Meeting One’s End

Daily wonderings

As i walk through my neighborhood each morning, I am struck by a random thought.  However absurd it seems, I follow the thread and a story emerges in the form of a poem. Today it was “meeting one’s end,” or “making ends meet.”  Which led me to ponder: How do I want to meet my end? Can I fathom it? Of course not.  Even as I face down the Maw of the corona virus, denial saves me from my worst fear. Or is death what I fear the most?  It seems odd to entertain “dark” thoughts on May day, where Spring’s full bloom is optimism incarnate, the fierce sun burning through fear or foreboding with it’s welcome heat.

Meeting One’s End

What end to meet,

where path falls into sea,

or mountain becomes sky—

tumbling down or gently rising—

stone polished waterfall,

mist over lake;

submerged or wide open,

butterfly or snail,

eyes open, closed, dreaming

or still?

What end becomes me,

one with dirt and star—

blinding light, trampled earth,

mulched leaves,

flowerbed

garden path

cloud spilling rain;

or thoughts strung together

woven through memories

held closely, laid down,

quiet comfort, waiting.

Artist’s Way of the Camino

What hero’s journey is this, undertaken in solitude, the portal a canvas or blank page?

The artist’s life is largely interior, the company we keep living “rent free” in our heads. Any demons battled take form as doubt, fear, self- criticism; the holy grail a hard won finished piece. Our pilgrimage begins again and again, each time we pick up pen, brush, pencil, chalk and engage with a blank space, mark followed by mark.

Whatever our purpose as artists, how do we bear the necessary demands of inner work? 

We can reach out and commune with other travelers,  fellow pilgrims progressing towards authentic expression, spiraling through new inner and outer landscapes. A well worn path in Northern Spain is one such landscape offering artists a unique way to commune with self and others, connecting inner with outer—sacred with mundane—experience.

For centuries The Camino de Santiago de Compestella has borne witness to pilgrims and seekers in search of healing, adventure, physical, mental, spiritual challenges. Whatever one’s purpose, the path has a compelling aura of mystique–an ancient and living history.  The daily stream of travelers are a cosmopolitan, multi-national  group of all ages and genders, and their stories of catastrophic loss, sorrow, joyful partnership, hope, dreams, life-altering events step by step are pounded in the camino dirt.

The red Camino dirt is now part of my art. Last Fall I spent a week among fellow artists in a lovely compound called Flores del Camino in the village of Castrillo de los Polvazares, considered one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. Janice Mason Steves and Rebecca Crowell led the September 2018 workshop hosted by the space’s gracious proprietors, Basia and Bertrand.  This young couple, who met in the UK and share a love of the Camino, are timeless and ageless in their deep commitment to hospitality and art. Embodying the spirit of the arts and crafts ethos, they use pigments from the land around them to create iconographic sacred and modern art works for commission or sale. Their beautiful space is available for workshops and retreats, and provides daily sanctuary for camino pilgrims. As part of the retreat/workshop experience, Basia and Bertrand offer participants (and pilgrims) delicious, home-prepared meals, an intimate work space, and more often than not evening fireside ritual gatherings. Workshop participants are also treated to lessons in the history of sacred symbols—including drawing labyrinths and the flower of life— while learning about sacred geometry, the language and architecture of nature and the universe. Foray’s into the nearby landscape are opportunities for gathering rocks for making pigment, and for seeing ancient petroglyphs.

I knew when I arrived at Flores del Camino I would return and thus am  thrilled by the invitation to co-facilitate a workshop there with Basia and Bertrand. Planned with care for the end of September 2020, our workshop will include lessons in sacred geometry, gathering and preparing pigments from the landscape, and creating a “pilgrim’s passport” Book of Ours in response to our experience of this particular place along the Camino.

There are spaces for 8 participants. Please consider joining us for this intimate retreat that offers: 

precious time away from the cacophony of the outer world,;

the delightful company of fellow artists and pilgrims, 

nourishing and delicious food; 

spaciousness to experiment with combining text and image using natural pigments; 

a unique opportunity to respond to the landscape and history of Northern Spain–and the Camino–while learning how to integrate sacred geometry into our art work.

