Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Purposes of Education

Today in a discussion group I belong to on linkedin.com the question was put on there. " Can a self taught artist be as successful as an artist with an education?"

This is what I have to say about that.

I know artists without formal education whom have gone on to be very successful, however there is of course never any guarantee for success, if you are speaking  monetarily, regardless of one's education or circumstance. Education is a very personal choice that one makes as an artist, and the word success is relative. I can only speak from my own experience.

 I was not a good student, in an system that does not foster or encourage creativity. I did have a thirst for knowledge, which I believe is what needs to underpin any educational pursuit.

I have chosen to return to University at the age of 56 years of age, which has been both challenging and simultaneously, one of the best experiences, in my life time for so many reasons.

As a younger art student, I attended NSCAD from 1971- 1979. I was neither ready, nor  prepared for University. One needs to be ready and to choose the right program, with the right Professors. Unfortunately, at 27 I was unable to complete my degree, as I  suddenly found myself a widow, after being newly married for only four months, in my last year of University and was unable to return, which always weighed heavy on my heart.

Now, as a mature student, I will finally graduate at the age of 59 with my BFA from a wonderful Fine Art Department and University, in eight months time. In the near future I hope to continue on in pursuit of an MFA.

And so I will say, yes, I greatly value my formal education,  even though in the past I was never the best student. I am  now getting As and Bs and I have fulfilled the dream of returning to complete my degree.

I have been blessed with an experience, that for me, is second to none. I am constantly inspired by fellow students, artists and professors who stimulate, motivate the intellect and creative spirit, making all the difference in my life, as a person and as an artist. It is about the quality of what I learn, from quality teachers, and simultaneously from the quality of the creative process, in my own art practice.

My fellow students keep me young, inspire, educate me, and because of my own experience, I can mentor many of them, in a mutually respectful exchange, which I find very rewarding, having been a Youth Care Worker for over 20 years.

We are never to "old " for learning, Life is for learning. I am here to say, if you are thinking about going back to University, but are hesitating, especially if you think it's too late, or you are too "old", or for what ever reason. Make sure you choose the right University, the right program, with the right professors and you will not regret it.

There are so many in this world who have no hope or opportunity to attend University. I am so very grateful I have that opportunity, and I intend to take every advantage that I can of it, as I do not take it for granted.

In conclusion yes, you do not have to go to University to get an art education but why wouldn't you want to, if you have the opportunity. It will only enrich your life, as an artist and as a person and bring you much happiness.

 " It's not the pursuit of happiness, it's the happiness of the pursuit."

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Are Your Sutras?

Since reading the book, " The Path To Love", by Deepak Chopra I have been collecting, and writing sutras. Actually, I have been collecting them and writing some of my own for many years before ever hearing the word sutras or knowing what they were. There are many kinds of sutras. In Sanskrit, it translates into the word "thread".

Deepak Chopra describes a sutra being, "an aphorism or formula that expresses some fundamental truth about consciousness." Rumi said, " Love is the sea where intellect drowns," this is a sutra. Sutras express your frame of mind in the present moment, or where you are, along the road in the journey of life. As a recovering person, 17 years in a 12 Step program, we have our own sutras that we call, " Slogans." They are powerful tools that help us live our daily lives in recovery, if we use them.

Over the past week, I have heard Jack Layton express sutras in his letter to Canadians, what Steven Lewis referred to as being a Manifesto.  I have been reflecting deeply on these and what Jack said and believed, and it is timely for me to be doing so, as I am soon returning to University to finish my last year of University upon graduating in the Spring 2012. I have many goals to achieve and look forward to the coming year with much anticipation and excitement.

Sutras are a insightful and tangible way to enable my focus in fulfilling my objectives and goals. I would call them very specific self-talk, meditation and prayer.

In one of my many journals I keep, every year I write out what is called a soul bargain, in a little booklet I have also for my sutras, based on the spiritual meaning of love, measured by what it can do, and what it is supposed to accomplish. Here is the list.

Love is meant to heal.
Love is meant to renew.
Love is meant to make us safe.
Love is meant to inspire us with it's power.
Love is meant to make us certain, without doubt.
Love is meant to oust all fear.
Love is meant to unveil immortality.
Love is meant to bring peace.
Love is meant to harmonize differences.
Love is meant to bring us closer to God.

After I write out what it is I want from Love, in a detailed and complete manner, as specific as I can make it, I put it away, in a safe place, and then I am attentive over the passing months, believing that Love will respond. There is nothing more for me to do but these four things. When I feel love, act on it. Speak my heart. Be truthful. Remain open.

