Deep dreams

horse flank hairA large, hot, breathy, needy animal in the bed with me – powerful, emotional, childish, grabby.
So close, as if I couldn’t quite see it.
A horse?
horse eyeWaking up, stretching, catching the tendrils of the dream, I thought of the horse at the farm this past summer, the one who would always break away from the group and rush over at a trot – would be on me, nipping my shoulders, in my face, my ear, so groupBut thinking further back, I realized horses have appeared a number of times in my dreams. They are beginning to take on their own symbolism – like a running motif in a story they’ve begun to be recognized figures, speaking, along with the cats and other regulars, in a kind of private dictionary of dream eating and lookingThere was that really vivid one some years ago – an obviously BIG dream – where I was with Claudia, and we decided to look for some old drawings I’d done.
If only I could find those drawings, we said, the way through to the future would all become clear.ronda archwayWe jumped down from the old stone walls, having decided to look for them right away, right now, and went into the house.
People were everywhere – women cooking and talking, gathered in each room.
They were friends, most of them – some of the Montreal gang, but a few Toronto friends as well – busyness everywhere, with the noise of laughter and talking and kitchen sounds rising and bouncing off the walls.
We made our way past everyone, polite nods and waves, and in to the centre of the house – some inner sanctum that posed as a crawl space but was really a kind of lost cave like those ones in the south of France and Spain.
There, in the doorway, at the entrance to the cave, where I was sure I must have stored the drawings, were 3 horses.
circling small w watermarkThey needed to be paid tribute.
They were needy, neglected. There was a whiff of beer.
They needed some kind of acknowledgement before passage would be allowed.
Animal as sacred; sacred as innate nature, as dharma, as animal.

So of course, to pay tribute, to acknowledge and pay respects to the call of the hot, needy, breathy companion of the night, I’ve started a new painting.begin horse pntgNow I just need to pick up some beer…double expose horse skyWeekly Photo Challenge – Depth

Looking for the Moral in the not-so fabulous Fable

This post originally appeared on the collective blog Black Box Warnings, which is now no more.
I was listening to this song, and thought of it, decided to resuscitate it –

* * *

I have this existential thing about needing to believe everyone, every thing on the planet, has a purpose. Like mosquitos and blackflies are really really annoying, and as you’re losing your mind swatting them away from your face, your ears, your nostrils it’s hard to believe they have any redeeming quality at all, but fact is they feed frogs and birds and fish and spiders and apparently are even good for the pollination of blueberries.

And sometimes with humans too, it can be hard to figure out what purpose we serve, why we exist, what good we bring to the world.

For example, some years back I was really really broke – as in I hadn’t paid my rent for 3 months, and I would see stories in the newspaper about families living in cardboard boxes underneath the Governor’s Bridge and tremble. I didn’t have any really good cardboard boxes. My career as a freelance film editor was still a fledgling, nascent little sprout – I hadn’t cut many films and didn’t have many connections, not enough to stay employed for a significant amount of the year. But I didn’t really know how to do anything else. My son was about 4 at the time, and I’m a sole support parent. Times were tough.

I knew this guy, he was Colombian, he said he had a brother who was making a film and needed an editor. But when he said, “Don’t let him owe you money”, I didn’t really hear it, didn’t register the warning cause I was so eager to get something, anything going… And how could it leave me any worse off than where I was?

The brother, Alex, was primarily a painter and lived in a ramshackle little house in Parkdale with a depressed scruffy blonde girlfriend and their young baby. His garish paintings covered the walls of their house – it was hard to believe he sold many. The girlfriend had a day job and seemed to be the main breadwinner in the house.

Alex was just beginning to explore film as a medium but had a great surrealist sense of the underground scene – of drug dealers and back alley scrambles, guns and beautiful lost women, and how it can all go really really bad. His footage was moody and dark, shot from lots of interesting angles – a cross between Truffaut, Cassavetes and Christopher Nolan.

We’d sit in the edit room and as I worked he’d talk and talk, telling me his life story, how he hadn’t even made up any of these crazy scenes, how all the guns and cars and dark alley madness with desperate men snorting any shit they could get their hands on was all stuff he’d lived before he met his girlfriend and had the baby, back in the days when he was heavy into junk. Late one night, the two of us alone in an edit suite, a tiny dark room at the end of echoing empty corridors, he mentioned some time he’d done in juvenile detention while he was back in Colombia, about how the attending psychiatrist he was obliged to see had told him he was a psychopath.

