Sunday, 20 October 2019

Wise Words: Illusion

In my own body … I experience … movement, a shift from hope to betrayal, almost daily. Whenever I feel well for a period, my days seem to glisten like a pastoral idyll photographed through a soft lens. Even now, used to years of fluctuations, with each remission I am given to believe that the failures of my body are gone and I will be well forever. The temptation is to believe that finally I am in control, that I have taken on the right attitude, assumed a posture of strength, and cured myself. Only later, like a lover who is seduced and abandoned, am I dismayed, as slowly in the course of an hour, a day, or a week my symptoms gradually reappear. Then it is wellness that seems an illusion.

(Susan Griffin, What Her Body Thought: A Journey into the Shadows, HarperSanFrancisco: New York, 1999, pp. 30–31)

Friday, 27 September 2019


I think I am beginning to develop some fluency after many, many years of struggling to manifest my ideas in visual form. I feel a greater trust in the process now.

This new painting developed out of a spontaneous drawing I did one afternoon, and then refined into a symmetrical design (symmetry seems to be essential to me at the moment). At first I thought she was a river spirit, flowing as she does. But as I explored further, the word fluency came to me and took on significance. 

The word dates from the early 17th century, when it meant ‘abundance’, and then ‘smooth and easy flow’; originally from Latin fluentia, from fluere, meaning ‘to flow’.

The influence of water, and therefore fluidity, has been with me since the inception of this blog, seeing as its symbolism is so tied up with the drip/surge of creativity, with the offerings that I am attempting to draw up from my own imaginative wellspring to share with the world.

Thoughts of language and the way we use words and story have also been important, surfacing in poems like ‘A New Language’ and paintings like Necklace of Mouths and Mothertongue. It’s clear that we need to change the way we speak (and write), and I believe that poetry is a crucial part of this—and poetic art—along with listening to the voices of the ancestors, and the earth herself.

Meaningful words are still scarce for me, though some flow is beginning to return, which makes me very happy indeed. And the symbolic connections that I am finding in my images is also pleasing me greatly. 

This image of Aphrodite seated on a swan (or goose?) throne from 6th century BCE Greece was a core influence, with her hooded, columnar form. 

This I combined with that quintessential Goddess number—three—in the triangles, and the tri-lines emerging from the mouth (already seen in Rainmaker and The Broad One). I was also thinking of the chin tattoos of three or more lines (or more elaborate designs) that appear in numerous cultures, often on women, whether to represent something in particular, or merely for the purpose of beautifying the face. 

The three lines of Fluency—language, nourishment, creativity—flow down the length of the (seed-like or cocoon-shaped?) body, the two outer lines snaking dynamically—because Snake is never far away—while the central line travels straight. Perhaps this represents the stillness at the centre, flanked by the double motion of life and death, ebb and flow. Also, the movement is downwards, as that is my preferred trajectory, back to earth- and body-knowledge, rooted in matter. 

Forget outer space, I say. Go within!

The carved orthostats of the Neolithic, with their repetitive curves and spirals, which I have always found mysteriously evocative, were also on my mind. It was only later that I remembered the painted or engraved figurines so common to Old Europe, their bodies covered in lines and symbols, and thought: Of course! How could I have forgotten?

Not all connections are immediately apparent. They emerge as my thoughts twist and turn and tread over old ground, and I am pleasantly surprised.

The leaf- or flame-like shapes that sprout from the surface of the figure are perhaps the part that comes most from myself. These are lines of connection, or emanations of energy—little jewels of life and sensation.

I am so happy with this painting. She is serene, yet holds dynamism within. She speaks with and through her body, which sparks with aliveness. She is her own wellspring.

Through the silent waves, what does she say?

Fluency, watercolours and gouache on gesso prepared paper (2019)

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Heroines II

The second Heroines anthology is launched today, featuring my story, A New Land. It’s about an old Polish immigrant couple—Agnieszka and Gregor—and a mysterious nighttime visitor to their vegetable garden.

This tale (along with The Fisherman and the Cormorant, which appeared in the first anthology last year), is part of a series of stories I began to write as I completed Sharon Blackie’s online course, Sisterhood of the Bones (now called Sisters of Rock & Root). This course revolves—quite literally!—around the wheel of the year by examining each of the eight Celtic seasonal festivals, delving into the meanings and themes of each, and connecting it with an associated myth or folktale. 