Today, as I finished writing my new soul bargain for the coming year, I now have a very special collection of sutras from Jack Layton which I will never forget and want to always keep close to my heart.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


"Always have a dream longer than a life time."  "You can wait for the best conditions or you can make the best of what you have now." - Jack Layton

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Beautiful Dream

My good friend Joseph made a You Tube video for me. I've never made any videos of my art work so, I thought it was very kind and generous of him to do this without my request and I thought I should share it as Joseph is a talented musician and singer.

It is always such a positive affirming thing when artists support one another. This is what makes for a better world I believe. As artists we can opt out of the cut throat competitive society, where getting ahead,  no matter what the cost is the obsession. Instead we can be a united collective force with a creative vision for change. That's my beautiful dream I want to make a reality. 

Anton Corbijn - The Black and White Analog Photograph

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

People We Love

This has been a week of great loss for many people in Canada. I want to dedicate this video in memory of those who died in Resolute and in memory of Jack Layton and for all those people we love who have gone Home. God bless them all.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton's Letter

As Canadians know we lost Jack Layton, the Opposition Leader of Canada's New Democratic Party.  He was a remarkable human being and so much more than a politician. He renewed my hope for Canada's future as a man full of compassion and love for his fellow human beings, and for Canada. He was a genuine, honest, humble, courageous and a visionary man, who never let anyone get his spirit down. 

He will be greatly missed by all. God Bless his wife Olivia, family and friends.

,August 20, 2011Sen
Toronto, Ontario
Dear Friends,
Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.
Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.
I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.
I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.
A few additional thoughts:
To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.
To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.
To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.
To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.
To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.
And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
All my very best,
Jack Layton

Sunday, August 21, 2011


 Artist - Isha Brown

I know our past shapes who we are in the present, and we do not have to become victims of what has happened to us. However we all at some point, need help, we need to reach out for it and we also, need help to be offered to us. We live in difficult troubled times to say the least. It is heartening to learn of others making the real effort to make a difference in the world and in the lives of others, leading through example. I heard one such story this morning, that brought me back to my own experience in 1979-80 that forever changed me and my life.

I fell in love with the man I married, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia that was drug induced at the early age of 16 and he was also a brittle diabetic, which is uncontrollable diabetes.

I had been studying Mime in Toronto when I met Bill, in the Young Street Mission, just around the corner from the Women's Christian Temperance Union, where I was living, not because I didn't smoke or drink, I was in fact trying to live a Christian life, but mainly I was living there because it was close to school and comparatively cheap. 

It was for me at least, love at first sight I think. We began dating in January 1980, moved in together in April, married in June and by September he was dead. I mention this experience in my life because I believe it is very relevant to the documentary I heard this morning, for the second time on CBC Radio, Maritime Magazine

The level of medical help my husband received in Ontario was very good compared to what was available in the Maritimes, where I am from and where we moved to after we were married. Regardless  of where we were, it was not enough to save his life, when is came to his mental illness.

This is a story of hope, and makes me feel things are just beginning to slowly change for those marginalized, stigmatized, outcast, incarcerated, institutionalized, afflicted with mental illness, disease, poverty, and homelessness.  

It is appalling to me that such situations exists, in a country full of resources and wealth only available to a certain few, who control the purse strings many of who are in political power, or in the back pockets of politicians. I know it is not that simple, and that these issues are systemic and cultural, and there are no cut and dried answers. However, I do believe in the power of the individual, and that it can be a catalyst for empowering change, like none other, especially when we can reclaim or claim our own individual power. Many of us need a hand up to do this, and those of us that are in a position to give a hand up to others, need to do so.

After hearing this program on two occasions, I felt had to write to say how happy I was to hear of this project and certainly do hope and pray that it continues to be successful. I know personally of Claudette Bradshaw, who is behind this project, her commitment and those like her who are actively helping others. My hope is that the powers that be i.e. government, red tape, and interference, etc., will not hamper and restrict this vital work and effort.

As a front line Youth Care Worker for so many years, I know all too well how troubled kids, youth at risk and young offenders fall between the cracks, because of a system that fails abysmally to assist these kids and their families, only to become adults that are more often than not, in poverty, homeless, suffering from addiction, and with mental health issues, only to find themselves as adults incarcerated or living on the street, outcast, instead of receiving the help they are in desperate need of, in order to get on their feet.

I pray this program stays around long enough to see some real results to enable much needed change for those most in need, without the bureaucrats screwing it up some how! 

