Thursday, December 10, 2009

Through a Glass Darkly

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"
"The Second Coming"
William Butler Yeats, 1920

Passing homes in the darkness of early, early morning or of evening I see windows decorated with lights, beacons of welcome and hope for humanity in a weary world.

The image of people as light in the world has been with me for some time, most especially since my post for "Dia de Los Muertes" (please see previous post). That post, in turn, prompted reflections upon and contemplation of Be-ing one's Self, no strings attached, of gaining and holding that "privilege of a lifetime ... being who you are."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama asserts that "our primary concern is seeking happiness and avoiding suffering" as we meet what Bruno Bettelheim describes as "psychological challenges of gaining a feeling of selfhood and of self-worth and a sense of moral obligation." Bettelheim maintains, and I concur, that such is necessary if we "hope to live not just from moment to moment, but in true consciousness of our existence."

Eastern traditions teach of paths to en-light-enment, to a rising toward pristine awareness. One important element of these teachings is that of examination of the person's mental processes, including their motivations. As previously noted our primary motivation in life is seeking happiness and avoiding suffering and "the chief influence for the foundation of motivations comes from the mind."

An examination of one's own mind to bring one's consciousness further toward en-light-enment is no quick or easy task. "Mental phenomena ... do not evidently have a location in space, nor do they lend themselves to quantitative measurement." How may we study our mental processes as forces of motivation affecting the quality of our Light, our lives? How do we do this, we who are everyday people with relationships and jobs and goals and worries? We are few of us monks or yogis or poets or quantum physicists. How do we do this?

Years ago I was presented with an image of light and life that has guided me through many of life's psychological challenges. Not long ago I realized I had received another image of light and life as a guide in everyday life. I sat in the World Peace Cafe one evening quietly waiting for my sandwich to be delivered to my table while my husband surfed the Web on his iTouch. From our table by the window I looked out into darkness and saw the grouping of over-sized Chinese lanterns hanging in the cafe projected onto the street scene outside the cafe.

I know those lanterns out on the street were illusions, some trick of optics, the light waves (or are they particles?), the properties of the window glass and who knows what else. I have now come to see that scene as a vivid lesson in the way illusion can and does influence us as we walk through our earthly life.

Indians, according to Joseph Campbell, teach that illusion (maya) holds 'A Veiling Power that hides or conceals the "real," the inward essential character of things; so that, as we read in a sacred Sanskrit text: "Though it is hidden in all things, the Self shines not forth."'

Someone tries to hide himself down inside himself.

Although the white light of Truth has been veiled from consciousness, our minds must engage in their creative function and evolve phenomena. So our creative function, our Projecting Power, projects "illusionary impressions and ideas, together with associated desires and aversions --- as might happen, for example if at night one should mistake a rope for a snake and experience fright."

Now we come to the beautiful part, the part wherein it is possible to reach the Truth through the obscurity and illusion of these phenomena. For, "when viewed a certain way, the phenomena themselves may reveal what normally they veil ..." This demonstrates the "Revealing Power of maya, which it is the function of art and scripture, ritual and meditation, to make known." For the moment I suggest that we simply take some time for ourselves to contemplate whatever illusions present themselves as guiding forces in our lives.

Our "impressions and ideas, together with associated desires and aversions" have been formed by and large upon falsehood. We owe it to ourselves to look at these things. Many times a change of perspective eliminates the projected illusion and frees us to consider its source -- which is what we need to do. (As an example, when I shot the accompanying photo I could not see the reflection outside from another window, only that nearest the lamp.)

Here I turn, not surprisingly, to William Shakespeare - his "Hamlet" to be precise. The prince has just informed his one-time friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that Denmark is a prison. They disagree. They "think not so." Hamlet then informs them that "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

Think about it.

We can see the Truth of our Selves, just as we can see the light of a candle or a lantern "through a glass darkly."

Love after Love
Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

[A bibliography for this post includes:
Bettelheim, Bruno. "The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales." New York: Vintage, 1989

Osbon, Diane K (ed.). "Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion." New York: Harper Collins, 1991

Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet." New York: Washington Square Press, 1992

Varela, Francisco J., Ph.D (ed.). "Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness with The Dalai Lama." Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1997

Walcott, Derek. "Derek Walcott: Collected Poems 1948-1984." New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986]

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dia de Los Muertes

"And in the end the Love you take is equal to the Love you make."
The Beatles

Many years ago in the midst of one of my little family's moves I surfaced from a dream in that time between sleeping and waking, asking, "What was that?" As all four of us were sharing the same hotel room I looked around to see if anyone had been roused by my question. Everyone but me was sound asleep, so I snuggled back into the covers and held the dream close.

The dream was a comfort to me. Even as I was excited about moving to Williamsburg, VA, a city I thoroughly enjoyed, I was quite aware that I was moving on from special people and special memories and I was not certain how I felt about that. In the dream I seemed to see the continent of North America as if from orbit. Marking the area of Virginia wherein I lived I saw, well, what I would call a pearl of light, and from that pearl strands of light radiated out to other parts of the country wherein beloved family and friends lived. (I think one strand stretched to Scotland, too.)

