2017 Scene and Story #8: A Self-Portrait

A dear friend who is now passed once explained that, in her opinion, beautiful things could magnify your essence. She felt it was important to surround yourself with carefully chosen colors, textures, and sounds. She had a powerful, resonant singing voice and wore bold glittery eye makeup every day. 

I started making art earlier this year because I realized that all the women I looked to (then and now) for inspiration had compelling style. The backdrop for their words was visually stunning and graceful. 

I wasn't fooled by the effortless appearance of their real-world or online presence. I understood that they had cultivated a sense of beauty and had honed it purposely to enhance who they were. 

In keeping with my word of the year: IGNITE, I have pushed myself outside the cozy boundaries of writing. Needing original photos for my blog, I dove into aperture, shutter speed, and stillness. Framing shots led to macro photography, patterns, visual storytelling, the golden ratio in nature, and playing with light. 

Wanting a mock-up for my first book cover, I began sketching, which led to charcoals, watercolors, and hand lettering. Each new skill I add to my repertoire has opened a dozen other doors for me artistically. I see tiny improvements in my efforts each day. 

The act of writing doesn't take up much physical space. Even so, devoting a third of my desk to art supplies is a big change. It's hard not to make art when the tools are right in front of you. 

Beyond creating expressive charcoal sketches, and delicate watercolor floral wreaths, I also started wearing mascara and shoes that are not flip-flops --another deceptively small change in my daily routine that makes a huge difference in the expectations I have for myself.  

In short, I've been igniting the fears that stop me from trying new things. 

For all of 2017, I'm joining Sarah from Paisley Rain Boots and Lee from Sea Blue Lens for a monthly Scene and Story Linkup. They are a couple of the women I look to for my photography and style inspiration!

Wonder Women

A couple of years ago I noticed that I had trouble sleeping during nights of the full moon.

It was curious, standing in a moonbath at 1:00 in the morning that first time. It felt sneaky. I remember being surprised by the naughty smile on my face and then wondering why it felt so naughty.

The solitude, my bare feet, the peace, and the eerie glow on the greenery all felt very natural and wild.

I didn't consciously track the moon cycles for some time after that night, but an increasingly restless mind and body would tell me when a full moon was nearing. I simply began to pay more attention.

It eventually occurred to me that if I tracked these cycles, I could plan activities around them. I wouldn't be changing the path of the moon or holding back the ocean tides, but I could learn more about the cycles and plan for times of lower and higher energy. I began to act intentionally in harmony with nature.

Women always find a path back to their truth.

Energy workers
Jewish Mystics

Within whatever limitations they are raised, women all seem to find their way back to the divine feminine. They might unearth it, listen to a whisper, see it in a dream, read it in a book, or conjure it during meditation. "It" might be crushing herbs between her palms, keeping a secret stash of oils, chanting a soothing mantra, dancing freely, or walking alone in the moonlight.

Yesterday I began reading Witch: Unleashed. Untamed. Unapologetic. by Lisa Lister. It's one woman's experience with ancestral traditions and modern-day rituals that women can use to heal themselves. My favorite line from the text is a mantra she suggests to her readers: "It is safe for me to be powerful." I liked it so much because it doesn't quite feel true for me yet. It's a prayer and a wish.

I loved discovering that I already do a lot of the things she mentions, yet never recognized the connection between those self-care practices and what some have called witchcraft. I also noticed that most of my yoga friends and religious friends do a lot of the things she discusses. 

They just call them different things. It was a light bulb moment to realize that we might package it differently and put different rules around it, but we're really all just re-discovering that things that women have known for centuries: that we are a source of life and healing.

Without fear of being labeled demonic or dangerous, women are free to be who they really are. They will gravitate toward purposeful, soulful acts meant to reconnect to their inner wisdom. They will fully embrace their light and dark parts and become healthier human beings. Wonder Women.

Love without Trust

I read back through some old posts today and found a Yogi Bhajan quote that I shared: "Love without trust is like a river without water."

There are people in my life whom I love, but whom I don't trust with my feelings. I don't share myself with them. I'm a human shell that provides carefully calculated reactions to their actions. So what is that relationship exactly?

Is that really love?

It takes all the tools in my spiritual shed to be around them. I reinforce my emotional boundaries before being in their presence. I have to repeat to myself, " I'm okay. I'm safe. The entire universe is within me," while they say racist, homophobic, or generally close-minded things.

