Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Love letters to my life #1: A new venture

Tree of Life
This is the first in, hopefully, a long series of love letters to my life, to be written on the 17th day of each month remaining to me. The thought that I might not be here to write the next one, prompts me to express my appreciation for every tiny moment, all the joyous occasions, and each heart-wrenching setback that has landed me in this particular moment of birdsong and unfolding new directions.

I am one of the lucky ones. Here in this moment, in the early days of my eighth decade, I am free, healthy, engaged with beauty and expression, rich in friendships and community,  exploring a new culture, learning a new language, watching, sometimes with astonishment, as each new page turns, revealing bits and pieces of the world and myself that I never knew existed.

Understanding the infinite immensity of all that surrounds me, I rest in the awareness that revelation will continue as long as I breathe. After that, who knows?

Neill James, photo and article
Today, I thank all the forces that brought me to a new landscape ... Mexico … and invited me into the unique culture of Ajijic, a small village guarded by two distinct feminine spirits … Teomichicihualli, goddess, fish-princess of Lake Chapala, and Neill James, an adventuress, travel-writer from the United States, who settled in Ajijic in 1943 and proceeded to do the work that called her … perhaps as an incarnation of Teomichicihualli herself. (For more about these spirits, read here.)

Artist: Jesús López Vega
Each of us writes, and lives, a story about our lives. It’s
never a true story, but it’s a handy one that provides a lot of justification for the choices we make and explanations for what befalls us. My story was simple … I was an only child, separate and alone, childless and unmothered, rolling through life free and independent. I could make all the details of my life fit that story. It was a story that didn’t allow space for community as I rolled from one place to the next, even though I frequently proclaimed my desire to find connection and community.

When the rolling stone of my life plopped me down beside the largest lake in Mexico, something changed. Life took me out of my rolling, 60 mph life and said: Walk! And, while walking through the streets and along the shores of the lake, community sneaked up on me. I fell in love with this odd blend of immigrants and indigenous, Spanish and English, wealth and poverty, raucous noise and generous souls. It’s like I have been touched by both Teomichicihualli and Neill James.

Many years ago, in the throes of an entrepreneurial moment, a friend and I started a small gallery of art and crafts. It was a joyous adventure and we created a luminous, creative offering for the community. It lasted three months and, when it failed, it broke my heart … and the friendship. I swore I’d never take a risk like that again. 

Never say never.

Tiny gallery to be on Colón
A new friend and I just signed a lease for a new gallery here in Ajijic … Galería del Futuro.  Steve and I are both digital artists and had been talking about finding a place to show our work. When the right place at the right price showed up, we started talking seriously about the possibility. Shadows from the old venture wafted through the air and I outlined all the reasons I didn’t want to be part of it. I didn’t want to be tied down to a retail store; no one was going to buy our work anyway, it would be a waste of money … amazingly negative talk from someone who believes in positive thinking and benevolent self-talk. 

What it might look like after painting.
However, as we continued to discuss the possibility, a new thread appeared … we could help young, local artists by showing their work also. Suddenly, passion was ignited as the whole project took on a different aspect. We both recognized our deep interest in supporting young artists … a kind of support we had never experienced ourselves. This possibility also linked us to a project some established artists here were working on to try to support promising young, local artists in their artistic development. We began to see this new gallery possibility not as just a commercial venture that might succeed or fail, but as a connection to the community, an investment in the future, a legacy.

As always when a new venture begins, we do not know whether it will succeed or fail. However, I do know that this is now part of my journey, a new piece of me being opened to life and the connection of everything. 

I am so grateful for my life and all the wonderful experiences coming my way.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

When preconceived notions explode

I confess. For thirty-some-odd years, I loved traveling in Mexico, which I would have described as a beautiful, colorful, happy country. However, it was always the backdrop to the vacations or workshops that were the main focus of my attention. I loved the food, the music, the laid-back, anything-goes feeling. The people I met during these trips were mainly waiters, hotel workers, or kind strangers who dug us out of deep sand, rescued our lost selves, or rebuilt broken car parts seemingly out of spit and sawdust. I "loved Mexico.” And, Mexicans.

It’s hard to admit how deeply into the “happy, carefree Mexican” stereotype I was. I knew Mexico's history was traumatic and that poverty was widespread, but I didn’t have an inkling of how narrow my understanding was until a few years ago when I was in San Cristóbal de las Casas. It was September, 2014, and I was walking through the Cathedral plaza, loud speakers blaring words I didn’t understand and a gathering crowd of a thousand or more. I had no idea what was going on. However, as I moved through the crowds, I was suddenly hit with a feeling of overwhelming sadness.

