Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Persistence of Red

It’s a typical Sunday afternoon. My son is upstairs with a friend, painting a cardboard playhouse. I’m downstairs tapping away on the computer, struggling to meet a weekend deadline. Every so often I call my son’s name, and in response I hear a giggle or a laugh float down the stairs.

As a mother, especially the mother of a boy, I try not to hover. Still, the lack of running, stomping, or jumping noises that usually accompany my son’s play finally become too much for me to bear. Taking a break from writing, I am about to head upstairs when the doorbell rings. It’s the mother of my son’s friend, and because she is also a friend of mine, we stand chatting in the hall for sometime before I notice her gaze drift over my shoulder. Her eyes widen as I hear the sound of my son laughing behind me. I turn to see him standing shirtless on the stairs, grinning from ear to ear, the entirety of his torso, arms and back painted bright blue. His face is red with blue accents, and there is blue paint smeared into his hair. His friend stands behind him, paintbrush in hand, with just as big of a smile on his face.

I don’t know what to say, honestly, only that this isn’t the first time in my life I’ve been caught off guard by color. My son is a very imaginative child, and also a lucky one, because I’m not the type of parent who goes off the deep end over the things like this. I have lived long enough to realize the difference in a real emergency and a minor inconvenience. A quick shower, a change of clothes and a wet rag to remove the blue handprints from the stairway, and all is back to normal…or something like it.

Color has a way of surprising us sometimes; of making us stop and reconsider the way we look at things. I never could have imagined that my son would stroll downstairs that afternoon looking like an extra from the cast of Avatar, just as I never could have imagined the birch forests of Finland until I stood before them and allowed my eyes, so used to seeing trees in black or brown, adjust to the sight of rows and rows of white trunks stretching to the sky. A change of color challenges our perspectives. If you don’t believe this, go paint one of the rooms in your house a completely different shade than it currently is, and see if you don’t feel just a bit differently when you step inside.

But the absence of color can also have a profound affect on the spirit. The dull skies of winter can seep into our psyche; make us feel heavy and leaden somehow. We muddle through January in a grey daze, then February comes, and we rejoice at the sight of the blue sky above us and purple crocus peeking up through the grass. We know these things mean spring is coming, and with it, the rainbow of shades that have been missing for so long. Winter, for all practical purposes, is a black and white season, the only real color being the occasional sighting of a red cardinal on bare branches.

This brings me to red, the most dominant color in the rainbow. Red is the color of the life-blood that pulses within us, of the sash that angers the matador’s bull, of signs that tell us over and over again to ‘STOP’. I don’t wear red, because it’s much too fierce a statement for me to make with clothes. I have a few accessories in red, but for the most part, I shy away from this shade. Red is strong, independent, and assertive, traits that both sexes possess, but girls are far too often taught to subdue. Growing up, there was always some adult reigning in my personality, reminding me there were different expectations for girls, which mostly centered on being quiet and passive. Red is neither quiet nor passive. As a child, it was my favorite shade, but there would come a time I would associate red with things I wanted to forget. I would put it out of my mind, out of my wardrobe, out of my life.

But red is fierce. It does not go quietly into the night. I open a new knitting book and the first project is an Isis stole in red. I’m given a gift by a dear friend of bright red earrings. And, at my monthly poetry meeting, we each write a phrase down on paper and put it into a bag. The assignment is to create a poem based on the words you choose. It’s my turn, and I slip my hand into the bag and pull out a piece of paper. I look down at the words I’ve chosen, and I almost laugh out loud, for my phrase is “the color of red.”

Colors have meaning, symbolism, and special places in our souls. We all have personal connections and associations with colors, and these thoughts and feelings are as unique as we are. Think of a color that is a favorite of yours and write about it. Or better yet, choose a color you dislike, and use it as a subject for a journal entry or a poem. Write not only about the color itself, but what it is that draws you to it, or makes you feel compelled to turn away from it. This is a very simple poetry/writing exercise that can yield delightful results and growth. Sometimes all we need to get going is just the right prompt!

Happy writing!

The Persistence of Red

The only promise they ever made
to one another
was not to disappear.

And so it was the only one broken.

He disappeared completely
leaving behind
a trail
of red words.

