Thursday, December 21, 2006
This tree is my mentor. My muse. My inspiration.
Artwork: 'Earth' c 2006 Susan Gallacher-Turner
There was a terrible wind storm this last week. The power went out plunging my home into darkness. As I lit candles, I marveled at how cozy and calm the house seemed. I was still able to crochet by candlelight. It seemed ‘timely’ to have the lights go out at this time of the year, when the sunlight also goes out sooner. It felt right to be lighting candles, settling in to quietly work with my hands while the storm raged outside.
The next day on my walk around the lake with my lab, Jilly, I could see the storm hadn’t been so kind to the cedars in the woods. I stood there, mouth gaping stunned at the damage to the trees that have stood so tall and strong in the grove. Huge branches had been torn down by the wind; I could see the violent tearing of the wood from the trunk of the tree.
I wondered…does it hurt to have a branch torn off? Will the tree continue to grow? I reached out and placed my hand on the downed branch with my questions.
The answers were all around me, all I had to do was look. Yes, losing a branch is felt by the whole tree as well as those hit by it in the grove. And yes, again, the tree will continue to grow. As I looked around I saw branches growing in curved ‘u’ shapes, down the side of one great tree, curving up and supported in its growth by the tree next to it. One tree had a thick, twisted metal wire sticking out of its trunk about 3 feet from the ground; yet that didn’t stop it from growing either. This great cedar is over 40 feet tall with great curved and twisted branches reaching out to the rest of the cedars in the grove.
There he stood, cut by wire, torn by wind, broken by storms and still growing. Oh, the branches aren’t all straight and perfect. In fact, some curve downward before they reach toward the sky. Some have broken off after about 3 feet and grown again smaller, in the opposite direction. Some have broken off completely. Yet the tree grew on and stronger and still beautiful branches tower over those hurt in the past.
This tree is my mentor. My muse. My inspiration.
I see there is a lesson here for me. Like the trees, I grow. Along the way, storms come and there is damage. A supporting wire becomes too small and tight, so I grow around it. A branch, a job, relationship or career is broken away and still I grow. I sprout new branches as new abilities, talents and relationships grow and reach for the light. And even when storms come and branches crack or fall completely off, I know, like my great cedar friends, my roots are fine and I am alive and growing.
Monday, November 13, 2006
I look but do I really see?
I realized long ago that there's more to the world than sky, trees, animals and people. It's that feeling you get when you look beyond your eyes and see from a slightly different place inside yourself. I may be looking but I don't always see.
This story goes with my first Shapeshifter piece, "Crow". Revisiting this, especially at the beginning of the Celtic New Year, helps me come back to why I do what I do. And what I still need to remember.
Artwork:"Shapeshifter, #1 Crow"
Susan Gallacher-Turner c2006
The Story for Shapeshifter, "Crow".
I know a bird. He is strong and black and wise. He travels many worlds, through different times and knows creatures I can’t even begin to imagine. Today, he is a common crow. If you look at him now, that is what you’ll see. But his shape changes. He could be that dark-haired woman walking briskly with bracelets jangling. He could be a child from the past, part of an ancient tribe, trout fishing. Or he could be that man in the park with the bead in his beard, the daypack and heavy boots who seems to disappear just when I start wondering whether or not he is homeless. Perhaps, he has more homes than I think.
My shape never changes. I feel locked on the ground with two feet and I see only what is in front of me. My friend has no such limits. He tells me that he has been many shapes in many times and places. His wisdom and knowledge is beyond my perception.
One day, he swooped down landing on top of a fence and screeched. I jumped back shocked out of my mindless internal scrap heap. He was so big and bold, so close to me that all I could do was stare and listen. In this way, we became teacher and student. His teachings showed me all the small ways we are all connected. Some days, as I walked, he flew by with information about sites ahead as I traveled. Other times, he warned squirrels and other birds that my dog was on the prowl. Another day, I might be out driving and suddenly a crow landed on a stop sign, then later on a street sign I passed and then again on a tree near the road and I am gently prodded out of my; mindlessness. It made me wonder at all that is around me. It caused me to question the easy consensual reality in which I so mindlessly exist.
I have read that some people can see shape-changers and others just see the shape they want to see. I’ve never seen my friend change shape. But I do know I sometimes sense something out of the corner of my eye but by the time I turn to ”look” it is gone. Just because I haven’t actually seen it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’ve learned, now, thanks to my friend and teacher, that there is much more to the world than I can see and touch and tasted and smell.
Friday, November 03, 2006
I’m celebrating a new kind of New Year, this year.
Artwork: Element series: 'Fire'
Susan Gallacher-Turner c2006
It’s Samhain, that’s pronounced Sah-wen, which means “summer’s end”. It’s one of four fire festivals in the Celtic tradition that celebrate the four quarters of the year. Beltane, May 1st celebrates the light and Samhain, November 1st celebrates the dark. It marks both the ending and the beginning of the Celtic New Year.
Halloween, October 31st is the Celtic New Year’s Eve celebrated by putting out the hearth fire to recognize life’s endings and the cycle of the seasons. Bonfires are lit on nearby hills to honor the dead, the reincarnation of the physical into the spirit as well as rekindling the spirit of the community for the new year.
It seems odd to have the New Year start in the autumn with the leaves falling from the trees, the flowers wilting and the harvest over. Isn’t a new year all about birth, rebirth and blooming? Shouldn’t it happen in spring? I know that would make me more comfortable. I have a hard time with the timing here and I’m trying to make sense of it.
Starting a new year when the earth is shedding its color and stopping its growth definitely goes with honoring the dead. Letting go of what is no longer working or growing or blooming in my life. Like old patterns of thinking and old routines that may be comfortable in their familiarity, but as I go through the motions, I do feel kind of ‘dead’ inside. So I can see the need to let these ‘fall’ away.
What I’m not comfortable with is standing there like a bare tree with branches just sticking out at odd angles, stark and exposed to the wind, ice and snow. Starting a new year in limbo, seems wrong. But maybe that’s what right about it.
With no gallery shows this year, I do feel in limbo. I’ve always worked better under a little deadline pressure. Now the pressure’s off and I’m feeling lost. Lately, I’ve found myself writing more and painting less. Does this mean the end of my art? Does it mean the beginning of writing? Am I an artist or a writer? I was a writer before, then I went back to school to nurture and reclaim my art. Since then, I’ve made sculptures, exhibited in galleries and taught classes. Ok, and some of my pieces have stories that I’ve written included as part of the sculpture. So maybe, I’ve never really left my writing behind. Maybe it’s just been ‘lurking’, watching and waiting for a chance.
Maybe I can let this old habit of labeling myself fall away. I can say goodbye to my old studio routine. I can let go of my narrow old thinking patterns the way the trees let go of their leaves.
But maybe instead of leaping from old routines into new ones, new relationships, or new thinking, I need to be in limbo. I need to standstill, like the tree on the icy winter day, and expose myself to whatever blows my way. Like the tree, I can take care of myself from the inside out knowing that time will bring me new buds, new leaves. For now, all I have to do is let go of the old and wait. Maybe, I don’t have to choose between art and writing, push out new work, or figure it all out. I don’t have to be ‘born’ again today. I can give myself a new year by giving myself time, knowing that I am growing by, not knowing, just where I am.
Maybe, as my son says, ‘It’s all good.’
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
A story about finding your true gift.
Artwork: Crow Child, mixed media sculpture
Susan Gallacher-Turner c2006
I was standing in the grove hunting rabbits when I saw him. At first, it was just a black blur in the blue strips of sky between the trees. Then I heard a rustle among the leaves followed by the cawing a big shiny crow swooping and diving down to the forest floor. I ran to see what prey had fallen beyond the crow’s reach. There among the leaves and birch bark was his small still body. It was a baby crow, fallen from its first flight, left for dead by its mother. I sat still and watched waiting to see a wing move, a beak lift, or a breast feather quiver with a tiny breath. For a long time, there was nothing.
Then, just as my patience was giving out, the black body gave a tiny shudder. I knew the bird was alive. I carefully scooped the body into my handmade bed of leaves and birch bark. I moved swiftly, softly carrying the bird to Alyanna, the healer. She would know what to do.
Her tent was warm and smelled of the spices she used in her herbal medicines. I entered cautiously. I knew her power was great and I had always been a little afraid of her. As Alyanna turned, I shivered and held up my patient. Quietly, she came forward and took the birch bark bed from my hands. I sat down near the doorway to wait.
I watched as she gently ran a finger over the bird examining it from beak to tail feathers. She turned to her herbs and began mixing leaves in a bowl of hot water. As the brew streamed, she began making a clicking noise bending near the bird and then away. I watched and listened curiously, hoping I would not be seen and banished from my spot by the door. Soon, she dipped her finger into the hot water, carried it over to the bird’s beak, and let the drips fall.
Just as I began to relax, Alayanna turned in my direction. She stretched out her hand and motioned me across the floor. Moving toward her, I wondered if I was to be punished for disturbing the young crow. Crows were important messengers of Lug, the sun god, and the consequence of killing a crow was to be banished from our village for bringing bad luck.
Alyanna placed her fingertip above the baby bird’s breast and I watched it rise and fall with a regular rhythm. I knew the bird would survive. Alyanna’s hand came toward me then and stroked my face; I knew I had done the right thing.
The baby crow grew bigger and stronger along with me. I became known as sun boy, the one who had brought good luck and good weather to our village. We hunted rabbits, caught fish, bathed in the stream and perched in the birch trees together. At night, he slept on a basket handle, while I lay on the floor. He was my friend and companion.
Then one day, Alyanna came to me and said it was time. I knew that she often took younger ones with her to gather herbs needed for healing, but I had a sinking feeling that day. We walked away from the village, the crow swooping by my side. Alyanna looked up and smiled; yet I did not feel happy trekking through the sunny fields. I saw many important herbs, but Alyanna did not stop or ask me to dig up roots or trim leaves. After a while, we stopped to drink and rest. She took my hand, looking deep into my eyes and told me again that it was time. Then I knew. I shook my head, looking way not believing that I was being asked to give up my friend and companion.
Alyanna explained to me that I was chosen to find the crow. I had done the right thing bringing the crow to her, helping to heal him and giving him a nest in my home. By finding the crow I had shown her my true spirit belonged in healing and the crow had guided me to her. But now it was time for both of us to go our own ways, to live our lives in different worlds.
I can’t imagine a day without my crow companion. I said to myself, with a heavy heart, holding onto all the ramblings in the woods and sunny days on the riverbank, I was not ready. I don’t want to give up my one true friend and spend my days digging roots and boiling leaves in a dark hut.
But I knew I had no choice. Just as trees are rooted to the ground, birds are meant to fly free in the endless sky and I was meant to walk on the earth and look up to the sky for light and guidance.
I stood up, put out my arm for my crow to perch. With my free hand, I stroked his smooth dark feathers as we looked into each other’s eyes. He and I both knew, that as we lived in our separate worlds, we would always be together. I lifted Lug and he rose, silhouetted against the brilliant yellow sun. Just as he had guided me to Alyanna, he would continue to guide my spirit, no matter how great the distance between earth and sky.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
When nothing is something.
It's a beautiful autumn day. As I sit here, now, overlooking the river sparkling in the sun, feeling the warmth mixed with a crisp breeze that signals the changing season, I am trying to remember.
Last night, as I was reading I came up with a great idea for this blog. This morning I can't remember it. This bugs me. I'm sitting here hoping I would remember it by now.
Maybe that's it.
Nothing. The power of no--thing...as in no--thinking. Like the zen meditation practice of staring at a blank wall. Like slowing my speeding train of thoughts without even stopping at the remember station by doing nothing. Here and now. Just sitting on this bench looking out over the river in the sun.
Here & Now
Leaves are falling.
A train chugs past.
Birds fly by
A child cries
People chat in the distance.
The sun is warm.
The breeze is cool.
Here....green trees surround me, shiver
And Now...crimson leaves reflected in the river.
A wind chime rings.
It's time to go.
Here & Now
Friday, October 06, 2006
A story about love and protection, this reflects my feelings about being a mother of two children and numerous adopted animals. When I wrote this story, I was working on a sculptural art piece that is part of my Shafeshifter Series. The story is mounted behind the copper repousse' door in the back of this sculpture. I don't remember which came first the story concept, polar bear mask, or mother & child clay sculpture. As with most of my sculptural art pieces, it seemed to evolve on its own. If you'd like to see more pictures of this piece or the rest of my Shapeshifter Series, you can visit my website at susangt.com.
I hope you enjoy the story.
Story Title: Mama Bear
Sculptural Piece Title: SHAPESHIFTER #2
POLAR BEAR C Susan Gallacher-Turner 2006
Sometimes we don’t know how strong we are until we have to be strong.
I had my baby in the late autumn. The tribal midwife was there to help me with the delivery and my mate was there for me, too. Several days after the birth, he followed after the tribe to continue hunting for game while the rest of our people gathered fruit and grains for the winter months.
The midwife stayed at my side until she was called to help another. I was not ready to move yet, so I waited with supplies of food; wood and blankets until my mate finished hunting and came to take me back to the tribe’s winter home.
It wasn’t until several weeks later, that I knew something was wrong. I woke in the dark, restless from a dream, and knew my mate was dead. On his way back to me, a bear killed him. I would have to remain in the cave, alone all winter.
One love was gone. Another was in my arms, and depended on me for all her needs. Like every mother, I knew the fear of birth and the awe of responsibility for a new life. I knew leaving to go back to the tribe would risk both our lives, but especially hers. I wasn’t afraid of being alone, snowed in the cave for many long months but of sickness, injury, attack or anything that could hurt my little baby. I knew, now, I must live to keep her alive.
And so I lived in rhythm with the new life in arms. When she slept, I slept. When she ate, I ate. I had plenty of food for myself from the tribe, and my baby had plenty of food from me. Water would be as easy as melting snow over the fire. I had already moved rocks in front of the door to keep out animals and drafts while still leaving room for fresh air. So we lived sun-to-sun, new moon to full moon and back again. The world went from golden to white to green and soon it would be time to travel back to the tribe.
On one of those early spring days, just as the snow was starting to thaw, I wrapped my baby up snuggly and went out to enjoy the warm sun. I heard a crack behind me. I quickly put her down under a thick bramble and turned to face the biggest, fiercest beast I had ever seen. The bear was twice my size, with paws the size of my head and claws like daggers. It lunged at me, swiping a huge paw just past my shoulder. As I ran swiftly around a tree, I felt a surge of fear and then, anger. I would not let anyone or anything hurt my baby.
I came out from behind that tree with a force I had never known before. Suddenly, I had power in every part of my being and I was ready to fight. I turned toward the bear and swiped back. My nails tore across its neck and blood poured down. My only thought was for my baby. As I turned back around to pick her up, I looked down at my hand. It was huge, with strong, sharp claws and savage power. Then my hand changed again…soft, reassuring fingers, reached out to pick up my baby. I cradled her in my arms; the world became so quiet around me, not even the smallest scuttle or chirp sounded. I didn’t think about it at the time until the next twig cracked and startled me to move around again. There on the now red snow, was the big, white bear being nuzzled by two cubs.
Aah, I should have recognized the passionate protectiveness of another mother. She and I had seen in each other only what any mother would have seen: danger. To save my baby’s life, I had killed her. And now her twins were back, nudging her still body, trying to stay alive, too. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I knew I had done what I had to do. And I knew I now had more to do.
Once more, I put my baby under the safety of the brambles. As I turned back around, my shape changed once more. My hands became paws on the ground; I went over to the twins still trying to nurse from their dead mother. With a giant claw, I stripped the fur from the still body on the snow and offered nourishment to the cubs. I settled them down under the large pine tree snuggled inside their mother’s fur. Then, I turned back to my own baby. As my shape changed once more, I took her back to the cave, fed her and put her to sleep. Before nightfall, I went back for the twins and herded them back to the cave, too.
And so I became a mother of three instead of one. I fell into a new rhythm of nursing, eating, and sleeping until it was time to make my way back to the tribe. I left my baby with the midwife and headed out, shape changed again, with the twins, to the spring feeding grounds of the polar bears. I taught them to hunt, in ways I did not even know I knew. They grew bigger and capable of surviving on their own in one season but I knew my other baby would take many more seasons. When my work with the twins was done, I changed shape again and headed back to the tribe.
That is where I am today. I sit holding another baby of mine, by the stream looking into the water, remembering. Many times, I wonder, was it real. But when I look into the stream, I see my true reflection. There I am,’ Mama Bear’.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Art Museum Sculpture Gets Teacher Fired.
(Artwork: 'Child' c Susan Gallacher-Turner 2006)
Unbelievable but true. A news story from Dallas, Texas states that an elementary art teacher took her 5th grade students on an approved field trip to the Dallas Art Museum. Inside the museum, students viewed the art collection including a sculptural nude.
A parent complained. The teacher was reprimanded by the principal, and then put on leave until her contract is out. She will not be rehired. This woman has been teaching for 28 years. She has won awards. And because one parent complained about a nude sculpture in a public museum, she is fired.
Why? It’s simple really, it’s fear. Yes. FEAR.
Why are this parent, principal and school board afraid of art?
Art encompasses a wide range of media and subject matter. From landscapes, still life, abstracts, portraits to nudes, art is part of human history. When I taught an art literacy unit on Rubens, one female student commented in disgust that this artist only liked ‘fat’ women. I pointed out that in that time in human history, people who had ‘flesh on their bones’ were admired because it meant that they had enough wealth to have more than enough food. That to be thin, then, was to be poor and in ill health. Mouths dropped open.
