Soul Food

We made pizza last week. N decided to turn hers into a mandala. She and I now see mandalas everywhere. I think the rest of the family alternates between tolerant amusement and mild annoyance.

Over the past two weeks I only made one mandala. It took almost all week. I worked on it for 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there. My week was highly fragmented and very frustrating; thanks to snow days coupled with the four day weekend, N was home from school for a full week. C & Z, however, were up to their eyeballs in schoolwork, and I wasn't feeling too well. Then last Tuesday N went back to school and I promptly came down with a virus and a persistent migraine.

This mandala assignment was a tough one, too: I was to create a mandala for releasing fear. I decided to address my fear of transitions; because I love this house and we are likely some time in the next few years to leave it, the bindu of the mandala is a stylized version of a small, stained glass window in the front hall of our home. It casts rainbows into the hallway and livingroom in the afternoons, something that brings us all joy and that I particularly associate with our life in this house.

I thought it would be interesting to play around with shapes a bit, so I tried adding two squares and an octagon around that. The figures around the periphery are the sign of Aries (mine), and the signs for three heavenly bodies (representing "Syzygy"). This was the outer limit of my "safe place," the center from which I needed to work on not fearing transitions.

The next rings (remember, I am still working in lesson two, in which all the mandalas are to be created in concentric rings) are what I think of as "movement" patterns. I messed up a bit on the gold pattern, but I didn't sweat it - I figured it was because I was so nervous about this exercise. In fact, I messed up early on, while working on the bindu, and at that point I told myself this was just the rough draft & that later I would do the whole piece over properly. By the time I got to the gold portion of the movement rings, however, I had decided that there ARE no "do-overs" with mandalas. That's silly - these are spiritual exercises. It's the doing, not the product, that matters.

I knew this already at the intellectual level, of course. But accepting it on a gut level was a big step for me, and I finally reached it during the making of this mandala. So this was a significant mandala for me; I imagine that's why it took so much out of me.

The outer ring of oval cells - well, that's what they are, cells, or seeds, or something. Each one is slightly different in shape & size, each contains the seeds of the next transition, and all radiate energy. Which ones will continue to grow? It's all very uncertain, and the uncertainty is what makes me most anxious. But something has already burst open and released seeds, as you can see - they are floating out beyond the ring of potential. My life will continue to grow and be fertile even though I can't see now in which directions in will develop or where I will be a few months from today.

As I said, this was a difficult mandala to draw. I knew almost from the beginning all the elements I would include; even while I was drawing them, however, there were times I could only work on it for a few minutes before I just had to put it down, because it was so uncomfortable to think about.

I'm glad I did it, though. Not only did I learn a lot about myself and about mandala making - I find it a very comforting piece to contemplate, now that it's done. It doesn't look as nice on the screen to me as it does IRL, but maybe that's because my screen stretches it out of proportion.

This morning I went to church with my mother-in-law. When she comes to visit us, she likes to attend the Presbyterian church not too far from our house, and I've been there a couple of times with her. It's a lovely building, and I enjoy their services. I have been to enough services over the years that I am familiar with a fair number of hymns as well as the prayers that are part of the standard liturgy; it feels comfortable. After a tough couple of weeks, I was looking forward to some time for contemplation.

What a nice surprise we had when we walked in & discovered a brass quintet and 50-voice choir! And they were
good. Early on in the service, I decided that at least twice a month for the next few months I will visit a place of worship - various religions. Not to look for a permanent one; just as a way to stimulate a part of me that hasn't gotten enough stimulation lately.

Anyway, when we got home & had fed lunch to everyone, I sat down to create the next-to-last mandala of this lesson: a mandala that is a prayer. It is mostly in gel pen, with some cut paper (I really need to find a pair of slender scissors and the right kind of glue, as cutting out and gluing on those slivers of paper was very awkward - any suggestions on glue, in particular, would be welcome!).

I call this simply "Prayer." The symbol in the center is "Aum" or "Om." It is surrounded by a design I saw yesterday at the King Tut exhibit in Philadelphia (I would have spent even more than two hours there, had there not been people waiting for me - it was a beautiful and moving exhibit). The design was on a little chair that had been Tutankhamen's when he was a child, and was then placed in his tomb after his death. I copied it into a small notebook yesterday with the intention of putting it into this mandala.

