Sunday, July 5, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #96 - LISTENING TO MOUNTAINS III - AWAKENING

"HIGH COUNTRY MONDAY MORNING"
It wasn't difficult for me to adjust to life on the horse ranch.  In the beginning I felt caught between two very alien planets.  Santa Fe's over the top social scene, the intense competition in a newly developing art market, trying to earn a living from making and selling paintings was stressful.  Two ex-husbands in the same town were definitely adding to my confusion.  Truchas was an entirely new planet!  The sudden silence of this country life was indeed a New Beginning; an important first step in trying to save my own life. Prayed with all my heart that this move would cure me of the need to anesthetize myself with scotch!  I still believed in miracles.

Life in the little Hansel and Gretel house was strange at first.  In the middle of autumn, with the first snow on the peaks, it was necessary to settle in and prepare for winter.  Several cords of wood, we filled up the freezer, tuned up the old Ford station wagon.  Around four every afternoon, we toasted our success. The ranch was for sale although no potential buyers came that winter.  It was easy to imagine that the ranch had been abandoned and was ours to keep!  Oh, Magical Thinking! 

My work began to take on a new sense of "connection".  Until this time I was painting to sell; trying to fit in, develop a recognizable style and paint that way forever and ever - the same painting a thousand times - soul-killing commercial success to pay the bills.  Once I settled into my new studio in the horse barn, memories of my last trip to the Art Institute to see the magnificent Wyeth work began to surface.  Finally I understood his fierce vision and his self-imposed geographical limits.  He simply painted the life he knew to his core....a very narrow range of inspiration which give his viewers intimate glimpses of simplicity - peace, tranquility, magnificent light and shadow; a rock-solid knowing of his subject matter.  He knew who he was as an artist and his vision never wavered.
  
My Art Gods were challenging me to create in a new way - give up the dream of being the next art world wunderkind.  Now was the time to travel some unfamiliar roads.  It was becoming clear that this was my opportunity to explore - open myself to a new way of being.  CHANGE in all capital letters became my new mantra.  Deep quiet all around - the first time I heard the sound of birds' wings in as they flew past.  I felt sheltered and protected by the surrounding mountains and saw the brilliant sky with a new sense of wonder.  There was a tepee platform in front of the mobile home.  The sun warmed my bones; I would lie down, stretch out my arms and just watch the clouds.  It wasn't obvious to me then but I was in a place of no return. Perhaps I could let go of the high heeled shoes and make-up and just get REAL! 

That spring the man of the house returned from one of his mysterious trips to Santa Fe and announced that we would be boarding six Arabian horses - three were about to foal.  Eloy the Western Union guy needed a safe place to pasture his animals and in an effort to earn some income a deal was made on a handshake. We would feed and exercise the horses in exchange for boarding fees and purchase of hay from local ranchers.  We bought a book on "how to foal horses"! 

Friday, July 3, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #95 - GONE TO SANCTUARY

Llano Quemado Studio this morning - finished paintings and works in progress.
3 July 2020 (Llano Quemado, New Mexico) - Up at 4AM today - thinking, thinking, thinking- bad case of monkey-mind.  Turned on Morning Joe - he is such a bloviator! Switched him off after five minutes.  Tried to go back to sleep...nope...fixed a cup of coffee as the sun rose over the foothills toward the Pecos Wilderness.  The neighborhood rooster crowed his little chicken heart out for over an hour.  Just another day in Paradise! 

Relaxed my social distancing a bit last month - short visits with some friends and family.  Helpers came back in - overwhelmed by trying to keep up the house.  No time at the easels!!
Watching TV thirsty for any good news. Downward spiral every day!  We are living an apocalyptic nightmare and no Knight in Shining Armor is showing up to save us.  The election is almost a joke due to gerrymandering, faulty voting machines and Russian interference.  Our very stable genius behaves more like a humorless Mafia godfather than a world leader.  No word from him about the Russians paying the Taliban to kill American military.  More than 500,000 new cases of the virus a day.  Oh, and don't forget the huge cloud of sand and dust blowing into the U.S. from the Sahara - all the way up to Wisconsin!

