Saturday, December 7, 2013

Patterns, patterns everywhere!


Paul Klee
The last few months I've been working patterns.  Up until this time, I'd only played with patterns, done small ones, felt like they were insignificant and/or not completely worthwhile - I should be doing "real" art instead.  I don't know where I got the message that patterns aren't as important as realistic art.  There are many famous artists who have worked with patterns, some almost exclusively.  Paul Klee is a good example. He worked extensively to analyze color and shapes and patterns and taught those subjects at the Bauhaus School in Germany.  Lots of other artists have played with pattern as well including Mondrian and Gustav Klimt.  I have always been drawn to this type of work and have always created patterns and doodles of my own.  When my friend Linda Hollett told me about Zentangles a few years ago, I felt like I'd come home. 

The folks who created Zentangles describe them as the following:
The Zentangle Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns.

Almost anyone can use it to create beautiful images. It increases focus and creativity, provides artistic satisfaction along with an increased sense of personal well being. The Zentangle Method is enjoyed all over this world across a wide range of skills, interests and ages.
We believe that life is an art form and that our Zentangle Method is an elegant metaphor for deliberate artistry in life.
When I learned about them, I started filling 6"x9" notebooks full of my own Zentangles which I have started to call Zendoodles.  I teach classes about them at www.visarts.org as well as at my studio.  Here are a couple of my earlier ones...




 Recently I've been creating larger ones on 11"x14" Duralar, a type of translucent plastic paper that can be drawn on on both front and back.  Here are some of those...  (Sorry for the quality of the pictures.  I photographed them with my iPad and cropped them there, but the crop didn't transfer.)  These are done with Micron pens and color pencils which  glow beautifully on Duralar.
Ringdoodles







Figure Drawing 1st, Doodle 2nd






Flight of the Bumblebee











 I had such a wonderful time creating the Ringdoodles that I decided to create one that is much larger - 6'x10'!  I had a piece of canvas I'd put up on the wall several months ago.  I used it as a blow out piece and got all the mileage out of it I could so I decided to use it for this new piece.  I spent 10 hours working on it today.  (I've been busy with Beyond Barbie this week and with finishing up a commission the weeks before that and hadn't had much time to paint, so I've had a great time painting non-stop today!)

I don't consider this piece finished yet, but I made a lot of good progress today.  The background was already done.  I've just put in the rings today.
computer-generate image that stitched all my photos together.

detail
detail


detail












Friday, December 6, 2013

Launching a NEW BEYOND BARBIE!! Finally!

We've decided to launch a new Beyond Barbie in 2014.  We have great momentum for it so far!  Our topics are wide-ranging, diverse, and potentially controversial, but that's what makes this series so fantastic - we can broach difficult topics in ways that bridge gaps, increase understanding, educate, and create empathy. 

If you're interested in taking part and/or want more detailed information about the first meeting, contact me and I'll send you the document.

Intention of Beyond Barbie - We are a group of women who've decided to let our lights shine.  We want to inspire, empower, educate, and entertain the community and help other women access their own power so they can move out and change the world for the better too!

Next meeting:  Fri, Dec 13th, 6:30 PM.   Send me a message and I'll let you know where it'll be.

Potential topics for the evenings and who's agreed to lead that evening:
1. The Gifts of Age/golden Girls/Celebrating the Crone - we need a leader.  Contact me if you're interested in leading or taking part.

2. Women in the Ministry/Women in the Pulpit/Women and Religion/Women and Spirituality - Denise Bennett will be in charge.  Contact her to take part, with ideas, to learn more. 

3. The Importance of Self Care and how hard it is to do and why - we may have a leader, but I'm not sure.  If you're interested, contact me.  And please, someone, come up with a better title than I did!!

4. The Big O/Sex/Sensuality - Dawn Flores will take this one on.  Shelli Jost Brady will assist.  But I'm sure they're willing to share the fun - contact Dawn to sign up!

5. Race/ Powerful Women of Color/The Experience of Being Black in RVA/ Pairing Youth from the Projects with Successful Women of Color - we need a leader for this evening.  Contact me if you're interested in leading or in taking part.

6. Women and Music - Sylvia DeVoss is leading this evening, and boy! is she on fire with ideas!  She's already contacted many musicians to get them on board.  Amazing!  Contact her to join the fun!

7. Women in Politics/Women and Power/Getting involved in Politics - how do I do it?  Why would I?/ The Great Divide - how can we bridge it? - we don't have anyone committed to take this on yet.  Please get in touch with me if you're interested in leading or participating.

8. The ERA - why hasn't it passed yet?  Why should it?  - Eileen Davis will make sure this evening happens, though she needs someone to do lots of the legwork.  She'll provide ideas, speakers, etc, but doesn't have time to pull it all together.  Please contact her to take part/ lead.

