March 20, 2010

The Hoover and his Lady

 A cedar waxwing, the presence of which will become apparent as you read.

I have a dear friend in prison in the deep South, who has given me permission to post anything he writes in his letters. This blog seems the appropriate place, what with everything Jesus said about visiting people in prison and what with so many American Christians ignoring Jesus' insistence on love because they're having too much fun hating homosexuals, to put this letter from him.

March 14, 2010:

Here in That Grey Area Between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead, . . .

I was nose to nose with a skunk the other night.

I've been smuggling cornbread, which I rarely eat anyhow, from the chow hall and scattering it for the birds outside by the windows that run alongside my bed. (Feel free to pick and choose how to better arrange the prepositional phrases in that sentence.)  It'd be nice to have been able to offer the birds something better (more birdseedy), but here in TGABLLLD, there you have it.  [Note:  I don't know what those letters stand for either.]

Most of my visitors are sparrow-y types that look like nothing so much as chipmunks with wings.  But I was graced with the appearance of a few yellow warblers, which have green hoods and backs and a big splash of bright vivid yellow on their chests.  From up close, the sight of them really lifts a man's spirits.
A fat and gorgeous fox squirrel has made a few appearances.  When he sits up to eat, in that charmingly prayerful stance, the sight of his strawberry blonde underside makes me swoon.

I commend his bravery -- he has to cross a fairly large open expanse to reach the rear of the dorm from the edge of the woods across the road, and I am certain Mr. and Mrs. Hawk (sidenote: they're always circling o'erhead and screaming, and such) would take a keen and fatal interest in his traverse.

Alas, the cornbread would be all gone (I would look out and say "All gone! - like you do to a baby) in the morning, and it was easy to surmise that Mr. Skunk was the responsible party.

Finally, I was awake and watching when he came around to hoover up all the cornbread.  I was leaning over the side of my bunk observing his curious culinary preference for cornbread rapidly rolled in dirt ("dirt-breaded") over plain cornbread.  He stopped what he was doing and came right up to the window, fearlessly meeting my gaze with his small shiny black eyes.

Mr. Skunk is now known as The Hoover, and his girlfriend, whom he brought to the pary last night, is Lady Hoover.

And I might as well go the whole hog, nature-talk-wise and reveal that I have now observed the cedar waxwing (I NEVER draw 'waxwing' in Scrabble), who really seems to have been designed by the Divine Artist strictly for our viewing pleasure.  It's a buff-colored bird EXCEPT they have a little bit of bright red and bright white -- just a touch, mind you --on the edge of the wing, and at the end of their fan tail is a stripe of brilliant yellow.

[Editorial note:  This is the moment when you return to the photo at the top of the page. If you make it big enough and squint, you can see both the spots of red and the brillliant yellow on the tail.]

Sigh.  Sigh.

I can usually avoid abyssal unhappiness . . .

Aw, Mary Jo, you know what I mean -- I can often overcome my circumscribed circumstances and insistently focus upon my many blessings -- including the sight of the cedar waxwing.  It's just that sometimes, and some days . . .


Back to me. I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few days ago (the diagnostics began at the same time my father was dying).  While on the whole I'm chipper enough to make people vomit, I'm having a frog-all kind of day today; so I'm in tune with Jack. All of my blessings, including spotting a ground hog day before yesterday and the sight of nine turtles sun-bathing on the banks of Beargrass Creek yesterday, not to mention health insurance, and yet it's just that sometimes, and some days . . .

February 24, 2010

Which is not to say goodness has fled the UMC

My father died last Wednesday, February 17, of complications from a stroke.  Since 1992, he's also been treated for a blood disorder; his bone marrow hadn't worked properly, and he'd had numerous blood transfusions, iron infusions, and experimental treatments that kept him going far longer than his original doctor predicted.  Three radiologists checked his chest x-rays last weekend because something wasn't quite right.  None of them drew an absolute conclusion, but they thought maybe they saw something that was perhaps lung cancer, if it wasn't one of several other things.  [And here all along you thought medicine was a science.]  Daddy was 87 and not much of a church goer, although he was raised in the Church of England.  Mother is thoroughly anti-church.  If you ever need an oral dissertation on "holy rollers," look her up. In her inclusive way, she counts everyone from Lutherans and Roman Catholics to Four Square Gospel Holiness church folks as holy rollers.

But all of the best people are multi-dimensional.  A few hours after Daddy died, I asked what the date was and then what the day was.  With both established, I said, "Oh, it's Ash Wednesday."

Mother promptly replied, "A high holy day.  That means your father's in heaven.  You know he was an altar boy in the Church of England."

I didn't, but I did know England has a state religion, and my father was thoroughly taught and tested regarding the Church of England's history, theology, and polity, not to mention the fibs it tells itself. That's one of the reasons he chose to become an American citizen.  He believed in the separation of church and state.  He also never allowed his children to address others as "sir" or "ma'am," saying they were indications of inferiority and totally out of place in the United States.

The point I'm after here, though, is that my parents have lived on Middle Bass Island, Ohio, for more than 60 years. After his stroke, Daddy was taken to Akron Hospital and from there to the hospice setting in Medina, Ohio.  Meanwhile, my mother was getting settled into a care center in Seville, Ohio, where my brothers live.  We planned a memorial service for Saturday with many lovely gestures -- a copy of the book he wrote, bottles of the herbal vinegar he made and marketed, a picture of the Swordfish he flew during World War II.  The family cookie jar (a jovial McCoy pig with a green necktie) even made an appearance.  But we needed a pastor.

