Monthly Archive for May, 2011

Father Witness, Birth vs. God: An Interview with Poet Jim Richards

Poet Jim Richards

Jim Richards

An extreme state of ambivalence towards pregnancy is explored in “Mother of Three.” One of the things I most enjoyed about these three poems is the fearlessness with which God and birth are broached and prodded—here, what it means to bring a fourth child into a home overflowing with three (and praying for some kind of redemption despite adversity). What happens for you during the process of writing poems like these? Any surprises in process or line of questioning/reasoning?

My wife, Debbie, describes deciding to get pregnant like deciding to have the stomach flu for nine months. Her “morning” sickness occurs around the clock and throughout her pregnancy. Food becomes revolting. Things as simple as answering the phone make her vomit. Once, after a particularly difficult day of pregnancy, I came into the bathroom when she had just finished vomiting. I put my hand on her back and asked her, “What can I do to help?” Her reply was, “Just go away” then she spit into the toilet.

What can a husband do in this situation? Nothing, was the answer. My suffering was to watch my wife suffer. In the poem, I conflate this experience with that of the God of the New Testament as he watches his son suffer death by crucifixion. Christ claimed that he died to bring life. In a way, so do women when they “lay down their lives” for their children. That’s the paradox I wanted to explore in the poem: the joy that comes through sorrow as it pertains to child bearing, at a moment when sorrow is tipping the scale.

Similarly, in “On Your Birthday,” there’s an honest look at patterns of communication in a relationship. Though hard in some ways, there’s also a tenderness that comes across.
I see you in a chair, your faced washed / With the sorrow of post-partum, wanting to glow / In the eyes of the newborn in your arms, / And wondering how. How do you choose which moments to depict in a poem? Other inspiring poems about relationship dynamics that you’ve encountered in your reading history?

These poems are unusually autobiographical and sincere for me, including “On Your Birthday.” The occasion and the memory you quote here are actual. While Debbie was rocking our first baby, from the other room I heard her whisper to the child, “Do you think I’m beautiful?” This helped me understand a measure of what she was feeling. I try to identify (or sometimes invent) moments like these that are common yet overlooked, and then try to represent them honestly. Frost’s “Home Burial,” Kinnell’s “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps,” Rich’s “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” Swenson’s “Feel Me to Do Right,” and Li-Young Lee’s Rose are models for me.

Can you talk about the process of writing, “Poem for a New Father?” Again, I’m struck by the way you map out the psychological territory a new father might find himself crossing when his wife gives birth: “A predator circles, patient as death.” Can you talk to us about that line, or others in the poem?

Again autobiographical, this poem was written for my brother after his first daughter, Grace, was born. It explores the question, “What might a man go through when his wife goes through childbirth?” For me, the experience is animalistic: the bearing down, the pushing, breathing, grunting; the pain and screaming; the blood and fluids; the indifference of the doctors and nurses for whom the ritual has become routine. The line you refer to tries to create this impression with an image of an animal bearing young in the wild while a predator watches. At any moment, mother or newborn may die. It’s that kind of emotional intensity I felt as I witnessed the birth of my children. I try to capture it in the poem as a way of empathizing with my brother.

How does your faith, and questions around it, enter your poetry?

My faith is so much a part of who I am I don’t know if I can answer this question with any real insight or objectivity. I was raised in a religious home by parents who were raised in religious homes, and so on throughout my ancestry. Quite honestly, I don’t think I’m capable of truly understanding what it’s like to live, think, or write without a perspective of faith. I believe in God and life after death and this influences every aspect of my life, including writing. It often inhibits my writing and makes me insecure because I worry that many readers may see me as naïve or old fashioned, and I’m probably both.

I struggle with the question: How can I believe and yet write in a way that will interest those who don’t believe? I don’t want to limit my audience to those who share my faith, but am I capable of writing poems of interest to those who don’t? I suppose many writers deal with this kind of struggle—how to reach beyond their own experience or identity to a wider world.

When did you start writing poetry? Any mentors you wish to discuss?