These evenings are not set in stone, especially not the ones that don't have leaders yet.  If you have an idea you want to see happen, this is the time to get in touch, to come to the meeting, to put your passion forward and let us know what you want to present.  If you want to take part in one of the evenings, if you want to perform, if you want to help with logistics, or if you don't know what you want to do and want to hang out with amazing women doing amazing things, come join us!  All are welcome.  We'll find a place for you no problem!

Please let me know if you have any questions or want to join the fun!
 
See you soon, I hope!  (Remember to RSVP if you can come to the meeting!)

Susan








Monday, July 1, 2013

Painting my guts out - dare I show you how I really feel?

I'm working on accessing the part of me that has free access to creativity and flow.  It's not an easy place for me to find sometimes.  I just went to see a coach today to help me find that place again.  When I was doing Beyond Barbie, I was in the flow.  When I was doing One Billion Rising and speaking in Paris, I was in the flow.  I felt energized and excited and woke up each day knowing what I had to do and ready, willing, and able to do it.

In between those events, I had periods that felt crappy and depressive.  I haven't been able to find the flow.  I've been stuck and blocked and depressed and I don't know what else.  And I don't know why.  What has helped me break through is having something to work on - as soon as I heard about One Billion Rising, I knew that was the next right thing.  But I can't wait for someone else to come up with the next right thing.  I have to be able to find my own thing that makes me feel like there's a great reason I'm alive - and working as an artist.  I love feeling vital and excited and like I'm doing something that makes a good difference in people's lives.  When I don't have that, UGH! 

A couple of weeks ago, I had an image of painting a huge painting - not of anything in particular - just throwing paint - literally - smearing whatever I wanted to for whatever reason I wanted.  Chris helped me arrange the studio and staple a piece of canvas on the wall, 6'x10'.  It stayed there a couple of days until I decided I simply had to approach it and see what came out.  I woke up knowing I was supposed to paint a lily.  I went to the store and bought a lily.  I've written about that piece in a previous blog:  http://susansingerart.blogspot.com/2013/06/living-large-painting-with-joy.html.

This past weekend, Chris and I re-arranged the living room and stapled the canvas to our wall in there so now I have the joy of seeing it each time I come down the stairs in the morning.  I'm liking it!

When we took that canvas down, Chris and I immediately stapled up a new one.  I timidly tried to paint on it the next day.  I couldn't think of anything to do.  I didn't want to do the same thing and start a series of huge paintings of flowers - what the hell will I do with them if I do that?  And besides, these are supposed to be blow-out pieces which are unpredictable - a place I allow myself to do whatever comes out.

I tried to start like I started the other one - by painting the words "Fat, Juicy, Loose".  I decorated them, made them pretty.  The words trailed off.  I stopped.  I was completely bored.

The canvas languished for several days.  I asked a friend to come over to help.  I talked about the issues, blah, blah, blah, about how I was blocked.  Then, brilliantly, she asked me what the block looked like.  I started to tell her, then I said, "I'll show you."  I went over to the canvas and painted it.  Then I painted through it, painted the energy flowing through me instead of being blocked.  I put on gloves and smeared paint all over the canvas.  I used up several tubes of paint.  I scribbled and smeared and pressed into the wall and grunted and dipped and swirled and talked and laughed and moved with energy flowing through me. 
 
Suddenly the beeper went off.  My friend had to leave.  I told her I'd keep working and thanked her.  When she left, I had no interest in painting more.  I was done.  I sat down and wrote.

Sweating
Exhausted and Elated
Mud squirted from my senses
corralled as art on canvas
Cad red, cad yellow - bold bright
eradicating deep dark purple, blocked, sludge
Red pours through, my energy color
Pours and pours and spurts and spreads
Purple reasserts itself, travels through and back
smeared from the front
It's there.  The dark is there, mixed with the rest
but I want the Light, the power, the fresh, the new, the God.
Come through me, God, and let me be with you.
Let me be you.  Let me express you.
Burst forth from my heart, my mouth, my hands, my loins - explode and spread
Energy released expressed
two hands rolling, drawing, moving
gloved hands smearing, pushing into the wall
pushing against firm form flat and strong
It can take me, all of me
Energy bursting forth exceding its power.
Gasping, I stop, collapse, breathe, wash, sweat, write, finish.
Spent.


That wore me out.  The canvas stayed on the wall several days - I had no thoughts about what else I could do.  Then today I worked with a creativity client and loved the suggestions I was giving her.  I wish someone would give me similar suggestions and make me be accountable to her!  And actually - today I started working with just such a person.  I had that appointment at 2.  When I left there I tried to find something to do - get my oil changed, go grocery shopping - whatever I could to distract myself from going home.  Eventually I got home and came out to the studio.  It is so hard to be out here sometimes.  It's where I have to, if I let myself, face myself and my dark and my fears and my blocks.  Painting is not easy.  Doing real work is not easy.  This is not a weeny career.  It is much harder than anything else I've ever done.