The lovely folks at the funeral home made contact with Tim, pastor of a United Methodist Church nearby.  He and I talked a bit (we both had Ted Campbell for Methodism, but at different divinity schools), and he spent way over an hour with Charlie and me on Friday.  That night he pondered at length about us, our parents, the nature of love, the joy of planting.  The scripture passages he chose (including Psalm 103 and the Isaiah "Have you not known? Have you not heard?") were brilliant. In his short message he spoke of love's endurance and how planting is a forward-looking activity that sustains us all. Tim was sane and generous and gave abundantly of his time and brain and knowledge.

It makes you wonder, doesn't it, that the UMC is thoroughly godly and kind in some areas and yet devilish and vicious in others, especially when it suits the political climate. Torture is no longer the rule of this land; and exclusion has no place in the UMC church.  The righteous clergy out there exhibiting lovingkindness and righteousness every day deserve more.

December 21, 2009

Streep and Sehested

" 'I remember Albert Brooks saying to me in Defending Your Life, "Could you just make it a little sweeter?" - and that's been repeated by other people in the years since then.' This time her derisive snort is much louder.  'But I didn't listen to it.'
"So how did she free herself? 'I don't think it's something anyone can tell you,' Streep says. 'I think you just have to get sick of hearing the accommodation in your approach to things . . . the way people have to get sick of drinking or drugs before they stop. As there begins to be less time ahead of you, you want to be exactly who you are, without making it easier for anyone else.'"
               Meryl Streep cited in "Something about Meryl" by Leslie Bennetts in January 2010 Vanity Fair.

"I am a prison chaplain in a maximum security prison for men.  . . . Prison is a place fueled by fear. The place runs on power generated by cruelty and shame. It is shredding to the soul. . . .
I have a prayer, a daily hope.  My  prayer is that I can stand at the receiving dock at the prison as the new arrivals come in.  In my vision, I say: 'Brothers, the violence and abuse that has been done to you, or that you did to yourself or to someone else . . . it ends here.  Here you will practice compassion, dignity, and respect for yourself and others.  Here you will have the possibility to to change because God is here.  Welcome.  Come on in.'. . .
I have the same prayer and hope for the church . . . that the violence and abuse stops, and that we practice dignity and respect for all human beings."
     Baptist preacher and storyteller  Nancy Hastings Sehested, in "Passionate about the Possible," Christian Feminism Today, Vol. 30, No. 2, Summer (July - September), 2006.

December 19, 2009

What Child IS This? Mary Cartledge-Hayes, 1985. All rights reserved.

 My friend Claire just sent me a message on facebook saying she couldn't find a copy of this piece anywhere in her house and wants to use it in a sermon tomorrow.

This story first appeared in the Winter 1985 issue of the Christian feminist journal Daughters of Sarah. One Sunday I was tracked down in Sunday school; there was a phone call for me in the church office.  The editor of The Witness (Mary Lou...  Mary Ann... Somebody help me here) had just read the story and wanted to use it as the editorial for their Ash Wednesday/beginning of Lent issue. (Hadn't thought of it that way, had you?)  The story appeared in The Witness, Vol. 68, No. 2, Feb. 1985. Other lore surrounding this piece is that somebody almost fell off a bus in Chicago when she read it.  Nancy Hardesty became one of my dearest friends when we met at a conference and, over the closing meal, I told her I'd had some things published in Daughters. She asked some questions, and I mentioned the story about Jesus being born a girl.  She immediately teared up and said, "I love that story."  And here it is, almost 25 years later and as new and relevant now as when I wrote it.

Copyright 1985. All rights reserved.

December 18, 2009

Woohoo! Got the grant! Oh, dear.

Yesterday I got an envelope from the Kentucky Foundation for Women saying I'm a recipient of an economic hardship grant that will fund my mailing an original collage and document to leadership in the United Methodist Church to stimulate conversation about the church's attitude toward homosexuality and women leaders. These funds, from an anonymous donor, are micro-grants. The maximum each person could request was $500.  My request was for $258.

The KFW letter goes on to say that 48 feminist social change artists requested funds; 24 were funded. The requests "bear powerful witness to the impact of the national recession on the feminist artist community in our state" and also "bear witness to the great strength, ingenuity and persistence that KFW grantees are demonstrating in seeking solutions to their financial hardships."  A check for $258 was enclosed.

I was totally happy until this morning when I re-read my grant proposal, in which I say I'M GOING TO CUT UP MY PREACHING ROBE and use it to make the collages. Good God, people.  What was I thinking? Why didn't you stop me?

It's the theological equivalent of flag-burning.  Let's be clear. I approve of flag burning as political statement, as performance art, as a way of knocking us out of the doldrums of familiarity, as free speech.  And if somebody else had told me she/he planned to chop up a preaching robe -- well, cool.  Free speech. Performance art. Political statement.  Let's get those fools to open their eyes that they may see glimpses of truth.  Right on, my sisters and brothers.

