One of the pleasures of painting is creating something special for loved ones. Both of my grandchildren have a special affection for foxes. This one is for my grandson, which also includes a mink because he mentioned how cute they are, having seen a report on how hundreds had escaped (or been recued) from a mink farm.
These paintings for loved ones don’t always come out as well as I hoped. A landscape of a California vineyard for my brother and sister-in-law did not please me. I mailed it anyway, since it was a Christmas present and “okay,” although not as good as I’d wanted. To make up for that, along with it I mailed them another California rural scene I liked better.
I just hope my grandson doesn’t outgrow this painting too soon. He’s a sweeet kid and loves animals but he just turned 15. I’m hoping he sees the humor in the two critters eyeballing each other. A bit of tension there. The mink is safe enough though. Maybe I could have toned down the flowers? But who’s to say young male teens can’t appreciate flowers as much as the rest of us?
My granddaughter will outgrow the paintings I made for her soon enough too. I like thinking these will be passed along to my great-grandchildren someday. Or some grandma in a thrift shop or at a garage sale will pick them up for a couple of bucks to pass along to their own grands.
My understanding of what “mothering” is, or could be, was hugely influenced by this passage in the Tao Te Ching (CHXXV). The artwork that follows amplifies it.
There was something complete and nebulous
Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,
Unchanging, standing as One,
Able to be the Mother of the World.
This Mother of the World, of course, is the Divine Creator, the all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing. It’s the thing that evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for its “children,” all individual being.
A tall order for a mere human.
Yet it inspires me to embrace my children in that spirit. To step back and project in some way this more expansive sense of mothering that allows them to feel loved and supported without all the worries and anxieties and criticism and fear that accompany a mere human sense of mothering.
This mothering is not as personal, intense, or myopic. It doesn’t hover, it doesn’t obsess, it doesn’t fret. It frees them “to be,” and is based on an immense sense of trust—in myself, in them, and in the universe at large. In God, or Tao, or some divine presence or higher power that embraces all of us, and gives each of us the capacity to mother each other.
I find this kind of mothering works best when I embrace all around me with the same mothering spirit. Not just my children, but all children, all people, all things—my home, my community, my work—even the individual objects that fill the space around me and the space outside my window. When I’m able to actually feel and identify with that potential, to “be” the “Mother of the World.”
The images in this post capture some of that universal and spiritual kind of Mothering, not only of love, but of unity and wholeness—two in one, and one in two. Two overlapping, enveloping, and yet distinct identities. “Not-two” is the way a Buddhist or Taoist might put it.
The painting by Sikorskaia at the top of the post shows this beautifully. The mother’s body wraps about her breast-feeding infant and fills the whole space with the solid, four-square wholeness of her presence. Her dark head is bent, attentive, surrounded by a halo of light-colored flesh. Her arms, open hand, and bend back form another circle, encircling the first. Her feet tenderly touch each other, and with the raised and lowered legs form a triangle of unity, the base upon which the mother sits.
She is grounded and centered, while the child is loose in her arms, able to move and to feed freely, but blending with the mother’s flesh, showing how closely knit they are even while separate beings. The dominant lines creating this painting are round, curved, circling each other. Mother and child are one in body and being. Two in one. One in two.
The following image by Barnet is similar. Mother and child completely fill the space and overflow it. They are facing each other, mirror reflections of each other. She sees herself in her child, the child sees itself in the mother. Her hands are wrapped around the child, but open, as is the child’s hand, reaching up toward the mother, toward its other surrounding self.
Will Barnet, Mother and Child,1993-2006
The painting by Irwin below also creates the powerful feeling of oneness and unity. Here we see the indistinct features and form of mother and child surrounded by a shadowy, indistinct background. The vertical figure is centered and reaches top to bottom, nearly bisecting the page. Clearly it shows two in one, one in two. The soft, indistinct edges of the form feather into the background, soft and permeable. The Mother and Child are one with each other and one with the surrounding environment. The whole painting is a study of unity and wholeness.
