My Wild Child, My Son, “Rider on the Storm”

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cloud-ground-lightning National Geographic

I wrote this tribute to my son seven years ago, shortly after the birth of my granddaughter.

Recently I posted a tribute to my daughter on her wedding day, and as I wrote it, I wondered about the tribute I might pay to my son, whom I love equally, but whose life journey, even while raised so similarly, led him down a very different path, often heartbreakingly so.

It always amazed me as my children were growing up how they had come to be, in some uncanny way, the embodiment of very different parts of my psyche.  My daughter was growing up to be the woman I had always wanted to be—beautiful, brave, strong, independent and self-confident.  While my son was turning out to be the kind of boy that I and so many young women were drawn too——wild and reckless, handsome and charming, sweet and funny, willful and stubborn—a born rebel, who cherished his freedom, testing limits and bending rules.  Living with him was like living on a roller-coaster ride, full of thrills and chills that never seemed to let up.

Chris1Almost from the day he was born he was a handful. I would ruefully tell other mothers how he entered the terrible twos when he was one and never grew out of it. At the tender age of two he ran away from home–twice.  Once to visit his grandma five blocks away.  Another to buy candy.  A policeman brought him home that day when he was trying to cross a busy street with a nickel in his pocket.  I installed locks on all the doors and gates after that.

Yet he was a loving child, a sweet child, popular with other kids and his teachers, even while he spent much of his early grade school days in the principal’s office. Not because he was a bully, but because he refused to be bullied, or see those he cared about bullied.

Chris5When he was 11, we moved on our boat La Gitana in Ventura Harbor.  He immediately took up surfing, and learned to row and sail a dinghy. He became an avid sport fisherman, making all his own lures and rigging his own poles.

ChrisWhen we finally did take off on our journey there was always a line in the water and he supplied most of the fish we dined on. He could free dive to depths of 20 or more feet to spear a grouper or capture a lobster.

He made friends easily with other sailors and fishermen who were impressed by his skill and knowledge.  He became a certified scuba diver at the age of twelve.  He was a true Pisces—at home in the ocean he loved.

Chris4Trying to home school him was a challenge, but once I enrolled him in a self-paced program where we mailed his work back to a teacher for grading and feedback, it went better.  Not that we didn’t have our moments.

By the time we reached Australia, he was 16-years-old and didn’t want to leave. In Australia at the time, many children that age left formal schooling to learn a trade.  Often they lived on their own, helped out by the government, or boarded with those who were teaching them a trade.  Chris was invited by a boat-builder to join his crew.  When it was time for us to leave Australia, he begged me to let him.  It was his dream to become the captain of a sports fishing boat, and this seemed like an opportunity for him to pursue that goal. I interceded on his behalf with his father, who, against his better judgment, allowed him to stay.

Chris8I’ll never forget the day we sailed away, leaving our son behind in Australia.  I felt like the worst of all mothers, like I was abandoning him.  And something in his eyes made me wonder if he was thinking the same thing.

At the same time, I felt like I was giving him an opportunity to be the man he wanted to be, to live the kind of life he wanted to live.

I had read books of young 16-year-old boys taking off on their own from Ireland to seek their fortunes in America, how difficult it had been for them, but how they had thrived.  It’s what I had hoped for him. I trusted that he had what it takes to make it on his own.  To this day, I don’t know if I made the right decision.

He spent 18 months on his own in Australia.  We exchanged letters and talked to each other as much as we were able.  Always I asked if he was ready to come back on the boat, or go home to stay with his grandparents.  Always he said no, he was fine.  But I never really knew.  I learned later that the old guy he had gone to work for was hospitalized and eventually died.  I heard tales about him drifting around working as a carny, and later for a Mafia-type family who owned a string of Italian restaurants.  He’s very tight-lipped about those days, and I do not press him.

Chris9He came home at age 18 around the same time we returned from our travels, and he was tall and handsome and had an Aussie accent.  He seemed happy and confident.   He spent some time with his grandfather, going mountain climbing and obtaining his GED.  Eventually he became a commercial diver, working on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Then he moved to New Orleans.  Two years later when he returned home to California he was a heroin addict.

