Art-ful, Art-less

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I started a new cycle of art making a couple of weeks ago, and, as usual, do not have a method or destination in mind. I try to approach the ink and watercolors and rice paper with an empty mind, just as I did when in kindergarten, not expecting any particular outcome and always a little surprised at the end.

As can be expected, there are a lot of ‘botched’ attempts with this approach, usually the result of too much rather than too little. It is really not a practice I would advocate for an artist ‘serious’ about making money or a reputation. I am painting for fun, to be surprised, to meditate, to explore.

This also puts me in mind of some pondering I have been doing regarding writing. I made my living as a commercial copywriter for many years, writing poetry, short stories and essays mainly for my own enjoyment. In the 90’s I made several concerted efforts to get some of the creative stuff published but except for a few poems nothing caught.

In my reading lately, I have noticed how many professional writers have a list of 20, 30 or even more books to their credit. Now they, my mind tells me, are the real deal, the real professionals who have dedicated their career to their craft.

So then how do I measure my output, my success or lack thereof? Am I by definition a writer simply because I write? Or, is there a measure of commitment or public acknowledgement or commercial success in which I do not meet some standard – either self-defined or societal?

As usual, I arrived at no conclusion but I was reminded how I am defining my ‘self’. I am not a writer or artist; instead, I write and I do art. I am at the age now when roles are optional and there is no need to play any. Rather than do, it is time to be. So I be writing and I be painting and I be sitting in the sun. 

When this art cycle is over I will add some of the better pieces to my gallery. Meanwhile, here are a few previews.

april showers

April Showers

on the range]

On the Range

Sunset

Sunset

Morning dew

Morning dew

Great Falls

Great Falls

Violets

Violets

Lucky

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After several days of heavy rains the sky was clearing, the clouds drifting slowly into high, white masses. The sun shone down peacefully as if grateful for the respite. The air was clear and clean and after many days of silence, the birds were once again singing.

He was a middle-aged man, still slender but showing streaks of gray in his hair. Behind the wall of his brown eyes, a sadness and disappointment shone. He said he had grown up in a single parent family and although they had never gone hungry, there was never any money for the nicer things of life.

He had put himself through college, worked hard, and eventually rose to an executive position within a respected company. He had a devoted wife and two healthy children; a big house with a view, a sports car of his own, a travel trailer for family vacations, electronic gadgets and toys – in fact, all the things he had dreamed of owning as a young man were now his.

He said that when he looked at his life he saw many of his business associates starting their own companies, getting even bigger paychecks and bonuses, receiving recognition from peers in their industry. He wanted to know why he wasn’t lucky like they were. Why wasn’t he happy too?

Lucky. When we feel lucky we feel full, complete. When we feel unlucky, there is something empty inside us that wants to be filled. Some want to fill that hole with money or fame or love or God. If only something ‘out there’ could be obtained and put ‘in here’, all would be well. We would be complete, we would be happy.

This ‘thing’ that we believe we need is always just ahead of us, just a little out of reach, around the next corner, in the next relationship or the next job – and if we just try a little harder, run a little faster, we can get what we need and finally relax and finally be happy.

And when we do get that prize, we do feel better for while – a few hours, a few days, a few months – and then that awful ‘wantingness’ comes back. The happiness we felt with that fulfillment was not because of the ‘thing’ we finally obtained but because, for a while, we had no desires. It was the cessation of desire, not its fulfillment that allowed the joy to be felt. Joy fills all emptiness.

So it is not how many things we have, or their quality. In fact, possession has nothing to do with peace. We are lucky, we feel fulfilled, only when we stop wanting. When we stop wanting, we can recognize how lucky we indeed are. Gratitude for what is, no matter what that is, is the foundation for all joy.

It was not many months later that the man developed cancer which seemed to prove to him that he really was unlucky. But when he left this life he was surrounded by all the people who loved him for his courage and devotion and then he understood.

