The Fluidity of a Gypsy

Doorways
Doorways

A gypsy, an adventurer, a sojourner or seeker will at times find herself overwhelmed with choices and opportunities.  Many doorways can  appear simultaneously, and what is she to do?

Accepting the role of gypsy requires a commitment to fluidity, to allowing the stream of life, with all its currents, all its eddies and pools and tributaries, to present itself so the seeker can stand in its midst, eyes closed, palms raised, sixth sense heightened, and welcome the wisdom that appears.

When I first began my gypsy journey in September 2014, I knew I wanted to spend my first winter in Wilmington, NC and I imagined I would travel to New Mexico for my second winter on the road.  I fell in love with Wilmington: the amazing friends I already had there and the new ones I made; the beaches, from Wrightsville down to Fischer Island; tiki clubs on the pier; Mermaid shops and Tarot readers…the entire experience, a magical one!

But breaking my collarbone, followed by my wrist, altered my original plans of finding work, exhibiting in local galleries, and teaching writing and art classes….all very difficult to do when I wasn’t able to drive or hold a pen in my writing hand for 6 months!  So I thought I might spend my second gypsy winter in Wilmington in order to create the experience I had originally visualized.

But the stream at my feet began moving….close friends had decided to winter in Phoenix….the idea of finishing my memoir in the “Land of Enchantment” where the story takes place, began to fill my mind…..a friend in Santa Fe offered me a place to land….friends of my New Mexico friends suggested possible job opportunities in the state.  At the same time, Wilmington friends pointed to other tributaries and possibilities, not to mention, my mother, an East Coast resident, is 92 years old, and I want to spend as much time with her as I can.  In addition, my two young nieces in MA will soon be teenagers, with no time for their Auntie.

So I entered the water, laid on my back, stretched out my arms, and let myself float downstream for awhile.  The quieted mind, the alleyways of imagination, the daily writing practice and prayer, along with two insightful tarot readings in Wilmington!!, all led me to the wisdom hidden under river rocks.  I needed to clarify my number one priority and then I needed to discern which path would be the most beneficial to manifesting that objective.

It was clear my priority is to finish my memoir in time to pitch it at AWP/Los Angeles in March 2016…..and the path that would make this goal most achievable is waiting for me in New Mexico.  To bring the story fully alive, I want to stand in the orange and mauve canyons of Abiquiu, meditate in the arroyos near Black Mesa, adjacent to my former residence.  I need to smell the early March wind and soak in the secret hot springs of the Jemez.  To recall all my hopes and then the darkness I descended into before I was able to climb back out into that spectacular sunshine.

To make my decision, it was imperative that I stay fluid, stay open to the choices and opportunities.  To be willing to read the signs and enter into my own depths of intuition, to be able and willing to change my mind, again and again, to stay flexible.

Turns out life IS sort of like my childhood game show: Let’s Make a Deal.   The universe presents the doors…and it is up to us to pay attention, to trust our innate knowing, in order to make the perceptive choice.

Wild Resistance

wolf girlDetail from Fairy Tale Painting

Resistance:  The refusal to accept or comply.  Alice Walker understood it as the secret of joy.

Growing up, silence was my resistance.  Self-imposed isolation was my resistance.  Living in the pages of The Lord of the Rings and The Bell Jar; swimming through the lyrics of She’s Leaving Home [Beatles] and It’s My Life [The Animals]; meandering through the dream world of my heart was my resistance, my rebellion.  I’ve always been drawn to the Rebel Archetype:  to James Dean and Georgia O’Keeffe; to Leonard Peltier and bell hooks.

The last room of my Summer 2015 Art exhibit was devoted to Resistance.  The room was filled with paintings, collages, sculptures, and paper mache figures of wolves and the wild woman, both of whom are archetypes that survived persecution by thriving in the wilderness, in the shadows.  My purpose in creating the Resistance Room was to raise awareness and to inspire viewers to transform a torturous historical past into a meaningful and positive vision of the future.  There are hidden gifts in the path less traveled of She Who Will Not Be Tamed.