The feeling was so strong I started looking around, trying to figure out what was happening. I noticed large photos of young men on the ground, arranged like a quilt. Children were placing flowers and candles on the photos. Something was terribly wrong. I finally found a woman who could explain that 43 students had recently been kidnapped and no one knew if they were dead or alive.*

Over the next few months, I wound up in several demonstrations about “the 43,” talked about it as much as possible with the Mexican husband of a friend, and read all I could. Mexico's history … and it’s present … opened up a sliver of understanding about this incredible country, traumatized for at least 400 years, and the complex culture of generosity in the face of poverty, kindness to strangers while trusting only family, open skepticism of government, and defiant celebration of life and joy in a world that mainly offered pain, suffering and death.

Where moments of life and joy are restricted,
Music, dance, food and festivals enhance those precious moments.

Slowly, it becomes more clear why family is everything in Mexico. For centuries, family has been the heart of the culture while trauma, abuse and death have been constant external forces. It is no wonder why music, dancing, food and festivals are such a huge part of this culture. My view on this is that the Mexican people have never been able to take life or joy for granted, so they celebrate as often as possible.

Gradually, as I explore the country, less as a vacationer and more as someone trying to understand this intriguing and confusing culture, I keep running into the deep vein of abuse of wealth over poverty. Mexico is a rich country and from the first days of the early 1500’s, Spain exploited the wealth of Mexico, stripping gold and silver from its hills and life from the miners who brought it up from the depth.
Zacatecas Cathedral

Concentrated wealth 
is generated 
by widespread poverty.

The Zacatecas Cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Zacatecas) is one of the most beautiful in the world The ornately carved, Baroque style is termed Churrigueresque, named for its architect and sculptor Jose Benito de Churriguera (1650-1725). 
This style is kindly called “lavish” and not-so-kindly described as "over-the-top.” Many references state that the building of the Cathedral was funded by and built as a temple worthy of the "aristocrats of silver."
Model of mine worker
After touring Mina El Eden where we learned that miners never saw the light of day as they worked 16 hours a day for barely enough to eat, went to work when they were 8, and died at the rate of 9 or 10 a day, it is clear that it was the miners and their families who built that cathedral. I have seen no sign that their contribution to it is honored.

Slowly, it becomes more clear why family is everything in Mexico. For centuries, family has been the heart of the culture while trauma, abuse and death have been constant external forces. It is no wonder why music, dancing, food and festivals are such a huge part of this culture. My view on this is that they’ve never been able to take life or joy for granted so they celebrate as often as possible.

My stereotypes go even deeper

However, my stereotypical view of Mexicans went even deeper than not understanding their relationship to authority, both church and state, and their culture of celebration which results in loud, exuberant music, startling rockets and firecrackers, and a deep acceptance of middle-of-the-night crowing roosters and barking dogs. My view of their art has always focused on Frida Kahlo, the muralists Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros, and the vibrantly exciting street art and murals found in many of the cities I’ve visited.

Pedro Coronel - Wikipedia
That preconception was blown apart by visiting Pedro Coronel’s museum in Zacatecas. Housed in a Jesuit convent built in the early 1600s, it was used as a college, hospital, barracks, and prison before being converted in 1983 to a museum to exhibit the art collection of painter and sculptor, Pedro Coronel, who apparently bartered his own paintings to build his extensive collection and said, "Pedro Coronel said: "Little by little I was acquiring the pieces that had the most meaning for me and I formed my own idea of beauty.”

Walking through the mind of a genius.

I’ve visited many great art museums but this one knocked me sidewise because it was like walking through the mind of a genius. One man with an artistic scope that ranged from ancient Mexico, Japan, Greece, and Africa to dozens of modern artists such as Goya, Miro, Picasso, Chagall, Giacometti and dozens of others. 
Standing posters share his thoughts about art, beauty, psychology. As I walked deeper and deeper into this tangible brain, I felt my perceptions sputtering like sparklers at the end of their lives. I had expected so little and was being flooded by so much. Suddenly I recognized that my perceptions of Mexican art and artists had been blown to bits. 

Whoever Pedro Coronel was, his vision, curiosity, and talent were immense. I wanted to know more and immediately made arrangements to come back in a month for permitted study, which will allow me to take pictures and document more of Pedro Coronel’s art and thoughts. 
* Postscript: The story of "the 43" that slowly came out was that a woman with connections to a cartel and political ambitions had had the students kidnapped because they threatened to disrupt a political speech she was planning to make. The government investigation released a report that did not jive with the investigations of others.

