Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Author: jackikellum (page 1 of 20)

Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour – Thoughts on Letting Our Childen Go

Yesterday, I re-watched Steel Magnolias. Before the movie began, I knew that re-watching this film would make me cry, and I almost opted out of racking myself with that painful experience again. But I took the plunge, and I began to think about my own life. Julia  Roberts died in Steel Magnolias, and as a mother, I was tormented by the mother’s grief of losing her child to death. But I also began to consider that many parents lose their children in ways that do not involve dying. Children simply move on. They leave to marry and to begin their own homes or they leave to begin their own careers somewhere else. The bottom line is that our children leave. and as parents, we are left gripping the reality that we had simply been loaned a set of children–for just a short period of time–and that eventually, we were forced to let our children go.

“You can never go home again.” – Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe is correct in saying that once a child leaves, he can never really return to his childhood home again. Although most children keep in touch with their parents after they move away, they can never really return, and a decent mother doesn’t want her child to do so. But in some nagging, longing way, mothers remember and we ache for the days that we wrapped our children in soft, cotton blankets and brought them home from the hospitals. We remember their first steps. We remember baby food dripping from their chins, their highchairs, and from their hands and hair. We remember bathing our babies’ silky bodies and drying them and then laying them on top of our hearts–where we could feel them as they breathed. As mothers, we also remember slipping into our child’s room at night and at marveling at the sweetness of our sleeping child. We recall our children’s innocent but profound comments–the ones that allowed us to recall viewing life as only a child can view it. We remember the drawings and the paintings that they made as children, and we remember their going to school.

When my oldest child went to school, I grieved. Somehow I knew that both of our worlds had permanently shifted. For the first time, I realized that my child was not a doll. She was not mine, to keep. From that moment on, my child began slipping away from me and into herself. The transition has not been easy. I have discovered that it is often necessary for people to get mad before they can completely sever themselves, and that has happened in my family. I long for the day that my family can close its angry chapter and go to the next. That is the way that it is supposed to be: Our children are supposed to have their lives, and we are forced to have another. We know that, but still, we remember the fleeting moments that God loaned us our children, and we long.

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind…
The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
Is lovely yet….
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears….William Wordsworth
.

Jacki Kellum Garden May 2017

Although many mothers always long for the hours when their children were living in their homes, a wise mother will transition, too, and they will find another home where they will live into old age alone. I am thankful for the years that I was a parent, but I am also thankful for the ever-renewing well of life and for my ability to continually find a new life without my children nested around me. My garden has become my solace.

Jacki Kellum Garden Gate in 2015

“When the hornet hangs in the hollyhock, And the brown bee drones i’ the rose, And the west is a red-streaked four-o’clock, And summer is near its close It’s Oh, for the gate, and the locust lane; And dusk, and dew, and home again!” – Madison Cawein

August42015adj

Jacki Kellum Garden

“I divined and chose a distant place to dwell …
I pick leaves to thatch a hut among the pines
Scoop out a pond and lead a runnel from the spring
By now I am used to doing without the world
Picking ferns I pass the years that are left.” Han Shan

Jacki Kellum Garden

Yesterday, my friend shared a slightly bent version of an old Chinese proverb:

If you want to be happy for a night, get drunk.
If you want to be happy for a year, get married.
If you want to be happy for life, plant a garden.

10568906_10204503980742621_1513890752537767546_n (1)

Relatively speaking, our years on earth are few, and hours that we spend agonizing because we do not feel accepted or appreciated or loved are simply hours lost. Because living can become painful and toxic, we need an antidote and a place to heal. My garden is where I go to be restored, and even during the winter, nature is my solace. My sunroom overlooks my side courtyard, and my greatest winter joy is to sit by my fireplace, watching the birds dipping into my oasis for food and water. Anytime that I can sit alone in nature, I am truly home–the home that will carry me through life.

“I leant upon a coppice gate When Frost was spectre-gray, And Winter’s dregs made desolate The weakening eye of day The tangled bine-stems scored the sky Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh Had sought their household fires.” – Thomas Hardy

©Jacki Kellum June 9, 2017

Tender

Girl with a Pearl Earring – Painting by Johannes Vermeer – A Book and the Movie

Girl with a Pearl Earring – Painted in 1665 by Johannes Vermeer intrigues viewers in the 21st Century. Vermeer’s use of the color blue distinguished him from other painters during his time.

On October 22, 2017, a magnificent Vermeer exhibit is coming to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Here, and to prepare myself and others for that exhibit, I am leading a book club discussion of the book Girl with Pearl Earring during the month of September, 2017. The exhibit began at the Louvre and in June, it opens in Ireland. Although the exhibition does not include the painting Girl with A Pearl Earring, it does include 10 other of Vermeer’s pieces, which is about 1/3 of his total body of work.

Although the book Girl with A Pearl Earring, is fiction, it is credible, historical fiction and a worthy complement to an understanding of  the life of Vermeer.

The movie is well done, and the costumes and setting allow us to virtually enter Vermeer’s world. The movie Girl with a Pearl Earring was made from the book, which is about the subject of the Vermeer painting of the same name. Capturing 17th Century Holland and the rich still life of Vermeer’s work, the photography is excellent. A young peasant maid working in the house of painter Johannes Vermeer becomes his talented assistant and the model for one of his most famous works. Nominated for 3 Academy Awards.

©Jacki Kellum May 30, 2017

Traffic and Other Exhausting Problems with Living

No doubt, traffic is the worst thing about living in the Northeast, and the traffic in northeastern cities is unfathomable. To make matters worse, almost all of the city streets are one-way. When I am driving in the city, I am constantly circling the blocks, trying to find an arrow pointed in the direction that I want to go, and at least once per day, I make a mistake and pull into an alley or begin to edge down the wrong passage.

Image result for traffic on philadelphia street

When I finally get on the right street, I have to dodge the jaywalkers and then suddenly, without warning, some kook will stop and park–right in the middle of the street, and I am the car right behind him. Working myself out of that kind of buttonhole is definitely a challenge, and I have discovered that my life is filled with traffic, and I am continuously faced with the challenge of having to sort out my next best move.

Not long after I moved to the North, I accidentally got into the lines of traffic that were headed into the Holland Tunnel, and of course, that traffic only goes one way. I had driven to North Jersey to take my son to a camp, and I thought that I was headed back to South Jersey. I began to notice that the cars were moving slower and were edging closer and closer toward me. They had gotten uncomfortably close, and I realized that this was not the team huddle at the beginning of the football game. I sensed danger. I had never driven in New York City, and at that time, I hadn’t even driven much in Philadelphia. City traffic scared me to death. I reached a toll booth, and I am sure that fear was scrawled across my face and I timidly asked the lady at the booth, “Is this the way to Atlantic City?”

“Oh, No, Honey,” she chortled “This is the Holland Tunnel. You’re heading into New York City.”

I nearly cried. “Please, can you do anything to get me out of here?”

That saintly lady literally stopped the traffic and got me turned around. Just before I darted away, I explained, “I’m from Mississippi. We have cows, not cars,” and she laughed. The entire freeway rang with her laughter.

That was a close call, and unfortunately, I often find myself tangled in the webs of my own mistakes. The upside of this scenario, however, is that until now [knock on wood], I have always managed to survive. All of my life, I have heard that when cats fall, they always land on their feet. I never tested the theory, but I wonder if it is true, and I wonder whether this tidbit about cats is part of understanding a greater truth about life. Regardless of how wildly I spin through my own universe–regardless of how many times I flip and flail through the air–and regardless of how far I manage to fall, I always seem to land on my feet, too. When I finally learned to believe that things in life do tend to work out, I became calmer in simply living.

Worry is like a rocking chair. It requires a lot of work, and it gets you nowhere.

At times in my life, I have been a worrier. In fact, I still find myself being anxious too much of the time, but I am getting better. In my observation, worriers are afraid. While some people mask their emotions, I believe that beneath a control freak’s facade, there often lies a fear that at any moment, his entire world is going to implode.

Among other things, control freaks are perfectionists and are afraid of making mistakes, and because of that, they are terrified at the prospect of loosening the reins with which they control everything about themselves, including the people that surround them, and they tend to limit the amount of risks that they take.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

Years ago, I was more of a perfectionist and I was more concerned with control than I am now. Controlling is an exhausting lifestyle.  In fact, mere survival can be fatiguing.  At times, I become exhausted by the energy it takes to simply persevere. I’m not fond of the idea of shooting myself or slicing my wrists and slowly bleeding out, but there have been times that I have thought that just maybe it would be nice if I could go to sleep peacefully one night and simply not re-awaken. But I always come back to the realization that living–even if it is only surviving–is a good thing.

