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Posts from the ‘Charleston Oregon’ 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.

Brave little girls, big sisters and beach angels

Bandon Beach Labyrinth

Bandon Beach ~ May 2015

Walking on Bandon’s beach last week, I remembered another day at this same beach — some 20 years ago. There was the same ominous heavy moist grayness, the same biting wind and moaning fog horn, and the same super low tide – which left a wide sandy beach covered in a thin glassy sheen of water. Rock outcroppings, usually underwater, were left high and dry, revealing damp caves and passageways.

20 years ago my husband, myself and our two kids were here on a family vacation. Our daughter, Hailey, was six years old. At the beach, this high-spirited little girl turned into an exuberant water nymph, kicking and frolicking at the edge of the waves. She was in her element and I always breathed a sigh of relief because, finally, here was a wild energy that matched her own.

Our son, Kai, was a new walker — a sweet chubby toddler — who we had thoroughly bundled up against the elements. He was happily walking along, with stiff arms and legs, as best he could.

With so much space and a long view, we relaxed and gave the kids free rein to run around.

But when we turned around — Kai had disappeared.

We heard Hailey screaming from a short way down the beach. Next we saw our beautiful fearless daughter plunge into a deep moat circling a large rock and fish little Kai out by his coat collar, dragging him onto the sand. He had gone in over his head – and sunk like a rock.

We ran over, bundled up our two soggy kids in beach towels and carried them up to the car. For a moment, our eyes met — sharing a silent terror – the grim knowledge that, had Hailey not seen Kai, we might not have found him in time.

This is not one of those stories that you laugh about later on. This is the story that you don’t want to remember because it leaves you chilled to the bone with “what ifs?”

Hailey is now 26 years old, a mother herself, and Kai is 21. I had happily walked this beach many times since that family vacation, but on this day I felt weighed down and traumatized. Perhaps it was the similarity in the weather or the season — or maybe even the actual anniversary. They say the body remembers these things and you never know what your subconscious has in mind for you.

I thought about the people I have known who had lost a child. I thought about the premature dissolution of that little family we were back then. The losses and traumas just seemed to pile up. I wondered how any of us can go on.

At one point, I came upon a sand labyrinth, expertly drawn in the sand. The words “Enter Here” with an arrow invited me in, so I stood at the entrance, quieted myself and began slowly walking. By the end of my walk, my dismal mood had turned to sobbing.

I cried for that scary day 20 years ago. I also cried for an even more ancient time when I was a child – a new big sister too – and had been unable to save my little brother from suffering.

I cried for all the times I had been powerless to help those I loved. I cried for the collapse of our little family, and the many times since, that their father and I had let our kids down. I cried for the times we hadn’t been there or done the right thing – or even known what the right thing was. I cried for my lost dreams of how things should have been. I cried because when we failed, it had hurt the two people I care for most in the world.

And also I cried because I was tired of being strong and brave. I was tired of being the one who carried this burden alone – the one who was blamed for everything.

The labyrinth builders, two women and a man, – unknown and nameless, but angels just the same – came up to me. I told them the story of the near drowning of my baby, just the tip of the iceberg, and they took turns hugging me as I cried.

We cannot plan these things consciously – these steps along to healing our life. They come when they do – if we give them the attention and the opportunity. I no longer believe I am to be blamed for everything. I know I cried for the person I was who used to believe that.

I meant to take a simple walk on a beach. Now I recognized it as another step toward the freedom I had been seeking when I first set off on this walkabout.

A freedom I am just beginning to taste.

A little research led me to the website of Denny Dyke, who I believe is the labyrinth maker on Bandon Beach: http://onepath.us/

 

 

The heart and the not so lonely hunter

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I have been on the lookout for heart-shaped rocks on beach walks near my home. It was only a casual effort at first. I usually have an eye to the sand anyway, looking for interesting debris tossed up by the waves. Lately, I almost always find a single small rock with a tiny hole through it (for a necklace I am making) — but never a heart rock.

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Heart rocks are pretty common. If you Google “beach heart rock”, you will find hundreds, if not thousands of images. Last weekend I walked for two hours on a rock strewn beach and did not find a one.

My heart rock search has picked up notably as I have started searching for the next big thing with heart for my life. Normally skeptical about the power of signs and omens, these two searches have become entwined. And because my next big thing is still hazy and unknowable, the easier thing seems to be to rely on a magical rock.

While musing, walking and heart rock hunting last weekend, the song, “The Shape Of My Heart”, which Sting sings so hauntingly, looped over and over in my head –  one of those cryptic messages my subconscious doles out so sparingly.

Hearts, of course, are symbols of love. I knew my next big thing had to do with love, but that the question had changed from “When will my prince come?” to “What shape will my love take?”

The past great and grand loves of my life – romantic love and mother’s love – aren’t the right shape anymore. They feel too small, like a beloved sweater that has shrunk in the wash.

Beach walks are usually great for finding clarity. Yesterday I tried out all sorts of ideas for my future passion, but none took hold. As I walked, I began to compose in my head this piece I have written right here about my fruitless search for the heart rock and, low and behold, I saw something in the surf that looked kind of heart-ish. It went under a wave and then emerged again. I waded out into the water and picked it up. It was not quite perfect, but pretty close. I think it will do for now.

I know this is too happy and pat an ending for this post, but I really did finally find a heart rock yesterday. I wish I could say that my future was magically revealed in that moment also, but it wasn’t.

So, I will use this rock as a talisman – as a sign to me from the Goddess of Mystery that I am going in the right direction.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying walks on the beach, magical thinking, playing games of hide and seek with my subconscious, the joy of the search, feeling my way through the mist with my own two hands and the glorious possibility of another iteration of love in my life.

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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.

A love letter from my past

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Today is my birthday. Born this day in 1955, I am now 59 years-old.

I have lived one year longer than my mother did, and nine years longer than my father. I was the first-born in a family of four children, and I am also the first of these children to live longer than our parents did.

Today I stand here at the edge of the proverbial cliff, intrepid, but marveling at the uncharted territory before me. I’d rather not move forward, although I guess I have no choice but to take the first step off into the wild blue mystery.

The other day, just in time for this birthday, I came across a love letter from my past – my birth announcement, handmade by my mother and father. The blue lettering is in my father’s hand. My parents obviously inked up my foot and pressed it to paper for each announcement. Inside, in my mother’s handwriting, are the usual facts about length and weight and it is signed off with the words:

“Proud, I guess we are!!”

I am touched that my parents created this card. I am also curious about their use of the word “proud”. I am guessing new parents were more likely to call themselves “proud parents” in the 50s. “Proud” was also the word my father used often when we were growing up, mainly to warmly acknowledge an achievement.

At the time of my birth, however, my achievements were as small as I was. All I had done was arrive at a convenient hour, a little after lunch, and be born healthy. Still, my parents were “proud”, and I can only assume it was the word they used to express the excitement and the overwhelming blooming of love in their hearts for their newborn.

I know this feeling. I have experienced it with own my children.

I have come to think that “proud” was our family code word for love.

Today, as I step forward, off the cliff once again into the wild blue mystery — as we all do, every day, I am also reflecting back across my 59 years. I see a life’s journey that has been rocky and tragic and, in equal measure, pretty wonderful.

I seriously doubt it has rolled out anything like my starry-eyed, proud parents imaged for me at the time of my birth.

Today, as we mourn the loss of comedian, Robin Williams, I think, “But for the grace of God go I.” So far at least, a dogged resilience has pulled me back from the brink more than once.

But then I have always known I was loved — from the moment of my birth.

And if anything can inoculate you against the vagaries of life, love can.

Baby announcement text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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