When I began with Samhain in April 2016, my aim was to use the course to deepen my connection to the land I live on, not just by observing the seasonal changes, and thinking about how I could connect my embodiment here in Australia back to my European ancestry, but also to write a story for each seasonal celebration, thus creating my own local mythology. 

Each story would have a number of features: 

1. It would be set, obliquely or otherwise, at the time of the festival in question
2. It would take place either in, or in relation to, a real place near where I live, in the compass direction associated with the festival
3. It would feature, or at least refer to, an animal associated with the festival, though with an Australian twist

With each story I would take inspiration from the themes of the festival, the associated myth/folktale, or a combination of the two, along with what arose from contemplation of the places and animals.

I completed five of these stories, and was very excited about the possibility of self-publishing the whole series, perhaps with artworks too, before I became stuck. That I got stuck at the story for the summer solstice, one of the festivals I feel a little ambivalent about, says something. As does the idea of voicelessness that seems to need expression through it. I feel as if I have lost my voice over the past couple of years, and this is something I wish to overcome. 

That two of my stories from this mythic series have now been published suggests that I was onto something with this idea. At the very least it was enabling me to create more of a feeling of belonging with my own landscape, and that was a powerful thing. I miss that.

I don’t know if I will ever finish writing the series, though I dearly hope I will. Right now I am just trying to take heart from the fact that two of my stories have flown out into the world! For someone who only started writing fiction in 2014, that is a great achievement in itself.

Heroines: Volume II is available now from the Neo Perennial Press.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The Broad One

Here she is! 

The Broad One
Mother Earth
All-encompassing Mountain Mother

The Broad One, watercolours and gouache on gesso prepared paper (2019)
The inspiration for this painting came primarily from an image in one of the videos of the Cuban-American ‘earth-body’ artist, Ana Mendieta, whose work I have been exploring recently. This enigmatic winged and breasted being, incised into the wall of a limestone cave, as part of Mendieta’s Esculturas Rupestres (1981), was enough to spark a vision. (You can see a clearer image here.)

Screenshot from
The gushing fountains and spilling vessels of the late Meinrad Craighead’s work have also trickled into my consciousness. As have literal vessels—the many pots and jars that represent the body of the ancient life-giving goddess—unearthed from what was once Old Europe. 

Most of the work I have been doing this year has been ‘experimental,’ exploring the possibilities of new painting techniques, along with trying to tease strange and unexpected ideas from my own body-mind, so I am always pleased when something emerges that is successful. 

There is a pleasing symmetry to this mountain-vessel-fountain being who joins sky with earth, and moonlight with the glowing heart at the centre of things. She is Divine Source, bearer of water and light, keeper of stone and darkness. She is both weight and winged lightness, mother and devourer. I am so glad she has come.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Wise Words: Wild Body, Wild Mind

Our bodies are wild. The involuntary quick turn of the head at a shout, the vertigo at looking off a precipice, the heart-in-the-throat in a moment of danger, the catch of the breath, the quiet moments relaxing, staring reflecting—all universal responses of this mammal body. They can be seen throughout the class. The body does not require the intercession of some conscious intellect to make it breathe, to keep the heart beating. It is to a great extent self-regulating, it is a life of its own. Sensation and perception do not exactly come from outside, and the unremitting thought and image-flow are not exactly inside. The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in mind, in the imagination, than “you” can keep track of—thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream. The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out (and sometimes making expansionistic plots), and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They are both wild.

(Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild: Essays, North Point Press: New York, 1990, p. 16)

Friday, 9 August 2019

Wise Words: The Left-Hand Path

Many patriarchal “bad omens” are simply reversals of what was sacred to matriarchy and the Goddess religion. The left-hand path, in patriarchal religion, is called the path of evil, of woman, of black magic. The left side of the body, where the heart beats, was considered by the ancients to be the seat of divine feminine power; all life comes from her heart. The word sinister, which originally meant “left,” has come to mean everything suspicious, evil, ominous; while dextra, meaning in Latin “right,” or “right-handedness,” has acquired wonderful meanings like skillful, mentally clever, correct … That these connotations remain with us in modern politics is not accidental; the right is father-fascistic, the left is mother-communal.