The rest of the mandala - is a prayer. It took me several hours today, as people moved around me, asking me questions about it, talking over me and sometimes to me. I find I do most of the meditative work before I start to draw - sometimes for days beforehand, thinking about what I want the mandala to "say." And then it comes out as my hands work.

Only one more mandala in this lesson is left - the hardest one. I would really like to tackle it this week . . . .



Edwidge Danticat and 3 Marks

Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory is just about as fine a book as I could ask for - and all the more special for having been traded for on a whim in a boxer trade at paperbackswap. I hadn't heard of it before, but the woman with whom I was trading gave me an intriguing description, so I chose it.

What a good choice that was. Breath, Eyes, Memory is the first-person narrative of Sophie Caco who, at the age of 12, leaves Haiti to join her mother in New York. Over the course of ten years or so, she learns the story of her mother's life. Sophie's relationships with the women in her family - her mother, her aunt, her grandmother and later her daughter - deepen in meaning against the backdrop of her mother's tragic past, which in turn is set into the chaos of Haiti itself.

The writing is beautiful. Two additional aspects of the book fascinated me: one was the interweaving of indigenous religious elements (similar to vodoun) with Christian ones. The other was parsing the Haitian Kreyole dialect given in the dialogue. I'll be passing this on to my friend S, who is interested in Creole.

This is one of those books I want to keep in circulation. It is so good, for so many reasons, that it ought to be read by as many people as possible.

Next I read a book by Mark Millar - if you're reading comix these days, you know the name, as he's doing the popular anti-Bush "Civil War" series. (I'm not reading that series - already too mad at Bush to get my b.p. up higher by reading about him on a regular basis.) This graphic novel, Wanted, I also got from PBS. It was fun, though a bit on the violent side.

Wanted tells the story of Wes Gibson, a meek nobody who suddenly discovers that his father (a pilot who had abandoned the family when Wes was an infant) was actually a supervillain to end all supervillains.

Only he's been assassinated. And The Organization wants Wes to take his father's place.

It's funny. The supervillains (all newly created for the book) are, for the most part, amusing. The plot is so-so. It was a quick read. It wasn't Neil Gaiman, by any means - nothing particularly deep or clever. But I enjoyed it, and I'll be passing it along to C, who will enjoy it as well.

Breathtaker, by Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel, is the last of the books I'll be reporting on this morning. Another graphic novel (yawn! you're saying, but get used to it), this one was quite different, and I found it well worth my time. I got this one from PBS, too - what snagged my interest were the words "Introduction by Neil Gaiman" on the cover. If Gaiman found it worth writing the intro. to this, then it was probably worth my time to read and my credit to "buy," went my thinking, and I was right.

I loved the character pictured above, "The Man," a superhero with super strength but not much upstairs, managed to death by the govt. and heavily dependent on his little sunglasses. Endearing in a very annoying sort of way! The other main character is Chase, a woman with whom men are doomed to fall in love, who needs their love to keep from aging prematurely - not really a succubus, exactly, but similar in concept. Both are products of an evil government experimental program which, unfortunately, the book does not adequately explain.

It's a lovely book, with wonderful, spare paintings and good writing, until the authors apparently decide at the last minute that it's too dark and twist things around to make everything nice & sweet at the end. Still, it's sort of fairytale-ish, and I like it enough to keep it rather than reposting it.

The cover makes it look like an erotic horror comic, which is too bad because it isn't that at all; it's not even a love story. It could have been a mystery, if the authors had put in just a little more effort. Instead, it's just a short story about two pawns trying to break out of the game. Which is maybe what we're all trying to do, ultimately?



Self-Portrait Mandalas

Inspired by Bill Waldman's Portrait project (see above link), my cousin K has undertaken a month-long self-portrait project, doing one a day. She has been sending these to me each evening, and I enjoy them very much. I've also been sharing them with N, who was quite inspired one morning by her "Stick Figure" portrait (which was anything but stick-like, although it did not have facial features). N suggested that we do portrait mandalas, and I readily agreed.

N's first portrait mandala was titled "My Mama." She explained that I am saying "Hmm - the way you always do, Mommy!" because I am thinking about things. I love this one very much.
She next decided to do a self-portrait, "on a square of paper because even though you like circles, I like squares better." It only shows part of her because "I like going out of the picture because I am bigger than the picture! I am on my jumpoline [this is what she calls her little trampoline - the best investment we ever made!] and I call this portrait "Happy"!"
She pointed out that she had colored her face brown because she doesn't mind any more than her skin isn't the same color as mine, since she's decided she likes herself. Oh, this was a very good day!!! It's a good idea to click on this picture and make it bigger so you can make out all the joy in her face.