I started by working on an abstract piece I'm interested in, but I don't know why I'm interested in it.  Or didn't.  I figured it out later.  It's a triangle, and what I worked with in the big piece was another sort of triangle - a relationship triangle - fascinating that I did it quiet and pretty and slow and gentle, then did it as I describe below - very differently.  But the same stuff...

After doing that a while, I got tired of myself and tired of the discomfort I was feeling and realized that I could probably relieve it if I would just approach that same canvas and pile more stuff on top.  I wrote the words I needed to write.  Painting them huge, scrawled across the canvas released the emotion with the paint.  More words came.  I'd already painted one image on the canvas a few days ago.  I painted a complementary one.  They're private.  I'm not ready to share what they were. I painted another image, on top of the writing, the flow, the scrawl, the red.  Each stroke was a release, a vindication, a prayer, a promise, a tear, a fear, a choice, a bit of healing. 

I can see the canvas from where I'm sitting.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to share it.  It would offend some people.  Others would judge the images, judge the words, be put off by the harshness of it.  Some would understand, I think.  Most would feel the emotion behind it.

But what would they do with it?  Could I really let others see what is so real, so completely authentic, so full of some of my deepest feelings?  We all have pain and hardship in our lives.  We make different choices about what to do with it.  Some of us can share it with dear ones in a safe place.  I am blessed to be able to do that with Chris, with excellent therapists, with dear and trusted friends.  Some of us pass on the pain and suffering to others, unskillfully, because we don't have the skills/courage/ability to be aware of it and process it and heal and move on.

In our society, we tend to be afraid of emotions, especially strong, "bad" ones like anger and resentment - ones that cause people to act out in violent ways, primarily.

I don't know what people would think it they saw this work.  Would they be triggered?  Would they feel compassion?  disgust?  empathy?  rage that I had the gall to paint it?  I simply don't know.  And right now I don't feel safe enough to share it except with Chris and perhaps a few trusted friends - but the wrong words said, even lovingly, could be hurtful.  Clearly I'm not detached enough from it to share it. 

Art is so potentially powerful.  I can understand the Abstract Expressionists - they were able to get their feelings right out there on the canvas, but no one had to know what they were saying, because the images were abstract - think of Jackson Pollock.  Very clever.

So...  No resolution at this point!  No deep clarity.  Just process.  No product here!  I'm happy to be working.  I'm curious about where this will lead, if anywhere.  I'm thankful for the chance to feel and to express.  And excited to get back in the studio tomorrow.  A gift.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

China Wall painting is finished.

I finished China Wall last week.  It's done in pastel on a piece of sanded paper, 19"x27", though the finished piece isn't that large.  The buyer will be able to decide where to crop it, as there are many options - I added rows of stones below which I haven't included in this crop because I prefer this composition, but the buyer can make his/her own decision about it!

This was a very interesting piece to create.  I had tried drawing stones before, but not in a long time, and I was gratified to find that I've increased my skills since I tried last time.  It was fun creating the illusion of the crumbling plaster wall, the wood over the window and the wood bars over the window.  The stones were clearly gathered from the surrounding mountains and had apparently been there for centuries.  This was certainly not new construction!

I took the liberty of adding the Chinese flag to the piece to add to the emotional resonance of the piece for me personally after my trip there.

This image was done from a photograph I took in the village of Cuandixia, a very small town built inbetween two ranges of mountains/hills.  It looks to be as old as the hills.  I've written extensively about it and my visit there in my blog previously if you're curious to learn more..

 Here are some details from the painting.  (Frustration alert!  I work so hard to arrange the pictures pleasantly on the blog, but the software is maddening!  I can't get the images to line up next to each other!  It makes me crazy!  Oh well - there are worse things!)




Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Zendoodle on Duralar

I've been working in the studio again lately.  It feels good!  Yesterday I did a fairly large Zendoodle on Duralar, a translucent material.  I worked with a grid-based doodle and manipulated it so it would appear to be three-dimensional, curving around. 

I drew the inked doodle on one side of the paper, and put color pencil on the other, helping create the illusion of 3-D even more.

Here's the doodle on different color backgrounds.  Which one do you like best?







Saturday, June 8, 2013

Living Large - Painting with Joy!

Sometimes to get myself going, I'll paint "blow-out" pieces -  I put a canvas on the wall or huge paper on the floor, and just do whatever comes to me.  Last Saturday Chris helped me clean up the studio and staple a huge piece of canvas to the wall - 6'x10'.  Saturday night I became aware that I wanted to paint a lily, a Stargazer Lily, to be exact.  I don't question it when I get ideas like that.  I just feel grateful.  

