Thanksgiving alchemy

On Saturday we had our Annual alterNative Thanksgiving Feast.  I always take some time to inform our guests about the true history of relations between the colonizers and the Indigenous people of North America.  Then we sit down together for a marvelous evening of delicious food and very fine company.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love the food and it is one of the few holidays that I have  some happy childhood family memories of.   My Dad and I had a very difficult relationship.  We all grew up and lived under the crushing weight of inherited trauma and unresolved grief that he brought into our family from his Muscogee (Creek) heritage.  Relatives outside of our family and friends saw the charismatic and charming side of my Dad, where we rarely saw that person.  But Thanksgiving was a good day, with lots of food shopping and preparation leading up to it.  When I make Thanksgiving dinner, I connect with those good feelings of anticipation and sitting down to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

One dish that I always make is Frank’s Pea and Cheese Salad.  Legend has it that when we were visiting relatives Back East, we were invited to stay for supper, but the cupboards were nearly bare.  My Dad went into the kitchen and made this salad from a couple of cans of Petit Pois, mayonnaise, cheese and an onion.  As the cousin who related this story said ‘Your Dad was a great cook and could make something out of nothing’.   The alchemy practiced by a cook can be magical.

This year as I cubed cheese and minced a shallot, I wept, and not because of Propanethiol S-oxide.  I wept because I never knew that charming and charismatic man.  I wept because I grew up afraid of him and spent too much of my adult life hating him.  I wept for the fury and rage that he had carried into our family and the brokenness passed on to him from his ancestors and the injustice from a white society that shamed him for his Native heritage.  I wept that I only came to understand and feel compassion for him many years after his death.

As I worked Frank’s magic of transforming base ingredients into a wonderful salad, the alchemy of pain and grief being transformed into peace and love happened too.

I served the salad in a dish with a rabbit running around the outside.  Cufv the Rabbit is the trickster in Mvskoke lore.  The shape-shifter.  The shifter of shapes and the shaper of shifts.  When we can reach for and embrace our deepest and darkest places, this is when true healing happens.  And the light shines where it never has before.

I hope that all who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful, meaningful and delicious time.

Peace and love to you all.


Early morning travel

Early morning sky
filled with travel,
she pauses
before taking flight.
– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2018

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