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” – Agatha Christie

The good news is that we don’t have to be perfect. Absolute control is not necessary. It is not even good. A little chaos is actually a better thing than absolute control. Because of my creative nature, I have never been completely in control. Einstein makes me feel better about my being chaotic.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign? ” – Einstein

The control freak would look down upon the creative’s chaos, thinking that the chaotic is weaker than he, the one in control. In reality, it is the creative [his chaos and all] who should question those who cannot function without absolute order. I wonder about the strength of a person who can only function in limited, controlled environments.

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein

While the orderly are excellent at attending to facts in their limited constructs, the creatives are the ones who invent those constructs. Without the inventiveness of the chaotic creative, the orderly businessman would have nothing to sell.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” – Albert Einstein

Inventing is a chaotic business.

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.” ― Mary Shelley

And inventing requires a process of free-fall during which ideas spin and twist and contort, and sometimes, the ideas finally land on their feet. Yet, sometimes, they do not. Hear me: that is ok. It is ok that some of our ideas work and that others do not. Fear of making mistakes causes a painter to quit painting and it causes writer’s block. The victor is the person who can re-examine what he has done, toss some things away, and save the better stuff to polish into a pearl. This is an artist’s life and it is a writer’s life. Embrace the challenge. Face the traffic within your own life, and let yourself flow.

©Jacki Kellum May 25, 2017

“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that is where I renew my springs that never dry up.” Pearl S. Buck

 

Survive

The Prince of Tides – Quotes with Page Numbers

From  Suzanne Wingo’s Poems

The Dedication:

Man wonders but God decides
When to kill the Prince of Tides.

Nature Writing in Prince of Tides

“I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton; my arms were tawny and strong from working long days on the shrimp boat in the blazing South Carolina heat. … I could pick a blue crab clean when I was five. I had killed my first deer by the age of seven, and at nine was regularly putting meat on my father’s table. I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders. As a boy I was happy above the channels, navigating a small boat between the sandbars with their quiet nation of oysters exposed on the brown flats at the low watermark. I knew every shrimper by name, and they knew me and sounded their horns when they passed me fishing in the river.” [p. 1]

“It was my mother who taught me the southern way of the spirit in its most delicate and intimate forms. My mother believed in the dreams of flowers and animals. Before we went to bed at night as small children, she would reveal to us in her storytelling voice that salmon dreamed of mountain passes and the brown faces of grizzlies hovering over clear rapids. Copperheads, she would say, dreamed of placing their fangs in the shinbones of hunters. Ospreys slept with their feathered, plummeting dreamselves screaming through deep, slow-motion dives toward herring. There were the brute wings of owls in the nightmares of ermine, the downwind approach of timber wolves in the night stillness of elk.

“But we never knew about her dreams, for my mother kept us strangers to her own interior life. We knew that bees dreamed of roses, that roses dreamed of the pale hands of florists, and that spiders dreamed of luna moths adhered to silver webs. As her children, we were the trustees of her dazzling evensongs of the imagination, but we did not now that mothers dreamed.

“Each day she would take us into the forest or garden and invent a name for any animal or flower we passed. A monarch became an ‘orchid-kissing blacklegs’; a field of daffodils in April turned into a ‘dance of the butter ladies bonneted.’ With her attentiveness, my mother could turn a walk around the island into a voyage of purest discovery. Her eyes were our keys to the palace of wildness.

. . .

“Melrose Island was a lozenge-shaped piece of land of twelve hundred acres surrounded on four sides by salt rivers and creeks. The island country where I grew up was a fertile, semitropical archipelago that gradually softened up the ocean for the grand surprise of the continent that followed. Melrose was only one of sixty sea islands in Colleton County. At the eastern edge of the county lay six barrier islands shaped by their daily encounters with the Atlantic. The other sea islands, like Melrose, enscarved by vast expanses of marshland, were the green sanctuaries where brown and white shrimp came to spawn in their given seasons. ” p. 2.

“I began to run down the beach. At first it was controlled, patient, but then I started to push myself, letting it out, until I was sprinting, breaking into a sweat, and gasping for air. If I could hurt the body, I would not notice the coming apart of the soul.

“As I ran, I considered the sad decline of flesh. I struggled o increase the speed and remembered how once I was the fastest quarterback in South Carolina. Blond and swift, I would come out of backfields with linemen thundering toward me in slow-footed ecstasy as I turned the corner and stepped toward the amazing noise of crowds, then lowered my head and dazzled myself with instinctive moves that lived in some fast, sweet place within me. But I never wept in high school games. Now I ran heavily, desperately, away from the wife who had taken a lover because I had failed her as lover, away from the sister too quick with blades, away from the mother who did not understand the awful history of mothers and sons. I was running away from the history, I thought–that bitter, outrageous slice of Americana that was my own failed life–or toward a new phase of that history..” p. 26

“It is an art form to hate New York City properly.

“My sister, Savannah, of course, matches my contempt with her own heroic yet perverse allegiance to New York. Even the muggers, drug addicts, winos, and bag ladies, those wounded, limping souls navigating their cheerless passages through the teeming millions, are a major part of the city’s ineffable charm for her.” p. 27

“‘People that like to read are always a little fucked up.’ … ‘Savannah’s living proof that writing poetry and reading books causes brain damage.’ p. 28

. . .

[In the book The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy illustrates how three siblings have reacted to something terrible that has happened to them. None of the children are dealing with their pain in a healthy way, and none of them are fully facing what has hurt them. Rather, all three of them have assumed a false persona–a facade that defines them. This facade has become associated with the roles that they play in the dynamics of their family].

Tom’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction [Tom Is the Character Associated with Pat Conroy]

“My designation in the family was normality. I was the balanced child drafted into the ranks for leadership, for coolness under fire, stability. ‘Solid as a rock,’ my mother would describe me to her friends, and I thought the description was perfect. I was courteous, bright, popular, and religious. I was the neutral country, the family Switzerland. I had been married for almost six years, had established my career as teacher and coach, and was living out my life as a mediocre man.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 43-44.

“But it was good to feel the tears try to break through. It was proof I was still alive inside, down deep, where the hurt lay bound and degraded n the cheap, bitter shell of my manhood. My manhood. How I loathed being a man, with its fierce responsibilities, its tally of ceaseless strength, its passionate and stupid bravado. How I hated strength and duty and steadfastness. … Strength was my gift, it was also my act, and I’m sure it’s what will end up killing me.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 46

Luke’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

” Luke had been offered the role of [p. 43] strength and simplicity. He had suffered under the terrible burden of being the least intellectual child. He had made a fetish out of his single-minded sense of justice and constancy. …he was the recipient of my father’s sudden furies, the hurt shepherd who drove the flock to safety before he turned to face the storm of my father’s wrath alone. … He had the soul of a fortress…

Savannah’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

“From earliest childhood, Savannah had been chosen to bear the weight of the family’s accumulated psychotic energy. Her luminous sensitivity left her open to the violence and disaffection of our household and we used her to store the bitterness of our mordant chronicle. …. Craziness attacks the softest eyes and gentlest flanks.

. . .

Luke chose to react the way that his mother had reacted and to totally deny that the tragedy had occurred. He pretended or he convinced himself that he had forgotten the incident entirely, but Tom remembers:

[Luke]”‘Mom told us it never happened.’

[Tom]”‘Mom also told us that Dad never beat us. She told us we’re descendants of southern aristocracy. She told us a million things that weren’t true, Luke.’

[Luke]”‘I don’t remember much about that day.’

“I grabbed my brother’s shoulder and pulled him toward me. I whispered brutally in his ear,  ‘I remember everything, Luke. I remember every single detail of that day and every single detail of our whole childhood.’

“‘You swore you would never mention that. We all did. It’s best to forget some things. It’s best to forget that.’

. . .

“‘We’ve pretended too much in our family, Luke, and hidden far too much. I think we’re all going to pay a high price for our inability to face the truth.’ ” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 42-43;

A failure to face the truth is not a solution to a problem. It damages people in a number of ways:

  1. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Numbness
  2. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Cynicism
  3. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Bitterness

[As the book Prince of Tides begins, Savannah has tried to commit suicide, and at first, it appears that a mutually shared wound has affected her more than it did her brothers who preferred not to deal with the issue. But upon further reading, we realize that Savannah is trying to cope through her writing].

[Tom] “‘I just think the truth is leaking out all over her.’ Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 42

[Luke] “‘She’s crazy because she writes.

[Tom] “‘She’s crazy because of what she has to write about.

. . .

[Luke] “‘She should write about what won’t hurt her, what won’t draw out the dogs.’