New Mexico is surging in new Covid cases in the last few days.  Deciding to go back into serious isolation again until things stabilize or flatten.  Time to hunker down.  

Perhaps I am having an out of body experience, but a few days ago I decided to just be grateful and as cheerful as one can be under the circumstances.  The uncertainty of this time could turn me into a non-functioning robot! Attitude is everything!  Celebrating one-year anniversary in this new studio.  Not only has this house sheltered me, it is truly an inspiration - sunsets, storm clouds, heart stopping birdsongs and neighborhood coyotes.  Twelve new small paintings almost completed.  Planning to put them up for sale this weekend. Will finish "First Snow" next week.  Blank canvases all over the studio - one more order of oil paints from Jerry's Artarama.  Sketches and photos for a new body of work.  Listening to One Step Away from Paradise - the true story of a Lama's search for Shangri-la after the Chinese invasion of Tibet.  A good story will keep me at the easel every day.

Have held back in writing this blog.  Some parts of my story aren't pretty.  Life is not a fairy tale!  Recently saw a documentary on Netflix about Polish Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski.  She is an inspiration!!!! Her story of courage and determination is a must see.  Unvarnished truths need to be told and shared.  Stories of survival can keep us moving and give hope to those still struggling.  I was encouraged to be more honest and open after listening to Sonia.  Also recalling AA speaker Angie Dill from L.A.  Her grit and honesty sustained me on my path to 35 years of sobriety.  Fair warning: The truth isn't always pretty.  Some people in my life do not fare well.  If we had all behaved better there would be no story.  Planning to be as fair as possible to everyone without holding back.  Becoming whole is a profound secret.... sometimes secrets need to be shared. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #94 - LISTENING TO MOUNTAINS II



There definitely is a certain poetry to life and it is usually discovered through the distance of time.  Waking up to reality, deep awareness is not for everyone.  I did not choose to wake up and gratefully scotch was helping me stay numb to many events from my childhood.  Debilitating panic attacks were frequent visitors.  Many were triggered by the presence of Ernie's loaded guns all over our house.  He had developed Grave's disease, had surgery; as he was recovering, developed a growing paranoia.  I wanted to stay to help him, but feared for the safety of my children.  That divorce destroyed our family in 1979.  The word "stalking" was not part of everyday vocabulary, but Ernie was around every corner for the next two years. One day he  appeared at my kitchen window at 6AM staring at me as I fixed my coffee.  His behavior became very menacing.  More drinking, more numbing myself out, more searching for answers.  I felt trapped in a downward spiral and feared there was no escape.

For one or two hours every Sunday I found a certain comfort and sense of safety at a New Age church service at the Santa Fe Women's Club.  Met a lady named Elizabeth Couse from Taos, the granddaughter of well-known painter E.I. Couse.  Elizabeth was a nurse at the Embudo Treatment Center.  Stay with me here - it eventually all comes together - miracles do happen!

There was cake and coffee after  the final song "Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me..."  I clung to every hopeful word! One Sunday a tall pleasant man introduced himself and over the course of several months we became friends.  Everyone at the church spoke very highly of him and I began to feel comfortable in his presence.  This was not a match made in Heaven for either one of us - we carried separate baggage and  totally different agendas.  The minister from the church married us.  Ironically, she knew his entire history and kept his secrets.  If she had told me about his past, the rest of my story would be a blank page.  The Universe works in very mysterious ways!

September 17th, 1982 - Truchas, New Mexico.  We emptied the pick-up trucks of cartons and began our new lives on the horse ranch at the end of a narrow dirt road that led to the Land Grant from the King of Spain.  Miles away from Santa Fe I breathed great sighs of relief.  The noise of my city life began to retreat into the background.  The panic attacks were less frequent as were the instances of recovered childhood memories.  Excitedly I unpacked my paints and brushes.  Enthralled by the beauty all around me I went to work on some new canvases as soon as possible.  I really wasn't fully aware that my life had been profoundly changed and I could never ever return to the old version of myself.