A Book of Ours: Pilgrim’s Passport

Flores Del Camino

Castrillo de los Polvazares, Spain

27 September-4 October 2020

For Registration Information:

www.floresdelcamino.com

sharonzeugin@yahoo.com

www.sharonzeugin.net

The Scarlet C

me

During the past two weeks I became aware of a dark passenger inside me.  Unlike Dexter’s, this one had tangible form, and was growing, ever so slowly inside my left breast. More than anyone, I was surprised that my cells had turned on me in this way. Surely a vegan diet, steady exercise regime, positive attitude and all around healthy lifestyle was protection against such an alarming turn of events.  Alas, despite all my seemingly preventive measures, with a phone call and the words, ” I don’t have good news for you,” I entered the portal of the “C” World.  Cancer:  the dreaded  something talked about in hushed tones, with nervous sideway glances at the one being talked about; a topic inspiring dramatic narratives, many tragic, some triumphant, all brave and heroic.  My first thought (in the age of social media and instant information) was how to spin this?  When one declares, “I have cancer” it seems to trump all other aspects of one’s self, and there is a risk of forever more being labeled a “cancer victim or survivor.”  I know I don’t want to be the former, and I want to do more than survive.  I want to live–I want to THRIVE–and I am so much more than the group of wayward cells that were clustered and ensconced in my breast tissue. Oddly, I didn’t immediately adopt the common rhetoric of the ‘war on cancer.”   Just as I know the critical voice that hounds me from time to time is really a part of me, I also know these cells are me too. Thinking of them like some juvenile deliquents running amok, I approached them sternly and lovingly, with the attitude of refocusing and retraining–and the request that they must reform or go. I do not harbor resentment at my cancer cells for they have given me the message that something in my body/life is out of balance.

Fear of cancer is visceral.

Facing my mortality provokes a myriad of reactions: fear, denial, bargaining, depression, anger. Less obsessed with “why me” and more with “why not me,” my dark night of the soul came on quickly and unrelentingly following the diagnosis. Lacking information other than vague words such as “mild, non-aggressive”, my imagination soared to new heights of fear and dread. Although steeped in knowledge about healing and alternative approaches to medicine, I was still vulnerable to the culture of fear which surrounds a diagnosis of cancer. However, it was my knowledge–my experience with healing–which turned things around in my head and helped me gain serenity. (Indeed, the power of positive affirmations is remarkable, as is the calming effect of Matcha Green Tea). That and simply getting more information about the extent of the malignancy that was living rent-free in my breast. Until my Dr. told me exactly what I was dealing with, I could not talk about it much, nor think about anything else.   Having been “staged” as a category I, I can now speak of cancer with more neutrality than fear. I have formulated a plan of action and move forward with renewed vision and purpose. Although I respectfully honor every individual’s approach to dealing with a cancer diagnosis, I continue to find it helpful to downplay it’s effect on my life and well-being.   Hurray for races for the cure, support groups, pink ribbons and research. I am ALL for it,  and will no doubt be an active participant in club “c” (in volunteering to help others)  to which no one wants an invitation. And yes I want and NEED support. However, in describing my experience,  I don’t want to give cancer any more power in my life; I choose to refocus my attention on the healing part. And gratitude. And forgiveness. And Love.  I am SHARON with a capital S who is dealing with “c.”

In addition to the surgery I had Tuesday-a lumpectomy–I continue my vegan/macrobiotic diet, stepped up with Matcha green tea, vitamin supplements. I engage accupuncture, reiki, herbal treatments, self-affirmations my cat, my dear husband clark,  helping others, teaching, making art, prayer, laying on of hands, family, friends,  laughter, potlucks, good movies, dance, nature–anything to restore balance. I remember to breathe deeply more often, smile a lot, and cannot think of a better place to be in my life than right here, right now.

Living Letters: excerpt from a book in progress

Hibiscusblog

I want to live letters, not learn them. I want to dance and sing them in both strident and harmonious tunes.  What else can we do but write like we mean it;  like it is the most important thing to do, as if our lives depend on it?  Mine does.  How else can I cope with waking to the din of city cries, the endless loop of grim and mawkish news, the parched earth desperate for water and  human mercy.  With pen in  hand I turn to the familiar forms and begin to write until I don’t remember the paper or pen, only the feeling of connection between heart, mind and body.  Words tumble out of my head unbidden but welcome, and I write them with the same care as if they were uttered by the wisest poet,  the most revered artist. I can do nothing more but mark my way through the world I inhabit, however humble, recording the ebbs and the flows, the tears and joys, the wonderful terrible mystery of it all. The ink flowing, pen and heart are linked to the common cause of writing what I know, being who I AM.

Get out your pen, tap your foot, open your mouth, stand up and YAWP! Feel your heartbeat and write to it’s rhythm, fast or slow, and laugh at the wobbles, and the hesitancies and the groping and flailing lines that emerge.  Curiosity is our guide, not judgement, the mysterious marks and lines emerging in unrecognizable patterns a refreshing change from the familiar ones.  Oh, NOW I get it. The forms taking shape are the sounds the grackle makes, its squawks and screeches; the feeling of sadness that pervades my body when my daughter leaves; the undulating lines and shapes of the plant before me. I follow the lines and they take me within and outside of myself, revealing my nature and the endless possibilities of responding to it.

