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Le fruit de l’Espirit

“l’amour” | 8″ x 10″ | Mixed Media on Canvas
Almost a decade ago, I was traveling with friends through the south of France, researching for my novel, The Honeylicker Angel. We stopped at a massive, open-air flea market near the Sea. I could have spent all day there, picking through boxes of photos, running my fingers through bowls of buttons, shrugging on vintage jackets. I still have two of the treasures I bought that day. Well, now just the necklace.
The other treasure was a bit inexplicable at the time: a window valance made of burlap. The bottom edge was scalloped in wine-colored stitching, and the images embroidered across it depicted women circa the 1920s, frolicking in bucolic farmland.
I never hung the valance in a window. Over the years, I kept rediscovering the piece in my basket of fabrics, unsure what to do with it—even whether to keep it.
And then. I bought a set of small canvases and envisioned them with sky-ish blue backgrounds as if they were windowpanes. Maybe with a dash of red the color of Mourvedre—and then I remembered the fabric. I pulled it out and stretched it across the floor. I got out my scissors, cut a knick, and ripped off the first figure. The burlap tore into marvelous, rough edges. All of a sudden, I could see the paintings: the women and animals adhered to the canvases as individual vignettes like windows to history, each with their individual story. Finally, the valance would have not just one window, but many.
I knew words were waiting, too. And they would be in French to honor the fabric’s origins. One day, walking by the almost-finished paintings, I thought of the words we often see during the holiday season: love, joy, peace—some of the “Fruit of the Spirit.”
Voilà. I looked up the translations in French. The paintings had their words, and the series had its title: “Le Fruit de l’Espirit.”
May these fruit and their power extend through all the seasons. May they be the windows through which we see our lives and those of others. 

l’amour, love
la joie, joy
la paix, peace
la patience, patience
la bonté, gentleness
la bénignité, goodness
la fidélité, faith
la douceur, meekness
la temperance, temperance

You can view the full set of paintings at Fine Art America, and they are on exhibit through the end of 2014 at Art Presence in Jacksonville, OR


Le fruit de l’Espirit

“l’amour” | 8″ x 10″ | Mixed Media on Canvas
Almost a decade ago, I was traveling with friends through the south of France, researching for my novel, The Honeylicker Angel. We stopped at a massive, open-air flea market near the Sea. I could have spent all day there, picking through boxes of photos, running my fingers through bowls of buttons, shrugging on vintage jackets. I still have two of the treasures I bought that day. Well, now just the necklace.
The other treasure was a bit inexplicable at the time: a window valance made of burlap. The bottom edge was scalloped in wine-colored stitching, and the images embroidered across it depicted women circa the 1920s, frolicking in bucolic farmland.
I never hung the valance in a window. Over the years, I kept rediscovering the piece in my basket of fabrics, unsure what to do with it—even whether to keep it.
And then. I bought a set of small canvases and envisioned them with sky-ish blue backgrounds as if they were windowpanes. Maybe with a dash of red the color of Mourvedre—and then I remembered the fabric. I pulled it out and stretched it across the floor. I got out my scissors, cut a knick, and ripped off the first figure. The burlap tore into marvelous, rough edges. All of a sudden, I could see the paintings: the women and animals adhered to the canvases as individual vignettes like windows to history, each with their individual story. Finally, the valance would have not just one window, but many.
I knew words were waiting, too. And they would be in French to honor the fabric’s origins. One day, walking by the almost-finished paintings, I thought of the words we often see during the holiday season: love, joy, peace—some of the “Fruit of the Spirit.”
Voilà. I looked up the translations in French. The paintings had their words, and the series had its title: “Le Fruit de l’Espirit.”
May these fruit and their power extend through all the seasons. May they be the windows through which we see our lives and those of others. 

l’amour, love
la joie, joy
la paix, peace
la patience, patience
la bonté, gentleness
la bénignité, goodness
la fidélité, faith
la douceur, meekness
la temperance, temperance

You can view the full set of paintings at Fine Art America, and they are on exhibit through the end of 2014 at Art Presence in Jacksonville, OR


We can read!

