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Posts from the ‘Walkabout Art’ Category

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

I Just Wanna Be Free

Queen Mother

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Enough said.

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.

Skating on thin ice

skating on thin ice tree

Drawing by Betsy Lewis

The Walkabout Woman blog has been languishing. The truth is . . . I have been busy making a living.

The loss of my pension in February sent me off in a new direction, one with less time for writing or art. I am actually enjoying my foray back into the working world.  I find meaning and value in the work I am doing.

I am also grateful for the previous months of solitude I spent in deep communion with myself.

Everything seems to come in its right time and place, but I am aware that I am living more on the surface of life now.

It is as though I am skating on a frozen pond, with just a thin sheet of ice between my busy everyday life above and the shadowy depths of my inner life below.  I am relishing the frosty air on my cheeks and my strong graceful competent movements.  I feel joy and exhilaration with this new slippery speed that sends me careening into contact with other people.

My months of solitude taught me a lot about the magic of being present — and I have not lost the habit.

As they say, “It’s all good.”

I joined a writing group made up of  nine women – The Portland Nine.  I am # nine, the new one. Each Thursday night, from 6:00 pm to  8:30 pm, we gather, respond to 10 minute writing prompts and share what we have written.

There is a lot of freedom in this and I feel myself loosening up as the evening goes on. It is only with these women now that the sheet of ice cracks and I fall through to the depths below.

Sometimes when I am reading aloud, it touches a nerve and I cry.

And try as I might, I am unable to write a scrap of fiction or come up with the colorful adjectives or metaphors that the others do. I can only write plainly and starkly about myself or myself thinly veiled. In this group, however, I feel accepted and appreciated for my voice. I am only slightly embarrassed by my tears. The other women seem unperturbed, and the  hostess just brings out the Kleenex.

What is profound for me is this — day by day, art or not, work or not (or maybe because of it), I am witnessing the unraveling of the tangled threads of my life. Sometimes my tears are  from the relief of finally setting the burden down.

I bought a scroll for my wall which says:

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” Buddha

As I welcome in my own humanity and claim the wisdom of the crone that I am, the love I have received and given so far wells up inside me. I see that, in big and small ways, I am beginning to be able to love myself.

What is calling you in 2013?

Japanese Garden and Imnaha collage 003 - Copy

“Hair Raising” ~ Mixed Media Collage by Betsy Lewis

Do you know what you are called to do or be? Have you always known? Have you had several different callings or just one? Do you have a calling on the “back burner”?

Some people seem to know their calling at birth. They make a beeline straight toward their destiny. I ran across an old friend like this on Facebook. I remember him from high school as being a super smart, likeable and devout young man from a military family. I see that he became a chaplain at West Point!

If you’d met me in high school, there would have been no way to divine my future path.

Japanese Garden and Imnaha collage 021Most of my life I have zigged and zagged this way and that, distracted by the many shiny things of the world. I have let my ego and other people’s visions for me lead the way. They say there is a consistent unifying thread that runs through each of our lives. If that is true, mine must be in a tangled mess by now.

Part of it is that I have an inability to “settle” on anything, which isn’t all bad. I am always open to new adventures and creative projects. On the downside, I have lacked boundaries. My tendency has been to merge with others and not stay in an awareness of  important parts of myself — parts which might have helped me discover my calling earlier in the game.

But always I have been asking, “What are you here for? What do you want to do with your life, Betsy? Who are you really? Why is this so hard??!!”

Although I am traveling light, I do have a few books with me all the time. One of them is by Gregg Levoy and is titled, “Callings: Living the Authentic Life.”  My copy is dog-eared and heavily underlined. He says, “You just need to figure out what decisions will assure that when your life flashes before your eyes, it will hold your interest.”

Chinese Gardens Portland Jan. 2013 037Now on my walkabout, with time and solitude to be with myself, I have discovered my calling. It happened just the other day, and it was if my vision cleared suddenly — less of an “Ah Ha”, and more of an “Oh yeah . . . that makes sense.”