"Take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night."
"Romeo and Juliet," William Shakespeare, III.ii.24-26

As I contemplated this 'map of light' a voice in the dream said, very kindly, "This is what we see when you move away from the people you love."

In the years since that dream I have developed a picture in my mind in which each earthbound soul holds the light of his or her life as a candle, that tiny flame flickering and braving the weather of our years. We'll wear whatever masks and costumes of our choice as we hold our lives, our souls, and explore the heart-mysteries of who we are here - perhaps we will even manage to carve out a little lantern for ourselves to pierce the darkness.

When we leave this earth, when we walk on into the light, perhaps we set those lanterns on Heaven's floor and the light we have always been pierces that floor, carving out the stars for those still finding their way to the light.

So, on this Dia de Los Muertes (Day of the Dead) let all honor be to those whose lives light ours with Love, who in their mercy pierce the darkness and assault us with Love - most gently and beyond the limits of reason.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


So. Today I, a storyteller, celebrate my 50th birthday. I am actually very happy about this and it seems like a good day to share some of the stories, the dialogue, that I have relied upon over this half-century to answer what makes me, me.

The primary story is one I know only because my parents shared it with me, as it happened when I was only two weeks old - two weeks old and still weighing in at less than six pounds!

I made my entrance into the world three weeks early at only five pounds, nine ounces and measuring eighteen inches in length. Not much had changed by my second week, but the doctor dismissed quite confidently any worries during my check-up, as he watched me kick and hit back at him reflexively: "She may be tiny, but she's a dandy. She has a mind of her own and she's not afraid to use it."
I took that story to heart more and more through the years. Even now I do not understand how the doctor saw
so much in me at just two weeks, nor do I understand why those remarks resonated with me from a very young age. Maybe I recognized that such a remark from a respected person was a remark worth keeping, worth treasuring?

As I write this I consider another remark I heard too many times to count over the course of my life, and I realize that it offers an interesting counterpoint to that basic theme of an independent mind. The remark has usually been, "You wear your heart on your sleeve." For a period of time, I confess, I caught undertones in those voices that made me think I might be a fool to wear my heart thus.

Not anymore. Not for a long, long time. Somehow, somewhere along the line I decided I was not doing myself or anyone else any favors by keeping my heart out of sight.

Somehow I heard my independent mind decrying the demotion of my heart and I stitched it back onto my sleeve. Maybe it was after a fresh reading of St. Exupery's "The Little Prince," the part that tells us, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
I guess you could say that
I decided to give my mind its eyes.

So. Here I
am celebrating - yes,
celebrating, a milestone birthday, but celebrating especially the gifts of ageless heart
and mind - gifts I would give to everyone if I could.

Photos: Me, at 2; Me, at 3; Me, at 6 in my new school uniform; Me, at 21, with my best friend, Renee; Me, at 30-something goofing around at a museum in Richmond, VA.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

'Foul Rag and Bone Shop'

For the last week I have been contemplating the startling fact that I had found an actual place - a place I had never seen nor known existed - which I had 'made up' and written down in my notes and in the blog. I cannot say it enough: I just made up a place and gave it a name. I never suspected that a place loosely fitting that description existed.

The more I considered this the more I understood that I had experienced 'creative visualization' at its fullest. My introduction to the concept came in the form of a book I read decades ago. The exact title escapes me but it was roughly "The House that Gilda Drew" and was a title I acquired through the Scholastic Books program. (Oh, how I looked forward to those flyers and the chance to buy books!)

These days I would recognize Gilda and her family as likely being homeless as they constantly moved as her father searched for employment. Through all the travels, all the schools, Gilda dreamed of a certain house she wanted to live in one day. She drew it time and time again. Then, one day she saw the house itself. Sadly, I do not remember how it came to happen, but in the end Gilda and her family did indeed move into the house of Gilda's dream. That story has always remained in my mind.

I wonder now if that story was in the back of my mind when my fourth grade teacher, Sr. Mary Henry, a Dominican, took one look at the tree I had drawn in crayon on art paper and informed me that it was not a tree, that 'There are no trees like that.' I said nothing, but in my mind I retorted, "Just because you haven't seen a tree like that doesn't mean there isn't one.' Years later, to satisfy myself, I looked through a book and saw that my tree could have been a very mature weeping cherry!

The discouragement was replaced by my resolve to be a writer as under that same nun's tutelage I quite happily discovered that those sentences and paragraphs and all that other grammar stuff were the nuts and bolts of the stories I devoured.

Not long ago I discovered some quotes attributed to Ms. Georgia O'Keeffe in my notes. They had been posted on one or another of those websites offering fine art posters for sale. This quote leapt out at me: 'It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough I could have it.' I read between the lines of that quote and came to understand that Ms. O'Keeffe very likely believed in the principle that life would imitate art provided she practiced her art, lived her art.