When I was in college on a study abroad in London my roommate asked if I wanted to go and hear Seamus Heaney give a reading. I had no idea who he was and passed on the invitation. Later that year I came across Heaney’s “Digging” in an anthology and loved it, especially its sound and imagery. Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that there was such a thing as a living poet. The next semester I registered for a senior seminar in contemporary poetry, and I’ve been trying to write poetry ever since. My poet-teachers have been my mentors: Lance Larsen, Susan E. Howe, Lesli Norris, Ed Hirsch, Adam Zagajewski, Mark Doty, Marie Howe. Ten years after passing on the invitation to hear Heaney, I heard him read “Digging” in Houston. Redemption at last.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve recently completed a novel about a little boy whose mother loses a baby and has a nervous breakdown. The little boy believes the mother has literally lost the baby and is determined to find it as that seems to be the solution to his family’s woes. He searches for the baby wherever he goes.

How did you come to lead student tours in Mexico? Anything writing related to that tour? Are you able to write on such trips at all?

The university needed a new person to lead the tour, they asked me, and I said yes. We take about thirty-six students on the tour and travel through some of the world’s most beautiful and mysterious places. I teach a creative writing class in conjunction with the tour and the students write poems, stories, and essays related to their experiences. The demands and details of the travel plans keep me from getting much writing done, but I do keep a daily record. And a bird list—I saw a russet-crowned mot mot and boat-billed flycatcher today!

Jim Richards completed a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston and now teaches at Brigham Young University-Idaho in the Upper-Snake River Valley. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Texas Review, Literature and Belief, Poet Lore, and Contemporary American Voices. An avid runner, he writes about his progress toward completing fifty marathons in fifty states at 50before50.blogspot.com

Jim Richards: Mother of Three, On Your Birthday, and Poem for a New Father

Mother of Three

And pregnant. Two pink lines
on the indicator stick you balanced
on the edge of the sink—one line

for happiness, one for hell—tip
when I touch them, and fall.
This means: you, mornings, evenings,

bent on the bathroom floor,
prayer spewing from your mouth
while three believers cry to you their god

their god: why have you forsaken us?
This means: you curled in bed, cut off
from the unlucky who have never never

never made life like you make it.
This means: I want to end it all
with an image of redemption: new heart,

new body, new face. But I know,
you know, we know just what this means:
our mouths cannot make the words.

On Your Birthday

Today is your birthday, and I’ve done nothing
In preparation to celebrate that moment
Twenty-eight years ago when you came
Through wet pain and warm darkness
Into light, into the first breath of a life
That would eventually and thankfully merge
With mine own. I’m a fool to think a few lines
Written an hour before we meet for lunch
Could make up for what I have failed to do.
Still I write, not knowing why, exactly;
Perhaps because the words I try to find
Are easier to find when I imagine your face
And bring you here beside me for a moment.
You’re sweet, and will forgive me, I know;
It is the way your birthdays have always been,
Swallowed up in the care of home and children.
I see you in a chair, your faced washed
With the sorrow of post-partum, wanting to glow
In the eyes of the newborn in your arms,
And wondering how. I see you kneeling
At the bedside in the dark hours of the morning,
Your prayers drowned out by the infant’s wail.
I see you with a needle in your leg, hours
And hours on the bed, and the burning foreshadow
Of scars growing across your body. I see you.
You are here with me now, for a moment
and I am supposed to say happy birthday.
In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.
Happy birthday, my Love, in sorrow.

Poem for a New Father

Something with the water breaks
inside a man. Did you feel it?
A fresh outpouring, a clarity
rising through bedrock, swelling
through roots and soil, spilling
into the sun. Silent and painless

at first. Then it grows. Did you feel it?
Something with muscles aches
inside a man—contractions
make marriage more animal.
Sweet beast, your life-mate
drops her young in darkness

and a predator circles as patient
as death. Not time, not hours
can tell what fear it makes
for a man to be helpless against
his foe. Two lives that he loves
sink deep into a place where he

can never go. Brother, beast,
I was with you, when your loves
went down, when you were left
alone. I know how much it takes
to hold a hand that’s letting go.
But water, blood, and spirit

come, dust makes a living soul,
and soon it is grace you’re holding
in your hands, a face you know
you’ve never known. It is then,
just then, that something wakes

inside a man, did you feel it?

Jim Richards completed a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston and now teaches at Brigham Young University-Idaho in the Upper-Snake River Valley. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Texas Review, Literature and Belief, Poet Lore, and Contemporary American Voices. An avid runner, he writes about his progress toward completing fifty marathons in fifty states at 50before50.blogspot.com.