On June 5, 2018, The New York Times reported: A federal court in Mexico ordered the government on Monday to investigate the 2014 disappearances of 43 college students again, but this time under the supervision of a truth commission to be led by the nation’s top human rights body and parents of the victims.

When the Universe weaves threads together and makes us wonder.

Huichol Art from Museo Zacatecano
This incredible piece of art stopped me in my tracks while touring the extensive Huichol exhibit at the Museo Zacatecano. It stopped me, not only because it is stunning, but because I had seen it before ... not only had I seen it, I had bought it ... for my couch ... and my new yoga bag.

When I first moved to Ajijic, I lived in a lovely small apartment that had recently been remodeled and was basically colorless. The couch was solid gray so I went to Alejandra, a local woman who makes amazing things, to see if I could get my couch cushions recovered. When I walked into her tienda, I was immediately captivated by a colorful, surrealistic material and wound up with this couch.

When I moved, I couldn't take the cushions with me because they belonged to the couch which wasn't mine. Those cushions were one of the few things I missed from that apartment, so I went back to Alejandra and had her make me a yoga bag from that material!

Things like this make me smile. It's obvious that I have a connection to this colorful material, but I had no idea it was anything other than a colorful design. Now I feel a call to find out more about this piece of art and delve deeper into the Huichol culture.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Into the Mystery of a New Language

Desafortunadamente. Eight syllables … des a for tu nad a men te. It’s like champagne bubbles on your tongue … all fizzing together to mean unfortunately.

Words like desafortunadamente thrill me … even when they make me feel like I’m reciting the Gettysburg Address in a normal conversation. Will the listener pay attention long enough for me to get to the finish line of this one word? Plus, that marathon word drains all the thoughts that were supposed to follow it. Unfortunately, … uh … what? Oops, it’s gone.

Studying Spanish is fun, frustrating, exciting, rewarding, humbling, exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. Interestingly, I’m also learning more about English … and forgetting how to spell … especially all those words with double letters since Spanish seldom uses them … except for “ll” which used to be considered a separate letter, now it's just a letter combination pronounced like  “y."

Sun and Moon
There are many words in Spanish that are beautiful … to my ear and my tongue. Here are just a few ... the accents are important and marked with ( ) and (i) is pronounced as a long (e) … 
al (men) dra … almond 
seren (i) dad … serenity
(jun) tos … together ... j sounds like h ... (hun) tos
fan ta (sí) a … doesn’t that sound much more alluring than “fantasy”
o ja (lá) … hopefully or “God willing!”
man da (ri) na … mandarin orange
zan a hor (i) a … isn’t that better than carrot?
(al) ma … soul
Mi alma shouts ojalá when I have a fantasía about eating una mandarina with almendras. Try it. It’s like face yoga. 
Learning a different language seems to be changing the way I think. The difference between “I like to read” and “Me gusta leer” is subtle but intriguing. “I like to read” is a closed statement, a fact, a period. If there is a follow up question, it would probably be, “What do you like to read?"

“Me gusta leer" means that reading is pleasing to me. It’s more of an open statement, with a comma, inviting a different conversation … “Why does it please you?”

Me gusta esta nueva idioma. I like learning this new language for many reasons … I like the sounds, I like the feeling of having my brain tangled as I search for words and phrases, I like seeing the veil thin between me and the thoughts and words of others. 
Me gusta la sensación de ser una principiante. I like the feeling of being a beginner, of having beginner’s mind. Especially at this stage of life when so much is already done, known, or experienced, learning a new language opens up nooks and crannies in my mind that I didn’t know existed. 

It's the "thin thighs in thirty days" thing.

Ojalá, tengo sufficiente tiempo y energía para continuar.  I hope I have enough time and energy to continue. When I began this language journey, I had a goal. Somewhat like “thin thighs in thirty days,” I wanted to “be fluent as soon as possible.” 

I now know I will never be fluent in the sense of being a native Spanish speaker. However, I intend to become functional. I want to be able to have conversations in Spanish. I long to be able to hear stories from people who have lived completely different lives and who see the world in ways I’ve never experienced. 

Desafortunadamente, I started late on this journey.

Fortunadamente, all the time I have is mine to spend as I wish. 
What a gift! 
¡Qué un regalo!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Who says you can't be a TEN?

Egret Couple
A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about life and she shared her journey with depression. The past several years have sent many losses her way and she was finding herself sinking deeper into depression. Being the inspired, creative person she is, she created a mood chart and began to monitor her moods with the idea of seeing what she could do to raise her spirits. 

