As the pandemic continues to reach out and wrap her fingers around all that she can touch, and as the weeks of quarantine and social distancing stretched into months, I found myself becoming more keenly aware of the preciousness of life and the beauty that exists in what may seem like simple everyday moments. These moments have become so precious, and so comforting in a time when there has been so much uncertainty.
Moments filled sitting side by side with my love while reading, sipping coffee, lingering in bed, watching movies.
Moments filled with the sweet softness of a warm cat curled and purring on my lap while I sip tea and watch as the snow falls outside the window.
Moments filled with the wagging tail of a golden retriever as she bounds down the trail in the woods that follows the river.
Moments of quiet introspection and reflection as I wander the neighborhood in the small town that I call home.
Moments of cooking meals and feasts to be packaged and left on the porch to be picked up by friends and loved ones who cannot sit down to share a meal.
All of these beautiful, everyday, seemingly simple moments began to reveal what the Christian mystic Thomas Merton knew, “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable. This is true.”
Nostalgia can be defined as a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.
What you cannot see in the painting is perhaps more important than what you can see. On one particular day before COVID settled into our daily lives, my beloved and I drove to the Country Girl Diner in Chester, VT for lunch. I have a love of diners. I have a love for vintage and retro aesthetics and I had not yet visited this particular one. We sat across from each other holding hands, listening to the bustling sound of diner customers and the clinking noises of the preparation of diner food. We people watched as booths filled and emptied. I looked around wondering when I had begun to find vintage and retro imagery so appealing. I was content in that everyday moment. I also had no way of knowing just how much everyday moments would grow in their meaning and in my appreciation.
As I worked on the painting I thought about how it is understanding and remembering that someone’s hands had built the walls, table, counter and stools in the diner and that somehow this understanding and remembering was what really seemed to be of importance and mattered. I thought about how someone’s hands had filled the salt, pepper and sugar shakers. I thought about how someone’s hands had tended and cut the flowers in the bottle and how someone else’s hands had placed them in the bottle and on the table. I thought about how someone’s hands had turned over the closed sign to open early in the morning hours. I found myself wondering how all of those someone’s were doing in the world. I wondered if they were nostalgic for a life that once had been. I wondered if they too were noticing all of the precious everyday moments. I thought again about how what is not seen in the painting is in many ways more important than what is.
I do not think we will be able to return to the happiness of a former place and time. The world is changing and I believe we must change with it. I also believe that happiness can and will be found in those most beautiful and sacred of seemingly simple everyday moments. So...I am going to keep looking into them and welcoming the understanding and beauty that is shining through.
Maybe, just maybe, when the world opens up again and we can safely share spaces I will find myself sitting in a booth in a diner somewhere next to you and, if I have used my time wisely, and I have done my job well enough, I will be able to look and see the divine that is shining through you.
Until then, I wish you millions of beautiful everyday moments.
“It seems to me that all the things that we keep in boxes are both alive and dead until we open the box. That the unobserved is both there and not.”
For the last year I have been fascinated with designing and creating boxes. It has only been in the last couple of months or so that I truly began wondering what creating all of these boxes was really about. My artistic projects and creations have always been seeded and seated within an ongoing dialogue with the source of my existence. Every painting, photograph and creation that I have made has been the result of a moment of the imaged and expressed conversation between myself and God. In my artistic statement I refer to them as “...messages or moments of awareness and contact. They are whispers from the place where the veils between worlds are thin.”
So how do these boxes with images of pin-up art, various fantasy worlds, retro and vintage images and creatures fit into this same frame of reference? Honestly, when I really began to think about it I was stumped. When I really began thinking about it I found myself wondering how I had not really thought about it before now. I even found myself thinking that maybe it would be best if I stopped making them and returned to my easel and yet I found I could not. Over and over again I found myself sifting through images, delighting in the use of a razor blade to extricate them from where they had previously been bound, and then arranging and rearranging them with other images and the shapes and contours of the boxes, utilizing various painting techniques to prepare the boxes for their arrival upon them. I was and am absolutely enchanted with the entire process.
Although creating boxes is new for me, a love of boxes is not. I am one of those people who will experience a deep sense of satisfaction at the discovery of a box, whether the discovery be on the shelves of a thrift store, a gift that someone has given me or through a random and joyous act of the universe. This love affair has gone on for quite some time. So in some ways, I guess it is not so surprising, and yet I continued to feel like I was missing something. The something being “the point”.
