Friday, November 30, 2012

mourning moon

Every so often, I paint a picture of our family.

I draw it in pencil, then I stain it with watercolor. My old paint dries to my plastic palette. I reactivate it with water, and it gently spreads across the paper. I love the process of making this dried old smear of paint come alive, and useful again. I fall more in love with all of them when I sketch them out. It doesn't seem possible, but my heart center expands. I try to capture Thomas Harry's little mouth just like him, his smile which is both sweet and shy. And the way Beezus always tilts her head off toward her brother every time I pull out the camera. I put the lost babies on my dress like appliques. The raven and the ladybug.

My husband barely acknowledges it. He likes photographs, honestly. I'm not offended. But I like art, stacked together, making something like a symphony of images. Maybe he has made that concession for me, but he never questions the ever-changing art wall in my living room. Artwork from all the people I love, pieces I adore, and work that is significant to us as a family. When I explain it to people visiting, my husband seems just as interested in hearing the whys of each piece.

The process of painting our family has become an inadvertent yearly thing, or maybe every other year. I replaced the painting of me and the children from when Thomas was only two weeks old with this new one. There is Sam and the dog. We are all smiling and Sam's arm is around me. I almost put no background in this painting. Us on white, but in the end, I painted all that negative space yellow, because it is positive space too. The space of possibility. In the last painting I did, Spring 2010, everything was grey and mostly colorless. There was no Sam, or Jack the dog, or Lucia or Michael. It was just me and the kids, but mostly me. Sad, but grateful.

There is a circle of women that I have joined, both a virtual circle and another in real life, and my soul feels alive again. I see images for them--goddesses, angels, vistas I cannot control, pictures that have no context. As this sight opens in me, something else closes. Doubt and attachment, I suppose. I resided in a place of rejection, or rather, perhaps, I sought to paint the negative space around everything that I actually have first. Gratitude an afterthought. With this opening, the fear of alone closes.

This month in the healing circle, all the women chanted our own names, staying on the last sound.


Like an Om. The vibration of our discordant names together resonated through my spine, my cheeks burned with the truth of it all. It felt close to the sound of God, or compassion. Many years ago, I remember my friend Sid and I reading poetry to one another. And she said, "When a poem is really good, my cheeks vibrate and I can feel it in my jaw." And that is what this felt like the vibration of truth.

I have never felt so free to be Angie, a person that I cut off for years with booze and resentments. The uncool believer in things unseen. The joyous clapper in a gospel choir. The psychic who believes in her gifts. The weird little kid who cannot wait to go on vision quest.

I admit that depression has seized me the last few months, crippling despair almost, but not quite. I couldn't keep up with everything, or anything, really. The process of letting go seemingly a paradox of impossible odds, almost Sisyphean in its absurdity. My health issues gripped me too, and then I was all body--injured and unsteady, weak and damaged. But the letting go was simple once I let go.

In the last thirty-almost-nine years, I have needed confirmation and witness to every single thing I have felt. Love. Friendship. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Kindness. Hurt. I sought it from everyone around me. It is only now that I have realized I do that. Tell my sad story, or my happy story, paint a picture of it for judgment, for a nod of understanding, for justification of my solitude.

I think of the end of the Prayer of Saint Francis as the talisman behind the talisman card I draw this morning, (perhaps I should see that one as the joker).

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort that to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved.

This last moon, the Mourning Moon, comes on me strong. I wrestle in the night with sleeplessness and exhaustion. They grapple, roll over me, kick me in the jaw. Athena asks us to look at the moon in June, what happened then. For now, you should see the completion of that cycle. What have we released?

The new baby was just dead then, and my breeding years died with him. (I am not lamenting, just stating.) I spent these months releasing one lousy resentment, understanding it, letting go. But it was a much bigger process than just that one resentment of that one person. It was about letting go of judgment of myself, of that person, of the situation, of Lucia's death and the repercussions of grief. I forget what the resentment was about some days now. That is magic. Truly and completely magic. But it is more than that.