There was something about it that felt like a testing of boundaries, a sussing out of how I would respond to this, or a desire to hear me say, “Oh, but you’re not a psychopath to me…” In fact, the term didn’t mean much to me at the time.  No doubt I’d heard it in connection to the Jeffrey Dahmer’s and Paul Bernardo’s. But as much as I didn’t trust Alex, I was not afraid – it just didn’t occur to me. I did not truly grasp the concept, the potential disguises of a dangerous man.

I did notice, over the weeks I knew him, how he would screw people over. He needed to reshoot a scene and convinced the actress to fly in from New York, promising to pay her back for the flight, but once the scene was in the can he picked a fight with her and didn’t pay a cent. Same thing for the cameraman – a disagreement emerged over nothing, all promises were broken, cameraman disposed of.

These behaviours are not uncommon in the world of independent film, or even of commercial television at its more mercenary levels – in fact, there is a kind of romance around it, as in, How far will you go to make your film? How many people and bridges are you willing to burn to show your dedication to your vision?

Alex was the most extreme I’ve seen of this behaviour up close. And soon enough, with tension building and finances dwindling, in the middle of the edit, suddenly everything turned sour. For no apparent reason but a whim, a mood, an overheard telephone conversation, an imagined slight, he decided I was out. The film was nowhere near finished, everything was in disarray, my paycheque was of course never to be seen, and there was a $400 bill for the edit suite rental in my name.

Now make no mistake – he knew I was a single mom. He knew I was struggling. He knew about the 3 months rent owing and the first of the month looming. But this is what they say about psychopaths or sociopaths. No empathy. No real concern for other humans. No conscience – an ability to do anything to anyone without a flicker of activity in the amygdala.

Having forseen that he would try and screw me over, I’d hidden the film negatives in a locker at the equipment house for leverage, but they began to receive angry and threatening phone calls from Alex with talk of lawyers and a lawsuit. I was forced to hand over the negatives and pay the outstanding rental fees.

It was somewhere in here that I began to feel afraid, that I began to understand the degree to which this person might be far more dangerous than I realized. One night, out on my bike, I saw him and one of his actors – a sycophantic sidekick type – out on the street at Adelaide and Spadina. I began pedalling away quickly, breathless and desperate. They screamed obscenities and incoherent accusations into the night. Several nights found me lying in the dark on the sofa listening for sounds outside the window, afraid this person might seek a more active and violent revenge.
A few beloved Montreal friends got together to put me and my son on a one way bus to Montreal to have a go at things there for a while, where the rent was cheaper and I could pick up a few gigs doing translation and subtitling for some quick cash. On a Friday night I met up with an old friend of many years, Ximena, also Colombian. We were pretty deep into the wine when I told her about Alex.

“No!”, she said. “Alex the painter who lives on Argyle?”

Turned out they were from the same town in Colombia. Had been roommates early on when they first arrived in Canada. And she had a long story that remains blurry in my mind thanks to the wine, that involved the sound of a chain a girlfriend wielded at Alex one morning in a jealous frenzy, and how he had defended himself by putting out her eye. As in dangling by its optic nerve.

Yikes. I thought of the night on my bike at Adelaide and Spadina, the many hours alone in the dark of the edit suite with this man. I thought of his baby and the long-suffering girlfriend and wondered what kind of life lay ahead of them. I was suddenly grateful the only damage that had been done to me was financial.

The question emerged in my mind: What was the purpose of this man’s life? Why did this parasitic and violent weasel exist?

