I spent Sunday morning in bed with my coffee listening to Chopin’s complete nocturnes playing on my phone beside me. Think of that. Music created centuries ago played by a pianist years ago streaming in my room, my consciousness, here and now.
Each keystroke playing me as if I was the instrument it played. As if the music arising in the room with no piano in sight were fingers keying notes within the body of some vast collective consciousness.
Aside from the way the notes rippled through me, thrilling and caressing and demanding, was that crystalline silence between each song and each hovering note. The silence that held thought at bay as I listened. The silence that allowed feeling to be all, to allow me, whatever this me is, and this music, whatever this music is, to be one entirely inseparable thing.
I’ve always loved the intricacy of highly textured things, in art as well as in the natural world, like tree bark, fungi, and moss. And I’ve always been intrigued by what makes highly textured things so satisfying to the eye, even when we cannot touch them.
My home studio features the highly intricate and textured art from the San Blas islands of Panama, thick layers of colored fabric that’s been cut away to reveal parts of the fabric beneath, and then sewn with such tiny hand-stitches you can barely see them.
Another textile artwork in my studio comes from Sierra, Peru, depicting a village scene with stuffed doll-like stuffed figures. These I can touch, but I don’t need to, to feel them, to appreciate the depth and texture.
So it’s not surprising I was drawn to the work of Julie Bland and other textile artists. Julia’s work is highly abstract and and fuses together several mediums and techniques to create intricate collages: stitching, weaving, braiding, cutting, painting. Some of her artwork is deeply textured, others delicate and almost ethereal.
Textile is one of the most ancient arts, and most often it’s women who create it. For practical as well as aesthetic reasons. We love to feel what we wear, and we love to feel what we see, and texture is what makes that possible. Touching is so elemental, and so satisfying, even when the eye alone is doing the touching, as we are doing when viewing the artwork on this page.
Every day I spend listening to music, sometimes stretches as long as five or more hours at a time, while I’m deep into my writing. Often I’m playing a list of my “likes” which includes a lot of music by Pat Metheny, who is considered one of the greatest contemporary jazz composers and innovators of our age.
Recently his “The Truth Will Always Be” came up, will its slow, melancholic build-up to a transcendent and ecstatic crescendo. One of my favorites. Its title speaks volumes and is a comforting reminder in these turbulent times.
No matter how many lies, big and little, are out there circling the globe, stirring up whirlwinds of trouble, trying to distort, obscure and obfuscate, they can do nothing to obliterate the truth, and the reality of all that is good and worthwhile in this world. The truth will always outlast and outshine the lies and campaigns of disinformation, hate, distrust, and fear. They will tarnish in time, grow stale, irrelevant, and crumble away, or wither from within.
But the truth will carry on and carry the day, moment by moment, in the tangible ways it has of expressing its reality to each of us.
Below are the lyrics to Metheny’s song, which expresses this truth. Read it while listening to his music.
And, in the meantime, may the truth be with be with you, my friends, on this lovely Monday morning here on the central coast of California.
And may the “truth that will always be” comfort those in places of the world not so lovely this morning.
The Truth Will Always Be
And every morning before I’m awake I walk around the world to make sure she’s alright And every evening ‘fore I bolt the door I give the stars a stir to make sure they will spin all night For I see people who will scratch And spit and kick and fight And I see nations war about whether Right is left and whether wrong is right And I know storms inside your head Can amplify the plight But no matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful No matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful And every Troy with wooden horse I take to peaceful waters but can’t make him drown And every Bastille that gets storm troopered Hail to the chief comes raining, rainin’, rainin’, rainin’ down And I’ve seen people conduct lightning Down to a summer’s day And I see nations playfully hurl Snowballs packed with stones and clay And I know rain inside your head Can seriously put a stop to play But no matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful No matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful, so let it rain And we see flying saucers, flying cups And flying plates and as we trip down lovers lane We sometimes bump into the gate and I know Thunder in your head can still reverberate But no matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful No matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful No matter what the weather So let it rain, so let it rain, so let it rain Just let it rain, so let it rain, so let it rain So let it rain, just let it rain, so let it rain, so let it rain
Aside from her paint brushes, we don’t see much of Georgia O’Keefe’s studio here, but I couldn’t resist including her as the lead photo in this post based purely on the strength of her face and that hypnotic gaze: as if she can see right through you. There’s no doubt she’s an artist that commands attention.