The Good Samaritan

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The man down the street answered the cry
of the young man with the child’s mind
who was being bullied by the neighborhood gang
and for his trouble was knifed in the stomach;
now beneath the giant oak with the rope swing
that stands in his front yard under a blue sky
are a dozen votive candles resting in peace
and a poster sized picture of his face
which now smiles down from heaven
where no bullies are allowed and all children
are smart and beautiful and strong and safe.

Ears High, Tail Waving

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“I had a dog once
Who liked to fetch,”
I wanted to say,
To the man with the white beard
And the baseball cap
As he flung the ball
High in the air
And the lumbering lab
Barked twice and ran,
Ears high, tail waving.

“I had a dog once,”
I wanted to say
As I remembered
Boulders round a blue lake,
Pheasants rising
From red bushes,
Deer tracks in new snow,
And Beau running to me
At my call,
Ears high, tail waving.

Happy Trails

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I broke a six year abstinence last week when I bought a television. I’d like to say it was the hunger for PBS and documentaries that triggered my purchase but honesty demands I tell the truth. I was eager to watch the Red Carpet for the Academy Awards show. Yes, I know they are totally shallow and over-hyped, and the program itself too long and too boring – but I was hungry to see the ‘glossy’ people, who they are with and how they are dressed, definitely a show in themselves.

I did stop short of getting cable and in the days that followed, I investigated regular programming. I am watching this 21st century television with a $5 rabbit ears antenna. I get ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, plus a handful of foreign language and shopping networks, and, most importantly three or four local tv stations. These local stations have accomplished the impossible. They are time machines and have taken me back sixty years. I am now watching the same tv programs I watched as a child on our first, refrigerator-sized television.

For example, I can watch Wagon Train, Bonanza, My Little Margie, Hogan’s Heroes, Perry Mason, Gilligan’s Island, I Married Joan, Ozzie & Harriette, and many other hits of the 50’s and 60’s. Most importantly, on Saturday afternoon I am able to watch Gaby Hayes’ Western Theater. This was my favorite show of childhood. It came on a 4 o’clock, just after I got home from school and just before Howdy Doody and dinnertime.

Gaby’s show featured the grade B westerns of the 30’s and 40’s with stars such as Johnny Mack Brown, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rex Allen, Smiley Burnette, Harry Carey, Andy Devine, Sunset Carson, Hoot Gibson, Tim Holt, Lash LaRue, Slim Pickens and Tex Ritter. Of the scores of cowboys featured on the screen there were only a handful of women, foremost among them being Dale Evans.

As I watched Gaby this weekend I realized how important these westerns had been to my upbringing. The westerns, along with my weekly hour in catechism as St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church, had poured the foundation of my ethics and morality. The cowboy movies always showed the good guys and the bad guys, and in case you got confused you could always identify who was who by the color of their hats or shirts. The bad guys invariably wore black hats.

Cowboys were my heroes and for many years I longed to be a boy if only to be able to ride a horse and be a sheriff. In fact, I had a cowboy costume with cowboy boots and hat – not to mention a black Hopalong Cassidy bike with a cap gun holster near the handlebars. My favorite song (to which I knew all the words) was “Don’t Fence Me In.” Here’s a great version by Gene Autry:

What did cowboy movies teach me? I had the certainty that by the end of the story, the good guys would win – after some hard knocks and/or gun fights- and that justice would be served, the bad guys would end up dead or in jail. Goodness always triumphed. Indeed, the westerns were the modern version of the morality plays performed in church courtyards in the Middle Ages. While church and catechism gave me the philosophic and spiritual lenses through which to view the world, the westerns provided me with hands-on, practical, how-to information.

Cowboy movies taught me the need to have courage even through you were surrounded by hostile Indians or bandits; to stand up for what you believed in especially if it involved barb wire fences, squatters or water rights; to sit with your back to the wall and your eye on the saloon door; that women and children were to be protected and respected; that the only thing worse than a coward was a traitor; that truth was more important than winning; that modesty and purity, especially for women, was more important than beauty; that a horse is the best friend you could ever have; and finally, that every trail has an end and if you rode out into the sunset there was a chance for a new beginning. All in all, not a bad list of guidelines for living life.