She created a 1 to 10 chart, with 1 being suicidal and 10 being euphoric. She explained how monitoring the chart had helped her recognize several actions that could raise her mood at least twenty percent, but that she was still seldom able to rise above a 7 until a doctor helped her find a prescription that made it easier for her to function at a higher level. 
The "privilege" of disposition

I was shocked by her story. She is one of the most positive, upbeat, creative women I’ve met recently and I had no sense of her struggle. It made me realize one form of privilege we seldom recognize could be labeled “positivity.” I have no doubt my optimistic, positive disposition is as much genetic as it is learned, perhaps more so. My husband, who dealt with depression his entire life, once told me on a good day, he was normally a 7. For me, 7 is a so-so day.

Since everyone has ups and downs, I decided I wanted to monitor my moods and needed to create a chart that more closely matched my fluctuations. While my lows would never be deemed suicidal, I have noticed more “blah” days in the past few years. Moving into this third stage of life where the normal expectations of careers, success, responsibilities, and so on, have been altered if not altogether suspended, it seems critical to re-calibrate our lives. I want to make sure I know what tools I have for operating at a maximal level of joy and appreciation.  
The upper end of my scale represented "perfection" ... magnetic, ecstatic, powerful. In other words: hubris, tempting the gods, too good to be true, unattainable.

NOTE: If you decide to try this action, you’ll most likely want to create your own chart and action list. If you want to see mine, send me an email or a  PM on Facebook.

This morning’s “Aha!” ... Fetters and Tens
LA133 in San Antonio Tlayacapan
The past two days have been relatively low energy … for reasons I haven’t completely identified yet. I didn’t sleep well last night (one lonely, very expressive dog wanted someone to talk to), so I woke up a bit out of sorts, just wanting to hug my bed. Definitely in the 7 range.
However, today was also housecleaning day and Marie would show up at nine so I had to tidy up and get stuff out of her way … and then go out for three hours. On my bah-humbug way out the door, I decided to at least take my camera, my journal, and my Spanish workbook. And, treat myself to a favorite breakfast with a shady tree offering me a cozy place for food and my journal. 
The past several months have blasted a hole in one of my firmly held beliefs. I am a computer person and almost can’t write long hand anymore. As much as I’ve read dozens of writers extolling the virtues of writing long hand, I refused to accept their recommendations. I’m still writing everything in Evernote. However, I started a manual journal a few months ago (thanks to the inspiration of the friend mentioned above.) 

That journal has given me two lessons so far … both of which I learned several years ago but for some reason let slip away. First, the power of printing, which I think comes from the fact that it slows me down, eliminates excess words, and remains readable later. 

And second, mind mapping … duh! It is now 28 years since my book Mindmapping was published! I used to mindmap everything. Then, something happened. I started using computer mindmapping tools and loved them so much, I seldom mindmapped on paper with colored pens. 😢 Something got lost along the way.

When I started using an antiquated journal again (read paper, pencil, glue, scissors, etc.), I felt something shift in my thinking. It’s hard to describe, but because I once wrote about this process at length, I recognize that it is opening my “right brain,” where concepts play with each other in a less rational, logical manner. 
Now, as I sit with a fresh mindmap in front of me, sometimes there is just a void, a waiting, an acceptance of whatever wants to show up. And, because I’ve walked through this territory before, I know something will show up and my job will be to just play with it and allow it to attract whatever playmates it wants. 
Unfettered by Joyce Wycoff
This morning was typical. I’ve been thinking about the word “unfettered,” stimulated by the image above, and started to map it. 
First the definition and rational thinking ... what I used to call “cliche thinking” ... showed up as it almost always does. However, as I sat in that quiet, shady place with nothing in front of me except paper, pen … and a very good breakfast … other thoughts slowly climbed onto the page. When the words “no more fetters” showed up, it made me smile and started a small avalanche of thoughts.

By the time breakfast was finished, I knew I had been taken on a journey that would not have occurred had I stayed in my house, on my computer, doing what I thought I was supposed to do today. I don't know how much further this thought process will take me, but I expect to have things continue to show up.

After breakfast, I went to explore more of my new neighborhood and heard an odd, somewhat harsh, repetitive bird sound. I finally saw several egrets in a tall tree and found the source of the sound … a pair, apparently in mating mode. The opening picture shows the two egrets and a bit of the lime color that shows up on their faces during mating season. I hope I can continue to monitor the process of this couple.

And, finally, I wound up at the only air-conditioned coffee shop near me and studied my Spanish. I think I made a breakthrough on direct and indirect pronouns. Sounds pretty basic … and it is … but it has been giving me fits.

