Saturday, April 28, 2012


Here's what I think it happening - women have started to come into their own power.  We have started to assume ever more positions of power.  We are getting into politics and business.  We are beginning to have a say in the way the world is run.

I think there are men who prefer being in charge and who don't want to be usurped.  I believe that the power structure which has men dominating women and women subjugated to men and their desires is getting very, very worried that it is going DOWN.  And soon. 

Any organism's response to thinking it's dying is generally to give a last ditch effort to save itself.  Think of plants which are about to die - they will put out zillions of blooms then seeds in order to propagate so they can have their genes carried on ad infinitum.

So it is with these men who are currently in power.  As women are starting to move into positions of power, they are getting scared and are grasping to hold onto it.  Thus the incredible surge in denigrating pornography.  AND, to connect some dots here, thus the surge in legislation all around the country seeking to control women's bodies and their reproductive rights.  I'm not saying there's some huge committee somewhere deviously planning to take over the world again.  Rather, I think men all over are recognizing that women are, in fact, capable of running the world, and, if they do, it will be in a way fundamentally different than it has been being run.  I think men are afraid we'll do to them what they've done to us, so they'd rather do it to us first.

But I don't know any women who are interested in dominating men and in becoming exclusively in control.  I don't know women who want to castrate men and rend them powerless.  Women lead much differently than that.  We lead through cooperation and through finding ways to work together, through consensus.  We can do the male way of leading - just look at Hillary Clinton - she's amazing!  - but there are better ways to do things - gentler, less abrasive, and more effective ways.  Women are nurturers.  What would it be like to have a country where the leaders recognized the necessary priorities of taking care of people through education and health care and employment?  If we cared for our planet well?  If we helped others rather than competing with them?  If we listened to people and countries which were having an issue with how we do things?  What if we occasionally recognized we might be wrong?!  It can and does happen!

There are male leaders who have tried to lead this way.  But I think women are fundamentally equipped to lead differently.  I hesitate to write about the differences because then it could sound like I'm saying men and women aren't equal.  I believe we are equal, but we are also different.  Anyone with any insight into the human race can see that.

So I want to invite you who are reading this blog to consider ways in which the world could be run differently.  How would you like to see the world run?  What would you do differently?  How could you begin TODAY making that difference?  It is overwhelming to me to try to figure out how to make the world a significantly better place, but it isn't so overwhelming to take one small step like writing this blog to point out what I'm seeing.

I'd love for you to post here what you're going to do today or tomorrow or this week or this year to make a small (or large!) difference in the world.  The world needs your talents and your gifts.  I hope you will join me in envisioning a better place, a kinder, gentler world with more cooperation and less competition.  If we can imagine it, we can create it.

Friday, April 27, 2012


The Price of Pleasure, a movie about the Porn Industry, has given me much food for thought this week.  In my last two posts, I've responded to the film - what I learned from it as well as what it triggered in me.  I'll continue with that today.
So one thing I'm noticing is that my artwork is very, very different from the pictures in porn.  I just googled "sexy woman" and came up with millions of pictures, of course, two of which I've pasted here.   The top one, the one in B&W, has her back arched and her lips pouted as if she wants to kiss.  She has a sultry look.  She is wearing high heels and something with straps - a thong perhaps - and looks ready for some S&M action.  The other woman looks like a teenager eating candy or whipped cream, ready to eat some other cream, presumably.  So often porn shots have women sticking something penile shaped into their mouths and looking like they're wanting a penis there. 

I don't understand what is empowering about offering to go down on a guy.  I can hardly imagine a guy saying no.  Actually women do have a lot of power when they're giving a guy head - just think what we could do if we wanted - bite! - but I doubt that many people really think about that when they're watching porn flicks - that would turn the porn world upside down, wouldn't it? - if the woman turned things around and started hurting the man?  Not that I would encourage that - I don't like any of these films that show people being hurt.