“I can read. I can tie my shoes. I have food in the fridge.” These are the kinds of things my down-the-street neighbor tells herself when she’s feeling off or blue—basic, often overlooked things worth giving thanks for.
The other day, I met my up-the-street neighbor. We talked about life, relationship and the pain and joy in both. We were trying to focus on the good stuff and not worry about the bad stuff. As I was leaving, I remembered my other neighbor and her gratitude. I said, “I think gratitude is the anecdote to anxiety. Wait…I mean antidote. Wait…I mean both!
And there on her doorstep, I had a revelation. When we tell our stories of gratitude—the anecdotes—we create the antidote to the bad stuff: fear, anxiety, annoyance, all the nasty et ceteras.
I can testify: It works.
Try it yourself: Think of something ungood that you felt recently. Feel that feeling. Here’s (one of) mine: annoyance. I was walking in the Woodlands where people ignore the signs requiring dogs to be on leashes. A dog bounded toward me, leashless. His owner yelled out, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly.” Yeah, well, friendly means he’s jumping up on my bare calves after having run off-trail through the poison oak. I wanted to yell out, “Can’t you read the signs? Can’t you take responsibility for your actions?” And in my head the scenario spinned into global proportions where all people were hopeless, and I was a fuming misanthropist.
Stop.
Now, start listing things you’re grateful for—anything on the spectrum.
I give thanks for my nose.
I give thanks for the fact that I can walk.
I give thanks for the Woodlands someone bequeathed to this town.
I give thanks for trees that give shade, provide homes for birds, and clean the air that I am able to breathe through my nose as I walk in these woods….
I created an anecdote of gratitude that became an antidote to the nasty. Notice that it started with the thing literally in front of me: my nose. The more annoyed I am, the more basic the beginning, but those details inevitably build into a story of gratitude. I also moved from the little problem by reminding myself of the bigger narrative of life. I used a silly example to keep it light, but believe me: I’ve tried it on the Big Bad’s too. It still works.
Sometimes I begin with “I am grateful for…”  or “Thank you for….” But I have come to like “I give thanks for…” the best. It makes me an active “thanker.” It tells my inner pouty self: “You are choosingthis good thing over this bad one. No matter what the bad thing is, you can still choose your attitude about it.”
When I practice this gratitude exercise, the annoyance dissolves. I discovered something I’m sure someone else has already discovered: that you can’t be grateful and annoyed (or angry, or anxious) at the same time. You have to let one of them go.
Now, dog paws in the woods are one thing. You might ask: what about divorce? Death? War? I’m not saying that if you drop and give 20 “thank you’s” in the midst of a military campaign that we’ll immediately have world peace. But then again…what if everybody did? What if everyone tried trading in their hurt, pain, and anger for gratitude? What might happen?
I’m grateful for grace, too—even (especially) toward myself. Just this morning, I indulged in frustration as a momentarily spotty Internet connection delayed some research for another essay. So, I gave thanks for my neighbors—those two friends whose anecdotes have become part of my antidote. And then I was in it again: the story of gratitude.

I choose to give thanks, thank you very much.

Save Our Bees Art Exhibit, Edgy in October GoodBean Reception

Save Our Bees!

Oregon Wild Iris with Bees, by Judy Elliott

Oregon Wild Iris with Bees, by Judy Elliott

Curator Hannah West and the ownership, management and staff at GoodBean Cafe in Jacksonville, Oregon are delighted to announce a special artist reception in conjunction with the second annual Edgy in October art event. Our featured art exhibit for October is Judy Elliott’s Save Our Bees, a collection of new works inspired by her concern about the plight of the honey bees. Her delicate and colorful paintings on silk depict bees and other pollinators paired with native Oregon wildflowers. The paintings don’t immediately suggest activist art, but Elliott’s passion to raise awareness of their plight and to share simple and inexpensive things anyone can do to help give bees the edge they need to survive the pressure they’ve been experiencing is anything but passive. As 80% of the food we eat depends on bees, we need them for our own survival, and Judy will share information about our long standing relationship and simple, inexpensive things anyone can do to help them at the reception.

