journey, and so I can share a private part of it with others without losing.”

One reader expressed confidence that I would get through this pension thing with grace, and I think of that often. Now that is something to work toward . . . to  take on all of life with grace (after a kicking and screaming tantrum, of course.)

I am nothing if not resilient. And though I hate to admit it, I am already teasing out silver-linings.

Hope

Hope

If you could be an animal, what would you be and why?

I have been attracted to lizards lately. I think they are my new totem animal. When I was disintegrating and reconfiguring myself in the years after my divorce I was attracted to butterflies. As I anticipated my walkabout toward freedom – I saw dragonflies everywhere. They embodied the freedom I was craving.

Now it’s lizards.

In the three months I have been on my walkabout I have come down to earth with the other animals that scurry around on the ground. If you watch lizards – they are very attentive to their environment. Their eyes and neck dart and jerk. They are wary and cautious — which is what you have to be when you start to move more freely about in new territory. An interesting thing about them is that they do have some regenerative abilities. If their tail gets pulled off, they create another one – so there is some leeway for errors of judgment.

I have been attracted to aboriginal art for some time too. Since imitation leads to innovation, I started by copying some of the work of other artists to get a feel for it. The piece I did above was inspired by artist Michael Tommy Tjapanardi.

Walking through fire on my way to inner peace

The Volcano Mandala

I call myself “The Walkabout Woman.” Three months ago I sold most of my belongings and set out by car on a walkabout to discover and live my longings. I chronicle my experiences here on this blog.

So far my walkabout has been anything but peaceful.

It has instigated change and stirred up inner turmoil. In my mind’s eye I can see the old petty dictators of my psyche brandishing swords and refusing to be overthrown. I can taste the fear.

On the other side — the side of truth and beauty — is my walkabout. It has also taken on an imaginary personality of its own, that of a trustworthy little soldier who seems to have my best interests at heart — but is relentless in pushing me to confront things I would rather avoid.

And these “things” would be the painful unhealed relationships in my life.

On a regular basis, my walkabout guy cheerfully leads me to the center of the relationship volcano and says, “Here, jump right into this lava. It will be good for you.” I cover my eyes and say, “No – no!”, and he leaves me alone for a couple days, only to return and suggest, “How about this bed of hot coals – take a stroll,” or “Look at that raging forest fire – why don’t you sky dive into it.”

I get what my walkabout wants me to do. It wants me to take an appropriate level of responsibility for those relationships (not all or none), have compassion, offer and receive forgiveness, and ultimately feel gratitude. I know the drill.

But knowing what is good for you is one thing. Doing and feeling it is another, so I am taking my first tentative steps,  walking through fire, and living with uncertainty about ever healing or being at peace.

I hear this Rainer Maria Rilke quote a lot: “Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into the answers.”

Frankly, all that indefinite waiting around makes me exquisitely uneasy. It’s hard to live the questions. I want to take those questions by the throat and squeeze the answers out of them. That distant nether area, which may or may not deliver, makes me want to distract myself with pizza, margaritas, excessive chocolate or a major religious tradition.

But lately I’ve tried a few other things.

I am a little embarrassed to tell you how I am coping. It’s pretty ordinary — not very impressive.

I want to be helpful to you all. I want to give you the answers. I don’t want you to sit around forever mired in the mud with Rilke.  But here it is. Here is what I’ve done on my walkabout to cope – to achieve some semblance of inner peace:

1. Every Day Stress or Fears: I firmly require myself to be present in the moment. When I worry about my “what ifs”, my children’s futures, my health, where I am going etc., I stop and appreciate the blessings of the moment – that we are all alive and on our paths.

2.  Bigger Calamities: I recite the first paragraph of the Serenity Prayer over and over like a mantra. I didn’t find it at church or AA. I discovered it at a Dollar Store checkout counter and thought it was brilliant. It goes like this:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. Daily Practice: I do art, write and share my results here on my blog and in social media.  These things help me make meaning and sense out of my life, and help me feel less alone.

That’s it. I know it doesn’t seem like much. I wish I could offer you a magic pill, the definitive self-help book or the next best savior/guru incarnation.

But,  add in a little chocolate, and it’s the best I’ve got.

Where do you find creative inspiration? (Or a pile of dirt and a cow in the road)

Creative people are like magicians, conjuring things out of thin air. Where once there was nothing, there is something — a new story, tune, poem, painting, or invention.

My creative life is pretty lively right now. It hasn’t always been this way, but for now, creative block is out of the question. Every object, view, conversation, experience, no matter how small, is grist for the mill.

And with so much scenic grandeur for inspiration at Fish Trap’s Imnaha Writers Retreat, if I were to have creative block, it would be because I was overwhelmed with material.

As I took a walk, I thought about the intimidating cow blocking my way the other day. What could I make of a cow in the road? This led to me thinking about how I handle obstacles in my life and is now a blog post under construction.