I have to choke back the urge to say, "Where did you read that statistic?" or "Do you hear yourself dehumanizing other people right now?" Inevitably, it will boil down to faulty religious doctrine mixed with a desperate need to validate their own choices. 

And all at once, my roiling anger will be washed away when I recognize their deep untouched pain.

A few years ago, I might have blamed my visceral reactions on anxiety issues. (Because it's the annoying cousin of depression, of course.) I now realize that I cannot tolerate hatefulness or controlling behavior. 

I also understand that when someone has been hurt so profoundly, they might deny it to protect themselves and then turn their pain out onto everyone around them. They build up walls and define things in their minds with immovable SHOULDs and SHOULDN'Ts. They lie to themselves constantly. They actively choose blindness. They're scared.

But it IS love.

Because I'm still going to sit and look them in the eyes while they rant in the opposite direction of compassion. I'll follow them as far as I can and still hug them at the end. I'm going to do the work to uphold my boundaries to be in their presence because I love them.

I will refrain from trying to educate them or change their minds because any argument will fortify their fear and anger and push them farther away from the truth.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite person in the world is:

It's the ultimate expression of love. I'm going to let you believe what you want to believe even if I know it hurts other people, and I'm going to believe what I believe without forcing it on everyone around me.

I read a mind-bending article this week called "We're Going to Need More than Empathy." Rather than empathizing with people via our commonalities, I will reach beyond that to empathize with their otherness. 

If I can reach the beating heart in the other, a connection will have been made. That's the best I can do.

It's the biggest kind of love.

2017 Scene and Story #7

June was hectic. Not on the outside, but inside my mind. It was a time for waiting, processing, and patience. Instead of creating, I wished I was creating. I kinda hate those times, but I'm learning that they are part of the natural cycle. It's not always the harvest. Likewise, I'm not always writing the next great novel.

I stayed close to home and took lots of pictures in my backyard. 

Here is my favorite because Aaaawww:

Here he was a moment later because peaches are sticky:

This squirrel hopped up onto the railing letting me capture another private investigator-type shot:

A young bird had been cheeping for its mama for quite some time, but I couldn't quite see where he was hiding. Then I spotted him with a treasure in its beak:

Here is a ninja I spotted hopping down from the slide:

For all of 2017, I'm joining Sarah from Paisley Rain Boots and Lee from Sea Blue Lens for a monthly Scene and Story Linkup. They are my photography inspiration!

What is THE Patriarchy?

Patriarchy means males are in charge. They make decisions for everyone, have the only voices in the community, and are recognized as leaders. If their goals and tactics happen to align with everyone else's, the status quo prevails. If people disagree with their goals and tactics, male leaders can force others to submit to their will, or they can be benevolent and share the governing peaceably with others, thus enforcing the status quo. 

We don't live in caves, hunt, forage for nuts and berries to survive, or migrate as a clan for safety and warmth anymore, but we still have patriarchy.

Here's my definition of THE Patriarchy:

These are the more insidious parts of our modern society that promote men over women. They're the parts that we grew up with and that people forget to question. They are ingrained in our media, families, religions, schools, and workplaces. Anyone, regardless of gender or understanding, who participates in that kind of "might makes right" society is part of The Patriarchy. 

For example:

1. Christian girls grow up hearing about a Heavenly Father and his son who was the only one capable and worthy of paying for our sins. 

They learn to be chaste and modest for this is pleasing. On top of lessons about conditional love, they begin to understand their sexual nature as inherently bad. There is no mention of a Heavenly Mother. Most Christians even learn that Eve caused the downfall of humanity because she was disobedient and wanted to eat the fruit from the tree and gain wisdom.

It takes years of de-programming, and a woman's willingness to redefine divinity to heal the wounds believing in an angry Old Testament God can cause. It's the ultimate story of ruling by fear, and the ultimate validation of "Might Makes Right" for boys and girls.

2. Here is an example of a less obvious consequence of having a male-focused society. Most of the studies that have been done about heart attack symptoms focused on men. When women have heart attacks, they are more likely to die because their symptoms are "atypical."  Since women can have different warning signs than men, they may not know they're having a heart attack until it's too late. In this case, not being a man is "atypical." 

I don't think there's a nefarious group sitting around a table somewhere plotting the death of women, purposely giving out misinformation about heart attacks. It's just that everything is naturally male-centric in a patriarchal society until someone recognizes it and works to reshape it. In this example, it would take enough people getting angry by the skewed state of affairs, to raise funds for women's heart attack research and education campaigns.