A gypsy is a rebel. A gypsy is guided by resistance…born with the willingness to sacrifice certainty for freedom, for adventure, for the endless horizon.  When your heart shows the way, resist the mind’s fear….when doubters penetrate your boundaries, resist their negativity.  We all have a bit of the gypsy inside us…a bit of the wolf….of the wild woman.  Connect to that spirit, and in so doing, welcome your joy.

Reverence and the Gypsy Life

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Badlands…The Wall

I’d been warned it would be blisteringly hot.  But the morning I drove the back roads from Rapid City to Badlands National Park, the sky grew a bruised purple and grey, while the wind battered my rental car back and forth across the broken yellow lines of the divided highway.  At times the sky opened and poured…other times the sun backlit the dark clouds in a golden frame.  The entire day I blasted the car heater, and when I stepped outside, I bundled in every piece of Winter wear I’d brought on my trip.  No amount of polar fleece warmed me.

I stood before the Wall, staring at crumbling rattlesnake colored canyons….deep crevices that floated ancient voices, ancient cries and moans, on the wind. The experience was more than eerie…I felt as though the land was alive, the land was in pain, the land was speaking only to me…of a lost time, a lost world.  I was grateful I was alone. Grateful I could sob and carry on without judgement, without the need to explain.

All my life I’ve held reverence for geographical space. All my life, topography has shown me who I am.  From the white capped waves of Oneida Lake where, at 5, I fished with my father…he searching for perch and pike, me on a desperate hunt for a drowned brother….to the cobalt blue skies of New Mexico that stretched forever, that offered all possibility….to the mauve and orange canyons and archways of Utah and Arizona, and the wild forests of Glacier and Waterton Parks, the landscapes of my life have brought me to my knees….in gratitude, in spiritual connection, in an instinctive understanding of meaning and purpose.

While I hold deep reverence for the amazing friends and family in my life, and for the strangers I’ve met along the way; for the influences of ancestors and artists, musicians and writers who’ve come before me, who’ve led the way, who’ve shown me How, I try to always consciously recognize the world I stand in..from New York, to Paris; from Los Angeles to Jackson Hole.

On my journeys, I’ve found that every day I have to trust I’ll find my way; I’ll hear the whispers on the wind, a voice through the lyric on the radio.  We are, each of us, right now where we need to be.  Trust that you will go where you need to go.  Trust that you will be supported and protected by the ground you walk on.

Resilience: What it Takes

resilience

The first words out of my mouth, after I slipped in the snow and broke my wrist, were, “WTF?!”  My broken clavicle had literally just healed, and now a broken wrist?!  As my sister drove me to the Emergency Room, I repeated “why why why?” like a mantra. Why was this happening?  Why my right arm? Why now, when I had just begun my journey?  Why a second break? Why me??!!

Unable to drive, or use my right hand for 2 weeks, while I waited to have a cast applied, I spent my time reading Carolyn Myss’ Anatomy of the Spirit, and perusing all my wolf books, in preparation for my art show.  During that time, I realized that asking WHY? is meaningless.  It turns out my first word after the fall: “WHAT” … was the important one.

Why gets us nowhere.  We can’t move beyond self pity with “why”.  But, by asking myself “What?”, I was able to find meaning and purpose in my life circumstances.  That’s what Resilience is all about: finding ways, or at least A way, to spur you on your quest..to fuel you to continue being curious, to propel you to the next step of your journey.

Instead of “Why”, I began asking myself: What can I do with this situation?  I now had at least 2 more months in which I would not be capable of completing any serious work for my exhibit.  So, what could I do with that down time?

Thus, I read; I drew stick figure, left-handed sketches of paintings I planned to create.  I read wolf fairy tales and myths, and wrote barely legible notes for my own fairy tale painting.  And in the process, in the slow relaxation of days, I realized that the novel I’d been working on needed to be transformed into the memoir it was originally meant to be.  What I needed to do was own my story, tell the true tale..despite the many flaws it will reveal about me, about my choices.