The point, albeit hazy at first, started coming into focus over the last month or so…
2016 was one of the most challenging years of my life. By the end of 2015, I had undergone months of slow carbon monoxide poisoning in the casita that I was living in in New Mexico. My father would pass away in May of 2016. In August I would end the leases that I had on the 4 properties that I used as my business, empty all of the contents from the houses and studio and load them into a Budget rental truck and begin the journey across country to Maine in order to move to my then boyfriend’s home where we had decided to move for financial reasons and as a way to be closer to my mother following my father’s death.
Looking back now, I know that I could not truly take in that I was actually leaving New Mexico. I began traveling there in 2008 to study and by 2012 I had moved there. She and all that she held had become one of the greatest love stories of my life. As the rental truck moved across the border of New Mexico and into Colorado to begin the trek to New England, I remember feeling so disjointed and unclear as to how or why this moment had come to pass. The 3 years that I lived held within her desert and mesa filled arms remain among the most formative of my life. I had dreamt of those arroyos, mesas and canyons long before placing my feet upon their soil.
Dream of a Winged God
Above is an ocean of cerulean blue.
Cliffs formed from layers of sand and story rising to greet the sky
A solitary wind howls and moans.
The wind’s voice seems to carry the sound of a name that I cannot quite hear.
I am holding my son’s hand and we are walking through this pregnant canyon
There is a slight pause,
an irregular beat in the rhythm of space
It is enough to reveal that we are in the land of dreams
Off in the distance I see a large bird soaring through the open sky.
The great bird approaches
my mind tries to comprehend the truth of the message that my eyes continue to send.
As the distance between us closes, the illusion fades in its entirety and I am left standing in the presence of an approaching god.
In his wings span the centuries of time
painted in the flame of turquoise, gold, white and copper
Trails of wind left by his soaring wings push down upon us with the force of a gale.
In passage of the wind from his wings is a song that sings of the deepest rivers of sadness.
In the passage of the wind from his wings is the hope for a people and of a place.
In the passage of his wings are the threads of songs that are unraveling and forgotten – lost in the holes of time.
In the passage of the wind from his wings is an embrace, which holds the breath of hope – eternal return
Tears swell from in ancient eternal river and I weep at the aching love story,
An ancient, rooted song so old and so fragile,
As the feathers of his wings brush by my head,
he rises and shoots straight into the painted sky.
The sky opens and an emblem of beauty is revealed.
Ancient symbols dancing to form a magical portal, a door.
Designs formed from the color of clouds, gilded feathers, stones that sing, and the metal made from stars receive him into the heavens from which he came.
I am left in the wake of a passing deity
holding my small son’s small hand
Listening to the wind echo the lament and sadness that has been conveyed by his proximity.
The wind’s voice seems to carry the sound of a name that I cannot quite hear.
…blowing through the canyon from the time in the memory of before.
There are stories upon stories within those years. Stories of clay pits, vision quests, sweat lodges, bears, arroyos, monsoons, gardens, studios, love, loss, life and medicine but for the purposes of this moment what I will say is that when I left there, part of me stayed behind and it has taken quite a long time to catch up and find its way back home.
The Budget rental truck continued rolling down the highways between here and there and eventually we arrived in the tiny coastal Maine town that was to become home. After my years in the desert, my heart and soul longed to sit by the ocean and to be held by her embrace. However, my time sitting at the edges of her shore was to be brief. Within a week of arriving my mother came to visit and in her visit held the news that she too was dying. Within 2 weeks of arriving in Maine, I found myself at the doorstep of my childhood home. I would sit in what was only months before my father’s chair and I would become my mother’s caretaker as she prepared to leave this world.
There are stories upon stories that were held within those six weeks between the time that I arrived on the doorstep to become my mother’s caretaker and when she slipped into a coma and took her last breath. I wish I could say that the time I spent with my mother before her death was what I had imagined it would be like. I had always known that I would fulfill this role and that this was part of the agreement that she and I had made. There was the part of me that had envisioned this as an opportunity for my mother and I to wrap our relationship in a neat and tidy bow but life and death tend to be messy business and a daughter and mother trying to hold hands as one’s eyes close to this world can sometimes look like both struggling to breathe.
I made the decision to spend the winter in my parents’ home, my childhood home. I spent the days and nights keeping the stove burning and cleaning out their closets, room and life. Everyday I would walk past the urns that held their ashes and think about how one day I would write a book called “My Winter in the House of Ashes”. I was surprised when spring came knocking and just as they had in every year past, blades of grass began pushing up and the days grew warmer. In April, I drove out of the driveway for the last time and headed to the place where I would begin to start again.