I pulled Hunter Drohojowska-Philp's biography of Ms. O'Keeffe ("Full Bloom," W. W. Norton & Co., 2004) from my shelf and paged through it for one of the stories I remembered from Ms. O'Keeffe's school days which, ironically, involved a Dominican nun passing judgment on one of her drawings (p. 27) Ms. O'Keeffe chose to respond differently to the nun's stinging judgment of her drawing efforts than I did to Sr. Mary Henry's. In fact, at some point she 'decided that the only thing I could do that was nobody else's business was to paint.'

Independently of one another both Ms. O'Keeffe and I chose art as the means of being our Selves despite the judgment of an early teacher. The most inspiring aspect of Ms. O'Keeffe's life and work was that she practiced her art on her terms, however shaky she may have felt at times.

Ms. Drohojowska-Philp relates one instance of self-consciousness at a time just prior to Alfred Stieglitz's introduction to her work, when few established artists were understanding that work. 'After staying up all night working, she felt the results to be "effeminate" but she was unsure of the implications. "It is essentially a woman's feeling - satisfies me in a way," she admitted. "There are things we want to say - but saying them is pretty nervy." Once again, she was thinking that it was all "a fool's game" when she learned of Stieglitz's approval.' ("Full Bloom," pps 106-7)

Nearly thirty years after Alfred Stieglitz first glimpsed the work of this extraordinary woman she produced another piece I consider to be self-conscious, a pastel on paper entitled "My Heart" (1944). She was then 57 years of age and had bought a home in New Mexico only four years previously, a home with stunning views of her beloved pedernal.
Ms. Drohojowska-Philp wrote, 'The Navajo believe that the Pedernal is the birthplace of their "Changing Woman," who represents earth and time.' (p. 368) In full view of that Pedernal, that mountain, Ms. O'Keeffe imagined and presented to us an image of her heart. 'O'Keeffe named this drawing of two stones after her heart because she thought they "looked hard."' Hard as pieces of the 'Changing Woman,' perhaps?

For myself, when I consider that heart image she offers I am struck by a parallel between her work and that of the poet William Butler Yeats in the closing years of his life, specifically the poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion" (1938-39). I quote here the final stanza of the poem:

Those masterful images because complex
Grew in pure mind but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

Many are familiar with the paintings of skulls and pelvises Ms. O'Keeffe executed. (My favorite is "Pelvis with Distance.") There are paintings featuring ladders in Ms. O'Keeffe's oeuvre as well. Her studio must surely have contained stained rags and a collection of skeletons to qualify it as not just any studio but a "foul rag and bone shop of the heart." She painted her heart out, and in the end it was hers, always had been. I suspect she cherished the irony, as I do, that the nun's judgment had been passed in a schoolroom at Sacred Heart Academy.

These remarks from the commentary about the 2008 exhibit "Georgia O'Keeffe and the Women of the Stieglitz Circle," (HIGH Museum, Atlanta, GA), which included work by Pamela Colman Smith, Katherine Nash Rhoades, Georgia Engelhard, Gertrude Kasebier, Anne Brigman and Alfred Stieglitz point to the enduring significance of "charms the brush laid on with tints in sweeps and flourishes" : 'her work and that of the others "laid the groundwork for the idea that women artists possessed a powerful creativity equal to that of men and their stunning images convinced Stieglitz ... that women could reveal a new and uniquely feminine perspective on modern experience."'

For Ms. O'Keeffe the perspective from her foul rag and bone shop of the Pedernal, the Changing Woman, gave her her heart and gave the world a beautiful vision of life lived artfully.

Top Photo: "Crossing to the Everlasting," Barbara Butler McCoy, oil on canvas, 12"x24," 2007, after "Sky Above Clouds," Georgia O'Keeffe and the author's photograph
Bottom Photo: "A Bowl of Cherries," the author, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Just goin' with the flow today, which has meant redoubling my efforts to finish unpacking and organizing my atelier (love that word). Somehow I am never prepared for the memories I encounter buried amid stacks of papers and books. Photos, cards, notes, books - they set memories flooding down my brainstem and through my limbs. Remember the Ringo Starr song, "Every time I see your face I'm reminded of the places we used to go'? Or the Four Tops, 'It's the same old song, but with a different meaning since you've been gone'? My eyes get misty or I shudder to think 'Did I actually write/fall for/ think that?' I find myself thinking these memories can be much like jellyfish - beautiful there in the dark, but requiring careful navigation.

Now, as I navigate among these memories I realize that what makes them so beautiful is the light in the sea of hope, the sea of dreams, where they float. I'll take that.

[Photo: Jellyfish at the Tennessee
Aquarium, Chattanooga, July 2009]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

'rooted and reaching'

Woke up this morning fully aware that today is the summer solstice, so 'You Are My Sunshine' popped to mind, as well as, 'Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.' Right now, in this newest home in this hot and sunny southern state, I am inordinately content to be surrounded by trees.

It is something of a heart-mystery for me, my love of trees. It has been with me since childhood when I learned to climb the chestnut tree on my grandfather's farm in Michigan. Is it the viewpoint or the shelter the branches and leaves provide that calls to me? As I find it, the key lies in that 'rooted and reaching' verse I used as the title. Perhaps it reminds me of the ancient and timeless stories of the 'world tree' prevalent in so many cultures. How ironic, then, that we have the legend of a man, bigger than life, who chops down the trees.

