Celebrating the Unsung heroes who help us navigate the unexpected potholes in life.
It’s tough out there.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been, quite literally, kicked to the curb a few times over the years.
And that includes a dropkick from each of the three big contenders that figure prominently in the life-sucking-psychic-energy department: romance, work, and customer service.
But in one area of my life, there’s been a person who for the past twenty-two years has alleviated stress and kept my days, as well as my 1993 Volvo 240 wagon running smoothly. He’s not only a wizard, he’s also generous, passionate, honest, and damned pleasant.
It’s early evening and the dark winter sky is a gun metal gray. As I’m driving down a busy interstate after work, the dashboard lights up and the engine lets out a slow, dying exhale. Panic puts me in a choke hold because there’s nothing worse than sitting in the break down lane, alone.
I pull the car over and call Peter. He immediately answers the phone. The problem is diagnosed on the spot, and he instructs me to turn off the radio and any other malfunctioning accessories. After limping another 10 miles back to the garage, he’s waiting for me and proceeds to replace the alternator in record time while I wait — and I want to cry not only because are I’m relieved but also because there’s still money in the checking account. I can’t count the number of times I’ve incredulously blurted out, “Is that all?!” after getting the bill.
Such generosity of time and labor is unheard of except from the best of friends.
Passionate about his work he recognizes that same passion in his customers and is willing to barter. Lucky for me he loves art, and on three separate occasions over the years, when the cost of a repair was substantial, I’ve traded my paintings with him.
I can always trust that I’m getting the best deal possible because he is a genius at rebuilding expensive parts or designing new ones. If I need a head gasket, I know Peter will explore every avenue to make it less painful.
He’s a gentleman — I’ve never seen him get angry — and he has that rare ability to make you feel like you’re a favorite customer. Maybe that’s because he operates by his well known quote, “NO Rules, NO Fools.”
Three years ago he was diagnosed with cancer. I learned he had no insurance. I did the only thing I could do and gave him my wagon with new tires and the head gasket he had recently put in. Because after years of good will and stellar service, you pay it forward.
Peter died April 20, 2020, at 62.
I now drive an old Subaru Forester.
Through word of mouth, I’ve been blessed again and found another perfect match. Like Peter before him, Sal runs a small, independent garage in the country and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
At most other places, they would have told me I needed to replace the catalytic converter. But not Sal. The only problem was it was hanging loose, so he fashioned a clamp (because they don’t make them) that secured it in place, and it’s been good to go for the past two years.
During another visit to replace a costly ball joint, he drove to a friend’s garage to borrow a tool he knew the guy had that made the labor intensive job a lot easier. I saved hundreds of dollars.
My driving now often includes harrowing trips on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. As I white-knuckle-it entering the on ramp, my anxiety is lessened because I’ve had my six month check up at the garage back home.
It’s funny how you can become so attached to a vehicle. But I think it has more to do with the person who makes the magic happen. (It’s magic to me)
Life will always be a bumpy ride.
Thanks for absorbing a lot of the shocks along the way.
The nomadic instinct is a human instinct — Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
After a couple of years of deep contemplation, I decided I was tired of living a life of not quite… quiet desperation…but lingering melancholy.
I felt my life shrinking when it should be expanding. Routine had sidled up, tapped me on the shoulder, and suddenly uttered Boo!
I remembered “The Songlines,” a terrific book I had been given just prior to a nine month, solo trip I’d taken to New Zealand and Australia five years ago. A best seller in 1987, the author Bruce Chatwin is credited with transforming travel writing. His book is part travel adventure and personal philosophy as he explores the meaning and origins of ancient Aboriginal “Dream Tracks,” invisible roadways left by the totem ancestors as they “sang the natural world into existence.”
What stuck with me was that Chatwin postulated we humans have a nomadic instinct. Staying in one place, sedentary desk jobs, and our excessive accumulation of stuff are unnatural and don’t make us happy.
He was right.
The pandemic has reinforcedthis. After a year of zoomed out working tethered to laptops, a lot of young people are having a YOLO (you only live once) epiphany severing the ties to secure jobs and pursuing entrepreneurial dreams and travel.
Like a lot of older people, this year has forced me to look at my own mortality and fortified what I learned traveling alone five years ago: The older we get, we tend to like things predictable and safe, and our lives tend to shrink. The older we get, we’re less likely to take risks, and we limit ourselves because great risks are rewarded with great opportunities and adventure. The older we get, time seems to accelerate, and we’re left wondering where the hell did the years go?
Conversely, being fluid and mobile slows time down. Visiting new places and engaging with the beauty of nature keeps us curious, sparks creativity, and expands our lives.
That’s why the movie “Nomadland,” which swept the Oscars for best picture, director, and actress this year totally grabbed me. Based on the nonfiction book, “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” author Jessica Bruder followed an ever increasing number of nomads,often called rubber tramps, for three years. A lot of them are older people who have given up traditional housing and travel by car, van, or RV across America searching for work and staying at communal campgrounds.
Though some choose this lifestyle — I remember the grey nomads of Australia — for most, this evolves out of necessity. The fictional character, Fern in the movie version is a widow who leaves her home and economically devastated town and heads out on the road in her van. This isn’t an easy way to live, and in no way does the movie romanticize it. Yet, there’s a certain hard won beauty about living life on your own terms. Fern and the real nomads she meets are inspiring because of the kindness and compassion they show each other and the self sufficiency and fierce independence they model.
Let’s face it, life is tough, and the one thing you can count on is change in all its guts and glory. But this subculture seems to be able to toss convention to the wind and tackle, head on, all the unexpected interceptions life tends to throw.
Not quite rubber tramp, but happy wanderer
In my own way, I’ve been bitten by this itinerant bug too.