After a busy few days, Wednesday evening I went to the store and bought some lilies.  Thursday morning I woke up excited for the first time in a while and went out to the studio after meditating and doing my Morning Pages.  I jumped right in.  First thing I did was put on Sanjay Mishra's album Meditation.  I picked up an Alizarin Crimson paint stick and danced with it on the canvas.  A reminder, "FAT, JUICY, LOOSE" scrawled itself across the top of the canvas.  Curves danced across the canvas as I moved my hips in time to the music, eyes closed.  I picked up the lily and drew it loosely on the canvas.  White paint stick.  More drawing.  Turpentine on large brush.  Smear/spread the paint.  Dance the rhythm of the flower.  Blend, smear, green/yellow in the center, crisp white edges rippling up and down.  Delicate soft leaves took form on canvas.
Wanting more, I went out to our garden to see if anything was blooming.  I discovered a tender yellow Columbine.  I broke it off its stem and brought it into the studio.  Trying not to follow the same procedure, wanting to keep things fresh, I want and meditated for a few moments to allow first thoughts to arise again.  Then I put charcoal to canvas, cadmium yellow paint stick, titanium white, turpentine.  Multicolor shadows to create the pockets in the petals.  I remind myself  "FAT, JUICY, LOOSE".  I dance somemore.  I see the Columbine like I've never noticed it before.  I scrawl around the flower to change the outline and give myself more crispness.  I remind myself "LOOSE."

At a loss, but wanting more, I remember our hydrangea bush which has inexplicably blossomed profusely this year without interference from the deer.  I rush out to pick one, finding one with barely open flowers, still greenish yellow in the center.  I have no idea how I'll draw this complicated flower - so many little parts - how to keep them all straight?  I draw first with charcoal, realize soon I've lost my place completely.  I pick up a paint stick and draw the same series of blooms.  Lose my place again.  Pick up the brush and paint each little flower before moving on to the next one.  Mostly I'm true to the bloom, though I imagine I faked it a little bit!
My stomach calls me into the house for lunch.  When I return, I plan to put another hydrangea in the other corner.  When I get back, the hydrangea has faded too much to use it again.  I pick another one, this one more developed, more purple.  I work on it til it's finished, again, trying to stay loose, trying not to copy what I did before, trying to keep it fresh and new. 


Yesterday I had writer's group in the studio.  My writing felt quite uninspired and trite.  After group, I had some lunch then got caught up watching Doc Martin and Downton Abbey - there's a VERY good reason we don't have cable TV!  It's addictive!  Finally around four I made it into the studio.  I needed another flower.  I got our one Sweet William from the garden.  Mom gave me the plant when we moved in here nine years ago.  She also gave me the hydrangea.  I like the idea of painting flowers from her garden which most likely came from my grandmother's garden too.   Not sure why, but I give these a bright yellow background.  I want to do more on the canvas, but it's dinner time.  I'm tired. 

This morning I felt excited to paint again.  But first I needed to get some latex gloves - I like to get messy, but it just isn't healthy to get oil paint all over my hands - so I ran some errands then came on out.  I picked our last Columbine because the previous one was most definitely wilted!  I placed it at the top of the canvas, only pratically on the canvas.  I'd still like to make it yellower, but the alizarin crimson writing "FAT, JUICY, LOOSE!" underneath it influenced the color.  I'll have to go back into it again once it's all the way dry.

I was wondering what else to include since we have no other flowers in our yard - the deer are voracious plant-eaters, and we have almost no sun, so we're very limited in what will grow here!  I remember the Periwinkle vine on the side of the studio.  The blooms are long-since past, but the vine is lovely.  I let it thread through the whole canvas.  Finally I connect the background, spreading color that is already there, adding others, blending, intuitively deciding what should go where - yellow here to balance yellow there, dark purple to offset the light or to create a shadow, alizarin crimson to tie it all together. 

Just as Chris arrives home from a Saturday at work, I notice one of the petals on the first lily I did is the wrong size.  I have to correct it.  He heads out to run an errand so I can finish.  I appreciate his understanding.  I correct the petal, add more background, take some pictures.  Feel finished - for now.  Tomorrow when I come back out, I'll take a look and see what might need to be tweaked.  It feels great for now!  I must remember to let myself PLAY.  It makes all the difference.

Chris suggested when I was feeling stuck that I think about what brings me joy.  That I remember to live LARGE.  To play.  To do what feels exciting and compelling.  That I forget about "should" and just ask, "I wonder what would happen if..."  I like the answer to those questions this time around.  I do believe it's the way to live.  And paint.  Now if only I can remember!







Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Eve Ensler's piece "Rising" and me

Twice I've planned to perform Eve Ensler's piece, "Rising", and twice I've decided not to.  Here's the piece:

RISING
Written in Kerala for the women of India who lead the way


This could have been anywhere
And was
Mexico City
Manila
Mumbai
Manhattan
Nighttime men
waiting
like wolves
Drooling
for prey
behind
that single dimly painted door
paying nothing
a couple of  dollars
or euros
rupees
or pesos
to have her
Enter her
Eat her
Devour her
and throw away her bones.

This could have been anywhere
And was
A Buddhist nun on a bus
Trying to stay dry for the night
A woman leader speaking out against
The repressive government
A young woman traveling with her boyfriend
One lost her voice
The other her following
The last one her life

This could have been anywhere and was
Pink wooden crosses
A stack of stones
Red wilting carnations
Empty chairs in a square
Ribbons flying in a sultry wind
I ask Anna Nighat Kamla Monique Tanisha Emily
Why Why
Porque Eran Mujeres
Parce qu'elles ├ętaient des femmes
Because they were women
Because they were women

This could have been anywhere
And was
Where she got fired for being too beautiful
Fined for drinking after she was raped
A serious offer to marry her rapist
Got told it was legitimate but not forcible

This could have been anywhere
They do such a thing
When the girls go for fire wood
Step into the lonely man’s car
Drink a little too much at the college party
Wake up with her uncle’s fingers inside
Run from the screaming machete and guns
Be taken at sunrise
Get a bullet in the brain for learning the alphabet
Be stoned for falling in love
Be burned for seeing the future

I am done
Cataloguing these horrors
Data Porn
2 million women raped and tortured
1 out of 3 women
a woman raped every minute
every second
one out of 2
one out of 5
the same
one
one
one I am done counting
And recounting

Its time to tell a new story
It needs to be our story
It needs to be outrageous and unexpected
It needs to lose control in the middle
It needs to be sexy and in our hips
And our feet
It needs to be angry and a little scary the way storms can be scary
It needs to not ask permission
Or get permits or set up offices
Or make salaries
It wont be recorded or bought or sold
Or counted
It needs to just happen
It is not a question of inventing
But remembering
Buried under the leaves of trauma and sorrow
Beneath the river of
semen and squalor
vaginas and labias
shredded and extracted
stolen
body mines
mined bodies
It is not about asking now
Or waiting
It is about rising

Raise your arm my sister my brother
Raise your one
Billion
Your one heart
Your one of us

I used to be afraid of love
It hurt too much
What never happened
What got ripped away
The rape
The wound
And love
I thought
was salt
But I was wrong
I was wrong
Step into the fire
Raise your arm
Raise your one
Billion
One
One
One
Rising.
Rising.
Rising.
Eve Ensler for One Billion Rising

The first time I was planning to perform the piece was at One Billion Rising here in Richmond at the end of our rally at the Coliseum.  Eve had put the piece out there as something to use at rallies worldwide.  It felt like the perfect fit.  I asked my friend and fabulous actress Jackie Jones if she would help me work it up so I could do it well.  She generously worked with me for a few hours to bring drama and pathos and energy and power to it.  I felt excited at the thought of performing it because it's such a powerful piece.  I was planning to have drummers pick up the beat at the very end where it says One/One/One/Rising/Rising/Rising.  I asked a friend of mine to lead the drumming.  She came over to my house one day very close to the rally to practice so we could get the timing down.

I began reading the piece.  She began drumming.  It threw me off.  We started again.  I couldn't feel in sync with what she was doing so I asked her to listen to the piece all the way through first then we'd try again.  My friend sat on my fireplace hearth and listened intently as I went through the outrages and horrors Eve describes in Rising.  When I finished, my friend told me she felt completely triggered from hearing such graphic images.  We tried again.  It wasn't working.  She said she felt like hearing that piece at the end of a rally to empower women, especially the way we'd crafted the rally, would be like going to the doctor for healing, then, at the end of the doctor's visit, ripping off the bandage and leaving the patient bloody.  I could see her point because just reading it generally left me stoked and energized, but not always in a positive way.  It was hard to perform.  I decided to NOT read the piece at One Billion Rising but instead to read what I had written.  Here's what I used:



We have heard here today some of the horrors being perpetrated here in Richmond as well as around the world.  There is so much pain and suffering, it is terribly difficult to hold it all.

But we have also heard tales of joy and empowerment and triumph – Claire’s daughter’s tragic murder led Claire to become a tireless advocate for others.  Carol’s mother’s death has not gone unnoticed, and thousands of children are better cared for thanks to Carol and her mother.  Rebiya Kadeer’s life has been full of pain and suffering, even as now two of her children are imprisoned just as she was.  Despite all that, we have witnessed her determination to take the higher path and to devote her life to the autonomy and safety of her beloved Uyghur people, especially the women. 
Each of the women you heard speak today is a beautiful example of power used for good.  Each has accessed her life’s purpose, the reason she is on this planet, the reason her life matters, and each is boldly and courageously pursuing her vision for a better world.