Anyway...  in my artwork, I strive to show truly empowered women.  Take a look at Che', the first model shown here.  To my eye, she looks like a very powerful woman who isn't about to take anything off anybody.  She looks the viewer right in the eye but not with a "come hither" sultry look that is asking him/her to have sex.  Rather, I feel met by Che' on a completely different level.  She is ready to engage in real conversation and to be authentic with me.  I do not get real or authentic from the "sexy woman" images above.  Not at all.

And I guess that's one of the things that bothers me so much about it.  I know actresses are ACTING, but they're pretending to love being hurt and denigrated.

I wish we lived in a world where women were respected and honored and treated like the precious people we are.  Treated like equals. 

This other painting is of a woman who was accessing her inner spirit and was dancing with it.  How very different than dancing with a passel of men and acting sexy - how completely unattuned to oneself.  Ouch.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Yesterday I wrote about my reaction to The Price of Pleasure, a DVD documentary I saw on Netflix about the Porn Industry which is big, big business.

The movie disturbed me deeply and filled me with images I would much rather not have in my head.

More of my reactions to the film:

A young man who was being interviewed with his face in silhouette so he couldn't be recognized talked about the effect porn flicks have on him.  He said he has trouble staying aroused with his girlfriend because she doesn't do the things that are in the movies and he's so used to being aroused by them that he can't keep an erection unless he's experiencing that.  His brain has become so used to porn that he needs it to be aroused.  Wow.  What a loss to him and his partner.

Another young man talked about watching a porn film with his girlfriend.  There was anal sex in it.  He was getting aroused.  He was only half watching the film though because he was also watching his girlfriend to see how she was responding.  She was disturbed and afterwards they talked about it.  The next time she was less disturbed.  The time after that even less so.  Eventually he could see that it had become normal to her because she didn't react, so he broached the possibility of doing that with her.  She eventually agreed.  And so it goes...  something becomes normalized through viewing it so much.

I wonder about kids who've grown up finding porn on the internet, for whom that is the first sex they see.  How do they learn what normal is?  Do they grow up thinking violence towards women is normal?  In the film, a young man at the beginning said (and I paraphrase), "I'm a pretty shy guy.  I'm not all that experienced.  If some girl came up to me and started saying, 'Fuck me, baby.  Give it to me in the ass.' like they do in the movies, I'd be petrified!  I wouldn't know what to do with that."

What sort of expectations are these films setting up?  How can "normal" people live up to them?

One researcher commented that girls are trying to act sexy by acting how the porn stars act in the movies when they're acting turned on by the things being done to them - pretty far from real feeling - acting like someone who is acting in a porn movie - and trying to please your partner that way.  That seems pathetic to me.  But even more so, it scares me.

I want children and teenagers to understand that sex is wonderful.  In a few days I'm going to write about what I wish we could teach our children about sex, but today I'm going to share more about the film.

One young woman who'd been in the movies, and still was, shared how much she got paid for particular acts:
$400 for woman on woman
$600 for man on woman
$800 for two men on one woman
and increasingly more for anal sex then two men in her anus, on up to about $1500 for a gang bang.

Another woman said, (again paraphrased), "I don't have a college education.  What am I supposed to do?  My choices are to work in the food service industry or clean hotel rooms and not make enough to survive, or I can do this and make great money.  Easy choice."

The women in the film who were in the industry understandably spoke as if they were choosing to make the films.  It used to be understood that women in porn flicks were being used and abused and taken advantage of.  Now the women speak of choice and empowerment.  It's confusing to me.  I don't pretend to know the answers.  I just know for myself that our bodies have memories.  I don't know how these women - or these men - will be able to have a loving, intimate relationship in years to come without the body memories coming back to haunt them.

I can picture one of these actresses in bed with her husband, this time not play acting but, rather, just having beautiful sex, and suddenly she gets triggered by the way she's being touched, and the trauma of it interrupts their intimacy.  How could it not?  I don't believe for a moment that it's possible to repress scenes of being raped or tortured or abused - even though it's "just" acting - and not have it affect one later.  We human beings are very, very good at denial, but eventually stuff comes up and has to be dealt with.

I wonder what happens to these women as they age and can no longer make the films - what do they do then?  (Though the filmmakers showed "Granny Porn" as well - very old women having sex and acting sexy, with a certain ironic flair.)