The black and white innocence and unquestioning righteousness of the cowboy movies gave a lot of security to my world view as a child. These years were the 50’s, the time of the rise of the middle class, suburbs, tv dinners, and highways across the nation. One of these highways eventually led me to the very land where all those westerns were made, California, the sunset at the end of my personal trail.

Artsy Bits & Pieces

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Hydrangea 7 x 8It’s been a while since I mentioned anything about art so today I have collected the bits and pieces of the last few months. I was in five art shows from October through February and was happily surprised when I sold several pieces. I finally ordered more art paper so for the next month or two will be working on new pieces – a new change of pace from all of the writing I have been doing.

Although I am dubious about its efficacy, I have joined the Pinterest crowd and have two bulletin boards – one on ink art and one on mandalas (http://pinterest.com/marietaylorink ). I’ve read many sterling testimonials by artists saying that Pinterest is a great promoter of their art. I will keep you posted – no pun intended.

INTO THE HILLS 13 x 14A fellow blogger discovered my art and has asked to use some examples on his website. He is a Ch’an (Chinese Buddhism) practitioner based in England. He has much to offer. To visit his site, click here: http://liberationinallplaces.weebly.com.

Finally, I will be pulling the plug on the Marie Taylor Art blog at the end of March. If you are interested in spiritual topics, poetry, reflections, sacred texts, etc. visit my other blog http://sacredgate.wordpress.com. It is a weekly posting showcasing an example of the sacred text from various spiritual traditions with a very short bio of the writer and my personal comments.

Thanks for your continuing interest and comments.

The Wind Arrived Today

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The wind arrived today
Very full of itself
Boasting of the lines it had tangled
And the trees felled.
Filled with the moisture
It scooped along the highways of the sky
And beside the river of stars
It has traveled by night while all slept.
Wind came rushing in
Sweeping the clouds to the sides
Of the Great Valley
With the broom of its cool breath.
Huffing and puffing
It tossed its shaggy head this way and that
Shaking its tangled locks
And roaring.
Made of nothing
It is not silent but used all
For its horn and drum
In its march northward.
It cleared a path
For the massive clouds that pile up behind
And shape shift into castles and bears
And galloping horses.
Pushing clouds this way and that,
A bully of the playground,
It sorts things out and
Allows the sun to enter.
Yellow white rays sting with heat,
Sun’s piercing eye
Jolts the slumbering seeds
Into an inner frenzy.
While the sap rises
The buds break their hard brown sheaths
And arrive lime green and vibrant
Along the arms of trees.
Cool and moist on the outside,
Hot and dry on the inside,
Spring kicks at Mother’s belly
Eager to be born.

The First Night

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“The worst thing about death must be the first night.” Jose Ramon Jimenez

Sooner or later something ‘really bad’ happens to us. It might be a debilitating or critical illness or financial catastrophe; it may be the death of a parent or family member. In whatever guise it comes, this life challenge is always shocking because it marks the end of life as we have known it, and the beginning of a new chapter or new path. From that day forward, nothing is ever the same.

Shock! No words come; breathing is difficult; the eyes cannot focus; our rational minds are frozen; our hearts beat like sheets flapping in the wind. This new reality is nowhere more evident or more keenly felt than ‘the first night’ in which this new knowledge, this new reality lies beside us in bed. There is no way out, no escape from what is.

I found the quote above very powerful. If you have lost a loved one, you probably remember that first night alone. But what about the one who has died – how is that first night spent? If the people reporting near death experiences are to be believed, the departed ones are probably very happy and at peace after the turbulence of earthly life. But still …

I wonder. When I think of dying, I feel sad to think I will be leaving behind the beauty of this earth, the blue sky, the scent of rain and flowers, the sight of young babies. It can be fashionable to believe in reincarnation and to say you want to get off the karmic round, be done with humankind and enter nirvana.

I am pretty sure I will be back many more times, not only because I have so much more to learn but I have so much more to let go of. This earth and its beauty grips my heart – or, am I the one who is holding on so tightly to the known? Will I be able to go gently into that good night?

