Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day 2016

From NPR article:
And of course, that's very traumatic. It's very traumatic for me. Before a shoot, I don't have a storyboard. I don't know whether this person will be angry at the world — or maybe at me — or if they will break, how to deal with vulnerability. You have to be ready for the whole human condition to play out. You go in so raw. You just have to make very quick emotional decisions.
And sometimes I get it wrong.
How so?
I went to a lady's house. Her name is Jessica [Gray]. Her husband wrote an op-ed criticizing America's policy. Shortly after that, he was killed in Iraq. They'd recently had a little girl.
I'm setting up my studio in her living room. I'm dealing with a woman's pain and courage, facing a new life that's going to be difficult. That becomes consuming. I saw the flag they'd draped over his coffin and I said, "Would you be prepared to hold the flag?" She said of course and took the flag out of the box.
I asked her, how would you feel wearing a piece of his clothing in tribute to him? She said, that's a good idea. She had received a box of his clothing, it was at the base of the bed but she had not yet had the courage to open it. All his clothes, his Army T-shirts were in the box. She said, maybe now is the time to open it.
And then I thought, oh — what am I doing here?
She undid one latch. I undid the other. And as she lifted the lid, she burst into tears.
I felt so ashamed. I really blew it. I thought, for the sake of a photograph, you went too far. I said, "I feel so ashamed. I didn't want to hurt you. Let's not do this. This was a bad idea."
She said, "You don't know why I'm crying. I've just realized they washed his clothes and I wanted to smell him again." She said, "The pain is there whether I open the box or not. Now the box is open and I think I would like to wear his T-shirt."
This is not the look of a victim. This is the look of a woman trying to pull all her strength together to face the future.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The truth (dharma) was obscure, too profound and too pure

A mysterious song that has stayed with me for 38 years, especially the lines highlighted in green.  The lyrics frequently come to me when I wake up in distress.  I hear them sung out of context with the rest of the song, in fragments, and they bring with them something unerring and sustaining.

"Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat)"

There's a long distance train rolling through the rain, tears on the letter I write
There's a woman I long to touch and I miss her so much but she's drifting 
like a satelite
There's a neon light ablaze in the green smoky haze, and laughter down on
Elizabeth Street
And a lonesome bell tone in that valley of stone where she bathed
in a stream of pure heat
Her father would emphasize you got to be more than street-wise but he practiced 
what he preached from the heart
A full-blooded Cherokee, he predicted it to me the time and the place it 
would start.

There's a babe in the arms of a woman in a rage
And a longtime golden-haired stripper onstage
And she winds back the clock and she turns back the page
Of a book that nobody could write
Oh, where are you tonight ?

The truth was obscure, too profound and too pure, to live it you have to explode
In the last hour of need, we entirely agreed, sacrifice was the code of the road
I left town at dawn, with Marcel and St. John, strong men betitled by doubt

I couldn't tell her what my private thoughts were but she had some way of finding 
them out
He took dead-center aim but he missed just the same, she was waiting putting 
flowers on the shelf
She could feel my despair as I climbed up her hair and discovered her invisible self.

There's a lion in the road, there's a demon escaped
There's a million dreams gone, there's a landscape being raped

As her beauty fades and I watch her undrape
I won't but then again, maybe I might
Oh, if I could just find you tonight.
I fought with my twin, that enemy within, 'til both of us fell by the way
Horseplay and disease is killing me by degrees while the law looks the other way
Your partners in crime hit me up for nickels and dimes, the man you were loving 
couldn't never get clean
It felt outa place, my foot in his face, but he should-a stayed where his money 
was green
I bit into the root of forbidden fruit with the juice running down my leg
Then I dealt with your boss, who'd never known about loss and who always was too 
proud to beg
There's a white diamond gloom on the dark side of this room and a pathway that 
leads up to the stars
If you don't believe there's a price for this sweet paradise, just remind me to show 
you the scars.