I subscribe to a blog called, Colony of Losers, which explores the issues surrounding mental illness especially in regard to it's stigma and the ignorance of those not understanding people suffering from it's affects, which ultimately affects us all directly or indirectly at some point. I hope you take a few minutes to visit the Colony of Losers, as it might just change or save your life or that of another's.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Xinran Xue

Prior to returning to University to complete my BFA, I had been a Youth Care Worker for almost 20 years. I  became all to familiar with the dismal lack of support for troubled youth, youth at risk and young offenders, in spite of the rhetoric from a society that supposedly considers children as our greatest resource . Not to mention the situations of abuse and  neglect they have endured and suffered at the hands of those who were expected to love, nurture and keep them safe.

Nothing can quite prepare you to comprehend the lives of so many children throughout the world that are killed because they are not wanted, or forced to live under conditions and circumstances that we in the Western world can hardly imagine, unless we have seen it first hand.

Xinran Xue is one such person. I was very moved after hearing her own personal story and what she has undertaken to do, on behalf of Chinese children and their mothers. It is a story that resonates with any one who has an ounce of compassion for children everywhere, without a voice, and the mothers that love them and feel forced into making almost unspeakable sacrifices.

This is from the Economist

DURING the past 30 years of economic reform, China has made what is probably history’s largest single improvement to human welfare, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. Yet millions have also been crushed by the vast engine of Chinese growth—and it is among these that Xinran Xue (who uses only her first name) finds her stories. In previous works of oral history, she has rescued from the chaos that is modern Chinese record-keeping personal narratives of her grandparents’ generation (“China Witness”, 2008) and of women caught in China’s endless political turmoil (“The Good Women of China”, 2002). In her latest book, “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother”, she turns to the relationship between women and their daughters in tales of loss and often unthinkable heartache.

Visiting a peasant family in Shandong, she sees a newborn baby girl snatched from her mother and dumped headfirst in the chamber pot: the head of the family demands a son and, because of the one-child policy, will not let the daughter live. Two years later, the young couple pays Xinran a visit. They, along with the rest of the young people, have left their village to look for work in cities. The mother says she had two more daughters but her father-in-law gave them away to foreigners for adoption. “Have you seen any foreigners?” she asks Xinran, fearfully. “Do you think the foreigners know how to hold my baby?”
In this section

Xinran now runs a charity in London for adopted Chinese children. But from 1989 to 1997 she presented one of China’s best-known local radio programmes, “Words on the Night Breeze”, in the southern city of Nanjing. Some narratives, such as that from Shandong, came to her because of her work. But what is astounding is how many she just happens upon, as if such tales are lying all around.

At the tiny restaurant where Xinran eats lunch, the waitress tries to kill herself twice, each time after a little girl’s birthday party. The woman is tortured by the happy faces because, thinking it her duty to produce a male heir, she had smothered her baby daughters. She survives because, as well as the bottle of agricultural fertiliser she swallowed, she drank one of washing-up liquid, thinking that any chemical in a bottle was poison. The detergent diluted the fertiliser’s fatal dose.

Cycling to work one winter’s day, Xinran has a flat tyre. The woman who repairs her bicycle turns out to have been a midwife. Under the author’s patient questioning, she reveals the pricing system of her trade: three times the normal price for a first-born son; six times more if the father is first-born, too; yet more if a daughter is “done”. The trick is to strangle the baby with the umbilical cord as it emerges, and call it stillborn.

Most of Xinran’s mothers submit stoically to the cruelties of “son preference” and the one-child policy. But a few go to extraordinary lengths to have more than one child. On a train journey she meets one of China’s so-called “extra-birth guerrilla troops”—families with daughters who leave home and move secretly from city to city, hoping to escape the birth-control regulators long enough to produce a son. The father rocks his daughter tenderly to sleep, as he explains the dangers of their life. At the next stop, Xinran sees the young girl talking to a food seller on the platform and waves goodbye, assuming the family has got off. But later she meets the father on the train: he has abandoned his beloved daughter to strangers because his wife is expecting another child and the family cannot hide more than one. She was the fourth daughter they had given up.

One might perhaps object that some of Xinran’s stories are not as typical as she implies: she blames the unflinching “son preference” of traditional Confucian culture for the families’ decisions to abandon or kill their daughters. But, in fact, the number of “missing girls” is highest in richer, better-educated provinces: prenatal ultrasound scans and selective abortion have proved even deadlier to girls than the cruel dictates of village elders. But this is quibbling. The core of “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother” is the individual stories of women who have lost their daughters. One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by them.