Read our interview with Jim Richards conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz, Father Witness: Birth vs. God, an Interview with poet Jim Richards.

 

Mothers torn: A Book Review

A book review by Jessica Powers

 Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & The Conflict of Modern Motherhood

Edited by Samantha Parent Walravens

Coffeetown Press, 2011, $18.95, 270 pp.

I had a baby boy, my first, seven and a half months ago. For years before he was born, I intentionally put myself on what might be called the “artist track” in regards to my career. As a writer, I felt like it was more important for me to aggressively pursue my writing than to pursue a job with promotions, advancements, salary raises, and titles. As a result, of course, I’ve never earned what I “deserve” to earn. Writers earn jack, let’s put it that way, for at least a very long time and, possibly, forever. We live for publication. This devil’s bargain has its problems: publication is never a sure bet, and just because a book gets published is no guarantee that it’ll sell well.

 Meanwhile, my friends have started professional careers or gone on to full-time motherhood. The fact that I was in a netherworld of “neither here nor there”—a professional without the salary or title to accompany it—has never bothered me; in fact, I felt rather fortunate that long before I had children, I had negotiated extremely flexible work that I could do entirely from home without ever going into the office. I teach online college writing classes as an adjunct professor, do part-time editorial and publicity work for an independent publishing company, run a small literary press of my own, and write books and articles. Yes, I’m a workaholic.  But juggling these many roles has helped pay the bills and made me feel like I was always keeping my career options open even while I jumpstarted my writing career and then tried to keep the engine going. “If something goes wrong and we need the money,” I always told myself, “I could start applying for tenure-track positions or editorial positions.”

When my husband and I decided it was time to start a family, I happily told everyone that I had the perfect setup. “I’ll still work,” I said (subtext: we need my salary), “but I won’t have to put my baby in daycare” (subtext: we can’t afford it anyway). My dean was happy to still give me classes, my writing career was on track (I signed my second book contract when I was only three months pregnant), and I had more than enough work, even if it didn’t pay very well, from clients happy to have me work at home. Everybody agreed I was lucky and nobody told me just how hard it would be, because nobody I knew had ever done what I am trying to do. The working women I know have all needed to put their children in daycare; the stay-at-home moms I know aren’t trying to earn a living. 

I am going to be honest and blunt here and say that it is definitely possible to do what I’m doing (I’m doing it, after all) but it is very hard, I am very tired, and I am assailed with guilt on all sides that I am not doing the very best job I can do in any of my roles: writer, editor, teacher, mother, and wife.

 In short, I feel torn. 

I can’t tell you how grateful I was to pick up Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood. I devoured the essays in this collection hungrily, seeking comfort from other women who all seem to feel remarkably just as I do, whether they are full-time mommies, juggling a career (part or full time) and motherhood, or (much more rarely) trying to work from home while being a full-time mother as well. I needed to know I wasn’t alone in the guilt. I needed to know that women who choose full-time motherhood or full-time careers struggle just as much as I do, that it is never an “either/or and now we’re done with it” decision. I needed to know that other women had experienced what I have: what felt like a flexible and perfect way to pay the bills while pursuing my writing career when I was childless now feels suspiciously like I’m being mommy tracked. Those career opportunities I knew were always going to be there may not be there in five or ten years if I keep doing what I’m doing. (Though, as always the dreamer, I just assume my writing career by then will be bringing in the big bucks and I won’t need those other careers that aren’t there anyway.)

But, now that I’m home with my child, I can’t imagine putting him in daycare. Recently, for example, I turned down a job interview for a full-time tenure track position as a professor of history. I told my husband I turned it down because I did the math. Once we paid for childcare, a new car, and a professional wardrobe, I’d be making less than what I currently make at home while being a full-time mother. So why be stressed with getting a child to daycare on time to get to work on time and what about when he’s sick and who takes the hit to their career to deal with sick child etc etc etc and so on and so forth? All that is true and if it hadn’t been true, I might have felt enough internal pressure to go to the interview and then, if I’d gotten the job, to take it. But the real reason I turned down the opportunity is because I looked at my little guy and realized I couldn’t do it to him. I couldn’t put him in a daycare where, as contributor Alexandra Bradner writes, the caregiver to child ratio is 1 to 6 and children “roam blankly about these toxic-foam-matted rooms, swatting at each other, consuming ‘health’ bars and juices built out of refined sugars and modified starches, looking at garish plastic toys without knowing how to play with them, and waiting for their heavy diapers to be changed. Their energy is unchanneled, their vocabularies underdeveloped, and their cognitive potential untapped. Instead of being frustrated with all the ways in which so many new constraints are chipping away at their identities, they’re prevented from forming any true identity but that of the generic company kid. And we stand back, mystified that verbal skills and creativity are on the decline while obesity and school violence are on the rise” (114).