The Honeylicker Angel, by Anna Elkins (book cover)

The Honeylicker Angel, by Anna Elkins (book cover)

We invite you to join us for Judy’s artist reception on Wednesday, October 15, from 5–8pm. She will give a brief artist talk at 6pm, then Jacksonville artist and author Anna Elkins  will read a brief passage about beekeeping from her most recent book The Honeylicker Angel at 6:30pm. Anna will have copies of her book available for purchase, and we’re sure she will be happy to sign them for you, too. Organic Dragon's Blood Braggot by Fire Cirkl Brewery, White City, Oregon

Complementary refreshments include sweet treats made with honey, created with love by the artists and the GoodBean’s in-house bakery, and tastings of organic Braggot, one of seven ancient varieties of honey mead, brewed and served by James Romano of Fire Cirkl Brewery in White City. Fire Cirkl produces 2 types of Braggot: “Dragon’s Blood” Braggot is a a hearty, warming drink, rich ebony in color and infused with juniper berries; “Naughty Heather” Braggot is a drier, copper colored mead with a generous amount of heather tips and flowers. Heather has been used to make meads and ales in Scotland for between 4,000–8,000 years (who knew?). If you like the taste, you can buy a glass!

GoodBean will also have a beautiful honey latte special until 7:30 pm.

 

Our reception coincides with two other Edgy in October receptions happening the same evening, both within walking distance of our location:

Oregon Tiger Lilies with Bees and Butterfly, by Judy Elliott

Oregon Tiger Lilies with Bees and Butterfly, by Judy Elliott

  • Across the street, our neighbors at the Jacksonville Barn Company are featuring artist Patrick Beste and avant garde watercolors by Mikey Staub. Beste, a member of Jacksonville’s Art Presence Art Center, paints wonderful abstracts. Jacksonville Barn Company’s artist reception, with wine tasting by John Guerrero, winemaker for Valley View Winery and producer of his own fine wines, and hosted canapés by Gogi’s Restaurant, begins at 6:00 pm. Oh, yes, we will be walking across the street to check out their reception for sure!
  • The Britt Festival is featuring photo artist resident Rita Ashley for Edgy in October. Ashley uses her camera to reveal the beauty in ordinary things. Her first camera was a gift from her father when she was 9 and she has never been without one since. Her work finds the art in chaos and reveals the hidden in the apparent. Ashley’s show will be on display for the Britt’s “On the Stage” concert featuring The Quiet American on Wednesday, October 15, at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7pm, so come early and take some time to view her show!

Edgy in October is a Rogue Valley-wide art event facilitated by local artist Cammy Davis to promote cultural tourism in southern Oregon by pairing exhibiting artists with local businesses for an “Edgy” themed event. The month-long event is broken down into four weeks, with a different area of the Greater Rogue Valley featured each week. For a complete list of all events and venues visit edgyinoctober.com. We hope you will come to our reception for Judy Elliott’s Save Our Bees art exhibit, and will add any further details to this post as they are confirmed.

If you’re sure you won’t be able to make it to the reception, maybe you’d like to buy Anna’s book now? It has 100% five star reviews on Amazon.com and an average of 4.33 stars on Goodreads!

31 Days of Poetry and Painting

This year, I participated in the annual Poetry Postcard Fest. The idea: you write a new, spontaneous poem on a postcard and mail it to a person on a given list. You do this for 31 days, working your way down the list. They do the same. You give. You receive. ‘Twas fun.

I decided to sketch my own postcards, too: “draw-without-looking-at-the-page” kind of sketches. Like the poems, I created the images in minutes–no edits, no copying over. I enjoyed the rhythm and some of the results. Here are my top ten…or at least the 10 I uploaded! The front image is followed by the poem I composed on the back.

If you feel inspired, join up next year!

For Sylvia, Leaning into Her Life

A low-res image transferred from a slide–
my only known record of this piece.
It was the grad-school apartment of my dreams: the second story of an old brick residence with silver radiators, gorgeous molding, and the only balcony. I wrote my thesis poetry on that balcony, in the humid Greensboro evenings, feet up on the railing. When it got too dark to write, I’d return inside and paint by clip lamp.

During my second year in the writing program, all of the tenants in my building were women. Below me, lived a fellow student poet. Above me, an undergrad cellist. Across the hall, an uptight saleswoman, and below her, the most interesting of us all: Sylvia. No one knew exactly what Sylvia did, nor her exact age. Plastic surgery had probably occurred. She dressed in mid-century clothing, and we guessed she was in her late sixties, though she dyed her hair jet black and teased it into an immobile beehive. Every weekday evening, just after five, she took the bus back home from her unnamed job. Often, she would emerge from her apartment an hour or two later, with a fresh smear of red lipstick, carrying a patent leather purse and wobbling on heels down the swath of steps below the wide front stoop. From my balcony perch, I found myself holding my breath, hoping that she wouldn’t fall.