Tom] “‘She has to write about them, That’s where the poetry comes from. Without them, there’s no poetry.’” p. 43

From  Savannah’s Poems

[This passage describes writing and how words are working within Suzanne]

My navies advance through the language,
destroyers ablaze in high seas.
I soften the island for landings.
With words, I enlist a dark army.
My poems are my war with the world.

I blaze with a deep southern magic.
The bombardiers taxi at noon.
There is screaming and grief in the mansions
and the moon is a heron on fire. Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 47

Denial and Masked Words

[When Tom first meets with Dr. Lowenstein, he is cynical, in an angry sort of way.  Instead of answering Lowenstein’s questions, he makes jokes out of them].

“‘I cannot help your sister if you only answer my questions with jokes or riddles.'” p. 52

In the book The Prince of Tides, generations of Wingos had not listened to their inner warnings. For one reason or another, they had stuffed and suppressed their feelings, and the entire family was ill. Too often, families never move from their frozenness, their numbness, their cynicism, and their bitterness, and they refuse to listen to the reasons why they are angry and they do not allow the anger to move them to another, healing level. But by the end of chapter 3, Tom Wingo dared to take the next step:

“And then the pain summoned me. It came like a pillar of fire behind my eyes. It struck suddenly and hard

“In the perfect stillness, I shut my eyes and lay in the darkness and made a vow to change my life.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 63.

Chapter 4

In chapter 4, two stories twine around each other. While Tom and Savannah Wingo are being born during a South Carolina storm, their father is wounded in Germany. A German priest helps the father and brings him food. The father describes the food:

“Years later, my father would describe with undiminishable wonder the taste of that dark German bread, that slab of precious, hoarded butter smeared across that bread, and the red wine the priest gave him from the bottle. … all of us could taste it again with him, the wine spreading like velvet in our mouths, the bread, fragrant as earth, softening and melting on the tongue, the butter coating the roofs of our mouths….” p. 71

Healing Through Remembering

Chapter 5

[Tom begins to remember his past. Initially, he remembers to help explain Savannah’s problems, but gradually, he remembers as a means to help himself].

“After the first week, there came to be a shape and character to all those New York summer days–those introspective, confessional days when I spun out the history of y dispirited, sorrow-struck family to Savannah’s lovely psychiatrist whose job it was to repair the damage sustained by one member of that family.

“The story grew slowly and as it unfolded I began to feel an interior strength flicker into life. …and each day startled myself with some clear vision of memory I had repressed or forgotten. … Each memory led to another and another until my head blazed with small intricate geometries of illumination.” p. 84.

. . .

“In stillness, I started to keep a journal…. At first, I concentrated only on what was essential to Savannah’s story, but I kept returning to myself, able to tell the story only through y own eyes. I had no right or credibility to interpret the world through her eyes. The best I could do for my sister would be to tell my own story as honestly as I could.

. . .

“But first there had to be a time of renewal, time to master a fresh approach to self-scrutiny. I had lost nearly thirty-seven years to the image I carried of myself. I had ambushed myself by believing, to the letter, my parents’definition of me. They had defined me early on, coined me like a word they had translated on some mysterious hieroglyph, and I had spent my life coming to terms with that specious coinage. My parents had succeeded in making me a stranger to myself. … I allowed them to knead and shape me into the smooth lineaments of their non-pareil child. I adhered to the measurements of their vision. They whistled and I danced like a spaniel in their yard. They wanted a courteous boy and the old southern courtesies flowed out of me in a ceaseless flood. They longed for a stable twin, a pillar of sanity to balance the family structure after they realized Savannah was always going to be their secret shame, their unabsolvable crime. They [p.85]succeeded not only in making me normal but also in making me dull. … I longed for their approval, their applause, their pure uncomplicated love for me, and I looked for it years after I realized they were not even capable of letting me have it. … I needed to reconnect to something I had lost. Somewhere I had lost touch with the kind of man I had the potential of being. I needed to effect a reconciliation with that unborn man and try to coax him gently toward his maturity.

. . .

“I was not comfortable with anyone who was not disapproving of me. No matter how ardently I strove to attain their impossibly high standards for me, I could never do anything entirely right and so I grew accustomed to that climate of inevitable failure. I hated my other, so I got back at her by giving my wife her role. In Sallie, I had formed the woman who would be a subtle, more cunning version of my own mother. Like my mother, my wife had come to feel slightly ashamed of and disappointed in me.

. . .

“Though I hated my father, I expressed that hatred eloquently by imitating his life, by becoming more and more ineffectual daily, by ratifying all the cheerless prophecies my other made for both my father and me. I thought I had succeeded in not becoming a violent man, but even that belief collapsed: My violence was subterranean, unbeheld. It was my silence, my long withdrawals, that I had turned into dangerous things. My viciousness manifested itself in the terrible winter of blue eyes. My wounded stare could bring an ice age into the sunniest, balmiest afternoon. I was about to be thirty-seven years old, and with some aptitude and a little natural ability, I had figured out how to live a perfectly meaningless life, but one that could imperceptibly and inevitably destroy the lives of those around me.

“So I looked to this surprise summer of freedom as a last chance to [p. 86] take my full measure  man, a troubled interregnum before I ventured into the pitfalls and ceremonials of middle age, I wanted, by an act of conscious will, to make it a time of reckoning and, if I was lucky, a time of healing and reconstitution of an eclipsed spirit.

“Through the procedure of remembrance, I would try to heal myself, to gather up the strength I would need to manifest as I guided Dr. Lowenstein along the declivities and versants of the past.”  Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 84-87.

Callenwolde

“Behind the house, a large deciduous forest, circumvallated by a low stone fence, stretched al the way to Briarcliff Road. Thre were ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted along the fence at thousand-foot intervals. Our grandmother informed us in a breathless, conspiratorial voice that ‘very, very rich people’ lived in the property and that under no circumstances were we ever to cross the fence to play in those verboten woods. This was the Candler family, the heirs of Coca-Cola….

“But we would approach that fence after school each day, that deep-green perfumed realm forbidden to us, and smell the money coming through the trees. We longed to glimpse a single member of that noble and enchanted family. But we were children and soon we were climbing the fence and taking a few forbidden steps into the forest, often racing back to the safety of the stone wall. …Slowly , we began to demythologize the outlawed woods. Soon we knew the acreage of that forest better than any Candler ever had. We learned its secrets and boundaries, hid in its groves and arbors, and felt the old thrill of disobedience buoyant in young hearts gallant enough to ignore the strange laws of adults. Surrounded by trees, we hunted squirrels with slingshots, watched from the high branches of trees the lucky Candler children, looking serious and [p. 107] bored, cantering thoroughbreds down forest paths….

“The house was known as Callanwolde.

. . .

“We built a treehouse in one of Callanwolde’s extravagant oaks. … Quails called to us at dusk. A family of gray foxes lived beneath an uprooted cottonwood. We would come to the forest to remember who we were, what we had come from, and where we would be returning.

. . .

“It was early March and the dogwoods were just beginning to bloom. The whole earth shivered with the green tumult of ripening sun-soft days, and we were walking through the woods, looking for box turtles. [p. 108] Savannah saw him first. She froze and pointed at something ahead of us.

“He was standing beside a tree covered with poison sumac, relieving himself. He was the largest, most powerful man I had ever seen, and I had grown up with men of legendary strength who worked around the shrimp docks in Colleton. He grew out of the earth like some fantastic, grotesque tree. His body was thick, marvelous, and colossal. His eyes were blue and vacant. A red beard covered his face, but there was something wrong about him. It was the way he looked at us, far different from the way adults normally studied chidren, that altered us to danger. The three of us felt the menace in his disengaged stare. His eyes did not seem connected to anything human. He zipped up his pants and turned toward us. He was almost seven feet tall. We ran.

“We made it to the stone fence, clambered over it, and ran screaming into our back yard. When we reached the back porch, we saw him standing at the edge of the woods, observing us. The fence we had to climb over barely came to his waist. My mother came out of the back door when she heard our screams. We pointed toward the man in the woods.”  Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 107-109.

Grandpa Wingo – Character Development Through Memorabilia

“Savannnah was the first person who ever said aloud that Grandpa Wingo was crazy.