I write, therefore I am connected–to myself and my surroundings. The letters live when I let them out to play. They know the rules and how far they can be bent.  And yet I am compelled to leave them,  run away and get lost, to  risk  it all, to stumble in darkness, groping blindly for a vision or guide while the cacophony of critical voices inside my head attempt to crush my effort. Letters which were once my guide, are replaced by vague images, undefined and seemingly unknowable.  The messy page of thick black marks and muddy colors pull me into deeper confusion and unrest until I remember what I know: I smile,  and paint over it with gesso. The emerging palimpsest of workings-through and experiments thinly veiled in white become the ground for words to explain the experience. Delicate penciled capitals, bending and swaying to the rhythm of my musings, bring order, peace and coherency to the chaotic rumblings underneath. I come back to a blank page and reach for my pen and fill it with colorful gouache. My heart is beating, my mind is clear and I write with a feeling of prayerful devotion. The Romans and Italics that greet me are different than before: they are less self-conscious and  cumbersome, and much more confident in their stride. And what’s this new script that they have birthed?

The letters have been there all along–stalwart and steadfast– patiently waiting to be ignited by my new discoveries.

Ode To Mutley

Ode to Mutley

Ode to Mutley

Cats slink through our lives with a seeming casual indifference, offering intermittent attention while training us to cater to their whims.  Like our children, we have hopes for these special critters (maybe instant fame on YouTube, or first prize in a cat show, or providing us with cuddles and comfort through thick and thin), yet are not surprised when they turn out to be what they are: self-centered, extraordinarily ordinary, acting as if they could take or leave us. Very quickly we accept that cats rule the household on their own terms, whether wanting in and out all night, or deciding that they will only drink from glasses of water left on countertops.  Having been owned by cats before, we brought Mutley into our world with eyes wide open.  We felt particularly proud that he was a rescue kitten, one who along with his siblings, had been abandoned in the wild.  When we met his little tribe, housed in a brown paper box,  Mutley seemed like the most interesting and adventuresome of the lot, constantly crawling out of his box, running away. As it turned out, this was a clue about the particularly unique and challenging personality we had taken on: fierce, unloving, people-loathing, scratching and clawing his way through kitten-hood. I had never had a cat like this before, and thought that with loving care, he would outgrow his troubling behavior.

Although Mutley did grow very large, he did not grow out of his penchant for inflicting harm. However, his saving grace was his great beauty; the fact that Mutley was so handsome made me forgive  the multiple wounds he regularly inflicted on us. How could I be angry at a cat who looked so lovely lying on the couch? I was deluded in thinking I could manage his ornery behavior through simple love and “kitty compassion.  Prone to anthropomorphizing pets,  I  failed miserably to “set him straight,” and Mutley’s reign of terror lasted for most of his life.

My Cat Whisperer failings aside, we  accepted Mutley on his own terms, knowing to scratch him only under the chin; to NOT pick him up, and NEVER touch his back. Although guests were forewarned, more than a few visitors left our home with Mutley bite marks or scratches.  What a disappointment this behavior was for Maeve who had wanted a cuddly kitten–one  who would be her fun-loving buddy.  Although she learned to love him, it was hard for her to accept that this creature was for looking only and rarely for  touching.  And yet he amused her–and all of us–with his antics. For instance, his  habit of snatching Maeve’s hair ties from her room and depositing them in his water dish was very entertaining. One morning, he even grabbed a pair of her leggings and dragged them into the water.

On another occasion, Mutley surprised us with a rare poignant and touching display of compassion. Clark was sitting in his chair, experiencing  a moment of  anguish and emotional distress, when Mutley jumped in his lap. This otherwise fierce, untouchable cat just sat there, gentle, purring,  still,  and did not bite, seeming to offer Clark,  his fellow male in the house, a degree of comfort and solidarity.

More typically, Mutley provoked anger and frustration. No  fabric surface in our house was left un-shredded by his claws. Couches, chairs, rattan beds, cane chairs–he destroyed them all until finally we made the hard decision of having him de-clawed.  This was no small decision on many levels.  First, Mutley hated going to the vet. So much so that he ran away after each visit, at one point forcing Clark to brave the underbelly of our house to find him. Secondly, it seemed to be cruel and unusual punishment (arguably it was) to subject this proud and unruly creature to such a demoralizing, painful, life-alternating procedure.  Thirdly, it meant that he was subjected to  kitty hell for a weekend as his wounds necessitated that he recover at the vet’s office.  No amount of fancy feast ever made up for that trauma we inflicted on him, but in the end, Mutley came around, and for better or worse, actually became a bit more friendly and docile.

Mutley spent many of his days as a fat, lazy house cat, an enviable position at times, for his was a life of no responsibility, of coming and going as he pleased, of warm, inside days and nights, and plenty of food. Sleeping and eating summed up the greater part of his activities, and  for many years, Mutley justt blended into the landscape of our lives as we went about our busy days of growing up (kids) and growing older (Clark and me).

