Exceeding the limit

I’ll be 55 tomorrow.  I have anticipated this birthday for nearly 40 years.

In 1980, when I was 16, my mother died at age 55 from breast cancer.  For the past 38 years, I have grown accustomed to being a member of a club that no one willingly applies to join.  Milestones such as graduation, new jobs and marriage have been poignant to navigate without my mom.

Over the years I have done a lot of emotional work, healing and learning about the effect on a girl’s life of losing her mother early. Not only is a daughter stripped of her main emotional support, but she also loses a role model, a way of being a woman.  The book Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman has been a constant in my library since the mid 1990s.

For better or worse, our mother’s life gives us a blueprint, or template, of what it means to be a woman.  My mother and I never talked about her life, but I have the sense that she lived much of it held back in an unhappy marriage and never really finding her true path in life.  I saw her break away and begin to live for herself at the age of 50 when she separated from my dad and went back to college, but her life was tragically cut short five years later.  I vowed that I would not repeat that pattern of waiting until it was ‘too late’.

In reaching my mid-50s, I am at a time of my life where I look back over the years to take stock and to examine the results of choices I have made throughout my life.  I am very proud that as a young woman, I had the insight to look at my mother’s life, and her early death, and made the conscious choice to live my life in a way that I would have few regrets or lost opportunities when I reach the age that I am now.  In the early loss of my mother, as emotionally difficult as it made my life, I found the freedom to follow my own path into womanhood.  Throughout my life I have taken many risks and gone through many open doors, a few admittedly ill chosen, but I have always come through each experience learning more about who I am as a person and finding strength that I never knew I had.

I have found role models in real women in my life, literary characters and the lives of women artists.  One of my early mentors told me that even if a chosen path doesn’t take you where you had hoped, it will take you to where you need to be.  This is so true and I pass this gem of wisdom on whenever I can.

At the same time that I am celebrating becoming 55, I have had an unconscious fear, common to many ‘motherless daughters’ that I will not live past the age that my mother was when she died.  I feel  sadness in the knowledge that I am facing a stage of life that my mom never experienced — and I’ll have to go into the future without her example.  Although at the time I knew my mother was far too young to die, I understand that all the more now that I’ve reached the age she was. It’s hard to believe that all the life I’ve had to date is all the life my mother ever had. I still feel young and energetic, full of plans and dreams — and I am acutely aware of how much life she missed out on.

Still from The Cannonball Run (1981)

It is also strange to see women my age and older whose mothers are still alive.  To see and hear about time spent together, or about them caring for mothers whose health is failing and to think that I did that as a teenager, when I was far too young.  Sometimes I uncharitably think, ‘Why them and not me?’    Still my experience made me who I am and I have felt for much of my life that I have already faced and coped with one of the most difficult events possible, the death of one’s mother.

To a society that bombards us, especially women, with messages that we are not supposed to age I say “Hooey!”.  I feel excited about going forward into the uncharted territory of my mature years.  Since I was a young woman, I have been looking forward to growing into my late 50s and through my 60s, 70s and however long I will have beyond that.  I’ve prepared myself well up to this point, making positive life choices and taking great care of my physical health and mental well-being.

I have the most satisfaction about sharing a very happy marriage with a loving and supportive man.  In fact, all this week we are celebrating our Double Leo Birthdays having reached a cumulative total of 115 years.  We are both looking forward to many shared decades to come!


Terrible beauty

White Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) eating a Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae)

Crab spiders don’t build webs to catch their prey. Instead, they rely on camouflage and ambush. Cunning, courageous and fierce, they pounce and tackle quite big prey, stun them with digestive juices and then sit and dissolve it.

I was on a leisurely stroll at dusk last night and spotted this on a lavender bush. I dashed home for my camera, got partway back and realised I forgot to take my SD card. The light was fading and I was running out of time.

The barman from my local, who was outside having a fag, encouraged me to go back for it when I told him what I was about to photograph. So I ran back home, up two flights of stairs, grabbed the card and ran back to the scene of the ambush.

While I saw taking some photos, the woman whose garden it was in came out to see why I was poking through her lavender border.

On the way back home, hot and sweaty, I stopped in the pub to show Michael my photo and thank him for encouraging me.  🙂

We gather now in a different way

I am hot-wired and beyond sleepless.

I am back home from three days of arts related symposia.  The first symposium was on Indigenous Art in Britain, I learned of this via Rainmaker Gallery in Bristol. I went as a Native artist living in the UK and to find out how and where Indigenous art work is exhibited over here.  Usually in the ‘anthropology’ context and in the past tense.  But this we can change.

The second 2 days were a symposium on Social MakingThe latter had to do with socially engaged art, eg, any artform which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction.  Myself and another artist from Moretonhampstead took up two places which were funded by our local art gallery Greenhill Arts.  During these two days, I got some ideas about how I can challenge and change  the story that is still being told over here about Native American people. 

It is time to make our stories visible, to put us back in history and to tell our unfolding now and future stories.  It is time to stitch our selves back into the story.  Some of this I am beginning to do with my Mvskoke Journey and SacRED Threads art work.

These three days were a lot to take in and experience.  I let the days wash over me and certain aspects found a place to dwell within.

I am an introvert by nature and during the lunch break in Bristol, I chose a sack lunch and went out to find a quite place beneath the trees to sit and eat and be for an hour.