“You are the least colorful artist
I’ve ever known,” she remembers a friend
She surveys her wardrobe
filled with grey and black and white
and knows her friend is right.
But how can she tell anyone
that the colors
all disappeared
when he did?

Except for one, of course.
The color of love.
The color of pain.
The color of trust,

She sits before the easel now
and dips a brush into the
deepest black.
She layers it over
the color of red,
but it persists in her memory,
just like his last words to her.

She persists as well.

Gazing at the red before her
she dips the brush into black once more
and wonders if persisting
leads to healing.


View this article, and many others, at

Monday, January 17, 2011

To Be, Or Not To Be, BOLD

A dear friend asked me once what I wanted from life, and I didn’t have a clear answer to give her. After all, it’s an open ended question, bound to have different answers at different times of one’s life. But I know I need to give her a response, and so I think about it for a moment.

What do I want from life?

And the answer comes like waves crashing into the shore: I want to be bold.

Well, that may not make a lot of sense initially, but think about it for a second…what does being bold really mean? Taking a brave step? Going out on a limb? Or just facing up to a nasty neighbor who insists on using his leaf blower to redecorate your lawn? Boldness is a way of life, unlike bravery and courage, which are typically attributes that we can all call upon ourselves to have from time to time. Boldness is living fiercely, taking risks, and making sure that the adventure of our life is never, ever typical.

I was introduced recently to the ancient myth of Ariadne and Theseus, famous lovers from Ancient Greek mythology, and their story is one of boldness…mainly Ariadne’s boldness, and Theseus’ lack of it. I’m trying to decide if it’s a sad or happy tale, and like many Greek myths, it appears in a variety of forms, with different endings. But after doing a little research, I found the one most common telling of the tale goes as follows: Ariadne was a special young woman who possessed an ability to defeat the Minotaur, who lived at the center of a labyrinth. Her secret was a ball of yarn, red yarn, a special fiber used to find one’s way out of a labyrinth that no one had ever escaped alive. But the labyrinth belonged to her family, the minotaur was her half brother. She never thought to use her gift, until she saw Theseus.

He’d come to slay the Minotaur, and when the duskily beautiful Ariadne first cast her black eyes onto the handsome, fair-headed warrior, she was in love. She knew that even if Theseus defeated the Minotaur, he would never find his way out of the ever-changing labyrinth, and thus, she changed history by being bold enough to take the chance of helping the handsome Athenian. She knew if she were discovered assisting him, she’d be cast out of her family, never to be allowed to return to her homeland, possibly even killed. She knew the risks, but Ariadne also knew what it meant to love another person completely. And so she shared with Theseus the magic of the red fiber, and he defeated the Minotaur and found his way out of the labyrinth.

Theseus pledged love to Ariadne and took her away with him when he sailed from Crete back to his home in Athens. But it was a long journey, and Theseus began to have second thoughts along the way. He began to fear the reaction of his fellow Athenians if he pulled ashore with this dark foreigner. He was a prince, after all. It could create trouble in his kingdom to have a Creten bride. Despite his affection for Ariande, he began to believe that his life would be simpler without her in it. And so Theseus took the easy, albeit cruel, way out. He pulled his ship ashore on the island of Dia, telling the lovely Ariadne to take a nap on the shore while he checked on the ship. And while she was sleeping, Theseus set sail for Athens. He never returned.

There are differerent versions of what happened next…but the one I use here tells that Ariadne woke up, realized Theseus was gone, and was devastated. She couldn’t believe that this man, whom she had loved and risked so much for, would abandon her so coldly without an explanation. She spent days, weeks, and then months watching the shore, waiting to see the sail of her beloved’s ship. But of course, it never came. She was sad for a long, long time, but then one day, she summoned the same boldness that had given her courage to love and save Theseus and applied that to her own life. She made a new home on the island of Dia, learned the native language and customs as easily as she would have in Athens, and began to be a happy, productive member of Dian society. She still watched the sea, however, and one day she saw a ship’s mast looming on the horizon. Her heart soared…but it wasn’t Theseus who pulled into shore. It was the dashing and truly bold Dionysis, who took one look at her and saw all the wonderful attributes Theseus had seen but not been bold enough to claim. And Ariadne saw in Dinoysis a true adventurer of spirit, someone whose boldness matched her own, a man who wasn’t intimidated by a woman’s strength, but instead, reveled in it.