Many years have passed and my career has flourished and I now usually (almost, sometimes) have enough employment to keep my head above water most of the time. But things are always tight, so over the Christmas holidays I took on a moonlighting job – I was working on a TV show by day, but a bit of extra cash from an independent documentary is always welcome, so when a director from Cleveland I’ve worked with before contacted me about cutting something new for her, I agreed, sight unseen. The hard drive and transcripts for her latest doc arrived in the mail and I dove in. It was about the Cleveland Strangler and his victims (do yourself a favour and don’t google him) – a story I’d missed, though not surprising as I usually avoid the rapist / serial killer stories. But as I delved into the some 280 hours of footage of police investigation, interviews with survivors, with lost women who’d gone into his home lured by the promise of crack and had jumped out of a third story window after he’d raped them, I began to lose my way. What was the purpose of this evil? As a storyteller I could not find the redemption in the story, was unable to find the purpose of the tale and therefore the direction it should take. I read many books about psychopaths, about their strengths as remorseless soldiers, the advantage cold-bloodedness could give them as surgeons, but still I could not find any purpose to this man’s horrific life. Haunted by nightmares and even the sight of the hard drive holding its evil in a corner of the living room, I wrote to the director and told her I was not the right person for the job.

With this much muck still in my mind, I went on a 4-day fast, an existential type quest. And one of the questions I brought with me was, Why do sociopaths exist? What is their purpose? At the darkest moment, when I was deep into this question, I was brought to the spiritual leader of the retreat where I was to discuss any concerns I might have.
It was a long conversation with many stories and examples back and forth, but the essence of her answer to my question was, “The darkness exists to challenge us as human beings. To teach us discernment. Because evil can come in many disguises – the disguise of employment, the disguise of friendship, the disguise of love. But we must lose our naivete and practice discernment.”

To teach us discernment. And if there is a naivete or a vulnerability, we may not be paying enough attention – I was too financially desperate to be wary of the dangerous director; the women in Cleveland had lost their sense of caution to a crack addiction. It is not a happy lesson, but it does speak to the world we live in, a world that encourages psychopathic behaviour not just in the ex-junkies and crack addicts of the underworld, but even within corporate, political and banking culture.

He will choose you, disarm you with his words, and control you with his presence. He will delight you with his wit and his plans. He will show you a good time, but you will always get the bill. He will smile and deceive you, and he will scare you with his eyes. And when he is through with you, and he will be through with you, he will desert you and take with him your innocence and your pride. You will be left much sadder but not a lot wiser, and for a long time you will wonder what happened and what you did wrong. And if another of his kind comes knocking at your door, will you open it?
From an essay, “A psychopath in prison.” Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us. -Dr. Robert Hare

* * *

Being able to identify the indicators you may be dealing with a psychopath or sociopath is vital for self-protection. Although it is important to remember accusations are not helpful especially if one is not a clinician, the fact remains that an estimated 1 in 25 amongst us are sociopaths. Awareness for personal safety is key.
Good authors on the subject include Martha Stout, Robert Hare, Kevin Dutton, among others.

Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare’s lists of symptomatology –

Articles about (primarily female dealing with primarily male) personality disorders –

Lovefraud on the terms “sociopath” and “psychopath”

Good article on women in relationships with psychopaths


IMG_0598There was a mess.
The mess needed space.
A place to make mess.
A place to put messy things all over the floors and the walls and any surface I can reach stretching on tippy-toes on top of the chair.
IMG_0595All my socks are covered in paint and glue and fragments of unknown ancient dirt, remnants of previous tenants.
IMG_0587Some angles look deceptively tidy, but people stop at the doorway and say “Hi!” without coming in because the mess is wall to wall.
IMG_0597Some corners have recent experiments – here drawing a wolf large on synthetic, tree-free paper, a gliding delicious sensation.
2015/01/img_0596.jpgOther walls have the well-established themes…the Cats.
At a drawing group earlier in the week, someone said, “Animals are really your thing, huh?”.
And although I hadn’t noticed it happening – it snuck up on me through dreams and metaphors and the occasional crossing of paths – it appears to be true.
IMG_0590Weekly Photo Challenge – Express Yourself

New dream, new image

Well, sort of…

The dream was a tiger, massive and powerful, leaping towards me, making me flinch with fear in the certainty of death, then turning to the right, now a holographic vision of this splendid creature, rivalling the Life Of Pi creation –

But even though the tiger is a new visitor in my dreams, the repetitive nature of the theme – of the large cats coming at me – is unmistakable –

panther collage - brighter

There’s a quote from Robert Moss I’ve been trying to remember, about dreams hunting the dreamer…
But doing a search I find so many quotes from Robert Moss about hunting and dreams and dreamers, it becomes clear it’s one of his big themes –

You say you are hunting your power
But your power is hunting you.
I’ll go up to the mountain, you say.
I’ll fast and live on seaweed
I’ll hang myself on a meat-hook
Under the hot sun. I’ll give up sex
And wine and my sense of humor.
What are you thinking of?
For you to go hunting your power
Is as smart as the mouse hunting the cat.