On the way home, I was thinking about what a great day this has turned out to be and wondered what rating I would give it. I was playing with 9.5 because, obviously, nothing is perfect, so it couldn’t be a 10.
All of a sudden, I was almost slapped in the face by a mass of yellow flowers as I walked under a small tree. It was almost like the Universe said, “Oh, yeah? Well try this on for perfect!” 

I had to admit it was one of the most spectacularly beautiful small trees I’ve ever seen.** Which made me think, “Of course this moment can be a 10! Who says it’s not perfect?”

So, I continued on my way, collecting beauty, feeling absolutely, totally perfect. 

** Thanks to a friend, this tree was identified as: Golden-chain tree is a stunning, small tree noted for its long, pendulous clusters of flowers.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The dance of grief and joy

What a complex journey life is. This week I lost one of my life’s companions. Ours was a karmically  complicated relationship that stretched from infancy to just a few years ago when it stalled. However, it had stalled and restarted often as our paths wove in and out of each other’s lives. 

There was always Gary. The thought that he’s gone leaves a hole that can’t be filled and me trying to deal with grief, sadness, frustration and anger.

After a sleepless night and a depleted day, I headed for the lake. It was one of those subdued sunsets, dark clouds blocking the gaudier colors allowing only hints of pinks to play across the blue water. Most of the snowbirds are gone leaving only a few locals walking to the lakeside soundtrack of Zumba dancers, tidbits of cell phone conversations, and wheels grinding through the curves of the dips and walls of the skateboard park. 
Life continuing.

A splash caught my attention as a dog swam toward a tossed stick, proudly carrying it back and rolling on it to make it his. As I watched the dog and the shifting colors and patterns in the water and clouds, a feeling of incredible joy swept over me. 
I was alive, walking in the natural beauty of this moment in time. Capturing flashes of it with my camera. I am overwhelmingly grateful for the ability to feel joy and blessed to have so much of it in my life. 

As this wave of joy crested, the heavy feeling in my chest began to return. Joy was something I seldom saw in Gary’s life. Somehow wounded early in life, he resisted the people who cared about him, apparently feeling unworthy of their love. I feel sad and angry because he missed so much of what was set before him. And then I have to wonder how much I, too, resist.

Gary died in his sleep a month before his 73rd birthday, alone by choice. I want to scream at him, shake him into waking up to what the world offered him. And, then I just have to remind myself to open up to and share the joy and love the world offers me. 
Maybe that’s his last gift to me. I may not hear his voice again, but I will look at every sunset and feel joy for both of us. 
Rest in peace, Gary.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Turning my ship (mood) around

Monstera  Deliciosa (See below)
What I thought was an ugly vine, bloomed for the first time today. It took me awhile to recognize its beauty ... a clue that something was off.
I didn’t recognize this as “one of those days” when I first woke up. The morning was peaceful, quiet, birds singing, sun shining … in other words, a normal day here in Ajijic. It wasn’t until I was sitting with my journal, making a “to do” list for the day that I thought there might be an issue. I couldn’t decide what to put on the list … what I wanted to do with my lovely, open day. I always have stuff I want to do, but this morning nothing was grabbing me, so I drifted into Facebook. Probably not a good choice … endless steps down a dark … and addictive … trail. (We all need to go back to cute cats.)

Finally, I pulled myself out the door for what was to be a long walk. Which direction? Long walks branch off in several directions. But, I turned in the one direction that involved a short walk to the coffee shop, trying to figure out if I wanted hot or cold coffee. Even that decision seemed out of reach.

In spite of a beautifully presented latte, and whining on Facebook, I still felt blah, so I started through my Rolodex of helpful tools … 
  • AWARE … Ask why, allow reflection, exhale. Wrote a bit in my journal, but words weren’t helping.
  • H.A.L.T. … Hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Not enough sleep, so probably touching on all of these. Thought the Facebook thing might help, and it did a bit.
All of this reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend who has experience with depression. She mentioned that she monitored her mood when she was going through a particularly troubled time, and when she showed her chart to her doctor, he proscribed medication which had turned out to be very helpful. During the conversation, she mentioned that, even now, a good day was a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. 

That startled me because she’s a very upbeat and positive person. It reminded me that my husband, who battled depression, once mentioned that a good day for him was also a 7. Having never had more than fleeting feelings of depression, I became curious about how I would rate my own mood. This, of course, meant developing my own scale, since I didn’t like any of the ones I found online … although I borrowed from them liberally.  Here’s the mood chart I now use:

Mood Chart
 For a few weeks, I tracked my mood and found that I almost always wake up at 6 or 7 and have moments of 8 and 9 most days. Level 10 seems to require focus and intention. I quit tracking after awhile because it was always the same.