After two years back home in Maine living alone and time running a marathon, I once again felt the urge to bust out.
I rented my house for a second time and moved to NYC in November of 2019, a life-long dream. Yeah, I know. Then disaster struck. Talk about change. But I’ve learned that pain motivates progress, and The Big Apple is still the greatest city in the world, even in a pandemic.
There are, of course, drawbacks to my semi-nomadic wanderings. I’m not living out of my car, but it has become a bit of a mini storage unit since the bulk of my scant belongings are stored hither and thither, and I’m constantly loosing stuff or leaving things behind. Since my means are limited, I am subleasing a couple of furnished rooms. After forty years, I have a roommate again. I often get lost.
I’ve never been happier and feel like a younger, but better, wiser version of myself. Like Fern, I have a strong support system that includes close siblings and the compassionate friendship of strong, capable women who look out for each other. I’ve discovered the freedom of becoming a minimalist, and an unexpected surprise is I enjoy having the company of a roommate.
The plan was to move back to my house in June of this year, but the nomadic instinct has taken root in my boomer-age-tenants as well. So we’ve decided that I’ll move back to my house with all their furnishings from June to October, and after enjoying a summer on the coast, they’ll rent my house again until mid May of 2022.
That could change.
Because, as you know, a lot can happen in a year.
In the meantime, I’ll try to keep my old car serviced, and I’ll renew my AAA membership.
Best of all, there are fewer and fewer bouts of melancholy and more and more moments of pure joy.
These 3 easy practices, done together, might even manifest an adventure.
Five years ago, I started an inner journey and stumbled upon three easy yet different processes that I, fortuitously, did at the same time. These three things shook up my life and sent me on an adventure that continues to this day.
It began with a picture I’d cut out of a magazine of a lithe, ballerina-like figure balancing on a tightrope with the aid of a tiny, black parasol. The background was dreamy and verdant. I responded to this picture in a visceral way, but its meaning remained a mystery. I placed it in the center of my poster board and just let intuition run rampant and continued to cut away other visuals and words/phrases that sparked a response. I’ve dubbed this my Mining the Unconscious Board.
At the same time, I dusted off the cover of Julian Cameron’s wonderful book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, and started writing three, stream of conscious morning pages right after waking up each day.
For the umpteenth time, I also tried meditating, but this time I stuck with it. I took the advice of a friend who recommended the lectures and guided meditations of Dr. Joe Dispenza, a meditation expert and neuroscientist.
Guided by a higher power, I practiced these three things together, and my life hasn’t been the same since. I’ll go into these in depth in a minute, but first, you might relate to what precipitated this discovery.
In 2015 I was living in a state of what I considered “quiet desperation.” Divorced, with an empty nest, and feeling stifled in my teaching career, I longed for change. The thought of my life cementing into a numbing routine terrified me. I wanted to feel alive again. The new year and upcoming birthday would allow me to take my retirement without any penalties, but it would be a risky move financially.
For months I agonized over this decision. Seeking answers, only I could find within, I haphazardly began this practice of three. Then in June, a week before school let out, I literally jumped off that high wire into the unknown and retired. Well, semi-retired.
My friends and family were shocked.
Not one for bucket lists and without a plan for the future, I found myself both exhilarated and petrified. Mostly exhilarated. The only thing I did know was that I would change things up.
In August invisible gale forces gathered me up and suddenly blew me into action. A close friend from Perth and her daughter from the Kimberley of Australia came for a visit. Upon discussing my recent news, they in unison asked the question: What are you waiting for?
A month later things magically fell into place. I had my house rented for a year to the perfect couple, a friend offered me free rent in the interim, and I began plans for a solo trip to New Zealand and Australia for nine months…on a budget. At the same time, I started writing, something I’d wanted to do for years. I left on January 11th 2016, and published 30 blogs. It was a trip that changed my life.
And it didn’t stop there.
After being home again for two and a half years, I started feeling unsatisfied. Then one day I discovered a box of books I’d misplaced, and in the box I found my The Artist’s Way book and a binder of the morning pages I’d written before. I figured it was a sign and started writing them again.
I had never stopped my meditation practice and thought it might be time to create another mining the unconscious board. Pictures of lovely rooms spoke to me and a map of Brooklyn, NY, were posted along with words and phrases about adventure and new beginnings. For years I’d always wanted to move to New York City, but the time was never right.
In July of 2019, things magically fell into place again. It’s hard to explain but it’s like being caught up in a wild surge of electrifying energy. Invisible hands ushered me forward, and in November I found a sublease in exactly the Brooklyn neighborhood I wanted that included a separate room for a studio. In December, I sent a piece I wrote about finding a roommate in the millennial world of Brooklyn, which resulted in an interview and then a half page feature article in The New York Times Renter’s column in March of 2020.
Vision boards and dream boards are nothing new. They are powerful visualization tools that allow you to create a tangible representation of dreams, goals, and your ideal life. But they tend to be externally focused on material things you want to manifest in your life. I am more interested in having experiences that will make me feel alive, and by mining my unconscious, I look for pieces to the puzzle that prompt questions such as What is this revealing to me? which in turn, eventually lead to answers.
Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, believed that there is a whole world of fears, desires, and feelings that lay hidden in repressed memories, in repressed memories, in our unconscious, that can have an effect on our current behavior. The analogy of the iceberg is often used to help conceptualize the workings of the mind. “The things that represent our conscious awareness are simply ‘the tip of the iceberg.’ The rest of the information that is outside of conscious awareness lies below the surface. While this information might not be accessible consciously, it still exerts an influence over current behavior.”
Tapping into the unconscious isn’t easy. Freud used dreams and free association. Cutting out pictures and words that you react to in a visceral way is a form of free association, and it’s fun.
