geographic cure

PUDDLES (wikimedia commons)Yesterday morning, I went outside in the last of the night’s rain showers and splashed in puddles on the sidewalk. Then, I sat on my damp brick steps and smiled up at the gray, but bright, sky. There hadn’t been enough rain to re-fill lakes or trickle down into the water table. But the birds sounded happy. So was I.

The rain was a gentle reminder of what I’m doing here. This is as far north as I pass a winter without being overwhelmed. Even a drive north to visit between now and next August is out of the question.

These clouds and this little rain system made me sleep a couple more hours a night, gave me a stuffy nose and mild headache and sent a fresh invasion of ants marching across my kitchen counter. But these are minor inconveniences next to the black cliff I fell from every autumn that I lived above the forty-fifth parallel.

I have a non-negotiable biologic latitude and climate incompatibility feature. The forty-fifth parallel plus rain is an equation incompatible with my health and happiness. The physical me can’t make it through the ten month winter under heavy clouds in the far north. And the physical and mental me are all one.

I FELT LIKE THIS. ONLY FATTER.  (wikimedia commons)Ten months of the year while living there, I pasted on a cheerful face as I dragged and limped. It was like wearing heavy pillows on my head and chains and weights on my body. As the sun did its rapid fade in September, my body trembled and ached like I was in withdrawal. Both physically and mentally, the pain was crippling. I slept fitfully day and night for months on end. I wondered what awful autoimmune disease I must have contracted and thought about death.

I’m glad I finally figured this out. I spent twenty-seven years of my irreplaceable lifetime fighting with this biologic imperative and losing. I tried everything (short of prescription drugs) to make life work there. I exercised, ate healthy food, socialized and shined bright therapeutic lights in my eyes. I ate nutritional supplements and went outside in the middle of the day. I changed jobs and relationships. I became a pro at affirmations, self-hypnosis, healing journals, meditations and all the various stuff of cognitive and behavioral therapies. And, when I was younger and more vigorous, I was better able to stay afloat in the inescapable misery without killing myself. If anyone could have overcome my climate mismatch, it would have been me.

I’m grateful to have made it here alive. Although it’s much more expensive to live here, I can live here. And we will make this work. Unless, of course, we need to be even further south or more inland for even sunnier and drier. These days I’m more open-minded to geographic cures. This one worked wonders.

Some folks are just meant to live in a certain climate. Other folks are meant for others. Our mobile, industrialized and homogenized culture completely denies this biologic fact. We pretend that everyone can adjust to live anyplace. And if they can’t, we label them mentally ill. We make them into pill customers.

But would you bring a polar bear to live in Texas or a crocodile to live in Quebec or keep a migratory animal in captivity? Wait. That’s right. We do.

I have a lot of southern Italy and Portugal in my inherited genetic makeup. And no Inuit or Scandinavian at all. My body doesn’t belong in Alaska or Oregon, Ohio or Ontario or even on the French Riviera. They are all too far north.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Oregon. I also love a lot about the north of France. They both have summers of bewitching beauty. But they’re both too far north for me. They share a chronic low-hung darkness and damp much of the year.

Oregon is particularly wondrous. There are beautiful small towns and urban neighborhoods in Oregon that offer a walk-able lifestyle. So long as one invests in rain suits and extra socks and doesn’t mind eye-glasses blinded by rain and mist, Oregon would be a top choice to raise a family and prosper over a lifetime.

PMANY MEMORIES OF MY OREGON HOME LOOK LIKE THIS. (wikimedia commons)ortland is ahead of the curve on planning with its tight growth boundary, modern public transit system and stunning urban forest park. In Portland, beer, coffee, tattoos and international foods are art forms. And public art is everywhere.

Oregonians were recycling before recycling was cool. The landscape is sublime. The cost of living is manageable. There’s no sales tax. Fog and long dark months provide an unparalleled soft mystery and opportunities to enjoy wood stoves and hot tubs, sweaters and wool socks. The brief summer spawns more outdoor events and concerts than I could ever attend. Anyone who can enjoy nine months of darkness, clouds and rain each year should put Oregon on the top of their list.