Madonna & Child by Holly Irwin
Two-ness is more evident in the next paintings.
In the first below by Harmon, mother and child again fill the space. Wholeness, oneness, is still the dominant theme. The mother’s face seems blissful, as if she is drinking up the scent of her child, savoring her closeness. The sea surrounds them, symbolizing the womb, the place of birth, of oneness. But the child’s dangling legs, the soles of her feet, denote her readiness and ability to separate from her mother. The restless waves at their feet foreshadow the coming parting, when the mother puts down her child. We can imagine them walking hand-in-hand down the beach.
In The Ocean Air by Johanna Harmon
We see this close unity and foreshadowing of separation in the following image by Sorolla as well.
Here, the sea as backdrop both unites the figures of mother/child and introduces the element of separation in the layered waves and wayward boat. The deep shadows and strong light also denotes two-ness–the pairing of opposites. The towel flung over and around mother and child unite them, but all that takes place behind them foreshadows separation. It seems a beautiful, tender, but fleeting moment in time. Unlike the first three images which seem iconic, timeless and eternal.
Sorolla – Masterful colorist “Just Out of the Sea” 1915
This last painting by Larson is probably my favorite among these six–for so many reasons. But first and foremost because it captures that golden glow of late afternoon on the beach, when the strong light casts shadows so deep and dark. The light shimmers around them and through them, uniting them, and revealing a transparency that we see in the figure’s back-lit clothing.
Mother and child are clearly two distinct individuals now. Still, the touching heads and hands form a circle of unity and closeness. Even the shadows at their feet flowing upward through the two figures form a second circle of unity. We still have two-in-one and one-in-two, even while the separate individuals are clearly defined.
There is something nostalgic about this painting. A tender sweetness underscored by the foreshadowing of separation as the two move apart from each other and this singular moment is lost in passing time. We cannot stop passing time, but we can capture it in these sweet moments, and preserve it in our art and our memories.
“Beach Treasures” by Jeffrey T. Larson (1999)
And I suppose that’s why I find all these paintings so powerful and profound. They capture universal and primal experiences we all have shared at one time or another in our journey from one to two and back again.
Mothering, I’ve learned, is a capacity that anyone can embrace: man, woman, child. You don’t have to be a mother, or have children of your own, to mother the world, to feel that oneness, or two-in-one. When we adopt that stance, all things become our children to nurture, cherish, support, love—to help bring to their full potential.
Here’s wishing you all a lovely day of “mothering.”
I’ve discovered for myself that hope and faith are feeble things compared with trust. Hope is a kind of yearning for something that seems beyond our immediate grasp, something that may or may not happen. It carries within itself a sense of uncertainty. Hoping for the best, hoping for a miracle, hoping they will be safe, hoping he will not die.
Within the hopeful thought is the possibility that what one hopes for may not happen. Hope is a telltale sign that someone or something is in peril, that danger awaits. Hope itself seems precarious. With any little wind, setback, relapse, or adverse circumstance, it can be toppled and turned into despair.
But trust is more steady, purposeful, positive. Grounded. It cannot be easily reversed even when obstacles or adverse circumstances assert themselves. It’s like the “Little Engine That Could,” the storybook train that steadily chugs along, even when it’s uphill the whole time. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Not hoping it can, but trusting in it’s own strength, power, determination, and ability.
We don’t “trust he won’t die.” We trust he will live. And we base that trust on something we feel firm about, something grounded within our very being. Our belief in him, that he has the courage, the love, the wisdom, the goodness to survive his addiction. To surmount whatever obstacles may stand in his way, whatever chains may attempt to hold him down.
Trust is even more keen-edged than faith, I believe. Faith, like hope, may waver. Trust never does. Trust allows us to leave worry and fear behind. It just doesn’t figure in with the mind-set of trust. You can’t trust and worry at the same time, like you can with hope, or even faith. For the fear there, resides is in the very Source we pin our faith on. The knowledge that God’s will may not be our own. And within that gap lies doubt, uncertainty, fear. Or resignation as we give up our will for His greater wisdom.