In June, I went to a spiritual counselling session. It is not exaggeration to say that she changed my life. I didn't see it then, but now I can see this path she laid out in front of me, suggesting I take it. When I asked her about my circle of friends which seemed depleted and gone, she told me that those souls needed to leave, so that resonant souls could come in. She told me to release them. And I skeptically smiled. I got what she was saying, but the last few years of grief had still been an deeply painful process. I didn't have to release them, I thought, they left.

I needed rituals, prayers, candles, sage, meditations, dreamwork, and conversations with them that ended in hugs and a letting-go. I needed to truly release them, so I myself could be free. I sent them off with prayers of everything I wanted for myself. Those rituals of release and opening have brought friends, resonant vibrations, I suppose, people I love and trust and laugh with, where I can just be corny and psychic and recovering from the spiritual malady that has plagued so many of my people. I can see the cycle from the Flower Moon to the Mourning Moon as this journey of less of becoming who I am and more of releasing who I am not.

My cheeks vibrate with the truthiness of it all. When I paint my family, it is the beginning of the circle of trust and love and non-judgment, and it spirals out into the world. This is the talisman I draw--protection from painting what isn't.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

protection from cynicism

I rub my finger callouses along the table.

These old fingers peck and strum and emote. I always sing, even though I am a terrible singer. Gilda Radnor took singing lessons in the last year of her life, after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She always wanted to sing and so she went to a teacher. She didn't do it for a role, or to sing for anyone. Just for herself. Some weeks, I sit and fantasize about that. Would singing be my wholly selfish indulgence? How self-conscious I have always been about my voice, but how deeply satisfying it is to sing loudly. And in the end, I think I sound fine when I'm alone and no one is listening. It is an ego koan.

What is the sound of Angie singing alone in the forest? Beautiful.

In the time before mirrors and you tube and the eternal quest for self on the internet, did we judge what we looked like? Were we wrinkled and hated it? Were we too fat? I look at myself without mirrors and feel beautiful, fine, goddess-like some mornings, then I have a conversation with an angry someone about fat people, and realize how susceptible I am to the mirror of other people's words. Frankly, I'm embarrassed about that too.

I took my guitar with me to my mother's and unself-consciously sang songs with my daughter, or alone. It felt delicious. My family was emotionally tender and my daughter and I made the room cry. Even I cried. Grief singing. I couldn't go on. It had been ten years since my mother heard me play and sing. Back when I could only play Doll Parts then Jane Says on an unplugged electric guitar, and I whispered the lyrics, if I sang them at all. I admit now my punk rock roots have morphed into songs by Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman, Leonard Cohen, Stones, the Velvet Underground. 

These rough fingers run down my husband's cheek and he smiles. 

I love when you play guitar.

You do?

Yes. It feels like home.

My soul callouses are worn down, softened. It makes hurts more hurt-y, but it is for the best. I'm not going to work on those cynical chords that recreates the hardness I wore proudly. Sam comes out of left field right after the dude and the conversation about fat people, just when I am feeling shitty and isolated, and says something amazing. He kisses me and tells me that I am gorgeous. Then he asks me if I feel lucky that I am not married to that man.

Oh, you are a mean old daddy, but I like you.

My husband is growing a beard for me and took next week off. After months of sixty hour weeks, I will scratch his whiskers and sit on his lap and call him our Old Man. I keep singing these songs about heartbreak and none of them are about what I think they are about. They are about something beautiful and hopeful.

We wanted to take a trip during his time off. Iceland, we begged. Then just to drive west. To California. The sequoias that swallow cars. Or into the cold rain forest, bed down on some mossy nook, make a sad fire, and sing songs about how we are each other's sunshine. I guess it is kind of square to talk about Joni Mitchell and making a fire. I don't care anymore. I gave up feel self-conscious about squareness when I turned thirty-eight. It didn't work out. The trip, I mean. Travel and gypsy campers, but the thought was enough. We have bills after all, and Christmas gifts. We have this home we built with its strange long horns and collection of small dead insects.. 

I pull a talisman card and it says, "Protection from cynicism." I need that more than any prayer. Maybe that is the prayer:

Help me release cynicism and cranky irony and sarcasm.
Help me let go of the bitter ennui that is the bedfellow of the eternally cool. 
Let me release the cynicism about where I fit in. 
Help me remember that I fit in here. With the bearded man and his barefoot kids dancing to Joni Mitchell's love songs, the ones that sound exactly like break-up songs.