Right on, indeed. But it's my preaching robe. MY preaching robe.  My PREACHING robe. Embedded in its warp and woof is every day of my life from 1995 to 1998, when all was well with the world (or at least with Fred, my late husband); and when the congregation, God, and I danced -- a waltz, a tango, a Fox trot, the twist, the funky chicken, the swim -- on Sunday mornings.  I wore the robe when I performed my first baptisms (Bradley and Devin, two of my grandsons).  I wore the robe when I performed my final baptism (Seth, the baby my friend Lisa was pregnant with when she preached Fred's funeral).  The robe hung in my closet in South Carolina, and I brought it with me to Kentucky, and here I stuffed it into a sack and later I set the sack on a shelf in the garage.  I brought it back to the house after I wrote the grant proposal, and now the ratty old sack sits on a shelf in the laundry alcove.

I'm going to chop it up; I really am. And I'm going to make fiber collages of it and mail them to United Methodist leaders along with a statement, and I'm going to post that statement here, and I'm going to e-mail it to newspapers and magazines. But not quite yet.  Soon, but not quite yet. I want to hold on just a little longer to my preaching robe and to what it used to represent:  my life; my local church; a kind, open-hearted, open-minded, open-doored denomination.

Where's this baby Jesus you spoke of?

Lisa, the glowingest bird of all, posted a series of photos of Olive's theological explorations. This one is the cat's pajamas. And haven't you known a lot of people over the years who could ask the same question if only they were paying attention?

December 14, 2009

Mammon: 1. Jesus: 0

For those of you who appreciate documentation, I've found the UMC's Judicial Council Decision #132 online so you can read it in its entirety.  The two dissenting opinions -- by Jon R. Gray and the Reverend Susan T. Henry-Crow-- appear following the majority opinion.

I can tell I've been out of the loop too long, because I only just now discovered that Susan Henry-Crowe, whom I've known since I was a lay member of the UMC (prior to 1993), was elected president of the Judicial Council on May 1, 2008. Belated congratulations to Susan.

She replaced as president that old scalawag James Holsinger, who was nominated by President George W. Bush (but never appointed) as Surgeon General of the United States, at least in part due to his attitude toward homosexuality.  He's a slick little fellow. He and his wife formed a church called Hope Springs Community Church, and when nominated he fell all over himself saying that congregation doesn't have a group dedicated to curing homosexuality.  If you visit their website, though, you can read all about a Celebrate Recovery group called Men's Sexual Integrity.  Okay, maybe it's to help men stop running around on their wives; but it so shouldn't there be an equivalent group for women?  By the way, if you can translate the gobbledygook description of that group, please share with the rest of the class.

While I'm on the subject of surprises, I was delighted to read that James Holsinger was censured by the United Methodist Church at General Conference in 2008 for various sins of omission and commission regarding large sums of money. The vote was 826 for censuring him and 38 against.  I'm in a predicament here.  I don't know whether to gloat over how the mighty have fallen or to ask, "What the hell is wrong with you people?  You censure this sleazebag over a few million dollars but you let him get away with denying our history, theology, and polity as president of Judicial Council when Decision 132 came down?" 

Score:  Mammon: 1; Jesus:0

December 3, 2009

New Day Dawning

The complexion of this blog is shifting.
The posts that precede this one come from three earlier blogs:
Way Ahead Threads, focused on fiber and other art;
Hot Flash Fan, focused on feminist art; and
Turbulence to Tranquility, weekly musings for the spiritually inclined.
Each of those topics will continue to receive attention, but the heart of this blog now is to document a movement to bring the church in general and the United Methodist Church in particular back to its senses. I left the UMC in 2005 after a Judicial Council decision that allows clergy to decide who is worthy of church membership. Perhaps if it had been a Southern Baptist to whom the pastor had refused membership, on the grounds that the person didn't believe in infant baptism, I'd see this issue differently. But it wasn't a Southern Baptist. It was an Episcopalian gay person; and the named reason was that he was gay. If he's not welcome, I'm not welcome. And so I resigned. Since then, I've been quiet about it. Now I'm beginning to talk.
I considered forming a nonprofit for this adventure. I thought of approaching other nonprofits to see about sharing their umbrella. But then I realized that giving up ordination was so costly that I don't want to be a nonprofit. For once in my life, I actually would like to make sufficient money to make a difference. I want to donate to causes that support our shared humanity, and I want to hire a book-keeper because I don't have time to run the numbers and she has too much time, thanks to cut-throat companies, venal financiers, and the layoffs they've spawned.
Plans are afoot.
You can help.
I need:
--Followers on this blog. Please sign up; and tell your friends.
----Cash for start-up costs.
--Stoles from clergy who have resigned their ordination for reasons of righteousness (so I can combine them with other materials and upcycle the stoles into art, to sell on this blog and perhaps other places).
-----Suggestions of unheralded organizations working toward social justice (because I'm going to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the art to such organizations.)
Stay tuned for late-breaking news.
-------------------------------------------------------------------Photo credit: Michael C. Smith

June 2, 2009

Battle Cry of the Revolution

The hell with quarter inch seams.

May 15, 2009

the first 40%

I was cleaning out files this evening and had an envelope in my hand to pitch when I flipped it over and saw this statement from Deb. I was on the phone with her at the time, and we were trying to finish up a project when she said the following:

"I always forget that the initial work takes 40% of the time."

Her statement lays out a problem most of us deal with over and over and over. We have in our heads an idea of the work to be done on a project. We reach the end point. And then we do all of the things that must be done for a completed project to move from our own personal brains out into the world. You know: the other 60% that's not done - heck, usually it's not even started.

