Saturday, December 9, 2017

The pilgrimage of life is seldom like the movies

Dream Genie
In one of my favorite movies, Jeremiah Johnson, the ancient wisdom keeper Bear Claw Chris Lapp watches the progress of the beautifully ignorant Jeremiah as he deals with the wilderness in his pilgrimage to become a mountain man. After a long series of trials, Bear Claw gives him the ultimate accolade when he says, “You’ve come far, Pilgrim.”

I like the idea of being a pilgrim, of being on a pilgrimage, although that carries with it the idea of a destination. When I think of my journey, a few-days short of seventy-two years, I marvel at how far I’ve come but still wonder where I’m going.

My earliest memories begin in the north woods of Washington … living in a tent. My dad, actually my step-father, my mother having ended her marriage to my birth father shortly after it began, for reasons she would never … or could never … reveal, was a DIY kind of guy. So, as we lived for six months in a large, Army-style tent, he built the garage for the would-be-but-never-actually-happened house. My few memories of that time include seeing grass grow up through the floor and hearing wolves howl when my dad went off to work and left my mother and me to deal with the immense, lonely darkness.

Jeremiah wanted to be a mountain man and he followed that certainty through trials long and challenging, gradually becoming what he imagined. When Bear Claw meets Jeremiah for the last time, he asks, “Were it worth the trouble?” Jeremiah, by now grizzled and worn, mere grunts, “Huh! What trouble?”
Joyce Wycoff, age three

Certainty is easier in movies. 

My own path, or pilgrimage, seems to be more a long series of dead ends, marked by signs saying, “Try something else.” But, at each turn, there was a token, a gift, a learning, something revealed. When I look at the only known professional photo of my childhood, I see that same beautiful ignorance of what lay ahead, of who I would become, am still becoming.

I am grateful for the gift of a long and healthy life which has given me time to peel back so many layers of this endless onion, discovering light and shadows never imagined. 
Writing this in the Mexican village of Ajijic, I'm on my way to Lake Bacalar, known as the Lake of Seven Colors, where a friend and I will stay in an Airbnb home right on the lake ... with two kayaks to explore all seven colors.
I still shiver at the wonder and beauty of it all.  
Lake Bacalar (Photo credit and info)
Behind my garage of a house in those northern woods, there was a filbert orchard with mounds that called to me. My memory of them is that they were tall and I could climb up to the top of them and see forever. I imagine that three-year-old child, trying to see further than her own height would allow, sitting … alone … on those mounds, and wonder what she was thinking and feeling.
I wish I could reach back and tell her that all will be well, that some day she will be in a beautiful, friendly place, where she is often alone, but never lonely. 
About the image: "Dream Genie”

My dreams have been active lately, and, as usual, I wonder from whence they come. Sparks for this image came from a stunning piece of Chihuly glass work seen with a friend at the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, another beautiful piece of glass seen in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, and a piece of wall art found here in Ajijic, Mexico. Bits and pieces meld together into one message.

Favorite bits from the movie, Jeremiah Johnson:

Movie Clip: Bear Claw meets Jeremiah

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

That wicked wisp of judgment

Grasping at Smoke
This morning I awoke in a dream 
with a message writing itself 
on the screen of my mind 
in grains of sand. 

I cuddled my warm center
letting the words flow 
in a staccato dance. 
Words and pauses. 
Two words. 
Three words. 
Two words.
No clauses nor modifiers. 

Too short and abrupt, I thought. 
I’ll have to go back later. 
Revise those words 
into more elegant phrases. 
And, with that thought, 
that mere wisp of judgment, 
that moment of logical awareness,
came a breeze 
that scattered the grains,
scrambled the words.

I folded myself into a tighter ball,
repeated the only words still clear,
searched for the source of the flow,
trying to bring it back.

Leaving only the faint tracings 
of a message that might have been.
Leaving me yearning 
for that whispered connection,
Leaving me grasping at smoke. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A bucket list item and a ticking clock

My haul from the book fair
Today I did something I’ve always wanted to do, but never, ever expected to do it in Guadalajara, Mexico. I attended a really big book fair … as a matter of fact, the second largest in the world … right after the one in Frankfurt, Germany. Who knew?