 This is not to say I judge women who do put their children in daycare. I know that a parent’s love is the most important thing and there are some great daycares out there. I have several nieces and a nephew who have adjusted just fine and are receiving excellent care. So I could nod my head in agreement with the contributor who defensively said daycare clearly hadn’t hurt her son, he’d gone on to Princeton University after all.  And I felt sympathetic pains, along with an empathetic panic, with the contributor who now regrets her choice to stay at home with her children. Divorced now and barely employable due to her many years at home, she is kept awake at night wondering how she is going to survive financially and whether “retirement” is a word she will ever be able to contemplate. And yet, I was relieved by the contributor who quoted Gloria Steinem as saying that success is not doing it all, that in fact “this idea of doing it all is actually the ‘enemy of equality, not the path to it’” (82). I can’t do it all. But I’m still trying!

 What is a woman to do? There is no one answer to that question.

What I love most about this collection is that the editor does not try to reconcile the disparate and often conflicting emotions that the contributors express or decisions they make and, subsequently, defend. By making this editorial choice, Walravens seems to suggest that it doesn’t matter what a woman does—doubts will follow her no matter what. Although the quality of the essays was uneven, the collection contained many gems and insights. And most importantly, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Reading these essays made me feel like I was connecting with women everywhere, rejoicing in success, sadly contemplating failure, and sympathetically encountering and recounting the frustrations and joys of motherhood in the modern world. Highly recommended reading for all mothers.

Fear, Love, Pregnancy, Loss, and Memoir: Mira Ptacin on writing “A Kind of Love”

Mira Ptacin’s essay, “A Kind of Love,” was published on The Fertile Source a couple of weeks ago. Here, editor Jessica Powers talks with Mira about her experience with losing a pregnancy and then writing about it.

Your essay delves so honestly into the conflicting, ambiguous feelings of pregnancy: fear and a new love welling up inside you. In your case, it was complicated by the unexpectedness of the pregnancy, how sick you were, and the reality that your baby was not going to make it outside of the womb. What gave you the freedom to expose all of these things we don’t like to talk about in this essay?

I have the most wonderful parents. The raised me to believe that it’s not just important, but essential to vocalize my thoughts and feelings, and often. They’ve always encouraged me to pave my own path. So to answer your question, I believe that my parents gave me the freedom, or gifted me with the freedom to make “feelings sharing” a vital part of my well-being. One way I make sense of the world around me is by putting my feelings about life into words. Losing a child was one of the most confusing, upsetting, life-altering moments I’d ever experienced, so writing was the tool that helped me make sense of it all. I needed to understand what happened, and what grief was.

I had to describe my world, because to live in an undescribed world was too lonely. By the practice of writing about my sadness, I began to understand it, and be less afraid of it. By exploring my grief I came to understand that there was no “answer” or explanation. This is what helped me begin my healing process. Self-expression is not just freedom or a gift, it’s a necessity.
You offer such an interesting juxtaposition between the doctors’ phrasing to tell you your baby was going to die–“it is sick,” they said–versus the way you explained it to your family, which is “the baby is sick.” Did you struggle with the coldness of scientific knowledge and the practice of medicine? How in the end did the medical establishment treat you? Did you continue to find it alienating or were you finally embraced, somehow, when you made the decision to terminate the pregnancy?
 