I bought a horn pitcher at an antique shop. It was for my husband's birthday, but on the day, I didn't give it to him. It seemed a little strange, and besides what will we do with this thing? I put it on my altar, and today I had the strong urge to give it to him. So I did. He told me it was perfect to have in our collection of weird antique things. 

I didn't start out writing about my husband. I read the Shack this week. I cannot tell you how many times it has been recommended to me, the pluralist babylost gypsy. I'm not sure what I think of it, but forgiveness and love and the ideas of judgment were more than appealing. And yet there was this deeply cynical part of me that felt self-conscious reading that book at all. It is the wanting-to-be-cool part of myself. Can I divorce that from what I felt about the book? As I read, that part reared up and wanted to tell the book to Fuck off, and throw it, and listen to music that no one has heard of yet. And so I am still parsing out what I think, but I keep the talisman across my chest.

This week I began meditation paintings other than jizos or about grief. It felt strange and liberating and fulfilling. In that space of letting go of cynicism, it made me feel like I was finally be authentically me. And a year ago, painting angels would have felt like anything but the me I thought I was. I am working on releasing cynicism, and non-forgiveness, but it is a long hard road. I keep singing California, even when not at the guitar, and it makes me miss a place I never loved, and a woman I never looked like.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

fortune telling

It occurred to me this morning that this day is our fourth child's due date. It seems strange at how much has changed since we miscarried. I have such tenderness there for that missing person. My body woke up bleeding again, another new moon after all. Just noting that the baby was missing, a little blood shed today to honor him. I wouldn't have remembered the day except it is my husband's birthday. Yes, our fourth child was due on his birthday. Lucia was due on my birthday. Both of them died.

A few weekends ago, I had a medium tell me that our miscarried baby was actually a boy, and his name, which was actually the only name we had chosen for the baby, if he was a boy. I am writing about psychics and fortune tellers at Glow today, because I consulted a few (thousand) since Lucia died. Not actually, but more than I admit in mixed company.

photo by an Untrained Eye.
In the past, I have been a farm girl. In the future, I will be silver and bald and eat beer pellets for breakfast.

Go over to Glow now, and talk about your experience with psychics and whatnots.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


My mother' home bursts with magic. Pheasant feathers and gourds in an antique glass vase. Moss growing in the sacred circles of her brick patio. A skull and a broken pitcher near the garage. The pitcher used to hold spider plants growing long tentacles in water on their way to earth. Somewhere between a glass of water and a pot of soil. There is a cauldron with a dead plant coming out of it under the nectarine tree. She has a makeshift altar above her sink. It has a chalice of water for her spirit guide and Buddhas she finds at flea markets. One looks like ivory and she tells me how she bought it for a few bucks.

The sunrise here is a marvel and the coffee tastes different, like cozy socks and a hug, even though the robusta beans coat my tongue with extra caffeine. My mother and I talk and talk about psychics and spirits and grandmothers, Of emigrating, moving, changing space. We talk about retirement and staying home and my childhood. Then, she mentions to me in passing that mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and I chuckle. Heh heh, yeah, Mama, I heard that once.

My children run through the yard like wild things--they climb trees and track rabbits. My mother tells my daughter she used to kill birds with a slingshot and roast them in the cemetery. She grew up poor and my daughter's mouth gapes open in amazement. My daughter spots a woodpecker in the valley. We sit by the stream, tossing red leaves into the current as the visiting neighbor's weiner dog barks. We climb over the weeping willow the hurricane tossed out of the earth. I used to sit under that tree and play guitar in the summer. My stepfather is non-nonplussed. "I'll put another one in. This bank was too loose. In spring, I'll put in a cutting up a few feet in sturdier ground." I strum my daughter's favorite song there anyway, while she sings.

Oh, my Mama. 
She gives me 
These feathered breaths. 

I made my way here on Wednesday morning to pick my mother up from the hospital after surgery. My step-father received a call when she was rolled into surgery that his mother was not going to last much longer than a week. She could no longer eat, or drink, and the morphine was all they could do. She died an hour after my mother and I arrived home from the hospital. She is the last of the grandmothers in my family. The last of that generation. Sixteen years ago, my paternal grandmother died at 67. My mother's mother died at 95 two months after Lucy, now my step grandmother at 86.

