Saturday, December 29, 2007

blah, blah, blah

I don't know why there are times, in this era of proliferation of communication in every form, it seems like everyone is out of reach. You can know at every moment where people are, and still miss them. The knowing doesn't help much. I've been waiting for days for a homemade card from my son, and I think-we speak weekly, we trade letters-who cares? And I have to stop making an idol of the mail. But today my husband intercepted the mailman and drove off with whatever we did get after I was straining to hear the door open and close, signifying he'd been here. It made me so aggravated. Now after waiting all day I have to wait for my husband to return with the mail.

Then there was an e-mail about a friend being out of computer distance for a few days. What difference does that make when we're thousands of miles apart anyway? None. But I felt a sigh inside. And I'm promised a letter as well. I feel so greedy for care and communication-whatever did people do when there were no phones, computers, mail carriers, blackberries and palm pilots...I guess somehow they lived. With whatever was going on inside, and didn't need to be constantly writing and speaking about it.

Guess I need to tend to my work and shut up for a few minutes!

p.s. I also need to amend this-I unfairly accused my poor husband of stealing the mail! He did not, and when it finally did come unusually late in the day, there was a great letter waiting for me from yet another friend. I guess that points up my level of frustration. Time to get a hobby!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

inward thoughts

I'm trying to deal with whatever is in my nature that is inwardly contentious. I know to be of any use to anyone else you first have to deal with you-surrendering, limiting, loving and healing the self. But something inside can't stand to be in one place for too long. Something inside loves, only to push away, looks for healing only to be torn into again. Outwardly I can be steadfast, patient and loyal. Inside I'm insecure and never entirely sure. I look for the things that help me live beyond the uncertainty. But I like those things at a distance as well. Let me remain in control, or out, as I see fit. It sounds like insanity to me. I see this in my children as well. They love getting the last word, pushing the envelope, backing away when things are too close. I don't know what to do with myself.

Monday, December 24, 2007

O Holy Night

Sometimes moments come that are such grace disguised in the ordinary. You can never tell just by looking what is in a person's heart or where they have come from. Such a moment happened on Friday for me during a Celebrate Recovery meeting. I was tired and not feeling well. I fell asleep on the way to the meeting. I really hadn't practiced the music I was supposed to play and thankfully I had extra help doing vocals. It was good to sit and listen-I wasn't motivated to speak openly as usual (the big mouth). Afterward I had wanted to talk to a friend who was a prison employee about business there, but she was occupied talking to someone else, and so I began to speak with the friend she brought, a newcomer. You never ask why a person is in a recovery meeting-usually if the information is going to come out, it will from the person themselves. I talked about myself first and Brandon, and then she talked about losing a young child and the resulting bitterness. There was something in her face that drew me to her, and the more we talked, the more I felt that tug.

The evening starts with meeting at large and progresses to small groups. There are three groups for women, but the women met together as a single group this night. As each one shared, common experiences and themes began to come out, until finally this woman, who had stayed, spoke up. After the death of her child it seemed she and her family were treated like outcasts in their church. She could never bring herself to accept the death, let alone the subsequent treatment of their family. She became bitter at life and God. She had wanted to try again, to come back to church, to get back into a life she had once known...but it never happened. Until now. The nudge to call her friend and ask to come along, the shared experiences of the group touching her own, the desire in my own heart to speak with her and watch for her-at Christmas the theme of the season is redemption, God Himself (Emmanuel-
"God with us") becoming human to experience everything we ever could and so make Himself our perfect God-there was redemption in one small corner of the world, one small meeting, one precious life wrecked by loss, redeemed by love.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I think this post would provide a good contrast to the last one-fast forward to the present. Yesterday my husband, mother-in-law and I went to see my son graduate from a fiber optics program he completed at the state prison where he is incarcerated. This class was the one and only of it's type because funding is no longer available for it, and it turned out to be a one-time offering to younger inmates. Many took advantage of the opportunity. But there were probably 60 or so inmates who completed everything from GED's to bakery apprentice. Sort of true to prison last-minute fashion or sometimes misinformation, we got an uncharacteristic Monday morning phone call from Bran telling us to be at the prison at 12:15 pm on Wednesday, which is fine, but we knew about the ceremony months prior and we have a four hour drive. Still, we expected to be there about that time anyway, so that worked out perfectly. We did not want to be left in the cold after all that or late.

