Ursuline High School
It has taken me a long time to”go public” with my writing. About two weeks ago in my posting Poetry- Words Painting Pictures, I shared how I have always been fascinated and influenced by the written word. Even as a child I would write poetry and, as I progressed into my teens, I wrote funny “ditties” for friend’s birthdays. I even wrote a skit or two that we used in high School.
Diving into the “dark period” of my life I isolated from the creative Muse. But as I approached the end of those troubled years and was close to breaking out into the sunshine of true living, it does not surprise me that the first sign of her return was in poetry – even though it was somewhat depressive. I think the expressing of my feelings as I came through that difficult period helped me to walk out of the darkness and into the light.
Shortly after the poetry came the painting. (Art classes were second favorite to gymnastics and outdoor sports when I attended the Ursuline High School for girls.) I lived in Sardinia at the time and I was blessed to have a wonderful artist in my life at that time. His name was Santiago (still is, he lives in Puerto Rico with his wife Josefina), and he was an engineer who worked in the same set of offices as I.
Santiago was one of those many mentors in my life that I will write a posting about soon. He was a quiet, slightly built man with a round face who looked more like a studious professor than an engineer; not that I know what an engineer should specifically look like! But one thing he was passionate about was the creative and artistic process. And I am happy to say that he enjoyed sharing that with others as much as he indulged in it for his own delight and personal satisfaction.
To go to Santiago’s house on the island of La Maddalena, Sardinia was like going to an art gallery and attending a concert at the same time. Every wall in every room was covered with his art work. He produced paintings prolifically and painted every corner of the island from every angle possible. He used oil paints as well as water colors and his work was magnificent.
He also played the guitar, and many glasses of wine were consumed as he shared his passion for painting and music. Josefina was a very patient hostess who probably did not fully understand this strange English woman who kept appearing at their doorstep. But I wanted, needed, to be steeped in the creativity that permeated their household (Josefina was very artistic in her own way too), although I’m afraid she may have thought sometimes that I just wanted to be steeped in wine!!
It was exposure to Santiago and his love of painting that influenced me to go into town one day and buy all the basics to start painting again. Of course, being somewhat obsessive, I then began to paint in every free moment possible, sometimes working until two or three o’clock in the morning even though I had to be in the office by 8am. But it was wonderful to be in the grip of the creative Muse, and to watch a painting unfold and develop was an incredible experience.
This all happened in the early to mid seventies. I married my husband Richard about ten years later and although I stopped painting I continued to be involved in some form of creative art. We met in a little theater group and our relationship developed amid the smell of grease paint and the magic of the spotlights. Over the years I recouped my love of calligraphy (the art of beautiful writing) and created and printed many pieces for sale.
Today I create cards with the help of Stampin’ Up products and my teacher Mary Gillette. For me it is so exciting to see a piece of creative work develop and then hold the finished product in my hands. To share that with someone as a Birthday card, a Thank You card, or a Christmas card adds another layer of pleasure and satisfaction to the process. It also gives me great pleasure and joy to share my writing with others in the hope that someone, somewhere, will find their own pleasure and perhaps a little enlightenment in the words that I write.
Over the years I have discovered that God has blessed me with many gifts and talents other than a sense of the artistic. As my life unfolds and I continue to be open to whatever path He leads me on, it seems that part of my life’s mission is to be in the right place at the right time with the right words for specific people. To this end God has blessed me with the gift of compassion for others, especially those who are travelling their own dark path or are struggling with hardship and tragedy.
I think this is why I am able to do the work that I do as a volunteer with Community Hospice of North East Florida. It also helps me as I volunteer at my own church in the Ministry of Consolation. And then there are all those individuals who seem to cross my path “by chance”, but when we say goodbye and continue on our individual journeys, I understand that I have ministered to them in His name.
As I read back over this article, I realize that it is not at all what I thought I was going to write. But that is often the way it is for me. I start off in one direction and end up going totally in another. I think it has something to do with that “meandering” quality that God instilled in me. But I also think it has more to do with inviting Him on the journey with me as my fingers start their journey across the keyboard.
Words have always fascinated me. The way they march across a page creating people, places, and life stories, or laying down facts and information, excites me to the core. I curl up with pleasure at the sight or sound of certain words while others have the power to chill me to the bone.
Words can be kind and compassionate, soft and gentle. Words can cause love or anger to burst forth in an eruption of passion more impressive than the best orchestrated firework display. They can soothe the soul and warm the heart or they can cut sharper than any well honed knife.
Words light up my own imagination and set my soul on fire. Perhaps for this reason I am always reading. As I already mentioned in my previous posting Musings- Relationships, I devoured books as I child. In elementary school they couldn’t keep enough books on the classroom library shelves for me.
Even poetry pleased me from an early age. Perhaps that is why I began writing my own poetry as I emerged from my painful “past life”. In High School, perhaps my sophomore or junior year, we held a poetry reading contest. One of my class mates, Mary Griswell, read a poem called Snake written by the somewhat controversial author D.H. Lawrence.
I was mesmerized by the second line. I was there, a few yards from the water-trough, in my own pajamas and I could feel the heat all around me. As the poem unfolded I was transported to this hot place in Italy (strange that it was in my beloved Italy!), and I could see the snake, his colors, the texture of his skin, and the slow movement of his body. Let me share the poem with you.
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have something to expiate:
This poem made such an impression on my heart and mind that some years later I was inspired to make a pen and ink drawing of the snake. It sits in my dining room to this day. Whenever I look at it I can picture Mary in the library of the Ursuline High School, and if I close my eyes I can still hear her reciting the poem.