“But it was a sweet, uncomplicated craziness if that is what it was.” p. 130

“Along the back roads of the rural South, he carried one suitcase filed with his clothing and his barbering tools and another, larger one, brimming with Bibles of all shapes and sizes. The least expensive Bibles were small, black, and utilitarian, the size of children’s shoes. But their print was small and could induce myopia if read too fervently in bad light. He considered it his duty to push the showier lines. The Cadillac of Bibles was one of dyed, milky white Naugahyde with gold tassels to use as page markers. It was sumptuously illustrated by the Biblical paintings of ‘The Great Masters.’ But the crowing glory of this radiant voume was that the spoken words of Jesus of Nazareth were printed in vivid red ink. These most expensive Bibles were invariably snatced up by the poorest families, who purchased them on a generous time-payment plan. In my grandfather’s wake, poor Christians would often have to make the difficult choice between paying the monthly tariff for their flashy white Bible or putting food on their table. ,,. he would never bring himself to repossess a Bible once he had filled out for free the family chronology in the Middle of the book. He believed that no family could feel truly secure or American until they were all named up in a decent Bible where Jesus spoke in red.

. . .

“As a salesman of Bibles, my grandmother became something of a legend in the small-town South. He would hit a mill village or a crossroads town and start going door to door. If a family was no in need of a Bible, then someone in that family was probably in need of a haircut. He would cut a whole family of hair at a group rate. … He spoke of the life of Christ above the razor’s hum and the dense clouds of talcum as he brushed the falling hair fro the necks of squirming boys and girls.” p. 131.

Inherited Family Dysfunction

[Note: Grandpa Wingo’s wife had abandoned her husband and child when the boy was young. She returned years later, but Tom Wingo’s father was raised by a single father, the traveling salesman Grandpa Wingo]

“But as a traveling salesman whose territory covered five southern states, my grandfather often left my father in the lackadaisical. inconsistent care of maids, cousins, maiden aunts, or whomever Amos could rustle up to care for his son. For very different reasons, neither of my grandparents ever got around to the fundamental business of raising their one child. There was something unsponsored, even unreconcilable, about my father’s quarrel with the world. His childhood had been a sanctioned debacle of neglect, and y grandparents were the pale, unindictable executors of my father’s violations against his own children.

“My grandparents were like two mismatched children and their house retained some flavor of both sanctuary and kindergarten for me. When they spoke to each other it was with the deepest civility. There were no real conversations between them; no light, bantering moments, no hints of flirtation, no exchange of gossip. They never seemed to be living together, even after my grandmother’s return. Nothing human interfered with their unexplained affection for each other. I studied their relationship with something approaching awe because I could not figure out what made it work. I felt love between these two people but it was a love without flame or passion. There were no rancors or fevers, no risings or ebbings of the spirit to chart, just a marriage without weather, a stillness, a resignation, just windless days in the Gulf Stream of their quiet aging.

. . .

“I never heard Toalitha or Amos raise their voice. They never spanked us and were almost apologetic when they corrected us in the slightest way. Yet the had created the man who fathered me, who beat me, who beat my mother, who beat my brother and sister, and I could find no explanation or clue in my grandparents’ house. … My mother forbade us to tell anyone outside the family that my father hit any of us. She put the highest premium on what [p. 132] she called ‘family loyalty’ and would tolerate no behavior that struck her as betrayal or sedition. We were not allowed to criticize our father or to complain about his treatment of us. He knocked my brother Luke unconscious three times before Luke was ten. Luke was always the first target, the face he turned to always. My mother was usually hit when she tried to intervene on uke’s behalf. Savannah and I were struck when we tried to pull him off my mother. A cycle was born, accidental and deadly.

“I lived out my childhood thinking my father would one day kill me

“But I dwelt in a world where nothing was explained to children except the supremacy of the concept of loyalty.

“I learned from my mother that loyalty was the pretty face one wore when you based your whole life on a series of egregious lies.

“…I had prayed for God to destroy him….My prayers buried him up o his neck in the marsh flats as I prayed to the moon to make the ocean surge over him, watched the crabs swarm over his face, going for his eyes I learned t kill with my prayers, learned to hate when I should have been praising God. … Whenever I killed a deer, it was my father’s face beneath the rack of horns; it was my father’s heart I cut out and held aloft to the trees; it was my father’s body I strung up and emptied of viscera. I turned myself into something heinous, a crime against nature, … My mother taught us that it was the highest form of loyalty to [p. 133] cover our wounds and smile at the blood we saw in our mirrors,” p. 134

. . .

“If your parents disapprove of you and are cunning with their disapproval, there will never come a new dawn when you can become convinced of your own value. There is no fixing a damaged childhood. The best you can hope for is to make the sucker float. p. 134.

Pat Conroy on New York City

“It is  an art form to hate New York City properly. So far I have always been a featherweight debunker of New York; it takes too much energy and endurance to record the infinite number of ways the city offends me. Were I to list them all, I would full up a book the size of the Manhattan yellow pages, and that would merely the prologue. Every time I submit myself to the snubs and indignities of that swaggering city and set myself adrift among the prodigious crowds, a feeling of displacement, profound and enervating, takes me over, killing all the coded cells of my hard-won singularity. The city marks my soul with a most profane, indelible graffiti. There is too much of too much there. On every visit I find myself standing on the piers, watching the splendid Hudson River flooding by and the noise of the city to my back, and I know what no New Yorker I’ve ever met knows: that this island was once surrounded by deep, extraordinary marshes and estuaries, that an entire complex civilization of a salt marsh lies buried beneath the stone avenues. I do not like cities that dishonor their own marshes.

“My sister, Savannah, of course matches my contempt with her own heroic yet perverse allegiance to New York. Even the muggers, drug addicts, winos, and bag ladies, those wounded, limping souls navigating their cheerless passages through the teeming millions, are a major part of the city’s ineffable charm for her. It is these damaged birds of paradise, burnt out and sneaking past the mean alleys, that define the city’s most extreme limits for her. She finds beauty in these extremities. She carries in her breast an unshakable fealty to all these damaged veterans who survive New York on the fringes, lawless and without hope, gifted in the black arts. They are the city’s theater for her. She has written about them in her poetry; she has learned some of the black arts herself and knows well their ruined acreage.” p. 27

“Savannah knew she wanted to be a New Yorker long before she knew she wanted to write poetry. She was one of those southerners who were aware from an early age that the South could never be more for them than a fragrant prison administered by a collective of loving but treacherous relatives.” p. 28

. . . .

“It was not until my second week in the city that I developed the first unmistakable symptoms of the New York willies. I always felt an ineluctable guilt when I was just taking it easy in New York when all those grand museums, libraries, plays, concerts, and that whole vast infinitude of cultural opportunities beckoned me with promises of enrichment. I began to have trouble sleeping and felt as if I should be reading the complete works of Proust or learning a foreign language or rolling out my own pasta or taking a course at the New School on the history of film. The city always stimulated some long-dormant gland of self-improvement when I crossed her rivers. I would never feel good enough for New York, but I would always feel better if I was at least taking steps to measure up to her eminent standards.

“When I couldn’t sleep, when the noise of postmidnight traffic proved too dissonant or the past rose up like a pillaged city in the displaced instancy of dreaming, I would rise out of my sister’s bed and dress in the darkness. On my first morning in New York, I had tried to jog to Brooklyn but had only made it to the Bowery, where I stepped over the recumbent shapes of malodorous bums who slept in the vestibules of lamp shops on a street overripe with sconces and chandeliers. ” p. 135

Catholics in the South

“Until 1953 my family were the only Catholics in the town of Colleton. My father’s wartime conversion, the one radical act of the spirit in his lifetime, was a perilous and invigorating voyage on weedy, doctrinal seas. My mother accepted her own conversion without a word of protest. … And such was the nature of my mother’s naivetè that she thought her conversion to Catholicism would mean an automatic rise in her social prestige. She would learn, slowly and painfully, [p. 142] that there is nothing stranger or more alien in the American South than a Roman Catholic.

. . .

“But though the feasted on that succulent corpus of dogma whole hog, they they remained hard-shell Baptists masquerading under the veils and gauderies of an overripe theology.” p. 143

Motherhood – The Tear

It’s one of the things that we don’t talk about, but there are many of us adult children who habitually avoid visiting our aging mothers. The operative word is children here because until this problem is resolved, we children, regardless of our ages, will never grow up.

Does this conversation from The Prince of Tides ring your bell?

” ‘It’s your mother, ‘ Sallie said, returning from the phone.

‘Please tell her I’m dead,’ I pleaded. ‘Please tell her I died last week and you’ve been too busy to call.’

‘Please speak to her. She says it’s urgent.”

‘She always says it’s urgent. It’s never urgent when she says it’s urgent

. . .

‘I hate my mother, Sallie…. p, 10

. . .

” ‘Jennifer said, ‘Why don’t you like Grandma, Dad?’

‘Who says I don’t like Grandma?’

“Lucy added, ‘Yeah, Dad, why do you always scream out, ‘I’m not here’ when she calls on the phone?’

‘It’s a protective device, sweetheart. Do you know how a blowfish puffs up when there’s danger? Well, it’s the same thing when Grandma calls. I puff up and shout that I’m not here. It would work great except that your mother always betrays me.’