We got to the prison and waited, and waited....and waited along with the other families and friends for things to begin. Time was of the essence. On a usual visitation day we leave at 4 in the morning to get there and have maximum time to spend due to the distance. We were dictated this day-1 to 3pm. Of course most of that was spent watching the ceremony. The dayroom was beautifully done, I'll have to admit, and it was touching to have two inmates by the door handing out programs. If it weren't for their sun-faded brown jumpsuits and white canvas sneaks, you could well have imagined any graduation ceremony. I joked later to my son that the two things I was sure I'd never see him in were a gown and a tux. Ok, one down! (And hopefully at least one more to go with the gown). The speakers ran the gamut from very polished to "I never speak in public...nor should I". The ceremony started out with a highly synthesized version of Pomp and Circumstance played by an inmate as well, I think. And I imagined a gymnasium stage with a curtain rather than a cell block from which the men walked out so proudly in their caps and gowns.

It was nicely done, a happy moment and Brandon looked so fine in his official garb. I was glad as a mom that this relatively normal moment was provided for us. The high scorer in the GED program was considered validectorian, and so addressed his "class" and had the honor of the tassel turn. He was truly impressive, humble, funny and intelligent. We raced to the regular picture-taking booth area to grab some shots before anyone else and realized there was an official photographer. But posing with an elf and fireplace background we felt was more fun (and Bran did not purchase tickets for pictures in rather procrastinating fashion). We then hit the treat table, which was loaded down with aforementioned bakery apprentice inmate goodies, all peanut butter. There were peanut butter brownies, peanut butter balls, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter oatmeal (just kidding). Delicious.

We had only about 45 minutes to visit before leaving, and I tried hard dispite being really hungry for a regular meal and really tired from the travel to concentrate on Brandon and his moment. As time drew to a close it was hard not to look around at other inmates. About a third to half had family or friends there, and the rest had no one. It was no more strikingly apparent that this was true than to notice the young man who was head of his class standing alone in his gown with the diploma in hand. (Brandon pointed out the diploma read "the ninetieth day of December" rather than the nineteenth). But I watched as this young man stood gazing at other families, sort of wheeling around as you might in a crowded auditorium looking for a familiar face. There was none for him. I turned away and looked again, and he was gone, back to the block.

I guess it was hard to help thinking, given the Christmas season and all, of the words of Jesus to his followers in the Gospels as He told them the parable about those who will be with Him in heaven one day. He welcomed those who "saw Him hungry and fed Him, naked and clothed Him, sick and in prison and visited Him", and they asked Him, "Lord, when did we see You hungry, naked, sick or in prison?" and He told them that whenever you do this for the least of these, you do it for Me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The title of the poem by British poet William Ernest Henley is Latin for "unconquered". Invictus at one time encapsulated my son's feeling about his own life. The final two lines of the poem read, "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul".

The odd, horribly ironic take upon that can only be completely realized in a scene where Brandon painted the word on a wooden toy truck in a psyche hospital day/craft room in foam slippers and pajamas. He had nothing to do but sit at a table with other patients and color, paint or put together puzzles. He had tried to take his life and so spent the first weeks before his arrest in First Hospital on a floor which required an escort to reach. So there he was, with a beautiful young woman afflicted by post-partem depression so badly she had tried to take her life as well, a teenaged boy with scars and fresh cuts wrists to armpits, and those so medicated there was not much registration of life at all.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

creative echoes

Yesterday I received another print book about Kathe Kollwitz. I am currently reading her letters and diary published by her son Hans. Every entry says something to me, though I lack her strength of expression. She was wholly a woman of her time, and confident as well in her personal path and means of creation in a time when men ruled the art world. You cannot look at her body of work and not recognize that as an artist, a female in this time period and someone determined to do that which she was given in life to accomplish-this work stand alone. It was beyond chilling to read an entry which started "I am now 49 years old" am I. This is a quote from her journal upon reaching the half-century mark dated July 1917:

"My fiftieth birthday has passed. Different from the way I used to imagine it. Where are my boys? (Her son Peter was killed in WW I)

And yet the day was good, this whole period is good. From so many sides I am being told my work has value, that I have accomplished something, wielded influence. This echo of one's life work is very good; it is satisfying and produces a feeling of gratitude. And of self-assurance as well. But at the age of 50 this kind of self-assurance is not as excessive and arrogant as it is at thirty. It is based upon self-knowledge. One knows best oneself where one's own upper and lower limits are. The word fame is no longer intoxicating.

But it might have turned out differently. In spite of all the work I have done, success might have denied me. There was an element of luck in it, too. And certainly I am grateful that it has turned out this way."

Words I wish and hope to say upon perhaps reaching 70! Dear God help to do what I have to and have the strength remaining. But I understand completely her words that self-assurance is based upon self-knowledge. Yes, how true. And how much I need to allow myself to express the true inner nature to create anything of worth at all.