I believe we all fall down, and without resilience, we stay there…grounded, wounded, and without purpose.  The next time you find yourself asking “Why,”…turn the question into “What?”  What can you do about it?  What meaning can you find?  What will you do with your experiences?  What action will you take to move forward?

I titled my gallery exhibit “Resilience/Reverence/Resistance”  because the three themes were working and weaving; braiding and criss-crossing together in my life. Resilience calls for movement…be it a change in perspective or an action of matter.  Reverence and Resistance can bolster our resolve.  Stay tuned for my next blog entry which will explore these two notions.

(Photo from Sean Christopher Gallery OH; Resilience Room)

Misadventures of a Gypsy

kiva

“Alice, falling, looked down to see where she was headed, but everything below her was darkness.”  from H is for Hawk. 

November 2014 through April 2015 felt like darkness, falling.  I was a stranded gypsy.  All my plans to meet new people, introduce myself to Wilmington, NC gallery owners, and spend mornings walking at Wrightsville and Carolina Beaches, getting inspired and getting in shape disintegrated in one fall from a broken step!  Three days after I arrived in Wilmington, I broke my collarbone and was out of commission for two months.  I couldn’t drive, the jarring of the shoulder made it painful to walk at all… I wasn’t even able to open a can of soup without help.

And so, my gypsy world shrank…collapsed in on itself….Friends cooked for me, drove me places, shoved dvds into players to entertain me.  For the foreseeable future, my traveling days were on hold.  By Christmas I was driving again, and as soon as I began my PT for the collarbone, I slipped in the snowy woods of Maryland and broke my wrist in two places.  Both the collarbone and the wrist breaks occurred on my right side, and, yes, I am right handed.

By mid February I was beginning to panic… I had an upcoming art exhibit that needed to be complete by late June….4 rooms to fill, for my first one woman show, and I hadn’t yet begun!!!  The broken bones kept me from painting any detail or from typing on the computer.  So, this gypsy travelled inward instead.

And I found that the groundedness, the “being stuck” was a gift.  While I day dreamed in Annie’s NC backyard, reading poetry, watching wolf documentaries and movies on Netflix; while I studied Caroline Myss and Louise Hay teachings; while I struggled to wash my hair or make my 92 year old Mom a ham sandwich, my creative endeavors ironed themselves out.

My novel turned into the memoir it was always meant to be; I finally understood that I needed to own my story rather than mask it in fiction.  At the same time, my focus sharpened regarding my art exhibit, so that by May, when I was set up in my studio back home in MA, the word collages and body sculptures, the wolf pelts and storytelling paintings flowed out of me at a pace I’d never experienced.  And for that I was beyond grateful.  The dark immobile days of winter tumbled into a near frenzy of activity.

I titled my exhibit “Resilience/ Reverence/Resistance.”  My next couple of blogs will explore those themes.

The Price of Fear

We are all confronted with life situations that carry us to a crossroad, but a litany of experiences led me  to the moment where I knew I had to take action, to make the Big Move, to retire from teaching, to leave family and friends and my life in Western MA where I’d lived for 12 years, in order to get back on the road, to return to the gypsy that I was, the gypsy that remains.

The steps that pointed me in a new direction began long before this past summer’s ants and mice (see Blog #1).  It began during a conversation with my friend Leah Nielsen on our way to Salem for the 2012 MA Poetry Festival.  Leah described a trip she had taken to Yellowstone and the Dakotas when she was in her 20s.  As she painted the landscape for me: the mountains, the wildlife, the ochre hills, a longing flooded my veins, a vista opened up in my heart, my mind ran through forests of wildness.  I knew I had to get myself out there, knew I was ready for a true adventure into unknown territory.