‘Why don’t you want her to know you’re here, Daddy? Chandler asked.

‘Because then I have to talk to her. And when I talk to her it reminds me of being a child and I hated my childhood.’ p. 13

. . .

‘At this very moment my mother is crossing the Shem Creek bridge. No birds sing on the planet when my mother is on her way.

. . .

‘My God, I wonder what she wants, She only comes here when she can ruin my life in some small way. She’s a tactician of the ruined life. She could give seminars on the subject. … When my family has bad news, It’s always something grisly, Biblical, lifted straight out of the Book of Job.’ p. 14

. . .

‘Friendship and motherhood are not compatible.

‘…here’s Mom. Could you tie some garlic around my throat and bring me a crucifix?

. . .

“My mother appeared in the doorway, immaculately dressed and groomed, and her perfume walked out on the porch several moments before she did. My mother always carried herself as if she were approaching the inner chamber of the queen. She was as finely made as a yacht–clean lines, efficient, expensive.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides,  p. 16

[As Pat Conroy continues to develop the character of Tom Wingo’s mother, motherhood, shame, and anger become intermeshed.]

“I was not comfortable with anyone who was not disapproving of me. No matter how ardently I strove to attain their impossibly high standards for me, I could never do anything entirely right and so I grew accustomed to that climate of inevitable failure. I hated my other, so I got back at her by giving my wife her role. In Sallie, I had formed the woman who would be a subtle, more cunning version of my own mother. Like my mother, my wife had come to feel slightly ashamed of and disappointed in me.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 86.

[In reading more of the book The Prince of Tides, we discover that the Wingo family’s dysfunction did not begin with Tom’s generation of kids. Tom and his siblings were born into a dysfunctional family that extended several generations back–possibly back to the beginning of time.]

Because of her own insecurity, Tom’s mother had shamed her children into silence about things that did not cast the family in a favorable light. The Wingo father was a wife and child beater, and the children were forced into silence about the physical abuse in their homes.

Most of us were not physically abused, but through the rough and tumble process of growing up, most of us were hurt by something that our parents did or said or about what we came to believe that they did or said. Because of our own fragile egos, we may have exaggerated some of our slights. Our parent may have said one thing, and because of our own frailties, we may have heard another, and because we didn’t want to continue to hear what we didn’t want to hear, we may have erected a wall, and that launched a multitude of problems.

Mothers seem to bear the brunt of the blame for saying or doing things that kids perceive as having damaged them. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that mothers do not make mistakes. I am not saying that mothers do not say the wrong things and do the wrong things. As a mother, I have made mistakes and my own mother has also made mistakes, but I am acknowleding the reality that mothers are human.

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
Alexander Pope

While adult children are willing to forgive almost anyone in the world for almost anything that they have done, we find it difficult to forgive our mothers–the people who, in most cases, did everything that they possibly could do to be good moms. If we consider the irrationality of the degree of our anger and our acting out against our mothers, we may begin to understand that our inabilities to forgive our mothers may have more to do with our own weaknesses than it has to do with the misdeeds of our moms.

“There is no hospitality like understanding.”
― Vanna Bonta, Flight: A Quantum Fiction Novel

We consider ourselves to be a  hospitable bunch of people. We are good at being hospitable with perfect strangers, but we hesitate when it is time to be hospitable with those who have loved us as much as they humanly could have loved.

Hospitality is the act of opening our homes and our hearts and allowing others to enter. I believe that hospitality stems from understanding and from empathy. Until we are able to view our mothers as humans who had problems of their own and who did the best that they could with what life dealt them, we will never become hospitable toward them.

“You’re busy. You don’t have the skill set. Their problems are too much. Their life is a mess.
Your life is a mess. You’re too impatient. You’re not kind enough. You don’t even like them.
You have nothing to offer. What does it really matter?
Turns out, in the end, it’s all that really matters.”
― Edie Wadsworth

If we could simply shut out our mothers and close the doors of our pasts and walk away, it might be okay. It wouldn’t be kind and it would be dreadfully unappreciative, but it might be okay if we could completely remove ourselves from our families. but none of us can do that. We might convince ourselves that we are fine about divorcing ourselves. We might sufficiently harden our hearts enough that we feel nothing at all about it, but does anyone really want a hardened heart? We might become completely narcissistic and only care about ourselves. Whoa! Is that a good thing?

The truth is that there is no healthy way to eliminate our mothers, and until we quit trying to do that, we will be trapped in hamster cages, spinning the go-nowhere wheels of our own making.

“If you’re busy blaming your mother or wishing you could “divorce” her, you are caught in a psychological prison. You can’t get free, and you can’t really grow up. There are practical problems. For example, you dread family parties: Your mother might not like what you’re wearing. Or she might love what you’re wearing and say to everyone, “Doesn’t my daughter look gorgeous?!”—and you’d be mortified.

“That kind of practical problem is a symptom of the fact that mother-blame limits your freedom: you can’t be an adult who freely considers all of life’s possibilities. You restrict yourself to certain activities, interests, and friends to prove how different from Mother you are. You can’t look honestly at who you are, because you might discover ways that you are like her! Frantic to avoid what you consider her failures, you overreact, throwing out the good with the bad: you grow tough because you think she’s sentimental, or you become a doormat because she wasn’t warm enough. All that reaction against her, that desperate drive to prove your difference, restricts and damages your relationships with the other people you love—your mate, your children, your other relatives, and your friends. You offer them only a part of your true self, a caricature.” Caplan, Paula. The New Don’t Blame Mother

My children are mad at me, and I suffer from their anger every day. I grew up longing for the day that I would be a mother. When I was a child, I never wanted fashion dolls or any kind of pretty dolls. I only wanted baby dolls, and I wanted diapers and Johnson’s Baby Powder to sprinkle on their bottoms. When I was a little girl, I had play baby bottles and warm blankets to draw my babies near to me to protect them from the cold. I couldn’t wait to be a real mother, and I never dreamed that my real children would ever be mad at me.

One of my children called me to wish me Happy Mother’s Day. I had not seen that son for five years and I had only talked to him once in that time. I could have elected to pout and not to receive his call, or I could have elected to welcome any amount of attention that he felt he could spare me. I chose the latter. I cherish the fact that he called. Because he had moved to a different state and had a new cell phone, I didn’t know how to reach him. My son’s call was the first step toward tearing down a wall. My sons live over 1,000 miles away from me. They live 8 hours away from each other, but they are both living in the South, and I told both of my sons to expect me this summer. I am returning to my own roots in the South, and I want us to have an old-fashioned family reunion. There is something about breaking bread and drinking that is ceremonial and healing. Fried chicken, deviled eggs, and potato salad. There could be no better way to commune.

I hurt for my wounded family, and one of my greatest wishes is that we will be healed. I never saw it coming, but I have learned that there is more to motherhood than holding babies and powdering them and caressing them. There is also a time for giving them a healthy amount of space, and there is pain. Years ago, Erma Bombeck wrote a touching piece that tells the story of God’s creation of Mothers. It is titled When God Created Mothers. For me, the title should be Motherhood – The Tear

©Jacki Kellum May 14, 2017 Happy Mother’s Day

“When God Created Mothers”
by Erma Bombeck

When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of “overtime” when the angel appeared and said. “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And God said, “Have you read the specs on this order?” She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 moveable parts…all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair. And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said. “Six pairs of hands…. no way.”

It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” God remarked, “it’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel. God nodded.

One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say. ‘I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

God,” said the angel touching his sleeve gently, “Get some rest tomorrow….”

I can’t,” said God, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick…can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger…and can get a nine year old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

But tough!” said God excitedly. “You can imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

Can it think?”

Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek.

There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model.”

It’s not a leak,” said the Lord, “It’s a tear.”

What’s it for?”

It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

You are a genius, ” said the angel.

Somberly, God said, “I didn’t put it there.”
― Erma Bombeck, When God Created Mothers

Hospitality

 

There Is No Final Word – We Must Continually Process & Re-evaluate

Minds Are Like Parachutes. They Work Better
When They Are Open

In the arts communities, Process is valued over Product. In other words, a working, living, flexible state of creating is favored over something that was only considered once, made, and never reconsidered.

File:Process-Logo.svg

A Closed Mind is a Product. It is a withering vessel that allows precious little in or out. It is comprised of boxes that are only filled once and afterwards are locked and abandoned.

Many things cause people to close their minds. I believe that fear is one of the factors. People who are afraid of the unknown–who are afraid of change–have a tendency to restrict the amount of data that they process.