And what became of Theseus? Oh, he had a pretty good life, I suppose. He returned home and fell into typical patterns for a young prince of his day. He would become king through his birth, not by his own doing. He wasn’t as lucky in love as Ariadne, for he would never again find someone who loved him the way that she had. He’d marry twice and be betrayed by each wife. Ariadne would become immortal through her marriage to Dionysis, who was actually a God. When she was slain, he was bold enough to brave the underworld to bring her back, and further bold enough to take her then to live on Mount Olympus, home of the Gods.

Well, it’s a nice tale to mull over, isn’t it? What Ariadne did for Theseus showed a far greater courage and strength than he possessed, and most likely, he knew this. It can be very intimidating for a man who considers himself strong to realize his woman's courage far exceeds his own. Whether or not this was true with these two lovers, Ariadne would survive Theseus' betrayal using the same strength that had enabled her to love him enough to risk everything. She could have let the hurt of his betrayal destroy her, just as we can all choose to let pain destroy us, but she didn’t. She rose above what he had done, and in his absence she began to see him for what he really was: A fair and handsome man full of sweet words and bravado, but lacking in the end the one characteristic most important to her in a partner: Boldness. It would be months before she would meet the wildly charismatic Dionysis on the very shores where Theseus had dumped her, but when she did meet him, she’d finally be face to face with a man whose strength and courage matched her own.

But even if she hadn’t met Dionysis, Ariadne would have been okay. She’d have still had a fulfilling life because she was a survivor. She did not take the easy way out. She took risks. She sometimes lost. But she rose up to face the challenges life cast upon her, because she was a bold and courageous woman. Left alone to cry on an island, she didn’t let that experience keep her from eventually finding her feet on Mount Olympus.

There are a million versions of these ancient myths to be found, you might easily find this tale told in a variety of ways, but I use this version here to illustrate the fact that we never know what life is going to throw our way, who is going to abandon us, and who is going to find us after that. But there is one thing to be sure of…there are those who preserve towards a dream, and those who simply talk themselves out of dreaming and settle for whatever comes their way, because that is, of course, easier. And so there are those who are bold, and those who are not, and who waver somewhere in-between.

What do I want the most out of life? I take a deep breath, and I turn to my friend.

“I want to be bold, always,” I respond. Even when I’m watching for sails on the horizon.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Let it all unravel...:-)

I’m an avid knitter, but yarn is expensive for this artist-poet-writer-teacher’s purse. So I've taught myself how to unravel sweaters and recycle the yarn to make new things. I had heard of workshops on this but they aren’t free, and I thought, heck, how hard can it really be? And so I bought some 50 cent sweaters at a thrift store one day and gave it a try. After all, I’ve unraveled and re-structured my own life enough times that I should be able to unravel a simple garment, right?

Well, it's exciting to learn something new, to see the reverse structuring of a sweater, which I haven't been brave enough to try to knit yet, and also it's soothing, very calming to the mind. I can do it anywhere - while my son plays, while I wait on the kettle to boil for tea, while I sit at night and wait for that elusive thing called sleep to finally come...and when I finished unraveling my first sweater, I had what amounted to about 5 skeins of yarn, for only 50 cents and a few hours effort. And I also had the pleasure of knowing I'd done something productive in time that could have just been spent idle.

Well, I was unraveling a sweater at a cafe the other day when a stranger approached and asked me what I was doing. When I explained to her that I was taking the sweater apart to reuse the yarn, she seemed aghast, almost offended somehow. "Why on earth would you do that, it was a nice sweater," she said, basically meaning 'why try to make better what already seems to be pretty good?' I thought about this...yes, the sweater was nice as it was, but do we always have to settle for things as they are? If something is already nice, does that mean we shouldn’t aspire to better it somehow? I explained to her that it was a whole process, and that I wanted to learn the skill not only for financial reasons, but also because there is a personal pleasure in creating something, in taking this 'nice' thing someone else made (or more likely a machine made), unraveling it, and creating something new, something that is your own, that's not to be found on a store rack by the dozens, but is a direct product of your own mind and vision. "You mean you're going to make a sweater? How?" She asked. I explained to her that I like to knit, and once again her eyebrows furrowed. "Why on earth would anyone in today's world spend time unraveling a sweater, then knit a new one when stuff is not really that expensive to buy? You must just have loads of free time," She said, shaking her head. Then her order was up and she was out the door, not even a second glance back in my direction. I was left with her words hanging in the air. And I wondered for a moment, why am I doing this? And that being said, why am I doing any of the things that I do? Why does anyone do – or not do – a creative thing?