One night, I took my trash out to the dumpsters behind the building, where it was always dark enough for murder. I passed Sylvia and said “hello.” She said “hello” back. I dumped my bag and heard it thump—twice. Strange.

I headed back around the hedge-lined side of the building and almost tripped over Sylvia. She had been the second thump; she’d fallen stomach-flat on the walk.

“My nose, my nose, my nose!” she chanted, her hands flapping at the space around her face.

I helped her up. “Are you OK?”     

“Is it bleeding?”

I could just make out a middle glisten between her bright black eyes.

Sounding congested, she replied, “I had a nose job years ago, and I landed full on it! I’ve come up that path a thousand times, a thousand times!”

I helped her to the front stoop and into her apartment. I’d never been inside. She headed for her bathroom, and I noticed that our places were mirror images of each other. But her hallway was hung with empty frames—old gilty ones of varying thicknesses and quality. Above them hung the only filled frame: a portrait of Sylvia.

I froze. I felt goose bumps lift from every pore as I remembered a dream I’d had the night before. I had dreamt of her hallway—that I’d never seen—lined with the empty frames I was gaping at now.

And that very afternoon, I had come inside from my balcony to escape the heat and paint. Strains of a Bach cello suite filtered through the ceiling. I pulled out a large sheet of paper, and something new happened: with my first dozen strokes of black paint, there was Sylvia, leaning forward and looking down like she did when descending stairs, always wary of falling. I added a quick patch of cadmium red for her sweater. Done. I stood back. I’d been painting women for years, but never a particular woman. Never a recognizable one. I called my downstairs neighbor, fellow poet, to come up. The minute she walked in, she said, “You’ve painted Sylvia.”

And now, there I was, helping the woman I’d painted into my car, driving her to Moses Cone Hospital.

I barely remember the short trip, just that she offered me $5 for the favor, and I refused—and then she refused to let me wait for her. She smiled, hand to nose, and waved me off.

Though I saw her coming and going over the next academic year, we didn’t mention her fall. The next spring, I moved. I never saw her again.  
+++
A dozen years after that brief time in the South, I found myself attending a school of supernatural ministry in northern California. That is another story altogether. I attended because I had heard the curriculum incorporated art into its spiritual practice. I studied in the prophetic art track and began doing spiritual “portraits” of fellow students and eventually at the annual conferences. When I left, I created my own prophetic art curriculum.

I had completely forgotten the piece that started it all: my portrait of Sylvia. It wasn’t until I was going through old slides recently that I found her portrait. When I held that slide to the light, the hubris of my early twenties returned—how I had thought I was completely different than Sylvia because I worked in the esoteric world of poetry and never had a nose job. Now I see that we both know what it is to fall headlong into our lives, to break back open what we hoped had healed.

But here’s the strangest thing I didn’t see until just this moment, right as I’m thinking I’ve brought this story full circle. These days, I write standing in the stairwell of my little loft. If I stand part way up my stairs, I can use the half-wall bookshelf at the top as a stand-up desk. Resting my eyes, I turn and look down my hallway. A few months back, I hung half-a-dozen empty frames on the wall. Though I’ve seen similar decor many times since the night I stood in Sylvia’s apartment, I know the idea formed while waiting for her wipe the blood from her nose. Waiting for myself to paint my own life portrait as a writer and artist.

The realization makes my legs shake. I sit down on a stair, somewhere between the top and the bottom, between my understanding and my complete lack thereof. I lean against the wall and smile.

Here’s to us, Sylvia. May the angle of our leaning be sweet.  