This morning, sitting in the coffee shop, trying to figure out what was wrong, I checked the chart and realized I was at 4. What a shock! However, I was also a bit relieved because it made me think the issue was lack of sleep as much as anything. The major hit of caffeine meant I probably wasn’t going to take a nap anytime soon, so either this was going to be a wasted day or I needed to try one or more of the mood lifters on the list I had created with the mood chart. My list includes:
    — Remember: this, too, shall pass
    — Write gratitudes
    — Brainstorm an idea
    — Dance to hi-energy music … 3-song dance
    — Walk (plus hi-energy music … or in nature)
    — Make art, take photos, organize photos
    — Make collages or work in journals
    — Connect with someone

The challenge with this approach is energy. All of them require energy and a willingness to take responsibility for my mood. I really just wanted to whine and have an excuse to be a sloth. 
Finally, I opted for the 3-song dance and turned on Jeremy Buck’s, “Turn My Ship Around.” For many years now, I’ve found myself obsessing on a particular song, playing it over and over. “Turn My Ship Around” is my current obsession but I have a whole playlist of songs that have called to me. 
This one is a “must-dance” song so I repeated it three times, generating almost a thousand steps in those few minutes and starting an energy flow that allowed me to make a healthy and colorful breakfast … and start to examine the whole mood process in this post.

Bottomline: Moods fluctuate. However, there is a point where energy falls below the level needed to lift the mood. That’s a danger zone and having your own mood chart and strategies can help. Feel free to use the ones I’ve shared … however, it’s probably even better to create your own. What I recognize now is that while I’m writing it to clarify my own process, I’m hoping it might help anyone reading it. Since this is an attempt at generosity … mood level 9 … it is therefore raising my own mood, creating a beneficial cycle.

Thanks to all of you. We’re all connected on this journey, even though we frequently forget our connection. I now feel safe, trusting, hopeful (a solid 6) … well enough to give myself permission to have a quiet, low-energy day, nap included!
And, here's my mood lifter, in case you'd like to listen and watch:
Click here to listen: Turn My Ship Around

Monstera deliciosa - Windowleaf, Ceriman, Swiss-cheese plant, Breadfruit vine, Hurricane plant, Mexican breadfruit, Fruit-salad plant, Window plant, Split leaf Philodendron, and Cut leaf Philodendron.

One of about 30 species of monster, Monstera delicosa is the most well known indoor plant of its type in the world. A native of Mexico it has been cultivated as a house plant in cooler countries and in tropical and sub tropical countries it is often grown as a garden plant because of its unusual foliage and edible fruit. The name Monstera is suggested to have been derived from the large curiously perforated leaves which might mean a monstrosity.

This plant has so many common names which shows how popular it is. Windowleaf, Ceriman, Swiss-cheese plant, Breadfruit vine, Hurricane plant, Mexican breadfruit, Fruit-salad plant, Window plant, Split leaf Philodendron, and Cut leaf Philodendron. There may be more local common names as well.  This is a good example of why people need to use the correct botanical name because using the common name/s means many people will not know what pant is being talked or written about.

In nature it climbs up trees and may reach about 10 metres in length while in cultivation it may climb trees or a variety of other structures.

The shining green leaves which are also thick and leathery grow to about 40cm x 60cm and are perforated with neat curving holes making a nice even pattern not at all like a monstrosity. Sold as an indoor plant it is marketed for its foliage and its ability to grow well in a variety of indoor situations.

It is somewhat unusual to see the flowers as it needs, like all plants, similar conditions/climate to its native habitat. In large tropical greenhouses or tropical or subtropical gardens where it can grow freely flowers will occur. First we see the large spathe, a single greenish creamy white boat shaped structure up to 35cm long. Inside is the upright spadex or flower stalk (which looks similar to a corn cob)   which is a dense many flowered structure which remains green and solid long after the spathe has  finished. The fruit, when ripe is succulent and edible with a pineapple flavour. To eat the fruit pick it and place in a paper bag until the individual kernels pop off and show the edible flesh underneath. Just cut this away from the core and eat.

Usually it is propagated by cuttings from the adult section of the plant which means we rarely see the juvenile growth when the leaves are smaller and not perforated. With modern propagation techniques like meristem culture plants grown this way will go through the juvenile state to adult state. Purchasing small new plants will enable you to observe the proper growing cycle of this plant.