John Baldesari - Why Do We Make Art?

This week I listened to an interview on CBC that Eleanor Wachtel  On The Arts had with John Baldesari.

I heard it some time back and then again yesterday, then the repeat program late last night. Tonight I downloaded the podcast and listened even closer again.  Listening several times to this interview, I really began to get a feel for who this artist and man is. I think I am either a slow listener or a slow learner, and yes a little OCD!

John Baldesari had been invited to exhibit his work at NSCAD  back in 1971, the year before I became a student there, at the beginning of my art education, so unfortunately I missed him. 

He had the students write on the gallery walls "I will not make any more boring art".  He said he'd written this statement down in one of his journals, because he'd felt guilty about making boring art. Upon the completion of the work in the NSCAD gallery , he was rather shocked to see the whole gallery filled with writing on all the walls, with his statement from students who also were seemingly  making boring art. It was not what he was anticipating and it was a real awakening to him.

Truthfully, I did not know anything about him until I returned to University as a mature student, to complete my BFA at Mount Allison. Gratefully, I have now come to find out about John Baldessari and appreciate what a likeable, compelling person and artist he is. Genuine, honest a humble man, he has keen wit, great creative integrity, energy  and an insightful mind. Being a teacher for much of his career, he obviously must have been a great one.

He  really confirmed for me what I have believed about why it is many creative people make art. Firstly it's fun! He mentioned this more than once.

Spiritual nourishment he said, is what art gives to people and he had been given a gift and he really didn't know why, but he needed to the best artist he can be in order to  re-enchant people's vision as if they were seeing things in the world for the very first time, because human beings should not take things for granted. Indirectly art can change people's view he stated.

Considering he's upbringing, I think I would be correct in saying that art for him is a spiritual experience and as an artist he wants to help others and make the world a better place. It is a very simple message, and one that reflects I think, his sense of being an artist , as being his vocation.  His love for language, communication, words, reading, learning and knowledge were very evident having three libraries in his home.

Definitely the intellectual,but tempered by humble roots that he's not forgotten. Speaking of his father in a loving way, referring to him as a working man, and a "peasant" from the old country. He  attributed much of his creative sensibility to his mother who had a interest in reading and art.

Today as I was going through these bits and pieces of paper I am always collecting after writing down people's names, I want to find out about, artists, musicians, interesting people, places, things, books and words of wisdom I come across, I thought this quote was  a very fitting summation of what I have learned about John Baldesarri and the impression he  has made upon me. He often thinks of himself as a frustrated writer, who almost became a social worker and who unfortunately has been dubbed a conceptual artist he says.

"Knowledge is a beautiful thing, but the using of knowledge in a good way is what makes for wisdom.  Learning how to use knowledge in a sacred manner, that's wisdom to me.  And to me, that's what a true Elder is." Sun Bear, CHIPPEWA

John Baldesarri is not only a great artist, he is learned, knowledgeable and wise elder.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Motivation? What's That?

I am lacking motivation to get certain things done today that I really do not want to do, because they are difficult and somewhat uncomfortable.

Over the past two days I cleaned up my studio space and threw out things I don't need and organized the disorganized. I'd been procrastinating on this chore for, well a good part of the Summer. Oh I made some head way by tidying and reorganizing areas of my studio but couldn't seem to get this last bit completed.

When I struggle with motivation, change and getting things done, most times I have to turn it over to my Power greater than myself and ask the Creator to help me. I say the Serenity Prayer often. On other occasions I have to simply bite the bullet and push on through, the hardest part is getting started. I know this is easier said then done, but it has been my experience that these two resources and tools work but they won't work unless I draw upon them.

This is an issue I have wrestled with all my life. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and intimidated by change, by what needs to be done or challenges that seem almost seem insurmountable to overcome. I am grateful I have learned how to take it one day at a time, much of the time one minute at a time. Today I can break things down and not feel like I have to get everything done all at once, which only results in those feelings of being overwhelmed and intimidated and not accomplishing anything. This leads to unhealthy shame and guilt which is never constructive.

Perhaps because I am heading back to University in less then a month I am getting my self prepared psychologically and am profoundly aware how significant this last and final year is going to be for me.

Many people, including myself, have been good at beginnings and endings, however failed to learn the middle stuff during the process. There was a time I could never admit this and really didn't understand my behaviour nor knew how I could go about changing. 