So get your magazines together and let your intuition be your guide. Cut out pictures, words, and phrases that speak to you. Once you feel you have enough, begin arranging and rearranging them on the poster board. What picture(s) are especially intriguing? What word, or words put together in a sentence, resonate? Once you’re satisfied, glue them in place. Put your collage where you will regularly see it, perhaps a night stand in the bedroom.Then marvel at the mystery of what it means!
This is also a great creative writing tool. Find a picture, then arrange your cut out words phrases into sentences to create a narrative. Often stories reveal themselves.
2. The Morning Pages
The morning pages are another form of free association, and they are done upon waking when our brain is still in a theta wave, twilight state between sleeping and waking. Right after getting up, I grab my notebook, make my coffee and sit down to do my three pages. It takes about 20–25 minutes. Done in longhand, you simply write stream of consciousness.
This cathartic writing frees you to dump any negative monkey mind thinking. For instance, you can let that inner critic rip, and then he/she is silenced for the rest of day allowing you to be more open and receptive to creativity. Just write whatever comes into your mind. Cameron recommends writing morning pages for three months, which is what I did in the past, but I’ve been doing them daily now for a year, and they’ve become part of a routine of good habits I’m cultivating.
3. Daily Meditation — Start Small But Start
I’ve known about the benefits of meditation for years, and reading Eckhart Tolle’s bookThe Power of Nowmotivated me to start. But I just didn’t keep up with it until I was introduced to Dr. Joe Dispenza, who for years has been studying the effects of meditation on the brain. His scientific approach and combined research in neuroscience, quantum physics, epigenetics, and more appealed to me. He has numerous, well articulated videos available on YouTube. His teachings worked for me.
Regardless of where you draw inspiration, the point is to start. Begin with just five minutes each day then gradually work up to ten. It gets easier with practice, and you’ll notice perks right away. I noticed I felt happier more and more and less stressed. No small feat during these crazy times.
Any one of the above three will improve your life, but done together…well… the results can be extraordinary.
So give it a go! What have you got to loose? In any event, you just might experience, as Joseph Campbell put it, “…the rapture of being alive.”
Over these many months of 2020, I’ve developed this animal instinct of being on high alert sensing an impending disaster… but it never goes away and relief never comes. This flight or fright state leaves me weakened and easy prey to impatience which makes my stress levels soar.
Since early childhood I’ve been pretty slow on the uptake practicing the virtue of patience. I-want-it-now-tantrums morphed into impulsive bad decisions, into faulty reasoned thinking that I had some control over outcomes in my life. But I’ve learned these last few weeks, with a lot of time for reflection, that succumbing to the art of patience has brought me some peace.
This past May, in the midst of the pandemic, I applied for a large scale art commissioning here in NYC. The deadline was the 31st, and applicants would be notified late summer/September. I realized this was a long shot, but I told myself regardless of the outcome, I was proud of the quality and effort I put into it.
I managed to enjoy a summer vacation back in my home state of Maine but began to dwell on how an acceptance would impact my life. My lease was up November 1. Very soon I would have to make a decision to stay in NYC or return to Maine. Late summer turned into September. I was getting impatient.
Obsessing about it didn’t help, and I was making myself miserable, so I sent an email September 15th asking when they were notifying applicants. Two days later I received a reply: “…hopefully late September.”
What?! I complained, stewed, agitated, then tried maturity and prayed and meditated for an answer. On September 29th, it finally came: “…the notification timeline has shifted slightly, and we are notifying all applicants by late November.” !x#*!
And there it was.
Patience delivered me a painful noogie.
But I got it.
I simply had to wait and trust in the process, surrender to the present moment and the unknown. I know this in theory, but now I have to let go and live it. I have to soften myself to be more receptive to what is. Not practicing patience is like dialing up the universe and then getting a busy signal. This quote from the book Lab Girl underscored it:
“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” Hope Jehrens
A second lesson presented itself a week later after completing another art application for a museum open call. I carefully filled it out and uploaded my photos, but one of the questions was asking for a web site. I have a blog site but not a art site except for a Facebook art page. For some reason, I considered posting this, but when reviewing my app, I impetuously hit the submit button leaving it blank… even though I had another 24 hours to do so.
This impulsivity nixed any chance of being considered since the review committee has no other work to support a decision. This same jumping- the- gun impulse to hit “publish” catches me up too. One more revision might have made a big difference. If only I’d taken a deep breath and stepped away for a while.
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly.” (Proverbs 14:29)
My heightened awareness brought in to focus just how often we are challenged to practice patience and how our reactions to it can either add negativity to an already too stressful world or alleviate it.
After waiting in line at the post office, I finally stepped up to the window to mail an overseas package. The clerk greeted me curtly and it kinda went downhill from there. This time I did take a deep breath and rather than biting back felt a degree of empathy for this person. Any number of difficult things could be going on in her life. I didn’t take it personally and, instead, felt a kind of kinship with this woman. Maybe even a little love?
I read numerous posts on social media about practicing kindness. Kindness requires patience. So just take a deep breath before you blare that horn in traffic, show annoyance with that slow poke holding up the line, or respond with a nasty comment to a differing political belief.
My high alert feelings of impending doom are moderating. I’m still running, but it’s to a different higher ground, and I’m trying to be more helpful modeling for others how to get there too.
With nowhere to go,Covid has revived this simple pleasure and kept a lot of people happy and sane.
I’m suddenly fourteen again.
In order to escape the confines of my big, chaotic family, I sneak the keys to the car and sidle out the door before anyone notices.
With a heavy yank, the driver’s side door shuts withan Omph sigh of relief, and the outside world disappears. Seated in my tiny capsule ready for orbit, I twist the radio dial to my favorite station and happily drift away. This is my great escape.