But trust, the kind I’m talking about now, is an inner conviction, not reliant on something or someone apart from ourselves or the things we trust in. When we trust the dam won’t break, it’s because we know something about the dam, know how well it was made, how strong it is, it’s ability to withstand whatever comes down that river. To merely hope it will hold? To have faith it will hold? Such mindsets seems flimsy in comparison with trust.
I understand that there are some things you can’t trust in, but only hope for. You can’t trust the cancer won’t spread. You can’t trust cancer. But trusting in the body’s ability to generate what’s needed to fight it off? Trust in the chosen therapeutic to do what it was created to do? Even trust in prayer. These trusting mindsets are better than hope or faith, for they leave no room for fear. And fear itself is a cancer.
So much of what we know about how the world works, is how the mind affects everything, physically as well as emotionally. More and more evidence gives credence to the notion that mind, consciousness, not matter, is the bedrock of all that exists. How we think affects everything around us. So we must chose our mindsets carefully. And hope and faith pale in comparison with trust. Even when it comes to God. Or my son.
The year 2020 may have been the most turbulent year any of us have ever known. Blogging in such a year was challenge enough. Trying to recapture that whirlwind may be beyond any of us.
But I will try. And at least it ends on a note of joy.
Looking back at my first blog post of 2020, I wrote about how challenging 2019 had been. My wish list for 2020 was the same as my 2019 list, as one year had not been enough long to bring the happy endings that I had hoped for. My wish list for 2021 would be a repeat of the last two years, except I’ve put wish lists on hold for the time being. Things are too uncertain, and the turbulent times are still with us.
In April I wrote about The Joy and Grief and Everything in Between that came with Covid, the mixed feelings and emotional turmoil so many were feeling as we tried to survive the initial lockdowns and isolation. We did not realize then how long all this would be going on, the horrendous death toll it would bring, or the economic disaster.
In May I wrote about Poetry in the Time of Corona. It must have resonated with a lot of readers as I saw it move into my :Top Ten Posts” list and rise to number 4.
In June during all the racial strife, the police brutality and protests, I began a series of posts about my “Brushes with Blackness,” how Black lives and Black culture colored my whiteness, and helped shape my sense of justice, fair play, and compassion for others.
In August I wrote the unsettling and surreal world in which we all were living in Still Waiting to Land . . . . I wrote: “Clearly we live in interesting times. A curse? Possibly. A cleansing? Hopefully. No wonder we feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under our feet. And we haven’t quite landed yet.” I still feel that way.
I followed that with Wildfires Everywhere, Politically and Literally about watching wildfires gobble up California and cast an eerie and ominous red glow over the land, even while the Democratic National Convention was providing a glimmer of hope midst all the devastation.
Unfortunately the political turmoil did not end with Biden’s victory as hoped, and perhaps even has gotten worse, which seems unimaginable. Yet, for me personally, 2020 has still ended on one ecstatic note.
At the beginning of this year I wrote: “The one gift 2019 gave me (which is huge and fills my heart!) is hope for my granddaughter when she came to live with me. Hope that she will remain in my care, happy and safe, healthy and strong, responsibly cared for and dearly cherished as she grows into a young woman.”
That gift kept growing in 2020. Everything I had hoped and planned for concerning my granddaughter’s welfare came true, as I wrote about in My Arms Are Empty, but My Heart is Full. She is happy and well and living the life of her dreams with her aunt and uncle: surfing, hiking, biking, movie nights snuggling on the couch, reading the Harry Potter series together before bed, laughing with her new best friends at school, and telling me all about her fun-filled days on our weekly video-chats. She was asked recently what the best thing about 2020 was. She answered, “Moving here. Else I wouldn’t have this life I love.”