My first trip to Montana was pure exploration.  I began the vacation in South Dakota: loved the Black Hills, though they were cold and rainy; watched baby buffalo romping through Custer State Forest; was mesmerized by the wild, longing, heartbreaking winds of the Badlands, with its bruised and broken sky.  The Tetons left me wide eyed with the majesty of the peaks, grizzly prints in the snow, and a moose wandering around downtown Jackson at dusk.  I didn’t fall in love with Yellowstone that first visit.  In fact the day I arrived, it snowed steadily.  I had to make it to Old Faithful, up over Craig Pass, to a small cabin I’d rented.  Had I waited another hour, I would have been shut out; they closed the pass due to the snow.  Over ten inches fell that day.  I woke to raven tracks outside my bedroom door.  I spent the next day driving back and forth through the Lamar Valley, a place I would grow to love as much as Paris or the Catskills.  I didn’t see any wolves, but I encountered grizzlies up close and personal.

My second trip West the following summer, I found myself asking over and over: How and when had I lost my gypsy ways?  Through the heat of the Utah Arches, the snow and the green rivers of Glacier National Park, through the Tetons again, and Yellowstone, I never found an answer.  I spent nearly a week in Silver Gate, MT, waking every morning at 4 am, stopping for coffee and cinammon rolls, and then, as the sun rose, driving the Lamar in search of the elusive wolf.  I never saw a wolf that trip, but I fell in love with the Valley, with Druid Peak and Soda Butte, with the snow peaked mountains, the river, and the wild hope that a black or grey might run across my path at any moment.  It wasn’t until this past June, my third exursion to Montana, that I was gifted with wolf sightings…thanks to Doug Mc Laughlin, Rick McIntryre and Jon Trapp.

I also received a personal epiphany…..not in the shadow of the wild, but on the New York State Thruway on my way to Columbus, OH to visit friends Jesse and Michael before I left for Montana.  The question I’d been asking for a year was answered.  On the highway I was recalling the year I’d lived in Columbus.   The year I first began teaching college English.  The year of 9/11.  Chills raced through my limbs as I realized the fear I’d experienced from 9/11 was what brought an end to my wandering nature.  On 9/11 I had a brother living in Manhattan and a sister just outside DC. When those hijacked planes burst into flames, I was petrified.  Unknowingly, I stayed scared for years.  I decided then that I needed to be closer to my family, so at the end of that academic year, I accepted a job offer to teach at Springfield College in MA, locating myself 30 minutes away from my brother Michael..and not so far from the rest of my siblings.

I created a good life for myself: worked with wonderful students, inspiring colleagues, joined a writing group, wrote a draft of a novel, started painting and exhibiting my work.  Family and work helped ground me with a sense of safety in a crazy world.  But I could feel a huge part of my spirit slipping away as I watched my feet solidify into cement.  The wildness of Montana taught me that there is no true safety.  And that I don’t have to be afraid anymore.  I learned that we pay a price for everything.  And the price of fear is way too high, because the price of fear is freedom.

Crossroads

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Artist Studio at Searsport Shores

Penobscott Bay, Maine

My cabin mice made it clear to me that I had to make a decision.  If I wanted to continue teaching at WSU, I would need to find another living situation that would most likely require a one year lease. But I knew I didn’t want to stay in MA another full year. Or, I could leave teaching and begin my vagabond artist dream at the end of the summer.  But what about money, what about saying goodbye to a life I’d known since 2004, what about family and friends, and a car with over 220K miles on it??!

The panic about what to do attached to my back like barnacles to a fishing vessel. It wouldn’t leave no matter what I did. It gripped me like a soul who hadn’t realized she was dead. I made the proverbial pro/con list; I meditated at the beaver pond; I prayed at the feet of the garden Buddha; I pulled Medicine Cards and Runes at midnight; but a definitive decision did not arrive.

Then it came time for my friend Annette and I to travel to Penobscott Bay to fulfill our one week Artist in Residence at Searsport Shores.  In exchange for a two hour art class every morning, Annette and I were given a huge artist studio (see picture above) to live and work in for one week….right on the beach in Searsport, ME.

We planned our daily art and journal writing exercises, walked on the beach, relaxed at the Hermit Hut, ate delicious vegan food in the local town, and worked daily on our individual projects. I outlined a children’s story I’ve been wanting to write for years, brainstormed and sketched ideas about wolves and the wild woman myth for an upcoming art exhibit, and completed several Ex-voto paintings (to be discussed in future blog entry).  I didn’t focus on the future at all during that week.  I sketched and made notes, I listened to the wind, I laughed and hiked, I stayed in the present moment, remaining open and receptive. I lived in Keats’ realm of “Negative Capability”.