Here in this sampling of my photos of trees I hope to present, well, my way of looking at trees.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Petals Unfurled

The flora in my neighborhood leave me tongue-tied, so I hope these pictures provide the essay my paralyzed wit cannot!
[From the top: Hydrangea; bumblebee among some white blooms; magnolia grandiflora; cascading white azaleas; potted impatiens]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

2D or not 2D?

It is my great joy to write this piece to honor the 445th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth, 23 April, 1564.

Curiously, although I read "Julius Caesar" and "Macbeth" in high school (I was one of the three witches), I cannot say I truly discovered the wonder of Shakespeare's art until about eight years ago. For most who harbor aspirations of the writing life the 'canon' of Shakespeare's work - indeed, the man himself! - looms so frighteningly large that one is unquestionably intimidated and too, too many of us skirt round him altogether. He is a colossus in the tide of literature, yet his 'thees' and 'thous' and scrambled syntax trip our tongues and make us giggle in discomfort.

Hearing one of his plays or sonnets is quite confusing to the uninitiated ear. We suspect the players have extraordinary talent to make sense of and 'con' all those lines! Modern film productions of the plays do not always help, either. I do wish there were many DVDs available with subtitles to make this work more approachable although I do wonder what it says about us that people listened to these plays hundreds of years ago so eagerly that Will Shakespeare's Globe Theatre was commercially profitable?

As well, I wonder at the perspicacity of both Rafe Esquith and his youngsters, fifth graders at a public school in Los Angeles for many of whom English is a second language, who learn and perform one of the Bard's plays every year to international acclaim. Yes, they have tackled "Hamlet" and "Macbeth."

So, what broke through this wall of intimidation for me and prompted me to approach these works? Actually, the question should be "Who broke through ...?" A player, one Robert Lindsay, who has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in various international productions (Captain Pellew in A&E's 'Hornblower' series for one.)

At my son's urging I checked out a VHS copy of a 1982 BBC/TimeLife production of "Much Ado About Nothing" starring Robert Lindsay, happily, as Benedick. Almost immediately, in the first scene, Mr. Lindsay's delivery of a single line tore down all my trepidation about approaching this literary canon. As his buddy Claudio questions him about his opinion of the young Hero, Benedick asks, "Would you buy her that you enquire after her?"

The abhorrence evident on his face and in his tone could have been attributed to a number of conditions surrounding sixteenth century courtship and marriage, but I saw it as revulsion at the very idea that a woman was considered chattel, tangible property to be bought and sold. The hint this gave of the mind behind the plays stopped me in my tracks. And so it began.

I am but an amateur, but even so I agree wholeheartedly with Robert Graves who said, "The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good..." Once, on a plane, a woman and I discussed literature and I shared my belief that William Shakespeare's work has endured because it deserves to endure. What is that cliche? He is "a proven performer." He always delivers. My experience enforces my opinion that a bad production of a Shakespeare play is still much better than many films today.

The essence of the power of William Shakespeare's work for me is summed up in a quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: "The universe is wide. In us it is deep." My experience with these plays and sonnets (remember, I am a novice) is that at some point in every exposure to them I feel that something in the depths of myself has been touched, has been given breath, has risen. A portion of another William's work, William Butler Yeats' "The Circus Animals' Desertion," applies here I believe: "Heart-mysteries there ..."

Some mystery deeply hidden rises to life. Some mystery of life unfolds as yet others remain enfolded.

Perhaps this is the sort of experience that led the noted scholar Harold Bloom to assert that William Shakespeare is responsible, in drama, for the "invention of the human." These heroes, heroines, villains, and clowns are not cookie-cutter, paper-doll, masked characters. They are everything you are and everything I am at our highest and our lowest, our most comical and most tragic.

Though only Juliet speaks the question, " ... wherefore art thou ...", Will Shakespeare's art asks us time and time again, "Who are you? Why are you you?" Juliet knows the answer does not lie in those surface characteristics of name and physique. How two-dimensional! What is the mystery of you?

I think Juliet speaks this immensely important question because Shakespeare's model for her was the woman he loved, a woman shrouded in mystery whose presence in his life, it seems to me, constantly affirmed his courage to explore, if you will, 'Wherefore art thou Will?' This woman, this 'Dark Lady', he believed to be the embodiment of fairness, kindness, and truth - truth being beauty as Keats wrote.

Juliet asks her question from the height of her balcony. Court poets of the era often placed women above, out of reach, but Shakespeare, I believe, was sending a different message for does he not find a way for Romeo to climb to that same height? Does not Juliet later provide a rope ladder for her love? William Shakespeare depicted his love on the plane whereon he believed she lived, a higher plane of consciousness, and in Sonnet 105 he adjures us, "Let not my love be called idolatry." This is no idle show. No, indeed.