Loved this play on words
700 authors from 41 nations and countless publishing houses spread out through Expo Guadalajara, offering nine days of non-stop presentations, readings, lectures, activities and BOOKS!

Today was the last day.
Click here to watch the ending of one of my favorite "Twilight Zone" episodes.
It reminded me of the "Twilight Zone” episode: Time Enough at Last. Henry Bemis is a henpecked book lover who finds himself blissfully alone with his books after a nuclear war. He is in heaven contemplating endless reading until, in typical "Twilight Zone" manner, he breaks his glasses and is condemned to spend the rest of his life surrounded by books he cannot read.

A friend and I were surrounded by thousands … millions? … of books and a ticking clock. Where to go first? We did our best, as you can see from the first picture, and then made a plan for how to approach this extravaganza next year: multiple days, a nearby hotel room for naps, and más dinero!
Site of the first purchase.
A thousand activities
Lots and lots of people
I don't know why they were here but they seemed to be having fun
I shopped till I dropped.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tumbling out of old patterns into a new world

Tumbling (Click here for gallery) 
"Try to make one positive change
in your life today. Just one little thing.
Do the same tomorrow. You won't
believe your life in a year."

That was the motivational inspiration I received this morning from a friend's newsletter titled, “Potential Within.” 

I mostly ignored it.

A few hours later, though, I was pulled back, thinking: that’s how we get from one year to the next, doing a thousand small things every day, some with intention, some on auto pilot, and some responding to the whims of the world. 

Last November (2016) I did two things I had always wanted to do. I went to Esalen for a Robert Moss dream workshop and I “won” NaNoWriMo by writing a 55,000-word draft of a novel. (Everyone who wrote 50,000 words or more was designated a winner.) I thought both of those events would be part of the future I imagined and intended, that of a novelist traveling the world writing stories about the adventures of an older woman.

Life seems to have had other plans.

Included in my plan to be a novelist was honing my story telling skills, so I volunteered for the Sierra Writers’ Conference in Grass Valley, California, and designed and published a learning journal that could be used at other writers’ conferences. That journal opened the door to the Central Coast Writers’ Conference and gained me access to the San Miguel Writers’ Conference which was to be held in February, 2017. Everything was on track.

Then nuggets of change began dropping into my life. A friend made plans to visit on her way to live in Mexico. Two other friends started talking seriously about moving to Mexico, and I was making arrangements for the writers’ conference … in Mexico. To top it all off, Grass Valley had a rainy year … six months of fairly continuous rain. 

Soggy and needing sunshine, I booked a week in sunny Ajijic on Lake Chapala as a way to relax and dry out before the writers’ conference in San Miguel de Allende. Two days after arriving in Ajijic, I knew this was where I wanted to live. By May, I had moved into my new Mexican apartment. Shortly thereafter I recognized that writing novels was no longer calling me. Instead, I wanted make art from photos taken in the colorful new world around me.

So, I have to ask:
What small change would change my world?
And, do I want my world to change?

A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed the world I’m in today. However, it wasn’t created by deliberately choosing to make small changes. If it hadn’t been for an exceptionally rainy year and my friends talking about Mexico and the happenstance of being invited to a Mexican writers’ conference, I’m not sure I would be here. It seemed more like tumbling into a new world, pulled by gravity, willingly letting go of old habits and commitments, falling gently into a different country, a different way of living.
A favorite wall here in Ajijic

So, now I’m torn. I like the idea of making one small, positive change and having it turn into something wonderful. However, if each small change has the power to take us to a world we can’t currently imagine, that’s one powerful little action. Which to choose, knowing that any small change might be attached to a future beyond belief? 

Do I want such a different future? I like where I am and what I’m doing. However, there are amazing futures I truly can’t imagine, but I also know there are some I’d rather not encourage. Maybe the magic is in doing something that makes me stronger, healthier, and more capable of following any compelling path that opens up to me. 