So for all the turmoil of 2020, and whatever upheaval 2021 might bring, I can comfort myself with that huge gift of joy.
Each year around this time, I like to reblog a series of tales about my encounters with the ghostly and unexplained, starting when I was a child, and later full grown with children of my own. The first is printed below with links to the others.
While ”intellectually” I don’t believe in ghosts, demons, and the like, I have experienced such. And I cannot deny that the phenomena which I and others–indeed, all known cultures and societies–have laid claim to, are “real.” The reality they seem to have is unexplained, often unverifiable, and usually fleeting and ephemeral. And yet they persist in haunting humanity.
I can neither explain, verify, nor dismiss the reality of the experiences that I relate here. I can only state that these things occurred as I remember them, or as others I trust related them to me. And most were witnessed by more than one person
Our House on a Haunted Hill
When I was a kid “House on Haunted Hill” was my favorite spooky movie. I first saw it a few years after my own family had escaped, just barely, from a haunted house experience. While living there I was not aware of all the horrors that house contained, and only learned the full account when my mother felt I was old enough to learn the truth.
I was eight years old when my parents rented a home set on a hillside in an older, respectable neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska. The attic had been converted into two rooms, a tiny room overlooking the back yard and garage; and a huge room overlooking the front yard. This larger room had been recently renovated and then abruptly abandoned, it appeared. The high pitched ceiling and walls were covered in a richly varnished, knotty pine paneling. Finely crafted drawers and book cases had been built beneath the eaves. But the floor, made of rough, unvarnished planks of wood, had been left unfinished. And a large reddish-brown stain that looked like a puddle of blood had soaked into the wood.
This was my bedroom and I loved it. Being an avid fan of Nancy Drew mysteries, the giant blood stain only added to the allure of the room–that and the trap door on the floor of the walk-in closet. While the door had been nailed shut, I could still probe the cracks with a ruler, detecting steps that led downward—to where, no one knew. My discovery sent chills of delight down my back.
In fact, I was thrilled to have the whole second story all to myself. Even though the second smaller room could have easily accommodated my little brother, my mother made him sleep down below in the tiny room at the bottom of the stairs. She claimed the small room upstairs was “too cold” and used it as a storage room instead. She filled it with unpacked boxes and unused furniture, forbidding me to play there—which, of course, made the room seem even more desirable.
I remember entering the room often to play by myself and looking out the dusty window toward the mysterious barn-like structure that faced the alley. The structure, which could easily have accommodated several cars, sat empty nearly the whole time we lived there, and my brother and I were forbidden to play here as well. It too was considered “too cold” for human habitation. The one time I did enter, my eyes were drawn upward to the high rafters where, through the rotting roof, splinters of light filled with ghostly dust motes fell to the floor. I did not enter again. When some teenage boys wanted to use the garage to rebuild a car, they moved out after a couple of nights, never to return—even though they had paid rent for a full month.
I thought it strange when my mother kept wanting to move me out of my lovely upstairs “apartment” to a room below and I refused to be moved. She kept asking if I was afraid up there all by myself, but I insisted I wasn’t. This was true. I knew what needed to be done to stay safe, although I never shared this with my mother. It was a ritual that I religiously followed. Every night after my mother heard my prayers and tucked me into bed, I would pull the covers tight over my head and stay there until I fell asleep. I knew somehow that no harm would come to me if I followed this ritual. And no harm ever did come to me.
I might well have been very afraid if I had heard what my parents heard at night as they slept in the room below mine.
Often my mother was woken by the sound of heavy, dragging footsteps lumbering across room over her bed, and she would wake my father and make him go upstairs to investigate. At first he did so wearily, thinking she was imagining it. But once he woke early enough to hear it himself and went dashing up the stairs—but nothing was there and I was sound asleep in my bed.