Go out in the garden any night
Step one inch outside the tame land
And you are near what you seek.
Open the window of your soul
Any night and your guide may come in.
The issue is whether you’ll run away
When you see what it is. To make sure
You succeed, tether yourself like a goat
At the edge of the tiger wood that breathes
Right beside your bed. He’ll come.

And again –

I like the saying of the Aborigines of my late native country, that the big stories are hunting us.
The big stories are hunting us; picture predators hunting and sniffing and stalking in the bush, looking for the right person to jump on. I think it’s like that with the big dreams… I suspect that in a way the big self and the big dream is stalking the little self and the little every day dreamer; and the question is how do we spend time in the right kind of liminal territory where we can easily be found.
To think that we are hunting the big dream or the big story is like the mouse thinking it’s hunting the cat.
The big story or the big dream is actually after us.

Well. Seems I (still) have my work cut out for me.

In the meantime I’ve started in on a new painting – my favourite way to spend time with a dream, with a dream character, just finding his face in the shapes, allowing him to slowly emerge from the colours…
tiger first draftHappy New Year!!!
Weekly Photo Challenge – New

Happy Yellow Solstice

bullrush twinkleThis, the shortest day of the year in the North, the darkest day, was blessed with a bit of sunshine here and there, peaking between the bullrushes at the frozen pond.yellow lightsIt is a day to feel the distance between sun and earth, for appreciating all the beautiful lights we create to light our homes, to brighten our way in the long, dark nights.
Inside, in the yellow glow of incandescent lights and candles, many yellow treasures can be found… yellow durgaA yellow Durga on a yellow lion,
or a yellow mask – part of a current Mexihca mask practice…
yellow maskAnd the latest mess of paint, much of it yellow, perhaps calling to the sun, reminding it to come back up this way again soon…
yellow paintingsHappy Solstice!
Weekly Photo Challenge – Yellow

Turtle textures

r gentry sea turtleImage: Raina Gentry

The most delicious underwater dream of the clearest, cleanest water, following a turtle as she swam ahead of me.
The light glowed underneath the water, glimmering on rocks and mosses and the legs and shell of the swimming turtle. A dream of such peace and pleasure, suspended weightless in the water.

tamara philips red turtleImage: Tamara Phillips

On my way home this morning, I stopped in at the local turtle hangout, just to savour the dream, even though the water is cloudy and murky, still it glints and ripples and hints at deliciousness for all the critters living in, on, and around it. Turtles sunbathing on rocks. Ducks by the dozens. A lone blue heron perched atop a tall dead tree. Sparrows and robins and cardinals and yellow finches belting out their morning song so loud I can barely hear whatever is crashing around in the bushes on the other side of the pond.turtles sunbathingI’d spent the night on a friend’s couch. We’d been talking into the wee hours about how much of the hokey woo we could each handle. You know, we’d gotten onto the whole Abraham Hicks / Law of Attraction thing, and of course the idea of “channeling” makes my friend recoil, AND, she protested, “the magical thinking”. She’s a rational, educated, hard working woman whose father is a scientist. I totally understand her reaction – if I actually try to think about channeling, it doesn’t speak to anything I understand, really – like what is that exactly?water abstractionBut I’m trying to stay open-minded. Cause I’ve been finding with some of these things, that if the message is beautiful and can move ideas around in interesting ways, does it matter how it arrives?

Most days I find the Abraham Hicks quotes I get in my inbox engage my mind and attitude in novel ways, however there are some days when it feels like the message of “abundance” is a kind of facile, “Yes, we can all have as many SUV’s as we want, you just need to raise your vibration to get your SUV too”, to which I have a rather negative reaction. You know, just thinking about the planet and turtles and clean water and things.turtle swimsBut I think of my late father-in-law, a highly educated doctor with an anthropological philosphical bent, a Marxist refugee from Papa Doc’s Haiti. He would say of all teachers and teachings, “take what you like and leave the rest”.