Today I understand and have changed and though I still struggle some days more than others, life is so much more satisfying and meaningful getting that vital middle part of accomplishing things figured out. After all this is what makes the beginnings and endings worth while.

I wish you all good  beginnings, middles and  endings and will keep one for myself.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Paintin' With The Chicken Eggs

The question was asked today on a site I subscribe to called, CanvooBrushBuzz, about what grade of paint is being used as artists. Do we use the cheaper student grade or the higher priced and supposed better quality grade. I could not help but comment, being a convert and champion of egg tempera painting.

I find it strange and well, I suppose it's a sign of the times we live in, that I attend a wonderful University, and in my opinion, an even more wonderful Fine Art Department, that has a long history, once full of artists, students and studio Professors that were steeped in the discipline of egg tempera painting. Now, there is next to none. 

I am very fortunate to have a Studio Professor/Advisor that has both encouraged and helped me to find the information I need in order to enable me to learn. He is a wonderful teacher and mentor and Mount Allison University is full of them.

Before a actually took up egg tempera painting, I was very blessed to see Tom Forrestall's retrospective show, in the Owens Gallery at Mount Allison University, where I am a student going into my fourth year,  completing my BFA degree. 

I was absolutely spell bound by all his paintings and sketch books and so thrilled to be able to meet him and discuss the process of egg tempera painting.

As an artist, and now a mature art student, monetarily the price I pay for paints is an one going consideration and struggle. I have used oil paint for many years, and when I could rarely afford the better paint grades, I would purchase them.

I'm always on the hunt for bargains without sacrificing quality, that said, I think art supply companies are making money, hand over fist, selling extremely over priced products, to usually artists/students, who on a very lean budget.

I have recently taken up egg tempera for many reasons. It is more environmentally friendly, much cheaper and very high in quality. There is nothing to compare it to I believe.

The natural powdered pigment is good quality, along with some preferably fresh eggs, that really helps to give the binding egg yolk a good consistency, if you learn to mix, prepare and apply it properly. The translucent, luminescent quality the yolk gives, is amazing and beautiful. 

Learning, being the operative word, painting with egg tempera is an ancient disciplined method, that has long stood the test of time and lasts for 100s of years. The painting actually gets better as it ages.

I have always worked with a very basic palette. I ordered  my pigment through a Canadian company and purchased five colours and a white, which cost me a total of $40. Each came in quarter pound packages, with the exception of the allizarin crimson which was 1/2 lb, in a container. I don't think I could find that much quality oil or acrylic tubes of paint for cheaper, and will last much longer. As well, I no longer have to bother with canvas as egg tempera needs to be done on a hard surface, like wood.

I doubt I will ever return to oil, and though I have much more to learn about painting, and egg tempera painting, I am so enjoying the learning process, which for me will never stop, and for this I am grateful to be a perpetual art student. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Skeleton Woman

Lately I have been thinking a great deal about my father, and about  meanings of a healing dream I had recently about him. I'm certain it has to do with re-reading Woman That Run With The Wolves and the poignant themes of the stories relating to relationship with self, others, life and death.

Over the years I have had many  powerful experiences with receiving messages through my dreams that helped me through either difficult relationships or even the death of those I love. 

Relationship and death seem to be a central theme in many of my dreams. Perhaps because I have had a lot of personal experience with death in my own life.

Remembering the book, Love and Will, I read many years ago, by Rollo May, said  that sex was once the taboo topic, but now it is death. I have always found this to be true. Death has become far removed from our lives and most people push death away, or flee from it, in one way or another.

In the ancient tale of the, " Skeleton Woman" I am reading now, I am some what conflicted, uncomfortable and yet fascinated with it's deep meaning and imagery which explores what it is to understand the Life/Death/Life Nature of Love. This story Clarissa Pinkola Estes shares was given to her by Mary Uukalat in a five line poem, in an old Inuit setting.

I am anxious to see what images I express in my painting and interpret the meaning of what I think is the most powerful story in this book. Here is what Clarissa writes about the Life/Death/ Life Nature of Love.

"Wolves are good at relationships. Anyone who has observed wolves sees how deeply they bond. Mates are most often for life. Even though they clash, even though there is dissension, their bonds carry them over and through harsh winters, plentiful springs, long walks, new offspring, old predators, tribal dances, and group sings. The relational needs of humans are no different.

While the instinctual lives of wolves include loyalty and lifelong bonds of trust and devotion, humans sometimes have trouble with these matters. If we were to use archetypal terms to describe what determines the strong bonds among wolves, we might surmise that the integrity of their relationships is derived from their submission to the ancient Life/Death/Life nature.