By contrast below, Miro seems quite content to lean back in his rocking chair gazing serenely at the lifetime of artwork surrounding him. These two photos and the ones that follow say so much about what it means to be an artist.
I found them in a wonderful spread produced by Artists Network: 125 Artists and Their Historic Studios. I’ve gathered a few of my favorites here. But if you like this sort of thing, there’s a treasure trove more to explore at the link above, which also includes a bit about each artist’s life and work.
The photo above is my favorite in the collection. A woman in command of her world, poised gracefully on a barbed wire fence post to capture her vision! How does she ever stay balanced long enough to do so?
Looking at her poised on that fence, it’s not surprising to learn that “she challenged oppressive Victorian conventions by embracing individuality and independence” as noted in the article Over 100 Years Later, Photographer Alice Austen Is Finally Being Recognized as an LGBTQ Icon. The photo below that she created of herself and a friend “wearing masks, corsets, and calf-length skirts, their arms intertwined” and smoking, “an act women could be arrested for,” perhaps says it all about this amazing, talented artist.
I love seeing these incredible artists, Wood and Sorolla, surrounded by their art. Each so different, and each so prolifically talented.
Wood, I learned, had inspired the character of Rose in the film Titanic after Cameron read her autobiography I ShockMyself. She famously shared in a love triangle with Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roché, two famous men in that time, an artist and author. She lived to be 108. So did Rose, in the film, I believe.
Sorolla has been one of my favorite artists for a long time now. Quite the opposite of Wood, he was a staid, devoted family man. This black and white photo does not do justice to his work. For a better look at the way he infuses his paintings with light you might want to take a look at another one of my posts: The Luscious Light of Sorolla’s Paintings.
I found the strength of Bourdelle’s Hercules and the fierceness in the artist’s eyes mesmerizing. Both seem to challenge the viewer with their ferocity. He was a protege of Rodin and a teacher of Matisse, a “fiercely independent'” artist who resisted formal training and eventually started his own free-school of sculpture.
Bourgeois below, in contrast, has the calm, studious appearance of the serious craftsman at work, all her tools in perfect order. You wouldn’t guess that her most famous sculptures are gigantic spiders, who she sees as both predator and protector, symbolizing the mother figure.
I love Dali’s face above and Gorey’s cat below. They make me laugh.
I fell in love with Dali’s work when I visited his museum in Bruges, Belgium. I was especially captivated by his illustrations of Alice in Wonderland. He himself seems something of a Cheshire Cat figure. You can see more of his work at my post Down the Rabbit Hole with Dali.
Gorey, below is also an illustrator of children’s books, and something of a Cheshire Cat himself. He created books with no words, books the size of match boxes, and surreal books he classified as “literary nonsense,” adding: “If you’re doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there’d be no point. I’m trying to think if there’s sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children—oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that’s true, there really isn’t. And there’s probably no happy nonsense, either.”
Something about the faces of these two women artists next to their paintings of other women speaks to me. They almost seem like self-portraits.
Stern, below, traveled the world and was a major South African artist who achieved national and international recognition in her lifetime. Wyeth stayed close to home, a wife and mother. While a noted artist in her time, her fame was overshadowed by her father’s and brother’s, as happened to so many women artists back then. And too often today too, sadly.
The patience and persistence, the quiet dignity, captured in this photo of Hunter above, complemented with the sheer joy and exuberance of Pollock in his photo says all that needs to be said about the making of art!
You can make art no matter your social class, your gender, your personal challenges, and often these are part of your art and what makes it unique. But what is truly needed is the pure love and joy of art-making, which inspires the patience and the persistence, whether fame and fortune follows or not.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. We must admit there will be music despite everything. We stand at the prow again of a small ship anchored late at night in the tiny port looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning. To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth all the years of sorrow that are to come.
The title of this poem is so interesting. How sometimes we feel we must defend our pleasures, our moments of delight, in the face of so much suffering in the world.
Finding the balance between wanting to save the world (as if I could) and wanting to lay all that aside and just savor it while I can, has been a lasting theme in my life.
More and more I’m tending toward the latter.