While I mourn for my stepfather, cry with him, his mother suffered from the death that most of us fear. Forgetting our husband and children, experiencing the indignities and humiliations of rotten people and a body betraying its soul. She was surrounded by love, though, and she was never want for anything. I wonder if there is a good death and what that would look like.

The children and I tramp through the woods, and my daughter points out that in the summer this place is filled with poison ivy. She tells me a story about my own childhood. It is the story about poison Sumac. I couldn't see well because my face was so swollen. My aunt had to take me for the day, while my mother worked. My Titi, as I called her, had no idea what to do with me, so se taught me to dance the cha-cha with a record and a mat with feet prints. My mother waits for the children and I at the top of the hill, right by the sweet cherry tree. My children call to her, "Abuelita, Abuelita, we walked through the poison ivy." I want to be an abuelita some day.

My daughter's death was as good as it gets. It hits me. She died in her mother. She never feared. And we loved her like she was going to live forever. There was never pity or grief in the love. But still, how good can it be if you never really got to live?

Being in my mother's home soothes something broken in me. My mother rubs in salve and aloe when she makes white rice in the same pot she's been making rice in for forty years. She puts on another pot of lentils, despite my protestations. She just had surgery. She doesn't have to make my favorite meal, but she insists. We talked about making rice. She taught me when I went to college, but it still took me many years to make it like her. She breaks off sofrito from the freezer and adds a can of tomato sauce. She tells me about being the second youngest of twelve and learning to cook Panamanian food in America. I watch the birds out the window beyond her shoulder, and think that this land is the land of my mother, even if it is far away from the land of her birth. But it is both for me. I feel attached to this land. I dug my feet into the dirt this morning, the dew almost frozen hurt my feet, but I refused to move.

This is the land of my people.

As I stood there, I realize that the hardest part of writing is learning you are mediocre. And in that mediocrity, you still sometimes nail a good phrase or two. You sometimes write something amazing. But mostly, it is just mediocre. But the world is constructed of mostly mediocre. It is part of the suffering. You feel the extraordinary bubbling underneath its surface, but it hasn't (or perhaps never will) quite burst through you. It is like rice-making year three. The phase in which you change from mother to grandmother.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

protection from leaving a trail

We raked the leaves from the hurricane. Rather than having the tree drop them all, the hurricane winds pulverized the leaves in the backyard. Bits of yellow and green, like herbs seasoning our land.  Granulated tree.

Everything I start to write seems useless, trite, redundant. I stand arms by my side, looking west, like an Easter Island head. There is something there beckoning me. What comes out of me lacks color. I sketch everything in vine charcoal. Nothing color, just grays. It is all easily smudged. And yet what is inside of me is bubbling and vibrant. I just cannot translate it. It is indigo and violet and smells of cedar and sage and pinecones. Between inside and outside, I feel restless, depressed, because writing has always come easily. I don't have writer's block, per se. But the past few weeks, I have felt stuck in my language. It is not enough. I need twenty-four words for the idea of identity and restlessness. Nothing is quite right. When I meditate and sit still with my discomfort, I see corn fields spread around me. Signs of fertility and prosperity, but to me, it is a sign of home. While I love many things about our town and neighborhood, I miss wide open skies and spaces to run. Though place has never meant a terribly great deal to me, the suburbs are driving me gray and fat. I can't muster the energy to leave the house anymore. I cannot get excited about the farmer's market and the dying lake.

Wherever you go, there you are, as the saying goes. Or not matter how light you pack, you always take your shit with you. That's another saying. But I don't want to run away. That is not my goal. I am tired of New Jersey and no left turns. I crave wide open swaths of land in which to roam. I have nothing to offer here, and here has less to offer me than before. I want to watch the children run, learn the land, tend a large garden. I want them to learn to track and build lean-tos. To have moonlit rituals without people asking me what the fire was for and why we were dancing. I pace my cage. There is a fish aquarium quality to the suburbs that unnerves me. Our dining room windows look out on our neighbor's unfinished house. From the windows to their driveway is fifteen feet. I must pull the blinds if I don't want people to wave to me inside my own house. I hear the idle gossip from Facebook and texts and who gets invited where, and I just want to opt out now. 

