Monday, February 14, 2011

Maya Angelou and Inspiration for Madonna of the Swallows

Inspiration is a full and varied thing, sometimes young and twitching, other times a vibrational note struck on a crystal glass.  It is a muse dancing in your dreams, a wood nymph catching your eye from behind the twilight lit forest.  It is shattered light from a glass clad urban high rise tossing itself across the candy apple red of your car hood.  It may be a grand philosophical book, read in fits and starts, embedding something unforgettable in your brain, or something inconsequential – a scrap of paper caught on the breeze, landing in your lap like a message from a parallel world.

Last fall I was reading Maya Angelou’s poem, I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings.  I had, at the time, been struggling with unresolved ideas for a series of large paintings about women and the patterns of their lives.  The original idea was not coming clear for me.   About to abandon the whole concept and taking a few days to get away from what I was feeling was a stuck spot, I closed the jars of paint, cleaned my tools and left the studio.  Landing on the sofa with a pile of books, I settled in for some quiet time.  Maya showed up. 

The measure of a good metaphor is how well it connects to the human condition.  The caged bird seems nearly limitless, as does the meaning of “singing” or voicing what is within.  The voice of inspiration nearly deafened me.  Books fell from the sofa in my rush to the studio.

Who knows why the Universe graces us with taps on the shoulder?  Not I.  But I do know, after 30 odd years of being an artist, that these gracious or raucous or accidental taps are better acknowledged and noted than ignored.


Begin.  The surface lies before me – the caged bird sings of freedom -  I scoop texture paste onto the board and with the largest trowel I have, spread it in quick broad strokes, leaving trepidation behind – the free bird leaps on the back of the wind – trails and rivers, paths and raindrops show up under the tool, taking me somewhere, bringing someone to me – I feel a door opening – light? Quickly I mix a wash in creamy pale yellow – pour it on, catching it in the river/paths/raindrops – the free bird thinks of another breeze – and warm lemon curd yellow floats into my world.  Are you there?

Waiting.  Slow drying, but surprises appear.  I tape the poem to the wall, print big enough to make out as I work.  So many images surface in my mind’s eye, call to me, then drift only to be replaced, crowded out by others.  Returning to my work, I see a delicate head wrap, in tiny pattern, and then a sleeve, richly embroidered.  She’s here.  Waiting for me to give her voice.  Where is the window from which you watch?  A swallow brings you an offering of berries.  You gaze at me, Madonna of the Swallows.  I hear your voice.
Madonna of the Swallows
48" x 84"


The universe sends Muse and Inspiration to whisper in your ear that there are fantastic things for you to do – soulful songs to write, luscious colors to mix into unpredictable combinations, elements and molecules to construct the never before seen.  There are birds to be let free and voices to hear calling.  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anniversaries and Other Reminders

Happy anniversary.  People say it every day, I suppose.  An anniversary - something memorable - a time to be marked, to be celebrated, to be counted as a measure of commitment or love or perseverance.  And sometimes it's a measure of strength and survival.

I have friends who celebrate their wedding anniversaries with much symbolism, sometimes elaborate gifts and surprises, trips, jewelry, getaways at romantic places, and some ways which are too private to disclose. I wonder what that means.  Is it like a birthday?  A cultural event? An occasion for gift giving and getting? Is it sometimes inspired but often merely the habit to do the socially prescribed?

I don't know the answer to these questions because Syed and I have almost never celebrated our wedding anniversary in the usual ways.  We've been married for almost 23 years.  We work and play together and always have.  We travel happily, laugh a lot, love many of the same things, and are what any psychologist would call "happily married."  So, why do we not celebrate our anniversary?

We used to laugh at ourselves and how weird we were to have forgotten, only to be reminded by our friend, Frank, who "gave me away", when he would unfailingly call to wish us the "Happy Anniversary!" that we had let slip by.  Early on, I would wonder what our forgetfulness really meant.  There must be some reason, some psychologically imperative reason, because, after all, didn't everyone who was happily married remember their anniversary for pete's sake?

Every spring, in March, I silently "celebrate" an anniversary.  One I never forget though it never appears on my calendar.  It is an anniversary that resides in my bone marrow.  In my heart.  In my soul.  In the pit of my gut from which the memory rose, in the early years, in a kind of bile, threatening to swamp me, bursting out of my body in sweat and shaking and voiceless sobs.  As the anniversaries passed of my mother's death, when I was fifteen, the joyous Springs of chubby hyacinths, pregnant with sunburst perfume, of daffodils and tulips shouting candy reds and yellows against the last whites of winter passed me by.  So lost was I in the anguish of not being able to bring forth her face, the pain of waking from the dream of her voice, that Spring was a lingering dark void.

An anniversary, not happy - but a remembrance, a marking.  Even now, fifty-three years later, an undeniable seasonal sadness flutters on my shoulders.  It no longer settles there.  Life, if one chooses it, actually chooses it in all it's vagaries and surprises, brings gifts of allowance - allowance for others to choose their own path, allowance for sadness as well as happiness, allowance for anger to pass and something like grace to enter in, allowance for pain and for loss.  And then, Life brings you the balance of itself.  It brings you views of horizons you didn't know were there, opportunities to love, to imagine, and then to create.

This Spring, the remembrance of the time of my Mother's passing will be somehow sweetened, imagining her at my shoulder as I greet my newest grandbaby.  Quietly I will say, Mom, here we all are - we have survived, we love, we choose Life.  Know that we love you.

And my wedding anniversaries?  I think that Syed and I don't mark them on a certain day because our days pass lovingly, filled with simple happiness, long philosophical talks, good music, comfortable silences, lots of laughter, busy creativity.  No trauma jars my memory of these nearly 23 years.  I choose him each day and believe he chooses me each day.  No need to send a card.

Thank you, Daisy, for your blog at  May your silent time be filled with grace.