Hurriedness is another reason that people close their minds. We live in an age of multi-tasking. The people who do the most, multi-task to do so. Multi-taskers are prone to review a matter once, make a decision, shut that door, and move on. While that might be a quick way to get things done, I feel sure that multi-taskers make many mistakes. I often question my own decisions that I made in haste, and upon further contemplation, I often discover that my hasty decisions require a second thought.

File:Learning process and quality standards.png

A more effective practice requires continued thinking on a matter and continual reflection. An open-minded person would revisit one’s plan time and again, and he would check and balance his behavior. Anything less is like working with blinders on. It is a fast trip to denial, where a person attempts to function with partial information. I have written several posts about denial, and I believe that anger is a cause of denial–and likewise, a reason for closing one’s mind.

When we get mad, we have a tendency to stop listening, and when we stop listening, we lose empathy, and we end our thought processes. The person in denial has the tendency to slam the door on any further consideration. Then, he throws away the key, and he never looks back again.

Healthy people can become frustrated and angry. In her book the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says that Anger can actually be a good and helpful thing. The key is that of not making it the final response. Anger should lead us to another, healthier behavior.

“Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and lets us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the way….” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 62.

. . .

“Anger is the firestorm that signals the death of our old life . Anger is the fuel that propels us into our new one. Anger is a tool, not a master. Anger is meant to be tapped into and drawn upon. Used properly anger is use-full.

“Sloth, apathy, and despair are the enemy. Anger is not. Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. …It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us that it is time to act in our own best interests.

“Anger is not the action itself. It is the action’s invitation.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 62-63.

Unhealthy people elect to remain stuck in anger. If a person who is stuck in anger is prone to denial, he may no longer realize that he has become stuck. Especially when anger and failed relationships are in play, I believe second or third or fifth or tenth thoughts are worthwhile. Before we throw people away, we should examine our behaviors and scrutinize them. Forgiveness may be in order. Our states of denial may be preventing us from recognizing our needs for forgiveness.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ― Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections

For whatever reason, a closed mind is a sad or even a dangerous thing.

Minds Are Like Parachutes. They Work Better When They Are Open!

In life and in art, process is better than product. If there is a final word, it is that there is NO final word. We never move beyond our needs to process and re-evaluate.

©Jacki Kellum May 13, 2017

Final

The Inability to Face the Truth and How Writing Heals – Passage from Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides

In the book The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy illustrates how three siblings have reacted to something terrible that has happened to them. None of the children are dealing with their pain in a healthy way, and none of them are fully facing what has hurt them. Rather, all three of them have assumed a false persona–a facade that defines them. This facade has become associated with the roles that they play in the dynamics of their family.

Tom’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction [Tom Is the Character Associated with Pat Conroy]

“My designation in the family was normality. I was the balanced child drafted into the ranks for leadership, for coolness under fire, stability. ‘Solid as a rock,’ my mother would describe me to her friends, and I thought the description was perfect. I was courteous, bright, popular, and religious. I was the neutral country, the family Switzerland. I had been married for almost six years, had established my career as teacher and coach, and was living out my life as a mediocre man.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 43-44.

“But it was good to feel the tears try to break through. It was proof I was still alive inside, down deep, where the hurt lay bound and degraded n the cheap, bitter shell of my manhood. My manhood. How I loathed being a man, with its fierce responsibilities, its tally of ceaseless strength, its passionate and stupid bravado. How I hated strength and duty and steadfastness. … Strength was my gift, it was also my act, and I’m sure it’s what will end up killing me.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 46

Luke’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

” Luke had been offered the role of [p. 43] strength and simplicity. He had suffered under the terrible burden of being the least intellectual child. He had made a fetish out of his single-minded sense of justice and constancy. …he was the recipient of my father’s sudden furies, the hurt shepherd who drove the flock to safety before he turned to face the storm of my father’s wrath alone. … He had the soul of a fortress…

Savannah’s Role in the Family’s Dysfunction

“From earliest childhood, Savannah had been chosen to bear the weight of the family’s accumulated psychotic energy. Her luminous sensitivity left her open to the violence and disaffection of our household and we used her to store the bitterness of our mordant chronicle. …. Craziness attacks the softest eyes and gentlest flanks.

. . .

Luke chose to react the way that his mother had reacted and to totally deny that the tragedy had occurred. He pretended or he convinced himself that he had forgotten the incident entirely, but Tom remembers:

[Luke]”‘Mom told us it never happened.’

[Tom]”‘Mom also told us that Dad never beat us. She told us we’re descendants of southern aristocracy. She told us a million things that weren’t true, Luke.’

[Luke]”‘I don’t remember much about that day.’

“I grabbed my brother’s shoulder and pulled him toward me. I whispered brutally in his ear,  ‘I remember everything, Luke. I remember every single detail of that day and every single detail of our whole childhood.’

“‘You swore you would never mention that. We all did. It’s best to forget some things. It’s best to forget that.’

. . .

“‘We’ve pretended too much in our family, Luke, and hidden far too much. I think we’re all going to pay a high price for our inability to face the truth.’ ” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, pgs. 42-43;

A failure to face the truth is not a solution to a problem. It damages people in a number of ways:

  1. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Numbness
  2. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Cynicism
  3. Ignoring the Truth Can Result in Bitterness

As the book Prince of Tides begins, Savannah has tried to commit suicide, and at first, it appears that a mutually shared wound has affected her more than it did her brothers who preferred not to deal with the issue. But upon further reading, we realize that Savannah is trying to cope through her writing.

[Tom] “‘I just think the truth is leaking out all over her.’ Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 42

[Luke] “‘She’s crazy because she writes.

[Tom] “‘She’s crazy because of what she has to write about.

. . .

[Luke] “‘She should write about what won’t hurt her, what won’t draw out the dogs.’

Tom] “‘She has to write about them, That’s where the poetry comes from. Without them, there’s no poetry.'” p. 43

From  Savannah’s Poems

[This passage describes writing and how words are working within Suzanne]

My navies advance through the language,
destroyers ablaze in high seas.
I soften the island for landings.
With words, I enlist a dark army.
My poems are my war with the world.

I blaze with a deep southern magic.
The bombardiers taxi at noon.
There is screaming and grief in the mansions
and the moon is a heron on fire. Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 47

Dr. Roberta Temes is a psychologist who has written about the power of writing to heal:

“Translating your feelings into words brings you amazing results. All you need to do is write about important life events. Write with feeling. Write with truth. Write about significant experiences, good and bad, and then write about your emotional responses to those experiences. You will benefit both physically and emotionally; it’s been proven that constructing your story is an exercise in healing.”

“Research tells us that the health benefits of writing about your life may include:

1, Improving Your Immune System.Studies have shown that your grades could improve if you are a student; and your number of sick days could be reduced if you are a worker; asthma sufferers have fewer attacks and AIDS patients have higher T-cell counts. These advantages occur as a result of investigating your past and then putting your thoughts into words. Your immune system becomes stronger when unresolved, previously unexplored incidents are revealed.
2. Reducing Your Anxiety Levels. When you write, you expose the truth. Telling the truth extinguishes the emotional burden of secrecy; keeping a secret uses up valuable energy. When you put your emotional distress into words it is no longer wandering through your mind causing worry, tension, insomnia, and other disturbances.
3. Eliminating Your Obsessions. Obsessions may be caused by unanswered questions. When your mind is busy asking ‘why,’ your focus becomes restricted to that one subject. Structuring past events into a coherent story permits you to manage your feelings about those events and eventually store them away — obsessions will diminish and then disappear. If there are traumas in your past please know that the emotional fallout from trauma is distress and distress can be alleviated by writing about the trauma and about your response to it. When you write, you safely summarize, organize and then explain your past. Forming that narrative calms your complicated sensitive memories.
It takes a few weeks after writing your story to get the full beneficial effect. Your mind needs time to absorb it all and reconfigure.”

I am currently reading The Prince of Tides and preparing for a book club, and as I have glanced at the WordPress Daily Prompts for the past three days, I have thought about how each of the prompts relates to what I am reading and thinking about what I am reading. Yesterday, the prompt was “Exposed,” and I thought about the fact that many of the Wingo family problems stem from the fact that the members of the family will not expose themselves. Most of the family members want to hide their problems from the world, but worst than that, they want to hide their problems from themselves.

Exposed

Today’s prompt is “Bitter,” and as I pointed out before, bitterness is often a result of our failures to deal with our problems.

Bitter

Three days ago, the writing prompt was “Better,” and by the end of Chapter 3 of Prince of Tides, Tom Wingo had begun to acknowledge some of the truths of his life. He had begun to expose himself and his family and he had dared to risk so that he might achieve what could only be achieved by that exposure–so that he could get better.