William Shakespeare chose time and time again, for more than half his mortal life, to be guided by his love, his Muse, whom he praises in Sonnet 105, lines 5 and 6: "Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind/Still constant in a wondrous excellence." His answer to this kindness, excellence, and constancy is in the remaining lines of that quatrain: "Therefore my verse, to constancy confin'd/One thing expressing, leaves out difference." Near the end of this sonnet he proclaims the "wondrous scope" this constancy affords.

In devotion to his Muse he dared to reach for a heightened consciousness. He dared to leap into those "Heart-mysteries there." Given the intrigue and turmoil of court life and the Reformation I do wonder if, perhaps, his creativity was his saving grace?

Recently as I read his Sonnet 137 which begins, "Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes," I began to realize that this sonnet is the Bard's assessment of his own reaction to characters modelled upon his love! If I may be so bold, I think he is telling us, "In things right/write-written true my heart and eyes have err'd/And to this false plague are they now transferr'd."

It helps me to know that performances of his writing made even Will himself stop and remember that the beauty up on the stage was a stage beauty, a painted boy if you will, because I am always knocked off my feet at some point by his work. With his players, his illusions and allusions, his dialogue, he gave us humanity and love.

So, since I am already on the ground, I think I will bow to the wisdom of William Butler Yeats:
"...Now that my ladder's gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart."

Top photo: Bas relief honoring William Shakespeare, the Candler Building, Atlanta, GA
Middle photo: Bud of a William Shakespeare 2000 rose from David Austen roses
Bottom photo: Shakespeare's 'globe' and books, gifts from my son

DVDs I recommend, for starters: "Slings and Arrows," Seasons 1-3; Al Pacino's "Looking for Richard," and his performance as Shylock in Michael Radford's production of "The Merchant of Venice," and, yes, Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" because I suspect it captures the intensity of 16th century London even as it's set in 20th-21st century California.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


chiaroscuro [It., fro. chiaro clear, light + oscuro obscure, dark] 1: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color 2: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts as a pictorial work of art

There I was, juggling rhymes and images for an existential sort of poem, smiling at the thought of those shoes with those words, when I decided to travel on downtown with my camera just for fun. I looked at the shoes inspiring the poem and said, to quote Kirsty MacColl, "Not in these shoes. I doubt you'd survive." So I laced up my Dr. Martens, packed the camera in my backpack, and headed for the train station.

My plan was simple and flexible: head back to the Calder Building then take the train to midtown, stop in at Utrecht's Art Supplies and walk on to the High Museum of Art, photographing whatever caught my eye along the way. From the moment I emerged from Peachtree Station and saw the Candler Building so close I had a feeling the day would be memorable. See, I am still rather new in town and it's only now that I have more time to devote to wandering and discovering the lay of the land.

On a hunch, in search of better light, I walked around the Candler where to my joyous surprise I discovered a bas relief honoring William Shakespeare. I figured that was likely to be the high point of the day and that was fine with me, but I saw through the viewfinder the bright white Flatiron Building and just beyond it, off to the left, a sign topping another building: Muse's. It appeared the Muse was inviting me to play so I, in my play shoes, quickly and happily obliged.

As I sought additional vantage points for shots of the Muse's building I happened across a game of chess in Woodruff Park, a game like one in "Alice in Wonderland." Walking away from the game back toward Muse's I realized the Flatiron was silhouetted against the brilliant black Equitable building. "Ah, so, the Muse seems to be showing me some sights in black-and-white," I thought, but I had no idea why nor what more to expect.

I trecked on and outside of Utrecht's I saw this whimsical white bicycle chained to a tree, a reminder to me of Michael Hoffman's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," wherein the hapless lovers Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, ride bicycles into the woods and Puck leads them astray.

By far the most arresting scene on my path, however, was the sight of a monumental figure of Anubis poised as if striding toward the High Museum himself. He looked to have been carved from the night, and my thoughts turned to Juliet's praise of Romeo (III.ii.23-27):
Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Standing there on the chaotic city street I thought, too, of the revival of "West Side Story" scheduled for this year in New York.

My mind, a meandering river, turned ack to Anubis who had collected the fragments of the body of Osiris, binding and preparing them for burial, all as a prologue to Isis seeking her beloved Osiris in the Netherworld and conceiving her son, Horus, with him. This legend is particularly poignant, I think, because another legend has it that Isis was the foster-mother of Anubis. The love of this foster-son for Isis is as potent an image as those images of Isis suckling Horus, images of an ancient Egyptian madonna.

"Romeo and Juliet," a madonna, city streets - my thoughts swirled and lead me to remember a song, "Maria, Maria," a collaboration between Carlos Santana and Wyclef Jean.

Back home I marvelled at the fun I'd had following the Muse, but I wondered for quite some time, "Why me? Why black-and-white?" Imagine how I laughed when I finally realized that in yielding to the Muse's whisper, "Come on. Show me. Let me see what you would do," and drafting a poem featuring black-and-white shoes, the Muse decided to show me - in black-and-white- just what she would do!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


The other day I took the train down to Peachtree Station and, camera in hand, I wandered a bit. Since I first saw the Candler Building in January I'd been meaning to come back and take more pictures of it, but beyond that I thought I'd simply walk around and see what I could see. I wondered if the back of the Candler had relief work similar to that carved into the surface on the front. My hunch was correct and I stumbled across a happy surprise or two, one of which will be the topic of a future post.