We moved shortly thereafter. That’s when the neighbors told us about the horrible tragedy that had taken place in the house before we moved in. They hadn’t wanted to tell us earlier and scare us away. Apparently the previous owner of the house had murdered his wife in my bedroom and then hung himself afterwards from the rafters in the garage.
If some other tragic event took place in the small room next to mine upstairs—the coldest room in the house–we never learned. Whatever haunted that room did more than drag its feet across the floor or blow cold air down our spines. During our final days in that home, my mother, to her terror, found this out–with no one but my three-year-old brother at home to save her. Your can read about this in Part II of this series, listed below.
You can read the full series of true ghost stories at the links below which were first posted in 2013
A Secret Garden for my Granddaughter, mixed media by Deborah J. Brasket
I’m painting again, thanks to my granddaughter.
She turns 8 years old next week and custom ordered two paintings for her birthday. The painting above, which I dubbed “A Secret Garden,” originally was a watercolor and oil pastel abstract, sans critters, that I painted long ago. But as much as I liked it, it seemed missing something. That’s when I added a humming bird, Audrey’s spirit animal, and wrapped it up as a Christmas gift for her last year.
She seemed to like it, but then one day said, “Grandma, don’t you think it needs some more critters down here hiding in the garden?” I had to agree with her, but didn’t get to work on it until a few weeks ago, adding the deer and fox and quail we see on a daily basis behind our home. A reminder of the year she spent with us before she moved away again, and all the fun we had looking watching wildlife together.
But she also wanted a painting of a white kitten with blue eyes in a teacup. We spent many hours looking at images of kittens on Google, as well as foxes, bats, and other creatures that she’s interested in.
I finished the one below just a few days ago. I modeled the tea cup after a child’s china set I gave her when she was three-years old. I hope she will approve. She’s very particular. I’ll be taking both paintings down to her for her birthday next week, along with a long frilly princess dress, glittery shoes with heels, and a pink, faux fur carpet for her bedroom.
Oh, to be 8-years old again!
For Audrey with Love, mixed media by Deborah J. Brasket
My granddaughter who had been living with me this past year is visiting with her Aunt and Uncle this summer, 300 miles away. If all goes well, she will be staying with them while starting second grade.
My long, hard-fought struggle to win permanent guardianship of my 7 year old granddaughter was finally won. Which means I must decide what is in her best interest: To continue living here with me and her grandfather in virtual Covid-isolation. Or to allow her to live with younger, more active caretakers who love her dearly and can provide a far better life for her than we can.
I chose the latter, of course, but not without anguish. I miss her dearly, despite the daily face chats, photos, and reports of her adjustment. She loves her new “awesome” bedroom with the pink walls and loft-bed where she and her new dog Sasha can hide-away beneath and play. She has a “real” sidewalk to ride her scooter now, not a long steep driveway that leads to a narrow road. The beach is only minutes away, and already she’s surfing, and standing(!) with Uncle’s help. She’s in a musical theater day camp where she plays one of the lost boys in Peter Pan. She has two active caretakers to play with her and put her to bed and teach her new things every day. They are the kindest, most loving couple I know, and they are so excited to have her there, filling their home with love and laughter.
My arms are empty and I ache for her. I know despite all the good that has come and is coming her way that it’s not easy to adjust to so many new changes. But she’s strong and resilient and wise beyond her years. Before we ever contemplated this move, she was reading a book about a girl who was anxious about a new move, going to a new school and making new friends. She said, “Grandma, I don’t get it, why kids are always so scared of change? It’s just a new school! She’ll make new friends! It’s nothing to get so dramatic about!”
She knows this from experience. She’s had so many changes in her young life and she’s learned to take it all in stride and make the most of it.
I know this is the best possible outcome, and I’m thrilled for her, and for my daughter and son-in-law. She knows that I will be visiting often, and she’ll be coming here to spend holidays and summer vacation. This will always be her home too.
It’s what her parents said they wanted for her also. Years ago they chose this Aunt and Uncle to care for their daughter should something happen to them. They trusted them then, as I do now.