To me it feels like that. So last night I was telling my friend about an interview I heard between Wayne Dyer and Abraham Hicks, where Wayne Dyer talks about how for years and years he’d been angry at his father for abandoning him, cause he’d ended up in a series of foster homes and carried his anger with him until the day he went to visit his father’s grave. Abraham Hicks interrupts him and says, “but you chose all of that – you wanted the independence, you didn’t want some father figure around all the time, meddling in your affairs”.

Now of course, the problem is that you’d have to accept not only channeling, but also reincarnation and a kind of immortal soul that makes choices as it comes into a new lifetimes and a whole cluster of beliefs that may or may not be your thing.water abstraction 2And yet…even though I don’t really know if I believe in reincarnation and immortal souls, still I’m drawn to the mindset, because the idea that we choose our experiences is so totally liberating. All notions of victimhood are immediately eradicated, as one becomes the prime director of one’s experience in this lifetime. It is a sensation of freedom and agency perhaps not so different from the feeling in Nietzsche’s phrase, “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how“. There is a kind of purposeful light that is bestowed by this thought pattern, regardless of the origin or scientific provability of the thought pattern.turtle and duckLately my most favourite “channeled messages” are the Mayan Messages. Again, it’s a “take what you like and leave the rest” kind of relationship – there’s a bunch of things in there I can’t deal with, like UFO’s and stuff that I’m just not ready to think about. But what I love in them is the sense of the planet and the serious political and environmental challenges we face in our time, the need to think about living life simply, consciously, sharing the skills and resources we each have.

In Native American teachings, Turtle is the oldest symbol for planet Earth. It is the personification of goddess energy, and the eternal Mother from which our lives evolve. We are born of the womb of Earth, and to her soil our bodies will return. In honoring the Earth, we are asked by Turtle to be mindful of the cycle of give and take, to give back to the Mother as she has given to us. ~Jamie Sams

turtle collageWeekly Photo Challenge – Texture

Summer Love – The Fool in the Land of Woo

Early in the dark of the morning the air is cool from the night rains. A mourning dove coos softly. The cat plays amongst the wet leaves. Across the courtyard a teenager coming home from the night shift searches for his key for the side door. My coffee steams bitter and dark. I am ridiculously happy.

Ridiculous, you say? Why ridiculous?

Well, externally speaking, in spite of it being summertime, things are not what you’d call great. The other day my accountant hugged me and walked me to her door saying, “you are a very brave woman”. I hate it when people tell me I’m brave – it always seems to mean I’m in way over my head. Friends look at me sideways and say, “gosh, you know, you’re doing really well considering…”

It’s not important or interesting – the story, the details, the particulars. We can just say it’s tense – not even terrible or tragic. In my work in documentary, I’m always steeped in stories of such awful luck – a young mother with terminal cancer, a teenage refugee from Sierra Leone trying to survive in a strange land by herself, a man who is discriminated against in his job and takes it to the Human Rights Commission and is held up in court cases, his life in limbo for 17 years…terrible, tragic stories. I see the news lately – not even the stuff about Gaza and the Ukraine, but the stuff about water in Detroit being shut off to a huge part of the population, and the concurrent news about companies discussing the privatization of water, and I wonder how crazy our world really is, and how much crazier it’s going to get.

So I’m grateful for a deliciously simple moment on a cool morning when I see it and I am happy – up, buoyant, optimistic, enthusiastic. Happy to be alive. Happy to have a hot cup of coffee. Happy to feel the cool rains after a hot summer day. Happy to see the beauty in so many flowers in bloom
sunflower ecu abstractHappy for a weekend away with horses and nephews
yellow flower boyHappy to have a bike that will roll me down the hill to the beach –
bike & beachThe astrologers say the tough stuff has been all about the Grand Cross, a doozy of a tense aspect, ripping one’s life to shreds, but apparently the fact that I’ve had Jupiter in my sign for the duration has made me upbeat in spite of it all. Ridiculously so. Inappropriately so.

Astrologers and psychics do good business in times of uncertainty and economic downturn, they say.