On our ride back to MA, after our residency was over, about two hours outside of Maine, a realization rose in me…like a dolphin coming up for air after a long time underwater.  I knew in every cell of my body that I couldn’t return to academic teaching. As much as I loved and respected and was grateful for the students and colleagues I’d had the pleasure of knowing, I couldn’t grade one more essay, couldn’t draft one more syllabus.

A week away, living the artist’s life everyday, allowed me to see the life I was craving.  My decision had been made clear.  It didn’t take any lists or oracles. All it took was time away from the Ordinary World….and a chance to focus on my creativity.

When facing a difficult decision, a life changing path, I believe it’s best to follow Caroline Myss’ advice:  Choose the unknown.  Choose the unfamiliar.  Choose the path that requires the most Faith!

Make the most of your Crossroads Moments!!  In that way, you will truly grow!

Say YES!!!!

snowdrop-flower-5

At the heart of awakening is the word “YES”.

Though your bones may dread it, say Yes.

Though the cells in your body scream NO, say Yes.

When you have to give away nearly everything you own, say Yes.

When the list of reasons to say No, play out before your eyes, Say Yes and Yes and Yes.

And in 30 days time, when the lease you didn’t want to agree to has been signed…

When the 20 foot long Chester recycling shed has been stuffed to the gills with all but your most treasured paper and belongings….

When the couch and the bed and the kitchen table and the bookshelves have all been shoved into the back of a Salvation Army truck…

When the desk Genie gave you has found its way to another writer’s home…

When you’ve spent your first night in the new house, you will awaken to the sun through the East windows, glaring off the solid snow, shining through the blue and green glass, and your entire body from your toes to the top of your head will shout YES, and you won’t mind a bit having to go back to Chester to clean out the fridge, to scrub down the tub.. to vacuum 9 years of cobwebs and lost love off the ceiling and floors…. because you said YES and kept saying Yes… and now a whole new world has been created during the month you walked into and through your fears of change.

I wrote the above piece right after moving into what came to be known as The Mouse House (see previous blog entry).  And I don’t regret the move into that cabin.  Saying Yes, making the first move in 9 years, catapulted me into a brand new life.

It’s easy to say No.  Because change means inconvenience.  Change means chaos or, at the very least, upheaval.  Because change means entering the unknown world.

Some people are like trees: content to live and grow in one place.  They cull all the lessons they can soak up from that one geographical area.  But I’ve always been made more of feathers than leaves.

The trick is in knowing that there’s no right or wrong way… there’s just the way that’s right for you.

The title of my blog: YesRiskJoy comes from a Louise Gluck poem, Snowdrops.  A poem that has been integral in my healing and in the lives of many other writers I know.

SNOWDROPS

Do you know what I was, how I lived?  You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

by Louise Gluck

Not expecting to survive, feeling smothered in earth, leads one to respond with No rather than Yes.  But saying Yes allows you to manifest… furthers you along your path… forces you to turn in a different direction…. reminds you that you have the power… the power of choice.

Say Yes… keep saying Yes.

Of Ants and Mice

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Charming.  Peaceful.  Quaint.

Comforting.  Romantic.  Cozy.

What solitude loving, tree hugging, hiker, artist, writer woman wouldn’t want to live in this cabin, in these  New England woods, with hawks and herons, with beavers and porcupines as neighbors?  With two wonderful friends a half mile down the dirt road?  With a supportive brother and his family, including two amazingly intelligent, funny, and creative nieces 15 minutes away?  With new trails to explore?  New coffee shops to frequent?  New inspirations to discover?

That was my plan for the Fall 2014/Spring 2015 Academic Year.  I moved into the cabin late in February 2014.  (A story to be shared in Blog #2!)  That spring, my biggest concern was the spiders that crawled out of the kitchen drain in the mornings…spiders so big they required mouse traps or a hard copy of the OED to kill them!