It was hard not to notice the change which began about a year ago. Our former fat cat was getting thinner. He began to act needy, insisting on sitting on my lap whenever we sat down on the couch to watch television, slept all the time and stopped wanting to go outside. His thirst seemed unquenchable, and his lethargy became alarming.   A trip to the vet confirmed a weight loss, but blood tests did not reveal anything that seemed more serious than a nutritional deficiency. So in addition to his beloved Fancy Feast, Mutley was introduced to the haute cuisine of expensive veterinary “specially formulated” dry cat food.  Surprisingly, he ate it, and soon he was up and about, even wanting to spend lots of time out of doors.  And so we carried on, thinking that Mutley had rallied, and that life in our household  would resume in its usual way.

We knew that his decline was imminent if not severe when several months later Mutley showed signs of incontinence. Rugs became the litter box, and evidence of Mutley elimination appeared all over the house.  He wanted even more attention, was always underfoot, and purred very loudly during the times we allowed him to sit on our laps while we scratched his head.  His attack habits had not changed, and I suffered several painful bites during these lap times–bites which would come out of the blue, without any seeming provocation on my part. And though he continued to eat ravenously, he had become skeletal, his fur dull and matted.   As much as I dreaded taking him to the vet (because he was so traumatized by the experience ) I couldn’t ignore his watery half-closed eyes, his emaciation, and his wobbly back legs.

Where does one draw the line between aggressive treatment and palliative care?  I had grappled with these questions   in graduate school as I studied about and then worked for a hospice.  Although these are difficult questions  for people with terminal illness,  it seems like it should be simpler with pets. Yet as with humans,  there are extraordinary measures one can take to keep pets alive. Who knew that there are kitty cardiologists, oncologists, specialists of every kind? In Mutley’s case,  because he suffered a multitude of issues (probably related to either cancer, respiratory failure or heart disease), his  survival would require a host of these specialists along with prolonged and intense treatment.   Having been initially diagnosed with severe anemia, he declined suddenly and rapidly during his exam, experiencing what seemed to be  cardiac or respiratory failure, requiring oxygen to breathe. Our options were laid out for us:  days of hospitalization, oxygenation and blood transfusions–simply to get him stabilized.  The next step would be a myriad of tests to determine the source of all the presenting symptoms, determine if treatment was possible or not,  all requiring more vet visits, multiple medications, tests and other intrusive actions with no guarantee of improvement of quality of life.

Not to mention that dirty word: COST.  We were already hundreds of dollars in, just for this one visit.  The Vet’s opinion was that his situation was dire, and that the  extraordinary measures listed above were indeed necessary to keep him alive. It was at this point that I elected to go away for an hour to grapple with a decision– to determine Mutley’s  fate–leaving  him curled up forlornly and pathetically on his special blanket in the oxygen tank that was necessary for his immediate survival.

Who am I to take a life?  This or any life. Having experienced this dilemma with pets  before, I knew that the questions, the doubts, the guilt and the grief were an inevitable part of the decision-making process, regardless of the outcome. It came down to thinking of Mutley and what he could and could not tolerate, comfort-wise.  Taking him home or subjecting him to an extensive round of tests and medical procedures seemed inhumane for this creature who was so easily distressed, who disliked handling and loathed the vet’s office, and had declined so suddenly, the result of the stressful vet visit. Moreover it seemed any further heroic treatments were de-moralizing, and certainly compromised his quality of life.

And so  together, with tears falling on his emaciated body struggling for air from the oxygen tube, Clark and I made the call. It was time to let him go.  The dear vet, a young and clearly caring Dr, was the model of compassion and professionalism as she carried out her grim task, reassuring me that our decision was wise and humane.

It was harder than I thought  to follow through with our decision. When the vet brought Mutley into the examining room, catheter inserted in his paw, he opened his eyes and mustered the strength to crawl towards me. His eyes were now wide open and he began to purr.  I scratched his chin, held his face, and talked to him, and scratched some more, questioned out loud whether this was right or not, adding rather absurdly that “I am opposed to the death penalty”. As he continue to purr in my hands, I  finally nodded that it was time.  Did he hear “fancy feast” which I whispered to him as the vet administered the lethal dose? Did he realize I had decided  his doomed fate, that the hand that fed him was indeed biting him  (albeit gently and painlessly) in this profound and final way? Could he forgive me; could I forgive me? Do cats have souls and if so, what happens next? Drug administered,  he  purred, and relaxed and then stopped breathing. Quickly, gently, done.  Fancy Feast.  Mutley child. Dear sweet incorrigible cat.  Beloved Mutley dissipated into unknowable mystery; he is no longer.