The quote by Jimenez was the inspiration for a wonderful poem by contemporary poet, Billy Collins from his book “Aimless Love.”

The First Night
“Before I opened you, Jimenez,
it never occurred to me that day and night
would continue to circle each other in the ring of death,

But now you have me wondering
if there will also be a sun and a moon
and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set

then repair, each soul alone,
to some ghastly equivalent of a bed.
Or will the first night be the only night,

a long darkness for which we have no other name?
How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death.
How impossible to write it down.

This is where language will stop,
the horse we have ridden all our lives
rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff.

The word that was in the beginning
and the word that was made flesh -
those and all the other words will cease.

Even now, reading you on this trellised porch,
how can I describe a sun that will shine after death?
But it is enough to frighten me

into paying more attention to the world’s day – moon
to sunlight bright on water
or fragmented in a grove of trees,

and to look more closely here at these small leaves,
These sentinel thorns,
Whose employment it is to guard the rose.”

The Next Day

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The thin crack in the pale gray clouds
Silently open and the light gets in,
Just like Leonard said it would,
And the wet dark day is transformed.
A tall white-trunked tree stands proud and solitary
Against the blue sky, its shadow a hand on the dial.

At 30 degrees above the horizon,
The sun shines down impersonally
On good and bad alike and washed clean
Of last year’s karma, the soul of the earth
Stretches and preens and tosses its head,
Stripping the trees to reveal bare black skeletons

With arthritic limbs studded with buds
Like tiny furled fists ready to open at the least encouragement.
From out of cars and down paths and behind bushes,
From sidewalks and shortcuts and skyways, they arrive,
The sparrows and crows and gulls,
The joggers and children and old women with dogs,

The men with fishing poles and the mothers with babies,
All grabbing at the blue sky – for all had heard
More rain was on the way which is greeted with relief
As well as dismay by a thirsty land and its people.
A woman with a long white scarf that is echoed by her long white hair
Strides past the pond overtaking the bent lady in red pushing a walker.

Two fisherman, one old and one young, heads together,
Rods leaning against shoulders, hands holding delicate lines,
Stand in high grass and debate the merits of various lures.
Brisk winds from the north loft the football from the hands
Of the teenage boys who play amongst the children
Freshly sprung from nearby schools who run through playgrounds shouting.

A toddler, legs pumping in wavy circles, races across the field
Chased by a mother who calls out his name while another
Pushes arm-waving twins in a stroller pony tail bobbing with each step.
Dogs arrive, straining at leashes, noses to the ground,
Tails in the air, bodies twitching with energy,
Ready to leap and run, Jack-in-the-box with joy.

A young man starts his rusty Ford pick-up
And sings about fast women and faster cars
As the sun sinks slowly towards the tree line,
The clouds let loose the folds of their white skirts,
The edges quietly flowing across the sky
And settling in for an extended stay.

Wearing the face of an ancient Aztec,
An old man in bedroom slippers shuffles past
And raises one horn-hard hand,
Curved fingers tipped with yellow nails,
In acknowledgement of this person’s presence.

 

Here is a link to the ‘Leonard’ reference:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDTph7mer3I

Winter Afternoon

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The sky was a washed out gray-blue,
The trees in constant motion from the wind,
The cool air hanging in a thin fog
As the hours of the afternoon drained away.

Weary from four days of constant rain,
The used-to-be clouds were limp from the effort of bearing
So much moisture ninety miles from the crashing surf of the Pacific
To the heavy wet silence of the Great Valley.

A cry in the sky. A thin sketched line
Jaggedly drawn by a quill pen on parchment,
A long ragged string jerked and pulled like a toy
Tugged by a child across a linoleum floor,

A feathered ribbon of pumping life,
Long necks stretched and calling,
Came. So high! So distant.
Gulls? Geese?

Lined along the telephone wires,
Toes tight, feathers full,
Small brown heads looked up
Into the rain and listened.

 

 

 

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