Better

Most people realize that Pat Conroy is Tom Wingo in the book Prince of Tides, but like the book character Savannah, the real Pat Conroy is also a person who strives to heal his own personal and family problems through his writing. The Prince of Tides is a highly autobiographical work for Pat Conroy. it is a chronicle of his family’s pain, and Prince of Tides is only one book through which Pat Conroy expresses his pain and his family’s dysfunction.

When Tom Wingo first met his sister’s psychiatrist, he was immediately cynical:

Dr. Lowenstein: ‘Has she ever attempted suicide before?’

Tom: ‘Yes. On two other bright and happy occasions.

Dr. Lowenstein: ‘Why do you say “bright and happy?”

Tom: ‘I was being cynical. I’m sorry. It’s a family habit I’ve fallen prey to.’ Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 48

Anger followed Tom’s cynicism:

Dr. Lowenstein: “‘There are some background questions I need to ask if we’re going to help Savannah. And I’m sure we want to help Savannah, don’t we?’

“‘Not if you continue to talk to me in that unbearably supercilious tone, Doctor, as though I were some gaudy chimp your’e trying to teach to type. And not until you tell me where my goddamn sister is,’ I said, sitting on my hands to stop their visible trembling. The coffee and the headache intermingled and the faraway music [on the intercom] scratched along my eardrum like a nail.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 48

As part of society, we have been trained to believe that anger is a bad thing–a thing to be avoided, but in her book the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron explains that in some instances, anger can be beneficial [if we listen to what our anger is suggesting that we do]:

“Anger is fuel. We feel and and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit, smash a fist into the wall, tell those bastards. But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it. like about it, medicate it, muffle it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it.

“Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and lets us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the way….” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 62.

. . .

“Anger is the firestorm that signals the death of our old life . Anger is the fuel that propels us into our new one. Anger is a tool, not a master. Anger is meant to be tapped into and drawn upon. Used properly anger is use-full.

“Sloth, apathy, and despair are the enemy. Anger is not. Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. …It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us that it is time to act in our own best interests.

“Anger is not the action itself. It is the action’s invitation.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 62-63.

In the book The Prince of Tides, generations of Wingos had not listened to their inner warnings. For one reason or another, they had stuffed and suppressed their feelings, and the entire family was ill. Too often, families never move from their frozenness, their numbness, their cynicism, and their bitterness, and they refuse to listen to the reasons why they are angry and they do not allow the anger to move them to another, healing level. But by the end of chapter 3, Tom Wingo dared to take the next step:

“And then the pain summoned me. It came like a pillar of fire behind my eyes. It struck suddenly and hard

“In the perfect stillness, I shut my eyes and lay in the darkness and ade a vow to change my life.” Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides, p. 63.

©Jacki Kellum May 8, 2017

John Singer Sargent’s Luminous Watercolors and Winslow Homer’s Painted Stories – A Discussion of the Exhibition American Watercolor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

On May 6, 2017, I went to Philadelphia to experience the exhibit: American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent, and I was reminded how very important it is to take advantage of seeing art first-hand, as opposed to relying on reproductions of it either online or in books.

I bought the official exhibition book while I was at the exhibition, but I bought the book for what it said about the paintings and not for an accurate record of how the paintings look. I have learned that paintings are difficult to reproduce and that books rarely manage the task successfully.

Colors rarely translate well in art books, photographs, and online, and although I have seen reproductions of John Singer Sargent’s  Spanish Fountain many times before, I have never been quite sure whether the painting was done in warm tones, as above, or cool tones, as below:

Spanish Fountain was in the exhibition American Watercolor, and now that I have actually seen the painting, I know that it is painted in warm hues and that it is more like the top reproduction than the second, but neither of the above images does Sargent’s Spanish Fountain justice.

John Singer Sargent’s handling of light in his watercolors borders on magic. You cannot detect it in either of the above reproductions, but Sargent also suggests more detail in the faces of the cherubs than the reproductions depict. I have always liked Singer’s work, but until I saw his actual paintings, I never fully experienced them. Now that I have actually seen Sargent’s watercolors, my appreciation of Sargent has moved to another level.

Tent in the Rockies – John Singer Sargent

Reproductions of Sargent’sTent in the Rockies suggest something of the artist’s masterful use of transparent watercolor, but the reproductions do not nearly capture the luminosity of paintings like Tent in the Rockies. When Sargent captures the quality of anything white, he infuses the exposed white watercolor paper [the part that he does not paint at all] with whispers of delicate shades of yellow ochre, blue, and burnt sienna. Because of the luminosity that he captures, his predominantly white paintings, like Tent in the Rockies, scream from their places on the wall.

In the reproductions of Tent in the Rockies, you see nothing of the bits of color that Sargent masterfully lays to suggest the tent’s birch tree poles, and you do not fully realize that the artist only suggested the gear inside the tent with nothing more than a few dabs of perfectly-placed color. Even when seen in person, the gear inside the tent has no detail at all; yet, a viewer’s eyes speculate into form from the suggestions that they see in the pools of color.

Diamond Shoal – Winslow Homer

Many times, I have seen reproductions of Winslow Homer’s painting Diamond Shoal, and I had always believed that this would be a large painting. The imagery is large and robust and expansive, but when I saw Diamond Shoal in the Museum, I was amazed at how very dwarfed the painting seems in a museum setting. Diamond Shoal measures 13.5″ x 21.75″ but in a museum setting, it seems to be about 8″ x 10.”

Boy Fishing – Winslow Homer

The Exhibition American Watercolor asks the viewer the question: which painter do you prefer–Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent? While I love most of Homer’s paintings, I aspire toward Sargent’s mastery of paint.

In the 21st Century, Winslow Homer’s paintings–especially those containing human figures–are nostalgic. They recall a slower time in history, but few of Homer’s paintings have  the degree of luminosity that Sargent captures.

Garden in Nassau – Winslow Homer

In my opinion, Homer’s painting Garden in Nassau is one of his most luminous, and because of the way that the child is looking wistfully at the coconuts on the other side of the wall, it is also nostalgic. Winslow Homer was more than a painter of scenes, he was a storyteller, and the viewer experiences a story through Homer’s painting Garden in Nassau.

There is also an element of storytelling in Sargent’s Tent in the Rockies. When we see the suggestion of the gear inside the tent, we begin to imagine a story, and the painting Muddy Alligators suggests a bit of a story.

Muddy Alligators – John Singer Sargent

But the strength of Sargent’s work has nothing to do with his story. John Singer Sargent is an inspired painter of light. The exhibition American Watercolor had two full rooms of watercolors that looked like oils and egg tempera paintings. They were painted opaquely and every inch of the paper of those paintings was smothered in paint. I had to force myself to look closely at all of those “watercolors?,” but Sargent’s paintings were saved for last. They were the dessert of the show–the after-dinner liqueur, and the cream that had risen to the top.

Detail Muddy Alligators

If you look closely at the detail of Sargent’s Muddy Alligators, you will see that the alligator on the bottom right has two tiny dots of white that seem to be the glints from two teeth. I may be wrong but those two infinitesimal dots of white seem to be the only bits of opaque paint on Sargent’s Muddy Alligators, and I am glad that he painted these two dots opaquely. Although tiny in size, these two tiny spots see to anchor and bring focus to what is happening in the rest of the painting. They draw the viewer’s eye to the very bottom of the image, but Sargent’s true strength lies in his use of exposed paper and his transparent glazes of color. The tiny slashes of white on the teeth are examples of Sargent’s bravura, which is fully realized in some of his best oil paintings, which were not on ehibition in the American Watercolor Show.

define bravura

When an artist paints with bravura, his brush strokes have an energy all their own and segments of a painting can be enjoyed simply because of the way that they are painted, irrespective of the subject matter of the painting.

John Singer Sargent – Detail of a Portrait

John Singer Sargent was one of the most famous portrait painters in history. He was commissioned to paint many famous and wealthy people; therefore, he did have an ability to capture a likeness. Yet, he did not press all of the energy from his work to do so. In the above painting, look at Sargent’s brush strokes in painting the girl’s pinafore. 

John Singer Sargent – Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882

When viewed from a distance, the viewer’s eyes pull the strokes together, but upon closer observation, one becomes aware of Sargent’s energy and his absolute joy in painting. Sargent’s work is alive. From a distance, we can see that the youngest daughter is holding her doll, but up close, there appears to be no doll at all. The youngest child is actually just holding slashes of paint.

Here is another portrait by John Singer Sargent. Notice how the stripes of white dance across the page. Contrast the slabs of color in the hair to the softness of the girl’s face. Sargent painted with bravura only where he could do so and not sacrifice the delicacy that was needed in other spots. I must believe that Sargent’s ability to paint white in oil was enhanced by what he had discovered from painting white in watercolor.