Each day was a new discovery - a new adventure.  Our neighbors generously shared the history of the village and their family stories.  A deep connection to this village began to build.  It certainly helped that the Pope and I were Polish - no other introduction was necessary!  My new landscape paintings opened wonderful doors - opportunities to know another culture. I felt so privileged to be a guest in this amazing place! 

Truchas is an agricultural community -  In spring the fields are plowed, the seeds planted.  Parcientes gather in teams to clean the acequias.  Livestock is herded  to lush summer pastures higher in the mountains.  As autumn approaches preparation for winter begins.  Chainsaws and pick-up trucks - cords of wood stacked neatly beside the adobe houses.  In this place a man's wealth is judged by the size of his woodpile!! Fields of hay are baled.  Pantry shelves groan under the weight of Mason jars filled with fruit and vegetables - hopefully enough to get through the winter. Livestock returns to lower fields.  Bales of hay are stacked  high in sheds and barns.  Fences are repaired and life becomes a silent preparation for the snowy days ahead.  

Watching and listening, I began to understand the self-sustaining nature of life in the mountains. Rhythm of the seasons, everyday routines gave life meaning and purpose.  After a time my friend Margaret Jamison would refer to Truchas as my spiritual home!   I never wanted to leave!!! 

Monday, June 8, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #93 - LISTENING TO MOUNTAINS Part One

 
7 June 2020 - Llano Quemado, N.M. - Caught up in all the drama and chaos of these past three months - have been self-isolating since the beginning of March.  Relearning how to live on my own....laundry, mopping and the damned dishes!  Can't comprehend the scope of the death from the virus and the destruction of civility due to the protests.  Wondering if no one ever read the book or seen the movie Serpico?  Wasn't anyone filled with fear for our country during the protests in Ferguson when the police showed up in full military gear sitting on top of tanks with machine guns aimed at the protestors?  Why were people shocked to see "spare" tanks from the Pentagon rolling down streets of Washington?   Now we have a "secret police force"!!! Question: Where do we go from here?  Life in America is forever changed!
_____________________________________________________________ 
LISTENING TO MOUNTAINS.....
“I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are Strangers in their birthplace. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he feels he mysteriously belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle among scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.” – W. Somerset Maugham THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
17 September 1982 - Truchas, New Mexico - The first snow on Truchas Peaks.  We arrived at the horse ranch late afternoon -  the small Hansel and Gretel cottage, an enormous horse barn, a mobile home and a gypsy wagon on 20 acres. At the end of the property was a gate leading to the land grant from the King of Spain. .  This place was called Llano Quemado - "suburban" Truchas with a population of about seventeen stalwart souls. The snow clouds shifted and swirled with the strong winds. All the moving boxes were piled up in the horse barn. There were two huge sliding doors which opened onto a dirt road and the deep arroyo that separated us from our nearest neighbor.  I sat on a ledge and watched the mountain, knowing that no matter what circumstances brought me here - this place is where I needed to be!
Life is a mystery, isn't it?  Only when one can look through the long lens of many years can we begin to pick up some of the puzzle pieces and put them where they belong.  I don't believe in accidents!  Prior to this move, I tried  all the New Age movement had to offer - right down to the Course in Miracles. Magical thinking. Am not dismissing any of it, but nowhere did I get the hint that not drinking might be the answer to my many problems.  Instead I found a new partner who eagerly encouraged my fantasies of leaving Santa Fe and living in a small village in the mountains.  AAers call this  a "geographic" - moving to greener pastures - problems solved.  Tell God your plans... 
Once the cartons were unpacked some of my city confusion began to lift.  The ranch was for sale and we agreed to clean it up.  We gathered and burned brush and cut back the scrub oak.  My painting studio was set up in the office of the barn.  Mayordomo Cosme Romero, his wife Carmelita and daughter Susie arrived one afternoon to introduce themselves....the first of many visitors to see the new Truchas paintings.  My Santa Fe gallery wasn't the least bit enthused - there were no cowboys or Indians!  Was fully expecting them to recognize my genius in this new work. My painting sales was the only income of this fragile enterprise! Oh, don't worry, tomorrow is a new day - have another drink and let's watch the bills pile up!
Adventures major and minor...trips to Santa Fe or Taos for groceries and supplies. We adopted an ancient wild mustang from Los Alamos - his teeth were bad and he was rib cage skinny. Used to roaming free he took great umbrage at being penned. To show his disapproval one morning, he bit Mr. Wonderful in the balls and knocked him to the ground. He didn't get much attention from the man of the house after that humiliating wounding.   The famous pink mustang died not long afterward - I was alone at the ranch on the morning he went to those big open spaces in the sky.  Did not know what to do with a dead horse!  Called my across the arroyo neighbor and asked him if he had a back hoe to dig a grave.  I think he wanted to laugh, said he would bring his truck and pull him down the road to the Land Grant - a form of Tibetan "sky burial".- I loved that old horse!
That winter we were stranded on the ranch over the Christmas holidays - 3 feet of snow and the plows  only came through when the schools reopened. Reading by the little fireplace in the cottage, painting in the barn - a quiet time.   Big mountain lion paw prints in the snow and black bear tracks down by the pond.  This ranch life was definitely an adventure!  Another toast to Good Times!   