Highlights of that day were witnessing a round table discussion between six Native artists, hearing Marla Allison give the keynote talk at the end of the day and then attending the opening of her exhibition Painter From the Desert.   Coll Thrush spoke about collapsing time, the way that landscapes can hold historical trauma and how this trauma can be healed through commemorative acts.  All food for my future pilgrimage to our ancestral Homelands.  I also raised my hand to be counted as one of nine Native people in the largest gathering together in Bristol. 🙂
Radical and subversive re-curations and re-creations
are afoot.  We are putting our people back into the story
through art making and song and writing.
We are making new stories.
Throughout Social Making in Plymouth was the sound of an old fashioned typewriter hooked up to a laptop and fed directly onto social media as the days and hours were minuted.
In fact at both symposia, people’s laptops, phones and tablet were constantly evident.  I don’t engage at that consistent, persistent and insistent level.  I often wonder if screens take people away from what is happening, although I realize that the constant feed of ‘right now’ information is what many people have come to expect.

We gather together in different ways.

I met a Prince and did some of my usual hanging back and observing.

A meeting of Nations. His Serene Highness Prince Freï von Fräähsen zu Lorenzburg and Melinda Schwakhofer. Ambassadress of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Tea break on the steps of Devonport Guildhall, Plymouth.

The waters have broken
Incongruous confluences are being birthed
held in harmony by this artist/midwife’s hands.

Connections and conversations,
a palm full of golden seeds of new ideas.
Butterflies dancing over desert rivers.

Cultivate patience
and allow space.

A night time train journey through NYC
to the corner of 125th and Midnight
with a Queer poetess.
She gave me a key
to open new doors
and to lock others safe tight.

Time collapses and place becomes a collaborator.

We gather now in a different may.

Key to the river journey, 2018.
Ad interim assemblage of bleached & hand painted mulberry bark, drawing of a Mississippian river motif, accordion book page from ‘Little Red Stick : A Mvskoke fairy tale’ photo of the artist, a key and the artist’s hand.


“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

-Wendell Berry

Spring Cleaning

Today we began our Annual Spring Kitchen Clean at Chateau Schwakhofer-Coxon. Everything, and I do mean everything, comes off the shelves and out of drawers.
Silver and copper are polished, as needed. Wooden utensils and boards are oiled.
Spice and food packets are sorted through and culled. All surfaces are deep cleaned.

I knocked off for my afternoon nap at 2:30 and Steve carried on with polishing the copper, silver and pewter.

Absolutely brilliant!  On so many levels. 🙂

About 45 minutes into it I found some self-raising pastry flour that was a few months  out of date. I thought ‘I’ll make a cake and see if it still rises’. So I did and it did.

When we made our way around to the fridge,I found a jar of homemade lemon curd, Long story short, I’ve invited a bunch of people over tomorrow for an Afternoon Tea Party with Victoria Sponge and Lemon Bakewell Slices.

And now we are all ready for another year of marvelous culinary adventures and inventions.


Finding my voice

My Vne Este Mvskoke exhibition came down last Thursday.  Through this ten-year body of work, I have used art making to talk about my journey into my Muscogee heritage and to tell unspeakable stories from my tribal and personal history.

I have also created the opportunity for myself to stand up and talk to people about my work and about issues relevant to Native Americans.  I spoke about my current exhibition at two Private Views that I held.  Throughout my exhibition, I also had a Pop Up Native American cinema in which I raised funds for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center in the US.  Before each screening, I spoke about the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in North America and then introduced the film.   And last Friday I gave a 45 minute talk and dinner about my current exhibit and my Mvskoke Journey.

To be at ease when speaking in public before an audience was a goal that I set for myself about a year ago.   I’ve recently read my poetry at public events, and through my work with Art Raft for Health, I have found myself standing up before funders to talk about it.  But I have not found public speaking comfortable.  My breathing becomes shallow.  My voice goes quavery and comes from the top of my chest.  I also rush and try to cram as many words as I can into the small space I feel has been allotted to me.

I know that this comes from having grown up in a society where, as a woman, I have not been given the space to speak and to be listened too.  Woman who speak are labeled nags, scolds, bossy, shrill or (fill in the blank).  Nor have I had much opportunity to see and hear other women taking their space to speak about what matters to them.  In fact, in films female characters feature in less than 20% of speaking roles.

A friend of mine helped me to become aware of my breathing and to deepen into a place of strength and confidence when I speak before people.   Talking about my art work, my ancestors and past and current issues in Indian Country gave me a reason to move into a deeper place.   My copywriter husband helped me to craft my story into a concise and meaningful talk.  I consider my self a pretty good writer, but writing to speak is a different bag of cats.

My talk went really well.  People thanked me for my truth and honesty, and I have been asked to come and speak in a few places around Devon over the summer months.  It feels really good to have set and reached a new goal.

My next goal related to being audible in public is to begin story telling and performance.  There are a lot of Muscogee (Creek) tales that I would like to share.  The story of Little Red Stick, a Mvskoke girl who ran away from the Removals to stay in her Homelands accompanied by Wolf and Spirit Bird continues to grow and unfold inside of me.  Her story will be a live performance with spoken word, music, art work and film projection.

Untamed, 2012