Her last mandala was very interesting. She said it was a goddess who was half-good and half-evil - hence the face that is split down the center with two expressions. On the right, you will see one of N's distinctive representations of God, watching over N and me to keep us safe. She said that she was inspired to do this picture by the music we were listening to - the Cirque du Soleil cd from "Alegria."
Incidentally, I mentioned to Z how interesting I find N's depictions of God - mostly an Easter Islandish enormous head. She's done a number of drawings like this of God, neither masculine nor feminine. I'm fascinated by this. Z's remark was even more intriguing. She said that she has always thought of God as looking like an Egyptian pharaoh - a female one. Remember that she became obsessed with ancient Egypt around the age of 3, reading about their gods & goddesses. And Tut was her favorite. She became acquainted early on with the theory that Tut was actually female. So this makes sense.

The entire time that N was drawing, I worked on a self-portrait mandala, too. It fit very well with the assignment to "create a mandala as a healing prayer for a personal concern," and as I have felt for as long as I can remember that I lacked the energy to be all that I need to be - for myself and for my family and friends - I wanted to make a mandala to re-energize myself.

I started by visualizing my bindu, my center, the core from which I draw my strength. Without that, I cannot do anything for anyone, including myself. Deep blue has always been my healing color, so that was what I was naturally drawn to, and the picture just came.

Around this, I drew swirls of energy that are generated just by my inner core. Then the green shoots that naturally grow from this as I begin to interact with other people - I am the kind of person who needs people, and when I am with others, it helps me grow.

The next circle points both inward and outward, showing that in growing, I generate energy to refuel myself and to energize others. The two circles that follow are a pattern I think of as energy or vitality lines. When I meditate on them, I feel revitalized, so I tend to use these in meditation mandalas when I want to generate excitement & energy (not for relaxation!). Moving outward to finish the mandala, all the patterns are outwardly-directed after that, showing that when I nourish my inner self, I have much more to give others. The "tassles" contain all the colors I used in the entire mandala, showing that people see on the surface a mixture of ingredients, but it takes going through all my "layers" one at a time to see where each part of me actually came from.

All of which I knew when I started, of course, but I need to remind myself of this, sometimes more than once a day!

This was an extremely useful mandala exercise, one of the most valuable ones I have done so far. I call this mandala "Self-Actualization." I need to find a way to hang it where I can look at it every day.



View from Another Shore and Three More: Book Reviews

'sbeen a while since I last wrote a book review. Not for lack of reading on my part, but for lack of time to write reviews! And, well, okay, I read a couple of lackluster graphic novels that I'd gotten from PBS (thank goodness I hadn't paid for them!) and that I will be reposting soon.

Well, they weren't exactly lackluster - I have some strong feelings about them. The first one, Semantic Lace (I never did figure out the title) had great art, and a good story, but every so often there was a huge gap in the storyline that left me wondering what on earth was going on. It ended quite abruptly, too, leaving too many unanswered questions. Maybe I just like things neat & tidy - I'm more of a Batman sort of person, I guess; I don't like to be left hanging.
Cool that it was set in Israel and dealt with tough issues, and the more I think back on it, the more I loved the art. But it definitely still needs work.

Then I read The Gift by Raven Gregory. Excessively, gratuitously violent. I hated it, but I kept reading it, hoping it was going somewhere.

Nope. Nowhere at all.
The art was unremarkable, too. Did I mention that I hated it? Yuk. It was trash. I hated it. Oh yeah, sorry, I already said that.

So why was I reading graphic novels? Because I was too tired at night to concentrate on anything else. I finally caught up with my sleep and then started on the last story in View from Another Shore, an anthology of (mostly Eastern) European science fiction my brother-in-law S gave me for Christmas. I began with the last story because that was the reason he gave me the book - it is his favorite short story ever.

It's "A Modest Genius," by Vadim Shefner, and it's a lovely little fairy tale. I can see why he loves it so much - it's pure delight, and - not to spoil it for you, but the good guys come up roses in the end. What a sweet person Shefner must have been, I thought! So I googled him.