My feet crave earth beneath them. My fingernails call to plants to break them down. I chew them now, because outside work used to keep them short and sweet. I want to talk about canning food and chopping firewood. I want to talk about existence rather than boredom. I want to help raise barns, if I have to interact with my neighbors, not hear fat jokes, and chitchat about who has what and how much. Around here, the trees are all being removed. It makes sense. Our land is too wet to support such large trees, which uproot in hurricanes and winter storms. I mourn each one, even as I know the necessity of removing them. It is this place that demands it. And I think I want a place that can handle large trees. I crave a surrounding that venerates solitude without whispers or fear of depression. I don't want to fit in. I just want to be. These suburbs beg for peering out curtains and drawing conclusions. I engage in it too, and it is a part of myself that I hate.

I read this book recently called the Snow Child. It opens with a stillbirth. Set in 1920s, it is about this infertile couple who decide to homestead in Alaska, because they can no longer handle the world after the death of their only son. They want to be alone. Completely, utterly alone. Until they make a snow child who comes to life.

It took me months and months to read this book. I would start it. When the stillbirth was mentioned, I would place it aside. I no longer want to read solely about this heartbreak I know intimately. No longer. And yet, the book was not about stillbirth at all. Just one part of their story. And the rest of it, I got it. I wanted that self-sufficiency of an Alaskan homesteader in 1920. I understood the way stillbirth makes you crave mere existence, rather than the idleness of wealth and comforts. As I read, I coveted the harshness of winter, the land that runs for months around that. The part that is most decisive and positive of what is needed and important. I am mostly indifferent, and wishy-washy here in this life, because nothing seems that important or life altering. Do I want to eat at Cheesecake Factory or Applebees? Do I want to shop at Lowe's or Home Depot? 

I move through this life after Lucia's death. Stillbirth is just one part of my story, but it is the bend in the road. The thing that reprioritized everything. That part of me, the one before Lucia, falls on my soul yard pulverized. I keep thinking of that Pema Chodron quote, "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us." And maybe I am ready to move past the annihilation and into that which is indestructible. That part of me that seeks aloneness is getting louder and louder. May I not leave a trail.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

frida muerto face

Technically, today is Dia de los Inocentes, or Dia de los Angelitos. The day of the innocents. The day we remember that children and babies that died. So, remembering them all. Honoring them all. It is also All Saint's Day. Tomorrow is All Soul's Day and Dia de los Muertos. I paint my face every year. And in my part of the United States, Halloween was cancelled, or rather postponed until the 5th of November. Tomorrow there is a Halloween parade at school. Anyway, we had been housebound for the last few days because the hurricane ripped through our state, causing devastation and mass destruction. It is really horrible. My thoughts and prayers are with the people down the shore. I'm not complaining about it, but just explaining that we had been in the house, bored, wanting to celebrate Halloween, Samhain, and Day of the Dead.

Yesterday, my sister and her kids came over and I painted everyone's face like a calavera. Then we took pictures. We thought it would be totally creepy to take a family portrait this way. Like one of those fake olde tyme pictures you take on the boardwalk, except my daughter is wearing a Hello Kitty shirt. We posed in front of our Day of the Dead altar. I wish you could see my sister's tattoo. It is very cool Frida calavera.

Okay, yeah, the picture is a little creepy. But also makes me feel blessed to be in this family. If I die young, I hope they keep doing this in my honor and in Lucia's honor.

For the past five years, I have dressed like Frida Kahlo for Halloween, and the last few it has been Frida Muerto. I do this to honor her, commune with her, help channel her energy and power. She is a constant inspiration. We have a children's book called Frida, which is about Frida Kahlo and her life. My kids love that book, and in it, they say that Frida loved her eyebrows because they look like a bird flying. So, I painted my eyebrows like that book, carrying a thorny rose, because my daughter's life and death feel like that to me.

In the spirit of still life everyday, I created a little how-to video on how to create a very easy Frida Kahlo Day of the Dead look from the shoulders up. From the shoulders down, you should wear some kind of peasant dress and large necklace.

Post your calavera faces here. I would love to see your work.