Here are links to more examples of women's unique vulnerabilities in 2017:


Lack of Affordable Education for Women Who Need it the Most

The Purity Myth

RapeKit Backlog

I normally only share my thoughts about feminism with like-minded friends, but if I never reach out to others and explain my beliefs, I'm part of the problem.

This is a follow-up to a post about healthy anger from last week. By the stats, it was one of the most widely read things I've written to date. It was also suggested that I remove the "aggressive" part at the end to make it suitable for a wider audience.

I was grateful for the reader feedback, and also did a face-palm, because oh my goodness a woman says she's going to work on not denying her anger, and it's labeled "aggressive." 

That is the Point I was trying to make. We are taught to keep quiet. Stay still. Stay ashamed. Don't question. Don't even breathe. Just take it. Round out your hard edges. Conform to the ideal of passive womanhood. Be nice. Be sweet. Don't offend. Ssshhhh.

Be youthful and pure. Don't paint your face like a whore. Don't be shallow. Don't sully yourself, but be kitten-like and attractive to men. Save it. Smile more. Pluck your eyebrows. Now give it away with no reservations. And stop, because now you're too old.

It's no wonder that women forget to listen to their bodies. We're used to everyone else telling us how to use our bodies, and judging every decision against impossible standards.

Some people are happy with the way things work and don't want the kind of changes that would promote women. I think that when a patriarch -who brags about crotch-grabbing- is the President, it's time to do something different.

THE Patriarchy, in its most oppressive form, just got a huge fist bump in the locker room.

That is the patriarchal crap I want to roast in the metaphorical flames from my last post. 

My question to people who found this aggressive: 

What are you afraid of? 

  • People around us gaining respect and being treated as equally important as the next human

  • Learning how people want to be addressed when you speak to them

  • Listening to people's stories to expand your perceptions of oppression and freedom

How do those things take away from you? Do you recognize my definition of The Patriarchy? Are you okay with it? Are you complicit?

I suspect that the answer has to do with a flawed mindset based on lack. Believing there is only enough power, love, or respect for so many people would lead a person to guard his/her power. In reality, if everyone felt empowered, whole, and supported, the world would be full of art, and overflowing with genius. 

The men in my life are unquestionably loving and compassionate. They're progressive enough to understand that they benefit from the patriarchy and call it what it is. It doesn't take anything away from them for the women in their lives to fully realize their worth and power. We are all stronger for it, in fact.

My point is that feminists aren't usually anti-man. They're anti-oppression and pro-woman. Feminism is for everybody, after all. 

Here's what I'm afraid of:

If mostly white men remain in charge, and we continue to vote them into office, no other voices will be represented. With no other views in the mix, patriarchal domination gives us policies that favor the status quo, at best. At worst, they will begin to chip away at protections for women (and anything else that can be labeled as "other") because they've lived with the benefits of identifying as males their entire lives. 

It's probably because I'm 40 now, but I care a lot less about seeming "nice" than I did 20 years ago. I stand by my original post. 

The Importance of Anger

My word for the year is Ignite.

Burning shit down this year.

And it feels incredible.

A dear friend shared an article with me several weeks ago from The Book of Life. It was about how depression may not simply be profound sadness. The author suggested that depression "is a kind of anger that has been unable to find expression, that has turned in on itself...”

I skimmed it, nodding my head, and thought, That makes sense.

I read it again much more slowly and felt a deep stirring. I sat silently with this new perspective for a few weeks.

“…we have been taught, probably since earliest childhood, that it isn’t very nice to be angry. Anger violates our image of ourselves as kindly and sympathetic people. It can be too painful and guilt-inducing to acknowledge that we may feel furious and vengeful, not least towards people whom we otherwise still love and who might have made many sacrifices on our behalves.”

I have anger.

It scares me.

People might be afraid of me.

I might be afraid of me. 

I might burn my bridges and turn to ash if I express my anger.

“…we might be bad at getting angry because we haven’t seen examples of successful expressions of anger around us. We might associate the word with volcanic crazed destruction, as dangerous as it is counter-productive. Or else we might have lived for too long surrounded by people who never dared to raise their voices and bitterly swallowed every hurt instead. We have not learnt the art of a controlled and cathartic conversation.”

Anger doesn't have to be crazed.

Anger is real.

Denying it will breed sickness and dis-empowerment.

Misplaced anger can be turned out onto people who don't deserve it.