The process of thinking of the cow, making it a symbol of a larger personal issue such as “obstacles”, sorting out the meaning of obstacles in my own life, writing about it, getting feedback from others – all this sets into motion a personal transformation.

I will never see obstacles again in quite the same way.

This is the power of writing and art to make meaning and be the catalyst for transformation in both the creator and the viewer.

I used to believe that some difficult people in my life will never change. I don’t believe that now. Even the ones who give me the most grief may change simply by being alive in the world.

This is a transformative moment of understanding for me. It opens my heart and my world.

It softens my  judgment of self and others.

I believe that ultimately it will change those difficult relationships.

************

A dangerous looking cow blocking my way has a little bit of drama, especially for a city girl, but what about something less inspiring.

I glanced around for the least inspiring thing I could find and saw a pile of dirt.

What about a pile of dirt?

Piles of dirt are everywhere – a dime a dozen. What could a creative person do with this I wondered?

Impulsively, I asked poet Lynn Robertson, who is with me at the writer’s retreat, if she could write a poem about a pile of dirt. She answered brightly and without hesitation, “Of course!”, and that day she proceeded to do just that — not once, but twice!

So here you have it – two first drafts of poems about a pile of dirt.

UNRAVELING

By Lynn Robertson

She unraveled

becoming a mound of dirt

in a thunderstorm

beginning with a small titter

of plain brown pebbles

escaping the confines of tolerance

hiccupping down the slope.

 

When the first rain fell

in single, weighty, tear shaped patterings

the surface craters caused by their bounce

across her silken complexion

were smoothed by watery runoff.

But a driving wind arrived close behind

blew the seeds of youth

from her mounds of hair.

The hard rains came after

there were no roots to hold her together.

 

The flesh beneath her eyes

drooped in crescent shaped slings

to hold back the flood

The rise of her cheeks

slid into joweled pockets

and later

when she could absorb no more

she slumped

spreading low and smooth

across the landscape.

 

It took her three days

to realize she hadn’t washed away.

In the way that erosion changes mountains

she had experienced a redistribution

of her wealth.

 

PILE OF DIRT

By Lynn Robertson

Pile of dirt from the tractor

Put it here, push it there

Dirt from the backhoe

Leave it here, spread it where?

 

Dirt from the excavation

Dirt for the elevation

 

Dirt for the dirt poor farmer from Nebraska

Dirt in a pile by a highway in Alaska

Dirt for the man tilling up a veggie patch

Dirt for the bugs and the babies that they hatch

 

Dirt for the grader

Smooth it here, fill it there

Dirt for the roller

Pack it here, wet it there

 

Dirt from the excavation

Dirt for the elevation

 

Dirt for the fill in a solid earthen dam

Dirt by the tulips in the fields of Amsterdam

Dirt for the holes in the road or on the street

Dirt in a mud pie, mix it up, make it sweet

 

Dirt from the excavation

Dirt for the elevation

 

Dirt for the rocks holding up a mountain tall

Dirt for a cushion when a boulder starts to fall

Dirt for the students when they study every layer

Dirt leveled smooth for the pins of a surveyor

 

Dirt from the excavation

Dirt for the elevation

 

You can move it, You can use it

You can mash it, You can smash it

You can smell it, You can sell it

You can wet it, You can get it

For your garden for your yard

You can bake it til it’s hard

 

Move it here, push it there

You will take it everywhere

In a box, in your socks

On your face, any place

You can follow where it goes

But no one really knows

Where at last it slows

To rest

 

 

A short history of the mother of all walkabouts

Eight Years Old

Me at 8 with my violin

When I was 8 years-old I was pretty good at “reading with expression.”

I can hear the teacher now, “Listen children.  Betsy dear . . .  read that passage again. Wonderful! Children see how she reads with expression (always said with emphasis)?”

Third grade was a very good year for me. I read with expression. I could hold my own on the playground. Math had not yet cowed me.  I had a crush on David Lucas, a fellow budding violinist who was seated next to me in Orchestra. That year also, I was Mrs. Golden’s teacher’s pet. When we had a special visitor come to our classroom (Mrs. Golden’s mother) , I was selected to give an oral report on the solar system. At school assemblies and scouting events my elocution skills were in high demand.

I was an unself-conscious ham; still young enough to vie for the attention of adults rather than that of my classmates, who were probably rolling their eyes, jiggling in their seats, and anxiously awaiting the sound of the lunch bell.

And given my of lack of actual life experience — I have no idea what emotional depths I plumbed for my performances. I am guessing the adults were simply relieved to have a break from the halting monotone of beginning readers.

Fast Forward to October 2012

I am now at the Imnaha Writer’s retreat for three weeks. The retreat is situated on a remote and wild piece of property along the Imnaha River in the uppermost corner of northeastern Oregon.