Shefner began as a poet, and the wikipedia entry offers two awkwardly-translated poems that, nevertheless, give us an intriguing glimpse of his approach to life. The only other pieces of information I found in my quick search were that he was Russian, and that he died in 2002. And I'll bet you anything that he was Jewish.

Then I turned to the first story in the book, "In Hot Pursuit of Happiness," by Stanislaw Lem. I think it has become one of my all-time favorite short stories! Both very funny and very wise. I kept backtracking and rereading parts of it because it was so wonderful. And yet feeling a bit sad because I'm not sure there's anyone else I know who would find it quite as funny as I do, somehow. I was delighted to discover that the story has been enlarged upon in Lem's novel The Cyberiad, and I look forward to reading that as well.

I wonder if Douglas Adams read "In Hot Pursuit," as the notion of these intelligent robots, building other robots in the attempt to create an answer to the question "what is absolute happiness?" reminds me so much of his Ultimate Question.

So then I looked up Lem, because I was sure I'd read something by him before, and now I think it must have been short stories. Do, do, DO click on the title link and if you read nothing else, read the obituary link on his webpage. What a horrible and wonderful child he must have been to parent! Now I very much want to read the autobiography from which those passages were taken!

And guess what?!?!? PBS actually has it, and I ordered it! I can't wait to get my hands on that book!

Anyway, those two stories alone are worth the price of the book (which, to me, was nothing as it was a gift, but you know what I mean), but the rest of the stories are of equally great merit. I don't often read collections of stories, so to persevere through an entire collection without skipping to other books between stories, I need to have my attention grabbed pretty effectively. The editor (Franz Rottensteiner) selected just the stories to do that.

Great gift, S! Many thanks!

To get myself completely caught up with reviews - I just finished reading Andrew Fox's first novel, Fat White Vampire Blues. I picked it up at the AAUW Used Book Sale in Oct. & got around to reading it last week. It's a cute book, rather humorous in a gentle, southern way. The premise here is that vampires' health is affected by the diets of the humans whose blood they consume. Jules Duchon, the protagonist, has ballooned to 450 lbs. by drinking the blood of people who take in way too many calories. He's tried to lose weight by snacking only on joggers and weightlifters, but he just can't stand their thin, tasteless blood, so back again to the fatties he goes.

I enjoyed it, and I will pass it along to my nephew C just because some of the vampire ideas in it are new & interesting. But it wasn't one of the more exciting books I've read recently.

Next on my list: Mandala: Journey to the Center, which I have already started. (That's sort of for work.) And Breath, Eyes, Memory (that's for fun).



Imbolc Mandala

Today I finally made my Imbolc mandala, two days late but no less heartfelt for that. In honor of Brigd, the ancient Celtic goddess of healing (among many other attributes), I dedicated the mandala to Z's dear friend I, who has been ailing for over a month with an as-yet undiagnosed malady. N & I had cut up some silk flowers Friday, planning to use those for our Imbolc mandalas, but the thought came to me this morning to cut shapes from green paper instead, so I started on that. I discovered quickly that if I am ever to become proficient at scherenschnitte (not that I expected to do anything so clever!), I need much better scissors than the ones I had to hand. It took me a very long time, and once I determined upon a pattern, I kept cutting the little curls backwards, which was very frustrating. I'd initially intended to use nothing but green to call in the healing forces of spring, but then suddenly it was too much green - just overpowering. So I made some blue flowers, leaving them open instead of connected, for breathing space. And I felt the centers should be red to symbolize Brigd's fire, which purifies and heals. At the end, I added the two feathers. They really belong on a dreamcatcher, but I think they look right on this somehow.
I realized after I had finished it that I actually was supposed to create a healing mandala in this lesson - "divine healing for a personal concern." I think I will make another one, though, for that assignment. This one is dedicated just to I.

Z kept me company while I worked on this. Here are the valentines she created. This one is for her English teacher:
And these are the inside & outside of the one for her Chinese teacher for Chinese New Year (which is on Feb. 18 this year):
What a pleasant way to begin the day!



Oceans Five

Several days ago, N and I had the idea of doing ocean mandalas. I told her about my beloved elementary school art teacher, who once gave me an enormous circle of paper and told me to fill it with whatever I wanted. I filled it with tiny creatures from my imagination. It took me three class periods. Everyone else finished in one, but mine were very small (the teacher insisted that I fill the paper, something I was quite timid about doing). She allowed me to finish in my own time. She praised the finish product extravagantly, but what I remember most was how much fun it was to fill the paper with so many curving shapes. I loved this project. I hung it on my wall when I finally took it home, and had it for a long, long time till it got pretty ragged.