Are you wondering how all of this circles around to the boxes? At some point, I am not really sure when, I began saying that I had put part of myself in a box. I had put it in a box up high on a shelf and I refused to take it down and look at it. There was too much to pull apart, too much to try and reconcile. I did not know how to begin to make sense of who I had become when I was in New Mexico, who I was as an orphan with both of my parents dead. I did not know how to feel like a woman who was not a grieving daughter. Who and how I had known myself to be no longer seemed to apply and neither did my understanding of divinity and God. Those pieces of the story were in the box up high on the shelf in a closet.
But how do you go on like that when everything in your life has been about cultivating a relationship with your higher power? How do you go on knowing that there is a box that holds the most sacred part of your existence and purpose and you are actively choosing not to open it and look inside?
“It seems to me that all the things that we keep in boxes are both alive and dead until we open the box. That the unobserved is both there and not.”
I think for me, the answer is that I began making boxes. Each box being a representation of pieces of myself. If you look at the images that I have selected for the boxes they are not dissimilar to the imagery I use in my paintings. Some of the boxes explore the work of other artists - artists whose shoulders I have been standing on while I have once again begun standing on my own two feet. As soon as I began realizing the role that the boxes were playing and how I actually had been in conversation with the source of my existence the entire time, the boxes began to shift and change. The most recent shadow boxes have become like stories. They still include images of artists who have gone before me, but then “Artist as Keeper of Ancestry & Lineage” has been one of the themes that I have consistently explored. Just today I realized that there is also significance in many of the most recent boxes not having a lid but becoming shadow boxes.
Whether it is a painting, a photograph, writing, or boxes I believe that the creation of art is medicine.
It feels good to be off the shelf and out of the closet again. It feels good to choose to be open once more.
In art, love and beauty,
A strange passion is moving in my head.
My heart has become a bird
Which searches in the sky.
Every part of me goes in different directions.
Is it really so
That the one I love is everywhere?
Over the last couple of weeks I have found myself in more than one conversation which has led to reflection and sharing of my experiences and the roles of religion and spirituality within and throughout my life. For me, this has been a winding journey and path of discovery which has led to many forks in the road and many stops and visits in temples, churches, and caves along the way. I believe that in many ways I will always be a traveler on this winding road. I also know that in this human walk I was blessed to find my home very early on.
Before I ever stepped foot in Catholic school or in church, I grew up wandering the woods, the stretching and waving fields, the thorny thickets and along the edges of lakes, brooks and streams. Fields of milkweeds and stone altars and the delights of oozing mud after a rainstorm, well, these were my first holy places of mystery and awe. Nature was my first experience of ecstasy and remains where I find myself on my knees with tears in my eyes over the beauty and divinity that is the fabric of this world. My artistic and spiritual practices are inextricably linked and both are born of places and lineages that honor the experience of life as a great weaving of time and a layering of multiple worlds.
As your footsteps continue tracing mine along this journey there will be times when the “tense” or “time” seems to slip or move to the past, present, future, and the unknown – if this seems confusing and slightly disorienting, then you too may have entered into the great spiraling Ouroboros with me. It is, after all, the name of my studio and its meaning is woven through my artistic practices and creations.
Just as the Ouroboros spirals around through time with the mouth always seeking the tail and the tail always seeking the mouth, my creative process is the same. Images and expressions rising to the surface of my awareness at a particular moment in time will return anew or live again in relation to the ongoing Story or in relation to another image sometimes painted years later. My life and my Story are alive within these nonlinear communications - it is how I have come to live my life. I am following the images, whispers and clues in an attempt to thread them back together, to remember them, to remember the Story of my creation and the creation of our human kind.
Each image and word that passes through me is dancing on a web; their relationship to each other and the worlds that they are born of in many ways exceeds the importance of an isolated image removed or excluded from the unified whole.
When I was a small child, I believed in the power of magic and the world of enchanted beings. I walked in the woods and was certain that the swaying of the tree limbs and the rustle of their leaves were meant to announce my arrival. “She has returned. She has not forgotten us.” I was certain the trees spoke to each other, and I was certain they spoke to me.
When I was a small child, I spent time lying on my back on the surface of the Earth, looking up into a sky that painted stories with the color and form of clouds, the sun, the moon, and the stars. I was certain that those stories were being told for me. I was certain that whatever or whomever was the storyteller, they knew that I was content when in their theatre.