“The way out of this sort of depression is to realise that its alternative isn’t cheerfulness, but mourning. Mourning is a useful word for it indicates a focused kind of grief over an identifiable kind of loss.” 

I wasn't sure what to make of this "mourning." Was I supposed to cry about my stuff? I was annoyed by this solution. Crying is great, but it wasn't time for that anymore. 

In the same stretch of weeks, I participated in imagery as part of an unrelated creative exercise. Imagery is a relaxation tool I use regularly. Another person reads a script and guides you into a dreamscape of your own creation. You breathe deeply, relax your body and follow along to a recorded voice. You don't talk back. It's all in your mind. 

People use it to relieve anxiety, get answers to questions, and connect with their intuition. I love it because it gives me the chance to find the truth that wouldn't otherwise reveal itself. In this instance, I was using it to explore my creativity.

Without my everyday thoughts getting in the way, I was led on a journey to meet the Queen of Fire. I was asked to walk toward a door in a landscape of my own imagining. Mine was a non-descript door on a blank canvas of pure white, almost fake-looking. The facilitator's voice whispered, "Now open the door. What does your queen look like?"

In my mind's eye, the door blew apart in a fiery blast. I looked down at my scaly dragon body. I had willed the door to be gone, and in its place, there was charred earth split by glowing molten rock as far as the eye could see in every direction.

The awakening took my breath away. Watching the churning cycle of earth being heated and cooled was cathartic. It was clear that I had been boxing up anger in an attempt to be neat and polite. I wanted to be together and stable, not ranty and riled-up. 

But am I riled up, and there's no need to be apologetic about it.

My word of the year, the article, and the guided meditation all pointed to a more complete me. One who acknowledges anger and transmutes it into raw power and informed decisions.

Rather than keeping my dragon chained up in the dark, I'll fly on her back, running my hand over the spot between her ears while she roasts patriarchal bullshit in her flames. 

My Great-Grandfather Was a Blogger

I'm a family history nut. Name a period of history and I'll tell you where each of my ancestors was at the time and how they might have been involved.

I don't have many pictures or physical documents, but after visiting an aunt who treasures those things as much as I do, I was able to touch old songbook pages, look at handwriting, and hear stories about those ancestors.

One of them is my great-grandfather, John. His mother (featured in this blog post) was a God-fearing woman who had three husbands and thirteen children. Every photo I have of her contains a Bible. John was born and raised in the South. I've been told he was a formidable man with a photographic memory. He taught at a singing school and published his own songs of worship.

My great-grandfather with his first wife and daughter

More interesting than the songs he wrote, were the pamphlets he published and distributed. He was the blogger-type of his day. He wanted his voice to be heard, so he recorded the things that weighed on his heart and mind, and then shared them with anyone who cared to read it.

It's surprising that I can find commonalities between my guiding philosophy and his. I'm decidedly irreligious because the damaging judgmental parts of the doctrine and culture outweigh the inspiring parts for me. I am deeply in love with divinity, goodness, light, and even gospel, though.

We both used our voices to educate. We just came at it from different places.

It was touching to find that fiery passion drove him and a lot of my ancestors to use their voices this way. I had claimed that for myself. Now I have gratitude for all the people who came before me, too. I see that I've built my truth on their foundations. I'm even happier to have left a record of my voice for posterity, as well.

In contrast to the "Damning the Wicked" messages of my forefathers, if I published a pamphlet, it would be called:

You Are Worthy of Joy

My modern-day interpretation of hell is believing that you're irredeemable. It's letting the uninformed opinions of the masses stamp out the embers of joy, hope, and delight that still glow.

Instead of worrying about burning in the fires of that hell, light a match and throw it over your shoulder every day if you have to. Heap love and kindness onto the flames until you are the violet flame of transmutation. 

It takes a while to overwrite false programming. One of my mantras is:  Joy isn't something you have to earn. Your worth isn't tied to your actions. 

One of the women I follow online Christie Inge says, "Worthiness is intrinsic. It can't be proven or earned." The more I seek, the more I find modern-day teachers like me who are working to spread a different message.

If I listen to the voice that feeds my discontent and reminds me of my purpose, it says, "You don't have to stand there trying to hold back that river.  You are every little drop in that river. You are the river. You are all the water."

2017 Scene and Story #6

I love this picture because:

1. The progression from left to right shows the decay, the full bloom, the tender petals about to open, and the potential marigold all in one shot. 

2. I felt proud of how still I needed to be to take a clear shot. It was a special moment for a caffeine-junkie with anxiety.