The ancient Life/Death/Life nature is a cycle of animation, development, decline, and death that is always followed by reanimation. This cycle affects all physical life and all facets of psychological life. Everything—the sun, the novas, and the moon, as well as the affairs of humans and those of the tiniest creatures, like cells and atoms—has this fluttering, then faltering, then fluttering again.

Unlike humans, wolves do not deem the ups and downs of life, energy, power, food, opportunity as startling or punitive. The peaks and valleys just are, and wolves ride them as efficiently, as fluidly, as possible. The instinctual nature has the miraculous ability to live through all positive boon, all negative consequence, and still maintain relationship to self, to another.

Among wolves, the Life/Death/Life cycles of nature and fate are met with grace and wit and the endurance to stay tight with one’s mate and to live long and well as can be. But in order for humans to live and give loyalty in this most fit manner, one has to go up against the very thing one fears most. There is no way around it, as well shall see. One must sleep with Lady Death.

Skeleton Woman is a hunting story about love. In stories from the north, love is not a romantic tryst between two lovers. Stories from the circumpolar regions describe love as a union of two beings whose strength together enables one or both to enter into communication with the soul-world and to participate in fate as a dance with life and death.

To understand this story, we have to see that there, in one of the harshest environs and one of the most stressed hunting cultures in the world, love does not mean a flirtation or a pursuit for simple ego pleasure, but a visible bond composed of psychic sinew of endurance, a union which prevails through bounty and austerity, through the most complicated and most simple days and nights. The union of two beings is seen as “angakok” magic in itself, as a relationship through which “the powers that be” become known to both individuals.

But there are requirements for this kind of union. In order to create this enduring love, one invites a third partner to the union. The third partner is Skeleton Woman. She is also called Lady Death, and as such, she is the Life/Death/Life nature in one of her many guises. In this form, Lady Death is not a disease, but a deity.

In a relationship she has the role of the oracle who knows when it is time for cycles to begin and end. As such, she is the wildish aspect of relationship, the one of whom men are most terrified… and sometimes women also, for when faith in the transformative has been lost, the natural cycles of increase and attrition are feared as well.

To create enduring love, Skeleton Woman must be admitted to the relationship and be embraced by both lovers. Here, in this old Inuit story, are the psychic stages for mastery of that embrace. This story was given to me by Mary Uukalat. Let us peer at the images which rise from the smoke of this story. "

Here is the story of, " Skeleton Woman".

" She had done something of which her father disapproved, although no one any longer remembered what it was. But her father had dragged her to the cliffs and thrown her over and into the sea. There, the fish ate her flesh away and plucked out her eyes. As she lay under the sea, her skeleton turned over and over in the currents.

One day a fisherman came fishing, well, in truth many came to this bay once. But this fisherman had drifted far from his home place and did not know that the local fisherman stayed away, saying this inlet was haunted.

The fisherman's hook drifted down through the water, and caught of all places, in the bones of Skeleton Woman's rib cage. The fisherman thought, "Oh, now I've really got a big one! Now I really have one!" In his mind he was thinking of how many people this great fish would feed, how long it would last, how long he might be free from the chore of hunting. And as he struggled with this great weight on the end of the hook, the sea was stirred to a thrashing froth, and his kayak bucked and shook, for she who was beneath struggled to disentangle herself. And the more she struggled, the more she tangled in the line. No matter what she did, she was inexorably dragged upward, tugged up by the bones of her own ribs.

The hunter had turned to scoop up his net, so he did not see her bald head rise above the waves, he did not see the little coral creatures glinting in the orbs of her skull, he did not see the crustaceans on her old ivory teeth. When he turned back with his net, her entire body, such as it was, had come to the surface and was hanging from the tip of his kayak by her long front teeth.

"Agh!" cried the man, and his heart fell into his knees, his eyes hid in terror on the back of his head, and his ears blazed bright red. "Agh!" he screamed, and knocked her off the prow with his oar and began paddling like a demon toward shoreline. And not realizing she was tangled in his line, he was frightened all the more for she appeared to stand upon her toes while chasing him all the way to shore. No matter which way he zigged his kayak, she stayed right behind, and her breath rolled over the water in clouds of steam, and her arms flailed out as though to snatch him down into the depths.