Whichever world shows up a year from now, it will take my whole self to be ready to embrace it. What is a small, positive change that might ready me for a world beyond belief a year from now? A change in diet or exercise? Study Spanish more? Deepen my understanding of photography and art? More meditation and yoga? More contribution to my new community? More gratitude and generosity?

Lake Chapala sunset
With those questions spinning through my brain, I sit here looking at my patio and see a tiny bit of water reflecting the sun and flowers surrounding it. A brown bird walks through the water, picking at bits of seeds on the ground, while a hummingbird flutters the cascading jasmine. Three orange butterflies fly through the passion vines being stirred by a breeze, and in the distance, a dog barks its discontent and a childish voice chirps. Church bells add their notes and then leave me with a stillness so deep that I feel my blood surging down my arms as I experience a new awareness of the life outside my front door.

Gradually, the image of tumbling comes back to me. Tumbling out of old patterns; tumbling into new worlds. When I stop and become more aware of whatever’s in front of me, the kaleidoscopic pattern changes, setting in motion unseen actions, leading me to that now-unknowable place in the distant future. 
Stillness leads to greater awareness of my micro-world of self and surroundings, and connects me to the larger world, attuning me to myself and the Universe around me. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Waking up with a band in my living room

Early morning band

This morning, I awoke to band music in my living room … well, it sounded like it was in my living room. I started to ignore it and go on with my day, but then decided I wanted to know where it actually was, who it was, and why they were playing at break of day. So, I dressed and headed out to see what was going on. 

I found them near a school about three blocks away. About a dozen guys of various ages were playing in the street. I was trying to watch inconspicuously, but almost immediately a guy came up and handed me a cup of hot jamaica (a deep magenta-colored tea made from hibiscus flowers, reputedly good for lowering blood pressure).

I listened as the band … a tuba … always a tuba … several horns, three clarinets and two drummers … played. Mexican street band music is probably an acquired taste but it was lovely to be out on a beautiful morning watching these guys play together. Accompanying the band was a cohete guy who would punctuate the end of a song with a rocket launch. Music. Boom. Music. Boom.

I wondered what brought them together at this time and place. Perhaps just the general festivities of these days of the San Andres Fiesta, a nine-day fiesta honoring the saint we know as Saint Andrew, whose day is November 30th. The celebration has already been going on for several days with lots of music, volleys of rockets, and a plaza that has been turned into concert central surrounded by food booths, pop up bars, and carnival rides for the kids, all surrounded by commercial booths selling everything from pots and pans to religious paintings.

Jamaica cart
Woman with jamaica
When the band began to move on down the street, I thought I would go back to my apartment, my curiosity satisfied. But, a couple of the guys waved me to come with them. So I did and became part of the noisy procession walking through the streets, people appearing in the doorways, many still in pajamas, watching and waving. The jamaica cart guy and some women who walked with him, handed cups of hot jamaica to the watchers. 
Generosity. That’s the word that kept coming to me. This band, freely sharing their music, giving away hot drinks, sharing their enthusiasm and joy with the people of their pueblo. It didn’t feel like they were “performing” as much as they were just having fun being together and connecting with their community during this time of religious observance and celebration.

It is said that the biggest day of the San Andres Fiesta (the last night) is sponsored by the Absent Sons - those who have gone to the US to work and send money home to their families. I am stopped by that thought of “absent sons” going off to foreign lands to support their families. Sacrificing for their families, yet we call them illegals or aliens. 
As I’ve watched life in this small community, I’ve begun to realize what those “absent sons” have sacrificed. They must miss terribly the connection to family, community and church which is such a living, breathing part of life here.

I am truly grateful to have been invited into this small moment of connection this morning.

Monday, November 20, 2017

First rule of photography: Be there … with camera!

Light and shadow
November 20th is Revolution day here in Mexico, an official holiday marking the beginning of the revolution which overthrew the 35-year presidency of Porfirio Díaz. 