That’s when the roller-coaster ride became a nightmare.  He couldn’t hold a job, couldn’t stay clean.  He spent years on the street, in and out of rehab, in and out of jail and prison, in and out of hospitals when he overdosed.  We took him in when we could, until we couldn’t anymore.  On more than one occasion I moved out with him, thinking hands-on mom-care would help.  It didn’t.

Cc photo Kevin Steel on flickr-28912555-original

The worst part was when I didn’t know where he was.  I didn’t know if he was sleeping on a park bench or was rolled up on someone’s couch, or lying in a ditch somewhere.  When he was in jail, or even in the hospital, there was always hope.  He was safe, for now.  And maybe at last he’d hit bottom.  Maybe this time he would begin to turn his life around.

Yet even in the midst of all this he showed strength and resilience, street-wise resourcefulness, and a basic goodness that would inspire him to share the little he had with those who had less.

220px-RidersonthestormHe saw himself as a “Rider on the Storm,” riding a long wild wave that would surely crash him on the rocks unless he could hold on tight and ride it out, and manage to turn it at just the right moment.  He couldn’t control it, and he couldn’t stop it, but he could perhaps outlast it. And he did.

He claims now I helped save his life. And sometimes I believe him.  My love for him was so strong, my prayers so constant, my will so fierce, nothing could make me let go, nothing could tear him away from me.   That’s how I saw it, willed it, demanded that it should be.  But I know better.  A mother’s love isn’t enough to keep a child safe.  Yet still, still, we would so believe.

Sometimes I think he’s the bravest person I’ve ever known.  No one else that I know could survive what he’s survived.  I know I wouldn’t.  Even his father, strong as he is, would not have survived that craziness.  Few do, I’m told.  Only fifty percent of heroin addicts survive their habit, and only half of those who do eventually lead drug-free lives.

I’m proud of him for being a fighter, a survivor, for not giving up, for having the stamina and courage to start over again and again and again—with nothing, no job, no money, no prospects.

IMG_3160I’m proud of him for winning the heart of the woman he now loves, for helping to bring their child into the world and raising her together, for caring for this child with such love and tenderness. For becoming the Father, the rule-maker rather than the rule-breaker, the Authority Figure in his young one’s life, someone she will look up to, and trust to care for her and keep her safe.

I think of those fairy tales and journeys heroes take, how they go into the dark, scary places of the world, do impossible deeds, overcome unimaginable challenges, fight off terrifying monsters, then save the princess and ride away with her on a white horse.  To some degree, in some measure, he’s done all that.

DSC_0312I see him as the warrior turned woodsman who has built a home on the edge of the forest.  All the scary things are still out there, but now he’s a seasoned fighter, and he has something other than himself to protect and keep safe.  He’s guarding hearth and home, this dragon-slayer, demon-hunter, who has lived with and among dragons and demons for so long.

His body art tells the story of his survival and his path to recovery.  Draped along his upper chest are the words “Riders on the Storm” to remind him where he’s been.  On his shoulders and across his back are nautical stars and a compass rose to guide him through the storm.

Chris tatooOn his arm is an anchor with the word “Family” wrapped around it, to help keep him grounded and remind him of what’s he’s fighting for.  Beneath his heart are the infant footprints of a son he almost lost and is seeking to regain.  Soon to come, he tells me, are the fingerprints of his tiny daughter whose hold on his heart is so fierce.

Perhaps we all live at the edge of a dark forest, at the edge of the wild, with the dark scary things we fear forever yawning at our backs—addiction, disease, poverty, financial ruin, failure, loss of loved ones, war, famine, even enslavement for some.   Perhaps our life journey is to keep ourselves strong enough to survive the darkness, and bright enough to face the light and keep walking toward it.

I trust we all shall continue doing so.

NOTE – His journey is still ongoing. He’s out riding that storm again. Re-reading this post somehow comforts me. He’s strong, he’s resilient, he’s good and decent. He will survive.

Tapping into the Unconscious – The Art of Sohan Qadri

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When I first encountered one of Sohan Qadri’s paintings, I was plunged like a pebble into a still pool, radiating ripples of bliss.