"Agh!" he wailed as he ran aground. In one leap he was out of his kayak, clutching his fishing stick and running, and the coral white corpse of skeleton woman, still snagged in the fishing line, bumpety-bumped behind right after him. Over the rocks he ran, and she followed. Over the frozen tundra he ran, and she kept right up. Over the meat laid out to dry he ran, cracking it to pieces as his mukluks bore down.

Throughout it all she kept right up, in fact, she grabbed some of the frozen fish as she was dragged behind. This she began to eat, for she had not gorged in a long, long time. Finally, the man reached his snowhouse and dove right into the tunnel and on hands and knees scrabbled his way into the interior. Panting and sobbing he lay there in the dark, his heart a drum, a mighty drum. Safe at last, oh so safe, yes, safe thank the Gods, Raven, yes, thank Raven, yes, and all bountiful Sedna, safe... at...last.

Imagine when he lit his whale oil lamp, there she - it - lay in a tumble upon his snow floor, one heel over her shoulder, one knee inside her rib cage, one foot over her elbow. He could not say later what it was, perhaps the firelight softened her features, or the fact that he was a lonely man... but a feeling of some kindness came into his breathing, and slowly he reached out his grimy hands and using words softly like a mother to child, began to untangle her from the fishing line.

"Oh, na, na, na." First he untangled the toes, then the ankles. "Oh, na, na, na." On and on he worked into the night, until dressing her in furs to keep her warm, Skeleton Woman's bones were all in the order a human's should be.

He felt into his leather cuffs for his flint and used some of his hair to light a little more fire. He gazed at her from time to time as he oiled the precious wood of his fishing stick and rewound the gut line. And she in the furs uttered not a word - she did not dare - lest this hunter take her out and throw her down to the rocks and break her bones to pieces utterly.

The man became drowsy, slid under his sleeping skins, and soon was dreaming. And sometimes as humans sleep, you know, a tear escapes from the dreamer's eye; we never know what sort of dream causes this, but we know it is either a dream of sadness or longing. And this is what happened to the man.

Skeleton Woman saw the tear glisten in the firelight and she became suddenly soooo thirsty. She tinkled and clanked and crawled over to the sleeping man and put her mouth to his tear. The single tear was like a river and she drank and drank and drank until her many-years-long thirst was slaked.

While lying beside him, she reached inside the sleeping man and took out his heart, the mighty drum. She sat up and banged on both sides of it:Bom Bomm!.....Bom Bomm!

As she drummed, she began to sing out "Flesh, flesh, flesh! Flesh, Flesh, Flesh!" And the more she sang, the more her body filled out with flesh. She sang for hair and good eyes and nice fat hands. She sang the divide between her legs, and breasts long enough to wrap for warmth, and all the things a woman needs.

And when she was all done, she also sang the sleeping man's clothes off and crept into his bed with him, skin against skin. She returned the great drum, his heart, to his body, and that is how they awakened, wrapped one around the other, tangled from their night, in another way now, a good and lasting way.

The people who cannot remember how she came to her first ill fortune say she and the fisherman went away and were consistently well fed by the creatures she had known in her life under water. The people say that it is true and that is all they know."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Just Continue to Create and Out of This Comes More Creativity

I didn't get one bit of drawing or painting done yesterday. I just concentrated on getting those letters out to the Herald and the Ombudsman and got my dishes washed. I did finish the rest of the chapter in my book Woman That Run With The Wolves, about Manawee and so I am completely ready to start my painting. I have no more excuses. 

I have done three paintings in four days, so I am not going to be too hard on myself. I think in the back and even in the forefront of my mind, I am always trying to push myself with my painting. I have learned that it is important to just continue to create. Out of this comes more creativity. I've struggled over the years with discipline in different areas of life. I always associated it with being forced to do something I didn't want to do, and if I didn't want to do it, I wasn't going to do it.  No body was going to make me do something I didn't want to do, not even myself! I was stubborn, pig headed and out of control, now I'm just stubborn, as hard as that is to admit.

Over the years of hard lessons learned, I came to realize being an artist means you must have discipline, not necessarily because you have to, but because you want to, and through discipline comes freedom. I never equated or related discipline and freedom with one another, but I certainly do now. It's a fabulous feeling of freedom when I am painting, and especially when I complete a painting, and am satisfied with the outcome. I think I am addicted to this feeling. There are far worse addictions I know being in recovery myself for 17 years, and for this I am grateful.