 

 

 
 
 

Mira Ptacin

I was in graduate school at Sarah Lawrence when this all happened. SLC is one of the most expensive schools in the country, and I was on student loans, so before I got pregnant (before I had even met Andrew, for that matter), I had chosen to opt out of the health insurance to save a little money. Then I met Andrew. Then we got pregnant. We hadn’t planned on it—I had been taking birth control every single day, and never had missed a pill! When we found out I was pregnant, I had to sign up for Medicaid, because we weren’t married. While we loved our doctor, we hated the clinic we went to. After we found out the baby wasn’t viable outside my womb, it was all downhill. Right after we received the horrible news in the ultrasound, we were escorted over to see a genetic counselor, who would take our family history to see what had gone wrong. Minutes after receiving the terrible news, and minutes before seeing the genetic counselor, we were told that he refused to see us, that he “wasn’t allowed” to see us, because Medicaid only allowed me one doctor visit per day.  We were shaken, tired, terribly confused. We didn’t know if we had done something wrong. We wanted help, and we wanted answers. Finally, after she spotted my husband and me crying in a waiting room, a medical intern stepped in and convinced the genetic counselor to talk to us, rather than eat his lunch. In a room that smelled like mayonnaise and lettuce from his lunch, the genetic counselor proceeded to explain what might have possibly happened that caused our baby to be so sick. (It was purely a genetic fluke; nothing we could’ve done.) During the actual procedure, there was very little privacy at the hospital. We were often uncomfortable and exposed. We shared rooms. They were running late and short-staffed. The whole experience was harsh, painful, shocking, traumatic. And very impersonal. I’m assuming this is not due to the doctors’ and nurses’ and employees’ lack of care, but because the hospital just wasn’t equipped. It didn’t have enough money and or resources. It was exhausted. Everyone was exhausted. Sadly, the majority of people in NYC, not to mention in this country, are not rich and cannot afford good medical care, so this type of treatment happens more often than not. In fact, this goes on every day. That’s pretty pathetic, considering we live in one of the wealthiest industrialized nations.

There’s a moment in your essay when you sight a hawk and it sets you off on an absurd set of speculations that become metaphorical for your predicament. Can you talk about how you crafted that scene? How do you balance what happened in real life with crafting it to mean something larger, symbolically speaking, within an essay?
Writers have to be careful with metaphor. Sometimes, it’s best just to be direct, rather than try to find too many metaphors. You want to make sure the reader gets lost in the story, not caught up in the voice of the writer. You don’t want your audience to start pondering the writer’s craft, or questioning your technique. But sometimes, in real life, when something really significant is actually happening, you can’t help but notice all the little signs and the little metaphors surrounding you. Sometimes life just speaks in metaphor, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why it’s important to always be CONSCIOUS and honest with yourself, and trust your skills as a writer. Being fancy doesn’t always mean you’re being awesome.
 
 

 

 When this scene in Squaw Valley was actually happening in “real time”, things were extremely confusing and difficult for me. Nothing made sense, but the things I did see seemed to just be metaphors, everything seemed to be a sign or metaphor. Or maybe I was just looking for a sign or answer to where to go next and what to do. I was also at a Writer’s Retreat, which was really tricky: I was there for a nonfiction conference, but I didn’t tell anyone what was going on “underneath the surface” in my life. I was sort of being a fictional nonfiction writer. And at the time, I wasn’t writing about what was happening in my life. Looking back at it now, I think that was really crazy of me. But by having such a secret, I was lonely and was looking for signs or symbols for an answer, signs from things other than people. And I think I found many of them on that fortuitous hike.

I only confided in one professor, an extremely talented and compassionate author named Jason Roberts (http://jasonroberts.net/) who was one of my writing coaches. We were talking about a manuscript I was working on about a murder at an “Oriental massage parlor” in my hometown. After some discussion about nonfiction/memoir/narrative, I eventually told him about my current predicament, and he told me to throw away the true crime manuscript and that I should be writing about my pregnancy/loss. Maybe he said I HAD to write about it. So I did. And it became a book.

You’re currently at work on a memoir. Can you tell us about it?

First of all, I have to thank Jason Roberts for encouraging me to write about it. When writers are in the beginning stages of their career, it’s very difficult to navigate one’s way, and having gurus/advisors/mentors is more valuable than gold.