I really miss parts about my old life there. Leaving was hard.

Every summer I fell in love with Oregon all over again. The long days and bright sunshine wiped all memory of the endless-seeming dismal winters from my mind. I couldn’t leave her in summer. She was too full-bodied, green and tantalizing. And, once autumn came and my brain shut down, I became incapable of organizing an escape to the sunshine. By the end of October, the dark cave had me locked in with its powerful claws. Year round, Oregon was an almost inescapable force.


I’m lucky. My torments vanished after I came south. The pillows lifted from my head. The chains and weights dissolved. I can open jars using my bare hands and walk up stairs again. I’ve thrown away my anti-inflammatory tablets and nutritional supplements. My creativity is back. I can learn new things again.

And, much of the time, I’m a more pleasant person to be around since I came south. This makes me wonder if climate was an invisible third party involved in the death of my first marriage within a couple of years of moving from the deep south to the north.

One can never know.

Even here, I’ve met people who tell me they have the same kinds of symptoms from the summer fog along the coast. And I’ve met others who suffer from the low clouds that hang on the coast range all winter just a mile or so inland from me. I know of relationships that have foundered because neither could live in the local micro-climate of the other.

I’m glad to have heard from so many people that they have the physiology to blend with Oregon. Oregon is a wonderful place. I miss her.

But the world is full of wonderful places.  And a lot of them are sunny.

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made in china

BEES IN HER BONNET (original art and pic by Alice Keys (c) 2014)on vacation
island resort
surf sand and sun

I buy a hat
expensive but
handwoven straw

artsy flowers
red beads on brim
affirms myself

as different
from all the rest
back at work find

two bucks on line
container loads

made in China

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rocket fuel

DEATH STAYS FIT BY JUGGLING WITH HIS HULA HOOP (pic and art by Alice Keys (c) 2014) 8x10 acrylic on canvasWhat  wonderful muses  I ride with. Each day more ideas than I can capture flash across the windscreen of my mind. During the best moments, when the sky is high and clear and the breeze blows from the direction of the Land of Medicine Buddha, I sit and let the vibe wash through me.

Some days I feel the energy channels that connect all of us. I stand inside the arch of the great mother’s aorta and look downstream into her pulsing heart. I am a tube in her amplifier, a candle in her chandelier, a moth in love with her sun.

This new life of mine is possible because I don’t have a job. I called myself “unemployed” to a friend the other day. He corrected me. He said I was “retired”.

So, it seems that I’ve retired without meaning to. Although I have recurring dreams that someone wants me to work for them, I know this is unlikely. The culture of doctoring has wandered so far away from the truths of my internal compass that I can’t envision a “normal” place I could work as a physician again.

America has become a land of pills and I’m an “understand your culture, your biology,  your behaviors and your thoughts and manage them better” kind of girl. I’m an ace at helping with the creative re-structuring of a life. But, by the time the care pendulum swings back to the humanistic, social and behavioral approaches which are known to reduce suffering, I will be long gone.

THE HAND-PAINTING STAGE OF MY DEAD CATNIP TOYS (pic and art by Alice Keys (c) 2014)I can no longer stomach drugging and poisoning people. When I drug and poison someone else, I also drug and poison myself. We are all one.

So, it seems that I’ve retired decades before I planned. But, for now, this is okay. I’ve always been a busy person and I’m very busy now. I’m so busy I can’t see how I ever managed a job.

And I’m not sure why this is called retirement. It’s more like having lifelong ankle chains and brain locks removed. I no longer have to worry what anyone thinks. This freedom is rocket fuel.

There are so many kinds of creativity to engage in that I must give each muse a turn. Early in the morning I light candles and write on my laptop. As the light grows, I take paper outside and sketch ideas.