An overstatement? I don’t think so.

The effect was profound, even if the words I use to capture it fail.

“A synthesis of emptiness and peace, radiating power,” is what Qadri is trying to express in his art, he writes.

”Art can have the same effect as meditation,” he tells us, “but only if we drop our constantly interpretating mind and learn to simply see . . . . This can happen if you grasp the painting at a subliminal level, let it filter in through your pores.”

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With me at least, he succeeded.

His work is made from thick soft paper deeply saturated in brilliant colors, punctuated by ragged tears and rips, wavering furrows and trails of tiny pinpricks, like scattered drops of light–or bread crumbs — leading toward the vast unconscious.

“When I start on a canvas,” he explains, “first I empty my mind of all images. They dissolve into a primordial space. Only emptiness should communicate with the emptiness of the canvas.”

“People are always interested in dreams. I am interested in the question: ‘Who is the dreamer?’” Qadri writes. “I would like to know: ‘Who is the artist behind the artist?’”

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When I entered his painting, I felt the presence of the artist behind the artist.

I think I was drawn to his work because when I’m writing, in some way, I am always trying to do that as well, tap into the writer behind the writer.

At my best writing, I feel as if it’s not “me” writing, but something writing through me, beyond me.

As writers and artists, I think we are seeking to move beyond ourselves, dip our pens and brushes into the deep storehouse of the unconscious, the rich field of the imagination, where colors and forms and images and emotions flow.

We tap into it and let it flow out through us, filtered by our experiences and sensibilities, onto paper or canvas.sohan

Readers and art lovers are also seeking to move beyond themselves, to be swept away into other worlds–magical realms or gripping tales created by words, or rich fields of form and color beyond conceptual thought.

horan232 Sohan Qadri purusha

The best writing, the best art, for me is when we feel the presence of the creator behind the creator, and recognize, if only for a moment, the face of our larger selves.

This post was first published in a slightly different format in June 2013.

 

“I’m Praying for You, To Die”

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Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (1875), by James McNeill Whistler

Nocturne in Black and  Gold by James McNeill Whistler

I get this message about once a week from my granddaughter’s mother. It goes into great detail about the pain she hopes I will suffer.

As some of you may know, I am trying to gain permanent guardianship of her daughter after she was taken away from her mother by Child Welfare Services. This is not the first time her daughter has been put into my care by the courts. I raised her from age 2 1/2 years to four years.

This message I get is by no means the least hostile or vicious. It’s just I can’t repeat in a public forum the vile things she says on a regular basis about me and my son, my husband, and even her own mother, who all support me in this effort. Things that would make a sailor blush.

Most of the time I can blow it off. I know it’s the ramblings of an angry, unstable mind.

But every time I sit down and try to write a new blog post, these words come to mind and won’t go away. So maybe I just need to get it out there so I can move on.

I like to blog about what’s forefront in my mind, what excites and inspires me, and yes, what disturbs and troubles me. I guess I just can’t wrap my mind around the kind of darkness that would say such things. It’s staggering to me. If nothing else it’s inspired my own prayers to go much deeper than ever before.

Despite this spiteful barrage of texts and emails I receive from her, there’s still much that inspires me each and every day of my life, not least this precious child who lives with me.

And I’m painting again, at last. A new watercolor class. Soon I’ll be back to my novel. In the meantime, I may re-post things I wrote about years ago that still inspire me.

Please bear with me until I get my groove back.

And say a prayer for this woman who lives in such darkness, who wants to blame me for the loss of her child instead of looking into the mirror. I used to feel deeply her pain, empathize with her as a mother, but she’s worn me out with her hate. Now I am ever more determined that this child should never go back into a home where such vileness lives.

 

To Crave & To Have: A Thing & Its Shadow

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photo by Edward Steichen - the beauty we love: farewell letter

Photo by Edward Steichen

To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing–the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. — Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1980)

I wonder, is this true?

Certainly, sometimes the thing we’ve craved, once held in hand, does not live up to what was rounded out in exquisite detail when beheld in mind. Nor does the thing in hand last quite as long, if the thing we crave is not an object we can possess.

But is the thing in hand a mere shadow of the thing we craved for?