Reassembling Max Ernst

My little poem from long ago came out to play in DASH: 

From Morocco, With Love

Paris, Night, Love Letters

To be specific: an apartment on the Île Saint-Louis just after dark and letters written by hundreds of women years ago to a man they did not know.
My friend Christina and I have arrived to this gem of an apartment for a literary salon dedicated to these letters. The evening is hosted by a 21st century Gertrude Stein. An American in Paris, “Gertrude” gathers global philosophers, artists, and writers to fill her rented living room and engage in expansive dialogue.
Tonight, the dialogue is led by the letters’ recipient. A Parisian artist, he tells us he will be creating an installation with the missives once addressed to him care of Marie Claire, in whose pages he’d been featured as an eligible bachelor. The letters were hand-written—in an era before the prevalence of texting and email—and the salon discussion traces the morphing shape of desire through the ages, fueled by pastel macaroons and Champagne with a capital “C.”
Parisian Macaroons

As the night progresses, the discussion heats up, and I wind down with the help of jetlag and a fading sugar rush. In the back of the room, I nod off, dreaming that Paris writes me a letter.
Paris, Morning, Mystery
I would expect Paris to write a gray and rainy letter in the spring. But this week, she’s using blue-sky paper and puffy, white-cloud ink. After dreams of quills and inkwells, I wake up in our not-so-gem of an apartment in the 12th Arrondissment feeling inspired and hopeful. After a café au lait, I feel inspired, hopeful, and ready to reply to Paris, preferably after a trip to the patisserie. 
Christina and I begin the long walk toward the Seine. We pause at Notre Dame with croissants before crossing over the Pont au Double to Shakespeare and Company. She takes me upstairs, past the inviting spines of books and uninviting signs prohibiting cameras, to show me the room where she and Gertrude have taught writing classes. 

Upstairs of Shakespeare and Company

But I get distracted. There, squished in the narrow, upstairs hallway stands a tiny booth with a chair, table, and typewriter. The booth’s ceiling is just high enough for someone to sit upright.
A single sheet of blank grid paper curls out of the typewriter carriage. I accept the silent invitation and squeeze my 6’3” self into the little booth—not much harder than squeezing around the bathtub where we’re staying.
I type “Once upon a time,” but there is no ink left on the ribbon. I lean forward and can just make out where the keys hit the paper’s grid lines. Then I scan up the page. Goosebumps run down my arms. Another, inkless writer typed a phrase just before my own: from Morocco, with love.


Typewriter Booth at Shakespeare and Company

“Christina, look!”
Of course, the letters are invisible unless you hold them about six inches away from your face. I pull the sheet from the roller and show her.
She looks at the paper, then at me. She smiles. “I think that’s a good sign.”
We are on our way to Morocco to teach a travel-writing workshop.
I pull out my smart phone, whispering, “This isn’t technically a camera, right?” I take a picture of the typewriter.
And I take the prophetic slip of paper with me.
Fez, Every Moment, Magic
Roofline of the Fez Medina

If Morocco were to write me a letter, it would smell like the tanneries, taste like date milk with orange blossom, feel like cool zellij tile around a fountain, sound like the evening call to prayer, and look like a donkey.
I should say: that’s if the city of Fez were to write me a letter. And Fez writes everyone a different letter. Mine went something like this:
Dear Very Tall Madame,
They say you should not have expectations when you travel. I disagree. Here are a few suggestions:
Expect small children to point at you and old women to frown.
Expect men to accost or ignore you, depending on whether they believe (and hope) in the Muslim stereotypes of Western women or whether they are good men with wives at home.
Expect to start craving lamb-and-prune tagine cooked for hours over coals.
Expect to wonder what the woman thinks, sitting all day draping crepe-thin dough over a domed grill.
Expect to see the street drains run with the color the dyers are using the day you walk past, trying to keep your shoes from turning blue or black or red.
Expect to wonder whether the donkey feels the rash his saddle has caused or if his raw skin has gone numb.
Expect moments of delight in the shape of golden leather babouches that fit your large feet, and expect moments of despair when cheated of dirham in the idiosyncratic business of bartering.
Expect to feel a sense of timelessness when you stand on a riad rooftop, looking out over a city that has hardly changed in a millennium—except for the satellite dishes.
Did I say expect? I meant anticipate.
Warmly,
Fez, Morocco
PS: Best babouche prices at my uncle’s shop!
Fountain with Tagine, Riad Zany

