piles, prints, paths: a poem in pictures

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…neither technique nor talent matters half as much as deconditioning the eye from looking-at to seeing.

Frederick Frank

d. ellis phelps is the author of Making Room for George, Balboa Press, 2013.

#RRBC Interview with #IndieAuthor Mary C. Simmons: Part Two, City Mouse or Country Mouse?

Avatar Grove gnarly tree - full blend 1 - 1 Thomas Dawson pd 4 1 time use

image:  “Guardian of the Grove” Used with permission of the artist, Thomas Dawson.  See more of his STUNNING images here.  OMG!!  All rights reserved.  You can interact with this talented photographer more on FB here.

Thick and imposing, rich with humus and root, a lifting mist, palpable silence:  this image personifies wildness.  It is what I saw as I read about Wilder Island, a mythical place in Corvus RisingI can hear the Raven calling.

Since childhood, I have been drawn into the woods, playing in an Oak grove behind my grandmother’s house in Central Texas for hours, swinging from the trees on ropes, building tree houses out of sticks and grapevines or hiking with my grandfather in the East Texas Piney Woods, listening to the crush of pine needles underfoot, listening to him call the birds.

To this day, I fantasize a simple life:  a wooden bowl, a rudimentary shelter, a fire and solitude.  And reading Corvus Rising allowed me a few precious moments in such a life.  As I read, I wondered if the author felt the same, so I asked her:

D:  Have you ever lived in or wished to live in a forest or jungle? Where do you live now?

Mary:  Yes of course! Not a jungle though. Forest, yes. As a young girl I fantasized about living on an island with a black bird and a cat. And a rowboat so I could go into civilization when I needed food or other necessities. I reckon that was a huge inspiration for Corvus Rising!

I live in the North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River in Colorado, at the foot of the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains. Only about 5500 people live in this valley; it is very quiet—people complain about crickets…sheesh!

Mountain lions and bears stalk the streets of our towns (really), raising a stir, but strangely no one has tried to shoot them, strange, because this place has a goodly share of gun freaks.

Politically, we go from wingnut to wingnut here. Plenty of everyone. I like it that way.

D:  How do you think living environment— personally and ancestrally— influences who we are and how does this influence our relationship to the planet and other humans?

Mary:  I was born and grew up in New Mexico, as an adopted daughter of the desert—

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Both my parents were born in greener places (Mom in MN and Dad in NJ). They moved to NM in the late 1940s/early 50’s. My mother lived in Roswell during the ‘alien invasion’ of 1947.

Wilder Island in my book was inspired not only by my girlhood dreams, but by Nicolette Island on the Mississippi River, which cuts through Minneapolis. There is no other resemblance, however to this fine city. Minnesota calls to me sometimes, the green land of plentiful water, lots of fish. Hard to be hungry in a place like that—ghastly cold winters, though (Did you hear that MN closed schools last week? Never heard of them doing that before).

In New Mexico, white people are the minority(not by much)—but they are the dominant culture in terms of money and privilege. However, the influence of the Mexican and Indian cultures is prevalent everywhere, and it makes for a richness that is absent in other places where white people dominate the population as well.

I taught geology at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville for four years. Can we talk culture shock? Flattish land of cornfields and few rocks exposed—a nightmare for a geologist! No mountains…no green chilé, which is not only grown in New Mexico in great quantities, and the air is full of the aroma of roasting green chilé in the fall. I grew some chilé here in Colorado last summer. Not bad! It’s tasty, and hot enough.

Astounding humidity in Evansville, something that is hard for a woman of the desert to get used to. I spent summers in dry, mountainous New Mexico and Colorado.

Evansville is about 98% white. I missed the Mariachi music blaring out of open car windows.

I think growing up in the West had a profound effect on my life. Would I have loved rocks and mountains as much had I grown up in Minnesota or New Jersey?

Brooklyn Eagle by Gary H. Splelvogelimage: “Brooklyn Eagle” (composition) Used with permission of the artist, Gary H. Spielvogel. Via Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

My son lives in Brooklyn now (he grew up in NM also). It is noisy and exciting, the city that never sleeps. It has no crows. I surmise this is true due to rat poison used by people to rid the buildings of rodents.

Crows would eat a dead rat long before they’d peck at an apple.

I have mule deer nibbling at everything in my yard and a flock of wild turkeys that stroll through every day or so, and I hear an owl in the early morning. My son never hears or sees any of that.

In New York, there is plenty of noise and art and coffee shops and theaters and all the great and awful things that humans do. We live at opposites ends of all that, my son and I.

I think being a Boomer probably had the most effect on my attitudes toward the Earth and the environment. The rights of the earth have been part of our collective unconscious ever since the late 1960’s, as is also true for civil rights and women’s rights.

What do you think about how living environment effects one’s attitudes toward or love of nature & other humans?  Tell me where you live and how you feel about it.  Post a link to a photo of your favorite spot on earth!

d. ellis phelps is the author of Making Room for George, Balboa Press, 2013.

The Choice for Love

 sadness_149 from hipish.free.fr

photo courtesy of http://hipish.free.fr/graphics/feelings/sadness/?id=149

The day I saw my reflection in the microwave glass, standing in the kitchen of my posh, suburban home, drinking Jack Daniels straight from the bottle, I decided to leave alcohol alone. But it was later, much later, and with careful counseling; active listening in recovery groups; abstinence from alcohol and mind-altering, prescription drugs; and prayerful surrender that I made the life-changing choice for self-love and acceptance.