(Monica Sjöö & Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, Harper One: New York, 1987/1991, pp. 157–158)

Left Hand, ball point pen on paper (2019)

Saturday, 3 August 2019

She is One, She is Two

At long last, my new painting—quite a lesson in perseverance—is complete. 

She is One, She is Two, watercolours and gold acrylic gouache on gesso prepared paper (2019)
The main inspiration for this piece was the Neolithic figurine of a dual goddess (perhaps a forerunner of later mother–daughter pairs, such as Demeter and Persephone) from Çatal Hüyük in modern day Turkey. I find this little figure, with two torsos sprouting from one lower body, quite evocative. Is she both mother and maiden as Anne Baring and Jules Cashford suggest in The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image? Is she a representation of the two integrated sides of the Goddess?—the interplay of light with darkness, full moon with new moon, life with death, matter with spirit—those dancing complementary opposites.

Baring and Cashford state, ‘we could anticipate that our habit of thinking in opposites might have dulled us into assuming that they are absolutes in themselves and not provisional distinctions of inseparable terms belonging to one underlying unity (my emphasis, p. 665). 

Thus, the simple truth: she is one, she is two.

Of course, this symbolism calls to mind the moon, which led me to the secondary inspiration: an image of Artemis from an Etruscan vase (6th century BC), wearing a dress decorated with squares and a cross and dot design. Baring and Cashford point out that these cross/fourfold designs, representing the lunar phases, date as far back as the Neolithic period!

I must also acknowledge that some inspiration came from my previous work, Rainmaker

My initial drawings for this painting also brought self-comfort to mind. The notion of being able to hold my own hand, to offer myself support when I feel alone. Of course, relationship with others is necessary, yet the relationship we have with ourselves provides the foundation for all else.

This work is far from perfect. There are mistakes. But she is born!

Now I am off in search of the next elusive image. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Wise Words: It Makes Me Ill

The Defense Department is in me, but don’t think it isn’t a menace on the outside as well. Someone, somewhere wants to be free and independent. Our Defense Department launches an offensive. It makes me ill. Someone wants to make an exorbitant profit and it affects my health. Someone puts something in my food which makes me ill. Someone puts something in the air which makes me ill. Someone puts something in the water which makes me ill. Someone radiates the soil which makes me ill. Someone builds weapons, the research and the manufacture of them alone, before their use, makes me ill. Someone defends these actions. A defense system, but it isn’t mine. Someone turns a deaf ear, which makes me ill. Someone says, “I will never listen to women.” It makes me ill. The system by and of and for these someones has made me ill.

(Deena Metzger, from Tree, in The Woman Who Slept with Men to Take the War Out of Them and Tree (two works in one volume), Wingbow Press: Berkley, California, 1978, 1981, pp. 145–146)

Monday, 8 July 2019

An Unlikely Heroine

I have some rather good news. Another of my stories is to be published in the next Heroines anthology, due out in September.

This is both wonderful and sad, for I wrote the story nearly three years ago, back when I was still able to write. 

I am unable to write stories now.

I began writing creatively at the beginning of 2014, starting tentatively, not knowing how, yet gradually being drawn more and more to create characters and settings, and to see where they led me. I experienced, from 2013 to 2017, a time of wonder. I had increased (though still limited) energy, and this is what made it possible, yet it was the newness of what I was learning and experiencing that drove me onwards. It was a time of profusion. The possibilities of my life expanded, my imagination flourished, and I felt like I had found not only what I wanted to do, but something that I could do, despite having CFS.

Perhaps I was naive. Maybe things went to my head. I forgot that nothing is certain when chronic illness is involved. 

So, there are mixed feelings about the impending publication of my story. There is a sense of hope. If my story can be selected (again!) from more than 100 submissions, then surely that means I can write well, given the right circumstances. But there is also a sense of defeat, for I am not in control of the circumstances. I do not know when I will be able to write again.

I’m trapped in a great tangle of possibilities and limitations, trying to make sense of it all, and not having much success at present.

It’s hard work being the heroine of my own life, but I must trust that I will find a way to save myself, to keep on living as best I can, whether I can write or not. 

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