I also feel for the men.  They weren't mentioned at all in the film.  What do they think or feel as they act out violence and cruelty towards women?  Don't they have family members they respect?  How would they respond if that were happening to their mother or sister or daughter?  How does it feel to be one of 12 studly-looking men standing in a circle jerking off on a woman's face?  Does he feel strong and powerful and better-than for having conquered this woman?  How about if she is in torture devices and he's pulling her hair and stomping on her face while his "buddy" is raping her?  I can't separate fantasy from reality enough there to understand how people can portray such scenes.

I know the difference between acting and reality most of the time, but these people are actually having sex.  The women are actually having 2-3 men penetrate her at a time.  They are actually tied up, with handcuffs on, and are being violated then they're having to eat their own feces or urine.  They are actually doing those things.  It is not chocolate on his penis or lemonade she's drinking.  How can a person absent herself or himself enough to do those things without being damaged by it?  I do not understand.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Yesterday I watched a documentary on Netflix called The Price of Pleasure.  (Hmmm, I just wrote "The Price of Porn - shows what I really think.)  Here's Netflix's write up about it:

Interviewing scholars, industry insiders and consumers, this probing documentary delves into the effects of pornography on one's sexual identity and relationships, as well as its influence on business and American popular culture overall.
Matthew Tennie, Gregory Mitchell, Stephanie Cleveland, Gabrielle Shaw, Eli Schemel, Gail Dines, Damone Richardson, Ariel Levy, Brandon Iron, Robert Jensen, Joanna Angel
Miguel Picker, Chyng Sun

I watched it as I painted so I listened more than watched, only glancing up every once in a while for a few seconds.  I don't think I could have watched the whole thing.  The images, though they blocked out the breasts, penises, and vaginas, were still graphic and disturbing.

I have watched a few porn flicks in my life, but only a few.  I watched one with a former partner - that didn't turn out so well - and 2 with groups of women as we critiqued them and made fun of them and laughed until we got bored and turned them off to talk about more interesting real life stuff.  So I am not a fan of porn.  This documentary certainly cemented that feeling.

The film was truly disturbing to me.  First of all, it was the images - there have apparently been "advances" in the world of porn since I last dipped into it 15 or so years ago.  Now, according to researchers who have subjected themselves to watching 200 of these films and cataloging the content, 87% of the scenes contain violence towards women in them.  And they  mean VIOLENCE - rape, anal rape, forced sex, gang banging, S&M stuff I couldn't even have imagined in my wildest dreams, not to mention calling the women demeaning names, etc.  Apparently (and I realize I might sound completely uninformed and naive as I say this stuff having just learned about it, but that's true - I have been naive and uninformed) there's something called ATM (not the machine where you get money).  It stands for anus to mouth - the man comes into the woman's anus then puts his penis into her mouth to have her clean him off.  I can't begin to imagine doing that.  I also can't understand how that might be considered a turn on.  So many of the scenes they showed or alluded to were bestial, cruel, vicious.  I don't understand what's happening.

I learned from the film that more money is spent on the porn industry than on football, baseball AND basketball combined.  900,000,000 films are watched each year.  That's an average of 3 per person, man, woman, and child, in the USA each year.  It is big business. And it's no longer some slimy business which people are embarrassed to be a part of.  Instead, women who are in the movies become superstars and go around on DVD-signing tours.  There are trade fairs for porn where women are up on platforms which put their vaginas right at eye-level for the men with their video cameras to film them.  Live.  In person.  Or where women are bound and gagged for men to film them.  The filmmakers showed the men who were ogling the women.  They were normal-looking guys with an irrepressible hunger in their eyes.

They interviewed a young woman who took part in Girls Gone Wild.  I don't really know what it is, but I think camera crews descend on FL and other Spring Break hotbeds of wildness and film girls going wild.  The camera crew of GGW visited one young woman in her hotel room and asked her to act sexy, etc.  Who knows what she did.  Then the producers of this film asked her why she took part in it.  She looked at them like they were brain dead, "Why wouldn't I take part?  It's not like I want to be a politician or something one day."  As if the only thing that made sense was to take part and be famous for a time on camera.