Still, it’s not easy letting go. My house feels so empty without her. My arms crave her warm body. But my heart is full. She’s safe, she’s happy, her future is secure. She’s is cherished, and so very, very loved. God is good.
All of us who are white in America were born into a country steeped in racism. Even for those of us who were taught that racism is wrong, that we are all equal, all God’s beloved children, regardless of the color of our skin, racism was something dark and deeply troubling we had to contend with, something that colored our whiteness.
It shaped our sense of self, our sense of justice, fair play, and compassion for others. It fostered a sense of collective guilt and shame for white ancestors who enslaved others or looked askance at those who did. For those today who persist in holding racist views. Even for beloved grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins who ought to know better, and yet through the occasional disparaging remark and negative attitude revealed a meanness of spirit toward a whole race of people simply because of the color of their skin.
I learned at an early age that good-hearted people, people I loved and admired and thought I could trust, held racists views. That they could be, God-forbid, racists themselves. Who held views that filled me with shame and sadness.
I was fortunate to be raised by a mother who was not prejudiced, who spoke out against those who were, and who taught me through her words and actions to understand how wrong racism is.
I have been fortunate in that all of my brushes with “blackness,” black people and black culture, have been positive, enriching experiences, and have colored my view of blackness with a deep admiration and respect. My one negative experience was no exception.
Today, when the whole world is rising up to reject racism, to protest against its continued brutality, is a time for all of us to reflect upon our own “Brushes with Blackness,” as I call it here, the experiences that have colored our view of what black lives and black culture mean to us, to examine if we in any way contribute to those negative connotations implicit in racists views.
Do we merely look askance at the racist views and systems embedded in our society? Or do we do what we can in our small corner of the world to not only oppose those views, but to celebrate the beauty and braveness and wisdom found in black communities and black culture?
That’s what I’m hoping to do on these pages in a short series examining my “Brushes with Blackness.” This is the first. Three more follow.
In the Time of Corona we all need a little mothering on Mother’s Day.
A huge influence on my understanding of what “mothering” is, or could be, is found in the Tao Te Ching (CHXXV):
There was something complete and nebulous
Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,
Unchanging, standing as One,
Able to be the Mother of the World.
This Mother of the World, of course, is Tao in this passage. And what I see as God, the divine Creator, the all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing. It’s what evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for all its “children,” all individual being.
A tall order for a mere human.
Yet something about that passage spoke to me as a woman and mother. It drew within me the desire to embrace my children in that spirit. And I found the mothering of my own two children improved immensely when I was able to step back and project in some way this more expansive sense of mothering that allows them to feel loved and supported without all the worries and anxieties and criticism and fear that accompany a mere human sense of mothering.
This mothering is not as personal, intense, or myopic, as the latter. It doesn’t hover, it doesn’t obsess, it doesn’t fret. It frees them “to be,” and is based on an immense sense of trust—in myself, in them, and in the universe at large. In God, or Tao, or some divine presence or higher power that embraces all of us, and gives each of us the capacity to mother each other.
This is not to say that I often meet this ideal. Far from it.
But I know I mother my own children best and make fewer mistakes when I’m able to embrace them in that larger, more expansive way. And it feels more natural, less constricted, to mother that way.
I find this kind of mothering works best when all-inclusive. When I embrace all around me with the same mothering spirit. Not just my children, but all children, all people, all things—my home, my community, my work—even the individual objects that fill the space around me and the space outside my window. When I’m able to actually feel and identify with that potential, to “be” the “Mother of the World.”
Mothering, I learned, is a capacity that anyone can embrace: man, woman, child. You don’t have to be a mother, or have children of your own, to mother the world. When you adopt that stance, all things become your children to nurture, cherish, support, love—to help bring to their full potential.
Here’s wishing you all a lovely day of “mothering.”
First printed in a slightly altered version on these pages in 2015. More “mothering” images below.