As it grows large, fat, light brown aerial roots will appear from the main stem and hang down. They absorb moisture from the air and in the wild will take root when they hit the ground.

Monstera deliciosa is a very popular attractive indoor plant which is very easy to grow and always looks good. It will catch a lot of dust on the leaves but a quick wipe with a damp cloth and diluted all seasons spraying oil brings it back to its bright green state. 
Older plants in cultivation may have grown quite leggy and look somewhat straggly. It can be rejuvenated by pruning off part of the long stem just above a green leaf. A new shoot will grow from this point. The piece that has been removed can be used as a cutting (or several cuttings) to grow plants to give away to friends and neighbours.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Another surprise from Mexico

As sometimes happens, snafus occur at the worst moments. This morning, about an hour before one of the biggest days of the year for Mexico, the power went out here in Ajijic. I’m sure a lot of the people involved with the Good Friday passion play were affected much more than I was. 
For me, it was a minor setback to find that the camera battery I thought was fully charged, had somehow discharged, and the one in my camera was only half full. So, without power to recharge, I was off to watch the Passion of Christ play in the church square knowing that I couldn’t take hundreds of pictures as I would normally.

The square was filled with people vying for scraps of shade. A long line of people stood side-by-side in the thin shadow of a palm tree, while others arranged ancient gray-metal folding chairs in rows around the stage. Soon an angelic aria wafted from the blue curtain backdrop where people readied for the coming performance. Unfortunately, a generator roared to life behind me, making it impossible to hear or see the performance as the crowd almost instantly swelled to hundreds blocking my carefully chosen square of shade which had once had a clear view of the stage.

I notice a tattered Mexican flag flying at half-mast while the silver cross at the top of the church caught glints from the intense sun. Seeing little but the backs of people's heads and the sky above us, I moved toward the plaza, stopping to watch a man sell empanadas … piña, crema, fresca … next to the churro cart. Abundant food is always a part of Mexican celebrations. The plaza was relatively empty so I settled onto a concrete bench to wait for the parade to come.

I was there purely as a photographer and observer. While raised in a Christian environment, I left the church many years ago and the rituals and celebrations aren’t a big part of my life. However, here in Mexico, the Church is a major part of the culture and I wanted to experience it ... and take pictures. 

As the gates to the church square opened, and the play continued into the streets, I began to take the few photos my battery life would allow. It took awhile, but soon I began to realize how much the re-enactment was touching me. It’s a story I’ve lived with my entire life, but watching men carrying crosses through the streets, their backs red with whippings, made the story more real and moved me in a way I did not expect.

Mexico continually surprises me. But, then, there are also always the dogs. If any of you want to know ... and see ... more about Holy Week here in Mexico, I highly recommend this blog:

Easter Dog

Thursday, March 29, 2018

No need to be surprised: Koan Art

The time has come by Joyce Wycoff

Before I left Grass Valley to move to Ajijic, I started meeting with a meditation group that uses koans as part of the practice. Officially, koans can be defined as:  a paradox to be meditated upon that is used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment. 

However, we were neither monks nor trying to abandon reason, but we did often have insights that felt enlightening.

This morning, I was cleaning a bunch of papers that had somehow gathered themselves into a pile when I thought I had gotten rid of all my piles. Apparently, I got rid of the piles but not the pile-maker. Anyway, I found one of the koans we had used and it intrigued me so much that I decided to use it as an art prompt. 
Here’s the koan:

It’s past midnight, the moon has not risen.
In the thick, deep dark, you meet a face from long ago,
But you don’t recognize them.
No need to be surprised.

Hacienda entrance
One of the reasons I love this way of making art is that I never know where it’s going … or where I’m going. I started thinking about faces from long ago and imagining family members, lost loves, even myself as a child. The “long ago” part also made me want a frame that suggested old, so I pulled one of the photos taken during the hacienda tour last week. I particularly liked this one because of the branches in the background, although I thought I’d wind up removing all of them. 
 However, when I tried a blend mode, the whole thing turned mystical and seemed to have that “deep dark” feeling from the koan.

Since I needed a place to meet the face from long ago, I decided there needed to be a path to meet on.  If you could see a larger view, you would see that it's completely out of focus. Digital art doesn't care!
 At this point, I was starting to like where this was going but still had no idea who I was going to meet. After trying several real and figurative faces, I was getting frustrated. I knew it was a woman and probably not someone I actually knew. Searching my photo base for women, I found a piece of wall art that looked like a candidate. I had taken the photo because I liked the woman’s stance. Again, not a good photo.