When I stepped across the street for a better vantage point I saw some posters affixed to a boarded-up section of a small building. I stopped in my tracks when I read those posters. As I write this I remember a quote about synchronicity being a tap on the shoulder from the universe. This distinctly felt like such a tap.

So today, World Water Day, I offer this link and this one to point a spotlight on one battle in the 'water wars' .

Perhaps 100 yards away from the display of posters, in Woodruff Park, I happened across a game of chess. Now, this game was notable in that the pieces, the knights and bishops, the kings and queens, were rather large. A ring of men stood around the 'board' studying the possible moves. I took some photos of this tableau and wandered back to the Candler to see what I might have missed.

I snapped away happily when I happened to see what at first appeared to me to be an abstract, and rather large, chess knight made of brass. The irony of those World Water Day posters so close to the Fire Department Connection for the Candler, a juxtaposition that was surely intentional, made me chuckle. So, too, the connection's resemblance to a chess knight given the timeless geopolitical struggles to tap and maintain adequate water supplies.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Can You See Her?

"Well-behaved women rarely make history."

That quote, one of my favorites, has been winding in and out of my thoughts quite often lately as I pondered my wish to address Womens History Month in this blog.

It's no secret by now that I love rivers, and I have come home from recent forays to the Chattahoochee to download some photos of the river that have stirred my soul. Neither is it a secret for those of you familiar with my "dreamseyeheard" blog that I love myth, but it was only with the notification of World Water Day (March 22, 2009) in an email from Ecologic that I saw a way to weave together all of these loves.

In "A Brief History of the Druids," (pps. 134-5), Peter Berresford Ellis writes, "A fascinating myth in respect of the supernatural quality of wells is told in the story of The Dagda and his consort Boann." The Dagda is the Father of the Gods and Boann is referred to elsewhere in the book as a goddess. Ellis continues, "In other versions of this story, The Dagda is replaced by Nechtan, who seems to be an early water god, for the name implies to 'wash' in sacred water, to be 'clean' , 'pure' or 'white' ... The Dagda or Nechtan had a well which was called the Well of Segais (also called Conlai's Well). Nine hazel trees of wisdom grew over the well and hazel nuts, described as rich crimson in colour, dropped into the well causing bubbles of mystic inspiration. Only The Dagda/Nechtan and his three cup-bearers were allowed to go to the well to draw water. But his young wife Boann disobeyed the taboo (geis). The waters rose up, pursued and drowned her. Their course formed the river named after her - the Boann or Boyne. "A similar tale is told of Sionan, daughter of the ocean god Lir's son Lodan. She went to the Well of Knowledge even though it was forbidden. The water rose from the well and chased her westward forming the great river which was named after her, Sionan (Shannon)."

I respond to these myths differently than Mr. Ellis. The truth in these myths shows me they are meant to impart more than exotic tales of wells with supernatural qualities. These wells were the places from which Knowledge and Wisdom, symbolized by the hazel trees and nuts, were drawn. Until Boann and Sionan broke with tradition, broke taboos, the authorities specified who could draw from these wells and under what conditions. These goddesses did not settle for that.

It is tempting to compare these myths with that of Eve sampling the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, but I feel the similarity is poignant because the consequences for everyone are radically different. Rather than expelling us from an idyllic garden, the Boyne and the Shannon have surely nourished untold flower gardens, herb gardens, and vegetable gardens through the ages.

Some are likely to quibble about the discouraging behavior of breaking taboos and traditions. Oh, really? Well, surely they can see that the myths say nothing at all about the 'supernatural' water subsiding back down into the wells!

I tend to think the goddesses and the waters likely rose up to correct an injustice. Ellis (p. 128-9) wrote, "The great rivers of northern Europe tend to still bear Celtic names, many associated with goddess figures ... the Danube ... takes its name from the goddess Danu. Here, we are in the land in which the Celts are recognized to have originated; the headwaters of the Danube, the Rhine and the Rhone. And here we find that the Upper Danube, with its tributaries and sub-tributaries is a region full of Celtic names, as is the valley of the upper Rhine and also the Rhone. The Seine takes its name from the Celtic goddess Sequana. In England the Severn takes its name from Sabrann ..."

Further, Ellis quotes John Arnott MacCulloch: "The mother-river was that which watered a whole region, just as in the Hindu sacred books the waters are mothers, sources of fertility ... the Celts regarded rivers as bestowers of life, health, and plenty, and offered them rich gifts and sacrifices." These rivers and their attendant myths were etched into the consciousness of the people just as the rivers had etched themselves into the landscape, into the physical geography. Life, health, and plenty dammed in wells and restricted to certain people performing certain rituals at certain times? No. The gestures Boann and Sionan made affirmed life. The traditions and taboos were gestures that restricted life.