My favorite treatise on the subject is the tale of the Zen monk being chased over a cliff by a tiger. He grabs hold of a vine to keep from falling, while a hungry alligator snaps at his heels in the river below. Just then, he spies a juicy red strawberry hanging nearby. He reaches out with one hand to pop it into his mouth.
I’ve been struggling to find something to blog about this week. Actually I spent half a day yesterday working on a poem I wanted to get out. But it just didn’t feel ready yet. It’s tentatively, intriguingly titled “Forgive Me My Whiteness,” or less intriguingly, “A Prayer for Peace and Justice.” About race, I’m sure you’ve guessed. But do any of my readers really want to read a poem about race? By a white woman?
This raises the thorny question, of course: For whom do I blog? You, or me, or a little of both? I’m quite keen on the poem so I’ll probably post it eventually when it’s “done.” So there’s that.
Then I started looking back through my archives for inspiration. Maybe I could find something to tweak and repost. That’s always an easy fix when I’m stuck. But I’ve been doing that quite a bit lately, and if you do it too much, it feels like cheating. So drats to that.
During my search I did find a couple of humorous posts I wrote back in May 2014 that I enjoyed. I don’t do enough humor. I’d like to do more. I think that’s why I’m struggling to blog. Lately it’s all been soooo serious—introspective, philosophical, spiritual. I write where my head is, and that’s where it spends a lot of time these days. It’s not a bad place to hang out, actually. In fact, I rather enjoy it. But then I get to feeling sorry for my readers. Do you really want to read this stuff? All the time?!
So instead of blogging a poem about race, or one about linear and nonlinear ways of thinking that I’m working on, or another I’m keen to write about David Boehm’s theory on the Implicate and Explicate Orders (quantum theory + enlightment, yikes!), I’m going to go easy on you this week.
I’ll just post these links to two fun posts I wrote six years ago. When I was, it appears, a more fun person.
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’m still trying to understand why this poem moves me so much, and thought maybe you can help.
And What Good Will Your Vanity Be When The Rapture Comes
says the man with a cart of empty bottles at the corner of church and lincoln while I stare into my phone and I say I know oh I know while trying to find the specific filter that will make the sun’s near-flawless descent look
the way I might describe it in a poem and the man says the moment is already right in front of you and I say I know but everyone I love is not here and I mean here like on this street corner with me while I turn
the sky a darker shade of red on my phone and I mean here like everyone I love who I can still touch and not pass my fingers through like the wind in a dream but I look up at the man and he is a kaleidoscope
of shadows I mean his shadows have shadows and they are small and trailing behind him and I know then that everyone he loves is also not here and the man doesn’t ask but I still say hey man I’ve got nothing I’ve got nothing even though I have plenty
to go home to and the sun is still hot even in its endless flirt with submission and the man’s palm has a small river inside I mean he has taken my hand now and here we are tethered and unmoving and the man says what color are you making
the sky and I say what I might say in a poem I say all surrender ends in blood and he says what color are you making the sky and I say something bright enough to make people wish they were here and he squints towards the dancing shrapnel of dying
light along a rooftop and he says I love things only as they are and I’m sure I did once too but I can’t prove it to anyone these days and he says the end isn’t always about what dies and I know I know or I knew once and now I write about beautiful things
like I will never touch a beautiful thing again and the man looks me in the eyes and he points to the blue-orange vault over heaven’s gates and he says the face of everyone you miss is up there and I know I know I can’t see them but I know
and he turns my face to the horizon and he says we don’t have much time left and I get that he means the time before the sun is finally through with its daily work or I think I get that but I still can’t stop trembling and I close
my eyes and I am sobbing on the corner of church and lincoln and when I open my eyes the sun is plucking everyone who has chosen to love me from the clouds and carrying them into the light-drunk horizon and I am seeing this and I know
I am seeing this the girl who kissed me as a boy in the dairy aisle of meijer while our parents shopped and the older boy on the basketball team who taught me how to make a good fist and swing it into the jaw of a bully and the friends who crawled to my porch
in the summer of any year I have been alive they were all there I saw their faces and it was like I was given the eyes of a newborn again and once you know what it is to be lonely it is hard to unsee that which serves as a reminder that you were not always
empty and I am gasping into the now-dark air and I pull my shirt up to wipe whatever tears are left and I see the man walking in the other direction and I chase him down and tap his arm and I say did you see it did you see it like I did and he turns and leans into the
glow of a streetlamp and he is anchored by a single shadow now and he sneers and he says have we met and he scoffs and pushes his cart off into the night and I can hear the glass rattling even as I watch him become small and vanish and I look down at my
phone and the sky on the screen is still blood red.