Take the time, I beg you, to listen deep within to your own still small voice that knows why you’re here, what you are meant to be doing, and pledge today to do one thing to grow that voice, one thing each day, to give voice to the beauty you have to offer the world.   Just imagine a world where each of us is living the life we were born to lead – giving the world the gifts that only we have to bestow.

THAT is the vision of SEVEN billion rising and of Heaven on Earth.  Thank you.

I think my friend was so right about Rising in that case and that it was kinder and gentler to not use it.

The next opportunity I had was to perform it, memorized, in the Richmond production of The Vagina Monologues in April.  Julie Willard cast me to do that monologue.  I felt honored to be chosen to do that one because it's the final piece in the show and is so dramatic.  I also felt a little bit scared - would I actually be able to memorize it?  how would it be to perform on stage again after 30+ years?

I started going to rehearsals and practicing it, working on memorizing it.  At rehearsals, I noticed that after I read it, I would feel hot and flushed.  My adrenalin would be pumping.  It would take me a while to calm down.  OK.  Something to notice.

I practiced it one on one with Julie.  She gave me excellent direction to say it with less umph, less drama - let the words do the talking.  Maybe I didn't need to "perform" it - maybe I could just put it out there and let the words do the work.  Be more understated.  It was good coaching.  It felt very different.  I was performing it the way a preacher performs a rousing sermon.  Speaking it as if I were talking to a friend, telling her these outrages, telling her I was done, that something different had to happen, brought it home in a different way.  I think it was more powerful.  I don't think it was any less disturbing.

I started to memorize it.  Chris helped me while we were on vacation at the beach.  I started dreaming about the images in the poem.  Nightmares.  Uncomfortable images.  Uncomfortable stories going through my head.  It wasn't fun. The words would flow through my head during the day since I was trying to commit it to memory.  I started to wonder if this was the right thing for me to be doing?

Right around this time, I got the email from the Uyghurs asking me to speak in Paris at their conference.  It was to be 2 days before The Vagina Monologues.  I could come back in time for the play then leave again shortly thereafter for China to see Dylan, a trip I'd already planned.  Then I realized that was too much.  I felt like it would be physically too grueling.  I realized that if I would go to Paris, I could fly more easily to Beijing from there.  It would mean missing The Vagina Monologues, but everything else fit really well.  I spoke with my friend Denise Bennett, a consummate storyteller, actress, and performer, to see if she might be interested in doing the monologue.  She jumped right on it!  Then I contacted Julie to let her know the situation.  She could not have been more gracious. 

I felt tremendous relief to not be doing that particular piece.  It felt perfect for Denise to be doing it.  And it felt wonderful to think of going to Paris to speak before a group of women about women's empowerment, my topic for the Uyghurs.

It occurred to me that, again, I wasn't performing "Rising". 

Then I remembered when I spoke with Eve at the Omega Institute in September.  I said to her, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you."  Without skipping a beat, she looked me in the eye fiercely and clearly and with defiant love and said, "No, be YOU!"

It occurs to me that, with "Rising", I was trying to speak her words, but they just weren't fitting.  What worked, instead, was for me to write my own words and to speak those.  She was so right - her job is to be her.  My job is to be me.  Thanks, Eve, for wise, wonderful words, very well placed.  There's only one Eve, and there's only one me, and the world needs both of us.  And there is also only one YOU!  What unique gifts are you offering the world these days?  I'd love to hear!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

May 2, 2013 Last day in China: The Silk Market, Peking Duck

(This is part two of my last day in China.  I figured the post was too long to have all in one!)

When I arrived at the Silk Market, I was supposed to go straight upstairs to Tony the Tailor to meet Dylan.  I had to laugh when I saw someone heading to the subway with one of their bags in his hand!

To get to the Tailor's on the 3rd floor, I had to go through the basement, the stairs which were also lined with goods, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors - I know that's an obvious statement - but doing it was not simple at all.  There were thousands if not millions of pretty things to look at on the way. 