Perhaps now, sadly, too many of us have become so familiar with water that we have become blind to that transcendent force in water. We desperately need to open our eyes to the truth about our rivers and that is why I am quite happy, given those Irish myths related at the beginning, at the synchronicity that World Water Day falls in this month celebrating the contributions and achievements of women in history.

So, what can this woman or any woman, well-behaved or not, or any man, do on an everyday basis to contribute to the restoration of water's transcendent force? First, I think, is to recall two inversely proportional bits of science. On the one hand the human body is mostly water; infants are composed of more water (90+%) than the elderly (70+%), but both percentages are very high. However, the percentage of all the water on the planet that is fresh, e.g. rivers, is only 2.5%. Two-and-one-half percent of the water on the planet is all that we can use to nourish ourselves, our watery selves, physically!

I would like to suggest that you take time to visit a river near you. Go. Visit. Take a picture so it will last longer. Visit, too, sites like Ecologic,, or, for information about rivers in your area and updates on the progress in reclaiming our rivers. The rivernetwork site is also affiliated with iGive so a percentage of your shopping done through that site benefits the rivernetwork.

One area in which every household, no matter its size, makes an impact upon rivers is that of household cleansers - laundry and dishwashing detergents, general cleaning products. Two sorts of chemicals, surfactants and phosphates, pose particular threats to the life of rivers. Surfactants clog the gills of fish and block their ability to extract oxygen from the water. Phosphates promote algae growth which, when imbalanced, blocks the sun and leeches oxygen away from other marine life. "The Green Home" column of the New York Times (02.26.09 HOME section) has a list of appropriate cleansers, but I have been most happy with products from the Method and good old baking soda!

I also highly recommend the use of a personal water bottle. Think of it as a 'signature' item if you want. As you can see mine is a SIGG. I love the blue and I really appreciate that the spout lets little, if any, water leak out all over the place should I happen to tip it. Of course, a personal water bottle reduces the number of plastic ones used, but it helps further to recycle whatever plastic bottles we do use. When recycled materials are used in manufacturing there is significantly less air and water pollution generated and significantly less water and energy used.

Eat less beef. Nearly 2,000 gallons of fresh water are used to produce one pound of beef. I know cheeseburgers are paradisiacal, but I admit I have become quite fond of turkey burgers with a bit of spinach and feta mixed in for a nice flavor. I have even had success - yes, success - feeding turkey chili on occasion to my meat-and-potatoes husband! While you're cooking up that meal that used less water, give yourself a pat on the back for that energy- and water- efficient washing machine and for the lovely landscaping you've done with plants native to your climate.

In the end, very simply, I write this because I do not want to lose our rivers. I do not want photos like these of the Chattahoochee to become anachronisms. While I do not even begin to class my painting (shown at top) with the work of Claude Monet, I do not want it or Monet's 'Water Lilies' to become anachronisms.

My heart would surely break if Stratford-upon-Avon became an anachronism.

'Stratford -upon- What is the Avon?'

A bibliography for this post:
Ellis, Peter Berresford. "A Brief History of the Druids". New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002

Van Straten, Michael. "Organic Living". London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2001

Top Image: 'Ophelia', oil on canvas, 2006, Barbara Butler McCoy
River Photos: The Chattahoochee River near Island Ford, Jan. 2009, Barbara Butler McCoy

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Soft and Quiet

White-out! Fat, fluffy snow is settling over the capital of the Peach State with such luscious abandon, giving me a much longed-for taste of winter. I could take pictures from the back of my home and get the sort of scenes I saw as a child in the Midwest, but I love the contrast of southern, tropical fauna blanketed in snow.

[Snow covering the palm tree and a branch of the dogwood in my front courtyard, as well as the wonderful magnolia across the street. 03.01.09]

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Whispering Wind

You never know what you will find when you just go along for the ride. When I head out with no particular agenda or destination in mind, simply focused on taking things as I find them, the 'sight-seeing' is usually unforgettable. This tree and this bird were two of the unforgettable moments captured during a recent stroll along a portion of the Chattahoochee River.

The day was gray and chilly, rather gothic, so naturally the gnarly tree was an interesting piece. The mistletoe knotted up in its barren branches whispered of Druid rites and 'big medicine'. (The Cherokee were driven from Georgia in the 19th century, "Trail of Tears".) The bird was reluctant to be seen as long as my husband was near, but once he moved along the trail the bird sat for me, not in any way that I could capture any identifying marks, but still, it sat.

I was enchanted by these images and considering how best to show them when I heard these Led Zeppelin lyrics: "There's a tree by the brook/With a songbird who sings/Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven." ('Stairway to Heaven')

Don't I know it! For any of us there is no shortage of critical nay-sayers in our lives. Be they parent, lover, friend, boss, colleague, child, whomever, they seem to think that they must save you from yourself. They remind you of all the 'shouldn'ts', 'can'ts', 'don'ts', that come so easily to the tongue until finally, sadly, you take up the refrain inside yourself. Then they pat themselves on the back for an intervention well executed and anarchy averted.