The people in our writing workshop each receive their own welcome “letter.” One woman’s letter smells like the bright kitchen of Café Clock where she takes a cooking class. Another letter is addressed to both the woman and her late husband—they had once looked for a carpet together here. She finally finds one.
On the first night of the workshop, all of us recipients gather together for dinner in the courtyard of Riad R’Cif. We share our invisible letters over revolving courses of bright vegetables served in small dishes.
After a dessert of dates, musicians show up unannounced to fill the riadcourtyard with percussion and blasts from horns the length of a tree. The evening ends as any, slightly self-conscious and anticipatory gathering should: with music and dancing.
We are ready to start writing our replies.
Morocco, Days and Days, Wordsmithing

Terrace of Scorpion House, Moulay Idriss

The week becomes words. Words spoken, written, wrangled. Words between people, place, and time. Words sweet and spicy as oranges dusted with cinnamon. Words dark as unlit alleys at the base of steep houses. Words gathering like storm clouds and growing heavy enough to spill across pages and screens.
The workshop ends with a reading at Scorpion House in the holy city of Moulay Idriss. Almost everyone shares what they’ve written back to Morocco.
I am not ready yet.
Western Sahara, Always, Destiny
After the workshop ends, I travel with Christina and one of the workshop participants, Sid, to Erg Chebbi—a cluster of buildings on the lip of the Western Sahara. From our hotel terrace, we can walk across a bit of hardscrabble, pass a line of palms, and stand ankle-deep in warm sand within minutes.
We’ve brought our sunglasses and poetry collections. We’ve also brought a couple of overlander Spaniards Christina found along the way. We ran into them two days in a row, while stopping for lunch on the road from Fez. The two friends—both named “Juan” and dressed in Safari gear—have loaded their Land Cruiser with Rioja and carry it discreetly around this conservative country in a goatskin canteen.

Dos Juans, Christina, Sid and I, with Land Cruiser

After dinner, Sid pulls out his bilingual collection of Pablo Neruda, and Dos Juans solve our poetry reading problem. With bottles of Volubilia Gris, we sit on the terrace of Dar el Janoub and take turns reading the poems in Spanish and English.
Later, as night deepens, we walk out to the crest of a dune to watch the stars. Sid quotes an ancient Urdu ghazal:
 
What is the second step of desire, Oh Lord?
Already with the first step,
 I have reached the desert of possibility.
“Destino,” one of the Juans says.
Nothing, says the other, as he walks out into the night.
And then there is silence for an eternity, because nothing more can be said there, in the place of every possibility.  
Western Sahara, Dawn, Desire
Sahara Desert

I keep waiting for a letter from the Sahara—so unlike Fez, who’d slapped one to my forehead upon arrival.
When dawn shoots across the dunes the next morning, I am already walking toward the sun, ready. I stand still.
I keep standing.
I begin to ask aloud if I am missing something, but as I do, I hear the desert start to speak—to write—through me.
It is a brief but lifelong letter, and I sign it in the cinnamon sands with the valediction I’d already received: from Morocco, with love.
When I look up, the desert’s letter rises all around me—dune after dune in every direction; I’ve walked until I can see no other horizon but sand.
Here dwells what the women in France had wanted when they wrote to a man they didn’t know.
Here are no words and all words.
Here is the heart of every letter: the desire to connect—across humanity, landscape, and time—with something greater than the one writing.

With Love.

Nadirs & Zeniths

Nadirs & Zeniths
Sunol Foothills
I walk up the curving road,
past vineyards and paddocks.
The straight, dawn light cuts
through rain-wet trees.
I remember someone I’d just
met the last time I walked here,
long ago. Someone I could barely
see in the glare of the new. 
The morning collapses into contrast: 
chiaroscuros of telephone pole,
shaggy ancient olive trees,
many-handed cacti.
Only far from her zenith can the sun
make such angled work of light.
The question comes,
sudden as a puncture:
Do we choose the wrong one
so we can be right?
All the world briefly
shrinks to this question
before the sun magnifies it.
Shatters it.
                       
I stop beneath an oak. In the bowl
of a field stands a blond mare.
The dawn side of her shines,
the other waits in blue shade.
I decide: sides are for fences.
Brightness doesblind.
Beginnings only follow
ends and storms.
But I am willing to be wrong.
I step from the graveled shadow
into the sun. The wise light
hits me with a fist of yes. 

Eyes of the Heart: Prophetic Art

My article on prophetic art appears in the Summer 2014 issue of CFN’s The Voice magazine. To read it, click the image or click here.