Thursday, May 28, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #92 - INTO THE GREAT UNKNOWN


Llano Quemado, New Mexico -   Unable to think of much else since making the decision to go ahead and share my experience, strength and hope.  Have tried to talk myself out of this, but the urge to persist is with me every day now.  Perhaps there might be just one other woman out there struggling during this pandemic, I want her to know that she is not alone!  There are sisters all over the world who share her experience.  There is no greater understanding than that of women in recovery - a strong life-long bond.....light at the end of that long and very dark tunnel....each day is a New Beginning. 


Thirty-five years ago there were treatment centers, group AA meetings, one on one sponsor support.  Help was available 24/7.  Those support systems have changed, broken down.  Am certain that chat rooms, Zoom meetings, texting and messages to sponsors, phone calls are replacements for the old ways in order to maintain social distancing.  Could these few chapters of Word Paintings be helpful?  This is my way to pay it forward and thank all those generous spirits who shared their stories with me so long ago.   

Santa Fe, 1978 - There was that first day when I knew alcohol had me and, even though I tried mightily to give it up every hour of every day, I kept going back for more.  My second husband was leaving for work.  I stopped him at the front door.  "I have a problem.  I can't stop drinking. Please help me."  He looked at his watch and said he didn't want to be late for school.  Prior to this revelation I had begged him to go into counseling with me but he refused.  That night he came home with a special gift - a vintage bottle of Chivas Regal.  A stark realization that this battle was mine alone.  It took six years of being "out there" before I surrendered and asked (begged) for the help I needed.

In the beginning of our marriage life was great - we were a happy family!  Ernie had some serious surgery sometimes in the late seventies and developed episodes of extreme paranoia.  At the end there were loaded rifles in every room in the house and a revolver under Ernie's pillow.  Tensions ran high; sensing danger, I knew it was the end. A long, long and very sad tale. Life took over and I needed to take my children to a safer place. We moved to a rented house nearer to their schools.  As much as we tried to make the best of this time - it was dark and scary for all of us.  A divorce did nothing to relieve the anger and bitterness of our situation.   As much as I tried I could not stop drinking....if anything our problems intensified the situation.

I have a metaphor for marriage - it is a large honeymoon suitcase.  Before embarking on Life's journey together, the groom packs all his experiences and emotional baggage and the bride does the same.  Without realizing it, all their damaged parts become one big weedy tangle of unresolved issues.  Both Ernie and I were emotionally damaged people.  If we could have had an opportunity to sit down face to face with a counselor prior to our marriage to share the unvarnished truth of our childhood lives  (Truth and Reconciliation) we would have avoided marriage and just stayed the best of friends.  Hope springs eternal, doesn't it?  Ah, romance....divorce.