The tenet applies to projects of all sizes. Deb and I were probably completing a book proposal when she made the statement, but I ran into the 60% this week while finishing my column for Today's Woman magazine. Got the big scene written that was to constitute the piece and drew what I thought was the conclusion -- except it only took up two sentences, and that was stretching it. Where I come from, that means there's something more important to say, if only I can determine what it is. I made a few reference phone calls, walked the dog a time or two, and generally bored myself half to death. Finally, I remembered a second story, one told to me years ago, that shifted my understanding of what I thought I was talking about.

I'd have guessed I'd done 90% of the work when I completed that first run at writing. Turns out Deb was correct, though: I was only at about 40%. With the new story included and a segue to glue the two stories together, I was at 100% -- unless you count the cliches and flat diction sprinkled here and there. Once the whole piece is at 100%, I do one or two (okay, three) final look-sees. That's my chance to plump up the pillows and straighten the comforter and put a vase containing a yellow posie on the dresser. That's my chance to end up with a piece that when I see it again in a few months or years I'll find something in it to admire, even if I disagree completely with my own conclusions. And that's how I reach tranquility in my professional life.

May 8, 2009

The Premise

I'm deconstructing my 2003 book -- literally -- and turning it into small artworks. (You can see them at my It's Only a Book blog. If you'd like one, just let me know.) A paragraph I ripped out today got me to wondering if a new religious awakening (not fundamentalism but a true springing forth of loving our neighbors and feeding sheep)is going to accompany the economic disarray in which we've found ourselves.

Here's the paragraph:

Even God makes more sense from the premise that life's a nightmare. Who needs God when nothing bad can ever happen to you because you have a late-model car, health benefits,and a retirement account? In that circumstance, God's a sidekick, a buddy, a fuzzy blanket you sleep with at night bcause it's comfortable. Then when disaster arises you whine because God was supposed to be your personal defense system, keeping you safe. On the other hand, if you know life to be a nightmare, then the presence of God is a sanctuary, like the shell of a turtle, traveling with your wherever you go, rain or shine, sickness or health, for better or worse.

This week, think and write a little bit each day about sanctuary: what it is; where you find it; whether your understanding of the concept has ever changed; what precipitated the change.

April 28, 2009

Temporarily Tranquil

I was telling someone a few weeks ago that I'm writing about tranquility; and how I think it becomes both more attainable and more precious the older we get. She thought it over and said, "It's always temporary."

"YES!" I said, because I'd come to the same conclusion just the day before. It's ALWAYS temporary. Sometimes big things interrupt it, sometimes little ones; but it's always getting away from us. That's why we need to remember and reclaim it.

For instance -- and I hate even going down this road, but there it is -- some fool who lives up the way from me takes her dog onto the tennis court. I'm fine with that part. I take my dog onto the tennis court, and he chases the tennis ball and smells all around the base of the fence. If my compadre's along, the two of them take a nice lope or two around the net. And then we leave.

This person to whom I'm referring with the dog? She lets her dog take a dump on the tennis court and then -- because apparently that's not proof positive of what a slob you are -- she doesn't pick it up but leaves the pile there. I fume about this matter every time I catch sight of the tennis court.

The most gracious way I could resolve the matter is to use one of the extra bags I always carry and pick up her dog's refuse. What I actually WANT to do is put a sign on the fence that says, "If you can't pick it up, get rid of the pup." That's not completely true; really I'd rather install a flashing arrow in front of her house under a sign saying PICK UP AFTER YOURSELF.

Yep, that's me: tranquil as all get out up until the moment I'm not. Or until the moment I think about the moment I started being not tranquil. Which is to say it's only ever temporary. Luckily, we can step back toward it whenever we're ready to stop having our life disrupted by a (no doubt sweet) dog we don't even know.

April 25, 2009

Three a Day

Yesterday on the way to the post office I was ruing my long To-Do list, populated with items I'm not interested in, some of them dating back a few weeks, or perhaps even a month; one or two actually go all the way back to Christmas week. None of them can be expunged. I just have to do them. But how without betraying my own rule of moving within the moment; of choosing to do that to which I'm led? (Not everybody can follow this rule. Children in the house rather preclude it. Also, if you're not deadline-motivated -- which I am -- it can lead to disaster.

Yesterday, though, I decided to try an experiment. For the next howeverlong, I'm going to do three things a day that I don't want to do.

My intent? To bring myself back into harmony by eliminating the cobwebby details clunking up my brain.

I'm hoping this will be a limited engagement, that in short order I'll either have swept down all the cobwebs; or that I'll come to a rapprochement with life and no longer assign judgments to tasks that need done but will simply do them immediately, thus removing them to the state of inconsequence they warrant.

I'm moved in part by an e-mail from my friend Nicole who had open heart surgery one month ago yesterday and was gloating because the doctor had just told her she can now drive AND VACUUM. "I never thought I'd miss vacuuming," she said.

It's the vacuuming, but it's also the normalcy I imagine she was missing. And that's what I'm after: regarding boring, repetitive, inconsequential tasks as normalcy; and thereby creating in them an invisibility that will allow for increased tranquility in my own life.

Do you think it will work? If so, might you try something similar? Or perhaps the inverse is true for you; that you do the required tedious stultifying items on your list and somehow never quite get to the fun part. If so, might you try the opposite, and make yourself do three fun things a day?