Three years ago I began writing about loss and am now in the final stages of editing my manuscript:
“Poor Your Soul” is a memoir about the thin line between decisions made out of love and choices made when influenced by guilt. It traces my mother’s coming-of-age at age twenty-eight, her immigration from Poland to Battle Creek, Michigan, the adoption of her son Julian and his tragic death, mirrored by my migration from the Midwest to Manhattan, my accidental pregnancy and decision to keep the baby, the traumatic loss of my baby, and finally, my marriage in New York City, also at age twenty-eight. Our two stories are strikingly similar, and by reflecting on my mother’s, I learn how to cope with the inevitable but unexpected losses a woman faces in her the search for identity. In other words, this book is about the Uterus and The American Dream.
My mother learned to speak English by watching soap operas, and as a result, her English is a bit butchered. “Embrace yourself” really means brace yourself. And when Mum says something is eating her “out”, it’s really eating her up. POOR YOUR SOUL is something my mom would say as a warning, like “If I catch you watching T.V. on a school night, then poor your soul. POOR YOUR SOUL!” It translates into “I sure do feel sorry for your poor soul because it’s going straight to hell.” Soap operas are hardly realistic—plotlines generally revolving around amnesiacs, the resurrected dead, and the occasional demonic possession. An episode can switch between several dramatic threads at once, linked by chance meetings and coincidences. They’re like tapestries that never end. When one story ends another thread slithers in. In a precisely similar way, I have seen my own storyline develop. Embrace yourself.
 
 

 

Rhythms of Women and Nature: An Interview with Artist Christine DeCamp

Christine DeCamp

In your painting “Incubating”, we see a beautiful image of a half woman/half nautilus figure resting in the belly of a fish, kelp or seastrands descending from the top, and rising up from the bottom, which gives the setting of the painting a mirror world quality–an above and below depicted simultaneously. There’s a sense of internal peace and stillness, the eyes of the dreamer/figure closed (the fish/vessel seems to see and steer for both of them). Your work often features these female figures blending self or spirit with the natural world (sort of like female variations on a centaur). Can you talk about the process of painting Incubating? Why is she traveling inside the fish?

The ocean is our Mother of Mothers from whence all life began. It contains all the references to creation, femininity and the mysteries of life and birth. It is also the mirror of our psyche. The woman inside the shell, inside the womb of the fish and inside the waters of the ocean are reminiscent of the process of evolution, creation and the birth process. I can’t really say much about the process of painting it as it is an older piece–and much of my work develops intuitively, which I believe was true in this case.

In “The Birth of a  Moth” we see a brown-winged woman rising up out of an iridescent ripple in a tree stump, three comets or plumes of light emanating from her crown against the backdrop of night sky. The mystical qualities of night also seem to be characteristic of a number of your settings. Can you tell us what nightscapes offer for you? What the stump and moth figure mean for you?

The moth is a cecropia moth–a large and unusual species. I have heard that they cocoon underground, however I don’t know if that is true. They can be quite large–6 inches or so across, and their wings have the appearance of fur, while their antennae each looks like a feather. They have appeared to me several times as messengers at times of significant shifts in my life. They tend to be creatures of the night. The night is a magical time, when our reality shifts and the veils between the worlds are less dense and easier to traverse. Night belongs to the wild, as civilization tends to fear the darkness. The stump is part of a tree, which connects that which is underground through its roots to that which exists through all the layers of being, extending into the heavens. Trees are containers of life force.

Can you talk to us about your inspiration for “Oxum Queen of Waters,” and to which culture she originated? I’m thinking of Oshun (Cuban Santeria), who in one version of her life, is forced into prostitution to feed her children, and subsequently her children are stolen from her. Which part of Oxum’s story are you translating or transmitting here? Here we see her feet in water, mirror in hand, altar behind her–can you talk about the objects flanking her and what they represent?

My painting of Oxum is sort of an amalgam of water and ocean goddesses and their accoutrements. It began with an interesting book titled “Divine Inspiration”, which compared Brazilian religious practices to their African origins. Oxum is seen as a powerful deity who provides a life of wealth and pleasure. She rules over fertility and is the source of children. I have added symbols from other sources as well–such as the Haitian vevers. The rich spiritual heritage that began in Africa and was recreated in our hemisphere is a great source of inspiration and fascination to me.

In “Guardian” we behold a 4-armed figure standing behind the central figure. This painting has a past life feel to it—are those possible incarnations the central figure holds? Or future possibilities? Can you talk to us about the night blossoms, the crown, the hummingbirds, the energy emanating from the hands, what the Guardian might be passing on, what she might say should she speak?