She is a piece of a mural by local artist Javier Zaragoza depicting the history of the area. Below is an internet photo of the entire mural. I knew she was the one as soon as she dropped into the image. But I still didn’t know why there was no need to be surprised. Only as I went back to the original mural, as well as the tour of the haciendas, did I feel the connection to the past and the present. 
While there are layers of the past everywhere, here in Mexico, the layers seem to be a part of everything. The celebrations, the costumes, the ruins of buildings and civilizations past … all seem to be woven into the present. 

Somehow, this koan art makes me feel connected to the past and to the women and men who came to this beautiful lake so many centuries ago. 
When I look at this image, I feel like she, the priestess, is telling me that this present moment is also a future moment of the past, an illusion of permanence. Like her, we … I ... will always be approaching new doorways into unknown places, following the light of what calls me. There is no reason to be surprised. A familiar message.
The other thing I love about koans is that any other artist would take that same koan and come up with a completely different image. 

Should any of you other artists feel so inclined to make art from this koan, I'd love to have you share your image in the comments section below.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Haciendas in Mexico ... where the past and future mix and mingle

Hacienda ruins
Hacienda tower with gun slits
In a time before backhoes and jackhammers, sewer systems, and electric lights, in a highland filled with wild cattle and endless vistas, hundreds of haciendas of the wealthy created a network of commerce and life across Mexico.  
Yesterday, Jim Cook led us on a walk back in time as we toured the ruins of four of those haciendas and tried to imagine a different world ... one where it required gun slits to protect your property.

When Jim and his wife Carole arrived in Ajijic almost eleven years ago, they began to document their travels and adventures in what has become an extremely popular and informative travel blog … Jim and Carole’s Mexico Adventure. Jim generously invites people to join him on his explorations, so we met early yesterday and headed out to explore a way of life that no longer exists.

From home to bank to ???
The ruins we toured were mostly two-to-three hundred years old: an eye-blink on the grand scale of history, and yet close enough to our own time to see the relentless forces of change. 
Two hundred years ago a wealthy land owner built a casa grande attracting the likes of revolutionary hero Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo on November 24,1810, only two months after his famous "Grito de Dolores" calling people to join him in the Mexican rebellion. 
The hacienda included housing for at least some of his workers, his own opera house (where Porfirio Diaz attended a performance), and a railway and station.
Plaque commemorating Hidalgo's visit
However, the owner's world and fortunes changed: his home became a bank, his chapel the town church, the opera house a library and event center, and the railroad station sits surrounded by chain link fencing, waiting for the next wave of change. Today, even the bank is gone yielding to progress as a central plaza develops. 
Abandoned railway station

As we walked through these ruins, though, I also saw the relentlessness of life: weeds and cactus growing on the tops of crumbling walls, cows and goats thriving in a feed lot of what probably used to be a grand garden, flowers blooming on a broken aqueduct that ran for at least a half-a-mile across the former lands of the hacienda, a pony suckling his mom while we watched.


Also, of course, what would any adventure be without a story? At one of the haciendas, we met a man who shared a name with a famous artist. He showed us some ancient artifacts he had found ... for sale, of course. A great deal of conversation ensued about their beauty and authenticity. It added to the richness of the day.
The oldest building we saw was a Hospital for Indios en Santa Cruz El Grande. It was apparently built in 1534 with an outdoor cross where large gatherings of native people were "converted." Services were ongoing when we arrived so we could see inside the structure but did not go in.

I have to wonder what I would see if two-, three- or four-hundred years from now, I could walk through my world of today. Which of today’s wonders will be repurposed into something I can’t even imagine today … and which will become simply ruins to make people of the future ponder the past?
“This, too, shall pass,” the philosophers say. Yesterday made me think we should add the words ... "but life goes on."

Thanks to Jim Cook and all the caretakers and key-carriers who generously opened their buildings and their days to share their history with our small caravan of explorers.
Stopping for a picnic along the way.
Jim’s itinerary for the day and the google map for where we would be exploring:

Hacienda La Campana- near Poncitlán. 19th century (possibly earlier) ruins at the edge of the small pueblo of the same name. Very interesting and photogenic site with beautiful countryside.

Hacienda San Jacinto - 18th century (at least) ruins in the small pueblo of same name. Also photogenic

Hacienda Atequiza - 17th century, located in town of same name. One of the largest and most famous of Guadalajara area haciendas. In 19th century, the owner built his own opera house and railroad station. Very interesting hacienda chapel is now the town church.
Hacienda Miraflores- Only a couple of miles from Atequiza. 18th century ruins with some very unusual 19th century additions.