Friday, August 5, 2011

ANSSA Tapped Out

Short of being a raging granny, which I am not, as I am not a grandmother, and growing up in the sixties I have found myself being proactive, my version of raging, in that I am involved in advocating for myself as a student living in poverty in the context of being a Canadian citizen. I understand there are so many more living and dying in far greater poverty and in dire circumstances that I will never experience. Nonetheless I need to feed myself, pay my bills and try to make a living in order to support myself. The reality of poverty is all to common in the world and it is very real to me when I am forced to go to the food bank in a country supposedly as rich as Canada. 

My grandfather who was a very wise and good man always said, " The rich get richer and the poor get poorer". It is unfortunately still the same, throughout this world.

I am grateful I have the ability, opportunity, and voice to advocate on behalf of myself. Many cannot for a variety of reasons, some choose not to, remaining apathetic and cynical. I pray I will never be this person.

I have spent the last month writing letters to my MLA, the Department of Community Services, various elected officials,  the Nova Scotia Ombudsman and the media to hopefully draw attention to student poverty in Nova Scotia.

I found this video produced by students that address student poverty in Nova Scotia and come September I hope I can get active in ANSSA. I may never be  granny, but I will continue to rage against poverty.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

She Calls Herself By Many Names

" THERE IS AN OLD WOMAN   who lives in a place that everyone knows in their souls but few have ever seen. She seems to wait for lost or wandering people and seekers to come to her place.
She is circumspect, often hairy, always fat, and especially wishes to evade most company. She is both a crower and a crackler, generally having more animals sounds than human ones.
She  calls herself by many names: La Huesera, Bone Woman; La Trapera, The Gatherer; and La Loba, Wolf Woman". 
Woman That Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

This painting I sold and so I have done another version. I am pleased with how this turned out. I find the process of rendering or creating art compelling. I never know just how the final work is going to be expressed and I usually have feelings of insecurity  and wondering if I'll be able to complete the work so I will be satisfied with it. It's a matter of faith in my ability to trust myself and simply trust the creative process. 

" The Wild Woman is the one who dares, who creates, and who destroys. She is the primitive and inventing soul that makes all creative acts and arts possible".
 Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wild Woman/ La Loba

Since I sold a version of this painting last Saturday, I wanted to replace it, and who knows I might sell it again, or I just might keep it. I am much happier with this version. There is more detail but I am realizing  more and more the thing with egg tempera painting is layering several layers and a variety of mark making. It's been a while getting used to egg tempera as it has not long been my medium for  paint, but these little paintings are good studies for me. The surfaces are masonite. I would prefer wood, however these small panel pieces where given to me so I am making use of them.

As mentioned in my previous posts these paintings are based on the stories from, " Women That Run With The Wolves." I am reading and studying the stories as I go. Though I have read this book a number of times, this time it is different for me because of my painting the fairy tale stories and they have become more actualized and integrated in my psyche and in my life.

"We all begin as a bundle of bones lost somewhere in the desert, a dismantled skeleton that lies under the sand. It is our work to recover the parts. It is a painstaking process best done when the shadows are just right, for it takes much looking. La Loba indicates what we are to look for-the indestructible life force, the bones. 

The work of La Loba can be thought of as representing cuento milagro, miracle story. It shows us what can go right for the soul. It is a resurrection story about the underworld connection to Wild Woman. It promises that if we sing the song, we can call up the psychic remains of the wild soul and sing her into a vital shape again.

La Loba sings over the bones she has gathered. To sing means to use the soul-voice. It means to say on the breath of truth of one's power and one's need, to breathe soul over the thing that is ailing or in need of restoration. This is done by descending  into the deepest mood of great love and feeling, till one's desire for relationship with the wildish Self overflows, then to speak one's soul from that frame of mind. That is singing over the bones. " - Clarissa Pinnkola Estes

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Doll in Her Pocket: Vasalisa the Wise

"Intuition is the treasure of a woman's psyche. It is like a divining instrument and like a crystal through which one can see with uncanny interior vision. It is like a wise old woman who is with you always, who tells you exactly what the matter is, tells you exactly where to go left or right. It is a form of The One Who Knows, old La Que Sabe, the Wild Woman."

" Valalisa " is a woman's intuition story with few essential bones astray. It is about the realization that most things are not as they seem. As women we call upon our intuition and instincts in order to sniff things out. We use all our senses to wring the truth from things, to extract nourishment from our own ideas, to see what is there to see, to know what there is to know, to be the keepers of our own creative fires, and to have intimate knowing about the Life/Death/ Life cycles of all nature-this is an initiated woman." 

 " Women That Run With the Wolves" - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I finished my fifth egg tempera painting in the ongoing series based on the book.