IN THE STUDIO WITH AN ODD MUSE. (art and pic by Alice Keys (c) 2014)Yesterday, I came back inside from sketching to work on a matchbox altar design. I clipped and glued. I shortened candles and added gold Mylar tape.

Then, because I had a dish of matches and leftover clay, I sculpted tiny skulls onto matchstick bodies . The  faces in a circle on my plate looked like dancers or freaky snacks.

Perhaps I’ll make stuffed, white-swaddled mummy bodies on them or skull-headed Santas or guardian angels with feathers but no wings.

I find there has to be a certain amount of creep-factor to get to the joy. Darkness makes light seem brighter. Sometime somewhere someone will see past the creep-factor in the death and skulls in my art and into the joy that I see in them.

THE JUNE TAYLOR DANCERS (pic and art by Alice Keys (c) 2014)After I explored my prototype matchbox altar, Robert and I went for coffee where a neighbor (and new friend) works. She’d discovered my work at my art show and offered to present it to her boss. Although my Dead Things and Dead paintings didn’t suit the restaurant’s gift shop, the much easier-to-make NORMAL cat toy I designed this week did.

I prowled around to get a feel for the personality of the shop. Perhaps I can design something in line with the energy of the customers and the tastes of the owner.

Then, I went home and cut out a pile of felt NORMAL cat toy bodies to hand stitch when I need to sit and relax from more difficult work. I sewed and stuffed a new model of cat toy. It has cute ears.

After that, I played bass guitar with the boys while they played piano and drums. Then I had Paul write out a walking bass pattern for me to learn. I love jamming with them, especially on sambas.

HE'S CUTE BUT HE JUST AIN'T DEAD. (pic and art by Alice Keys (c) 2014)After lunch, I took a cat nap. Then Robert and I walked. The energy channel of the universe was still open wide.

I talked about my product ideas. Robert talked about his software design, documentation and testing. I picked up sticks for another Dead project.

Then I came home and painted. I worked on a Dead painting till an artist-neighbor needed a break from her creative work. We walked her dog and shared a tornado of ideas.

After dinner, my family spun hula hoops in the street. When I came back inside, I wrote a dozen haiku on this week’s word prompt. Then I put together a post with the three best. Before I went to bed, I kneaded up a double batch of bread dough. I read myself to sleep before ten.

This is a lot of different things to do. But I know this is a mere fragment of what’s possible. Each time as I take up a brush or pen or scissors  or sewing needle, I’m in awe of the infinite landslide of possibility that rolls past and through me and then vanishes.

I THINK THIS DEAD CATNIP MOUSE IS BETTER THAN THE NORMAL. (pic and art by Alice Keys (c) 2014)I’m limited by the number of hours in a day. I make a cave painting while knowing endless herds of animals cover the plains outside. I catch a fragment of pottery from a great civilization that lasted ten thousand years. Days should be longer and I should need less sleep.

I have no idea what anyone sees in television or phone apps or packaged toys in a world which so alive with this constant and everlasting sleet of possibility.

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slow motion train wreck

TRAIN WRECK REPLICA  (wikimedia commons) I left it around
here somewhere have you seen it
lost my train of thought

* * *

they called it basic
six weeks and hot Georgia sun
trained as a killer

* * *

three diesel engines
thirty-two coal cars and one
caboose by my count

* * *

from that first moment
their love was always dying
slow motion train wreck

* * *

two cowboys shoot guns
chase on roof of speeding train
one ducks for tunnel

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These haiku were written for the Haiku Horizons word prompt “train”. To enjoy more haiku or to join in the word prompt fun, click on the picture below.


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hunger for the genuine

WAKE UP AND SMELL THE ART. (wikimedia commons)Last night I dream I buy a pre-stretched canvas and make a painting for an art class homework. But the stretcher bars crumble to pieces before I can get my painting to class. So I shop for replacement stretcher bars to re-stretch the canvas. But the store has none that are strong enough in the right size. Everything that’s any good is gone. Then, I dream a hungry monster is waiting to be fed. No one can see it but me. I close him in my room to wait so he doesn’t eat anyone. I shall feed the monster when I can return.