So maybe partly for that reason, I’ve been trying to teach myself the Tarot. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up living in a tent and wrap a scarf around my head and pretend to be psychic and read cards for a living. And besides, I love the mystery the cards embody, how they seem to speak like dreams, through enigmatic cryptic imagery where you have to feel you way through intuitively to find meanings that slip around like eels if you try to hold on too tight.

And one of the things that’s got me thinking they kinda really do work, is that I’ve noticed how I always get the same cards –
the towerThe Tower I’ve seen a lot of – not a lucky card.
And I never ever get say, The Hierophant or The Emperor or the Queen of Pentacles or Swords – none of the more sober and practical and grounded characters that exist in the deck, no. Not for me.
On the other hand, I do get, again and again, The Fool.
Strolling along without a care in the world, an innocent, a naïf, about to step off the precipice into the unknown…the foolWeekly Photo Challenge – Summer Lovin’
P.S. – our local Canadian water hero is Maude Barlow – check out some of her stuff here.

New room

20140606-212408-77048757.jpgWe started shedding STUFF 2 or 3 months before the move.
Books, files, furniture, clothes, dishes, more books, more files, paper, so much paper, a bit more furniture, more and more and more stuff went out onto the sidewalk, into the garbage.
We knew we had to downsize by about 70 percent, that we would have a space so much smaller, so much tighter, that we had to get rid of everything but the essential.
As I sifted through mountains, years of mysteriously irrelevant things, I remembered one of my gurus asking me years ago if I had a lot of stuff. I had to allow as how I did. You must get rid of all this junk, she said, to become a spiritual warrior.
Maybe it was because I didn’t identify as a spiritual warrior that I dawdled, did nothing at the time. I identified more as a lost girl, not a warrior.
My son was done getting his things ready in about 3 days. I needed the 3 months.
20140606-212412-77052534.jpgThe first trip out to the new place I made with a girlfriend the middle of May.
As we carried in a few boxes, a child from down the hallway held the doors open for us – a shy and silent angel.
The two of us smudged the space – she had extra-special-super-sacred sage, I had some copal.
It all seemed very auspicious.
The movers did the bulk of the move a bit later in May – my boy has been installed here since then.b sleepingI lingered at the old place, savouring the relative expansivesness, not ready to face the smallness of our new space.
I realized that our little rented cottage, nestled in a quiet pocket of downtown, had been the longest I’d lived anywhere in my entire life.
10 years. Hard to let go.
Finally, May 31st, I had to be out.
The last ferrying of stuff, a 2-car adventure with friends, brought all the last items from our previous existence into this new place of abode.
from the stairsThis room is our living room / dining room / work space. What was spread over 3 floors and 4 large rooms has all been condensed into this one little burst of chaos.
Still more stuff needs to be shed.
But the process pushes one to discover priorities – the process of being forced to choose, to boil it all down to the essential, is a revelation into what IS the essential.
Turns out a little space to be creative, and the associated paraphernalia, is important to me.
For the last couple of years, I’d been making art in my bedroom, but my new bedroom is perhaps a quarter of the size of my previous room – it is big enough for my bed and a small bookcase. The dresser is in the closet.
20140606-212410-77050024.jpgNo room here for art-making, so the art-making mess has had to move into the one big shared room, right in the middle of messy sideNow, one week into this new space, this new life, something feels different.
This letting go of stuff – of 9/10 of my library, of 3/4 of the furniture, of mountains and mountains of miscellaneous junk that I no longer remembered why we had in the first place feels… totally liberating. I feel SO much lighter. Almost as if I’ve lost weight.
I do miss having a bigger space, having more room to make a mess in, and also the cool of the garden in the evenings and the dark of the sky above.
But there is a patio here, a little bit of garden to work with, some glorious trees in the shared courtyard and the sound of birds in the morning – robins, cardinals, and a large contingent of swallows.
I love swallows.garden1
garden2Fact is, I never would have shed all that stuff without the massive kick in the butt delivered by the need to move.
Now that so much junk is gone, now that we are lighter, now that we are freer, it feels like anything could happen…
Perhaps there’s something to that spiritual warrior thing after all…
Weekly Photo Challenge – Room