With me for the first week are Kathy Hunter and Mishele Maron – two accomplished writers who have been perfecting their craft for years. Kathy lives close by in Wallowa, Oregon and is a beloved storyteller.  She delighted us nightly with her performances.  Check out Kathy Tales. Mishele is a former professional chef (on yachts no less) and a Masters level memoir writer. Her writing is as lip smacking succulent as the food she prepares for us. (She told me to use whatever words I wanted to describe her!)

Kathy and Mishele at the Imnaha Tavern

And it is at dinner our first night that it dawns on me that I am more than a little out of my league.

October 9th

“Reading” at the Retreat – 2nd week.

The retreat is silent from 9 am – 5 pm. The conversation ban is lifted at dinner. After dinner the writers traditionally gather in the living room to “read” – which means they share portions of what they are working on.

Although I had been writing up a storm all day, my heart sinks when I realize I am expected to “read “also.

I’m perfectly fine sharing one-on-one or in small groups. I can lead a workshop or bare my soul here on this blog, but for some reason, hearing my writing being broadcast out of my own mouth is very disturbing. In fact, this is more uncharted territory for me – almost as frightening as my driving misadventure in the mountains above Hell’s Canyon.

When it is my turn, I steel myself like I always do, and launch into what I hope will be an inspired reading of my recent blog post.

What actually happens is that some other person rises up inside of me and takes over my body. My heart pounds. My voice quavers and I begin to sweat. My breathing becomes irregular. At some points I choke up and have to stop.

What is happening to me? Where is that extroverted 8 year-old who loves the sound of her own voice?

For that matter, where is the grown woman now 57 years old – turned confident and competent from a lifetime at the school of hard knocks?

When I finally stumble to the finish, I lift my eyes slowly from my paper and see two sad, kind faces staring at me.  I began to apologize profusely. “I had no idea what just happened there,” I say.  One of them gently suggests that I try reading more often to build my self-confidence.

In the past I would have been mortified, hopped into my car and been out of there, but this time I stayed put.  I was determined to slay this dragon and tried to read again the next night. It went only slightly better.

I started to become very curious about this “other person“who was taking me hostage during readings.

I tried to remember if there was a time in my life when I was shut down or humiliated while reading aloud, but couldn’t remember anything specific.

I stepped outside to take a walk and it hit me.

The person inhabiting my body is the twelve-year old girl I was — the one who had just lost her mother — and had concluded that something that horrific can only happen to a sub-human crazy person (herself.). It was the child who shouldered the blame and shame rather than face a terrifying world where adults were powerless and God so evil. The 8 year-old exhibitionist had turned into a twelve year-old who was terrified of being seen.

I walked and sobbed. I tried to cajole and reason with the haunted girl, but she was having nothing of it.

I realized I had reached my proverbial edge. I was facing into the hell of the little girl who wanted to remain in hiding. There would be no more reading for me on this retreat.

Friday

This morning I awoke from a vivid dream. In my dream one of the most repressed lawyers I used to work with –I once doodeled a picture of him as a patty pan squash — sat behind his desk dressed in pink. His wife had just left him and someone tells me he is dating a very old and wise crone. The dream ends when I go to him, wrap my arms around him in a hug and he begins sobbing uncontrollably.

Today I started a large walkabout woman portrait of my mother. I am giving her a rooster hat. She once told me how she was frightened as a little girl when a rooster chased her around the yard. In the portrait, the rooster’s neck is broken, but it is crowing with words flowing out of its beak — filling the page behind her.

Last year I did a series of collage self-portraits of heads without mouths.

“Masked and Muted”, Mixed Media Collage on Paper, 11″ X 14″

All the pieces are coming together.

Saturday

So now I find myself alone overnight at the retreat. It is a changing of the guard. Kathy and Mishele left this morning and the next group of writers doesn’t arrive until tomorrow afternoon. I pick up a book and read about another walkabout journey – that of the Oregon Trail pioneers. “So many hellish journeys” I think, “The pioneers, my frightening drive up Hell’s Canyon and now journeying back into my hell as a child.”

I only just packed up and left my Ashland Oregon duplex for this walkabout a few weeks ago.  How is it that I find myself alone on a multimillion property, in the middle of nowhere, along a beautiful river, with the run of a lodge that has more than the comforts of home . . . and doing the mother of all walkabouts?

How quickly I have dropped into it.

Sunday

After a week of sun it has rained. The landscape is saturated with color and the smells are marvelously pungent. The leaves of the trees along the river bank changed overnight from green to yellow, orange and red; and I am sitting here writing my story for you – a very small being at the bottom of a deep river valley, towered over and surrounded by massive mountains on every side.

I am struck by how gracefully danger and beauty live side by side.

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