* * *

I’ve had a busy week getting my art and art products ready and into a friend’s new shop for her opening. Now I can re-focus on other creative flows. There’s no greater pleasure in my life than the process of creation. This has always been the case.

Even when I had my private psychiatric practice, I loved most the collaborative creative work that went into designing life adjustments. Helping people make their lives fit better and have more happiness and less suffering is art. Pills are mass-produced bullets used to wage war on individual pain.

Although my life’s work has changed, I still feel the same about this. Shared creation is joy. Mass-produced junk is a crime against creation.

Yesterday, I had my first sale of a Little Sister’s Dead Thing. A passing stranger paid five bucks for my Dead Fish catnip toy from my friend’s new shop.

Since one can purchase three catnip toys for a dollar from a nearby chain store, this sale was not about catnip toys. If my customer only had a desire for a catnip toy, he could have purchased FIFTEEN for the same amount of money. He said he wanted mine because it was a hand-painted work of art.

This may not sound like a big thing. But, to me, this sale and his words affirm a new piece in the ever-changing puzzle that is my world view.

WE'RE NUMBER ONE (pic and art by Alice Keys (c) 2014)I’m not be the only person who’s sick of mass-produced trash and starved for affordable high-quality products and original creations. Since there’s not much out there worth having, I’ve stopped buying things unless I just can’t get along without them. While this is great for frugality and for making my family’s savings last, it’s lousy for the economy.

As a nation, we’ve narrowed our economic engine to being number one in arms sales and prisons.

Americans are starved for creative ideas from folks who are willing to put their minds and hands to work. I’m not talking about people assembling pre-thought craft kits or middle-men who sell thousands of identical products made in American prison-factories. I’m also not referring to people who re-sell container-loads of Asian products that are so badly slapped together that most arrive pre-broken to the stores.

There’s a watershed of want for new and interesting ideas and quality-made products to bring new light into ordinary lives. There’s an unmet market for good original products that an ordinary person can afford to bring them home and enjoy.

This weekend I explored an art and wine street fair. I was surprised by how little one-of-a-kind original art was available. Most that was for sale as “art” were giclée (ink-jet-printed) reproductions on stretched plastic-looking canvas. And these computer-generated prints were priced in the range of original art.

A hundred bucks could have gotten me a 10 inch by 10 inch unframed ink-jet-print on stretcher-bar-mounted plastic canvas of a painting of a chicken. For all its fussy details and lack of shadows, it was a good-enough picture of a handsome cock.

A PRIZE-WINNING COCK (wikimedia commons)But it was only a computer-generated reproduction of a good-enough painting of a handsome cock. The ink-jet print had been manufactured using better stretcher-bars and canvas than I can afford to paint my original art on. Those heavy thick gallery-quality stretcher bars are intended to trick the eye into thinking for a moment that an ink-jet print is real art.

And for a moment, I was duped. Feeling duped is not a good feeling. Perhaps if I’d been drinking the wine or had not been an artist-feeling-duped, all the pretend art would have bothered me less.

One guy sold inlaid pictures made from what appeared to be colored wood and mother-of-pearl. At first I was drawn to them like a breath of fresh air in a prison assembly plant. But up close, the pieces fit too perfectly. I looked for the artist and asked him how they were made.

“Yeah,” he said right away. “I use technology in my shop.”

He talked too loud. He’d had to disillusion too many folks about the making of his inlaid art-looking reproductions. Hearing his talk removed the magic for me.

His inlaid pictures are manufactured using a computerized jigsaw puzzle cutter. Anyone with the equipment can crank out more wooden jigsaw copies. It was another manufactured product made to give the illusion of hand-made art.