Friday, December 14, 2007

now go

I've heard it said the way to banish fear is to move forward in it. I think that is true. At least, there really isn't much else to do anyway! I'm thinking it is time to speak more publicly about my son's situation, or just the situation of incarceration itself in whatever ways I can. This cause has wrapped itself around my life in ways large and small, and I know that human beings are responsible to the places they find themselves, and the things they learn. I suppose this all has happened to me. I didn't choose this path, but now that I am on it, I have to be sensitive to where it leads. Part of that involves my art. I am also responsible to where that path leads me. It seems like every choice I make now is predestined, every choice has some meaning beyond myself and everything inside says "Go". Like Moses in the desert, there was no other road but Egypt. A fearful man with a stuttering problem must have wrestled with his thoughts for miles and miles of sand before he hit those pyramids.

I'm scared. And what scares me most is having my own voice drowned completely out. Is it worth the mental torment and possible failure? Is attempting anything public worth the risk. Moses asked God, "Who shall I say sent me?" In other words, am I just suffering from delusions of grandeur or is there really Someone behind me saying "I AM" (and because I am, you are commanded). Ok. I think about this past year. I had grand ideas of shows and such after thinking I may never draw or paint again. My first one was in a dinky bookstore with a mishmash of work. I couldn't even get into a venue that people I helped and taught did. Sigh. That's enough to make a body run back to the sheepfold. But I continued. And New York City came through. Twice this year. You know all that means to me is, now hit the bricks. Or the sand. It may be more dinky venues, but they will be larger dinky venues. I have something to say, and I have to say it on my own terms. I am (scared, ready, let's do this thing...).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I'm done. Done with classes at the college, done with a commission that took two weeks, done getting our Christmas tree, done doing busy work. For now. What I'm starting is a regimen of practice, begun today. I'm dizzy from drawing. I'm not used to drawing all day. I started with Virtual Pose figures and am working on a double portrait. It will be a gift, but it is also practice. I have to get into the habit of doing as much art as I can daily. Tomorrow I break out the acrylics and practice again. For the first time ever in my career I'm not working on a masterpiece, commissions one after the other or pieces for shows. I'm giving myself room to develop and make mistakes, experiment and build artistic creative muscle that I'm going to need to become the artist I should.

I just received books on artist Kathe Kollwitz. One is a book of reproductions and one is her translated letters and diary. My eyes fell on either a preface or some information about her, noting she was not even really discovered by the art community at large until 50 years old. That's next year for me. I'm not sure how I feel about that except, I really, really need to practice and begin making whatever statement I'm going to to the world very soon.

And it feels that way. My prior work was done for recognition, for money, for friends...all ok, all good, but there comes a time when it's all or nothing. Keep puttering or get moving. I'm done...with puttering.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

life inside and out

Most of my extra energy and focus has been on prison stuff lately. I'm doing an Angel Tree volunteer project, purchasing and delivering gifts to inmates' kids. That was an interesting experience! I was flatly refused by one family, and knowing the female inmate involved, I was sort of prepared for that, but it still took me around an hour to feel better. The other two families I picked because they are in our town. One I got ahold of right away, and it was great fun to shop for Dora the Explorer toys! I don't have much reason to do that anymore. Then the other took about five calls, and when I did finally reach her, she was crying hysterically over the phone. She'd just received some bad news, what I don't know. So it was off to look for Elmo toys, trucks and Spiderman for her boys. Somehow I'm very anxious to meet this young mother.

Then it's been writing. I'm writing another inmate, friend of an incarcerated friend, and it's always an interesting journey that way. You worry some, but then, I have it on good authority from the one that the other is a good egg and deserves some mail. So I trust my friend. But the letter that came was happy and bright, and very thankful for mine. I guess some of the cliches about prisoners are true, but luckily I've found them more often not to be.

And then the prison on Saturday morning. We had a farewell on Saturday, and how nice it was to see this young woman in orange on the way in and then in her street clothes on the way out. And inside we had to meet in a very busy classroom/office space where guards were coming in and out the whole session. Despite all of that one woman made a sort of breakthrough and admitted her struggle with rage. We don't ask these women what their crimes are, but this woman, who looks like a lunch lady, beat another woman so badly her face was wrecked. I was a bit shocked but not afraid. I shared as we talked about helping each other and sharing each other's burdens as the Scriptures command, that my burden-bearing is in the prison and out, with inmates and their families. My partner turned to me and remarked, "Even after your son is out, you'll still be here". The answer is yes. I will. If I don't do what the Holy Spirit moves me to do, to me that is wrongdoing.

And my dear friend being shipped back to England is the recipient of all the letters and calls that can be crammed into these last days here in America. What a joy that friendship has been to me, and hopefully will continue to be. That is what I feel like-most of the ones I correspond and talk to inside with are just friends. I can't think of them as inmates any more.

Friday, December 07, 2007

keep movin'

I'm trying hard to settle my life's train onto a straight track marked with integrity and determined certainty. I'm an emotional chameleon, and much of my life has amounted to following those quicksilver paths of deep passion, only to find an annealed dead end when it's "over". I know I need to be feeding and nurturing a path that is not thrown off by changeable feelings, that pulls all roads into one and directs my heart's traffic like a spiritual roundhouse.

