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Posts from the ‘Walkabout Women’ Category

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.

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Post to Post with Patty

“A walkabout requires a decision to take a first step, and a conscious and intentional movement  (inwardly, outwardly or both) in the general direction of a longing or calling — with an openness to the actual experience, and  a minimal attachment to expectations and results.” Betsy Lewis

This is a guest post by new Walkabout Woman, Patty Farrell. Patty is traveling 2, 923 miles by foot — without leaving her own hometown! There are as many ways to take a Walkabout as there are women. Read Patty’s version:

Last year I turned 60, and I was looking for a challenge.

Patty Farrell

Patty Farrell

Some friends in California asked if I would like to join them in Walking Across America.  One of my friends said she had done it. It took her about 1 ½ years to walk to New York, and  now she wanted to walk back to San Francisco.

I was a little confused because, as far as I knew, she had never left California.  How did she do it?  Also this was a bit extreme, and I wasn’t sure I had that kind of time ( I am retired — but this is a bit much.) I was curious so I asked for more info.

Well, it turns out there is a  guide book, written by Mary Lu Kost, named MileMarking I-80.  Apparently Kost traveled between San Francisco and New York via Highway I 80 numerous times.  She started taking notes on what services were available at the different exits or mileposts (smart lady).

Sometime during these many trips she decided to share this information with others, and she wrote a book. Patty book

This book became my “workbook.”  As I walked around my neighborhood in Ashland, Oregon, I started keeping track of my miles in Kost’s book.

I started in June of  2012 and, as I walked, I read about the different mileposts, towns, and points of interests (as if I was really there).

Eight months later, I have just crossed into Nevada and I am in Reno NV at the 4th Street Exit (this is all without leaving my home). This exit/milepost is not too interesting, but if I walk two more miles I will be at  Mile Post 18, and there I will find the Nugget Casino and the Heritage Museum (which is free).

The problem is,  if I continue at this rate, I will be 80 years old before I see New York!

I just celebrated another birthday, and decided that I want to really be in New York (never been there) next year.  So the only thing I have to do is virtually walk the 2,923 miles — and the real trip to New York will be my reward.

Patty map

So I am making a commitment to myself to start walking everyday (or most anyway), and share with you all my experiences and the points of interest I visit.

But mostly I want to share what I learn about myself and others along the way.

Last month I  bought a GPS watch to help track the miles. More next time on my struggle with figuring how to use that.  I am wondering how many pairs of shoes I will need.  Now that I have made this public, I will  be able to accomplish it. Right now I think I will go buy a cute walking outfit — that always makes me feel better!!

More next time. See you at the next MilePost!

Patty will be posting here on The Walkabout Woman regularly. You can follow her journey here or by clicking on Walkabout Stories on the menu above. You can also connect with Patty Farrell on her Facebook Page.

And, if you have a walkabout journey to share  — Contact Betsy Lewis.

Finding my voice through art

The Original Walkabout Woman

During my walkabout I am submitting applications for artist residencies along the way. Below is the artist statement I included in my submission to the Millay Colony of Auusterlitz New York, which offers 1 month residencies to visual artists, composers and writers.

If you were born into my family you were — by default — an artist.

All my relatives were wildly creative people. My father was a designer and solar energy pioneer. One uncle was a photographer. His work is in the Smithsonian. The other uncle was a celebrated architect. My grandmother and  aunt  found  socially acceptable ways to be creative with textiles and music.

Dinner parties were interesting in my family. Some poor child would be recruited to hold still under pain of death. The guests would grab pens and paper napkins, and highly competitive portrait drawing contests would ensue.

So what do you do when you show early promise and everyone expects you to be an artist . . . ? Well, I rebelled. I didn’t want to be an artist. I had other priorities.

I wanted to save the world.

And back then I did not understand the sublime power of art to tell the truth and be a force for change.

So I worked for causes and learned how to recruit, organize, lead and tell everybody’s story but my own.

Fast forward to 2003. ART decided it had waited its turn long enough. And although I had been artistic in “unofficial” ways for most of my life, it wasn’t until then that I began to call myself an “artist.”

In the end I’ve turned out to be a rather well-rounded artist. I can create the art, hang it, organize events and shows and get the word out.  I can make a decent website, Facebook Page and blog.  I call myself the Jill-of-all trades, and I help other artists with all these things too.

So what is my artwork about?

It’s about finally having a voice as a woman and a human being. It is about the truth telling that I did not have the guts or wherewithal to do until now. Longings that I put on my back burner for too long are slated to be lived and shared through art — both my successes and abject failures, past and present.

I give a voice to my art through my blog, “The Walkabout Woman”, and I am hoping to build a web-based social network of women who will be doing the same.  Through “The Walkabout Woman Project,” women will be invited to live their longings and share – virtually– their own unique journeys through art, writing or other creative means.

So what kind of artwork do I do?

I create mixed media collages. My work is very intuitive. There seems to be a direct conduit from my insides out and sometimes I don’t even know where I stand on a particular issue until I do the art. My art is the worldly container for the color and drama of my inner world. It gives me information and in many cases it makes the unconscious conscious. (For more on consciousness visit the website of my friend Marla Estes!)

Making art has been life-saving.

And it is not just me who is watching and listening. Through my blog, other women see what I am creating and tell me they feel validated, comforted, and sometimes inspired to give “a voice” to their own experiences through art.

At the Millay Colony I would like to continue my walkabout by creating a body of work of mixed media collage portraits of the walkabout women of my life — both past and present —  women I have known and women I have admired. The first in my series of portraits is in the submitted work sample images and is called “The Original Walkabout Woman.” It is me at 7 years old — at my most brave, adventuresome and hopeful.

I draw strength and inspiration from her lively innocent spirit as I continue the next stages of my walkabout!

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