Friday, February 16, 2018

What the Hell do I Know

I couldn't sleep last night.  What little rest I did have was unsettled at best.

There was another mass shooting at a school on Valentine's Day by a white supremacist.  17 people, students, teachers, tutors, were murdered.  

Facebook was filled with chatter.  It is a terrible thing.  It is a gun problem.  It is a people problem.  It is a problem.  It never happened....

And I find myself feeling sick.  Our country has always been made up of individuals who thought differently about all kinds of things.  Sometimes we kept our thoughts to ourselves and sometimes we shared them.  I have stood in marches and been gassed by tear gas... in America.  And my heart ached for our country.  For the hatred and prejudice that permeated our society.  And my heart was touched so deeply when we swayed and loved each other, though we were complete strangers.  We stood together and arm in arm faced the spital and hatred, "America!  Love it or leave it!!"  What did that even mean?  All of this because we wanted to everyone to be able to vote so everyone was fairly represented by those elected in our government.  It didn't seem like it should be that landshaking of a concept but it sure as hell was.

I've felt the shaking of all that stood strong when the Cuban Missile Crisis took place in Florida, where we were living at the time.  I remember the sonic booms shaking the house and the tanks and carriers in the air and on the ground and sea bringing all manner of weapons of mass destruction through our neighborhood and sitting in our closet in the darkness, listening to a transistor radio and being prepared to duck and cover ourselves into oblivion without even understanding what the hell was going on.  A few years later we moved to the Chicago area and I remember reading that we now had enough weapons to kill everyone and everything on the planet over 300 times and I remember thinking, stop.  Just stop it.  I remember thinking we could build through change.  We didn't have to keep knocking people down or off the planet because somebody said they were different and they had to go.

It was then, when Martin, John and Bobby and Malcolm X and Russell Means awakening all of us to the possibility that maybe, just maybe we could all learn how to respect each other and live in peace with one another.  

I remember that horrendous war, the Viet Nam"conflict" and organizing and marching for peace in Chicago.  I remember the billy clubs and running, just running, gas pouring into the air, clouds of gray and pain.

All we wanted
was to give peace a chance

Let's try going in a new direction.  How's about people can't be drafted into a war on foreign soil?  How's about giving people the choice as to whether or not they want to support a war.  Or conflict or whatever.  This? Was revolutionary?  

The flag and God was the weapon of choice to try to silence us; the press did its part to make us look like fanatics but the truth was we were all kinds of people that understood that when you can blow up the planet maybe it is time to take another look at how we can resolve our differences and learn to genuinely respect and value each other and this planet, our Mother.  Every bit of what we create is dependent on our planet.  Everything.  

And there is a Cause and Effect to everything.  Everything.

Being reckless with our planet and its finite resources is folly.  The worst kind.  

Corporations, businesses and we have polluted this planet.  I mean big time.  And the focus on our country is on a buffoon.

We have some serious work to do.  And to solve these problems we have the most amazing to join together and work together.  We need science and humanitarians and builders and occasional sceptics too.  We need communicators and creative people to make something that never existed before.  We need each other.  We need to plant healthy, unaltered seed, into our planet that grew everything all on its own, without our help or interference and we need to respect that way.

Instead people are spewing vomitous waste from one computer or phone to the next.  Repeating how terrible things are but nobody is doing anything about it.  Yes, this Valentine's Day 17 people were murdered at school for no reason.  Oh the person who did this was a terrorist.  A White Supremacist Terrorist.  Another shooting.  It's a gun problem.  No, it's a people problem.  No, it is an insane people problem.  But nobody says anything about how gun violence has slowly permeated the fabric of our culture through movies, cartoons, music, TV.  Let's just show people reality shows where people act out the lowest common denominator crap people are capable of and call that reality TV?  Really?

Games are filled with violence.  And it isn't just being involved in a survival exercise, no, the player has to totally annihilate the enemy, the one that is different.  Films a d TV follow the same formula.  Identify the difference, that is a treat and destroy it and kill all of it.  And to me, it looks like people are sitting on their hands.  They'll talk about it but where is everybody.

Women need to march with their children and tell lawmakers we want gun laws in place so we as a society can function without stress and terror and fear at the fore of our consciousness.

Some people contacting each other and showing up like a Flash Mob and peacefully making a stand and saying, No more.  And turn off the damn TV.  Watching that crap repeat over and over and over again, everyday; it is propaganda.  Other points of view that express reasonable ideals and approaches to solving problems; without trying to defeat or destroy somebody sure would be a good place to start.  Just go and be.  No leader is needed.  No particular chant needs to be repeated.  People can just join hands and hum and see what happens.  We need to unify to solve the issues that are only going to get more complicated and worse, if we don't start facing them now.  

I mean think about it.  We can learn to share and stop killing and hating each other.  We are not born with hatred in our hearts.  This is something that is spread like a disease.  It is taught and regurgitated from one generation to the next.  Giving more and more people a reason to continue to really hate each other for even more reasons.... and for what?  To what end?  So we can feel justified when we choose to be stubborn and greedy and ignorant?  It's like driving a car and with the engine on just jumping out of it and see what happens?  I mean havoc is havoc.  It doesn't have to have a meaning.  So long as a bunch of people can nod their heads at the same time we are going to really feel okay about destroying the planet, the water, the air and all of life when the last one of us is dead?  How does that even remotely sound viable?

Or we could stop fighting each other and instead of slugging somebody with hatred or words we could reach out and everyone who can could contribute to making this life here amazing.  We are capable of living that way too.

I know this because I have learned a few things.  I am not an idealist.  I am a realist with an imagination.  I can 
that we can be different and have different ways of seeing life and appreciating it and all of that is cool
because we can respect each other's traditions and just chill out

We are never all going to see life the same way.  This is never going to happen.  Get over it.  We are never going to all look the same so get over that too.  In our genetic makeup all of our generations before us have left a cellular trace in what makes us who we are.  When we hate each other we are also hating ourselves.  When we don't respect each other we are sadly missing out on how enriching life is when we just appreciate each other.

We can make different dishes and have different holidays and we can go to places where we can share religious or philosophical ideas and we can still love each other.  

I have been very sad lately.

Because so many people have accepted the arguments of extreme points of view over reasoning things out.  We have a Constitution that is truly amazing.  We have had many great teachers on all continents.  We have made extensive rules and tried every different thing we could think of to try to make us all the same way.  We guarded many secrets and coveted many traditions and touted we know the way to God or there is no god until  we are all useless noise.  Or
we could reach out and just smile.  Just acknowledge the life of someone once a day.  Say please and thank you and hold a door open or give one the right of way when you are drying.  Little things.  They don't seem like much.  But these little things form connections.  And we begin to understand that we are all just here.  Even a life long lived is relatively short.  And let's face it, by the time you get old enough to really have something to say, you begin to forget what you have spent a lifetime learning. 

No-one owns righteousness.  We are all ignorant.  We all have thoughts we can contribute to make the world a better place.  We can plant seeds or study at a library and write about ideas and approaches to making our lives here on the planet good or
we can blame guns and people and greed and ignorance
we can do that
but it won't change anything
not one thing

we can try
just a little bit
to take one step towards understanding each other
and respecting each other
I mean
isn't that the biggest problem we face?

We can't possibly find our way to each other unless we do this with an open heart.  

I remember thinking
one day I'll know something
one day I'll have the answers to these questions
why do people hate
why do people kill 
why do peoples destroy so much of what has freely been given to them

when will it all end


I used to think I would have the answers to something by now
but the only answer I have is this
I'm ignorant.  I make mistakes.  I don't know everything.  I will never know everything.  Hell, I'm getting old.  I'm lucky if I remember to brush my teeth.