There's a new day at dawn and I've finally arrived
If I'm there in the morning, baby, you'll know I've survived
I can't believe it, I can't believe I'm alive

But without you it just doesn't seem right
Oh, where are you tonight ?

Although I'm quite fond of of words, right now I'm remembering, too, a much-loved local jazz musician and teacher, deeply kind and compassionate, who died a few years ago and of whom it was said at his celebration of life, "Music was his religion." No words, no thoughts, no God, no Buddha, no dharma, no sangha.  Pure music alone sustained him, and the music he created lives on to sustain others.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bob Dylan / Painted from memory and from photographs

In a beginning painting class in the early 1980s, I painted an image of Bob Dylan in watercolor.  During the 1980s, I often used photos of Bob Dylan as a starting point for drawings and paintings.

Bob Dylan is 75 years old today.  Happy Birthday, Bob!  Thank you!

ADDENDUM:  Just for fun, here are some songs collected by Bob about "Friends and Neighbors":


Monday, May 23, 2016

Plague / Newborn babies wailing like a mourning dove

A cousin of mine brought this to my attention.

Just this morning I re-read the liner notes to Blood on the Tracks after a friend mentioned that he had just re-read them.  I remember standing in a record store in Bellingham in January 1975 reading those liner notes and weeping and then going home to listen for the first of many many times.  That was over 40 years ago.

The painting from 1990 above is titled "63rd Month / Talking 43-Hour Day With Roots Gathered From Coincidence."

This morning I woke up feeling something I couldn't define.  When I focused on the feeling, not the words about the feeling, my body sensations were minimal but murky and unpleasant nonetheless.  If pressed for a single word that matched the feeling, I could only come up with "flat." If asked for the color of the feeling, it would be a sickly tan.  Suddenly I heard Janis Joplin singing, "Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train, feeling just as faded as my jeans ..."

With that, the feeling shifted because I could hear a human voice singing accompanied by musical instruments.  The first time I heard that song was the morning my Richard arrived home from Vietnam.  We were riding in my 1965 Volkswagen, on our way out to the coast to surprise Richard's family, who didn't yet know that he was home.

Then I found this.

Don't know what else I want to say.  Don't know where I am going with this.  No easy answers.  Lots of questions.  Wait.  I know what I want to say.

We can refuse to live in fear.  We can know that we are not alone.  Any loving action, no matter how small, counts.

Friday, May 13, 2016


On my birthday last year, October 1, a friend left a card and a container of blooming red and yellow tulips at my front door.  When the tulips had finished blooming, I put the bulbs in a larger pot.  When tulip season, as I know it, came and went, I wondered why the bulbs hadn't come up.  Turns out they are late bloomers, blooming this year just after Mother's Day.  Now I'm curious about the out of focus stalk of volunteer flowers in the foreground of the first photo.  Any day now they will open, too.

Along with my Shasta Daisies and Sweet William:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Light in dark times / An open window to the Pacific Ocean / A Mother's Day gift

Coast Salish lands

Make sure to watch the video at 2 of 10 in the photo section of the article.

On Mother's Day, an old friend who is a year older than I am and is being treated for breast cancer suggested that we take an hour's drive to the beach just beyond the Deception Pass bridge.  More than 40 years ago, I had walked on the beach in the first photo but until Mother's Day this year, I had no knowledge that there was a beach with waves just around the point.  The Deception Pass State Park West Beach looks out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and out to the Pacific Ocean and then way way out across that vast ocean to Asia.

For years I have had a recurring dream that there is a beach with waves just down the road from Bellingham.  It is an exhilarating dream, filled with hope and promise and joy.  In the dream, I always ask myself how I could not have known that the open ocean was so close by.  Waking up from that dream was always bittersweet, and I would find myself yearning to return to my birthplace on the western side of California, where the open ocean is always so near.

A dream come true on Mother's Day.  There is a window to the open ocean, and that window is only an hour's drive from Bellingham.