The last four months of this new age Covid living have forced most of us to return to a time of simpler things, be it baking bread, playing board games, reviving family dinners, or taking walks. At the same time, the total lack of privacy, the bouncing back and forth between just a few rooms, living with a roommate(s), partner, children 24/7 is just plain contrary to the laws of nature. A lot of short fuses have been lit, eggshells crushed, and barbs volleyed.
In November I moved to New York City, found a sublease with a roommate, but left my car parked an hour away thinking I would never really need it. Although she and I get along and are both introverts, after four months of working from home and being imprisoned together, I started hating her. Everything she did, and didn’t do, annoyed me. And she never went out!
I know the feeling was mutual. This and the underlying anxiety of getting sick was quietly beating us both up. I wondered what were people doing to combat built up hostility over seemingly nothing?
And then it hit me.
They escape to their cars.
I suddenly started noticing one, or sometimes two, people just sitting in parked cars listening to music, especially at night. This seemingly innocuous practice would come up in conversations more and more about ways to stay sane.
Parent friends in therapy confided the car was the perfect place to have a session. He/she could have a good cry or howl at the moon without their prying-minds-want-to-know children listening.
Another friend, living with her adult, twenty-something, daughter, revealed she is ordered out of the apartment on a regular basis to allow her daughter some much wanted alone time. This mom is happy to comply and retreats to her car where she can listen to the oldies, NPR, or talk radio for a couple of hours.
I’ve learned second hand that Date nights of long ago have found a revival in the family wagon, if even for a mere 30 minutes.
And remember the joys of parking? Imagine taking your sweetheart to a primo spot on the empty streets of Times Square.
So after months of living in the now sleepy city that never sleeps, I pine for my 2005 Subaru and the simple pleasures it will afford me. I leave for a vacation in Maine soon and relish the thought of sitting behind the wheel feeling free once again.
The immediate future isn’t looking all that bright, but I’ll find the silver lining. This time when returning, I’ll keep my car parked out front. When the need arises, like it often did so many years ago, I’ll have my own private getaway—
We need to develop the Buddhist practice of metta or lovingkindness…and the benefits are worth it.
When I read the phrase To reteach a thing its loveliness…just let that sink in for a minute… it felt like a lifeline, like a comforting beacon of light after being lost on an uncharted sea of anxiety, fear, and growing anger.
Reading further in Sharon Salzberg’s book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, I learned this is the nature of metta, which can be translated from Pali, the ancient language of Buddhist scriptures, as unconditional love or lovingkindness.
It is the first of the brahma-viharas, heavenly abodes, and supports the others that include compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The metta meditation is an opening of the heart and a wish for not only our happiness, but also for all beings. The Buddha first taught the metta meditation as an antidote to fear when it arises and feels overwhelming.
Could there be a better time to practice this?
Hitting month three of quarantine here in NYC, along with the ensuing explosion of the BLM movement, I needed a soothing balm to quell the guilt and an almost self loathing, for not having contributed more to society in some meaningful way, for being an elder and higher risk burden.
The pandemic has become more and more about politics and the economy uniting us in different camps of hatred: the haves vs. have nots, liberal vs. conservative, red vs. blue, entitled vs. essential, black vs. white. Social media, originally created to feed our very human need to connect, has, instead, amplified our separateness, and it has spilled on to the streets.
I’ve read about regular people lashing out verbally at others for not wearing a mask or social distancing. Plenty of times I’ve passed pedestrians on the street and police at protests and silently judged them for being arrogant and selfish for the same thing. Hating this reaction, I found myself stuffing my feelings to lessen the pain. This is where we get in trouble as Salzberg aptly explains:
Sometimes as individuals, or as members of a group, we may sacrifice the truth in order to secure our identity, or preserve a sense of belonging. Any thing that threatens this gives rise to fear and anxiety, so we deny, we cut off our feelings. The end result of this pattern is dehumanization. We become split from our own lives and feel great distance from other living beings as well.
When I read the words, To Reteach a Thing Its Loveliness, I was blown away by the beauty of the message and recognized instantly this was something I could do, as just one small person, to be an agent of change.
The practice of metta begins with loving/befriending ourselves, no small feat. I know. I’ve been a heavy weight titlist in the “beating myself up”ring for decades. But we have to begin with loving ourselves…despite our weaknesses and failings…before we can mirror it back to others. This mirroring brings it full circle.
The practice of metta begins with short meditations that begin with oneself, and then work outwardly to a loved one, someone neutral, and, the most difficult, an enemy. The meditation focuses on silent repetitions of phrases such as “May you have ease of well-being,” May you be free from danger,” “May you be healthy and strong.” Yes, it gets more difficult as you move outward. It is especially hard to wish happiness to an enemy, but this is the work of unconditional love, the driving force of healing. Even if you aren’t feeling the love, don’t give up. You are planting a seed, setting an intention, and that is enough.
As if the nature of metta isn’t just beautiful in and of itself, the Buddha outlined eleven specific benefits. Your practice will reap the following rewards:
You will sleep easily.
You will wake easily.
You will have pleasant dreams.
People will love you.
Celestial beings and animals will love you.
Celestial beings will protect you.
External dangers ( fire, poison, weapons) will not harm you.
Your face will be radiant.
Your mind will be serene.
You will die with a clear mind.
You will be reborn in happy realms.
If you’ve always wanted to start a meditation practice but felt it might be too hard, this is a great place to start. A few minutes a day is all you need to begin. I’ve recently added metta meditation to my regular meditation practice, and I’m feeling more hopeful and optimistic.