This time I wanted to fill a circle with little fish and other things of the ocean - I'm not sure what put this into my head, but N caught my ocean fever, so yesterday morning we put on some "watery" music ("The Tropical Rain Forest - The Nature of Greatest Sounds," a cd I picked up in Taiwan in 2000; "the one thing in the tropical rain forest of the value is the active diversity") and got out watercolor pencils. We worked on very wet watercolor paper with our pencils.

N chose to work on a strip of paper rather than a circle - as I mentioned earlier, she finds circles too constraining. She began with a lovely little mermaid, and then drew seaweed.
Note the nice, watery "bleed" the pencils-on-water create.

I, meanwhile, began with an octopus in the center, and then added some fish and things in and around it. After a short while, I realized that because of the flowing nature of this mandala, I wasn't going to be able to do the concentric circles thing as strictly, so I went to the outside of the circle and did the mandala in sections: a bit of seaweed & a starfish, or an anemone & a clownfish. In this way, I worked my way around the mandala instead of from the inside out or the outside in.

It was a lot of fun, and I became much more proficient in the use of watercolor pencils. I don't feel that this is one of my more introspective mandalas! but it was a useful exercise in the medium, and a very enjoyable and relaxing couple of hours spent with N.

Toward the end of our session, Z joined us and worked a while on a valentine for a friend. Here is the front of it (she isn't finished with the inside yet):
Cute, isn't it? How she can just come up with these off the top of her head I don't understand, but she does it all the time, in doodling no less. Some time maybe she'll let me post a page from one of her comics, which are really fun.

And while I'm getting caught up, here is something N brought home from school and kindly allowed as how it could be posted because when she was making it she thought that it really was a mandala. I agree. It's a very pretty one, and currently hanging by my computer. She said she told her friends it was a mandala. So mandala-fever is spreading. N is the figure in the center, she says.

Next, here are two paintings C did for his 2-D art class last semester. This first one was his final project, and titled "Angel of Death" - it is a redesign of a classical painting by the same name. All the students were required to work from the same painting and use all primary colors. C was not entirely happy with it. He didn't think it was very interesting.

The second one is certainly very interesting, and I am hoping to hang it soon. This is his own design - I love the colors, too! He went into this class hating painting, and while he hasn't done any more painting just for fun, I think he's decided it's not such a terrible medium after all.

Gorgeous, isn't it?

And R has created a mandala, too. I believe it speaks for itself.

Now you see one of the things I love about my husband.



A Mandala Post for My Cousin K

I created this mandala last Sunday over the course of about 6 hrs., during a rollicking Dungeons and Dragons game. My nephew C was kind enough to allow me to work on it during the game - it's really very rude to be engaged in another activity during a game, but he knew how much I wanted to do both things and how limited my time is, so he graciously permitted it.

I am still in the early stages of the second lesson, so still working on concentric circles. Because I had had Dine (Navajo) sand painting images in mind for several days for this particular mandala, I decided they would be nested squares instead. This influenced my color choices as well, including the paper. I used colored pencils and a couple of gel pens.

The assignment was to create a mandala honoring a power animal, and I chose to place a bird of prey in the center because we haven't seen our hawk lately. I included Anansi, too, and right at the top, as he is another of my power animals for many reasons. My niece S, who was rather annoyed not to be allowed to create mandalas, too (her brother judged her incapable of concentrating sufficiently on the game if she were simultaneously engaged in art), repeatedly asked me to include a snake, so I did that just for her.

Working from the bindu out, the arrows are there because they, too, fly through the air - but more important, they break through cages (at the corners), as I hope to break through those things that imprison my spirit. In the next "ring" are four things that are in the sky: snow, rain, sun and thermals (Z gave me the idea of the thermals, and I liked that because they lift us up - great idea!).

Then I felt the need for some open space. After that, a saguaro bloom for my spiritual home (Tucson), which was S's idea (though I'm not sure she knows how I feel about the desert), Anansi, S's snake and some feathers to lighten the spirit.

It was different creating a mandala with input from other people as I was working, and doing it while doing something else - yet it was a very intense experience, and this is one from which I gained a great deal of satisfaction. This one I think I may keep as a meditation aid.

Happy now, K? I got it posted today, just for you. XOXOXO