They sit around your table and declaim the way things ought to be while their eyes "fix you in a formulated phrase/And when (you are) formulated, sprawling on a pin,/When (you are) pinned and wriggling on the wall" you might protest, but only for a moment because they hit right back with the assertion that "you don't know what you're talking about". You are naive. The world doesn't work that way. It's a jungle.

Personally, I am out on a limb with that songbird.

Those formulations are mis-given and sometimes the truth "lies on the whisperin' wind". If you listen very hard you may catch the whisper of truth from a Voice who sees beyond, beneath, before, behind and above this world and those formulations. You may catch the whisper of the Voice of a Botticelli Madonna, I sometimes imagine, so gentle and sweet yet strong and irreproachable. If you listen very hard you may catch the whisper of the Voice urging, "Come on. Show me. Let me see what you would do."

I hope you do.

Friday, January 23, 2009


I am an avid journaler, have been for a number of years after reading Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way". Before I started writing in journals I would sometimes sit writing installments in a long letter to my best friend and I noticed that every time I let myself loose in the stream of my thoughts answers and inspiration for use elsewhere would present themselves. So, when I read about 'morning pages' in "The Artist's Way" I figured such a journal would be the way to capture all those gems on a daily basis.

My best friend still receives letters from me, and I from her - her husband says he really admires the way we persist with our epistles in these days of email - but my journal has become an ocean of consciousness, no mere stream! These notebooks, I often think to myself, would be a psychiatrist's wet dream. When the trickle of inspiration became a river I decided I had better find a way to set up a catalog or index so that nothing would fall through the cracks. There is nearly always lag time between the moment inspiration strikes and the moment I formally begin a project, with periods of illumination of details sandwiched between those moments.

To catch all these moments of inspiration and illumination I have begun to cull through the pages and note entries on my desk calendar. This exercise is usually how I occupy myself on road trips to Virginia with my husband or in other oddments of time.

Yesterday I came across an entry which illustrated dramatically the service art provides in my life as I pursue my creativity. The entry is dated September 7, 2008, only one week after I had launched my first blog, with the first post inspired in part by William Butler Yeats' poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion". Here is an excerpt from that entry:
" ... I hate it when I get testy ... As I wrote that ... I realized that perhaps the way to counter this feeling is to just keep returning to that warehouse in Melissa's dream.
"I must admit that the landscape of that dream is where I feel comfortable. You know, it feels honest. Is that strange? I don't mean it to be, but there, there among the discarded things, the broken things, "the sweepings of a street", for me in this time it is one of the few places that feel honest to me!"

Even now, over four months later, when I consider those words I know I hit the mark. There is no pretense in an abandoned place, a forgotten place, filled with abandoned, forgotten things and people if such places are occupied at all. There is no pretense about piles of refuse and decaying structures. Stripped of pretense and lacking artifice such places hold for me "heart mysteries there".

Now here I must note a paradox: I arrived at these heart mysteries in this forgotten place stripped of artifice - through artifice. With ingenuity, inventiveness, I found sanctuary.

Artifice practiced as creativity leads to what is honest, and what is honest is all we need to change the world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


There is me in my own little world - my newest home, my husband and family, my creative life - and there is me in the wider world, in this case the city of Atlanta. During every stage of my life I have enjoyed access to major metropolitan centers: Columbus, OH; Washington, DC; Milwaukee, WI; Orlando, FL; Norfolk, VA; Seattle, WA; Raleigh, NC. There is something so energizing and affirming about venturing out of my nest, out of my comfort zone, and wandering around among others to enjoy the stimuli of a city. There are discoveries out there, and treasures, and memories and they add zest and joy and laughter to my comfortable nest when I return.

On Sunday I explored a tiny section of Atlanta with a little point-and-shoot Canon, just to see what I could see. What diversity! Outside Hartsfield-Jackson Airport I encountered a massive sculpture of a penguin who looked to have been assembled from quite a jumble of scrap metal. He seemed also to have left some of his baggage on the sidewalk. Maybe, being made of discarded signs and license plates, the penguin decided that bag was too, too heavy!

In Centennial Olympic Park, against the backdrop of a building emblazoned with the sign EQUITABLE I saw the flags of Sweden, Great Britain, and our fair United States fluttering in the January chill. An equitable display indeed, I thought. Further along the city streets I found beautiful relief carvings decorating the entryway to the Candler Building (built by Asa Candler, founder of the Coca-Cola empire and a former mayor of the city) which is over one-hundred years old. It is quite beautiful and I plan to return and take the tour to learn more. Not far from the Candler I found the Flatiron Building, another spot to which I will return. This Flatiron Building predates the more famous structure in New York city by five years.

One of the last gems I happened across in my trek was this stunning steel sculpture outside the SunTrust building on Peachtree St. near the Hyatt Regency. I love the fluid, protean effect achieved with steel.

This feels like a lovely beginning to my sojourn here in the capital city of the Peach State. I am eager to head out again with a more sophisticated camera, in different light, and find more gems to share with you. Enjoy!