"Lotus Opening" by L. Folk

Sunday, December 31, 2017


Just start writing. This is what I tell myself as I sit here poised at the end of a somewhat trying year (but seriously, haven't most of them been "trying"?). I am attempting to honor my personal pact, the deal I've made with myself to write at least one post per month, and it is December 31, and I have written nothing for this month. Truth is, I am not that inspired to write anything. I feel blank. I feel like the page you get when your Google search goes awry--about:blank is what the url says. It's a disappointment of sorts, a sudden departure from the instant gratification we've become accustomed to. We almost take it personally. It's as if the computer is telling you, "Look, I really don't care what you are looking for. I am uninspired to show you anything."

It's New Year's Eve and the perpetual student in me would like to make a list of all that I've accomplished and learned. Dot my i-s and cross my t-s, so to speak. But I know these lessons live inside me; I know their names. To state them here seems an exercise in self validation. Perhaps I need this, but truth is, I am too lazy to make the account.

Is that what about:blank is? Laziness? Fatigue? I'm too tired to go and get your website for you. Get it yourself.

And yet, maybe this is the only true way to start out the New Year. No resolutions, no expectations. A blank slate. Leave it to the world to fill it up. It's a measure of patience, really. And faith. We're always pushing, yearning, comparing, checking, and checking some more. Maybe about:blank is about taking a breath. In fact, that's sort of what it looks like: a visual breath, a pasted cloud of breath. Maybe it's stillness. Do you have to be dazzled every second? Do you always have to know where you are headed?

About:blank; no you do not.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Divine Intoxication

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses—past the headlands—
Into deep Eternity—

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

This is the time of year the monotony of life especially gets to me, a time when the day-to-day routine is all too familiar. Add the stress of the holidays, and I start to want to withdraw, from responsibility, from expectation. I seek something else, something beyond the minutia, some divine intoxication, as Dickinson so aptly coins in the above poem. She likens this feeling to the first leg of a sailor's journey out to sea ("the first league out from land"). The sailor, born of the land ("Bred as we, among the mountains"), detaches from all that bounds him on land to embrace the majestic world of the sea, lolling, unending, unpredictable. It is a feeling of true escape, joyous freedom, divine intoxication. Dickinson, bound to her home, and after the age of thirty, her room, can only surmise if the sailor's divine intoxication exists. It is her wonder, however, I can appreciate.

I know this feeling "divine intoxication." I feel it when I take out my kayak into the Salem Sound. There is first the queerness and uncertainty of buoyancy upon sitting in the boat. As I row away from land and out toward the waves, I feel a release, a flicker of anxiety yes, but a kind release. My desire to know the ocean's secrets is greater than any fear that I have. Also, I have learned to entrust myself to the sea, to the rocking of the boat and the dip of the waves. I have learned to trust my own strength, my own will. There is a glory to open water, a vastness you can embrace. You can forget who you are as a land person, and you can discover new lands. Often, I row past the lighthouse at Hospital Point, north, to small beaches where I dock my boat and swim in the clear water, floating, dangling.

It's nearly winter now and there will be no kayaking. I need to find my divine intoxication somewhere else. I walk along the shore of the Bass River behind my house and spot those small black and white winter ducks that dive in the cold blue. Buffleheads they are called, and they hail from Canada and the arctic, wintering here in "warmer" waters. I wonder what northern seas they know, what they have seen on their journey here. At the edge of a field in J.C. Phillips Nature Preserve, a doe nibbles at something delicious. She is getting her winter coat now and as she bends, her muscles look strong. I am hopeful that she'll make it through the winter. This is what I think as she nibbles away, a mythical creature unfazed by my watching. Her presence, the presence of the ducks is a wildness I find intoxicating.


This past week I tried to capture the serenity and magic of a birch forest. If you've ever been in a birch forest, you know the shift in energy that comes from first stepping inside. It's a lighthearted peace, a hush, a sense of sacredness. I tried to paint this, manufacture my own divine intoxication. For the most part, it was a struggle and often, during the process, I felt like I failed. This brings me to a second Dickinson poem:

I never hear the word “Escape”
Without a quicker blood,
A sudden expectation –
A flying attitude!

I never hear of prisons broad
By soldiers battered down,
But I tug childish at my bars
Only to fail again!

This poem is about seeking that "divine intoxication" ("A sudden expectation,/A flying attitude"), but not finding it ("I tug childish at my bars,--/Only to fail again"). It could be that expectation is the killer or perhaps fear, and Dickinson makes it quite clear that she wrestles with it. Was she talking about writing the perfect poem or refusing some social event she secretly aspired to attend? Canceling a vacation to the sea? Dickinson was a recluse; she chose to withdraw from society, but that did not mean she did not have aspirations to overcome her own emotional imprisonment.

I think a major part of making art is wrestling with failure, falling short of expectation--that vague idea of greatness we have in our minds and set out to achieve. Many people give up at the first point of failure. It's those of us who push through, however, who find an altered goal, something we never intended, but something somewhat satisfying nonetheless--a reward for our perseverance. I learned this years ago with my writing, but am only now learning it with respect to visual art.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


There's something about that copse of pines in Sally Milligan park that soothes me. I went walking there amidst those tall, solemn pines and the land that slopes gently to and fro, along paths that bypass outcroppings of rock adorned with moss and ferns. I made a deal with myself to go there on the weekends as a means of doing away with the collected stress of the week. There, in those woods, I can transcend my stress.