 Group with a Parasol – John Singer Sargent – Oil

 Group with a Parasol was the only John Singer Sargent oil in the show American Watercolor. Once again, this photograph of the painting is not representative of the actual work. When you see  Group with a Parasol, the bravura is almost too much–especially for people who don’t love great bravura painting.  Group with a Parasol is almost expressionistic, but most of Sargent’s figure paintings in oil are painted more delicately. but Sargent’s whites always stand out.

John Singer Sargent – Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

sargent-lily

Detail – Essence of a Lily – Compare how few strokes it took for Sargent to capture the essence of a lily. This is an example of capturing an impression of something, as opposed to painting it in perfect realism. In other words, this is an example of impressionism, which is one of my favorite eras of art.

Image result for stargazer lily Actual Lily

sargentrose

Detail – Essence of Roses

John Singer Sargent did not invent bravura in brush work.

The Dutch painters Rembrandt and Frans Hals were masters of bravura 200 years before Sargent, and I encourage people to examine all of the artists who painted with bravura. It should become apparent that joy in painting is much more than the reproduction of an image. Cameras can copy. Painters should interpret, and the best way to capture vitality and life is to let your pencil and your brush run free. We should merely skip along behind our brushes as they paint. That is where we’ll find the joy in making art.

©Jacki Kellum May 7, 2017
Exposed

It Is Better to Light A Candle Than Curse the Darkness – A Prayer for Empathy

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Our world has become a dangerous and confusing place to live. Innocent people–even those who have dedicated their lives to keeping peace and to helping the community–are senselessly murdered, and they are often killed by another person who doesn’t even know them or who doesn’t have a personal quarrel with them. The murderers are simply others who have completely lost empathy or the ability to care.

Empathy is “the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings. It is an identification with and an understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.”

If a mass murderer stopped to think about all of the children that he was leaving fatherless or motherless before he began randomly pulling a trigger, he might reconsider his senseless taking of lives,  but mass murderers seem to have lost the capacity to think empathetically. And mass murderers are not the only people who lack empathy. Lack of empathy is global and it is poisonous. It is at the root of greed and wickedness. It also enables simple misdeeds, like the abandonment of children so that a parent can pursue another romance or whim. Lack of empathy also allows the selfish social climber or the power-hungry to run over everyone that they feel is blocking them from reaching their goals. Lack of empathy is destructive on many levels.

I write about the problems associated with lack of empathy quite often. People from every country in the world have read one of my blogs, which, at the time of this writing, has  been viewed about 64,000 times and by people in every country of the world. Yet, I doubt if my writing has actually changed anyone else’s behavior. Perhaps it has helped other people to begin to think and to begin to look introspectively, and that is good, but In reality, my primary goal in  writing is not that of saving the world. My primary goal in writing is that of saving myself.

Writing is the way that I refresh my own awareness of every aspect of my life, and it is the way that I organize my thoughts. It is also the way that I seek to understand why people do the thoughtless things that they do, but above all else, my writing is the way that I monitor myself and shine a light on my own motives. I continuously assess myself for signs of lack of empathy.

There are people who have offended me, and I realize that I have also offended others. The dynamics of the offenses take on lives of their own. The simple and thoughtless reaction to an offense is to form a grudge or to become vindictive, but the healtheir stance stems from empathy. When people hurt me–even when they anger me–I can always discern the reasons for their behaviors–the things that have not been ideal in their lives that may have caused them to act in the ways that they do. I have discovered, however, that most people do not have the ability to see situations through the eyes of others. While mutual empathy may have allowed a situation to be resolved. lack of mutual empathy creates impenetrable walls.

It is unrealistic to believe that everyone in the world will be perfect and that all of us will cease from doing things that hurt and anger others. While I would like for that to happen, I know that it will not. But I do wish that everyone in the world would become more empathetic. I often write about denial, and lack of empathy and denial are closely connected. As long as our own states of denial enshroud us and prevent us from seeing our own behaviors, we will persist with lack of empathy. I pray that all of us could remove the gauze that prevents us from seeing ourselves. I pray for enlightenment–that all of us could become aware of our own misdeeds and the ways that we continue to offend. I also pray that we could all learn to understand the reasons that other people behave as they do–to be more empathetic.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that it is better to light a  candle than to curse the darkness, and I pray for Eleanor Roosevelt’s candle in my life, so that I can continue to examine my own behaviors, and my greatest wish for the world is that everyone else would light their own candles, too.

Think about it: If every person in the world would scrutinize himself and light a candle in his own heart, there would be no darkness at all.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Eleanor Roosevelt

©Jacki Kellum May 6, 2017

Better

Learning to Listen When Opportunity Speaks

Have you heard the parable about the man and the rising flood? I found it Here: 

“A terrible storm came into a town and local officials sent out an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood the nearby homes. They ordered everyone in the town to evacuate immediately.

“A faithful … man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God and if I am in danger, then God will send a divine miracle to save me.”

“The neighbors came by his house and said to him, “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”

“As the man stood on his porch watching the water rise up the steps, a man in a canoe paddled by and called to him, “Hurry and come into my canoe, the waters are rising quickly!” But the man again said, “No thanks, God will save me.”

“The floodwaters rose higher pouring water into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused, waving them off saying, “Use your time to save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”

“The flood waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop.

A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. A rescue officer came down the ladder and pleaded with the man, “Grab my hand and I will pull you up!” But the man STILL refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”

“Shortly after, the house broke up and the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned.

“When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”

“And God said, “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

In Julia Cameron’s book the Artist’s Way, she speaks about Synchronicity:

  • A woman admits to a buried dream of acting. At dinner the next night, she sits beside a man who teaches beginning actors.

  • A woman is thinking about going back to school and opens her mail to find a letter requesting her application from the very school she was thinking about going to. Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 63

Cameron goes on to say that we are often resistant to the acknowledgment of when synchronicity is at work in our lives.

“It’s my experience that we’re much more afraid that there might be a God that there might not be. Incidents like those happen to us, and yet we dismiss them as sheer coincidence. …

“If there is no God, or if that God is disinterested in our puny little affairs, then everything can roll along as always and we can feel quite justified in declaring certain things impossible, other things unfair. If God, or the lack of God, is responsible for the state of the world, then we can easily wax cynical and resign ourselves to apathy. What’s the use?” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 63

As I began to read about synchronicity, I thought about the Parable of the Flood. In the flood scenario, a man refused to listen to several voices who were trying to save him from impending disaster, but I believe that we also refuse to listen to directives when they are simply trying to point us in the right direction or to lead the way to success. Julia Cameron says that because we feel unworthy of any help or any direction, we often dismiss these guiding lights.

“We call it coincidence. We call it luck. We call it anything but what it is–the hand of God….

“When we answer that call, when we commit to it, we set in motion the principle that C. G. Jung dubbed synchronicity, loosely defined as a fortuitous intermeshing of events. Back in the sixties, we called it serendipity.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 64.

For the past several weeks, I have been leading an Artist’s Way workshop, and I have begun to notice how that because of my attending to the ideas set out in Cameron’s book, I have begun to evolve.

I have faced the fact that denial is one of the forces that keeps me stuck in the quagmire of not moving forward with my ideas and my creations.  http://jackikellum.com/the-artists-way-versus-the-queens-of-denial/

I have acknowledged that I have problems with procrastination, and I have begun a program of to-do lists that I have already noticed paying off http://jackikellum.com/why-do-we-procrastinate-baby-steps-might-be-the-cure/

Because I am actively employing some of Cameron’s ideas in my life and because I am reading and re-reading the Artist’s Way now, I am also aware of the very real possibility that some voices and some lights in regards to several of my own ideas and projects have been trying to get through to me. In exactly the way that Cameron has described, I have discounted the paths that seem to be opening before me. I have told myself: “Don’t make much of this break-through or that. It is a coincidence. You simply don’t have a good hand. You have never been dealt a decent set of cards. You never will be. Don’t gamble.”

Cameron suggests that when we are given great ideas, we can also be given the means to accomplish those ideas, but she reminds us that we must move forward:

“Ideas don’t get opening nights. Finished pays do. Start writing.”  Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 62.

She reminds us that Joseph Campbell describes the breaks that follow as: “A thousand unseen helping hands.”

“We like to pretend it is hard to follow our heart’s desire. The truth is, it is difficult to avoid walking through the many doors that will open. …

“We say we are scared by failure, but what frightens us more is the possibility of success.

“Take a small step in the direction of a dream and watch the synchronous doors flying open.”   Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 66.

©Jacki Kellum May 4, 2017

 

Older posts

© 2017 Jacki Kellum

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: