Every journey begins with imagination. Even the journey of a life … that path we travel from conception to death, even this wandering begins with the imagination of two souls. Sometimes the imagining is born of love. Sometimes desire. Sometimes rage or passion or indifference. Always, we begin with the wanting. The wanting to be here. To go on.
Along my way there have been sidetracks, switchbacks, detours. I have strayed from the path, I have been broken, I have fallen down and thought I could not get up, could not continue. I have run out of gas, lost my mojo, stumbled in the dark.I have , at times, wandered without a map. Too proud to ask for directions. Or embarrassed. Following my nose. Or heart. Or something else: a kind of song. Ancient. Wise. Eloquent. Solemn.
And yet, my way has not been a lonely road. I have had companions. They have been my guides, the threads that held me, my constant guiding stars. Among these companions, are my soulmate and husband, Tim, my sons Mickey and Gabe, our sweet old Sam (and now that Sam is gone, our dear old Charlie.)
In my imagination, I walk the road ahead. Steadied by friendship, by love, by faith in something larger than myself. I am grateful for the blessings of my life.
I originally published this post on my old blog that I don’t update anymore, in 2008. Just decided to ressurect the photo and post because it feels true to me still. Hope you enjoy it. ~Maureen
I had the wonderful and memorable privilege three years ago today, to participate in a wedding ceremony of a very dear friend and young woman whom I already loved and respected, but whom I have grown to love even more over the years. Oddly enough, she left shortly after the wedding to live in Chile with her new husband and daughter and I have not seen her since then. I miss her mightily. So do lots of other people who saw her through some trying times, and helped her learn and grow into the amazing superhero mother-wife-woman she is today.
This is a young lady who endured some of the worst childhood trauma I can imagine, yet whose heart keeps expanding wider and wider — like a perpetually blooming rose. She is beautiful although she sometimes thinks she is not (don’t we all go through that?) She is a loving, attentive mother with a strong bond to her child. She loves her husband with all her being, and she knows what it meant that day when she promised to love him through thick and thin.
I witnessed their marriage at the courthouse and helped them write their vows. Along with many other people who helped them both along the way, I talked to them about the things they’d stumble upon as the years go by. Money issues, cultural differences, language differences, child rearing philosophies, boredom, times of inequality, communication problems.
We all also reminded them to notice and look forward to JOYS that would be theirs because of their commitment.
Now, three years may not sound like a long time to some of my readers … but for this couple, as for any couple who marries in their teens, it is a great accomplishment. Today they celebrate three years of promise. Three years of growth. Three years of growing closer together in spite of differences in culture and language and upbringing. Three years of loving their daughter and being a family. And three years of welcoming others into their lives, of stretching their comfort zones and what they thought might be their limits.
So, Naomi and Cristian, I salute you for coming this far. I salute you for going beyond what you thought you were capable of. I honor and respect you for sticking with each other, for being kind to each other, for apologizing, for making repairs, for building a new life together, and for always. always. always remembering what brought you together for life.
My post for today is about two things I think are related. Poetry — visual poetry. And how I feel about aging. I originally published this post on April 12, 2007 and the photos are from an exhibit in 1987 in Helena, Montana at the Third Eye Gallery.
I used to be part of a weekly online poetry group and originally wrote this post for the writing prompt, The Body Knows.
Fragments of an Ancient Poetry
Imagine a word such as moon. When you say moon, your lips curve. The word itself has curves. It conjures: round and old, and traveling on a long, slow-sounding journey. It’s interesting to me, that along with the sound of a word, the visual aspect of the word affects its meaning.
As a sculptor, I’m fascinated by the shapes of language and as a writer I’m drawn to the meaning of shapes. This is a natural merging of two of my primary interests.
Fragments of an Ancient Poetry is a three-dimensional page of my sketchbook-journal, revealing the increasingly refined and complex strokes of a thought process, or poetic idea. ~ excerpted from my Artist’s Statement for Fragments of an Ancient Poetry.
I completed the majority of the pieces in this exhibit (along with some working studies, sketches and paintings also exhibited) while attending a paper-making intensive at the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta, Canada.
The other major piece in the exhibit is titled Sometimes Breathing Feels like Dancing. There were 10 large figures comprising a series of yoga/dance poses. I made the figures with handmade paper and willow branches, and had access to a live model (a dancer) at the Banff Center while I was doing my studies for the sculpture.
Now for some thoughts on aging and how that is related to these sculptures …
2007 (when this post was first published):
I’m 20 years older now. Maybe 20 years wiser, though that’s arguable. As I revisit my artist’s statements and photographs of my work from that period of my life, I realize I have a different perspective now. I hope it’s a broader perspective. I still love these pieces and wish we lived in a house with walls large enough to display them. I definitely feel differently about my body these days. And I know my heart and head are different.
I look at the figures in Sometimes Breathing Feels like Dancing. I see my youthful body bent gracefully, supplely, just like the willow branches I used to form the dance. My life has taken some twists and turns … in many ways I am still dancing with life. And death. With joy. And sorrow. And grief. Feeling the grace along with twinges of pain, love, longing … feeling bent, slightly dried out, though still beautiful.
Will I ever truly know the steps of this dance? Enough to look ahead, to feel confident that I will not trip over my own feet? That I will be able to glide over the dance floor without regret, with my heart open to the music, to the senses, to the love of the one whose body sways in rhythm with mine?
Looking back on the experiences that have brought me to this threshold, I would also say, that “Sometimes Dancing Feels like Breathing.” ~Maureen Shaughnessy, April 2007
My thoughts in 2015, 8 more years later:
I’m 60 now. I am happy to be this age. My body, my face, my hair all look very different. I have gained weight, have wrinkles (duhhhh) and my hair is really short, silvery (and cute.) My body is shorter too — almost 2 inches shorter. Geez!
And… I am still beautiful. Sometimes I hate looking in the mirror. Sometimes I love the way I look. Sometimes I feel bent and do not feel the grace. Other times I just do a happy dance. I revel in stretching my muscles on a walk or hike. I have less sorrow. Less heart-pain. More joy. Lots more joy.
I think I am wiser. World-smart. More engaged with others, though content to spend long hours alone.
My heart is full with the love of my partner, Tim, our 5 children and 5 grandchildren and all of my siblings and mom.
I have lost some people who are important to me. I have gained new friends. Really good friends.
When I had that solo exhibit at the age of 33, I did not know I would become a full time artist. Or that I would own a gallery with my husband whom I had not yet met… I had no idea of the trajectory my life would take. The ups and downs.
I am grateful for every single moment I have had and every feeling, joy and loss, every person whose path I have crossed.
Sometimes Breathing Feels Like Dancing. Sometimes Dancing Feels Like Breathing. These days, in gratitude, I Feel Like Dancing and Breathing. Namaste´
All of the black and white photos were taken by my dear friend, Robin Leenhouts. She is a wonderful artist and art teacher, now living in Milwaukee.
According to Haida cosmology, Raven called the ancient rain forest into being. The Haida and other indigenous peoples who depended on the resources of the forest and ocean, knew that without the forests, the plentiful salmon would not exist. They understood, because of their close relationship with Nature, the co-dependence of salmon and forest.
The Story of the Salmon Forest:
We know that forests keep the rivers and salmon populations healthy by cooling the waters and preventing siltation of the gravel beds where salmon spawn. But what about the other way around?Do the forests need the salmon? About 20 years ago, a team of scientists from UBC in Vancouver set about to check this hypothesis.
Studying the Ecology of the Salmon and The Forests:
The team of scientists studied the Tongass Forest in Alaska. With core samples of some of the oldest trees, the team correlated trees’ growth rates over hundreds of years with salmon run. Wide rings matched years the salmon were more plentiful. They also discovered the trees’ tissue contained Nitrogen-15, the rarer of two nitrogen isotopes. All of life has Nitrogen-14 in it. Nitrogen-15 however, comes from the oceans and is rare on land.
Nitrogen 15 is normally found in the Oceans:
How did N15 get into the trees so far from the ocean? The salmon brought it! How cool is that? The roots of the forest extend far into the Pacific Ocean.
Salmon are born inland, where they grow to fingerling size then migrate downstream to the ocean. They live most of their lives in the ocean, accumulating body mass (and N15) the whole time. Then, they head back up the original river/stream they came from, to spawn and die. The cycle begins again.
Guess Who Helps Spread N-15 Around?
The plentiful salmon are a rich food source for many animals, especially the bears and eagles. Bears in particular, like to take their huge salmon catch uphill where they can eat it without having to fend off other bears. They eat the guts and heads of the salmon, leaving most of the carcass on the ground. The carcasses are consumed by scavengers, insects, worms, bacteria and fungi. So, a kind of magic is happening here: the salmon carcasses become part of the forest, of the trees and animals, understory plants. The Trees are Made of Salmon!
I originally heard the salmon-forest story from my sister, an artist in Vancouver BC. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Salmon began appearing in my dreams. I started this body of work inspired by the story, and by the ways my unconscious transformed it into something meaningful in my own life.
What does the Salmon Forest have to do with the exhibit title, “Ecology of the Unconscious?”
What is the Unconscious?
Our unconscious is the aspects of ourselves hidden to our conscious. Once we become aware of those aspects, we bring them into everyday life through our behavior, our responses to things around us … and they are no longer hidden.
Ecology can be simply defined as the relationships between organisms and their environment. I set out with some pretty big questions, hoping to find answers. I am pretty sure I found more questions and not many answers. That’s okay with me though. Mystery is good. Wonder is a good thing.
So, how do Ecology and Unconscious Fit Together?
What is our relationship with the aspects of ourselves that are normally unconscious? How do we become aware of those parts of ourselves … and how do we manifest the hidden gems in our everyday lives? How are our inner aspects reflected in our relationships with Nature and with everything around us?
In Jungian psychology, water signifies the unconscious. So, rivers, rain, fog, the ocean … these are all different aspects of my unconscious self. Fish fly through the water. Birds swim through the air. These are messengers for me. Water links life and land together in an ecosystem. Water/Fish/Birds link my dream life to my waking life and help me understand both.
Humor Helps Us Understand and Go Deeper:
You will find my sense of humor in many of the pieces of this exhibit. I believe that if we approach our unconscious (our dreams) with a healthy sense of humor, it easier to understand. Visual puns are one of my favorite ways to convey an idea. And there are always more levels of meaning in any of my pieces, than what you see at first look.
Here are some details of the pieces in the exhibit plus a few more I didn’t feature above. In all, the exhibit included 21 pieces in this body of work. Thanks for looking! I would love to hear what you think. Comments are much appreciated! <3
On Labor Day, 2014 I began a new documentary-style photo essay in collaboration with Dr. Mark Ibsen who owns Urgent Care Plus in Helena, Montana. We are telling a story with photos of his patients, of Mark and of his staff. We aren’t sure what the story will be yet — that will come when we see what the photos are telling us. For now, I am going to be spending time at the clinic and with permission from the patients themselves, documenting their time with this passionate, compassionate healer.
Watch my blog and my Brown Bird Studio Facebook page for progress on the photo essay, and for announcements of an exhibit which we hope to have sometime in the next few months.
Hands can tell so many stories just by themselves. Like eyes, hands are expressions of our history, our struggles and triumphs, our pain, sorrow and celebrations. Hands instruct. They argue. They heal, comfort and can hurt. Here are a few images from this week, from the first batch of photos that really pulled at my heart. I am curious what you think and feel when you see these images.
Thank you for looking and appreciating. I look forward to some dialogue about this project as we continue.
For most of human history, people chased things or were chased themselves. They turned dirt over and planted seeds and saplings. They took in Vitamin D from the sun, and learned to tell a crow from a raven (ravens are larger; crows have a more nasal call; so say the birders). And then, in less than a generation’s time, millions of people completely decoupled themselves from nature. — Timothy Egan, NYT
When I was a kid, our typical day after school was finishing our homework, doing a few chores, then running outside to play. When dinner was ready, Mom called us in, we did our after-dinner chores than ran back outside.
We had forts in the woods, and forts in the blackberry brambles. Played kickball, kick-the-can, many variations of tag and hide-and-seek with a whole tribe of neighborhood kids. We captured fireflies in jars, investigated ant hills, caught crawdads with plastic cups, chased dragonflies and hunted snapping turtles in the creek (we didn’t hurt them.) We picked wild strawberries, blackberries and plums.
We raised a wild raccoon, lots of polywogs, a few caterpillars, two snapping turtle babies, some squirrel babies and a baby robin. Dug in the dirt, made mud pies, launched ourselves into the creek on rope swings, climbed very tall trees and adventured in the storm sewers. I loved lying on the big hill hear the cow pasture and just watching clouds. I had a secret place under a spiraea bush where I would lie on a blanket to read. Outside.
What adventure! Totally unstructured. I remember at some point longing to attend a summer camp because some of my friends were going, but I never did. I also didn’t have music or art lessons, extracuricular sports or academic tutoring. We just played (well, we did chores too.)
Life is different for little kids now. It makes me sad to think of how disconnected children are these days, from the natural world.
According to Richard Louv who wrote Last Child in the Woods, “Boys and girls now live a denatured childhood. What little time they (children) spend outside is on designer playgrounds or fenced yards and is structured, safe and isolating. Such antiseptic spaces provide little opportunity for exploration, imagination or peaceful contemplation…
Louv recommends that we re-acquaint our children and ourselves with nature through hiking, fishing, bird-watching and disorganized, creative play. By doing so, he argues, we may lessen the frequency and severity of emotional and mental ailments and come to recognize the importance of preserving nature” — Jeanne Hamming
Another excerpt from the book, “Last Child in the Woods:”
As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forests. Nobody in the 1950s talked about acid rain or holes in the ozone layer or global warming. But I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt paths. I wandered those woods even in my dreams. A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest—but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move. — Richard Louv
What can we, as teachers, parents, grandparents, and friends of children do, to make sure kids connect with the natural world and reap the benefits of unstructured outdoor, nature-based playtime? Well, take some action. Any action. Here are 10 things:
Here is an awesome list of resources and ideas, right here. Start with that.
Smash. Smoosh. Squish. Mash. Moosh. Mush. Stuff … Oh, the things you can do with an old book!
At our monthly Girls Art Night on March 27th, we altered vintage hardback books into Smoosh Books (my take on the official Smash Journals.) There were eleven of us mooshing, drilling, gluing, smooshing and stuffing away at 1+1=1 Gallery. We enjoyed tea, wine, and yummy finger foods. It was a great group of women friends — lots of comraderie and chemistry, laughter and concentration.
If you want to try a Smoosh Book yourself, and you live in Helena, let me know in the comments and maybe we can get together in a smaller group sometime soon to make more smoosh books. Otherwise there is a How-To towards the bottom of this post. 🙂
I have a few vintage books left (I’ve already cut the spines off.) And lots of stuff to stuff into them. I will bring the “ingredients” to our Girls Go gathering in October. What do you think of that idea, my sisters?
Maybe one of these will be a diary of your journey to health. Or a baby book. A collection of family recipes. A book of quotes or a “commonplace book.” A trip journal. A wedding planner, a place to record things your kids say … Whatever you use your smoosh book for, it will be wonderful once you smash it full of your stuff.
Here’s my mom’s Smoosh Book: I love that she picked the old children’s story collection, “Looking Ahead.” She is going to fill it with stories of her life. Cool!
Your Smoosh Book doesn’t have to be perfect. Or finished. It’s a work in progress. This kind of “journal” or scrapbook is great if you’re like me and don’t have the time or personality to do elaborate scrapbooking. The way scrapbooking has changed, it’s the last thing I want to do … I remember when a scrapbook was an album of plain pages you glued things onto — like photos, birthday cards, autographs, paper dolls, ticket stubs, pressed corsages, leaves and flowers. Remember photo-corners? Or LePage’s glue with the red rubber tip? (I know. I know. I’m dating myself. Oh well.)
A Smoosh Book can be kinda funky and alotta fun. When you first make the book, you can sort through the old book’s pages and keep the ones you like, recycling the rest. Try incorporating comic book pages, other special papers, translucent papers, seed packets, tiny bags, cellophane bags, glassine envelopes, ribbons, stickers, cards, and any other kind of envelope or pocket.
To use your Smoosh Book, add written passages, poetry, quotes … lists of stuff you’re doing/planning/wishing, recipes, pressed flowers and leaves, feathers, seeds, labels, photos, doodles, menus, tickets, found lists, anything you can think of.
Use ribbons or binder rings to tie the book together so you can add pages as you find cool stuff (like envelopes.) Your book will grow as you use it. Eventually it becomes stuffed with stuff. And looks like it’s exploding and that’s totally okay. You can add bigger binder rings if it gets hard to turn the pages because you’re adding so much stuff.
Here’s what you need to make your own Smoosh Book:
Old hardback book from thrift store
band saw to cut off the spines
power sander to sand the edges where you cut
drill to drill holes through the entire book
clamp to hold the book covers and pages together while you drill
paper punch for miscellaneous papers — use one you can line up to match the holes you drilled
envelopes, extra blank papers, etc to fill the book
ring binders (preferably large) or ribbons, twine, leather cords, shoelaces
duct tape (for your new spine)
spray adhesive or dry-mount glue to attach pockets and envelopes that are not bound in to the book
washi tape, other tapes
white acrylic paint or gesso to paint over text where you want to be able to write
flat wide brushes, either bristle or foam, for painting
bits and pieces from the list below, or whatever you have around
Basic Instructions to Make Your Own Smoosh Book:
Cut off the spine of your hardback book with a band saw. Watch out for metal staples. If the spine has staples, just cut a little more off to avoid the metal.
Sand off the edges to make them nice and even.
Separate the pile of book pages from the front and back covers.
Make a new “spine” using duct tape attached to just the two covers. This will keep all the loose stuff inside your book.
Go through the pages of the book and pull out all the pages except the ones you want to keep. This will make your book much “thinner” at this point.
Decide what other papers you are going to add to your book. This can include large envelopes, flat bags, pockets, other types of papers …
Cut the extra papers to size and put them where you want them in the book.
Add the other papers such as envelopes where you want them. Don’t worry about everything lining up perfectly. It’s okay to have some things sticking out. These act like “tabs” later.
Clamp everything together on a work table, and using your power drill, drill 3 holes through the whole mess.
Put it all together with ribbons, ring binders or whatever you have decided to use to attach.
Now you’re ready to start gluing things into your Smoosh Book, then adding your words.
Above all else, have fun!
Below is a list of ideas and inspiration: things you might want to stuff in your Smoosh Book as it grows …