(Here's a dastardly thought: I find the idea of doing three fun things a day harder than the idea of doing three things I don't want to do. What's up with that?

March 16, 2009

The Power of Plodding

My good friend Debra Engle and I have come up with a new book concept. We're not ready to break out the title yet, but the brilliant subtitle she invented today is "Finding Grace in the Tough Times." Amazing, isn't it?

Moreso because in observing the economic crisis I'm amazed at how deranged this supposedly Christian nation has become. Do people not listen when they go to church? All those folks who believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God handed down in red letters in the Felizabethan English - what, they think it's all inerrant except that pesky little Matthew 6 verse, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through"?

Any Christian out there reading the Bible with a bit of attention shouldn't be surprised if they got Madoffed. How could you miss something right there in black-and-white?

Moths, rust, corruption, and thieves -- could it be more clear that putting your faith in bank accounts and IRS is not the right path?

From my work in the domestic violence movement years ago, I know violence in the home increases when the economy tanks. Layoffs, cutbacks, stress over credit card and grocery bills -- they all put stress on the family unit. Lovely people I know report raised voices in their own personal living rooms and the concomitant shock over the tempestuous natures they didn't know until now dwell in their own tempestuous breasts.

At moments like this, proverbs and slogans and morals of the story can sometimes grant surcease, however temporary. I'm going with "Slow and steady wins the race" -- slowly and steadily we (individually and as a country) are finding a way through this never-before-visited maze. Plod on in the direction that feels correct; eventually we'll be somewhere different.

Nobody inflicted this mess upon us. (In honor of Lent, I'm exonerating the immediate past president.) We(individually and communally)got into it ourselves. We (individually and communally) can plod our way out.

That instant gratification thing we've become accustomed to? Say bye-bye. Instead, it's time for Plodding Power.

For this week's adventure in penmanship, choose a proverb, Aesop's fable, myth, or slogan as your theme for the week. Contemplate it and jot notes about it as the week progresses. Next Sunday or Monday, write a paragraph about the insights you gained.

We're curious what proverb, etc., you chose. Feel free to leave us a comment. (I'm pretty sure you can do so anonymously if the thought of going public makes you nervous.)

March 11, 2009

Audre Lorde on being the change you wish to see

The thing about being a feminist is that there's always something new to set your, by which I mean my, teeth on edge.

I was looking at the Audre Lord Project in New York City and noticed in a block on the left these words:

We must be the change we wish to see in the world. Audre Lord

Hmm. Don't know about you, but I've seen that quotation attributed to Mahatma Gandhi more times than I can count. I did some searching and turned up the news that Gandhi never said it. Oh, go ahead, doubt me all you want, but then go read what the gandhitopia site says and start spreading the news. The mahatma said a lot of important things. However, when it comes to being the change we wish to see, it's all Audre Lorde all the time.

Tell everybody you know. It may seem a small thing, but our lives are woven, stitched, embroidered, engraved, delineated, written one small thing at a time, and to give credit where credit is due is no small thing at all.

March 9, 2009

Why I Love Sam Pickering

Yesterday I was just getting started on a damn fine rant rant about how newspapers keep laying off the important people -- journalists who cover finance, science, and the environment -- while hanging on to the sports and celebrity reporters.

At the same time I was reading Sam Pickering's Letters to a Teacher, a 2004 collection of his essays about teaching, and came upon this statement:

"In truth sports are popular because they are trivial."

It's hard to rant well after that. The triviality of sports and also of celebrity coverage is their real power. They don't matter. Everybody knows they don't matter. Even the people who can recite statistics about every baseball team or recall the outcome of every Super Bowl game or remember when Eddie left Debbie for Liz or the day Britney and K-Fed split -- those people are lodging their attention and emotion in things that don't matter because putting attention and emotion into the things that do are too taxing. They might stir up things better left unacknowledged or unaddressed. They might bring about change, and who knows what will happen then? But sports? We know the score there. Literally, we know the score; and some days that's enough to know.

Do you follow sports or celebrities? If so, how do you perceive their role in your life? If not, what allows you relief from the stresses and vagaries of real life? Where is your safe hiding place?

March 7, 2009


It's been over a year since I last posted on Way Ahead Threads, but I'm here to stay now. I wandered off to do a blog called Hot Flash Fan, celebrating a landmark piece of fiber art created in the 1980s by a collaborative led by Anne Stewart Anderson and facilitated by Judy Chicago. That blog slowly expanded to include feminist artists I located on flickr and through web searches. Meanwhile, I started doing a mail art project called It's Only a Book, where I post daily small works of art. And all the while my original blog was trucking along.

I suppose you've already seen the likely difficulty here: too many things to keep up with smoothly. And now enough time has elapsed with each blog that I can make some sensible groupings. Sometimes you've got work through the chaos in order to discover what wants to exist.

Today I imported all of the posts from Hot Flash Fan to this location. This blog, then, now, will include fiber art, feminist art, and my art except for the daily mail art, which I'll continue to post on It's Only a Book. Leave a comment and let me know how you like the new system.

Also, if I can sort through how to move just a few posts at a time, I'll be importing additional posts that show my embroidery. That seemed a bit more complicated, so it may take a bit longer.

Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by!

March 2, 2009

Those darling Unitarians are at it again

I love Unitarian Universalists, not least because they believe that kindness and common sense are critical aspects of a living faith. Like every other denomination, individual congregations fight like cats and dogs from time to time; but the divisiveness that sits on the shoulder of trinitarians is, if not excluded, at least rare.