I finished my semester, teaching three English courses at Westfield State University, and headed off for three weeks to visit my life long friend Jesse and her husband Michael in Columbus, OH and to spend two weeks alone traveling in what now has become a yearly pilgrimage to Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.  When I returned from my vacation, I was newly inspired to spend the summer working on paintings for a 2015 art exhibition I’d been offered and to focus on Round Three of my novel revision.

For two days all went well.  I was thrilled to wake up to the sun through my window and sit on my screened-in porch, sketching and writing. Then one evening I walked into the house, only to be met by a hundred ants crawling all over the living room floor.  I stamped on them in knee high boots, but every time I turned around, their numbers grew!  I went into the bedroom  where armies of ants seeped out of seams in the wooden walls, where they raced from one end of the room to the other, covering the ceiling, walls, and floor.  In an act of desperation, I fired up the vacuum cleaner and watched as they were drawn like magnets into the hose.  Still, when I turned around, there were MORE MORE MORE!!!

Remembering a jug of liquid bug killer I’d brought from my former residence, I sprayed down the entire cabin: walls, wooden floors, carpeting… everywhere the ants crawled, I sprayed.  At midnight, I went to bed, exhausted and creeped out.  I awoke to thousands of carpenter ant carcasses (that’s right: these were NOT tiny sugar ants; these were the Big Boys!) all over the house… but none of them were moving.  I never saw another ant in the cabin.  AND I was pretty proud of myself for  handling the situation without needing assistance.  PROBLEM SOLVED!

A few days later I was cooking dinner at the stove.  I thought I saw Movement.  A Shadow.  A Tail.  I turned around and a mouse boldly stood behind me, apparently intrigued by my spicy tomato sauce.  After screaming loud enough to scare the squirrels off the roof, I reached for the thickest book on my shelf and heaved it over and over, to no avail, as the mouse ran around the kitchen and living room.  I baited up two dozen traps and placed them in strategic locations… but the mouse was no fool.   I lined up an entire row of traps along my bedroom threshold (where there was no actual door), determined to keep him out of there, at least.  At one point I couldn’t tell if my eyes were playing tricks on me, or if indeed, there was more than one mouse.

Truly panicked, I called my friend and neighbor Amanda who has no fear of mice.  Despite the late hour, she agreed to come to my rescue. By the time she arrived, I was nearly out of my skin from over the top anxiety, not to mention hoarse from screeching in terror every time the mouse made himself visible.  Unable to work her magic with my uncontrollable energy, because it was obvious now there was more than one mouse, Amanda asked me to wait outside.  FIVE MICE LATER, Amanda informed me the coast was clear.  However, that did nothing to calm me down. FIVE MICE had been running around my house…. my tiny little cabin, invading my corners, the stone fireplace, the allies behind the bookshelves, the narrow passageway of the kitchen, the safety of darkness under the couch, the formerly relaxed recesses of my mind!

I couldn’t sleep.  I accepted Amanda and Annette’s offer to spend the night at their house.  But even there, I could feel tiny mice feet all over my skin!  When I returned to the cabin in the morning, I found myself in the same panicked state of the night before.  I called everyone I knew, from OH to NC, to ask if they would let me move in with them!!  I didn’t know what direction to move in; I didn’t have an answer yet, but I knew something had to change.  I knew I couldn’t continue to live in a cabin slithering with rodents in the midst of warm summer days.   What on earth could I expect in October…. my mind ran wild with horror.

Frenzied.  Frazzled.  Frantic.  …. is sometimes what it takes to force us to create change in our lives.

A thousand ants and five mice were the beginning of a life changing decision process for me.  This blog, YesRiskJoy, will narrate my journey of becoming a vagabond, a gypsy, a traveler into the unknown, seeking a life where painting and writing will finally become my focal point.  The incidents at the cabin made me realize that it was time to turn into the direction of my dreams.  This blog will chronicle that journey.  I hope you’ll join me!

(Cabin Photo by Gail Hayden)