This painting came out of a vision I saw during a guided meditation that was focused on connecting to a guardian or higher self figure. The dark skinned woman in the background is some kind of a healer, spirit or guardian, while the figure in the foreground is a self portrait. The smaller figures–each contained in a bubble like shape are also self portraits from different stages of my childhood and adolescence. The flowers are trumpet flowers, or datura, which is associated with rites of passage and initiation.

In “Lady of Shalott,” we witness a moon ride, flower blooms emanating light, smoke trails like comets, the plume of whale in background, the red slipper of a boat, dreamlike and peaceful. What were the roots of your desire to portray the Lady of Shalott (Tennyson’s poem, musical adaptions such as Loreena McKennitt’s version from The Visit, the Waterhouse image)? Any surprises in process?

“Lady of Shalott” started with the idea of the boat illuminated by the blown glass torches on the bay at night. Some glass blowers I met at a show were making and selling these torches and told me that they had sold some for use on a boat. I loved the idea of that image and the rest developed from there. As it so happened, I was listening to Loreena McKennitt’s song as I was finishing the painting & that is how it was titled. I have always loved Tennyson’s poem and the various Pre-Raphaelite painted versions of the story.

Any insights about your work’s timeline, where is has traveled, where you’d like to see it taking you, in terms of self/spiritual/subject exploration? You also work with sculpture—can you talk about how the mediums you use work together, shape or affect your work? How do you decide which images to cast on ceramics and which on canvas?

My work speaks to the connection of women and nature in the cycles of creation and birth, but with a focus on the larger picture of the earth, and our spiritual path within that world . In my process, I work intuitively and elements are not planned out as to their significance to the greater whole–it is always a mystery and an unfolding.

There is a reason we always refer to “Mother” Nature—and the earth is not Richard, James, or Zeus—but Gaia. The ocean is also referred to as feminine—and fresh water springs in olden times were revered as sacred to the Goddess. Many of those ancient springs later became the sites for cathedrals dedicated to Mary.

Women are deeply connected to earth cycles, the rhythms of nature and anything concerned with the earth, water, animals and plants. Women are part of the creation of life–whereas the male gods in ancient times stood outside of the creation of life. A woman’s ability to bring forth new life was a reason to honor and worship the connection to the greater web of life. In more recent times, it has become a reason to control and manipulate women.

The current work is both painting and pottery. They inspire one another. The work in clay is grounding and satisfying in a primitive and tactile way, whereas the painting is ethereal and mysterious. I go back and forth between the two mediums as the spirit moves me. I usually have several paintings in process at a time–sometimes both acrylic on canvas and gouache on paper. The ceramic process is complicated by clay drying to slowly or quickly and waiting for things to fire, cool etc.

I like having pieces in various stages so I always have something in process to work on. I don’t like to talk specifically about particular pieces that are in process, because I have found that it robs the piece of power. Like an embryo in an eggshell, they need the dark and quiet to develop.

Any words of advice for young artists starting out? Or even seasoned artists trying to stay true to their work?

My advice to artists finding their way would be to work on discovering and developing your authentic self and don’t get discouraged. Find a support system and keep working no matter what.

In her artist’s bio, Christine DeCamp writes:

When I came to California in 1981 I was making sculpture and furniture, primarily using papier mache and mixed media. I participated in many group shows in various venues including SOMA Arts Center, Limn Gallery, San Francisco Airport Galleries and Virginia Breier Gallery. I began painting again in the late 1980’s and joined Gallery Route One in Pt. Reyes, where I had a solo show in 1991. I moved to West Marin and continued to show with GRO, and participate in group shows with the Bolinas Museum and the San Francisco Museum Rental Gallery. I also began showing at the Celebration of Craftswomen, which I continued to do up until 2008.

In 1997, I was one of the founding members of Point Reyes Open Studios, which I participated in from 1997-1998, and then 2005 to the present time. I currently chair the Publicity Committee for PROS. In 1998, I opened a bookstore and gallery in Pt. Reyes called Manfred’s Books. I exhibited and sold my own work there as well as the work of other artists. I had the bookstore and gallery until 2007. Since 2005, I have been participating in various juried art festivals including the KPFA Crafts Fair, the Live Oak Park Fair and other shows in the Bay area.




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