I do not remember when the magic ceased to exist. It took a while before I thought about the magic again. At first I thought that I had hidden it away so that I could no longer see it. Then I began to think that perhaps I did not hide the magic after all, for it was never mine to hide. I kept wondering, I kept asking and slowly, oh so slowly, the magic began to come back. It would visit me in my dreams. When I started to think as a child again, I realized that the magic could never be hidden, for it is far too powerful to be put away by any one human being. I began to understand that it was I who had gone away to hide. I was hiding from the magic. I was hiding from myself.
Now that I am a not so small child, I believe in the power of magic. Now that I am a not so small child, I walk in the woods and I am certain that the trees can talk. Now that I am a not so small child, I look at the sky and know that the storyteller has many more Stories to tell.
I have come to understand that there are Stories that Call. Ancient Stories that whisper and speak through symbols, messages, and dreams. Stories that remember ancient agreements and the meaning and purpose of our existence. Stories that are Medicine in the truest sense of the word. I believe that these Stories find ways of reemerging and being born again into our modern society so that we as a people may remember who we are and consciously move towards who we are becoming.
We are the magical and physical realization of our ancestors. Whether we know it or not, I believe that we are carrying the medicine bundles which have been passed down to us through generations. Whether we are aware or not, I believe that we are seeking to fulfill a legacy of our ancestors’ grail quests and dreams. We are a walking legacy.
In our “modern” society we have been conditioned and trained in the externalization of power and in this training, we have suffered a deep loss in ability to internalize power. We have sacrificed our internal power and our nobility as human beings and in this ongoing sacrifice we are in danger of losing something even bigger, our luminous planet, our Mother, our home. I believe that in this disjunction, there lies the potential in finding meaning at the moment of
losing it again.
The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. It is a symbol that represents the perpetual cyclic renewal of life and of coming full circle. It is an ancient whisper that speaks of the eternal return: the cycles of life, death and rebirth leading to immortality. Like an old and ancient beautiful thread, the colors of the Ouroboros are woven throughout time in the Stories of phoenix, dragons, serpents and snakes.
I have come to believe that inside the belly of this ancient snake who eats its own tail, lies the ooze of primordial unity. Primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting before any beginning with such force and qualities it cannot be extinguished. Within that ooze lies the undifferentiated infancy experience of both mankind and the individual. The ooze from an ocean from which all is born and where all is One.
As I followed the trails of this Story, I found myself wondering; could our lives, our personal Stories, our collective Stories, the Stories of all mankind, the Stories of all kind and beyond be from the vast waters of this primordial ocean, from this place which, like the Ouroboros, has no beginning or end? Is it possible that the waters from this ocean swell and rise within us giving rise and fall to our memories and the memories of our origins? Do these waters direct the rhythm and flow of our Stories and our lives? A perpetual pumping of liquid memory that flows through the vessel of our beings in a way that allows us to be continually reborn. If we are reborn in this manner does our birthing hold the possibility of remembering the source of our origins and the agreements that we have made with the source of our existence? Could this liquid, this memory, be a form of Medicine that could benefit humanity and the magnificent world that we all share and which is in desperate need?
I wondered if it is us/we who navigate the rivers and oceans of our lives or are the rivers and the oceans the captains of our sailing and sinking ships, navigating us on a journey that reveals our individual purpose within the Story that we are all a part of? Are we like that ancient snake, both swallowing and disgorging ourselves in an all consuming yarn: each of us following our individual threads in order to be lead to our collective and shared story; a beautiful, expressive unraveling? If we become aware of our relationships with these waters, if we become aware that we are not separate from these waters, are we then able to see its and our own passage through time and space? Are we then able to see that we are all swimming in the same primordial water?
I began to think that perhaps the answers to these questions were unimportant. Perhaps what matters, what is of importance, lies within the seeking of these questions and their answers? Perhaps what matters is being willing. Willing to enter into the mouth of the serpent knowing that you will eventually become the tail that will spiral its way back around and enter into the mouth once again. Willing to become part of the food and part of the Story. Willing to acknowledge our individual responsibility and part in an eternal return. Willing to live a life that
is an honoring and remembering of the cycles of life, death and rebirth that leads to the feeding of an incomprehensibly beautiful dance.
The creation of "In Transit" began in 2012. I believed this image to be completed on 2 separate occasions. The painting would come down from the wall on 2 different occasions as her story continued to unfold. She currently hangs on the entry door to the studio.
“Our whole business in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.”
In love, beauty and art,
Heather J Geoffrey