Mary Oliver died yesterday and my day was spent largely in reflection of her impact on my life and my work as an artist. I was first introduced to Oliver’s work at a class with a beloved teacher, which was set on the edges of a tidal river, where we wrote imperfect poetry and built wobbly cairns in the river’s muddy bottom revealed at low tide.
Like almost all who meet an Oliver poem, i was deeply touched by her ability to turn the mundane and ordinary into the sacred and divine. Weaving the temporal world into heavenly everlasting (or at least long lasting) prose.
She accompanied me into dives into the darkest waters not to abandon me to the whims of a binary world but to lift me out, by teaching me to string my own words into a path of wholeness with this natural world. And it was on those ordinary walks that I found myself able to float back up from the depths, with Mary’s and nature’s gentle nudging.
As I pulled books to read her poetry yesterday, a book on Wabi Sabi (for artists and poets) also asked to be seen. I didn’t think much of it but opened it to read the first page, the first lines
Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
It is the beauty of things modest and humble.
It is a beauty of things unconventional.
Oliver wrote of the ephemeral in such a sublime way that it conveyed a sacredness that was both untraditional and unconventional. She unapologetically observed and wrote of the beauty of this glorious earth, reminders to heed and take notice of this fleeting world, for it truly is.
There is an emptiness and hollowness which is felt when love is lost. Sometimes this is felt before the physical relationship has ended other times after. A yearning sets in that cannot be contented, where grief has set up home for a while.
Grief is my current housemate, as I sit by the smoldering fire which grief has so kindly kindled. I long for easier days yet I know that I must host my guest with the utmost grace and humbleness, honoring her and the noble work that she is obliged to provide… the work of cold and lonely days and nights… the work of tears and heartache… the work of forgetting and remembering.
Looking back is little comfort, as if holding on to a skeleton of one’s lost lover- gone are the comforts of soft caressing, only left are the sharp edges and hard endings and crying over the sacredness of remaining bones.
This work is Holy work, wholly inscribed in the human destiny… work which hones and strangely, allows for even greater depths of future love~
When I was in my twenties I was working on a painting. One day an older friend came over and went to my painting, “well that’s obvious.” … “Huh? Obvious?” I questioned… “Vagina.”…
I hadn’t even seen it. The painting was not literal but a process piece of mixed media- journal slices where I was desperately trying to come to terms with my sexuality and coming out as a lesbian – of course there’s a vagina!!! How did I not see it?! I felt shame and fear, “oh shit, I’m being too obvious…”.
The painting and I went back into the closet and pretended that part never existed… which worked for maybe another few long years. Until cracks began to surface and I could no longer contain this part that was so integral to the work I would need to do in this lifetime.
After a major breakdown breaking through to my truth, I slowly emerged staying tethered to the honesty of my whole self.
I’m still an artist and as I look upon today’s work… big smile….
Yes I see it, clearly, openly, courageously, proudly, gratefully.