Looking at all the hyper-priced fictional art left me hungry for the genuine. It sharpened my appetite for real hand-made things made by real American hands attached to free people who live nearby. The art and wine fair left me thirsty for genuine art that I could afford to buy and take home without cutting into my family food budget or making my rent check late.

My evolving world-view about the need for good hand-made products with interesting and creative designs doesn’t jive with an American get-rich-quick mentality and over-priced junk. My thoughts are rooted to the slow food movement rather than fast food franchises.

Designing and creating products by hand and then selling them locally is a path that might generate multiple income trickles slowly. But these kinds of projects are unlikely to move anyone into the upper tiers of Capitalist dreamland. You will not be impulse buying a million dollar beach shack from making and selling artistic catnip toys in your spare time. But you might spend happy time doing enjoyable creative work, add artistic pleasure into some stranger’s life and bring in a few extra dollars in the process.

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icarus falls

THIS IS MY WRITING CHAIR. MY ART STUDIO IS THE CORNER BEHIND IT.Last night I dream my country has been taken over by fascists. Men are coming for me in the latest round up. There’s only one place to hide in my house in the corner behind a chair. So I go there to hide. Then I realize that this is where the last people hid and where people always hide. They were rounded up while hiding there. They’ve left an obvious place to hide so they know where to look. When I leave the house and walk out into the wide frightening unknown I feel very exposed and watchful. I don’t know where I’m going, only that I must.

* * *

icarus fallingI have little idea what I’m painting today. I began painting a new canvas yesterday without much plan again. This is my new creativity adventure, to paint each day as the canvas muses direct.

I watch my canvas in silence until shapes begin to form. Then I put paint on them.
Painting this way is a physical metaphor for this new way of living I’ve found since I went off the cliff from my tidy and full old life almost three years ago. Now, I practice allowing life to draw me forward by my silent heart. I see by the flickering candlelight of muses. I’m swept away by unseen currents. I feel vibrations that come through an infinite and invisible web. Maybe life has always been painted this way and I’m only finally awake enough to know.

Each day I get up to live as life directs. Always always always I must prune back my tense lifelong attachments to control so there can be room for this new trust to grow. I don’t know if trust is the exact right word for this. Perhaps it’s belief. Or faith. Or knowing. Or expectancy. But this is not my old friend Hope.

Hope is another story altogether. Hope is tense with wanting as she waits for an outside cavalry that never comes. Hope holds my hands immobile till her fingernails leave bleeding dents.

In any case, I clip back my impulses to think and plan and control while I wait for something new to grow in the quiet space. I wait like mist on rose petals for the sun’s rays to call me to leap upward into the sky as a million vapors of nothingness.

This new trust arrives on silent feet. The direction is downward and inside. This new friend leaves my hands free to do what needs to be done and asks nothing more than that.

Painting like this, without planning or sketches, is like walking on the surface of water or leaping from a clifftop without knowing if I can fly. It’s frightening and exhausting, compelling and fun.

And, even though I have little idea what this new painting is meant to be, these first layers of paint feel lovely and right to me.

icarus falling 2But painting this way is rather like painting a projective test which is rather like living life. Whether a painting or the world around, everyone sees what they see as a reflection of their internal self.

When he looked at my new canvas, my older son saw a surfer wiping out in a wave. My husband said it looked like someone sitting in a hot tub.

At first, I thought it was a desert landscape with a distant mesa and smoke signals rising up. There was a tent and sky overhead and a barrel cactus and dry branches or yellow chicken feet from a Chinese restaurant in the foreground. Later, I realized it was a red-headed man falling toward the ocean from very high up just as he passed through the last chunk of clouds. The waves are only light stripes of texture. His broken parasail flaps.

Perhaps it’s Icarus. Maybe it’s me in free fall.

The best of my new paintings have gone out into the world already. I no longer have even my brief accumulation of canvases around to reassure myself that I know what I’m doing.

And I don’t know what I’m doing. This is okay with me.

Daylight grows. I prepare for another leap.

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