Think about all the messages out there about the body. Again, fear is used and misused to keep us buying food, pills, clothes, activities to mold our body to some sort of cultural image. Today, of course, it seems that the more wealthy a person, the more cosmetic and gastrointestinal surgery they have to keep themselves thin.
Fear keeps us from enjoying, growing and loving our body.
Why are we so fearful? We all have a body. We need it to live. Why aren’t we enjoying it instead of loathing it?
We can blame it on bin laden. Blame it on Bush. Blame it on organized religious right wingers. Blame it on feminism or free love. Blame it on AIDS. Blame it on advertising aimed at manipulating fear into money.
But don’t blame Michelangelo, Rodin, Rubens or Matisse to name a few sculptors and painters to use nudes in their art. They are simply using a chisel or brush to show us ourselves.
If the mother or father of that child never wants them to see a nude, they’d better do more than fire an art teacher. They’d better eliminate every mirror on the planet, outlaw baths and clean clothes as well as surgery, sex and childbirth. Because I don’t know of anyone born in the world who arrives already dressed.
I think it’s time for less fear and more fearlessness.
Come on, people take your life back. Take your body back. Take your rights back. Take your mind back.
Be fearless, make your own decisions. Be fearless, love your body. Be fearless, enjoy your life. Be fearless, listen to you for what is right. Be fearless, look someone in the eye. Be fearless. Look. Listen. Taste. Touch. Smell. Be fearless; use the body you were born with. Be fearless; use your senses and your common sense as well.
You don’t have to like everything, love everyone or go everywhere. But don’t let your preferences cut off someone else’s explorations. Be fearless and let yourself live your very own life. And be fearless enough to let everyone else live, too.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
A poem to share.
I found a poem in my desk drawer that I wrote over a decade ago. What's interesting is that while I've changed in many ways, I still find ....I forget. So here's the poem for me to remember and share. And hope it helps you as it did me.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear." (H.P. Lovecraft)
And it’s being used on all of us everyday.
You know what I mean, unfortunately, we all do. Just look at a newspaper, or turn on the TV. Forest fires rage. People stabbed. Car wrecks. Terrorists bombing. Soldiers killed. Reality TV shows like Fear Factor. And of course, there’s the disease d’jour.
Then there are the campaigns…War on Terror…AIDs Ribbons…Cancer Awareness all to make you even more afraid of your world, your sexuality, your body.
And then, the quotes: “The most destructive element in the human mind is fear. Fear creates aggressiveness.”(Dorothy Thompson) “Fear is the mind killer.”(Frank Herbert) “Fear the Lord, thy God.”(The Bible) “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”(FDR)
Now, I know that the last quote was meant to help Americans at war. But isn’t really saying that you have nothing to fear but your own fear? So I guess now you can add your own fears to the list of things to fear.
Isn’t this crazy? No wonder, we’re all stressed out.
I had a thought the other day during my daily dose of news and information. What if I accepted my fear as friend not foe? What if I acknowledged it as my own personal news and information service?
Think of it. Fear is my new source of ongoing information about my self, my health, my safety, my immediate world that I could really use for my own benefit. Something inside me clicked. Yes. That’s what fear really is…a survival tool. Fear is there to provide me with information to keep me alive in this wild and woolly world. When I let go of letting my fear be manipulated by the headlines and tuned into my own head, I saw fear as my friend. I no longer needed to run from my fear or let my fear run me. I could walk alongside my new friend, confident that should there be any real threat to me, my fear would help me. Until then, I could relax and enjoy my life.
I don’t need a government agency. I don’t need a non-profit group. I don’t need a ribbon, bumper sticker or wrist band.
I just need to trust. Fear is on my side. I have my own PSA (personal security agency) working for me 24/7.
You know what? So do you. Turn off the turmoil and tune into your own internal cable channel. It’s all there, all the time and it’s free!
I’m going to try these quotes instead.
“Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.”(Dorothy Thompson)
“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” (James Thurber)
“I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it is gone, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” (Frank Herbert)
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
There are thousands of blogs out there and whether the world needs another one or not, I don't know. Whether you or anyone else reads my blog isn't up to me. I want to do a blog to have a place to put my thoughts and art out there to share in this new techno-territory.
My thought for today, fear less. For me, right now, that means tackling the new territory of blogging. So here I am taking one tiny step into the internet hoping the water's not too cold. Susan
(Copyright Susan Gallacher-Turner 2006)