Life really doesn't have to be this hard.  We allow it because we don't know how to stop it.  But we can stop it by reaching out to each other and making a difference.  We can come together and let special interest groups or corporations or big daddies know that sorry, you can't beat people up or kill them for not wanting you to strip their land of its natural resources. 
Especially, since we have the air and sun and movement and Cause and Effect all going in our favor.  I mean, there is so much to do.  All of this destructive stuff going on doesn't solve anything.  We can be sorry when we realize the last bee flew and the last flower blossomed and the last fish was living in the water and the last tree fell or we can just do something.  Marching is good.  Non-violence is important.  We can carry a sign or carry a thought or a kindness and just speak out mind with our presence.  Clearly, the government does not represent all of us.  It seems to be feeding off of hate and furthering its causes.  People can continue to do that.  But it is so short sighted. 

We don't have to wonder if there is a purpose to our lives.  All we need to do is start moving.  And you will find it.  You will trip over it with your immense ego but no worries.... we all do.  We get quite self important when we can make something happen.  Or make a change.

What matters is how we live.  How we love.  What matters is being honest.  Doing our best.  Being compassionate.  Being honest with ourselves about our own flaws and mistakes and we can learn from our mistakes.  We can be humble.  Because no matter how smart anyone is, we all need each other to make this world a lovely compatible place to live.  

Or destroy all of it.  I mean, that can happen too.  Sure does seem to be short sighted, yes it does.  But I have a brain injury.  My whole life has been turned upside-freaken-down and I had to start everything all over again.  And I walk funny.  When I'm fatigued its even worse.  So what the hell do I know.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Common Ground

I was talking with a friend a little bit ago and some things have been hitting me. I don't know where this is all going to lead so please bear with me.
As most of you know, I was in a fatal car accident that left me feeling and being vulnerable. I couldn't rely on my senses because they weren't giving me the right information. I could rely on my memory because it disappeared into endless threads of momentary thoughts that ended in complete darkness. I used to describe it this way, I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone. Everything I see, its like waves of water. Everything I hear is distorted and often scary. Back then doctors lacked the information to get what was happening to me. Not many people with brain injuries like I had didn't live and if they did, it was more of a vegetative state. I was.... a lucky one. Back then the only refuge and safe place I knew for sure was in the hearts of my children. Everything about what was left of who I was, was dedicated to my children. I was a shell, wired wrong and well, not the person my husband married so after about a year he left. I didn't blame him. But if I said I wasn't totally devastated and incapable of trusting my judgment or anyone other than the few people I knew loved me, my sister and her family and our dear friend from back in the day and my kids. That was about it. And I sincerely did feel lucky because the people that stayed in my life were amazing.
We all walked through unknown territory together. Being strong for each other and sometimes feeling incredibly vulnerable and not able to even voice our concerns.
Step by step we healed. Ourselves, each other and the love we have is amazing. Truly.
And part of this, for me anyway, had to do with our first Akita Angel. While the kids were home I tried so hard to be normal. Not complaining about the pain or anything. Doing chores that seemed to take forever while they were in school so they wouldn't see how hard things were for me. I wanted them to have as normal of a life as I could offer. I wanted them to feel safe to be children. I think Angel helped them with this too. Angel and our llamas and donkey and mule. We didn't have anyone around to keep us safe but our animals sure were all that and then some. Our second Akita was crazy huge and loving and he also scared the heck out of people so when the kids friends came over there were certain things that they couldn't do. No running around the Mama. The dogs would actually chase them and our Bulldog would nip at their heels to make them stop. It made me really dizzy and somehow the dingos figured that out. We had so much laughter and just flat out good times. Sitting and listening to the kids play music. Enjoying a cup of tea while watching that big sky sunset. It was beautiful.
When the kids were grown and finding their own lives I wound up selling the farm. That was hard. I moved close to my sister and we figured, all of our kids and we would be able to hold the family together by love and proximity. And I started getting some excellent doctors who helped me with everything. I was learning how to function and understanding what my deficits were and I could read and write again and went back to Columbia College and got my degree. Oh hell yeah!!! And my kids wound up moving to Chicago and we all have a blast.
Still, I was a recluse. I didn't have the confidence that I could see trouble coming or deal with it. I did learn some important things about being self protective and love and all of that good stuff. Most of which I have shared.
Kumo, back to Akitas now, has had some challenges. Whenever you bring a rescued creature into your home, they come with issues, usually. I wondered about my sweet boy. They always do tell us, everything, eventually. My trainer said she thought his behavior, his particular challenges, looked more like he had been victim of the puppy mill system. When he was hesitant it looked to her like it was less about fear and more about not having been exposed to things in life. He was and still is kinda, terrified of stairs. Especially, going down them. We have done a lot of work and he is getting more confident. He also has been hesitant about floors in stores, that are slippery.
You know how I have talked about how important it is for our Akitas to know that we acknowledge their concern and that we are capable of making a good decision about our safety and that we will always keep them safe. This gives them and us a bond of trust and understanding that quite frankly, is rare even in the human realm.
Well, back to the beginning now, remember when I told you I was visiting with a friend about fear and trust and a big idea was coming to me? Hold on. I forgot. Oh, when people are injured, whether physically or emotionally they become more sensitive to whatever hurt them. Could be abandonment or violence or neglect or a lack of love even, but there is a reaction that isn't just isolated with humans. It is also in animals. All kinds of animals. For me Akitas insist on communicating with us until we get what they are thinking or feeling. But in reality, mine anyway, have broadened my awareness to understand we are all living with the bumps and bruises and fractures that we have experienced. Being able to feel safe with people that care, brings us out of that inability to communicate or be a part of the larger group that we long to understand and love and be loved by.... humanity. Fear is a this mask we slap on our own insecurities and the more alienated and scared by by our experiences the harder we can become.
Michael Jackson's daughter picked up a couple of girls that were hitchhikers. She was cool. They ate together. She bought them some clothes to help them out. And got them safely to where they were going. And they stole her credit card. Some people look at those of us who are loving as weak. They see an honest person and think... I can take whatever. And when we get took it freakin hurts like hell. I love people. And I love sharing our thoughts. And this is pretty much a miracle because I have been afraid of those very things for decades. Some of that started way back when I was an activist for Civil Rights and ending the draft so people were free to join or not join in a war that they didn't believe was justified. It was a cumulative reaction to life's experiences.
When we find a common ground that we can share with each other a beautiful thing happens. We can feel safe. We can still be self-protective and know when we are safe. I think this is what Kumo has been going through too. He feels safe with us. Yet he will still sometimes flinch when a stranger pets him. He is almost okay with it all the time now and I think that is because he trusts that I would not have someone who is going to hurt him, touch him.
I hope I didn't ramble too much and that this makes sense. It is personal but something has hit me about rescued animals, and in my case, rescued Akitas, that is reaching me in a way that I haven't understood or seen clearly before. Being self-protective is smart. Having some confidence in our own ability to figure shit out is a slower process because we are not born knowing everything and we will never know everything. Mistakes that we make and mistakes other people make as they stomp through our peace of mind or hearts... we can't keep those things from happening. But we can learn and discern and trust and love too.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Love is a Powerful Thing

For much of my youth I was waiting for love.  Waiting for that one special love.  And for many years I loved my husband and the father of our children.  But he decided he wanted to be single again and walked away.  For decades I wondered about this.  I couldn't figure out how he could leave when he had a family that loved him.  And the pain that scarred my heart lingered.  Oh I went on with my life but it haunted me.  How could I ever give my heart to anyone again?

Five years later I met my second husband.  And I loved him very much.  We were artists and each of us had studied the genocide of our cultures.  And then one day a car came speeding into our lane and hit us head on.  And life changed.  All of the ways and reasons aren't as important as the lessons my heart eventually learned.  A year after the accident he left.  I wasn't the same person he married.  And I felt incredibly vulnerable.  I focused on my children and our farm and one day led to another day and we moved on with our lives.  I was no longer waiting for love or wondering if vows ever meant anything or if there wasn't something wrong with me.... I wondered in between the pain and confusion of having a Traumatic Brain Injury, among other injuries and as odd as this may sound, I was grateful.  I was alive one more day to hear the voices of my children.  I was alive one more day to watch them grow.  And I was alive one more day to teach them whatever I could, should I not be around the next day.

I lived completely in the moment.  Most of my memory about my life was gone.  I could remember changes but not the specifics.  I could remember I was hurt but I didn't feel the pain of it anymore.  And I was grateful for that mercy in the midst of the pain and determination to read and write and walk and talk and have a vital life again.  It was important to me to set a good example for my children.  To be a good person, yes.  To be honest, yes.  To cherish each other and life, yes.  To read and explore and think.... all of those things I continued to teach my children.  But now there was something even more important.  To teach them how to survive; how to never give up; how to have hope.  The last and most important things I had learned that I wanted to pass on to them was to accept that they were never going to know everything.  Life can be freakin hard.  Your heart can get broken.  And for a little while you might even lose hope.  But in all of that remember this, you are not perfect.  You will make mistakes.  But as long as you learn from them they won't be wasted.  And the biggest mistake you will ever make is to lie to yourself.  Life is what it is.  But we often want to make life or people the way we think they are or the way we think they could be if...  We do this with other people and we do this with ourselves.  I was a very honest person with everyone but me.  The rationales I gave to every disappointment were amazing.  But after the brain injury I could hold those thoughts together anymore.  And this was another mercy.  I had to accept my limitations without giving up growth.  I had to let go of everything I had lost and focus on and appreciate the imperfect reality that I was living.

My first Akita, Angel, was a tremendous help.  I always tried to be strong for my children.  I didn't complain about the pain and chores I needed to do I did when they were in school.  I didn't want them to know I was having a hard time taking care of the house or cooking.  I didn't want them to worry.  They did anyway.  But I did my best to bring music and life and art and possibilities into our lives again and that remained.  There were many hours when I was alone and our Akita took care of me.  All of the ways she helped me are amazing but for now I am going to let that be.  We had a wonderful life and then when she was five years old she was gone.  I grieved so terribly.  A neighbor whose parents had best friends and who bred Akitas had this long haired fawn colored male pup that the people who bought him decided they couldn't take him.  He was paid for.  They didn't want the money back.  And here he was.  My neighbor told me to at least come and see him and when I did my heart skipped.  He had this joy and exuberance that was irresistible.  I met his mom, who was a good sized gal and wonderful.  I met his dad and he stood one his hind legs and was six feet tall and 180 pounds and he gently put his paws on my shoulders and looked down into my eyes and he gave me a sweet gentle kiss right on my nose.  I still wasn't sure.  What if the other dogs, especially our English Bulldog, didn't accept him.  But I couldn't leave him.  He loved me so much, right from the beginning.  He got in the van with me and tucked his head into my shoulder and that was it.  When my neighbor took us home and he met our sweet Mo, she rolled over on her back and they were off running and playing.  They remained best friends their whole lives.  We also had a German Shepherd and a Labmix and a Maltese and llamas and donkeys and a mule and a goat and teenagers.  I'm guessing we had the safest farm around.

Years later, the kids were grown and off finding their way.  I was so proud of them.  I realized I didn't have the physical strength to take care of the farm.  One day I fell over a bale of hay and hurt my leg.  It wasn't bad but I realized that if it had been, I was alone.  I didn't want to interrupt the journey my children were on or influence the way they wanted to live so I sold the farm and moved to Chicago to be near my sister.  We decided at least if our kids lived in different places that we would stay put and we could all stay connected to each other through the years.  I went back to Columbia College and then surprise, surprise; my daughter came back from going to college in London and she decided to go to Columbia too.  It was great.  Then my son came and he went to Columbia College too.  He stayed in the dorm that first semester and he got to know how to get around and work using buses and trains and he and some roommates got an apartment and he and my daughter got their degrees from Columbia College too.  My other son came to live in Chicago and they wound up living in an apartment and working and enjoying life in the City.

Bear was my silent giant.  I barely had to tell him anything.  He was so intuitive.  Every morning I awoke to his beautiful amber eyes waiting for mine to open.  Standing next to the bed he was eye level with my face.  He and his bestgirl, Mo enjoyed life with me and wonderful visits from the kids for several years.  I was painting and published Down the Road and was writing again and life was good.  And the ghosts of abandonment had taken their place and were quietly waiting to appear whenever I missed the love I used to have.  Knowing I would never have a partner again.  Not because of my health or injuries but because of my broken heart.  I couldn't take that again and decided to let that part of my life go.

I had a dear friend, many years ago.  Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.  We met in Boulder.  He introduced me to some wild writers and we had interesting talks.  Neither one had anything to gain from the other.  No-one was looking to take from the other.  We were just spirit clouds moving around a sky of life in a common atmosphere of love and thought and hope.  We remained friends for many years.  I would write him letters and he could call me.  I used to think, that was polite.  For him to call.  And then we would get into these wonderful discussions about life.  He would ask me questions and then our thoughts would communicate wonder and amazement to one another.  Our relationship turned out to be the most significant, loving, friendship I have known in my life.  Well, I know this same wonderful relationship with my grown children now.  But Chogyam was my forever friend.

When Bear got sick I knew I was going to have to get a Service Dog.  I now understood that even though my optical nerves were healthy, my train did not receive or transmit what I was seeing around both of my eyes.  I had significant peripheral blindness.  And because of this my eyes didn't line up what they were seeing exactly right.  I knew it was time.  I put my name on a list.  And some time later, Bear died.  And I lost it.  I would wake up sobbing in the middle of the night.  Crying like a child would, "Bear, I just want you back."  The ache of his absence was felt my Mo and me.  A friend suggested I foster until my Service Dog was available.  And so I did.  Turns out I had a way of reaching traumatized dogs and rehabilitating them.  And then someone saw my artwork and we got to talking and they offered to donate an Akita pup of my choice to be my next Service Dog.  And I lifted Coco up in my arms and she nuzzled her head into my neck and that was it.  Coco is ten now and I have another Akita who is in training to take over for Coco.  She can't walk too much these days.  We go to her favorite park with the pond and I am not grieving for her, anticipating the loss of her.  I am celebrating her every minute of every day.  Two significant moments of awareness moved me along.

The first was from Baba Ram Das's book Be Here Now.  When my kids were getting into their teens I found that I noticed authors I felt familiar with.  I didn't have any memories why I had that feeling.  Before I could even read or hold onto an abstract thought I bought this book, The Sacred Path of the Warrior.  The author's name felt familiar.  It was too hard to read but I left it out for my children to pick up.  I did this with Ram Das's book, Be Here Now.  I still didn't make a connection with Ram Das either.  And then one day I was watching a movie, Seven Days in Tibet and I remembered, I had a friend who is a Lama from Tibet!  I went up to the drawer where important papers and an old address book was kept and I opened it up and there he was.  And I remembered Chogyam.  Joy filled my heart.  I wrote to him and sent pictures of my llamas and pointed out that was of them was named Dolly.  I told him about my children and asked how he was and sent off the letter.  In a little while I received a letter back.  Someone said our correspondence was kept in Canada and my friend had passed away, or along.  But he never left me.  He had passed away and I didn't know it.  And all of those years I loved him, even when I didn't remember him.

One day I must have been having a rough time.  I was missing Bear something fierce.  And I wondered if I would ever be happy when I thought of him.  We had so many good years together.  I wished I could feel the joy I had when he was alive.

And then one day, I must have been watching an old WWII movie and a soldier had died on the field and he had sent his love a letter.  And she had written to him and loved him even though she didn't know he had died.  That love, even though they were continents and seas a part was strong.  And I thought.... hmmmm.  I think I will try an experiment.  Whenever I think about Bear I will add to the thought a little trick with my mind.  He is outside.  He is in the backyard. And I would think, I love you Bear.  And the loving feeling lingered.  And then it hit me.  The greatest pains in my heart were due to one thing.  I tried to understand why and tried to understand what was true and I tried to figure out love and life but what brought the pain was that I wasn't ready to stop loving them.  I loved my first husband with the innocence and pure love this wide eyed child in me felt whenever I thought about him.  He was the love of my life.  And so I decided that I didn't care what the reasons were anymore.  I was going to keep on loving him, even though he had passed away too.  I had recently found out my second husband had died a couple of years before this new realization took hold and I let go of wondering why and did he ever and all of those thoughts and I decided to keep on loving him too.  Because I loved him.  By this time my Mother had also passed.  She was a dynamic woman and complex and unfortunately the drink took her mind and she got really mean.  I had studied a book called The Dance of Anger and parts of the title came back to me and I found it again and bought copies to share.  And I realized that I wanted to love my Mom.  It didn't matter if she was ever going to understand this or feel this or be nice or love me back.... none of that mattered.  I loved her because she was my mom.  She didn't have to deserve it.  She didn't have to appreciate it either.  It was in my heart for her and that was where it is now.

I am glad I don't remember details anymore.  I am glad the specifics flew away.  And I am very grateful to love.  And now I don't feel pain when I think of a loved one.  I feel grateful.  See, I figured out that Love is a powerful thing.  You don't have to get it back.  It isn't something you can buy or trade or even earn.  It goes beyond life and death and limitations of time and space.  Love is.  And we can choose to love and hope and have faith that somehow humanity will rise up and appreciate this precious life we share with all of it, always.

I keep self-destructive or deceitful people at arm's length.  It isn't about judging people.  It is about knowing my limitations.  Our lives are filled with hops skips and jumps.  And prider certainly does goeth before every fall.  I don't think of reincarnation like I used to.  I know our egos would like to consider that we are worth of living through eternity but I think it is more about the energy we give that lasts.  When I see someone struggling I think, I have felt that way.  That's is a hard thing to deal with.  I don't judge them because I have been a fool.  I have been ignorant and will always be ignorant.  I will never know everything.  I will never get everything right all of the time.  But this I do know.  I know love is limitless.  Hope is essential.  And faith that we will one day all be able to appreciate this great gift of life is eternal.  Because the energy of all of that good stuff, it is part of all of it.  Amidst the dust of history it is there.  Amidst the swirling activities of daily life, it is here.  It is now.

And that is the bees knees.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Wall - First Reaction

Here is a video of The Wall when I realized it was finished. I've been working on this piece for three years.During the time when I was creating The Wall, where I started and where I ended up were influenced by what was happening in the world.  From terrorism to great acts of heroism, all of these things made there way into The Wall.

Originally, I wanted to do a large piece and I wanted to do what I wanted to do.  A completely stream of consciousness piece.  I decided to create eight canvases and just go for it.

I always give myself an assignment.  I like learning new things and doing this also helps me to focus. The idea was to have a horse and a turtle in the painting.  They were going to be part of a large landscape and that was about as far as I got with it.  I wanted to use any and all techniques and I wanted to go with the flow.  

The terrorist attack that happened in Paris in November 2015 was devastating.  My heart broke for Paris that day.  As I listened to NPR this sadness came into the painting.  And I thought... how long? I wondered what it is about people that they just feel justified to kill people who think differently? This has been going on for so long.  

And then I asked.... what is it?  What makes that sudden stop before a person decides to react to a situation with violence or compassion?  And that sudden stop made its way into the painting.

The nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida happened in June of 2016.  

Terrorist attacks took place in London and Manchester and I stopped thinking and just felt so much pain and suffering and that made its way into the painting.

The people at Standing Rock, being intimidated and brutalized because they didn't want the gas pipeline to run under the water they depended on for a healthy life sickened me.  How could these private militias treat other peaceful people who just don't want their land and all that rely on fresh, unpolluted water, destroyed was unconscionable.    

I had started the painting listening to Kenny Chesney and Trisha Yearwood and the last year and a half or so I listened to Robbie Robertson and Schindler's List and Leonard Cohen.  Because of my Traumatic Brain Injury I can't really plan or remember what I was doing or what colors I was using when I stop painting.  Everytime I face the canvas it is like I am looking at it for the first time.  I discovered that listening to music could take me back to where I was emotionally and find my way back into the canvas.

And then something happened.  Hope began to stir in my heart and I realized, hope and love, these are life choices.  How we live and the choices we make are a direct reflection of what we value.

It took three years to save up the money for the canvases and paints and brushes and do studies and paint The Wall.  The Wall is a 6' x 9' Oil on Canvases. And now it is finished.

Monday, January 23, 2017

I'm Not Finished Yet

Here is a picture of The Wall tonight.
I've been working on some watercolor studies and I'm clear on what I want to do next.
It isn't finished and neither am I.

Before the accident I was all
I can do that
I was fit and bright and hell on wheels when it came to computers
I loved working and raising my kids
I experienced my share of pain and heartache and challenges
And while life certainly was not what I thought it would be
And most of the suffering I went through
Was because of my own ignorance
Which made me a little bit crazy for while
Good reason
Still, I was okay

However, some times a whirlwind of shit happens and there is just no
Controlling it
And that I had no control over
At times I wasn’t sure my own mind and body was going to be able
To carry me through it either

I was an artist and suddenly couldn’t paint
My imagination was left
Out there somewhere on
Blue Star Highway
The experiences and observations
That used to inspire me were also

I was surviving in the Nothing
Well not exactly nothing
There was terrible unspeakable pain
That had become my constant companion
Every breath
Every movement
Through me
Everywhere pain lived

There was no reprieve.

I mean I was gone man
And nobody could reach me
And though my heart was filled with love and
Such a strong sense of spirituality
It was indescribable
I was left without reference
Without context

I was gone

Thoughts were fragmented
Appearing briefly out of the darkness
That revved on
With the a constant high pitched ringing that also
Never left
That one made me want to slam my head into the wall
Just so I could crack it open and make it quiet

Now add to that I was a writer and
A poet
I had been working for five years on a book
Filled with stories of people who survived the Holocaust.
Writing poetry and reading and thinking had been a part of who I was
From the time I was a very little child I was reciting poetry
My grandmother read to me

I couldn’t figure out how to use my computer
All of those stories were in there but
I could bring them to life anymore
Not on my computer
And not in my abilities to read or reason
That project was gone too

My head hurt so bad when I tried to read
That I couldn’t read
And even when I tried
The letters were swimming on the page
I couldn’t comprehend what I was reading
And couldn’t remember what I read
I would keep on reading the same paragraph because
When I looked up I had no idea where I was
Or what I had just read

I couldn’t tell how far down the ground was
Or where I was going
Or what I was supposed to do when I got there

When I tried to paint I got lost
From the time I looked at a canvas to the time
I tried to find a brush or a tube of paint
I was lost

I walked all wobbly and it was nearly impossible to do
Ordinary tasks.

But some how
This thread of hope that was intertwined with the love
From my family and friends
Got through
It was so powerful
I could feel it
Was all that kept me together

I worked very hard
It took years before the doctors and technology and discovery
Physical therapists had the tools they needed
To help me find new ways to interact with a new old world that
Had become
Faint and some how foreign

I became determined to find a way to live one more day
I put my energy into living purposefully
And Without
What ever faculties remained
I needed to set a good example for my children
I needed to not be a victim of life
But to figure out a way to turn around
And kick it’s ass
Despite the pain
With the confusion that overwhelmed me and
Some times
With wanting to give up

Those first few years the pain was so horrible
I don’t think there was any time greater than 15 minutes
When the I wondered
How much can this body take
When I thought
This could be the last day
This minute could be the last minute I look into my daughter or my son’s eyes

And then
Suddenly all I didn’t have
Didn’t matter
Because out of all the suffering and fear and confusion
I received a gift
It was wrapped in love
It was called hope
And my perspective on everything changed
I would think
I lived through that hour
Maybe I can live one more
Maybe I can see the kids after school
Even though every minute was
An excruciating struggle
I couldn’t wait for that moment when the side door opened
And I heard their footsteps and heard them call out
Hey Maaaaaa

There were times when
I cried out to a God I didn’t believe was there anymore
A God that I didn’t understand
A God that I wasn’t sure listened
And eventually I began to open my mind to other possibilities
Maybe what I thought had been God was a little askew

And this is what I came too
We are here once.
That we know
There are lots of theories and religions and traditions
That try to answer these simple questions
What happened to me
Why did it happen to me
What did I do wrong
How will I get through this
I know
It’s grueling
But out of all of that
Turns out
There was a

I had been longing to
Live in the present and appreciate life
And what’d’ya know
Be Here Now
Was my new and very real
Separate reality
Now was the only place I could be
Everything else was forgotten or would be forgotten soon enough

I stopped grieving over the memories of my children I couldn’t find.
I stopped grieving over the life I could have had
I stopped grieving over accomplishments I would never know
I stopped grieving over love lost
And I just started to live
And love
And give of myself
To the garden
To Nature
To the dingbat dogs and cats
My precious children and friends
There was always more love in these deep pockets
I reached into
There was joy in knowing I would see their loving eyes looking back into mine
Loving me
Hoping for one more day too

I will tell you true
There is no one answer
We are all imperfect
We all err in our ways from time to time
We are all learning
And hopefully along the way
We do learn a thing or two
But we will never know everything

I learned that life is precious
Every second of it
And while I was learning this
Through tears and despair
Roots of hope began to take hold

I learned that
Our bodies are terrible things
They can rage on
Without our consent
And cause us so much pain
That we just want to give up
And I learned
There is also more than pain
There is more than loss too because
There is love
There is hope
There is one more precious moment
Some times it’s a freakin nightmare
And some times it is so precious it
Fills our heart with an elation we can only know through
Experiencing it
Gratitude filled my heart and body and for a moment
I slipped away into something
Pain may have grasped my body and was holding on tight
But it couldn’t steal the next moment
My focus changed
Because I was filled with this grateful tranquility for every minute

From that time on
I did more than exist and trudge through the pain
I did more than survived
I began to thrive

You see the thing about love is
It’s endless
You can give it without speaking
You can send it without a stamp
You can love your family and friends
And dingbat animals
And you can love
Every one
Every where
All of the time
The birds
The beauty of trees and leaves blowing in the wind
Watching the sun flickering through them
And it is always a wonder
That I appreciate

Monday, July 18, 2016

Solitaire at Night

I play solitaire at night
I try not to make mistakes
The red goes on the black
The black goes on the red
I don’t skip any numbers or face cards

Worked on The Wall
 And emptied every thing on the canvas
Maybe no-one will see it
Maybe it will go up in flames
Maybe it will last forever
Under another name

I want to know how to get through all of this
Coco didn’t come into the studio again today

Friday, July 8, 2016

Deleting Hatred

I read the post below this morning and have been thinking the same things. Last night I got tired of seeing all of the negative and mean posts that have been showing up on my FB page. I started deleting them and wow what a difference. I have decided to cut off the hatred from my page. Not the people, but all of the political meanness and bullying and lies and even mean humor, whatever, I don't even know what to call it all anymore but a sickness that has invaded my home and peace of mind.
I know bad happen. I know it. I'm in my sixties. My grandparents and my parents told me stories about the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War. There are no winners in war. It leaves scars that are passed down from one generation to the next. I began studying the geocide that happened during WWII (actually reading history books and biographies for more than thirty years) and interviewing Death Camp Liberators and victims of the Holocaust into geocide has made me keenly aware of where cruelty and hatred leads. And you know what I found out? Every continent has been a victim and a perpetrator of violent genocide. Including America, where millions of Native Americans were murdered over the course of about 20 years. Ironically, I didn't know about most of this until I was married to a man who was Potowatomi. We were studying this terrible phenominon that has occured in our own cultural history and I was dumbfounded by my ignorance. I studied different religions. And I believed in a few until I saw so much hypocracy I let go of the organized religions completely but held to the teachings that were profound. I do believe there is something that connects all of us with nature and life but I am no longer arrangant enough to pretend that I have the answers.
I will say one thing and if there are mean comments, I will delete them.... all of my life people have always had different opinions about politics, religion and society. In fact, all of my research into history and religions over the course of my lifetime has shown me this is nothing new. Indeed, as King Solomon said, There is nothing new under the sun. There is wisdom in every society. There is honor in every society. And there is also a need for people to respect each other and each other's differences without intimidating and bullying people into some sort of submissive existance.
That's all I've got to say. I don't give a shit about conspiracies or he said she said.... there is no excuse for the behavior and the media hype that is distorting just about everything and I'm done with it. So, I will be deleted anything negative from now on. Again, not the people I love so much but I need to stop this flow of negativity in my life. I know a lot of amazing people. Giving, caring, loving, honest people. Some are gay some are not; some believe in God, some are religious and some are not; some have families and some do not and they are all sorts of genetic combinations of wonderfulness.... that is my reality. Are there bad people in the world who do bad things? Yes. Clearly. But until the media balances out that with how many good people there are who also do good things and are honest; I'm done with the media and the movies that pump hatred and killing into our lives like it was candy. I'm going on a diet.
My words to live by are these, show respect, to everyone. Burn the measuring stick and just show respect because it is a life choice not because you deserve it or anyone else does either. Show compassion, because none of us have all of the answers and we all have blind spots and none of us knows everything. In fact, that would be impossible, our brains aren't that big. So try to have a little humility and try to figure out how you can make something better and then do that one thing. None of us can solve all of the world's problems but that doesn't mean we can't do something positive today.
People can go on hating each other and finding all kinds of reasons that this is justified until we are all so disheartened we can't breathe, we can't function. People can go on killing each other and try to stamp out anyone who sees things differently or we can actually work on solving problems that don't include cruelty and killing each other. If we don't get our shit together and we just run along and believe whatever and continue to pollute the planet and use up its natural resources like little pigs, well we will pay for it. We won't have to spend millions, billions of dollars going to Mars because that's what this planet will be like. If we were so smart, we'd figure this out and work together to take care of this planet and each other instead of destroying the one place we can live and destroying each other.
This article is good. Not that people read that much anymore. I think most of us look at the pictures and read the captions and don't go much further but it's time to help an Akita find its way home and I'm going to do something about that.

Facebook post by Dakota Meyer
I’m tired. I’m tired of seeing my country divided and fighting itself. It has been tricked by the media and by this administration thinking that the enemy is us. Hitler used the common enemy approach prior to World War II to unite a splintered and struggling Germany. We used the common enemy of communism to unite our country for the 40 or so years that followed the end of that war. Then the wall came down and we lacked a true common enemy until September 11, 2001. But then that faded and America was in a lull of sorts lacking unity. Then 8 years ago “Change” was brought to the White House and over the past 8 years I have seen that change. The media and the Obama administration have worked tirelessly and we are just about there now. We are not a nation as much as we have become groups of people fighting amongst one another because the enemy is us.
When did we become so ugly as a nation? Why are we ok with not being better human beings? I’m tired of watching people dying. I’ve seen too much of it. I’m tired of the anger over things that aren’t even understood. Just stop. We know better than to act like this. Guns are not evil. Police are not evil. It is people who have become ugly and cruel to one another. It is people who have accepted the easy way out. They’ve chosen to be afraid and angry. They’ve chosen to blame other people for their problems. It is easy to be angry and blame someone else than to take responsibility for yourself. We need to just stop. Stop blaming other people and start now making ourselves better as human beings.
It is time to be done with being bound by a common enemy and instead be bound by the commonality that we are all Americans. I am saddened by what happened this evening and the events leading up to it. My heart and my prayers go out to the families of the officers who were shot in Dallas tonight. This isn’t what I want to leave for my daughter when I die and I will be dammed if I am going to sit here and do nothing.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Longer I Live

The Longer I live
the less I see things as either or
and the more I find the most reasonable answers
are often all about

I don't know why but when I was young
out there
seemed to be more interesting
more tantalizing than
what I took with me everywhere
that bein
my heart

Should I go to school
Should I become a part of the system
Should I graduate
Should I give a shit
My heart mulled these evaluations

Somewhere along the way I realized
the middle of the road gets more sun
it stays the warmest longer
well, unless there is a mountain in the way
then it could be in shadow most of the day
life isn't fixed
but thinking about the journey we are on
the road we are traveling up
or down
its more about finding the warmth
and appreciating it

When people get hung up on either or
they tend to get rigid
it's my way or the highway
and this affects our
the way we ultimately decide to live
each moment
each day
of our lives

Should I get married
Should I get divorced
Should I take that next step
Is stability every thing it's cracked up to be

How do I apply all of the wonderful lessons I've learned
into day to day living so I am equipped to make
good decisions

I can consider lessons I've learned from my past
experiences and emotions and consequences
and I can make plans for the future
I'm going to the grocery store
better get my keys
or I need to decide whether or not to sell the farm

I can trudge up things of the past
oh I remember grieving or feeling so all alone
but going over detailed re-enactments of what happened to me
just ain't runnin on the wheel anymore

I have found considering the past is a good thing
because we learn from ours and from other's experiences
And having a plan without any expectations is actually
pretty reasonable
but in order to have balance
it is important to live right now
in the moment
being in the moment is definitely where it's at

lucky as shit about that
I used to have a hard time falling asleep
because I would think about
it seemed like all of the questions
and conundrums of the world
would flutter through my subconscious

Should I sell the farm
Should I open up the house to travelers
or artists and poets and musicians who needed a getaway
who needed some times to just feel the earth between their toes
and get a few calluses on their hands
I've been a hermit for most of my life
And then I thought
What if someone came and didn't want to leave
What if I tried to take care of the farm alone
what if
I fell down in the haybarn lost my balance
it already happened once
had it been any worse my leg might have twisted the wrong way
and then
nope being alone isn't viable
and without knowing people
I don't think I could keep up with their coming and going

I didn't want the kids to have their own flow
they had their own life to create and follow
the most reasonable decision was to sell the farm
I needed to change my perspective
it wasn't a loss
it had been a great way to raise the kids
it had been a great place to heal
and while I would have wanted to stay there
for the rest of my life
it was time to finally learn
to let it go
let go of my expectations of life
and instead
look at it realistically
there is another phase for me
another place to live
it it time to stop resisting change
and to go with it
not to grieve over it
but to celebrate it

I asked my sister to help me with this decision
After two years of struggling I still wasn't any closer
to knowing what to do

We figured that if we lived closer
than at least we would all see our kids if they wound up
living in other places too
it was time to sell the farm
it was time to move
so I had an auction
packed up
found homes for my much loved
llamas and donkeys and mule and goat
and my stinkin cats
and my Akita and Bulldog and
got a little house my sister found for me
with a wonderful yard
I was close to my sister
and it was absolutely the best decision
our kids grown and growing
were close and my sister and I loved each other
and enjoyed being able to see each other
and funny thing about it was
my adult kids all wound up in Chicago
living together
making friends
having a life
going to Columbia College
learning how to take public transporation and
learning how to take their country
sensibilities with them to

it was great
I went back to Columbia College
and finished what I started back in the early seventies
and I even graduated on the Dean's List
30 years after I started there
Two of my children graduated from Columbia College too
what a great experience that was

moving to this area
and going to college in Chicago
and the kids living together in an apartment
and working and going to school and
making friends
creating a life there
that probably wouldn't have happened
had I not sold the farm
Their lives opened up tremendously
from having lived in the City

Turns out
the decision to sell or stay wasn't about
should I move
or should I stay
or should I live on the road
it was about
and being in contact with each other
it was about cherishing those times we had together
it was about celebrating life
and celebrating each other's lives too
none of this would be happening
if I sold the farm and kept a few acres and
put a tiny house on it.
taking that next step
is how I got here
right now
it's how I got to peace
and understanding
in the one City that decades ago I hated
who knew


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Perfection Is Highly Overrated

out in the gardenyard
soon it will be warm enough
to take my shoes off
and feel the mud squooosh up through all of those
inbetween places

it grounds me

after a few good thaws
and a few good rains
the good earth
is ready to receive its seed and root

planting and transplanting
moving moss and flowers and saplings around
and the warmth of the sun on my back
is exhilarating

Put some garden tools
into the old Radio Flyer and up the driveway we
crackle and roll

broke'n gloves hang out my back pocket
I'll use them for awhile and then
refuse them
something about dirt under my finger nails
brings me closer to Grandma
think we'll spend a morning together

I need to top off some buds from weeds that have clearly
been improperly categorized
and put those seeds out'ta searching
for a place that is just right
my garden
is unpredictable

Ooooo those clouds are coming in
quicker than I thought they would
think I'll go put on my rubber boots just in case
wait a minute
they need mending
no worries
I know where some neon pink duct tape sits
waiting to be taken off it its roll
to find something useful to do

perfection is highly overrated

Monday, February 15, 2016

Academy Award Boycott 2016

This year the Academy Awards presented me with a moral dilemma.

For the second time in the past two years, only white people were nominated for any awards.  Now this is not uncommon.  Everybody knows that a bunch of fat cats raking in money for peddling their owners ideas and way of living is culturally narrow.  And outside of major cities wow... not a lot of diversity there unless it represents one way of thinking.  Which in and of it itself is.... disappointing.

I got to thinking.... do I really care about what these people do.
Do I need to sit on the couch and watch one more awards ceremony
As people I'll never know slap each other on their backs and
go to all kinds of fancy parties and
get accolades from their peers and listen to who made what fancy suit
and designer dress
from yet more people I don't care about.
don't get me wrong now
some of those gowns are truly works of art
but do I really care who is what in this whole exclusive scene
nope I really don't care
not when there is something else that is worth so much more
like respect and dignity and integrity and fairness and inclusiveness

freedom to have everybody represented in the arts and sciences
freedom to hear a wide range of stories about our shared human experiences 
freedom to be represented, for crying out loud 

I heard Ice Tea say something, and it just broke my heart, paraphrasing here, he said he never expected to be invited to the party.  He made movies because he loved making movies.  He loved  expressing himself creatively and
he was passionate about his work
his insights are so true and so real
to think that someone like this
some one with this much talent
would just figure that was the way it was
broke my heart

How all of Hollywood couldn't gain some insight into this is beyond me.  This some racist bullshit and everybody knows it.  There is no way the only stories worthy of being recognized or awarded to only those about white people or told my white people
this is some ignorant bullshit. 

It wasn't so long ago, people that were different genders, races and religions joined together in something called the Civil Rights Movement.  It was dangerous.  It was scary.  It was beautiful.  Crossing those lines of ignorance and reaching out to people we didn't know culturally.  Not just black and white but people of all  ethnicities and religious or non-religious beliefs decided to see.... what does it look like from over there...

We took chances. 
Most of us were never on the news or in any book. 
It was more a choice to live with the knowledge that man now has the capability to blow up this planet like so many times, its ridiculous.  How did that translate to everyday people.  People taking chances to make friends with people who were different?  Yeah, and you know what, we found out that there were a whole lotta groovy things we did have in common.  The need to be understood.  The need to reach out and know someone is there.  The need to understand what is happening in our hearts.  The need to love and to be loved
The need to have a friend.

We cooked cool foods and enjoyed experiencing different cultures and found other like minded people that really loved living free.

You know what I'm talkin about too.

When I was a little girl we were driving up north
and I remember seeing those white only signs up over the water fountains and
colored signs only by other water fountains and wondered
what these were signs there for. 
I went over to the nearest fountain, which was the wrong one and
my Mom came over and got me.  She told me had water in the car. 
Why are those signs there, I asked her?  I wish I knew she said.

Years later I was involved in the peace movement in Chicago.  And I was there when the second Chicago fire hit.  Oh my God, it was so sad.  So sad.  I bet you don't hear that often.  But it was.  When John F. Kennedy and Malcom X and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were taken from us it was like the wind had been ripped out from under our wings and we fell, flat on our backs, no wind, no breathing, hollow

all of our hopes and the people that inspired us so
had been stomped on and trashed
and it left a scar

but we didn't disappear
we just got quiet
we kept being real
and we kept moving on

I'm an old woman now
and my heart still aches
still aches
just to think about
that time

And I think, the Revolution will not be televised
The Revolution is Live

Because every time we continued to extend our hand
and our hearts to those around us
regardless of whether we were alike or different
it meant some thing
some thing

Now the Academy Awards is coming up
and again two years in a row not one person who wasn't white
was chosen to be awarded.
That means that apparently no other stories like
Straight Outta Compton, Concussion with Will Smith
or Spike Lee's, ChiRaq had any relevance or ironies or substance

And I thought about Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr
and so many others
some names you would recognize and many you've never heard of
and I thought about that diner in Greensboro, North Carolina
when regular everyday people decided
they weren't going to sit by and tolerate segregation anymore
and all kinds of people put their lives on the line
during that decade
because they knew
deep in their hearts
that the Revolution was live
it was an everyday mentality
an awareness of how connected we all are
of how much we share
and it was about turning away from destruction and turning
toward creating something beautiful

Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr.'s beliefs
about practicing non-violence and civil disobedience by living
through the convictions of one's own conscience
with integrity
with the goal of achieving freedom and peace
for everyone may have been lofty
but it still sails me

to live any other way
once you understood that when one suffered
we all suffered
it wasn't possible to stay comfortable
when others were suffering from the wounds of hatred

I saw on the news today that all of these actors and directors
had won all kinds of awards. 
I thought maybe the Academy Awards had been on last night
but no, these were major awards from other countries
and suddenly
I pictured
all of those well tanned
muscular few
who have trainers and coaches and prestige and adoration
from their fans
and I saw the glutinous need for more

smiling and scarfing down
more and more and more
and more
and I thought
the Revolution is live

some will sit at the trough
and some won't have a clue
some will sit at other tables in the five and dime
and they won't say a word
but maybe a few
might just maybe
decide to sit somewhere else instead
and say
enough is enough too

Unless everybody is invited to the table
man why go
there's gotta be a whole lotta some thing else to do
and some where else to be
than there

I have decided to boycott the Academy Awards this year and chose to share my thoughts about this in my video.

All of life, so far as we understand it
is connected
it is always being
and it is always becoming
whether we see it or not
hear it or not
whether we can quantify it or not
life is
its real liquidy
and its always moving
on its own wavelength
I think this is why prayer and singing together
or listening to music together
gives us the awareness of our connection
that is always inside us
moving through all of us
you see I think
lives matter
and participating in the perpetuation of this discrimination
regardless of who gets hurt
or who is hurting
well, it just isn't entertaining
not one bit
it isn't funny
it isn't cool
and it damn sure isn't righteous

I remember singing a song with many others
I couldn't find a recording of a crowd singing this song
I think you'd have to be there to know what it felt like
to be targeted
to be scared
to hear the screams America love it or leave it and to stand
and hold onto each other
swaying to this undeniable connection we were all feeling
and it was some thing
that broke down all kinds of walls and barriers and it was
here it is
We Shall Overcome

Look, we all decide who we are by how we live.  We all reflect who we are by how we live.  We do this every minute of every day.
As for me?
I'd rather sit this one out
and tune out hatred
and ignorance
and instead do just about anything else
I may even wash my hair and
in my heart
I'll be remembering those songs we sang
and the crowd
becoming one love
and I'll be digging on that

I realized that the real fight
wasn't won with violence
my Grandpa told me more than once
You may have to fight three times in your life
But all of those good decisions you make
whether anyone sees you making them or not
will give your the strength to survive

I was young then
a pacifist
a dreamer
but I listened to my Grandfather because I knew
he was such a good man and he was telling me something important

I couldn't imagine what I would fight with someone about. 
I was picturing getting into an actual fist fight.
But as I lived and breathed
Grandpa was right
Those struggles
especially after the brain injury
that ripped me a part
I could never have imagined
turns out the greatest battle I would ever face
was the one with my own will to give up
my own will to live
was beyond me

I realized that yes, all of those decisions that seemed insignificant
whether anyone saw them or not
had given me strength
enough strength to look in the mirror and recognize
that I was still being and becoming and
a part of everything
and while it was different now and
I was in some ways different now
life was still worth living
and even when it was hardest to convince myself of this
I kept on going
the strength of all of those decisions I'd made
gave me the ability to take one more step

Grandpa was right
no matter how hard we get knocked down
life is still worth living
when we live it with integrity, love and
when we live it purposefully

And my purpose is to keep on keepin on

I watched the Grammy's last night

And wow
I saw the most historic, inspirational
creative expression of genius
Kendrick Lamar

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Prairie Gifted to The Indian Prairie Public Library

This is a video Dave Bunn put together of the time I worked on the painting The Prairie at the library and then when I gave it to the library when it was finished.  This painting took about a year to paint.  It is a love gift to the whole community.

My son Steve Lieto and my daughter Rebekah Lieto are adding their brush strokes and color to The Prairie.  The creative expression we share is very much a family affair.  We had such a good time.  Coco is also in the video.  Coco is my Akita Service Dog who was very much a star at the library while I worked on the painting there.  And she was my constant companion when I continued to work on it in my studio.  There is just a sideways glimpse of Marianne Ryan, who did an awesome interview after The Prairie found its new home at the library.  Thank you Jamie Bukovac for coming up with this interactive project.  I love love loved working on it at the library.  I loved the families, the love, the questions, the curiosity.... just everything.
Thank you Dave for creating this video.  You are a dear.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Birdman Review


I don't usually choose movies because they've received awards or rave reviews.  Most of the time big winners don't impress me. But there was something about Birdman and what people said about it during the Oscars that compelled me to make sure I didn't miss this one.

I went to see Birdman at a wonderful small theater in town. I went with my daughter, who is also an artist and our dear sisterfriend Margo.

First off, Birdman was fucking genius.
Everything about it.
The screenplay, and directing
wow brilliant.

This film was based on a play by Raymond Carver entitled ,"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," and the screen play was written by Alejandro Bonzales Inarritu and Nicolas Giacobone and Alexander Dinelaris and Armond Bo.

 The actors shared their own moments of truth.  Their own enslavement to their craft.  Their own self hatred and inspiration.  Michael Keaton was amazing.  The way the Director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, melded the in-time events with what was really going on inside the characters was way out cool.

Everyone's performance was stellar.
It was great seeing real flesh and blood actors with wrinkles and imperfect bodies who had something authentic to express between the lines of the written word and the depths of their own experience. I especially dug Edward Norton, (always a fave), Emma Stone, (she totally blew me away) and Lindsay Duncan, oh hell yeah and Amy Ryan, as subtle as an ocean breeze.
All that being said,
Michael Keaton,
Michael Keaton,
Michael Keaton!!!!!!!!!!!!!
He filled up that screen and expressed a whole lotta somethings that he had lived through,
and gave an in your face performance that stuck

Bek and I talked about this shared experience of being an artist, a creative person, after the movie.
We talked about that moment or lots of those moments
when we reach that point, while we are creating something out of nothing,
when self doubt, and self loathing lifts its grotesque head,
out of the depths of wherever the hell we go for our inspiration
and gurgles up through the sludge of change and chance
until we are overcome
until we reach out and truth leaves a trace of some kind of
creative expression
for the reader or viewer or listener to feel too
that connection between the obscure and the inspired
is what most people never see
That moment or maybe lots of moments
when we experience these private little deaths
when we give ourselves to our work,
our creation
and let go of every
every secret expectation that our work will be validated
and we let go
we jump
we wake up
sweat dripping and running and running
head pounding and excruciating truth
until we can't think any more
and it all
gives way to something far more risky,
something far more
something tangible that the viewer sees

it is our of our hands
it takes on a life of its own
and everything else pales

The final seconds before the curtain rises
when we demand an answer
as though we are asking a judge to find us innocent
and the gavel cracks down hard
and inside the world vanishes
and all we hear is
what difference does this make
this is all insignificant
nobody cares
you are nothing
and then
we step into the nothingness
into the sentence
and we say the next line
or load our brush
or we begin to sculpt or
play another note
and then we are there
we are swirling around in that moment
second by second
creating something to hold onto
something that won't disappear
but something that will always

This movie blew my mind.
The awards it received were wonderful and well deserved.
But the experience of seeing this movie in the theater
the artist and the craft being splayed in the darkness lit by the wide screen
was like going through a living breathing autopsy
It was the metaphorical journey of an artist
the insecurities
the questioning
wrestling with that great big question
what difference will all of this make
and the ultimate answer that echoes time and again
it doesn't matter
its all insignificant
you are insignificant
oh man oh man

My favorite things?  The story has substance and people look real. People have wrinkles and imperfect bodies and they don't know what the hell is going on. They are hanging on by a thread just long enough to take an entire audience with them, as they delve deep and deeper still into the creative process. This is what the artist, the musician, the writer, the performer lives and breathes.