It starts out as just an ordinary encounter on a street corner and kaleidoscopes into something quite different. The narrator is preoccupied with his phone, with enhancing an image of a sunset to show off to others. When approached by a homeless man preoccupied with the coming rapture, he fakes empathy, saying “I know I know”, but not really knowing, not really caring. He continues to humor the man by saying, in essence, yes, I know, the rapture is coming, but since all my people aren’t here, I’m not really ready for it right now.
And it’s at this point the poem shifts from the real to the surreal, the homeless guy before him kaleidoscopes into something else, and takes hold of the narrator’s hand. Now they are “tethered and unmoving.”
From here until the end is a dreamlike episode, where poignant moments and phrases seem to flow, one after the other, like that river flowing from the man’s palm: the sun’s “endless flirt with submission,” “I love things only as they are,” “the end isn’t always about what dies,” “now I write about beautiful things like I will never touch a beautiful thing again,” and “the face of everyone you miss is up there.”
By now the narrator is trembling and sobbing. He keeps saying “I know, I know, or I knew once,” as if he’s forgotten the things he should know. And then comes this vision: “when I open my eyes the sun is plucking everyone who has chosen to love me from the clouds and carrying them into the light-drunk horizon and I am seeing this and I know”. He sees all these faces and precious moments from his past and says: ” it was like I was given the eyes of a newborn again.” Then he adds “once you know what it is to be lonely it is hard to unsee that which serves as a reminder that you were not always empty.”
After this vision and revelation, the scene devolves back into an ordinary street scene. The homeless man, when asked, apparently has not seen what he saw. He scornfully pushes the narrator away, and continues his journey into the night with his cart full of empty bottles.
I’m still struggling to put into words what moves me, but it’s in the images I’ve highlighted above, and the refrain “I know I know or I knew once.” It’s in that feeling that things aren’t really as they seem to be, they are so much more; and also in the fact that all we really want or need is already right here before us, if only we had eyes to see.
It’s in that coalescing of the real and surreal, the now and forever, the ordinary and extraordinary, and how they morph back and forth, dreamlike and elusive. It’s in that eternal yearning for “something more,” and, at the same time, the need to surrender to what is. To let that “dancing shrapnel” of light break us apart so we are open to this moment, right here, before us.
There’s so much more to say about this poem, and I’d be really interested in knowing what you think.
The constant reference to a poem is interesting too, making this a kind of meta-poem. The narrator himself is a poet it seems. And I wonder, does the act of writing (my writing this post, his writing that poem) does it take us out of the moment or deeper into it? And when I say “moment” do I mean what is happening right now in this room and outside my window as I write, or what is going on in my head and heart as I write quite unaware of my surroundings? Are they the same moment? Or are each part of a kaleidoscopic now, moments within moments?
The word “rapture” is mentioned only once, but referred to again and again, and perhaps the title of this post, “the rapture is already right in front of us,” comes closest to capturing what I take away from reading this poem. The rapture not referring to the Biblical sense of people being plucked off the streets into heaven, but to the ecstatic joy that lies just out of sight within the present moment, if only we have eyes to see.
Many thanks to The Vale of Soul-Making for introducing me to this poem and poet. And many thanks for the painting by Robert Roth that captures without words what I really wanted to say here.
The abstract artwork of Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) predated that of Kandinsky, Klee, and Mondrian, and so some say that she rather than a “he” was the inventor of abstract art. She knew herself that she was painting well before her time and asked that her work not be exhibited until 20 years past her death. However, that stretch of restraint lasted much longer. Only recently is her work being given the kind of renown and interest she has long deserved.
Like so many artists, her artwork was inspired by a spiritual perspective, in her case a keen interest in Buddhism and Theosophy, and the Occult. What I love about her paintings are the rich colors and elegant organic shapes, the playful designs and sense of connectivity. Her art reminds me of Georgia O’Keefe’s works in some ways, the boldly feminine and evocative.
More about her life and work can be found in the links below.