Another young woman who graduated from Rutgers started her own porn film company and made films starring herself.  She talked like she liked the attention she gathered as she walks down the street, men hooting and hollering and whistling at her.  They showed a scene from one of her movies.  Her face was on a chair while she was clearly bound and being entered from behind while her head was being held in place by her hair being pulled.  Her face was contorted in pain and agony.  It did not look to me like she was acting.  Perhaps she was.  But I felt pain and agony watching her.  I can't understand how that could be a turn on for someone.  I wanted to go into that room and pull the SOB's off of her and protect her from such violation.  Yet she talked about her part in it as if she were empowered and getting the best of the men, beating them at their own game.  I don't get it.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

916 proposed bills against women

In case you haven't notice, there have been a lot of bills in a lot of legislatures this year which are working to end women's choice in terms of their reproductive rights.  But did you know there have been 916 of them?

That's right, 916 proposed bills!!! What follows are the results of a fascinating study that actually proves that the republican war on women is real.  The report was compiled by the worldwide research and policy Guttmacher Group. For those who have not heard of them before, they are a 40+-year-old Institute that advances sexual and reproductive health and rights.
They released their First Quarter (March 2011) report after the republicans were swept into power and found:
“To date, legislators have introduced 916 measures related to reproductive health and rights in the 49 legislatures that have convened their regular sessions.”
Wow, 916 anti-woman laws introduced in just three months? That my friends is a freakin’ war on women.  Here’s just a few of them they cite:
1. Expanded the pre-abortion waiting period requirement in certain states.
2. Mandated pre-abortion ultrasounds.
3. Mandated that counseling be provided in-person by a physician.
4. Mandated that abortion counseling include all the risk factors related to abortion  
   complications, even if the data are scientifically flawed.
5  Required health departments to develop new regulations governing abortion clinics.
6. Revised abortion refusal clauses to allow any hospital employee to refuse to
    “participate in any way” in an abortion;
7. Limited abortion coverage in private health plans, including plans that will be offered
    in the state’s health exchange.
8. Revised sex education laws to require all school districts to provide abstinence-only
    sex education while permitting discussion of contraception only with prior approval
    from the state.
9. 120 bills have been approved by at least one chamber of the legislature relating to
    women’s insurance coverage or abortion rights.
10. 23 states introduced 57 measures that would restrict coverage of abortions in all
     insurance plans.
On and on it goes to total 916 bills that in some way restrict women’s right to manage their own lives.  So while the media continues to froth over another fake GOP ruse, it would be nice if some of them talked about the utter destruction of over 60 years of women's rights in less than two years.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Albert Camus' speech at the Nobel Prize in Literature Banquet, 1957

I found this in the magazine for the French Film Festival here in Richmond.  I like what he wrote.  It feels true to me.  I am working these days to try to figure out how to express myself in such a way that affects people and makes them more aware of the state of our world (i.e. my piece about the vaginal probe, my pieces about women's body image).  Camus wrote about the oppression of the world during WWII.  He refers to that here:

For myself, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed it above everything. If, on the other hand, I need it, it is because it cannot be separated from my fellow men, and it allows me to live, such as I am, on one level with them. It is a means of stirring the greatest number of people by offering them a privileged picture of common joys and sufferings. It obliges the artist not to keep himself apart; it subjects him to the most humble and the most universal truth. And often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others. The artist forges himself to the others, midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from. That is why true artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which, according to Nietzsche's great words, not the judge but the creator will rule, whether he be a worker or an intellectual.

By the same token, the writer's role is not free from difficult duties. By definition he cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it. Otherwise, he will be alone and deprived of his art. Not all the armies of tyranny with their millions of men will free him from his isolation, even and particularly if he falls into step with them. But the silence of an unknown prisoner, abandoned to humiliations at the other end of the world, is enough to draw the writer out of his exile, at least whenever, in the midst of the privileges of freedom, he manages not to forget that silence, and to transmit it in order to make it resound by means of his art.