Is the matter-object we hold for but a moment in our hand less substantial than the ideal we crave and can bring to mind at moment’s notice and hold onto forever?

Sometimes I like to think so. I like to think those we’ve lost that are dear are as close as our thoughts of them fleshed out by memory and imagination. By a pure, keenly-honed desire to have and hold. Desire as sharp and hot as a welder’s flame.

I like to think that all I love and long for–that deeply felt-sense of them–is never lost. It’s shadow-substance may come and go and disappear as things do in a world of constant change. But its essence, the thing-in-itself that ever was, remains.

Brighter, clearer, than when held in hand.

Sweeter, purer than before.

The clean, keen edge of it never lost. Never wavering.

From the Tailwinds of 2019, Hope Lost & Its Glimmer

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Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914), Night with her Train of Stars (1912)

I ended a blog post at the tail end of 2018 with this wish list for 2019:

A Look Ahead – What I Want Most

A happy ending for my son.

A happy ending for my novel.

More novel-writing, more painting, more blogging.

More artful living.

More Love. Lots and lots of love, for all of us.

My wish list for 2020 is much the same. For one year, it appears, was not long enough to fulfill these wishes.

The happy ending I’d hoped for my son seems less likely now than ever. His addiction has once again robbed him of everything he built during four years of sobriety.

The happy ending for my novel is still on hold. We took it off the market while I sent it to a professional editor. And the editing I had begun was postponed when my granddaughter came to live with me.

Instead of more writing, painting, and blogging in 2019, there was less and less. I did not blog or paint or write at all last month.

More artful living? More love for all of us?

Not so much last year.

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.

May this blog post be the beginning of a bright new year for all of us.

 

Finding Our Place in the Family of Things

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Don Hong-Oai's mystical and delicately toned sepia landscapes using the Chinese ''pictorial'' style of layering several negatives to compose a scene.

I often turn to the poetry of Mary Oliver when seeking solace, when trying to negotiate a path through the cares and sorrows of this world and its grace and beauty.

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine,” she says, simply.

As if she and me and despair are old friends. As if despair, with all its sharp, broken edges is as common as grass, as remarkable as wild geese shrieking across the sky. Just another thing among the many that make up a life.

Not to be avoided. And not to let drown out the other voices that call to us, or whisper up from deep within.

Here’s one of my favorites.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things

The Mystical Mindscapes of Matthew Wong

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Matthew Wong, 'River at Night,' 2018, oil on canvas

“River at Night” by Matthew Wong

I discovered a new favorite artist on the day he died–too young at 35, Matthew Wong. A tribute to Wong’s artwork and an announcement of his death appeared in my feeder early in October and I was captivated by what I saw there. His work defies description for his influences were many: van Gogh, Matisse, Munch. But his vision was uniquely his own, a lush surreal mysticism, so richly complex that at first glance I missed the small mysterious figures or structures that are often hidden within, as we see in the painting below with the figure in a canoe.

One of my favorites comes next, and seems almost prescient: a lone figure looking across a white void to a tiny house set at the base of a green flowing mountain. An exotic red bird, wings spread, looks on, as if poised to fly him home.

It’s tragic to lose one so gifted so early. But something of his essence survives in his artwork, and continues to excite and inspire. And perhaps, to invite us to look more deeply into our own lush mindscapes to find what’s hidden within.

“The Beginning” by Matthew Wong

“See You On the Other Side,” 2019. Oil on canvas.

“See You on the Other Side” by Matthew Wong

“The Realm of Appearances,” by Matthew Wong, who had been painting and drawing seriously only since 2013. But critics, impressed by his striking canvases, invoked Vincent van Gogh, Édouard Vuillard and other familiar painters in assessing his work and its impact.

“The Realm of Appearances” by Matthew Wong

“The Kingdom” by Matthew Wong

“Starlight,” 2019. Oil on canvas.