I hate goodbyes, failures, apparent unfinished business, things I cannot control, mental fog, malaise, the spiritual dead zones of my experience. But these also are a part of my road. I realized this morning I'm grieving the departure of one friend whose going will be separation for the rest of our lives at least physically, pretty much. I read with interest the crazy experiences of another whose life touches down into mine only every couple of years and takes off again. I want to have the grace for the e-mail relationship of yet another friend I'd love to have lunch with and go to movies, but that isn't possible. I know I should praise God for technology, but as far as my heart's concerned, sometimes that's worse.

It's the human condition. But I believe if I consciously choose a good path, do the things I was born to do, these other things I struggle with, my feelings about them, will weave themselves into a liveable whole. I have to. The times I really get lost is putting too much stock into one rivulet of it all. Then loss or failure is almost unbearable. Why do I keep forgetting that?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


I'm still practicing with adding these images to my blog. I am terminally slow in understanding computer concepts, but finally got how to navigate boxes. Sigh. Anyways, this is a drawing I did of my friend Jeanne. She's probably my biggest art fan, a spry 80-something, very crippled with arthritis, but always busy at the private care home where she resides. She loves this portrait I did of her and calls it "the blue picture". The title is "Sunflower".

Jeanne is very concerned about my art progress and warns me all the time that the path will not be an easy one. Our last visit I dropped off some art supplies to her. She paints and has very little extra income to spend on anything, let alone that, plus the difficulty of getting out and about. It was a joy to bring a few small things to her that she was so very excited to receive. But as we parted she reminded me, "I'm sorry but you will have to suffer, you know". Sometimes I look at her as an old woman slipping a bit too much into the starry and planet-ridden world that is Jeanne, but I know that was a lucid moment. And she reminded me, too, that there's a crotchety old lady in an old folks' home just ready to scold me if the temptation to leave the art path takes hold too much. Just what I need!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Kumasan III

This is the most recent drawing I've done of my son from a favorite photo during his martial arts days.

questions and answers

I've rereading the book of Job. I try to read the scriptures through every year, because there is so much to be reminded of, and that is where I happen to be now. I suppose I see things through new eyes every time I read them. What I see in Job now is a man I can identify with in a small way. Disaster of the worst kind befell him, not his fault, and he questions God relentlessly about it all, he complains and bemoans his fate and dodges the glancing blows of "friends" who keep imploring him to confess to God and things will be fine. But he's done nothing and maintains his integrity throughout 40 chapters.

The thing that I see is that in questioning God, Job treats Him as God. Questioning isn't faithlessness, it is faithfulness because there is expectation involved. A faithless person would not question-they would curse or try to slap a godly label on the inexplicable. But Job poured out his heart. The thing is, that is what friends do, real friends. That is what my friend, Shaun, is teaching me. I guess I'm afraid to rock the boat in any situation, but my friend is not afraid to be honest with me, challenging me, accepting my criticisms as well-we've argued, gotten angry with each other, had the best conversations, but the thing I can count on is, tomorrow he'll still be there. I think that's what real love entails.

Lately I've been so down about my son Brandon. I feel terribly disconnected, and I didn't know how to bridge the gap. I wrote to him and shared my heart and feelings. I hate doing that because I know he has his own sorrows, but I got this response:

"Sometimes I worry about you too, Mum. Then, of course, it's my job to worry as a dedicated momma's boy (I piddy da fool who ain't one!!!!). On occasion I get a snail mail kick in the ass from Dad saying, 'send your mother a letter, she needs to hear from you!' which makes me laugh, but pretty much every time is true. I'm always wanting to send a message on the order of 'I'm fine, it's fine, we're all fine here, bye'. When you do that for so long you run out of ways to say you're 'fine'. I'm always wary or even afraid of opening up and writing '...bad yesterday, lot on my mind, couldn't sleep...', you know, something that would make you wonder. Even though it's just the normal swing to have an occasional day full of emotional malaise, I'd rather no one hear about it. I get these moments sometime where all I want to do is run, run as far as I can from everything and everyone just to be completely alone. I'll get this feeling like I need to get free of something, like my very skin is choking me to death and it needs to come off. Then it simply goes away, as if it never entered my mind. I'm thankful this event is so rare, the sensation so fleeting. Before I realize it, I'm immersed back into the petty goings-on of the institution and everyone else's problems. Schadenfreude is very theraputic."

The thing I seem to see is, don't stop questioning, asking, fighting, wanting or needing. The life we live is one of need. I need to know sometimes, from God, my friends, my son-how's it going, do you love me, will you be there? That's not wrong, it's human.