This is the sacrifice that most people never understand.
This is the torment and this is the bliss
this is the wound and this is the healing death
this silent primal scream that springs from the depth of our gut
until we are finished
until we are wrung out and nothing else is left
until its over
we slip away
with the hope that just maybe
maybe someone else feels it too

and that's it
the completion
the opening
the death
the life
the expression
all there
all hidden
all out in the open

oh by the way
the drummer was the heart beat that pulled this whole dealeo
he was the beat

yeah it was pure genius

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

All Creatures Large and Small

All creatures large and small have attention getting behaviors. Some are used to alert others of danger and some are to alert others to a source of food. All use lots of behaviors to get the attention of a potential mate. This is normal. Now here is the kicker. Your dog will respond to your attention getters too. For example, say you are a yeller. You are constantly correcting but you don't follow through with instruction. You follow through with intimidation or force. And your tactics frustrate you because you have to behave in a way that outdoes your dog's behavior. Your relationship is based on telling and punishing. Neither of which is something your dog understands. It may understand it needs to be submission to quiet things down but that doesn't mean it has learned anything.

When there is a behavior that your dog does and you want it to do something else, you need to set your dog up for success. For example, when Coco and I were in service dog training school there was a command they needed to do. Back.. In class, they were along a wall and they couldn't go forward. The only way they could move was straight back. Every step back earned praise, Good back. Good girl, good back. Lots of repetition and instruction gave her brain and body a chance to learn this skill. Then when we applied it in stores, again, we were in a situation where she could only walk straight backwards. Lots of praise.

Eventually, I used a hand signal with her and she cued me when we needed to go back and it became more like a dance. Coco, all on her own, will decided if an aisle is too congested for us to get through and she will stop, look at me and we will go backwards. She has done this in a parking lot or in a restaurant. Always looking for where we need to go and always prepared to change directions.

So when our dingbat animals, our brilliant Akitas are doing something to get our attention try to figure out what type of attention they are getting used to. We generally set the tone. I remember seeing this with so many of my fosters. Especially ones that had been yelled at or worse. One of the sweetest dogs I ever fostered was Chelsie. She had been left for dead in the backyard, chained to a tree, when the people moved away. There had been terrible storms for a couple of weeks so she was completely deaf and very sick when she came to me. One thing I noticed was she didn't want to go into the kitchen, which is where our side door to outside and walks is and where the food and water is kept. She would get low to the ground and practically crawl with her ears flat down and this sorrowful look on her face. I knew she had been yelled at, seriously intimidated and she had learned her lesson but she was left with scars.

So I started helping her so she wouldn't feel afraid. Now she may have gotten food off a counter or into a garbage can so she may have done that. A lot of people insist on keeping open garage cans in kitchens and then get mad at the dog when it gets food out or out of boredom drags it through the house. Instead of getting a can with a good secure lock on it or putting it covered in a pantry or laundry room or in a lower cabinet. I had to get a baby lock for a cabinet door once because that was where I kept the garbage. Instead of yelling at my dog I set my dog up for success.

Our dogs learn so much when we teach and reward instead of punish and reward. Trying to figure out how to get ahead of a bad behavior and train or teach your dog what it needs to do to get lots of positive attention is the challenge and the difference between conditioning a dog to respond to your attention getting behavior and you developing a teamwork relationship that is actually a two way communication that enriches all of your lives. Chelsie got over her fear and looked at that kitchen like a fantastic gateway to outside and long walks and treats and when I was cooking she would join the others and lay just outside of the kitchen waiting for something yummy to happen. Oh and with proper Vet care her terrible ear infection cleared up and she could hear again. It took some time before she got better so I trained her by tapping my foot on the ground twice, an attention getting behavior, and giving her a hand signal. Both of these love bugs were fully trained and went into terrific homes.

Monday, February 9, 2015

I'll Stand By You

There is an icy patch between my back porch and the garage. I say, "Coco I need you." She comes running to me, absolutely exuberant. Usually, I put her vest on before we go outside and I say, "One step girl." And then we carefully go outside. When I hold onto the handle of her vest there is no tugging or movement forward. We are one in motion. She leans her body into the side of my leg just enough to give me balance so I don't fall down. Some times I forget to put the vest on Coco and she just waits there for me to take a hold of her back.

I could put some salt in front of the garage door but the dogs would walk through it and I worry about it getting on their feet.

I had already put Rider on his tether so he could be outside with us too. Coco and I went into the garage and I emptied the garbage and secured the lid and then opened the garage door. Sun filled the garage and for a second or two I am blinded. Coco knows its coming. I can feel her wrap around the backs of my legs. We have to take the recycle bin and garbage can to the end of the driveway. The driveway has been plowed and salted but it is very cold and there are icy spots that are some times hard to see.

I put a snow shovel in the recycling bin and with one hand, push it down the driveway. I hold onto Coco with my other hand. After seven years of living together we instinctively take "one steps" until we have gone to the end of the driveway. Gently, she leans into the side of my leg to give me support so I don't fall down. We walk back up the driveway and then roll the garbage can down and set it alongside the recycle bin. And then we walk back up to the garage and close the overhead door. Each time my trusty girl is by my side. She never moves an inch without me. Coco's love and focus never waivers. How did I get this lucky... I am so grateful to share life with Coco.

I was stirred today about something that happened after the accident that left me with a Traumatic Brain Injury. Maybe a couple of years later. I was still in a fog, trying to find my way back to my new life with a TBI. I was driving in the day time to places close to the house and only going in straight lines. I decided I wanted to find out if I could do something all on my own. I went to see a movie called, "The Horse Whisperer". It was during the day and I don't think there was anyone else there. Which was lucky because there were a few times when I watched this movie that I sobbed uncontrollably. That kind of gut crying that shakes your whole body. In the dark there I watched the whole movie. I left, all wobbly, using my cane, blinded by the bright light outside, I made it to my car and sat in it and cried some more. I didn't understand what upset me so. I talked with my neuro-psyche about it. But I didn't feel settled in my mind over it. About a year later I finally finished reading the book. Often crying even then. But I couldn't process it. When the video finally came out I watched it and had the same reaction. I talked with my neuro-psyche and told her I knew there was something going on but I couldn't figure it out. I felt like I needed to face whatever it was but I couldn't sort it all out. She told me to watch the video and stop it whenever I felt that way and write down what happened in the movie. She said she would watch the movie too. So I did and when we met again I gave her my notes.

After reading them she said I had replaced my self with the horse. As soon as she said this, I knew it was true. The accident and injuries and not being able to trust the doctors or people who were supposed to take care of me; feeling terrified and panicked and alone and unable to understand what happened to me, it all was there. And then the doozy moment came. There was a point in the movie when this troubled horse got loose and ran off. And the trainer went out to the field where the horse was and he waited. He waited all day. He waited until that horse came back to him. And my first thought was, there is no-one who will ever wait for me like that. No-one will ever love me like that. And I grieved over the person I once was and the promise of the person I could be in the future.

I did eventually get great help and will always be grateful to the Chicago Lighthouse and RIC for their expertise and ability to help me understand what happened to me and how I could make the best out of what remained. Its been twenty years since that car came speeding into our lane and since then I have realized that there have been plenty of people that have waited for and have stood by me. My amazing sister and her family, my precious children and a few dear friends and of course, Coco.