It is also a day that reminded me of the first rule of photography. The parade was going to start early and there are a lot of parades here. My coffee was hot, several projects called me. Why bother? 
But this holiday is big … there’s a Ferris wheel blocking one of the main streets of the Plaza, there are several pop-up restaurants/bars already set up, and bands have been playing … or practicing … long into the nights recently. 
Young dancers
Mexican Revolution:
Young soldier
After what was deemed a fraudulent election, wealthy landowner Francisco I. Madero opposed Díaz. Díaz jailed Madero, who then escaped, issuing the Plan of San Luis Potosí on October 6, 1910. In that plan, Madero declared the results of the 1910 election fraudulent, nullified them, asserted that he was provisional president, and called for Mexicans to rise up against Díaz on November 20, 1910.[1] He wrote "Throw the usurpers from power, recover your rights as free men, and remember that our ancestors left us a heritage of glory which we are not able to stain. Be as they were: invincible in war, magnanimous in victory.” (Wikipedia)

Thinking little about Diaz, Madero or this historic event, I finally grabbed my camera and headed out. After all, you can’t get a great shot if you don’t go into the world, camera in hand. As I write this, I haven’t seen the results of this morning’s shoot. The light and shadows were challenging and everything was in motion. I don’t know if there’s a great, or even any good shots, in the 224 that I just took.

Don Porfirio, as he was called, had been in power for more than 30 years (1876-1911).  Under his rule, Mexico had political stability and grew in many areas, creating new industries, railroads, kilometers of railroad tracks as well as the increase of foreign capital. Non-the less, this progress was not translated into the peoples’ well being. (Inside Mexico)
Alone in the crowd
Most of the parade consisted of school children with the younger ones being dressed in Revolution-era costumes. Watching costumed children in a parade is a delight, regardless of where in the world you are. I was soon caught up in the beautiful faces. I would have missed that if my camera hadn’t pulled me out of my comfy chair. 

When one of the groups of children stopped, two boys chased each other through the costumed rows, shouting the names of Díaz, Madero, Zapata and Villa. As I watched all the dancing and singing, I thought of all the moms who had made the costumes, braided the hair and drawn on the mustaches. They must be so proud and, at the time, frightened at the state of our world, watching the children re-enact such a traumatic time in their history, hoping these children never have to experience such terror in their own lives.

Pancho Villa was born Doroteo Arango in 1877 in San Juan del Río, Durango, in north-central Mexico. He lived there until the age of 16, when he murdered a man who had raped his younger sister and was forced to flee for his life. Over the next decade he became a legendary hero-a Robin Hood to the poor in his country, robbing the rich and sharing with the hungry masses-all the while skillfully evading the government's troops.

On November 20, 1910, the war to overthrow General Porfirio Díaz officially began when Francisco Madero escaped from prison in San Luis Potosí and declared the electoral process in Mexico invalid. Thus, soon after Francisco I. Madero's declaration of war, Pancho Villa led his men down from the hills to join the revolutionary forces-making the historical transition from bandito to revolucionario. The charismatic Pancho was able to recruit an army of thousands, including a substantial number of Americans, some of whom were made captains in the División del Norte. (MexGrocer)
After gorging myself on the faces and sounds of the children, the music, and the dancing horses, I proceeded to feast on the sights of the plaza … and on a carne asada taco with some muy picante onion salsa. Interestingly, it’s a challenge to find spicy food here in the regular restaurants. The street stands are where the Mexicans eat and some of it can definitely be challenging. 
Fighting continued in Mexico until 1920, even though in 1917 a new constitution was adopted. When the U.S. government came out openly in support of the new Carranza presidency, Villa was incensed. He retaliated by raiding U.S border towns-most significantly, Columbus, New Mexico. North of the border, Villa's image plummeted. However, many in Mexico saw him as the avenger of decades of yanqui (Yankee) oppression(MexGrocer)

Princess of Ajijic
One of my favorite things: tuba reflections.
The photographs? Good or not so good, I am so glad I got out of my chair and went out to see the world. Turns out the first rule isn't just about photography. If you want to see and feel great moments you have to be there! The camera is just an excuse, a motivation, to get up and get out there.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Did a dream change Mexico’s art forever?