None of us is great enough for such a task. But in all circumstances of life, in obscurity or temporary fame, cast in the irons of tyranny or for a time free to express himself, the writer can win the heart of a living community that will justify him, on the one condition that he will accept to the limit of his abilities the two tasks that constitute the greatness of his craft: the service of truth and the service of liberty. Because his task is to unite the greatest possible number of people, his art must not compromise with lies and servitude which, wherever they rule, breed solitude. Whatever our personal weaknesses may be, the nobility of our craft will always be rooted in two commitments, difficult to maintain: the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The transvaginal probe - Get Out of My Vagina!

The political shenanigans of last month here in Virginia prompted me to create a painting depicting how I feel about it.  Here's is what happened:  the General Assembly suddenly had a majority of Republicans in both houses, and the Governor, Bob McDonnell is a conservative Republican as well.  That gave them the perfect opportunity to try to pass legislation which had been in the background for years but had always been tabled by more moderate members of both houses.  One of the bills was the Personhood bill which would have defined a person as anyone who had been conceived - i.e. as soon as conception took place.  It could create absurd situations as well as life-threatening ones.  For example, if a woman found she had an ectopic pregnancy, her doctor would not be able to operate on her to save her life because it would threaten the life of the "person" in her tube - even though that "person" could in no way come to term in that woman's Fallopian Tube, and the mother would almost certainly die as a result of the pregnancy. Absurd consequences would be like a woman being able to claim the right to be in the HOV-2 lane because she had just had sex the night before and might be pregnant.  Thankfully that bill was not passed.

The other bill which concerned many people greatly was called the Ultrasound Bill.  It required that a woman get an ultrasound before she could have an abortion.  If she were less than 12 weeks pregnant, the only kind of ultrasound which would have any kind of effectiveness would be a vaginal probe.  She would not be able to refuse it.  At first she was required to see the picture.  The image would be put into her permanent medical records.  She would have to wait 24 hours after the ultrasound before getting the abortion.  People were in an uproar at the thought that a woman would be forced to have a vaginal probe inserted into her vagina - that is tantamount to the state's definition of rape - something being inserted into a woman's vagina against her will - so again, doctors could be in trouble just for trying to do their jobs.  And women who had been raped or incested, especially, could be re-traumatized by this procedure.  There were protests at the State Capital.  I went to one of them.  1100+ people stood silently by as the legislators walked to the Capital for the day's session.  They were soon informed by their aides why we were there.  Afterwards we went to their offices to speak with their aides and to express our strong opinions.  I only saw decent, kind, reasonable behavior on all sides.  The crowd was mixed age, mixed race, both genders.

The hoopla continued for more than a week with protestors going down to the GA (General Assembly) daily to witness the proceedings.  The Governor had originally come out in favor of the bill but soon became a bit more tentative.  The wording was changed to say the vaginal probe would not be required - they could have an abdominal sonogram instead - completely ineffective, but at least a step in the right direction. 

Sadly, the revised bill passed both houses and will become law.  Now a woman desiring to get an abortion - a legal procedure - will have to get an ultrasound at increased cost and will have to wait 24 hours before getting the abortion.  The effect will most likely be to keep poorer women from being able to afford abortions, and it will, of course, make it more ponderous and difficult for everyone.

What confuses me is that the same people who are FOR the ultrasound bill and who want to make abortion illegal again, are also against contraceptives AND against help for poor people.  How do they expect poor people to get out of poverty if they have no way to control their reproductive life.  I realize they could abstain from sex, but that is not realistic, especially not for married women.  And not really for anyone once they come of age.  Let's be real.

So it's a confusing time in our Commonwealth.  It appears that our lawmakers want us to return to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.  I sense they must be fearful that we will begin to have some real power and might begin to change things from how they are now.  I can understand how that could feel threatening.  But it is not OK with me.

Women are 51% of the population.  We could, actually, unseat these men who feel so threatened.  And we could create a fairer, more compassionate world to live in.  That is certainly my vote.