They've now formed a group for spiritual directors that has the potential to enrich lives across the country. My favorite statement in their news release says that you don't have to believe in God to engage in spiritual direction.

Does that statement surprise you? If you agree with it, write a paragraph each day this week pointing out why it's wrong. If you disagree, write a paragraph each day this week pointing out why it's right.

Feeling tension at the very thought of writing against your inclination? Excellent!

February 24, 2009

Red shoes

I've just been reading an interesting blog called Like the Wrench and the Cracker. The author wears size 11 shoes and, as a result, has her relatives and close friends on notice to buy any cute pair of red shoes they run across. She has also taken to ebay -- and no wonder -- no one location is going to have sufficient red shoes, now are they?

She listed the five or six kinds of red shoes (sandals, boots) she owns and went on to question whether the wearing of them is sufficient to make up for the absence of anonymity while in a bathroom stall at work. Her comments reminded me of my friend Jack, who used to work at a law firm. One day I saw him on his way to the office, all gussied up in suit, tie, and red tennis shoes. When he noticed me noticing, he said, "I know it's going to be a rough day today, so I'm wearing these shoes to keep my spirits up."

Well, that would be the point of red shoes, wouldn't it? To keep your spirits up. To let your heart sing a little bit. To remind yourself that, while God may count every hair on your head, you're really not important enough for the color of your shoes to wreck anything that matters. Which led me to wonder how my world would be different if I'd worn red shoes every day for ... oh, pick a number ... the last ten years.

And what about you?

This exercise is similar to the question of who I'd be now if my parents had named me Alcott (on the one hand) or Tiffany (on the other). The name question, though, gives agency to other people. The red-shoe question gives agency to you, yourself. That's where the energy lies. That's where the traction lies. So spill some of that energy-traction on the page and see where it takes you.

Let me know, if you'd like. I'm curious.

February 1, 2009

facebook rocks!

After months of hearing people say I should be on Facebook, I caved on Thursday and signed up . . .

I've done lots of cool things online, but Facebook is the first that comes under the heading . (Among other good qualities, it's the first time ever that British and American sides of my family have been in the same place at the same time.)

My point, though, is that after a Kentucky Foundation for Women grants workshop yesterday, some of us decided to form a Friends of the Kentucky Foundation for Women group on Facebook.

KFW does more than give grants to feminist artists; it also intentionally seeks ways for those women to be in community, encouraging and empowering each other. Facebook, it seems to us, is another vehicle for doing so. We'd love to have you come on over and join on up!

January 27, 2009

Our True State

The only problem with books is that you have to actually write them before they can be published. Which is what Deb Engle in Iowa and I in Kentucky have been doing, with calm resolve, for over a month now. With the deadline nearly upon us, we're sifting through notes we've made over the last few years, gleaning treasures here and there. I want to share this one with you:

You don’t have to move or change jobs or leave your husband or unnaturally alter your state of consciousness. We’re not after an altered state; we’re after our True State – unbridled joy. Jill Conner Browne, The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love, p. 209-210

Brain/Soul Teaser: I'm totally in agreement with Jill, but you may feel differently. This week, write out what you believe our True State is. How close are you to enacting it in your life?

December 16, 2008

The Dalai Lama, Jean S. Bolen, Desmond Tutu & Deb

I've learned that my co-author, Debra Landwehr Engle, has an essay included in The Art of Living: A Practical Guide to Being Alive, a book released in October 2008 in both English and Spanish by publisher Editorial Kairos in Barcelona, Spain.

Deb joins voices worldwide who share "their thoughts on those questions of being alive which concern us all." Other contributors include the Dalai Lama, Jean S. Bolen, Desmond Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev, Sir Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, and a 104-year-old Holocaust survivor. The editor is Claire Elizabeth Terry.

Proceeds from the book will benefit Green Cross International. Founded by Mikhail Gorbachev, the organization's motto is "Give humanity a chance. Give the earth a future." Copies are available from Editorial Kairos in Barcelona. To order or for more information, e-mail them at info at editorialkairos dot com.

"The Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mario Vargas Llosa, Muhammad Yunus, Deepak Chopra, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, Jean S. Bolen, Desmond Tutu, Sogyal Rinpoche, Michael Douglas, Sir Richard Branson, John Berger, and others.
"The Art of Living consists of a cross-section of voices from diverse cultures worldwide, each of whom share with us their thoughts on those questions of being alive which concern us all – irrespective of our religious or cultural backgrounds: in effect, ‘pooling our resources’, in order that we may all help each other learn the beautiful and complex ‘art’ of being alive.
"From the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Michael Douglas, Mario Vargas Llosa, Muhammad Yunus, Deepak Chopra and Mikhail Gorbachev, to a Native American storyteller, an Armenian Shaman and a 104-year-old Holocaust survivor, The Art of Living doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive study of every single aspect of being alive, but it is compiled with the hope that it may help to shift our perspectives – just a little.
Claire Elizabeth Terry studied stage-management at the Central School of Speech and Drama, London. After working for several years in British theatre, she became a travel writer. Short-listed for the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize, she has written for the acclaimed Rough Guides travel series, as well as for several international publications. Claire has lived in Paris, Berlin, Crete and Florence. She now lives in Barcelona with her son, Roberto."