To help you get a sense of this place - it is not an outdoor market at all - it's not like a Farmer's Market with sweet local farmers selling their wares.  No, not at all!  It is a very slick place with row upon row of class-walled boutiques crammed with goods - clothes, souvenirs, shoes, sunglasses, scarves, jewelry, silk rugs - you name it, they have it!  And most of it, I think, is copies of North Face or Louis Vuitton or whomever.  Some of it might be real, but I wouldn't bet on it. The prices are not all that great - this is, after all, where tourists come to shop - so they know what they can get!  There are 2-3 assistants in each and every 200 sq ft shop ready to speak to you in pretty good English.  They also seemed to know other languages, at least the numbers.  I just had to wander in and out of a bunch of them to see what was there.  When Dylan and I had been there before, we'd gone straight to Tony the Tailor without browsing much so, now that I was alone, I wanted to gaze and touch and explore!  One store I went into had silk jackets - just like the one I bought at 798.  I asked how much.  The woman told me $80 then immediately said she'd give me the real price - $40.  I felt sick - I'd paid $75 after good hard bargaining.  I knew in that instant I'd overpaid.  This store had some other colors of the same jacket.  Dylan called.  I resolved to come back later.

I met Dylan at the Tailor's where he was already talking to his friend, the tailor (I don't think his name is Tony - he just works there.)  He and Dylan have established quite a relationship since Dylan has bought three handmade suits from him and many, many shirts, plus has brought friends to have things made - including me!  I was fitted for a silk skirt my second day in town and was there then to pick it up.  I went into the dressing room to try it on, excited to see how it looked.  It felt divine.  I'd gotten them to put in a different colored lining - gold - and to make it reversible so I'd get two skirts, really, instead of just one.  The silk felt so smooth and lovely as it fell over my hips and swept my legs.  I left the dressing room and twirled for Dylan, imagining wearing it to Sufi Dancing and practicing being a swirling Dervish!  I realized that the cut was not flattering on me - there was no tailoring to it - just an elastic waist - so it makes me look a little bit frumpy/lumpy.  Not my favorite look if I have a choice.  I resolved to start working out.  And to make the best of it with the skirt.  It feels great.  Dylan admitted that it isn't the best cut for me - sorry! - oh well.  I'll wear a longer top over it and will focus on the feel of it.  Made me wish I'd gotten a zipper put in, but then I couldn't have reversed it.  It's tricky getting stuff made without being able to try it on - you can't know if the cut will be good or not...

I'd tried to get a different skirt made, one that my friend Kathy Benner had lent me - it's black, two layers, with the top layer being scalloped unevenly to give it an interesting flair.  I tried to describe it and to draw it, but to no avail!  The best he could do was quote me $300 to make it.  Dylan, of course, talked him down, but $120 was the lowest he'd go, if I remember correctly.  No thanks!  I had so wrongly assumed I could get clothes made for a pittance since Dylan's suits were only $150 for the suit and two shirts!  Another expectation dashed!

But overall I'm pleased with the skirt.  It is quite lovely, and I know I'll love wearing it and feeling it flow over my body and thinking about the fun of buying it with Dylan!

These pictures are of Dylan talking with the tailor, trying to help his friend Michelle get a better price for a silk shirt she was having made...  Of course the tailor told me what a great bargainer Dylan was, as  pretended he was gasping for his last breath from the loss of so much money!


Revelry in the midst of very serious negotiations!

They finally arrived on an agreeable price, and Michelle ordered a splendid red silk shirt.



 From the tailor's, we went out into the rest of the Silk Market.  My friend Joni had given me the task of finding some beautiful silk material for her for an altar cloth.  I had found a scarf that felt right to me when I was there before, but there were two other scarves we were bargaining for at the same time, and Dylan couldn't get the price down far enough.  I'd continued to think about the scarf all week and knew I had to go back to get it.  We found the place but they didn't have the scarf anymore, though they had others like it.  I described what I was looking for and, fortunately, he had another one.  When I saw it, it was every bit as beautiful as I had remembered - about 5 ft x 5 ft, aqua border with fabulous flowers in the center. I hope she likes it as much as I do!  I think it's gorgeous!  It's a tricky thing to get something so personal for someone else!

I also wanted to get some scarves for myself.  Dylan had done some great bargaining last time, but hadn't been able to get the price he/we wanted, so I'd ended up with nothing.  We tried again.  He almost got kicked out of the store again, but I pulled the trump card.  The saleswoman and Dylan had agreed on a price for several scarves.  We were still bargaining for one last one.  Dylan had her down to 70.  We'd gotten it down to 60 for two scarves at another place.  The sales person told us that must be one of a different quality and showed us a lesser one.  I didn't think so, but doubted myself because it had been several days before.  She turned to me and asked me what price I was willing to pay.  I told her I'd pay 60.  She said no, no, I couldn't be serious.  What would I really pay, last price?  serious price?  I told her to give it to me for 60 and I'd get Dylan out of there!  She laughed good-naturedly and sold it to me for 60!  (I checked later at the other store and saw that it was the very same scarf that I was going to get, with another one, for 60 - oh well!  It's impossible to know what things are really worth!  I'm thankful for pricetags here in the US!)