I have been stymied as to what to do about the situation.  I have been very vocal on Facebook.  I have ranted to friends and family.  I have journalled about it.  Then one morning I woke up with the image of this painting in  my head.  I knew I had to do it.  I am a visual artist, so it is beholden upon me to use my skills to do what I can do make a difference.  This is what I'm choosing to do about this problem.

The image is graphic, so if you're at work, you probably don't want to scroll down to see it.  Wait til you're in a private place.

The picture makes me feel uncomfortable to look at.  It was uncomfortable to work on.  But it needed to be done.  The man holding the probe is our illustrious governor, Bob McDonnell, parodied on Jon Stuart's show as Vaginal Probe McDonnell - the one with Vice Presidential aspirations.  No more!  The model is a bold and brave woman who was courageous enough to model for me because she believes in the message I am trying to get across - which is that the State has no right to be inserting themselves into our bodies.  No way.  No how.

If you are concerned about this issue, don't let the laws pass in your state.  VOTE in November.  Find out who is for such horrifying bills and vote them out of office.  You must get involved in order to keep this from happening where you live.  It is a national movement with major funding.  We can make a difference if we work together for change.  We women fought hard for our rights in the 20's and again in the 70's.  It is hard to believe we're back there again, but we are.  Please, please, please help us change the world for the better.  The alternative is truly frightening.

The image I painted is below the asterisks if you want to see it.  Feel free to share it freely with others.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The States of Grace

This article was originally published in the April 2012 edition of care ADvantage, for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's Disease and related illnesses, published by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. 

My father’s death on December 22, 2011 did not come as a surprise.  He had been living with Alzheimer’s Disease for the last 7 or 8 years and had not even known me for the last two, so I was saddened but relieved when my sister called to let me know he had passed peacefully.  

In the weeks after his death, I was stunned by the force of grief which overtook me.  I had thought his death would offer me gentle relief mixed, perhaps, with moderate sadness since I’d been grieving for years already each time his illness progressed.

But instead, after his death, the man I knew in my childhood re-asserted himself in my memory - the man who played endlessly with me and my siblings, who sang and danced in plays, who told stories, who made me feel as adorable and loved as a person can feel.  I can’t forget the hell of his disease, but now that horror mixes seamlessly, relentlessly with the pure, the beautiful.  The juxtaposition of love and resentment and anger and horror and pain and pleasure and compassion is cruel and harsh.  The tears fall unabated.  How can one person hold so many conflicting emotions at once?  How to come to terms with it all?

I am thankful for painting which allows me to express my emotions wordlessly.  It allows me to be with my feelings, to weep as I paint when I need to, to hover in and out of the grief then sway into hue and form and line then back into tears and sadness.   Compassion arises, that gentlest of emotions, as I paint my hand stroking my face and offer myself comfort.  I notice my wrinkles and my graying hair and feel love for the years I’ve lived and the wisdom I’ve accumulated.  I remember times with Dad, listening to him sing, and feel Pleasure at the thought of his young vibrant articulate self and me, a young child, adoring him.  Finally, flush with Grief, Compassion, and Pleasure, I feel utterly drained, empty, and simply Present.  Death does not leave only gentle reminders behind.  Painting is my solace for its residue.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Paintings from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Weeping Cherry and Garden Sculpture in the Japanese Garden
A week or more ago I promised I'd post the images I painted when I went to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.  Now, finally, here they are!  It was a splendidly beautiful day, and the gardens are so beautiful, they are entrancing.  I hope to go there again this week to paint the newest blooms - there's always something new coming up there.  We are so blessed here in Richmond to have such a great place.

I remember when Andrew, my oldest, was a baby (around 1987-8). We lived in Lakeside and used to drive over to Lewis Ginter (then called Bloomendaals, after the house there) in the evening and walk around.  There was no gate.  It was mostly just the area around the house.  We would drive down the "street" in front of the house, park there, then stroll Andrew around the place.  There was no pond with water lilies, no Conservatory, no Welcome Center or Library, just the house.  It was a great place to walk around - it still is - it's just very, very different now!