December 9, 2008

Mary: The Paper Doll Project

If you live in or near Durham, North Carolina, scoot on over to St. Philip's Episcopal Church to see Mary: The Paper Doll Project by artist and Duke grad Carole Baker. This interactive exhibit offers 4 different cultural depictions of Mary, the mother of Jesus - and did I say they're paper dolls? That means you can change their clothes, just like you did when you were a kid.

I'm so sorry I can't be there for the opening on December 11.

One of the sponsors for this event is the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South. This organization, founded and directed by Jeanette Stokes, has offered energy, expertise, and (when circumstances have permitted) financial assistance to women pursuing creative and spiritual activities for more than 25 years. Current emphases are writing and visual arts, with a full calendar of events and workshops. Click on over and get on their mailing list; it's invigorating even if you don't live in the South.

October 22, 2008

Only in Kentucky

KFW director Judi Jennings enjoyed the festivities.

And while you may have seen less fuzzy photos of Sallie Bingham, you've seldom see photos of a woman as radiant as she is here. Her glee is well-deserved. Her $10 million gift in 1985 created the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Through the granting of funds to feminist artists in Kentucky, the Foundation has birthed, nursed, and nurtured a vibrant community committed to feminist expression and to social justice.

Bingham's commitment is even more remarkable in light of an article in LEO, one of Louisville's alternative weeklies. In that 2005 piece, which celebrated KFW's twentieth anniversary, writer Molly Cunningham cited figures from the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy that show nationwide only six to seven percent of philanthropic donations go to women's issues and less than one percent go toward social justice issues.

October 15, 2008

masturbation liberation symbol

Another piece from the Feminist Art and Documentary group on flickr! The comment posted with the symbol reads as follow: "Part of ridding the world of misogyny is encouraging love, all forms of love, including self-love."

August 23, 2008

Quotation of the Day

"The artist is always pregnant from within, a container of endless potential transformations, abandoned to the fertilizing powers of the imagination, actualizing unknown faces parthenogenetically... whether we are weaving tissue in the womb or weaving imagery in the soul, our work is sexual: the work of conception, gestation and birth." Meinrad Craighead

My friends at the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South are deeply involved with the production of a documentary about Sacred Feminine artist Meinrad Craighead. For more information,you can go to the documentary website, to the artist's website, and to the RCWMS website.
Support the Meinrad Craighead documentary project. Purchase notecards with this Meinrad Craighead art.

August 19, 2008

Center medallion

You don't notice the center medallion so much from a distance.

It's only when you get up close that you see the rich colors and detailed stitching.

I read the book Ann Stewart Anderson kept about the Hot Flash Fan, and there I read about knots.

Can these be them? How long would it take to tie this many knots?

August 18, 2008

Participating Artists N - Z

Pat Obye
Joyce Ogden
Jacque Parsley
Liz Quinton
Lizi Ruch
Felize Sachs
Betty Senn
Kate Simon
Peg Smith
Marilyn Swan
Rebecca Tobias
Elizabeth Watkins
Donna Weiner
Jeanne Whitty

Participating Artists E - M

Marcia Fogelson
Frima Gelbard
Mary Clay Goodwin
Jean Guy
Shirley Hewitt
Peggy Sue Howard
Naomi Judd
Kathy Kaulitz
Suzanne LaValley
Anne Lindstrom
Micky Lorber
Anne Maiken
Martha March
Shana McMahan
Beverly McKinzie
Betts Meehan
Margaret Merida
Ann Miller
Jacquelyn Moore

Participating Artists A - D

Here are the names of contributing artists (A - D) to the Hot Flash Fan, created in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1985.

Aline Barker
Allis Eaton Bennett
Annie Barnes Bird
Marion Boomer
Lindsey Burns
Ann Coates
Mary Cobb
Miriam Corcoran
Pat Dereamer
Betsy Dienes
Franzee Dobeare
Sheryl Doerr
Nancy Durham

August 17, 2008



Picture, birth control pills, netting

Dried flowers held in place with netting

August 15, 2008


Before the Hot Flash Fan exhibit ended, I went back and took many more photos. I'm glad I did, because it gave me the chance to see details I missed the first time. The participating artists did an amazing job.

I love the sense of randomness within this carefully planned work of art. It's in keeping with the energy of the piece.

August 7, 2008

Creators of Hot Flash Fan

The creation of the monumental feminist artwork Hot Flash Fan required numerous hands, brains, and hours. I'll post lists all of the documented participants, in small steps.

These women had primary roles in the creation of the artwork:

Ann Steward Anderson, Originator and Principal Coordinating Artist
Judy Chicago, Facilitator
Ada O'Connor, Principal Embroidery Artist Coordinator
Judith Meyers, Quilting Coordinator

I'll post more of the artists' names tomorrow.

Another Fiber Art Exhibit: At the River's Edge

Saturday, August 9, 2008, is the last chance to see At the River's Edge, a dynamic fiber art exhibit in the Charlotte Price Gallery at the Water Tower in Louisville, Kentucky. The postcard above shows one of the art pieces: Water, Mountains, and Trees; she watches over me by Valerie C. White.