Sweet that the land and sky and waters of the Coast Salish people are no longer threatened by the presence of coal port.

Sweet that the gift of good news came so close to Mother's Day.

The mother of us all.  Mother Earth.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day 1987 and 2016

My mother and I had a difficult relationship while she was alive, although today I am remembering the events surrounding Mother's Day in 1987.  I had traveled from Bellingham, Washington, to the bluffs of the Pacific Ocean in Gualala, California, where my parents lived. When I arrived, my parents suggested that we all go out to a restaurant for a champagne breakfast.  At the time, I didn't know that I was an alcoholic.  Because of the events that followed my last drink, a glass of champagne, in May of 1987, I eventually came to understand that I am an alcoholic.  On my 21st birthday, in 1970, my mother bought a bottle of champagne and said, "Okay, now you are old enough to drink.  Let's go down to the basement and have a glass of champagne."

Once alcohol enters my system, I experience what has been identified as the "phenomenon of craving," the defining element of a real alcoholic.  It is not a pleasurable mellow feeling.  It is as if a bottomless thirst for alcohol is the only thing that exists.  I had experienced that for quite some time when I drank alcohol, probably from my earliest experience with alcohol, but my solution to that was to "be careful." I had no idea that I was an alcoholic.  I attempted to control my drinking.  However, if one is an alcoholic, control is impossible. Impossible because of a craving that tells me that it must be satisfied or I will die.

The simple solution for me has been not to drink at all.  I have not experienced that terrible all-consuming craving since 1987.

Let us just say that I didn't stay in Gualala to be with my mother on Mother's Day.  I was off and running with a craving that took 3 weeks to quiet down.  During that time, I felt suicidal.  For some life-saving reason, I tried to address that craving and suicidal depression by eating massive amounts of sugar.  However, something did give me the presence of mind to go to a florist and arrange for flowers to be delivered to my mother a few days later on Mother's Day.  My mother was ecstatic upon receiving the flowers.  I felt a twinge of guilt and remorse when I saw the photo she sent a few weeks later of her, radiant, with the gift of flowers.  I felt I didn't deserve to be loved because I was so angry at her.  In the years since 1987, that has changed.

We all deserve to be loved and we can be angry with those we love as long as we need to be.

I was so angry at my mother that I never wanted to have children because I couldn't bear the thought of a child being that angry at me.  I was afraid of being like my mother.  I wonder if that fear and anger kept me from ever getting pregnant.  Who knows?

A few nights ago I dreamed that my mother prepared a gift for me that came in the form of a generous harvest of colorful winter squashes and pumpkins, arranged like a farmer's market display one might see in October, the month of my birth in 1949.

Below is a photo of my mother, Josephine, at Anchor Bay, California, a few miles north of Gualala.  The photo was taken by my father.   The photo at the top of the blog is of my mother as a single woman in the 1940s, passionate about horses.  One of the sacrifices she made in marrying my father and having children was that she rarely rode a horse ever again.  I remember her saying in the last years of her life that she would like to ride a horse one more time.  However, she had an ankle injury, sustained while riding a horse, that prevented her from doing that in the way she had a young woman.

Reconciliation after death is possible.  How?  I don't know, but I am experiencing it again today on Mother's Day.  Maybe my mother was an alcoholic, too.  Who knows?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Another view from the north side of the Columbia River gorge near Carson, Washington

Chuang Tau: "Bright Dazzlement asked Nonexistence, 'Sir, do you exist or do you not exist?' Unable to obtain any answer, Bright Dazzlement stared intently at the other's face and form -- all was vacuity and blankness.  He stared all day but could see nothing, listened but could hear no sound, stretched out his hand but grasped nothing.  'Perfect!' exclaimed Bright Dazzlement.  "Who can reach such perfection?  I can conceive of the existence of nonexistence, but not of the nonexistence of nonexistence.  Yet this man has reached the stage of nonexistence of nonexistence.  How could I ever reach such perfection?" (Chapter 22, "Knowledge Wandered North"

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Journeys / Being of use

Journeys bring power and love
back into you.  If you
can't go somewhere,
move in the passageways of the self.
They are like shafts of light,
always changing, and you change
when you explore them.