This lady was, most likely, a person who had never actually made anything other than dinner since childhood. Most likely she did not know the joy of finishing a creative personal project, whether it was a painting, a poem, a knitted garment, a refurbished automobile or a coffee table made by hand. She did not know the peace and clarity that comes to the mind from spending time doing something one loves. And unfortunately, so many people in the world are this way...they associate creativity with having loads of free time, and why make anything that can be bought? Why bother to write a poem when you could just buy a Hallmark card? And take it a step further, why bother at all to think deeply or soul search when hey, we have cable television to watch, and that is much more interesting than anything that could come out of our own heads! We're overworked, we're tired, we don't want to do anything else that might take thinking or effort...and so we tune in to television and tune out our lives, putting off what would most heal and nourish us in order to blindly rip through our days, taking our pleasures from outside sources and never realizing that we can so easily tap into our own spirit to find real joy.

Sometimes it can sting, this rejection of the creative by other people. It makes you feel like people think you are less than them somehow. I had a friend make fun of me for hosting a knitting group at my house on Saturday nights. “You’re like a bunch of old ladies or something, sitting around of a Saturday night knitting,” he said with a laugh. “But what do you do on Saturday nights?” I asked. He shrugged. “Go out to the bar with the guys, or just watch television.” Ah, yes, the productive things in life that bring real joy, going to a bar or watching television. “And how is that working for you, is it bringing you happiness?” I asked, and he looked at me blankly and responded, “What do you mean?”

There are just going to always be people like my friend and the lady in the cafe, people who will choose to mock the creative, because they’ve never seen the value of doing anything deep, anything below the surface or beyond the obvious. But in the end, the lives we create for ourselves depend solely on the effort that we make to be a participant, not just an observer. I'm not saying that everyone needs to have a creative hobby to be happy, but it certainly does help. It gives you a connection with yourself, what you can do, what you are capable of. It helps you be a better person, because most creative things are done in a sort of solitude that gives you time to think and process what is happening in your life. I associate every thing I create with what I was feeling at the time that I created it. Even things I knit. And so I'll forever associate the yarn harvested from that sweater with the lady in the cafĂ© asking me why on earth I’d make an effort to do something creative, when it could, so easily, just be bought? And I’ll send up a silent wish for her, and for my friend, and for everyone who seems to cruise along on the sidelines of life without ever really jumping in…I hope that you never unravel.

Beautiful Woman

So…I am not your idea of beautiful?

I am
soft curves,
braids in a hand-knit cap,
goofy earrings for the fun of it,
tangerine polish on my toes

You want
hard edges,
teased, tortured hair,
diamonds for the expense of it,
acrylic inserts on top of real nails.

So…I am not your idea of a woman?

I am
strong as the trees that I hug,
secure in my abilities,

You like
Strength is your role.
Security is yours to provide.
Nothing without you.

So…I am not your idea of a beautiful woman?
So what?
I am my idea of me.

This article, and many more, can also be found at, the Greenwood area's leading magazine on arts and entertainment.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Forcing the issue...

I wake at dawn to the clatter of pouring rain, a thousand tempos beating down all at once outside the window. Different sounds clashing as drops of rain fall onto different surfaces, a symphony of sorts, one that I find greatly comforting. I may come from a land of sunshine and heat, but I love waking up to a cold, rainy day. There is something cleansing about it, something soothing about not only the sounds, but the slick wetness of the world outside, the way everything slows down a little, the way our minds somehow slow down with it. It’s even better when we don’t have to go to work or school or out into the weather for any particular reason, because a rainy day seems to give everyone a perfect excuse for not so much ‘doing,’ but for resting, for sitting back, observing, and being. It’s a great time for not forcing anything out of ourselves, but rather to take the world in for a change.