On daily walks now there are more frequent, tiny moments of connection with total strangers I pass on the street or on a front stoop. It might be a verbal hello or a silent, mutual nod of the head that says I acknowledge you. Smiling eyes behind the mask. It’s a small moment of connection, a much needed dopamine hit of goodness. Lovingkindness is a powerful energy to radiate.
And I’m sleeping better.
So, if we should ever pass each other on street, know I am silently wishing, “May you be safe from harm,” “ May you be healthy and strong,” “May you be truly happy.”
After searching for an answer, the big reveal is, yes.
I kept asking myself over and over again, Why now? Why the hell now?
In October of last year, I fulfilled a life-long dream of moving to New York City. After months of journal writing and mulling it over, I made the decision it was the perfect time. The winds of change propelled me forward, and magically things fell into place. My adventure manifested, and I was challenging myself doing new things and working hard. In February, as a result of a written piece I submitted, I got an interview with The New York Times, in one of their regular feature columns.
And then … BOOM.
After a short, four-and-a-half months of New York City WOW, disaster struck. The greatest city in the world suddenly crippled. Its beating heart of creative energy, suffering cardiac arrest was left an ICU patient with no visitors allowed.
Without notice, and cut off from all the art and culture I was drawing inspiration from, I found myself alone in quarantine. Like everyone else, I was left reeling in a state of confusion and fear. At the same time, I kept wondering why had this happened when prior to the pandemic all systems were go? My adventure was looking more like a quest, and my biggest trial was facing an invisible foe who could, quite literally, take me down. I was going to have to dig deep to answer this one.
Nagged by this question of why, I, nevertheless, held steady and made the best use of my time writing, painting, reading, and observing.
And then one day going through some old notes, I came across a quote I had written down . It was from a list of “68 pithy bits of unsolicited advice” to the young, compiled by author Kevin Kelly, who helped launch Wired magazine. Even though I’m old, it hit like an resuscitative electrical charge:
“When crisis and disaster strike, don’t waste them. No problem, no progress.”
Well, I certainly was experiencing a crisis, but how was I going to change my perception and make it positive? I had come to the city to foster my own curiosity and creativity. Maybe quarantine and sheltering in place were just the environments I needed to buckle down and make real progress with my writing and painting. Feeding a passion takes solitude and focus.
So I dove in and keenly observed the changing world around me. Every day I wrote or painted with an energy that surprised me. I discovered a new painting medium using recycled trash and even submitted a couple of articles to different publications.
I had nothing to lose.
But it washard.
Any creative endeavor or change of habit requires us to access our higher nature. And you will know you are on to something because resistance, in its many forms, will rear its ugly head . For me, resistance comes from things like Netflix, social media, and Zoom constantly calling me to come play. Of course, I enjoy these things, but only after I’ve completed some work time. Wrestling resistance requires a Herculean effort, but staying focused yields results.
My confidence kept growing.
As further proof that I was on the right track, I happened to read through more notes I had taken several years ago and was jolted by another message that was waiting for me. In Letters to a Young Poet #7,written in 1904, the poet Rilke( only 27 himself) writes back to a young man looking for advice about his writing. Rilke’s response echoes the very same stumbling blocks of resistance and hard work. That in his practice of solitude, the young man might find himself distracted by the conventions of his day, might be tempted to take the easy route rather than trust in what is difficult, which would reveal his true artistic self:
“…it is clear that we must trust what is difficult; everything alive trusts it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason to do it.”
So crisis and disaster have struck, and I’ve found the answer to my question, Why now? I’m choosing to see this problem of a pandemic as a personal challenge in making progress towards becoming the best that I can be.
I’m currently working on a series of paintings I hope to show in the near future and writing articles I hope to see published. I’m even entering a large scale commissioning art program here in NYC. Completing the application has been mind bending; I know it’s a long shot.
Working on it is hard.
But when I hit the send button to submit my proposal, regardless of the outcome, I will be happy I gave it my all, knowing…
“…that something is difficult must be one more reason to do it.”
Although my view of the world has literally narrowed, it is no less entertaining,yet, intimately, human.
And it seems that when we think no one is looking, whether under the cover of darkness, or in plain light of day, someone is.
In mid March, after the state of emergency was declared, much like Prospero and his guests in The Mask of the Red Death, people began fleeing the city to country homes. One early evening, I looked out my window to see a middle aged man (not from this Bed Stuy neighborhood) across the street furtively removing his NY plates from, first the front, then the back of his Audi SUV. He quickly stashed them on the floor of the back seat, got in, and drove away plateless, to … I can only assume… a suddenly sprouted pandemic entrepreneur who would attach a set of out of state plates so he could covertly blend in.
I was indignant. What a coward. Selfishly exposing a community with limited heath care facilities. But then I caught myself.
I Took a moment to be still, rather than running away with judgment and asked myself the question, would I do the same if there was a second home somewhere with lots of space and fresh air to enjoy? Ah.. probably, yes. But I’d like to think no.
A few weeks later, meat packing facilities are stricken with positive tests and must be shut down. Will hoarding of meat begin? I look out my window as a pickup truck pulls up, double parks, and a neighbor comes out to collect what looks like eight to ten large packages of assorted cuts of beef. It’s started already.
But then I remember the same guy who lives alone with his dog and who speaks lovingly and takes this pit bull mix out each morning and afternoon for a walk. Could this stash be a treat not only for him but also his companion, a reward for unconditional love in times of loneliness?
On Sunday morning, a homeless man sporting a huge, flapping coat and Nike flip flops shuffles by pushing his shopping cart overflowing with scavenged goods. He stops, carefully unpacks items from a plastic bag one by one, and selects an article I can’t quite see. He rolls it on in quick, short strokes to his mustache, rubbing it in, then his scruffy beard and neck and gives them a good rub too. It isn’t until he reaches under his coat and shirt and applies it to his under arms that I realize what it is.