I have been thinking a lot about transcendence, that concept of moving past something--a mood, a problem, an illness, a life. The Transcendentalists of Emerson's time embraced the natural world to purge themselves of the existential angst and minutiae of civil life, and I understand that now more than I ever did. What I have realized, however, is there's different types of transcendence.

One of the most profound types is the transcendence of sickness, be it mental or physical. With any illness, there is always an expectation of the healing, but amidst that, a profound doubt. I remember when I contracted poison ivy one spring; the itching and oozing was phenomenal. In the midst of my suffering there was that buried thought; what if this doesn't heal? It's illogical; of course a case, any case of poison ivy is treatable. And yet when suffering is intense, we can't help but entertain irrational thoughts. I've entertained these irrational thoughts when I had bad cases of the flu and periods of depression. What if it doesn't end? What if I don't heal?

What is most important during these times of suffering and illness is patience and compassion. When I was clinically depressed, it was the compassion of my meditation teacher that really impressed me. I felt supported, less alone. And when I started to heal in each of these instances, I marveled at the healing, the healing of skin, of mind, of body.

I can only imagine how cancer survivors feel. Do they feel empowered and infallible? Or are they tortured by the possibility of recurrence? Many people suffer the loss of body parts and have to make peace with the mirror, with the fact that their bodies have been permanently altered. I imagine with that, they feel anything but powerful. I think back to my father, who, in his day was built like a Roman god. He had a colostomy at fifty-two due to colon cancer and that bag attached to his body was a constant reminder of his mortality. I think he felt both tortured and blessed by it. Ultimately my father transcended cancer by transcending his life. He retired his earthly form for something else, something entirely our of my reach of understanding. Is he the sunlight, the owl in the wood, a comforting thought? I can only speculate.

Grappling with a problem and finding the solution through effort, intuition, and wisdom is another type of transcendence. I think of Frederick Douglass's journey to literacy and African Americans transcending slavery, all the wonderful works of art and literature as proof of their passage. Frederick Douglass, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Barrack Obama were beacons lighting the way for their collective transcendence.

I think of the Buddha's enlightenment as transcendence, of any type of learning as transcendence. We are in need of enlightenment now, in certain areas of the country, where ignorance is forming dangerous perspectives--perspectives, that if not checked, could do real damage and wrongly affect lives.

I wrote the poem below after learning about Christopher Roybal, one of the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. He was a veteran and the irony of his surviving war, dodging his fair share of bullets, only to be killed by one at home was not lost on me. His last Facebook post, written sometime in the summer, addressed the question, What does it feel like to be shot at? I too have wondered what it feels like to be shot at. The well-written post satisfied my curiosity. From what I gathered, it's a piece of hell that lives inside you. What I realized by writing this poem is yet another type of transcendence, the transcendence of the brave, those who live with the constant state of danger for the greater good. In succumbing to the bullet that haunted him, Roybal achieved a special kind of transcendence, one that is nearly Christlike.

Transcendence, in all its variations, is evidence there is a path for the soul. The end state need not be intelligible to us now; the mile markers along the course should be proof enough.

They’ve identified one of the victims
a man, a veteran who made it home
from Afghanistan only to be killed
from the  sniper perched on high
in a luxury hotel in Las Vegas.

I have never been to Las Vegas,
the casino city that mars the desert
doesn’t appeal to me, but I do know fear,
as if there’s a gunman perched in my head
and it’s only a matter of time
before he gets me.

But this isn’t real.

Thousands of miles in either direction,
they are sifting through the soldier’s words,
reading his name, telling the story of how
he was looking for a wild west in the east, a real
gun fight, an adrenaline rush.

Here, I drive to work
in a long line of traffic and
the marsh grasses are turning gold
above the low tide mud flats.

Here the question arises:

What’s it like to be shot at? We want to know,

we the civilians, the teachers, the waitresses, the lawyers,
the doctors, and all the other Christopher Roybals—

we with our dull lives of angst and failure
and what love we can rummage together.

We know nothing of the pinging of metal, the mass
confusion, the mania, the pop, pop, pop, and the rage—
the nightmare no amount of drugs,
no amount of therapy can cure.


It is morning
and the tide inconspicuously covers the banks
and the blue sky of October looks almost like forgiveness,
and there’s a feeling that the Earth is almost content,

still there is this question:

What does it mean to succumb to the bullet
that haunts you?
Is there a soul’s peace there?
A god?

I wonder, though, if they really looked
at the photo where your face is
illuminated and your eyes are bright
and there is the telling evidence of


of what only the brave know.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Observations: A Sunday Morning Walk in the Woods

We walked into the woods and there was a deep wetness penetrating every last thing. Across my neighbor's field there were the firs, tall, melancholic, and noble, a testament to the wilderness that was once this land. His garden, below the firs, was ripe with tomatoes, the plants tied firmly to posts. There was a compost pile and a greenhouse where he starts his plants in February when the land is frozen. We walked in deeper and could see the mystical whiteness of the fog over the river through the trees. Ordinarily, I don't like the damp wood; it's lugubrious. It lives inside me as a somber mood. Today, I looked closer and it was different.

My dog and I walked down the path and there before my eyes hung a single water bead on the end of a cobweb filament. I touched my finger to it and it rolled down my finger cool. I looked around me and every cobweb, ordinarily unseen, was now made prominent with tiny beads of water. Up close, they were a string of translucent pearls. We walked and saw what my dog had suspected for days, a dead skunk, its hide mowed flat and laced in wriggling white maggots. Further along, the old growth oaks with four-foot diameter trunks. These prodigious trees filled the sky, and I wondered what they have seen. Are they witnesses to the fisher's beheadings? I have found the clean bones of a feast here, in the leaves beneath the trees. One knows the fisher only by its hand-like tracks in the snow; it is a creature elusive as a ghost and deadly: one chewed through the neck of my sister's cat. About a month ago, here, I locked eyes with a coyote. I saw his slim silhouette first, from down the trail, and then, as I got closer, his whole painted face with orange fire markings. He looked deeply into me, then loped on, unfazed, but I felt like I had locked eyes with wildness.

Further along, the fog devours the river. A sandbar floats in white nothingness. Birds make sounds in the white, but I can't see them. The reeds of the marsh are still; there is no wind whispering its secrets today. I often stand on the bridge over the marsh and listen to the wind in the reeds and my dog listens too. Today we move on and the fog begins to give way to shapes, a dock, a hull, a sail. Once I went kayaking up the coast of Beverly in the fog with a friend. Forms and sounds emerged suddenly, as if in a dream. The movement of the boat through the still water had a lulling and hypnotic effect on me. Despite the fact that I couldn't see, I was less afraid than I was curious. I was filled with wonder about how the land transformed, how through the mist, there were disembodied voices, and suddenly bodies perched on rocks, a cormorant with its wet, bat-like wings draped--a totem for some forgotten god.

We passed through the serpentine trees and reached the path opening where there were wild yellow snapdragons and white asters. Beyond them were people setting up for a picnic in a field. Singing could be heard through open doors. It was Sunday. I stopped to look at a mushroom and my dog sniffed it. With the tiny drops around its flat face, it looked like lace. Who would think fungi could be so pretty? We continued on and the webs over the grass were liked draped silk or the dainty lost handkerchiefs of ladies at tea, a glamorous deception of sorts, to all those things hastily rotting in the earth.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Titans Looming, a.k.a Poets on Panic

What I have come to observe is that the energy of the mind can propel you places. That bundle of energy in the mind can be equated to that of a compressed spring. Case in point: I went to bed one night last week pretty stressed out; my body being tired fell easily to sleep and it took the conscious mind with it. But somewhere between the waking world and the sleeping world, the spring was released. The psychic energy stored from the stress of my waking life jettisoned me headlong into a place I can only describe as Hell.

I was in this place for what seemed like five seconds, but it was quite clear that this was a dark place. I don't know how else to describe it. There is that saying about how when you feel so distraught, you want to jump out of your own skin. This feeling is more that there is someone sinister pulling back your skin, exposing every vulnerable organ.

I awoke in a state of pure panic. My arms were in the air, I was reaching for something. I may have even yelped. I recall the images that were present and I later wrote these verses:

An iron filigree fell
from the sky, scorched
I paid wooden nickles
for the boat

This seems to have a Charon reference, but I can tell you that this place was not Hades; this wasn't a place where shades wandered around bemoaning their fates and the mistakes they made in their lives. This was a place where some sinister being wanted nothing better than to excoriate anyone who came into its domain. Where in my unconscious mind could I be keeping such a creature?

So I did some research about the just-before-you-fall-asleep panic attack and it is fairly common. People say they feel as if they are sinking or dying and they jolt awake. Scientists, doctors rule out any danger and attribute it purely to anxiety, which, in itself is harmless: you just need to dispel the spring and there are countless techniques to do this. No one, however, said anything about meeting the devil.

So this got me thinking about the nature of panic. What I have learned is that there is conscious panic and there is archetypal unconscious panic. I can tell you that the archetypal panic packs more of a punch probably because it deals with the vat of those buried fears and desires we call the unconscious mind.

Last spring I was having dinner in the North End with a friend when I started to feel some pretty intense anxiety that I had not felt in a long time. I had been observing the party next to us, how they reminded me of my grandparents and their siblings. Their mannerisms and conversation relayed an ease of being with one another, typical of people who have shared a certain history. The proprietor knew them; they had gathered often to share a meal with one another. They raised their glasses over their heads for a toast and this affected me, got me thinking about the past and the dead. There was one man in particular who pivoted himself toward our table looking for conversation with us. He reminded me of my grandfather from the suit jacket he wore to the tint in his glasses. He talked about the Bocelli song playing, how it was beautiful. He even said the word like my grandfather, beeuuuteeful. The man, in his neither-here-nor-there position triggered something in me. It would soon come barreling down the tracks and hit me full on.

Perhaps it was too crowded or the tables too close. Perhaps I was overstimulated by the social aspect of the evening, by the readings before dinner in a tiny bookstore where I felt trapped. Perhaps my claustrophobia was triggered, but then squelched, thereby compressing the spring. Perhaps it was the social stimuli, the over-smiling, the niceties one experiences when one wants to make a good impression. Perhaps it was the presence of the dead. It suddenly occurred to me that I could not catch my breath. And there it was, that queer space of panic where you recognize nothing familiar, not even your friend. I stumbled into the night, the darkness, and the buildings were like titans, looming.

This is the landscape of panic, this is the foundation: alienation, and with no allies, no comfort zone, nothing to steady you, you fall through space until time passes, chemicals shift, you finally catch your breath and register something familiar, your keys, the feel of the steering wheel, your husband's voice on the phone, and the concept of Here, You Are Here Now returns.

So with the waking panic attack, there is alienation, but with the archetypal, unconscious panic attack, there is something quite different. You are not alone and alienated: you are with someone otherworldly and sinister. Or so it seems.

Both convey the idea of death. Yours.

When I lived in my house on Fayette Street, just before I was married, I experienced one of these archetypal unconscious-but-not-too-unconscious panic attacks. I remember that I had drank a full glass of orange juice before going to bed. (I attributed it to the sugar rush). I fell asleep and was suddenly transported through a portal to an in-between place where I felt the presence of a middle-aged man and woman. I was with them in this unworldly place where they were perfectly at home and I was not. It was just a blip and then I was instantly propelled from sleeping to standing in my doorway, my heart in my throat, fully conscious that I had been with two ghosts. Now that I was awake, they weren't there; It felt like they were a million miles away. I recalled then how a psychic once told me that two spirits were living in my house; they were friendly and they bid me no harm. Was it these two spirits I sensed? I remember quite clearly how the thought process went when I registered them: otherworldly, terror, flee, now. I don't even know if they were truly sinister or not because my brain couldn't relax enough to get the correct information. It sensed this supernatural/archetypal place and then the fear propelled me back to consciousness.

So is it the fear that breeds the sinister phantasmagoria or the sinister phantasmagoria that breeds the fear?

When my daughter was three, she had night terrors. About an hour or two after she fell asleep, she would start screaming and thrashing in her bed. Clearly she was not sleeping and she didn't seem to be awake either. She seemed absolutely tortured and there was nothing I could do about it because she was in that other dimension. The doctor told us it was because her nervous system was developing faster than her brain could handle, or something like that. We were told to not touch her, not to restrain her (although sometimes we tried), to just let it pass, which took about twenty minutes. But the look on her face--it was pure terror. It was the same terror I experienced.

Because the unconscious mind works in images and archetypes, it is more powerful. This is why poetry is powerful: the two come from the same place and reach us profoundly; they reach us in ways that the conscious thinking mind can't.

I am not particularly sure why I have a sinister presence lurking in my unconscious. I suppose I can always blame it on my Catholic upbringing (if you read A Portal to Vibrancy, this is quite clear). I do know this, that my friend back at the North End restaurant that night knew exactly what I was experiencing, despite my not seeing an ally in her at the time. She had written a poem about the experience (You can read it here). Her use of certain archetypes, allusions, and images made me feel like she was literally peering into my head. I couldn't see it at the time, her sympathies because I was walled off by my own fear. And this is a good argument for how fear alienates us and keeps us from communing with the people we most need.

Here's my poem on panic, a work in progress. Notice the similar themes between the two poems? What's surprising is that we had written these poems unbeknownst to one another. We had both sensed that the experience was good fodder for a poem.
Titans Looming

It started at the table
this sudden discord

this sudden horde of heat
my blood-red  heart beat wild.

An older gentleman, delighted with the song
praised the blind man’s singing

His face, my grandfather’s face,
His hands--

Next to us, a stranger swirls wine and laughs
and the water flows into my cup,

as they raised their glasses
while the envious past walked the carpeted floor,

and we paid the check and went out into the night.

I pushed through this hole in the evening,
regarded the buildings—titans looming.

My friend, dressed in black,
sitting on a bench inside the tunnel

her sympathetic eyes, her old-world face,

her abandoned cigarettes, her resilient poems—
glanced at me as if through glass.

I went to the tracks, saw the walls curve
into pitch, leaned over

looking for that moving light.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Latest Artwork, as of July 8

"Danae," acrylic on paper

Making art is a meditation in itself. I wrote about this in A Portal to Vibrancy:


I learn that painting is like meditation: by looking deeply, you see the possibilities. I show up at the canvas, offer myself as a communicant going to communion, as Matisse says. Hours pass like seconds. I learn the language of archetypes, how to persevere, struggle, walk away in frustration, come back with newfound hope, dance the subtle dance between craft and intuition, but most importantly, I witness how possibilities become discoveries.

Here are some of my latest images.

"Dancer," oil pastel on paper

"Marielle at the Window," oil pastel on paper

"Essex," oil pastel on paper

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Father's Face

When my son turned three months old I had a most peculiar experience.  He was staring up at the various trinkets in a mobile when I noticed, amidst his darkening eyebrows, my father’s face.  It was comforting yet unnerving to have the face I recognize as love, as safety—and yet a face from the grave –show up in my newborn son. 

We lost my dad in 2003, just before his beloved team won the World Series.  With the birth of his three grandchildren, my family knows the true meaning of bittersweet.  My husband’s and brother-in-law's parents are gone as well, so my kids and nephew have one living grandparent—my mother.  She and I often speculate what my father would do with his grandchildren.  “He would sit with Stevie on his knee as he watches football on Sundays” or “He would imitate Marielle’s laugh and tease her incessantly” or “He would have Zachary swinging a bat as soon as he could stand.”  Our minds would create each respective scene and we would sit there with them until we heard the gavel of fate slam down. 

My mother had waited a long time to share these grandchildren with my father; my siblings and I all married well into our thirties.  It’s a major milestone for marriages to have grandkids to spoil, scamper about the house; it follows the natural progression of things to experience one’s father evolve into a grandfather.   And it only seems fair.

I don’t begrudge other kids their grandfathers.  In fact, I’ve reasoned that it might somehow make my kids more resilient.  Life takes from you; it’s best to learn this at a young age.  And then I remember who my dad was, his integrity, his wit, his playfulness, and I grapple with how I might portray him to them.  It seems entirely futile.

This situation reminds me of that tearjerker of a song by Mike in the Mechanics called “The Living Years.” The gist of it is this: a man does not see “eye to eye” with his father and when the father dies, things are left unsaid.  There is a verse most apropos: I think I caught his spirit/Later that same year/I'm sure I heard his echo/In my baby's new born tears.  My relationship with my father was, for the most part, in tact when he passed, but that does not discount the impact of the song and its theme, especially now.  And yet, we can wax poetic about the circle of life, but there is something profoundly incongruous about the holes in our matrix of family and how we’re helpless to fill them. 

The day after my father passed away, the sun shone gloriously; it was my private Easter.  Ladybugs—a good omen—collected on the panes of my parents’ house, and I reasoned he had reached his spiritual destination.  Coincidentally, I saw a ladybug crawling on my kitchen windowsill the day my son was circumcised.  It was the same type of day known only to the month of October with boundless blue sky amidst nature’s triumph of color.  Because he was six months old, my son was admitted into Danvers MGH and needed anesthesia for the procedure.  I was excessively emotional for obvious reasons and did my best answering the anesthesiologist’s questions regarding my son’s medical history.  When she asked who was home with his twin sister, I blurted out, “My father.”  I meant to say “My husband” or perhaps “Her father.”  I laughed at myself; that was, logically, the wrong answer, but something deeper said, “No it’s not.”

I tell myself, heartedly, to find solace not in fate’s hand, but in what could be.  My mother once reprimanded me when I noted how the twins, only weeks old, would roll back their eyes like Linda Blair in The Exorcist before falling asleep.  “Don’t say that,” she said.  “They’re staring at the angels.”

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Patriarchy: It Exists

On Thursday night I posted the following on Facebook: "Women everywhere are taking the good ol' boys network down." This was in response to Fox News firing Bill O'Reilly for his sexual advances on Fox female employees. Now, this prompted mostly cheers from my feminist posse, but one long-winded jeer from a male friend of mine. I should say here that I regard this friend, an old friend, as a very intelligent person, a talented musician, an eloquent writer. But I don't agree with him on how "the patriarchy" is a feminist construct.

First, let's look at the more inflammatory things he said:

"The good ol' boys network is a feminist invention. It doesn't exist."

"The sad fact is feminists build their entire world view on emotion, conjecture, and belief, while refusing to challenge their own facts."

Well, I'm going to challenge the "facts" and we're going to start with the definition of feminism. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is "the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." If you support equality of the sexes, that makes you a feminist according to one of the most prominent lexicons of the English language. If you believe this for your daughter, your mother, and the woman next door, that makes you a feminist. Feminist does not mean man hater. I'm thinking my friend wants the same rights, privileges for his daughter as any boy in the neighborhood. That makes him a feminist and his entire argument falls to pieces right there. But we're here to prove that the patriarchy exists, not feminism.

The reason is simple: worldwide there are far more men in leadership roles than women, and men organize themselves into hierarchies. Now you can argue the wage gap, how it doesn't exist, how it does exist etc, etc., but this is like treating the symptoms and not the disease itself. Here are the facts:

Fewer than 10% of 193 heads of state registered at the UN are women (Pew Research Center)

Four percent of CEOs are women (Forbes)

Twenty nine percent of America's business owners are women (the Atlantic, 2015)

Thirty six percent of lawyers are women (ABA)

104 out of 535 members of Congress are women (19.4%)

So this begs the question how does a surplus of male leaders in the world make a patriarchy? Well, it's kind of obvious, but just for the hey of it, lets look at some anecdotal evidence and then some chemical/biological evidence.

I graduated cum laude with a degree in civil engineering and a focus in structural engineering. Most of my peers were male. Most of my professors were male. I have nothing but good things to say about my peers and professors; I respected them and they respected me. We joked around a lot. I asked a lot of questions and received many thought-provoking answers. I worked with my peers on homework, projects. Maybe there were undercurrents of attraction here and there, but these were considered superfluous and never acted upon. Maybe it was because I didn't drink enough. I was part of an intellectual, academic, egalitarian community and I couldn't have been happier.

I graduated during a recession and took the first job I was offered in bridge engineering. As an entry level engineer, I was merely a draftsperson and spent hours upon hours editing digital line drawings of bridges. Now mind you, my thesis was in finite element analysis. I could analyze any structure you put in front of me with the help of structural engineering software. But I was entry level, the lowest "guy" on the totem pole, so I had to earn my stripes.

In our office, the boss was the guy who puffed out his chest and yelled the loudest. That wasn't at all like the cute and cozy community I was coming from in academia. There was this undercurrent of fear that didn't exist in academia. To be fair, the guys, my fellow engineers at my first job were terrific. It's just that it was dysfunctional. I didn't have my ass handed to me on a regular basis like the guys did; to tell you the truth my boss sort of treated me like a princess. It was just the way things were. But I eventually left. I wanted to be challenged.

I moved around, seeking the right fit. I began to question my career choice. Ultimately I landed a job with a company who was doing analysis work on the gusset plate failure of the Minneapolis I-35 Bridge. It was awesome. It felt like I was in school again. The project was challenging, engaging, and unifying. I thought I finally found my dream job. But that project eventually ended and other ones began. My boss became stressed out and wasn't very good at communicating and delegating work. I had no idea what project to work on. I asked him directly and was shrugged off. There was a complete breakdown in communication. Eventually I was called into the conference room and told I was on probation because I had caused a project to go over budget. Now, how could I have caused a project to go over budget when I wasn't the one delegating the work? I wasn't the one responsible for the budget; I just did the work that came across my desk. Long story short, I left. And I wrote everything down, why I left, etc. About a year later, another female engineer was "harassed" for similar reasons with the same boss. She hired a lawyer. They settled out of court. But due to my letter and the documentation on my boss's incompetency, his ass was fired. What's the moral of the story? Breakdown in communication. But more importantly, if your ass is on the line and the guy above you is breathing down your neck, you best get yourself a skapegoat. That's how the hierarchy works.

With every office I was a part of, I started to see a trend. Lack of communication. Fear of the big guy. Incompetency. Skapegoating. What's a male hierarchy? It's called a patriarchy. The members of the patriarchy care about one thing: self preservation. (We have a classic example of this in the Trump administration.) I began to see patriarchies everywhere, from the workplace, to government, to schools, to church.

This isn't a matter of feminism. This is reality. This is how men organize themselves. And I say men because they are the ones in the leadership roles, for the most part. Walter Ong, in his book Fighting for Life says men are "warlike," "agonistic," and "create oppositional formats to do almost anything." Deborah Tannen of You Just Don't Understand fame says "men live in a hierarchical world."

My point is there are hierarchies everywhere and that people will fall victim to them, whether you are a man or a woman. I happen to think woman are easier prey (especially in the hierarchy of the home, i.e. domestic violence), but you are free to disagree with me on that.

Okay, now for the chemistry, psychology, sociology piece. I think you'll agree with me when I say we are composed of chemicals. I am more oxytocin than any man. A man is more testosterone than I am. Men, history and science tell us men are biologically wired for aggression, and I am biologically wired for nurturing. You might see this testosterone, oxytocin thing as an oversimplification, but the gist is true. These are the building blocks of patriarchy and matriarchy.

My antagonistic friend is right when he says this:

"If feminists want to be relevant again, they need to start recognizing the biological, natural group-level differences between men and women, instead of actively denying nature and pretending we're the same."

So we're not the same, and it certainly is cliche to say that the male sex is destroying the planet, fighting wars, killing people, but this is the way it is based on chemical make up and who is in the leadership roles on this planet.

Okay, so this begs the question, what is a matriarchy? Well that is a very elusive topic indeed. First I want to explain why you can't see patriarchy for what it is. The reason is actually pretty simple: it's the only thing we know. From natural selection to Yahweh, hierarchies, patriarchies are everywhere with competition as the main driving force. For matriarchies, it is compassion (and you can read more about why this is here, again the reason is rooted in biology). Social justice is a compassionate thing; so is egalitarianism. And that's what you would have with a matriarchy: you would have egalitarianism. In a matriarchal society you would have less of the fucking fraternity where you've got to endure the hazing of the patriarchal hierarchy to get anywhere. It would be more of a true meritocracy. In fact, it did exist a long, long time ago on the island of Crete when they worshipped a goddess and lived in communes with just as many, maybe more female leaders than males and lived in a relatively peaceful society. They were artisans and artists, priests, and philosophers. Crete. The beginning of civilization. It was the same way with the early Christian church. President Carter in his break with the Southern Baptist Convention over the discrimination of women and girls says this:

During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

I can hear his retort now: the la la land of compassion and egalitarianism. Such a non-reality. But you know what is a reality? Emotional intelligence. Teachers (what's the stats on teachers...75% women?) know this. They exist in communal matriarchal enclaves within a patriarchal society. They know how to inspire students to work; they know a student in crisis needs special treatment and space to heal before they can learn. I'm talking about good teachers.

So I went into teaching. I was hired as a permanent substitute at Watertown Middle School and taught Algebra I and II. I was then hired by Swampscott High School as a physics teacher. I was there for nine years, won awards, was respected for my teaching. I got a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing during my time at SHS and became a published science writer. My curriculum ideas were published in two separate texts. I created and taught an engineering course for ninth graders. You talk about STEM; I was living STEM. But then there was the issue with my certification and No Child Left Behind. The superintendent, male, ex-marine sent me a letter: either get another master degree in your discipline or you're fired. I argued my position with him, with the Department of Education, stating how I wasn't going to get another masters degree: the one I had helped me become a published teacher and science writer. It was relevant. I used my writing in my teaching. I was published in two separate text books, and both of them I used in my classes. They fired me. The Department of Education ignored me. And this brings me to my final point. In a patriarchal society, there is no room for creativity. You need to do what the rules say or you are out, no matter how smart and talented you are.

Where do communal organizations exist? With creative people. This is why many artists and writers (Frieda Kahlo, for one) were communists. Oh, but that's so un-American! How un-patriotic of them!  Patriarchal construct for self-preservation: badmouth communism.

So now I am a Professor of English, adjunct, at North Shore Community College where my degree is relevant. As you have probably heard, we adjuncts are heavily exploited. Colleges and universities are now about 75% adjuncts. And this is the most patriarchal, bullshit situation of all. We adjuncts get to remain the peons, the lowest people on the totem pole while the administration gets all the highest salaries (according to the DPE, in 2012, women accounted for 26% of college presidencies) and the college doesn't have to pay benefits to most of its faculty.

Outside my classroom, the patriarchal world exists, but inside, I can run my classrooms with rigor, respect, clarity, creativity, and make paramount student engagement. It's communal, really; a place for inspiration, support, communication: all the things we females (and males) versed in emotional intelligence deem important and necessary for meaningful success.

Note: The good news is that emotional intelligence IS infiltrating the workplace by the flat organization model. This is a more functional, communal set up than the traditional patriarchal hierarchy and incorporates mentoring, network informal trust structures, and employee input; they are, according to David Stein, co-CEO of Rypple, a social software company, "collaborative cultures that thrive on ideas, innovation and employee engagement." How very communal/matriarchal of them. Bravo. You can read more on flat(er) organization models here.

Note2: You can read Jimmy Carter's article on the discrimination of girls and women in Christianity here.

Note 3: Conservatives and progressives can also be categorized as "patriarchal" and "matriarchal." According to Berkeley author George Lakoff (as stated in Daphne White's Berkeleyside article): "Conservatives believe in what Lakoff calls the 'strict father family,' while progressives believe in a 'nurturant parent family.' You can read White's article on Lakoff and his ideas regarding who votes how here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mixed-media Collages

Mixed-media collage: Dreaming of a Cabana in Martha's Vineyard When the Weather Doesn't Suck

Mixed-media collage: Dreaming of a Doorway in Aruba

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Longing II, A Confession (and two new collages)

 Here's a flash fiction piece that didn't make the cut for Totem Beasts. I had decided last minute to pull it because, as I was reading through the proof, it hit me that it didn't fit in with the surrounding work. I tried to identify what the problem was: was it not crafted enough? was it too confessional? (I winced when I read it.) This begged the question, what is and what is not fair game for art? In fiction, we craft a guise that separates us from our work; we artfully do it for poetry as well. Some guises are thick, others thin. This piece was literally wearing a slip. It was half dream, half life and both haunted me. What to do about this? And then I thought of Frida Kahlo. In her work, she is completely exposed; she exposes her mangled body, her miscarried child. I thought of Yoko Ono in her performance pieces where people are invited to cut off pieces of her clothing. Is this risque or freeing? I think it is a type of confirmation; by declaring a vulnerability you begin to own it, and it will haunt you less.

But isn't just writing it down, getting it out of your head, owning it? There's something about leaving stuff up there in that realm that makes it less clear. Creating from experience, pain, clarifies these things and promotes growth. Publication is a means of showcasing it, and I wouldn't deny that ego is involved. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Ego says this is me: it's a pronouncement, a declaration of self; it is expression, a chronicle of experience, and I suppose this is the interface where catharsis can become part of a larger canon. I say can, because actually becoming a part of that canon depends on other qualified individuals like literary or art critics who have expertise in the field and know what has and what has not been done, who know craft and impact. But that brings us back to square one, and being fearless, experimental, honoring oneself: I doubt very much Frida Kahlo and Yoko Ono had critics on their minds (or at the forefront of their minds) when they were creating the work. It's more a thing that must be done, and that's what we need to remember. Where and when we birth it to the world is a different topic entirely.

Longing II

There was a stairway to the third floor apartment, and I ran up and down it for exercise. I thought perhaps you were watching me. You were playing a game on the fields below; it was some kind of timed obstacle course. I saw you during your run; you hurled yourself over the finish line with the crowd watching you, and I thought, yes, I do that too, hurl myself at things.
I found out eventually that you and your wife were our new neighbors. While you were at work I befriended her, and we planned to have dinner, despite the fact that she could barely speak my language. Was I just trying to get to you? Get on your good side? When you finally arrived, you were dressed only in a towel. I hadn't seen you in years and then, suddenly, there you were, dripping wet, the hairs on your chest, wet, wet. 

There was that time, years after we broke up and after you broke up with her that I knew you would walk through my front door. I had just moved into that dingy apartment in Brighton, and I was standing in the foyer looking at the painted grain of the wood, and I said to myself, he's going to be here at some point. And then you were. You called me wanting to return a book of poems, and we went out for dinner. Your hair was cut and you were wearing a ring. I don't remember anything about the ring, only that it was there, on your hand, some gem, and I thought perhaps she had given it to you. You had transformed into a man, and yet you still lacked some facial hair; there would be parts of you that would be forever boy. You had already made up your mind to move to LA and besides who would want a woman still dripping fresh with longing and need? She's as desirable as a wet piece of laundry.

Is this the part I need to rectify? Your opinion of me? How I see myself through your eyes?

Above right: multi-media collage "Emergence" by Laurette Folk ; Left: multi-media collage "Garden Bed"

Friday, March 24, 2017

Mixed Media Collage, Bowl of Flowers

Book Review, The Hunger Saint by Olivia Kate Cerrone

I loved this book for its gorgeous prose, its allegiance to human truths, its integration of prominent detail, and its heroic story.

My review of Olivia Kate Cerrone's The Hunger Saint, published in The American is here.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Letter from the Editor, The Compassion Anthology

We’re naming this edition of The Compassion Anthology the Student Edition, but it could very easily be called the Millennial Edition, because most of the writers and artists published here are Millennials. This begs the question who, exactly, is classified as a Millennial? I’ve heard the term used in conversation, on the news, but I'm a little unclear as to where they fall on the time line. I know they come after the Gen X’ers (my generation). I know that they preferred Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton, or anyone else, for that matter. Many articles have been written about their attitudes, their consumer choices, especially since they are now the largest generation, having surpassing Baby Boomers. They have been dubbed the “selfie” generation, accused of entitlement, laziness, idealism, and lacking in social etiquette. But really, who are they?

Philip Bump from The Atlantic cites researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss with the correct definition: a Millennial is an individual “born between 1982 and 2004.” And it has been proven, surprisingly, to some, that Millennials are compassionate and may very well be the most empathetic generation thus far.

E.J. Dionne, author of Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent claims Millennials are “the generation most comfortable with racial and ethnic diversity, most open on matters such as gay marriage, and most welcoming to new immigrants.” Sanjay Sood, Director of UCLA’s Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment, and Sports says Millennials are more opt to work for companies with a message of concern regarding social issues or the environment.

I have been teaching for nearly seven years in diverse community college classrooms, classrooms with people of color and LGBT individuals, and not once have I witnessed an instance of bullying, racism, sexism, or any type of intolerance in general from my students. The personal essays I’ve read indicate how close Millennials are to their own pain—the pain of failure, grief, disillusionment, and how they are working to transcend these. They are, by and large, a hopeful generation, despite what previous generations have bequeathed them (a lackluster economy, rising college costs, global warming, etc.).

Moreover, Millennials have an unflinching willingness to work together. This is demonstrated clearly in the image above, a large-scale reproduction of Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by North Shore Community College students in Jim Chisolm’s Basic Drawing classes fall semester, 2016. To create this mural, students collaborated on color and the post-Impressionist technique of Pointillism; the project included research, preliminary sketches, and synthesizing visual concepts. Jim has been doing these mural projects in his classes for the past seven years and says they are “real life experience[s] that [he] is sure [students] will recall for many years.” You can read how these mural projects have been life changing to students here.

In this edition, we're publishing images of postcards for the Art for Aleppo Postcard Show  an exhibit designed to raise awareness and funding for the people who suffered the atrocities of Aleppo. Curators Carla Goldberg (former anthology artist), Russ Ritell, and David Link will be accepting submissions until April 15, in case you’re interested in submitting. All postcards submitted will be displayed at Catalyst Gallery in New York opening night April 22. The powerful images shown here are taken from postcards created by some of the students in my Composition II, Intro to Lit class.

Also included are the themes compassion for self, as in the essay “Coming Out” by Eddie Marshall and the poem “Survivor” by Dan King; compassion as a chain reaction, as in Ishita Pandey’s “Carry Forward the Compassion”; and compassion as the night sky, a theme in both poem and postcard image by Olivia McCormack.

I welcome you to celebrate the creative power and promise of Millennials—what difficulties they have transcended, what they have learned, what they care most about, how they interpret the world, and what they wish to give. If you have any questions or comments, please do drop us a line.


Laurette Folk, Editor The Compassion Anthology


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Every Artist Is a Cannibal: Thoughts on the Creative Process

It always begins with some agitation, like a grain of sand in the oyster belly of my brain. I have some idea of what I want to do, and the struggle is mainly to find the time. When I begin, there is always anxiety, especially with painting, because I am still insecure with the medium. With poetry and prose, it's like diving. I hurl myself into it, despite the critic on my back, always comparing, whispering, berating.

Inspiration is necessary for invention, the first part of the creative process. This is the temptation, the coaxing that makes everything possible. Yes, you must have faith. Yes, you must be courageous. Confident. Some people can't get past these  requirements. But what really fires the mind is work that's already been done, work that has some element you seek for your own. When I wrote A Portal to Vibrancy, I wanted a sense of immediacy in the voice and a banquet of images in the prose. I kept Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye always nearby and would read a few pages to get the rhythm, the style in my head. I suppose it's a kind of stealing (Every artist is a cannibal, Bono says); you're stealing someone else's fire to galvanize yourself.

Once I've put something down on the page, the canvas, I look for clues in the work itself of what it wants to be. This is sort of like seeing the sculpture in the stone. You've got to believe it's there. With the painting pictured here, I wanted the ethereal white of the table cloth to be prominent. This painting actually started out as a pastel I created from a photo in a gardening book. I agonized over how I was going to capture the flora in the backdrop--all of those damn leaves! I tried a more impressionistic approach, but that didn't look right. I had studied Matisse, his simplifying things with large blocks of color. I spray-fixed the drab pastel and then pulled out the paint. The white acrylic felt right. I colored the backdrop a haze of burgeoning green, the green of late spring, the green that says the Earth is alive again. This felt right too. I had abandoned my ideas of realism for the feel, the dreamlike style of something deeper. By refusing to embrace detail, I traded craft for simplicity, arduous work for flair.

What I have learned in being a creator is that I am less focused on product than I used to be. Ego likes to clutch at its own gifts to itself. I clutch less. I have faith that the statue in the stone will, step by step, be unveiled. It is an exploration, whether it be a poem, a novel, a painting, a stroke, a sentence. You just stay with it until you get it right, and when you get it right, it's a notch on your belt. Empowering. This is what keeps me coming back.