I had a delightful conversation with a friend over coffee last week, one of those lovely conversations that seems to hit on every subject while lingering on none at first, then coming back around to the most interesting topics and exploring them a little more in depth. From making things and writing poetry to the different paying jobs we’ve had; from Scandinavian cultures to raising children in Spain; from knitting circles in the Ukraine to the tricks and techniques of recycling sweaters into yarn…we seemed to hit every topic that was near and dear to our hearts, including life itself. How it’s happening all the time, how it passes by us while we’re busy doing other things, or wanting other things, or trying to be other things…we lingered quite a while on the topic of life lessons, mainly being open to what unfolds, and not trying to force things into being the way we think they should be.

The thing about life, the wonderful thing, is that is has the great and delightful potential to surprise the daylights out of us from time to time. Of course, not all surprises are good, or even welcomed, but all the same, they come, reminding us that no matter how carefully we try to streamline our lives into what we think they should be, we aren’t really in control. And this isn’t always a nice feeling, even if what surprises us is a beautiful, wonderful thing, because sometimes the good can still throw our equilibrium off, make us feel like we’re losing balance somehow, like we can’t predict our lives anymore the way we could so easily before. Being open to what unfolds is not always easy, and not a concept every person can wrap their mind around. What does this phrase even mean, really? Is it new age hype, or a real and honest way to live life?

Simple – to be open means to live in a state of not trying to force into being what we think should happen, but doing instead just what the rainy day is inspiring me to do…sit back, relax, enjoy, observe, be…and let go of the idea that you need to know what lies around every turn. To be open to what may come is about allowing yourself to be surprised in a good way from time to time, and loosening the stranglehold on your psyche that a need for control can create.
Life is like the weather, really. It’s a force of its own, something we might can predict and try to prepare for, yes, but something we have to actually experience to know. How many times have we cancelled plans because a storm was supposed to be coming, only to step outside into sunshine hours later and realize the weatherman was wrong? We don’t tend to think of this, rather we think of all the times sudden, unpredicted rain poured down on our parades. It’s much easier, after all, to be pessimistic, because a pessimist never gets let down.

Trying to force our lives onto a certain path is as futile as trying to control the elements…it simply can’t be done. But our thoughts are powerful things, and they help to create easier journeys on whatever paths we choose. With our thoughts, our ideas, and our dreams, we open doors for ourselves that can take us down new roads and into new destinies, because destiny does exist, life is not just a happenstance set of experiences that make no sense in the end. Even the most logical of brains can see that there is some order to all that happens, and, as some great thinker whose name I can’t recall once said, ‘often the greatest sense of order is to be found in what appears to be the greatest state of chaos’.

With writing poetry, we can’t force what we want to come anymore than we can force changes in our lives or changes in the weather. We must simply remain open, and remember the fact that we are always growing and that we are unpredictable, so why should we expect our lives to be so streamlined? Why do we feel that we need perfect order to create anything good? I have a friend who made a whole ‘office’ of sorts in a spare bedroom, with elegant furniture and the most state or the art computer available at the time, only to find that her best ideas still came from writing freehand in a spiral notebook late at night, lying in bed watching old sitcom reruns. But really, she knew this all along...she just felt that somehow it wasn’t right, because it didn’t fit the image in her mind of how she thought she should be doing it.

And so, as I close this, a new year unfolds, and the rain outside my window slowly comes to an end. The song of at least a hundred birds picks up from where the melody of the rain leaves off, and the sun peeks brilliantly from behind a cloud. An unexpected shift, a change in the elements, and what I thought would be a rainy day now suddenly becomes just the opposite of that. This next statement will probably make my boyfriend shake his head in wonder at me, as I’ve mentioned before he works for a company that develops tools and instruments for accurate prediction of the weather, but I rarely look at the forecasts. I use my own judgment instead, and I prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and remain open to whatever comes. If I’d checked the forecast this morning, I might have seen that the rain was due to taper off, and that the sun would come out after all…and I’d have never been open to the beauty and peace that lie in the sounds and sights of a rainy day. Instead, I’d have just spent the morning hours waiting for the sun to shine because someone told me it was going to.

Don’t try and control every aspect of the journey. Instead, remember that the greatest blessings often roll into our lives on the wheels of chaos, and the journey to achieve our dreams might not always be on the road most traveled...just prepare for the ride, buckle your seatbelt, and remember its okay not to know what’s around the bend sometimes.