I’ve worn the same clothes for a week and haven’t washed my hair in days. I’ve even skipped deodorant a few times in the process, yet I have the same warm, safe place to stay every night.
It’s Saturday night and a car pulls up and idles out front. A woman ambles to the side window, and an exchange is made. She quickly does an about face and returns inside. In these times of high anxiety, we can all use a little help from our friends, be it Johnny Walker or Crimea Blue. People gotta stay medicated in this plagued economy.
My drug of choice is chocolate, so I play the odds taking unnecessary trips to the local bodega.
Since the world has been put on pause, this virus has brought into focus our human frailties. Those frailties come from a place of fear. A fear of separateness.
Perhaps if we practice loving-kindness with ourselves and then mirror it back to others, we just might be a little more forgiving all the way around — get through this in one peaceful piece.
A City’s exorbitant cardboard trash got me thinking about our excessive consumption, and, in this Covid-19 reality, creating.
I’ve longed to live in NYC for years, and when it became a reality this October, it didn’t disappoint in showing me a rich banquet of stimuli that could satisfy the senses of any appetite. But an interesting side effect, a slight indigestion, grew as my awareness sharpened and revealed some of the underbelly amidst the dazzle.
Sure, I expected to see skittering rats on the subway tracks and a cockroach or two. What I didn’t expect were mountains of trash, especially cardboard, left curbside most days. This begged the question why do we have to have so much? All you have to do is look at the growing trend of self storage units that have become a blight on the landscape anywhere in the U.S. We have so much damn stuff, we need additional space to house more damn stuff. And then there’s the environmental impact.
Back in October an average of 1.5 million packages a day were delivered to NYC. In addition to the congestion, add to that the growing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and deteriorating infrastructure.
For most of us, myself included, these growing concerns flicker to a weak flame for a moment in our consciousness but then quickly get tamped out by our desire for convenience and instant gratification so easily attained with the tap of a finger.
But this pandemic is an opportunity to reevaluate, reflect, to go deeper. By going deeper I mean calling on our higher nature to do the right thing instead of succumbing to our lower nature that always demands I want it now. Essential workers’ lives in this plague economy are on the line, and that includes people filling orders and delivering goods. We’ve got to be asking ourselves is this something I need or something I want? Is it an emergency? Then act accordingly.
Like millions of others, I’m trying to exercise restraint and do the right thing. At the same time I’m looking for ways to be productive, creative, and entertained with what I already have as we social distance and self quarantine.
As an artist, I’m continually looking for ways to be innovative while limiting my carbon footprint. Not able to find the right size canvas/wood block I wanted, and not wanting to place an order that required a delivery, I looked to recycled items.
In January, I joined the ranks of the bottle-pickers and began scavenging my Brooklyn neighborhood for large pieces of of unblemished cardboard (flat screen TV boxes are perfect). This resulted in a never-ending, free supply of discarded cardboard and the discovery of a medium that, when cut into, adds a 3-D effect to my paintings.
This past October, I answered a call to adventure and moved from Maine to NYC to experience the dizzying din of a city that never sleeps. Four months into it, all the enticements that drew me here have been shut down, and I’ve been put to bed without my supper. Along with the city’s other 8.5 million residents, I’ve been asked to stay home, avoid crowds, and practice self distancing.
I was, initially, peeved.
I am now working to suck it up, to surrender.
Up until a week ago, I’ve had a rather cavalier attitude about going out in the city. Having traveled by subway both ways with stops at Grand Central, I attended a Broadway show matinee, and the next day the blackout was announced. Now the only show in town is the real Theater of the Absurd we are living.
Shortly after, the mayor declared a state of emergency and banned large gatherings. But it wasn’t until I had a conversation with my 30 year-old son sitting on the stoop at his apartment that the seriousness of it hit me.
Not feeling well the night before, he and his girlfriend decided to self quarantine. After our initial no-touch greeting, he reassured me they were feeling much better. And then he looked directly into my eyes. Because there is no one whose opinion I value more, or whose gentle criticisms of me I intently listen to and take to heart, I knew what he was going to say was important: “Mom, you need to be more careful. I want you to be safe.”
Apparently, I’m not the only parent getting this kind advice. Later on Facebook, I read a post from a friend from Maine who asked if anyone else’s millennial son or daughter had sat them down and explained how serious the situation was. My friend’s daughter had contacted her from Brooklyn alerting her to what was potentially coming. I also heard from a sister in Maine whose son and daughter chided both of them about their plans to attend a play. Their father has suffered two heart attacks and currently has a stent in place.
Things are getting real.
We all need to be careful including young people who naturally feel invincible. There are those who avoid large public gatherings and work from home by day and avoid the customary night life, and others who throw caution to the wind and risk spreading this invisible infection and insist on going out. It was just a week ago that I walked home and looked across the street into the open door of a popular watering hole that was filled with young people. The business didn’t look to be running at half capacity allowing for safe distancing as suggested. Patrons didn’t seem to be taking the necessary cautions either.
That has since changed.
I can’t just blame this behavior on the young people who are a lower risk. I’m healthy, take no medications, and have no medical conditions. Until recently, I’ve displayed hubris taking more chances then I should even though people in my age group have been issued guidance by the federal government how to stay safe.
So I’ve decided to become more conscious and regularly monitor my attitude. I accept that this is my NYC experience, and I am grateful to be here near my son. I will take better care not only of myself but also my fellow man because we are all in this together.
When I was called to this adventure, I knew there were bound to be risks, uncertainties, and trials along the way. I had no idea the extent to which I’d be tested.
I will practice taking one day at a time. Because:
This was not what I had planned.
This is pretty absurd.