Purple-dotted three-headed dragons, orange-striped unicorns, multicolored armadillos, a turquoise-winged owl with a human face. Where do all these brightly painted mystical, fantasy creatures come from? Called alebrijes (Spanish pronunciation: [aleˈβɾixes]), this popular form of Mexican folk art stems from one man’s dream … well, maybe.

Bújo Najual by Zeny Fuentes Santiagoand Reina Piña Ramirez
The popular story is that the term and this form of art came forth when Pedro Linares fell ill.  Wikipedia tells us this story:

While he was in bed, unconscious, Linares dreamt of a strange place resembling a forest. There, he saw trees, animals, rocks, clouds that suddenly turned into something strange, some kind of animals, but, unknown animals. He saw a donkey with butterfly wings, a rooster with bull horns, a lion with an eagle head, and all of them were shouting one word, "Alebrijes". Upon recovery, he began recreating the creatures he saw in cardboard and papier-mâché and called them Alebrijes.

The more pedestrian story is told by Mexican Folk Art Guide:

Pedro Linares was a cartonero (papier mache crafter) from La Merced a neighborhood in Mexico City. He made a living by making pinatas and judas like his father before him. Linares was appointed by painter José Gómez Rosas aka El Hotentote to make some "alebrijes" to decorate the annual masquerade party at the San Carlos Arts Academy

When Linares asked how to make such things, Gomez Rosas replied "just grab a judas (giant, exploding figures of Judas) and give him a tail and bat wings". In Gomez Rosas paintings there were often zoomorphic and fantastic figures that combine reptile, bird, insect and mammal parts as well as different eras and painting styles.

Judith Bronowski in 1998, with some creations by 
papier-mâché artist Pedro Linares
(photo by Jacklyn Stroud)
Whether from a dream or from an art request, Linares developed the first alebrijes which now show up in all art markets in Mexico. However these brightly painted fantasy creatures might not have become the beloved Mexican folk art favorite if it hadn’t been for artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and a filmmaker. In the 1980s, British filmmaker, Judith Bronowski arranged an itinerant Mexican art craft demonstration workshop in the US and helped bring many Mexican folk artist to public attention through her films.

While Linares crafted his chimera-like alejibres in papier mache, wood artisans quickly began to craft the fantasy creatures in wood, primarily using green copalillo because its wood is ideal, soft and easy to carve. He would probably be amazed to see Mexico City’s Alebrije Parade which begins on midday on a Saturday in late October in the historic center. The giant creatures are accompanied by musicians, clowns, people in costume and more, giving the event a Carnival-like atmosphere. After the parade the creations are judged with prizes awarded. (Note to self: put this on the calendar for next year.)

Mexican folk art has come along way since the days when Linares crafted his first alebrije. Until the 1970s, Mexican folk artists seldom signed their work, remaining anonymous and poor. Now it is illegal to sell crafts made in Mexico without acknowledging the community and region they are from, or to alter the crafts in a way that could be interpreted as damaging to the culture’s reputation or image. The Feria Maestros del Arte in Chapala, Mexico, has become one of the premier supporters of Mexican folk artists with a three-day fair where traditional artists can show their art to buyers drawn from all over the world. The carefully selected artists at this fair pay no space fee or commission and the fair organizers pay transportation costs and organize housing for the artists while they are at the fair. 
Time to Laugh

Creativity is a contagious thing and I seem to catch it looking at art that inspires me. The same artists who created Bújo Nahual shown above, created a wonderful creature that captured me all during the recent Feria Maestros del Arte, although my budget wasn't big enough to bring him home with me. 

"Time to Laugh" was stimulated by this alebrije and a "Laugh" sign I saw in a home on the recent "Behind the Walls" tour here in Ajijic.