So what is my calling?

In one way or another, I am called to help people find their “voice” and be “seen and heard”– by the whole wide world, or by their community, or by their family or maybe just by themselves for themselves.

By “voice” I mean the expression of a person’s true inner self, through speech, action, vocation, avocation or any of the art forms. By “seen and heard” I mean to be acknowledged, validated and valued. To use your voice and be seen and heard is deeply and powerfully healing, and the world needs more of this. Many women, children and 99% of the world’s people don’t have a voice and are not seen and heard.

My calling has been a shadowy shapeless force informing and shaping my life – the elusive “thread” that has led me from social work to (of all things) marketing — as the most expedient medium for carrying out my calling.

This is not pure selfless altruism. I am very aware that this calling is also a way of validating my own voice and meeting my own yearning to be seen and heard.

Answers come in their own sweet time – sometimes late in life. But thankfully they do come, and I have my walkabout to thank for this one.

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.

Catching my breath after my first 57 years of life

A Hair Raising Walkabout

What a wild ride it’s been so far!

I love this saying below, by Brian Andreas, which he pairs with a painting of one of his colorful StoryPeople:

“Is willing to accept that she creates her own reality except for some of the parts where she can’t help but wonder what the hell she was thinking.”

When I look back on certain parts of my first 57 years of life, I really do wonder what the hell I was thinking.

And for some parts I wonder how I came out alive.

Which makes me wonder further. . .

In the future, will I look back at this walkabout and ask myself, “What the hell?”

Or will I say, “Good going!” with no regrets.

Only time will tell, but I am guessing it will be a little bit of both.

My collage above, “A Hair Raising Walkabout,” pretty accurately depicts the first two months of my walkabout. My itinerary was tight as I busily traveled up, down and across California and Oregon by car, (all the while defying PTSD.) There were heat waves at the start of the trip and early snow storms in the last days. I drove on crazy multiple lane highways and through shockingly beautiful deserted country.

I lived as an anthropologist in other people’s houses, studying and  accommodating to the ways of each household. There were family and friend reunions, and I met many new people. I did bits of art and writing along the way, but there was not much true rest or time for reflection.

I had burst out of the walkabout gate with a high energy explosive catharsis. And as right and wonderful as it was . . . it was time for it to end.

Now, I am quietly stashed away, all by myself, in a cozy cubbyhole of an apartment in a historic high-rise in the city of Portland, Oregon — until next summer.

I only know a few people here, and even those, not very well. I talk a lot on the phone with clients, friends and family, but my only in-person communication has been with shopkeepers, clerks or people in elevators. My apartment is 475 sq. ft., and it took me just a day or two to set up because I brought only the things that would fit into my car. If I need something I generally find it at Goodwill down the street — knowing I can return these things there when I leave.

My apartment is high on a hill on the fifth floor of the building – well above and looking down on the twinkling lights of Portland. This, and the close gray winter days, contributes to my sense of being set apart from humanity and cocooned. I like being anonymous and, so far, I haven’t been lonely. The stimulation of a long walk through the city makes a nice counter-balance to my isolation.

I question my contentedness and begin to suspect I am an introvert . . . or is this just a phrase?

I take the Myers Briggs Personality Test online and find I have “a moderate preference of introversion over extroversion.” So maybe it is true, but it doesn’t really matter. I am doing what feels good now.

I also conclude that  I am catching my breath after the first 57 years of my life. I am in repair, taking stock, and gathering supplies for the future. This time here in Portland is a punctuation mark to my life, a slow putting on of the brakes toward an ending which will inevitably lead to a new beginning.

It’s doubtful I will live a second 57 years. I could be gone in 30 years or 10 or tomorrow. I am glad I have made it this far at least – to have the chance to live the life I have – messy as it’s been.

And with the holidays coming – this time here in Portland is icing on the cake – the gift solitude I give to myself.

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