To quote Camus: “To embrace the absurd implies embracing all that the unreasonable world has to offer.”
It’s the season of Art Shows in NYC right now, and the title Spring/Break certainly heralds a dizzying collection of art including installation, interactive, and video work from about 130 international curators. The show is housed in unused, unusual, and sometimes historic buildings in the city at no cost to exhibitors.
In its ninth year to NYC, the show is located on the 11th and 12th floors (formerly leased to Ralph Lauren, I was told) at the Atlantic Production Center, 625 Madison Avenue. This year’s theme is “In Excess.”
Two of artist David Frye’s acrylic paintings.
Chatting it up with the curators and artists is the best part. The Spring/Break show is new to me, so I asked lots of questions. For instance, What is an independent curator? I arrived at booth 1036 on the 10th floor and spoke to Mary Gagler who was representing artist David Frye and his “Golden Calf” acrylic paintings in sculptural frames (above). They had painted their small space in a dramatic red color to look like paneling.
She explained that independent curators might own a gallery, work for a gallery or non profit, or free lance. Curators (many of them were also artists showing their work) act as a kind of jack-of all-trades marketing reps.
Booth 1037 entitled Tableau Vivant, part of Max’s booth.
Max, an artist, in front of his circular sculpture at booth 1037.
Many exhibitors got quite elaborate with the design of their space. Curator Lauren Hirshfield recreated a small dining room to showcase her artist’s porcelain ceramics, but the pieces were simply glazed, and though beautiful, got lost in the presentation.
These ceramic pieces got lost in the presentation!
Curator and artist Jeila Gueramian had just one day to install her huge, plush, crochet/ sculptural pieces that overflowed beyond her space into the elevator hallway. Fortunately, she has her daughter to help during the week.
Close up of one of Jelia’s huge installations. Lots of crochet.
On my way up to the show in the elevator, a young woman exclaimed, “You gotta check out the artist known as Super Future Kid (Steffi Homa)! I did. And entered a real gingerbread house comprised of 2500 pounds of salt and gallons of pastel paint replete with toad stools and a foot bridge over a stream of pink water and paintings of colorful, cartoonish creatures.
Entry of the artist Super Future Kid.
Inside the Gingerbread universe.
One of my favorite pieces was a huge ( 90 x 120 inches) installation entitled “Unfolding,” by artists Ori Carino and Lee Quinones. It consisted of two layers of stretched silk with spray paint, airbrush, and acrylic paint. Illuminated from behind, it was stunning.
“Unfolding” Spray paint, airbrush, acrylic paint on synthetic silk.
Many of the artists have sold work. Scooter LaForge’s beastly banquet table of hand glazed/fired commercial dinner plates with gold inlay were selling well at $500 a piece. Entitled, “Please Don’t Eat The Animals,” you were asked to “Gorge yourself on the excesses of humanity’s cruelty to animals.” I have vegan friends who would approve.
Please Don’t Feed the Animals!
Before I realized it, I had already spent two and a half hours and never even left the 10th floor. I ran in to three new friends who had just arrived, and after a brief hello, made my way to the 11th floor to squeeze in a quick walk around as sensory overload had taken over, and I just couldn’t ingest another visual bite.
The show runs from March 3rd to the 9th.
(But I have to get in one more.)
Krista Klingbeil uses a pastry bag to pipe in silica paste on the surfaces of her paintings.
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. Follow your bliss, and the universe will open doors where there were only walls. Joseph Campbell.
A trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition, The Last Knight: The Art, Armor,and Ambition of Maximilian I before it closed, happened to coincide with rereading a couple of inspiring books, The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, and Do the Work, by Steven Pressfield. Together they inspire a call to action: create a new vision of the future, embark on a quest, slay the dragon of resistance to bring it to fruition.
His horse couldn’t be lacking in sumptuous adornment. A similar Bard (body armor for war horses) was presented by Maximilian I to Henry VIII.
Campbell’s quote could apply to Maximilian I. Although he was the son of a Holy Roman Emperor, he got little kingly guidance at home. He realized his own “unique potentiality for experience” and created a vision of what constituted a great ruler. With little money, land, prestige, or political clout, he forged a new identity with a marriage to Marie of Burgundy, a full-on propaganda campaign, crafted armor befitting the gods, and dazzling jousting tournaments. In today’s lingo, he knew how to create a brand.
His alliances and military strategies earned him the title of one of the most powerful leaders in European history and probably the label “hero.” I imagine him, with the flick of his fingers, casting off the past and then plunging himself headlong into an uncertain future.
According to Campbell, most hero stories are about the young–finding themselves confronting the unknown in a place, a forest perhaps. The hero embarks on this journey and must leave dependency and immaturity behind and then find the passion and courage deep within to overcome many trials. If she or he is strong enough, the end result and revelations learned along the way will bring the hero to a richer and mature new life, a new consciousness– a mythological death and a rebirth.
But a hero’s quest isn’t just for the young!
Ceremonial Armor of Charles V, grandson of Maximilian I and future Emperor. The cost of this armor would be equal to the price of a Manhattan townhouse in today’s market. Original photo
A hero’s journey is exactly what we need in the later stages of our lives. To look inward, To be reborn. To save ourselves.
When we’re older, past childbearing/ child rearing years, or in retirement, we can find ourselves suddenly lost too, wondering what it all means? Our trials are different– lost youth, declining bodily functions, confronting mortality (technology!)–but no less difficult. Shouldn’t we to go forth and participate in life with as much courage and vitality as we did when we were young?
I think so. We Boomers are leading the way.
Now that we’re living longer we have another chance to take this adventure. Maybe it’s finally taking a cross-country trip, committing to a healthy life style, writing that book, or starting that business venture. You don’t have to go far or put yourself in much danger. But you do have to get out of your comfort zone.