3. The rich fiery colors against the cool gray planter make me smile.

I took dozens of pictures this month. I count that as another win for my developing love for photography. 

Here are a few more buds and blooms: 

For all of 2017, I'm joining Sarah from Paisley Rain Boots and Lee from Sea Blue Lens for a monthly Scene and Story Linkup. They are my photography inspiration!

2017 Scene and Story #5

It had been raining for days, and it would continue to rain until there was widespread flooding in our region.

One afternoon for about an hour though, the sun reached through a break in the clouds. When the quality of light changed, everyone in the house turned their faces to the windows. They started moving a little faster.

It was as if we had all been on slo-mo and only just realized it.

I grabbed my camera and took one of my kids to the park. I'm not sure we spoke words. We slid on our rain boots and left.

This is the series of photos I shot while my son scouted for photogenic wildlife and jumped in puddles.

This is my favorite. It looks like heaven to me:

The light is hopeful. The varied green tones are refreshing. 
This picture is what I want my brain to feel like on the inside.

Spring Day Haiku:

More happy snapshots 
of a short, glorious hour 
the sun remembered

A squirrel playing peek-a-boo

For all of 2017, I'm joining Sarah from Paisley Rain Boots and Lee from Sea Blue Lens for a monthly Scene and Story Linkup. Visit them and all the other contributors. They are my photography inspiration!

It's My Face

I'm in a journaling group. One of the prompts was to write about your physical body. I was prepared to stretch boundaries and discover things. I never made it, though. I came to a screeching halt at my face. I've been journaling about it for days. There's a lot to say.

There's a popular term called Resting Bitch Face or Bitchy Resting Face. I have to admit I lost my mind laughing when I heard it years ago. I totally have that.

I own it.

But I like to call it Stoic Russian Mennonite Face. Half of my ancestors were Russian Mennonites. You know why they had those faces? They had been kicked out of country after country because they were pacifists. They believed people should be able to choose baptism for themselves after a certain age and that church and state should be separate. At the time, rulers were aligned with religions that baptized infants. My ancestors were a threat to social stability. Mennonites and the like were seen as radical and dangerous.

Every few decades, they'd settle in a country, work the land, contribute medical service or other labor in place of going to war. Eventually, the governments of the day would take their developed land, change the rules and say fight or leave. Most would move on, newly destitute. Others would stay and be sent to work camps or killed.

They led simple lives and believed that simplicity, toughness, and self-reliance made them better people. Imagine a Mama who just gave birth to her tenth child and is filling the outdoor oven with fuel by hand to get the fire to just the right temperature and bake bread for her family. She'll scrape the burnt part of the bread and make coffee from the scrapings. Bitchy. Resting. Face. 

Compared to that upheaval and diaspora, my life is cake. I still have "stuff'" though. I'm getting older. The laugh lines are mixed up with the stress cracks in my forehead. I have a zillion things going on in my head at once. Sometimes that's because of mania, but most of the time, it's due to motherhood and being a writer. 

Thinking about if my son has pink eye, scraping peanut butter out of the nearly empty jar, having a spark of an idea for a novel, and listening to my daughter tell me about her day all at the same time looks like hostile anger on my face. I can't help it. 

After days of writing about my hangups with my face, the most important discovery I made was that it's one more arena where I don't have control. It's one more chance to practice getting my respect from me, and me only. I can't control how people see me. I have to remember that I'm whole and I understand me, and I don't need other people to do that for me.

I've been labeled a snob, spacy, cranky, aloof, stuck-up (my perennial favorite), and bitchy because of my facial expressions. Oh well. I can't be me and contort my face to other people's liking. 

I also have no control of a culture that celebrates pleasing, demure women. I am that person sometimes and I recognize when it works in my favor. Other times, I let the gray grow out and eschew makeup. I yell at my kids in public (when it's absolutely necessary) and I see people scurrying away. 

I even kinda like it. I put on a large flowery mental housedress, cross my arms and flex my peasant-born man-back. I curl my top lip enough to look unapproachable and think, "Ya, this is my face." It's the best way to fully accept the shadowy parts of my nature and that feels fantastic.

Because this post wouldn't be complete without photos:

This is one of my great-great grandmothers. She had 3 husbands and 13 children. 
Isn't she pleasing and demure? 

(Not a Russian Mennonite, but every picture I have of her contains a Bible. 
Her son and grandson would go on to become outspoken evangelists in the South.)