According to the gallery guide, "the art ... focuses on both pictorial and abstract representations of rivers and the landscapes, bridges, and communities that border them." The six participating artists -- Pat DaRif, Kathleen Loomis, Marti Plager, Joanne Weis, Valerie White, and Juanita Yeager -- embarked on the river theme in 2003. With five years to explore the theme in depth, the artists developed pieces that "conjure up the essence of the river; you feel the movement of the water, ... the ancient draw to live close to a body of water."

The pieces are wildly different and yet I saw in each a reflection of the predominant fact about a river: its constant movement. Perhaps most striking is the piece by Kathleen Loomis, whom, incidentally, I know because of my involvement with another art quilt group. Two of Loomis's piece are simultaneously tiny and enormous. Small pieces -- an inch? half an inch? -- of fabric, multi-colored and/or embellished, are strung together both horizontally and vertically, creating a whole that shifts and moves gently in the breeze from a passing observer. The colors merge into each other and separate, just as the river itself does. Stunning works.

As are Marti Plager's bridges. Hot colors and precise angles offer the comfort of bridges in the midst of the textile rivers. Her pieces, lovely in their own right, add the same element that bridges offer in the course of a long car ride: the joy of geometry in the midst of natural shapes. (By the way, I know Marti as well.)

You can see more examples of the art work at the website of the Louisville Visual Art Association. They give you a hint of what's happening in the gallery, but only a pale hint of the remarkable power of this exhibit.

August 6, 2008

Close-up of Lower Right Side of Hot Flash Fan

You can see, in the tan area atop the green ray, the words that appear above each ray: Menopause is.

All of the lines done in brown paint ( you see them clearly in this photo) were done by the facilitator, Judy Chicago.

Still to Come

I have more photos to post, and I also plan to go back to Huff Gallery on Friday to take more photographs. This is the first time I've taken pictures of such a large piece, and in seeing them now, several weeks after the fact, I learned a lot about what I left out. At the time, I wasn't trying to be systematic; I focused on techniques that I especially liked or that were delicate enough not to show up in a full-size photo.

I still won't manage to photo every aspect of the piece, but there are a few important things to add. For instance, the hemisphere from which the rays emerge. I don't have a single close-up of the work on that part. It may not be as vibrant as the rays, but it's critically important to the whole.

So: more to come.

P. S. When I returned to take more photos of the Fan several weeks later and was able to concentrate on the hemisphere, I saw how vibrant it actually is. Strong colors, beautiful handwork -- it's a dynamic aspect of the whole.

Close-up of Right Side of Hot Flash Fan

Close-up of Right Side
Originally uploaded by Ka-ching
This close-up shows the hand-wrapped cord quite clearly. You can also see a good example of the couching that was done here and in several other places.

Close-up of Upper Right Section of Hot Flash Fan

From thjis angle you can see that each of the colored rays includes an image of a woman. From the lower left all the way around to this ray, the artwork is showing losses that come with aging/menopause. The purple section you see here, though, shows a wildness and freedom breaking forth. The figure looks down-right ecstatic to me.

Close-up of Center of Hot Flash Fan

Close-up of Center
Originally uploaded by Ka-ching
The pink section in the center of this photo pays tribute to the end of child-bearing years. The net holds various contraceptive devices.

Incidentally, can you see the gold cord that divides the pink section from the red and the purple sections? One of the participating artists told me that all of the cord was wrapped by hand, and that it took forever. She said everyone involved with the project wrapped cord at one time or another.

Close-up of Lower Left of Hot Flash Fan

Lower left
Originally uploaded by Ka-ching
In this view, you can see something of the intricacy of the Hot Flash Fan.

The figures in yellow are outline stitched, and embroidery fills the area between the figures.

The green section over their heads is closely quilted.

The orange section depicts the rigors of mastectomy. It includes several post-mastectomy photographs. It feels like a brave thing to have done in 1985.

Opening reception

July 22, 2008

The Hot Flash Fan

The Hot Flash Fan is currently on display in the Huff Gallery of the Spalding University library in Louisville, Kentucky.

Hot Flash Fan is owned by the Kentucky Foundation for Women. At the opening reception last week, Ann Steward Anderson, the originator and principal coordinating artist, told how KFW came to purchase the HFF. She said Sallie Bingham was creating KFW at the time and urgently wanted the documentation Ann had collected (design sketches, letters between her and Judy Chicago, etc.) in the creation process. Ann told her that to get the documentation, the Foundation had to purchase the artwork. And so it came to pass that this monumental work of feminist art has been held and preserved for more than twenty years. According to the participating artists I spoke with at the opening, the piece has lost none of its luster, color, or embellishments.

December 15, 2007

That face, that beautiful face

When I made a quilt for my grandson Joe this year, I decided to include JT, one of his family's horses.

This is the block very near completion.

Here's the thing about hand quilting, hand embroidery, etc. : the more you do of it on a piece, the more you need to do... The law of diminishing returns is NOT in operation; the more stitches added, the better.

November 29, 2007

Love You--Mean It

I took a photography class this fall to better document scenes around Beargrass Creek and to improve the photos I take of art.

I just noticed I forgot to use the tripod when I took this photo.

You've heard the phrase "a work in progress"? It applies to art, to blogs, to life.

"Love You --Mean It" is approximately 9 x 12 and is hand-stitched and hand-embroidered.

Fly If You Want To journal

I've been expanding all of my horizons since being invited to join the Louisville Craft Mafia. Pictured is one of my first journals. It includes two or three embellished fiber pages plus 20 or so plain pages to write on

5.5 x 9 inches.