I also asked Dylan to come down with me to look at the silk jackets.  I couldn't find the same store, but I found another one with the same goods in it.  I found the very same jacket plus some others - a black one with striking red flowers was my favorite, plus a great silver silk skirt that twirled marvelously!  Dylan went to work on the price.  The skirt ended up being too expensive, but the jacket he got down to 200 yuan or about $32, less than half what I paid before.  That made me a bit ill.  Until the saleswoman asked if I wanted her to cut out the tag.  It said 100% polyester.  She said they had to put the tags into them because the officials came around to make sure they all had them in there - these were also re-makes of "real" fashions, apparently.  I tried on one thing that was very expensive and was confused by the price - she told me it was "real", not fake, that's why it was so much.  Again, perception is everything!  I realized that the jacket I'd bought before was silk.  This was polyester.  Both are stunningly gorgeous, and I love them, but at least I was able to ascertain the reason for the price differential so I didn't feel quite so foolish for the first purchase!    I realize I am probably not really cut out for all this bargaining!  I used to think I was so good at it!  I'm so grateful Dylan was there with me to help me out.  He seems to enjoy it - though he did say he gets exhausted by it too sometimes - he has to be in the right frame of mind to take it on or he isn't as good at it as he wants to be and feels like he doesn't get a good deal.  I can completely understand that!

From the Silk Market, we took the subway to the Hutongs, an area in the oldest part of Beijing, very old, low (1-2 story) buildings that form the core of the city.  There's a small lake there around which are many restaurants and night clubs.  Our plan was to meet lots of Dylan's friends, including one of his former teachers, WeiWei (I probably spelled that wrong) for a special dinner of Peking Duck.  One must have Peking Duck when one is in Beijing!  I read it on a shopping bad - "Climb the Great Wall.  Eat Peking Duck.  Shop at the Silk Market."  Thanks to Dylan, I was able to check all three off my list!

the magician
I can NOT do that!
The group ended up being smaller than we expected, but lovely nevertheless.  The restaurant we went to is supposed to be the best in Beijing for Peking Duck.  It's quite large - three floors, I think. We first went down to the basement to wait our turn. Then we were called and went by elevator to the third floor.  Below us was the main floor which we could see from the balcony.  That's in the picture below.  Next to all these tables, there was a round stage where entertainment took place.  Each act was only 3-5 minutes but was fascinating.  The first one I saw was Chinese acrobats doing those crazy contortions I'd only seen on YouTube previously.  The second one was a couple doing ballroom dancing.  The third was a magician.  Meanwhile we were working on ordering food.  We got one duck to share along with a vegetable dish and some rice and an appetizer.  Steven was with us so we wanted to make sure to get enough food!  The appetizer was duck skin served with sugar.  You were supposed to dip the very, very fatty skin into the sugar and eat it like that.  It was strange, tasty, greasy, satisfying, all at once. The other appetizer was one I hadn't expected - duck feet.  I pick one up with my chopsticks, thinking it was the duck meat and that I was so adventurous to eat duck, when Dylan, or Steven, mentioned it was duck feet.  I wanted to gag but didn't.  I figured I was too far in to back out, so I took a bite.  They talked about how we were lucky because these had been de-boned - they'd gotten them before with the bones in them and had had to work hard for each scrap of meat they'd gotten.  These were white with a slight pink cast to them.  They were chewy, like cartilage, a little bit, but mostly they were tender enough.  And they were surprisingly tasty.  I couldn't quite let go of the thought of what they might have walked around in or scraped up with those very same feet, but I also was aware of the fact that they actually tasted pretty good. 

The stage with the magician on it.
I expected the duck to come to the table looking like a duck for us to carve.  Instead I was surprised to see that it was served on two fairly small white platters with ceramic duck heads.  The meat was already very neatly carved, just the meat, no innards.  The vegetable dish was pretty spicy - some greens and mushrooms, very tasty, just spicy.  Dylan told me after the meal that he hoped he'd helped me expand my tastebuds on this journey. That's for sure! 

Nor can I do this!  She has cloth platters on her feet she is twirling while balancing on one hand.
After dinner, Dylan and his friends planned to go dancing or bar hopping or something like that so he walked me to a cab so I could get back to the hotel to pack and get a decent night's sleep.  I thought about going with them, but, again, I figured they'd have more fun without me, and it would be wise for me to get packed and not be exhausted the next day.  Good choice - Dylan only got 3 hours sleep, and barely got that!  He was tired when he came to get me the next morning in the taxi!

My hotel room with the thermos full for hot water, the comfortable bed, the nice space. 

So that was my trip to China!  I hope you've enjoyed reading about it.  I appreciate your taking the time to take this journey with me.  I've enjoyed reliving it and writing about it.  Now if I can just get over jet lag, I'll be ready to get back to my life here in Richmond!