(Djalal Ad-Din Rumi)

Last Sunday, I drove nearly the entire length of the state of Washington to meet with a friend from childhood and her husband of at least 40 years (whom I had not met before) and their shy sweet Bernese Mountain Dog.  In order to adopt a puppy, they had driven up from their home in a small community which is located high in the mountains of southeastern California.  We met in Carson, Washington, a tiny town located on the Columbia River gorge.

My old friend and I met when we were 12 or 13 years old.  We used to walk to junior high school together.  In high school, we took long walks from our homes in suburban Redwood City, California, into the beautiful grassy hills to the east of Redwood City.  We walked there in the days before Highway 280 cut through those rolling hills, before the hills were filled to the brim with houses, while the Vietnam War was still raging.  We were not part of the "in crowd."  We were both odd and eccentric and enjoyed each other's company.  My family went to church.  Her family didn't.  I remember the time she brought me to a Buddhist festival in Palo Alto.  We belonged to a small loosely connected group of young women who lived within walking distance of each other and went to the same high school.  Below is a photo of three of us.  If my memory serves me well, the photo was probably taken at the 16th birthday gathering for my old friend.  That would have been in 1965.  We are all wearing "Beatle" hats.  Her father was a psychiatrist. Their home was filled with books.

Here are the senior yearbook photos of my friend and me.  Neither of us enjoy being in front of a camera:

My parents chose that photo of me because they paid for the photos. I'd love to see the rest of photos and see what was not chosen by them.

After we graduated from high school in 1967, one of the things my friend did was become a surfer, and she spent weekends surfing in Santa Cruz.  Another thing she did was go to Stanford University, following the tradition of both of her parents.  After graduating from Stanford with a degree in English Literature, she went to law school and had a long career as a lawyer.  Her husband was a conscientious objector and, as a result of his alternative service in a library which had early computers, he had a long career in the field of computers.

In 1967, I left Redwood City to attend the University of California at Irvine, studying Art and English Literature.  My friend and I kept in touch.  She visited Irvine.  I visited her at Stanford.  It was the time of protests against the Vietnam War.  The man she loved achieved conscientious objector status.  The man I loved was drafted in April of 1969.  He was a high school dropout and a surfer.  We considered going to Canada.  He met with draft counselors in Oakland on the day before he went to Vietnam but felt sure that he would not be granted conscientious objector status.  He did not want to go to prison (although he ended up in prison years later for drug and alcohol-related offenses).  He did not want to go to Canada.  He made the fateful decision to go to Vietnam, serving as a helicopter mechanic, returning as a drug-addicted war-haunted man in December of 1970. We lived together for nearly 5 months.  We separated in the first weeks of May 1971 after a terrifying episode where the violence of the war that haunted him was directed at me.

In 1973, in an attempt to go on with my life, I left California.  My friend and I gradually lost touch with each other, although I did visit her at her law office in the early 1980s, and she contacted me
in the early 1990s.

A year ago, during the December holidays, she wrote a note letting me know that she and her husband had moved from the San Francisco Peninsula to a remote place in the Sierras.

That note led to our respective journeys to Carson, WA.

What got me started on this post was reading this article about Daniel Berrigan who died yesterday at age 94.

You have to struggle to stay alive and be of use as long as you can. 
(Daniel Berrigan)

I've also been listening to George Harrison's final album and wanted to share these thoughts from
George Harrison:

Lyrics from "Brainwashed":

The soul does not love.  It is love itself.
It does not exist.  It is existence itself.
It does not know.  It is knowledge itself.
How to Know God, page 130

And then I've also been meaning to share Joni Mitchell singing "God Must Be A Boogie Man."

May Love bless and keep us always.