Mechanical Breastplate for the Joust of War. Date:1480-1500. Medium: Steel, copper alloy. Original photo
Mechanical Breastplate for the Variants of the Joust of War. Date: 1480-1500. Meduim: Steel, copper alloy. Original photo
Getting started and staying the course is the hard part. In his book Do The Work, Steven Pressfield puts is this way:
On a field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.
Joust of War in Field Armor. Date: 1512-15. Gouache with gold and silver highlights over pen, pencil, and lead point on paper.
Joust of War. Date 1512-15. Gouache with gold and silver highlights over pen, pencil, and lead point on paper.
Resistance will probably be the greatest trial, and some of the “greatest hits” that elicit the dragon of resistance according to Pressfield are any creative art, any course or program designed to overcome a bad habit or addiction, education of any kind, any act that entails commitment of the heart. In essence, “any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower.”
Pressfield says we can use resistance as a compass.
Rule of thumb: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.”
Designed for a contest between two men with polaxes (long battle axes), swords, or daggers inside an inclosure. This was the most frightening of all contests. There were no rules.Talk about trials!
Foot Combat Armor of Maximilian I.
Next to resistance, Pressfield, goes on to say, “…rational thought is the soul’s worst enemy. “Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego.” Rational thought or the ego will find a multitude of reasons why this adventure is a bad idea. It wants to play it safe, quell those fears that arise. What’s the solution?
Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.
Working from the self requires spending some quiet time away from social media, texting, anything that constantly grabs our attention. Long walks, keeping a journal, enjoying nature, prayer/meditation help to cultivate intuition and shed light on the unconscious. These are simple undertakings, yet they require the most effort. But what a thrill it will be to live a second self– a new version of you.
Steel Gloves–Gauntlets– of Maximilian I. These give new meaning to the expression: Throwing down the Gauntlet. Original photo
Joseph Campbell coined the phrase follow your bliss. He affirmed living life as an adventure.
What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else.
New York City is still a mecca for artists the world over, and the neighborhood of Chelsea, home to hundreds of galleries, is often hailed as one of the city’s most important and influential art districts.
One of the many exciting things about living here is being exposed to all this stimulating creativity and attending art openings. What’s even more exciting is when the one-woman show at the Sears Peyton Gallery, in Chelsea, belongs to a childhood friend who grew up in Hallowell, Maine, and graduated from the Maine College of Art.
Early Morning, oil on panel 20x 20 inches.
Between the Trees, oil on panel, 27×27 inches.
Along with a festive and colorful crowd, I was able to celebrate, Poogy Bjerklie, The In-Between, her second exhibition with the gallery. Described as “…landscape paintings, rendered both intimate and anonymous, imagined and reimagined, on dreamy, luscious surfaces,” I would add that her work has an old world, other worldly quality, which draws you in to reflect on happy childhood memories playing outdoors hoping for talking animals and fairy sightings. Her paintings evoke a response.
Poogy and husband, John opening night..
An art patron at the opening. Love the coat.
Poogy’s story is interesting. After graduating from Maine College of Art, where she met her husband, John, she somewhat reluctantly agreed to move to Brooklyn. Back in the 90’s, they rented a huge apartment that included studio space in what was then an AIR (Artist in Residence) building, which housed about 13 other artists.
At the time, Poogy was creating hand-painted clothing in addition to oil paintings. It was common back then for landlords to ask tenants to hold open studio weekends to showcase their art. Many artists became suspicious because more and more, landlords saw this as an opportunity for real estate developers to have easy access to view the entire building and then make an offer on the property. This wasn’t the case with her landlord.
Not wanting people traipsing through her space, she reluctantly agreed, and, instead, built a temporary wall about four feet into her studio that prevented the public not only passage into her work area but also her living space. She painted and distressed the wall a rich bronze color that captured the light and beautifully enhanced seven small paintings.
Her display caught the eye of one woman in particular during the event. After admiring Poogy’s work, she bought one painting and announced, “I’m scheduling a one person show of your work in October.” This patron happened to represent the Phatory, an East Village art gallery, still open today, specializing in contemporary art.
Every painting sold.
The rest is history.
In 2018, The Maine Museum of Art located in Bangor, part of the University of Maine, Orono, selected Poogy to exhibit her work entitled, Poogy Bjerklie, Nowhere in Particular, at one of its five separate exhibition spaces. The Museum had found her through the Sears Peyton Gallery and had been looking at her work over the years. Oddly enough, they didn’t realize at the time she was a Maine native.
Her work was displayed at the museum from January 12–May 5, 2018. Typically, artists don’t usually sell paintings at museum shows, but as luck, or should I say, talent would have it, Poogy sold four paintings to one collector.
Distant Mountains, oil on paper mounted on wood 11 1/4 x 11 1/4.
Proud moment with a dear friend at her solo show.
While New York City (Queens to be exact) continues to be her primary residence, she still owns seasonal lake property in Maine where she draws inspiration from its natural beauty like so many artists before her. In fact most, if not all, her pieces in this current show were done in Maine this summer.
What makes this a particularly significant event for Poogy is that the year 2020 is proving to be an exciting time for women in the arts as museums everywhere are focusing requisitions and programming on long, underappreciated female artists.The Baltimore Museum of Art has even dedicated all its 2020 programs and exhibitions to women. There couldn’t be a better time to be recognized with a solo show.
Her journey from small town Maine to New York City and having gained entree into its high velocity art scene is notable. Surrounded by lush and graceful paintings representing years of hard work and well honed talent was profound. The vitality and enthusiasm in the room opening night was palpable.
It is inspiring to see an artist still opening her heart–still following her bliss.