Thus began my search for sanity.  Once I admitted to having a problem, I tried everything to make life better for us.  Denial was so strong - I thought Life was the problem. If only I could make things right. Counselors, astrologers, tarot readers and eventually Ernest Holmes' Church of Religious Science were little steps.  Six years of turmoil and confusion....always searching for the missing parts of me.  It honestly never occurred to me that drinking was my problem - even during my childhood alcohol was essential to any and all happy times.   Drinking no longer me happy - I was miserable - sick and tired!  Denial is not a river in Egypt!!!

Sadly I couldn't keep anything together.  Promises to  do better, be better and stop my destructive behavior never seemed to produce a happy ending.  Absolutely everything fell apart, including my little family.  Many mishaps and adventures during those "lost" years.  Truth is they were never lost - they were being lived to the fullest while drinking.  Many paintings, some shows, a few workshops - oh, not to be forgotten is my brief marriage to a genial fellow I met at church! He turned out to be a Dateline Mystery Man with a huge secret suitcase full of darkness  We were drinking buddies.

Truchas, New Mexico - 1983 -There are no accidents! We moved to the horse ranch in Truchas. The marriage was irrelevant, the universe conspired to bring me to this place of healing - I never would have found it alone. This scary relationship was my first encounter with "rigorous honesty".  One morning I looked at this stranger and said, "Oh my God, you are my father!"  It was time for me to do "the work"!  From then on I decided to do whatever it would take to live life without alcohol.  I've read that once one makes a decision, the Universe supports and empowers that action. It has always been my belief that sobriety is my spiritual journey.  Life in that mountain place was my true New Beginning.  Living in nature began my healing process....a very long and winding road.  Hard work, serious doubts - one boulder at a time...

Monday, May 25, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #91 - CLOUDS FROM BOTH SIDES NOW



26 May 2020 - Llano Quemado, N.M. - Sat in the sun on the old railroad bench in front of the house this morning.  A wide band of low clouds forming in the northeast over Taos Mountain and the Pecos foothills.  A matching bank of clouds slowly building over the low mountains to the southeast, beginning to form a circle - only a few hundred sky miles from meeting in the middle.  Some dark and rumbly-looking patches among the whiter billows.   As I look out the window now, they are still growing and building. Fingers crossed that we will have a big, juicy rainstorm this afternoon.  Weeks of drought - fire danger warnings for campers and hikers in the surrounding forests.

Life in the time of a Pandemic.....tomorrow is my day for a homemade haircut.  Read about the two symptomatic hairdressers somewhere infecting over 140 clients!  Wonky left hand due to arthritis will make this another "self care" adventure.  Bought most of my supplies for bread making.  Machine won't be delivered until August - a silicone bag for the ingredients and kneading the dough.  The exercise might do my old hands some good.  Remembering the days when I baked four loaves at a time - a great recipe for challah dough.  Challenging myself with old habits which need to become new again - did I just get lazy? Looking for some good soup recipes....

Wednesday marks my 35th year of sobriety. Struggling with the idea of sharing my story.  Truth is the memories are fast and furious as The Day approaches. Had my answer yesterday when I thought of what it would be like for anyone trying to overcome addiction during a pandemic.  Recovery programs are groups of people (at any stage of addiction) meeting in rooms large and small - newcomers and old timers sharing their stories.  Hospitals are not available for detox.  The foundation of the AA program is the sharing of one's experience, strength and hope.  It is possible that people will find ways to recovery with viral meetings and Zoom.  Once a person gets sick and tired of being sick and tired, a strong will to live - the life force kicks in - and there is an  willingness to go to any lengths to get healthy. 

My story is not unusual just made more complicated due to my stubbornness and denial....the good, bad and the not so pretty.  One day there was a 6'oclock news segment with Betty Ford and her family discussing their intervention.  Her husband and children told how they felt to watch her and all the ways her drinking affected their lives. With their help and support she  entered a treatment program for her addiction to alcohol and prescription pills.  Her body language showed no signs bravado,  just a quiet bravery; an admission of powerlessness and great strength of spirit.  She touched my soul!   