Sunday mornings in Central Texas where I grew up, were for going to church and Sunday school. Sunday afternoons were for being with family, eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes made from scratch with brown gravy, canned English peas soaked in butter, white bread (also spread thick with butter); drinking sweet iced tea; and watching the Cowboys on television: my dad’s regular nap time. We attended the First (Southern) Baptist Church as did all our kin except for my grandmother who swore we would all go to hell because we didn’t attend The Church of Christ. Early on, as you might guess, I got confused about religion.

There were volatile arguments between my grandmother and my dad over religious choices.  Of course, these might have fallen on deaf ears for most eight-year-olds, but not on mine. I practiced deep thinking, said my prayers fervently, and read the scripture in the King James Version of the Bible (a gift from my father bound in black leather with my name inscribed on the front cover in gold), and I listened. I was looking for answers to questions I could barely formulate as yet.

My reasoning probably went something like this: maybe if I listen hard enough, I will understand who’s telling the truth and then I can settle this thing once and for all or, at the very least, keep myself out of hell. Or maybe I thought: if I go to church, read my lessons, sing in the choir, invite Jesus into my heart, and behave really, really, really well, my dad will stop throwing my mother’s head against the wall and shoving her down all the time.

Yes. I lived with family violence regardless of church, regardless of prayer.

Violence is a learned behavior. My father learned how to treat a woman from witnessing the way his father treated my grandmother and he learned how to treat a child from the way his father treated him: beatings with a horse whip; tongue-lashings; harsh, unforgiving judgmental attitudes. And from birth, I began to learn this destructive pattern as well. Of course, I had no idea how it would eventually surface in my adult behaviors or even that it would. In fact, I swore it would never happen to me nor would I ever perpetrate such unhappiness and wrongdoing upon myself or others. How little I knew.

I’m cognitively unsure about my eight-year-old-reasoning, but I can say that I listened well, to everything, like a dog on point. And I tried to be good at everything. I did my chores. I did my homework. I made straight A’s and I never, ever talked back.

Until I did.

When I left home for The University of Texas in the fall of 1970, I was determined to leave all that chaos at home. But guess what? I’d learned what I’d lived. Rebellion had been rumbling in me like a stampede about to happen and when I added alcohol to the mix, wild abandon broke down the gates of any inhibition that lingered in this small town Baptist girl.

As was the prevalent mind-set on campus, “I loved the one I was with,” and I was with many. I took up smoking, cigarettes and pot. I perfected the art of cursing; peppering every phrase with a well-placed explicative. I went to class, but slept through the early ones. I played Spades in the dormitory hallway passed midnight and studied just enough to get by. I drove drunk, bought and sold dope, and blacked out, forgetting my way home more than once.

Most of these mild diversions may sound typical of college life to many, and really they were typical. I was never arrested (only by luck), after all. I functioned well, albeit often hung over. I landed a role as a dancer in the chorus line of the UT production of Cabaret after my first audition, winning the role over many dance majors with whom I competed. I served as a dormitory advisor and a resident assistant during my sophomore and junior years, both honorary positions. I excelled as a student-teacher during my senior year. And I got my degree.

I was educated and ready to live life, but emotionally miserable.

“So,” you ask. “What does any miserable, twenty-something-year-old woman do to get happy?” Get married and have a child. Right? Wrong.

I did get married and have a child I wanted very much to have, but I was still miserable.

“So what was the problem?” you asked. The problem was deep-seated rage and self-hatred—fear in disguise.

By the time the day came that I saw my reflection in the microwave glass, my five-foot-four frame supported a mere one-hundred and five pounds; I was drinking close to a fifth of straight whiskey daily but could not get drunk no matter how I tried; I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. I carried at least three prescription drugs in my purse at all times (for nervousness, headaches, and chronic bowel distress); and I was depressed, misguided, and suicidal.

As you may have guessed by now, I’d stopped attending church as soon as I left home, abandoning virtually all of its teachings in return for agnosticism. I’d seen my first of many shrinks; had multiple affairs; and found that I had no idea how to be happy. My marriage failed, ending with an affair that broke up two families, creating painful waves of dysfunction to this day.

My second marriage and my drug and alcohol free lifestyle have survived, however, for thirty-three years. Why? Not because I am holy now. I am far from it. Not because I have returned to church. I haven’t, though I did time and again, but found no match for my version of spirituality in organized religion. Not because now I am finally married to the right man. This relationship has been tumultuous at best. Not because my life is trouble-free. It hasn’t been. We’ve faced years of federal investigations by the IRS, the SEC, and the FBI for alleged misbehavior and received subsequent judgments that took our life savings. We’ve raised a potpourri family. We’ve been through surgeries, illnesses, counseling and treatment and we’ve watched our parents age, move in with us, and die. Sometimes we thrived and sometimes we just survived and sometimes we nearly killed each other, but here we are. Here I am.

Here I am, healthy as I am, and able to be as authentic and as honest as I am with you because of choice. Not a once-in-a-life-time choice, but a consistent, committed, daily choice to love and to accept myself with all my strengths and weakness no matter what rather than to self-destruct and in the process also destroy others and any chance of life-giving relationship.

Here I am because I choose to look at myself honestly and with great reverence for the path I’ve walked. I choose to acknowledge the grace that has accompanied me on this path. I choose to forgive myself and others completely and quickly. And I choose to hold my head up high.

Here I am because I choose to let go of fear and live in the present not the past.

Here I am because I choose to live and learn without regret. And because I choose to live this way, I know how to let you make your own choices, understanding deeply that church or no church, there is wholeness in all of us that seeks its own level that will rise above all apparent unhappiness and create new life—given half a chance.