“Starlight” by Matthew Wong

To find out more about Matthew Wong or see more of his artwork, check out these links:

https://www.artofchoice.co/matthew-wong-reflects-on-the-melancholy-of-life/

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-world-remembers-matthew-wong-self-taught-painter-vibrant-landscapes-died-35-

1671937https://www.artinamericamagazine.com/reviews/matthew-wong/https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/21/obituaries/matthew-wong-dead.htmlhttps://originalart.xyz/matthew-wong-whose-indelible-canvases-charted-new-paths-for-landscape-painting-is-dead-at-35-

artnews/http://www.artnews.com/2019/10/07/matthew-wong-paintings/

October Trees, Falling Leaves, Bursts of Glory

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Larisa Aukon, Portal www.aukonlarisa.com www.facebook.com/Larisa Aukon Fine Art Power of Landscape  painting workshop  April 11-15, 2016 Scottsdale Artists School http://scottsdaleartschool.org/

Larisa Aukon

October is my birth month. I’ve always had mixed feelings about that. Being born when the days are growing shorter, the nights colder, the leaves turning yellow and red in a last burst of glory before they drift away. Life coming to an end, hunkering down, readying itself for hibernation, for hiding beneath a blanket of snow. The melancholy of it all.

And yet that bright burst of glory, brief as it is! There’s nothing to compare to that. And nothing melancholy about such brilliant defiance. So, on the last day of the month, here’s to October trees, falling leaves, and bursts of glory.

Wolf Kahn

Tom Thomson, Autumn’s Garland

Crystal Pines by Erin Hanson

Erin Hanson

schielefourtrees

Egon Schiele

Matthew Wong

Claude Monet, The Three Trees, Autumn (1891) W1308, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, Private collection. WikiArt.

Claude Monet

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Claude Monet

Wolf Kahn

From Pete the Cat: It’s All Good

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One of the joys of grandparenting is revisiting stories I loves to read my own children and sharing them with theirs. What fun it was to read to my granddaughter some of her father’s favorite books, Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Superfudge. Equally fun is discovering new favorites all her own, like the audibles we’re listening to of Junie B. Jones series narrated in that delightfully scratchy and droll voice of Lana Quintal as Junie B. rebels against riding the stupid smelly yellow school bus, and gets back at that meany boy Jim who invited everyone in room 9 to his birthday party but her.

A new recent favorite is the Pete the Cat series, and my personal favorite I Love My White Shoes. This groovy blue cat with the yellow eyes and long skinny legs has a new pair of white hightops that he loves, loves, loves! So much so that as he strolls along he sings this song: ” I love my white shoes! I love my white shoes! I love my white shoes.”

But then, “Oh no!” he steps into a huge pile of strawberries, turning his white shoes red. What does Pete do? Does he cry? “Goodness, no!” He just keeps strolling along singing his song, “I love my red shoes! I love my red shoes! I love my red shoes!”

And when through a series of accidents his shoes turn blue, then brown, then wet and white again, what does he do? He just keeps strolling along, singing his song, which changes according to the circumstances: “I love my blue shoes! . . . I love my brown shoes . . . . I love my wet shoes . . .!”

The illustrations are so vivid and cheerful, the cool cat’s insouciant optimism so infectious, with the repetitious sing-songy verses undercut by unexpected riffs from the past (Everything is Cool! Groovy! Rock N’ Roll!), we don’t even mind when, at the end, the story points to itself and sets out the “moral” in black and white on the page:

“The moral of Pete’s story is

No matter what you step in

Keep walking along and

Singing your song . . .

[turn page]

because it’s all good.”

So simple. So wise. And for all its triteness, so encouraging to this grandma and her little granddaughter, each of us in the throes of transition, our lives turned upside-down since she’s come to live with me, not knowing what will come next as I petition for permanent guardianship,  the decision so completely out of our hands.  

All we can do and must do is just keep strolling along, singing our songs, reading our books, enjoying our sweet time together in the here and now, come what may, regardless the shifting landscapes and incidences that continue to color our lives.

Knowing, like that great, wise, groovy Peter the Cat says: It’s all good.

[NOTE TO READER: While the Junie B series is new to me and my granddaughter, it’s been around for a long time, since 1995! Pete the Cat is not as young as he is cool either, having debuted in 2010. If you younger parents and grandparents know of newer book series you think my sweetie might like, please let me know. She’s an “old soul” first grader.]