Some years later Betty, her daughter Susan, and a slew of Secret Service men would visit my studio on Santistevan Lane in Taos and I had the honor of fixing lunch for her. Over many years Betty's openness about her alcoholism and breast cancer saved thousands of women's lives.  Before this time women would go down the long lonely road of alcoholism without any roadmap to a better life.  The words "breast cancer" were only whispered and the diagnosis kept a dark family secret.  Betty opened doors to healing through alcohol treatment programs and mammograms.  She is one of the greatest women of our time!   This is the story of how her bravery and courage saved my life....I can never repay her. It is my hope that I can tell my story with the same courage and honesty.  It is definitely a long and winding road.....

GRANT ME THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE - AND THE COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #90 - REBIRTH




24 MAY 2020 - Llano Quemado, New Mexico - An old habit of mine is to give permission to start life over anytime I experience major shifts or changes.  Turning 80 last year and after some major health issues, every day has been a New Beginning.  The minute my eyes open, I experience a delightful surprise.  Another day!!!  There was, however, a certain hesitancy to make plans for the "future".  My approach has become somewhat fatalistic.  When will "it" happen?  How close am I to that Big Easel in the Sky?  If I start this 36"x48" canvas....a thousand reasons to avoid living!

And then came the Pandemic!!!  All of a sudden, left to my own devices it became necessary for me to stand on my own two somewhat wobbly feet one more time.  As each day has passed, I realize that I've had enough energy and strength to reach a level of independence not experienced in a very long time.  Surprise, surprise! Bitching and moaning to myself before each "insurmountable" pile of chaos, lists I never could quite complete in a minute or less, I have chipped away a little bit every day!  "How do you eat an elephant?" - One Bite at a Time!  Instead of trying to do everything at once, I took small bites out of the biggest jobs like the taxes, filing piles of papers, etc. Afternoon naps have helped a lot! 

Last night I had this beautiful dream that I was nine months pregnant with a baby girl - just waiting for that first labor pain.  Hadn't felt movement in a while and worried that something had gone wrong.  All of a sudden I felt a strong bump to my rib cage - then my eyes opened to another beautiful New Mexico morning!

A great cup of coffee this morning and some amateur dream translation, I believe this is a message from my overworked Art Gods!  Whenever life becomes cluttered and confused, I struggle to find the door to a solution.  The more I struggle, the answers will elude me.  Taking life one step at a time - just putting my head down and doing the work the answers appear in the most amazing ways....my dream was about fertility.  Stop hesitating.  Adjust, adapt - CHANGE my thinking!  One painting at a time....

This social isolation has been a surprise - a gift of time to be clear about my choices.  Deciding not to grow a garden felt like a defeat - a concession to old age.  Last night the KOBTV weatherman said that northern New Mexico is under a severe drought now - high winds, fear of forest fires.  Enough energy to paint without doing battle with Mother Nature.  Good decision.  Buy a bread making machine, a new Epson large digital printer; put my head down and just do it! 

In between my Martha Stewart moments of cleaning and organizing, I have gathered source material - images - photos from recent field trips.  The fire has been lit one more time.  This is my New Beginning - this is the message in my  dream was to let go - Stop Hesitating!!! All I have is today!  Fresh mix of painting medium, a new palette and a list of art supplies to hold me until Christmas. 

May 27th marks my 35th year of sobriety.  Have been struggling with the decision to tell my story of recovery "How the Real Betty Ford Saved my Life" -- hesitating!  What if my story would resonate with another woman out there?  I need another dream...

Being alive is a total surprise, isn't it?

WORD PAINTINGS #96 - LISTENING TO MOUNTAINS III - AWAKENING

"HIGH COUNTRY MONDAY MORNING" It wasn't difficult for me to adjust to life on the horse ranch.  In the beginning I felt ca...