Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yuxweluptun draws the line

Check out this article from the Vancouver Sun about this bad-assed Coast Salish artist who hasn't compromised his vision to make it in the world of modern art!

I was particularly impressed with his take on Guernica! 

"Jentel Presents" March 2 in Sheridan, WY

Hey Everybody!

On March 2 I'll be presenting my work in Sheridan at a public reading/art show.  Please click on the title of this post to see a nice photo of my fellow artists and me (okay, I look tired and needed some makeup and a blowdryer), and the info about the event.

If you happen to be in Sheridan, please stop by!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Residency at Jentel



Big Horn Mountains

Big Horn Mountains in the Distance
The view from the front of the residence

Fasting from the To-Do List

All my life I've striven to be as efficient and productive as possible. I judge myself, relentlessly, by what I accomplish, produce, have to show for myself at the end of the day to justify taking up space on the planet. This has never made me happy, and really, has probably made me more neurotic and less efficient than most every other mental illness I possess.

So I've decided that one of my goals during my Jentel residency is to be inefficient, for one reason if none other: inefficient people don't commit genocide. To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, to succeed in committing genocide one must get up very early in the morning.

I haven't been getting up early, and today, I napped. I didn't mean to, didn't want to (I don't nap well as a general rule--never have--I'm afraid I'm missing something). But after lunch I was feeling woozy, rather dizzy and ill, so I lay down. I was well-caffeinated, as I always am by that point in the day, so I was certain I wouldn't fall asleep. I promptly did.

I woke 90 minutes later feeling guilty as hell. For what you ask? Well, resting. And in the middle of the day no less, when there's work to be done. I mean who do I think I am, Mrs Astor or something? (Oh my God; I'm channeling my mother).

I think I am a tired woman fighting a bug. Unfortunately, in the minefield that is my mind, that's not good enough. Not for napping in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Not when there's work to be done.

Now, there is a part of my brain that is sufficiently not crazy that I recognize that maybe this is kind of a little bit crazy. And that part of my brain notices something else: it is winter.

In our new life on the land, we have been trying to live more seasonally, which is to say in the warm seasons you bust your ass, you work crazy hours all day and very hard, and in the winter you rest, in no small part so that you will actually have a self to work hard when the earth thaws.

This is the last month of deep rest I can expect till November. The fine folks who host this residency have already told us we should feel no pressure here to produce or perform, essentially that we should view our residency as a time to rest, recuperate, dream, play, do whatever we please, within the limits of decorum of course. Or at least, if we're going to go outside the limits of decorum we should "keep it in town." These good people recognize that creativity is an expression of play and imagination and does not follow a 9-5 schedule.

I told myself when I got up this morning (after putting in 12 hours yesterday) that today was a day off. Unfortunately, the working definition of "day off" in our culture is, of course, a day to get everything else done that you didn't get done during the week.

Enter my class politics. "Oh, how nice for you, Ms. Privileged, Ms. You-Call-Yourself-Working-Class? YOU don't have to work all day on your days off because YOU are being spoiled rotten for contributing no more to the planet than your stupid imaginary characters, your words. You're not sweating, not breaking your back for your family, or the people, or some evil master. Why are YOU entitled to rest?"

It's fun, isn't it, being me?

So, I've decided to fast. Not from food of course (hello, it's me). And certainly not from caffeine. From to-do lists. For the next week I am not permitted to make or follow a to-do list (of course, I have plenty of them hanging from the bulletin board--overall, general, organized by category, organized by day, yadda, yadda, yadda...really, it's impressive). The two to-do lists I have for today, sitting to my left, are getting crumpled up and thrown away even though most of what is on them hasn't been done yet.

I can't tell you how much anxiety this causes me. You see, I have a terrible memory. Have my entire life. My mother said it was because my head was in the clouds, my husband says it's because I have too much on my plate, a physician who hasn't known me long would probably say it's because I'm approaching menopause. I don't know what it is, just that it is. To-do lists give me the illusion that I will not get in trouble for forgetting to do something.

Since at age 42 an unemployed feminist without children should not, in my opinion, feel fear about the possible repercussions of forgetting to do something, I'm trying out this little decolonization step.

My theory is this: if it's important, if it's something I want to do, something I need to do, I'll do it. If it fits those categories and I don't do it, maybe it's because I'm exhausted, or sick, or ran out of time, and not because I'm inherently defective.

It's partly about trying to live in the moment, to be a more natural person, "out of my head" in a good way. And it's partly about trying to accept myself for being rather than doing.

I also have a theory that, sans to-do list, I will actually be very productive. I just won't remember from one moment to the next what I've been producing.

As for those things I don't want to do? Well, if I've given my word, I'll do it, mostly because I really dislike the person I am--a person I can't trust, and neither can you--when I give my word and I don't do it. But someday, in the next year or two, I hope to be a mother as well as the caregiver of dairy goats and laying hens. I will have other breathing beings dependent upon me for survival. This may be the last time in my life I can ever not do something because I don't want to. I think I need to take advantage of that.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Margaret Petrosky Gabrelcik - April 1, 1929-February 20, 1996

It's the 14th anniversary today of my Mom, Maggie's, death. She was 66. She died too young of poverty, lack of access to decent health care, stress, loneliness, and a broken heart.

The doctors would say otherwise. They would say she drank too much, smoked too much, worked too hard, didn't get enough R & R. And they'd be right. All those things are true. But they miss the entire context of my mother's alcoholism, workaholism, and rageaholism. And those diagnoses utterly fail to capture the complex beauty of my mother.

My mom grew up the youngest of 9 children in a small Peabody Coal Mining town during the Great Depression. Both her parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, folks who, until the 1920s, when my mother was born, were not considered "white" in US culture.

My grandfather was a coal-miner who helped organize and found the United Mine Workers in rural Western Pennsylvania. My grandmother was a farmer who raised nine children and also managed to get arrested in support of my grandfather.

My mother grew up during the Great Depression, and lived to tell those stories--of begging for shoes, of hunger, despite my grandparents' incessant hard work. She dropped out of school and went to work for the phone company when she was 17, lying about her age, so she could bring some income into the family.

She married around 20 or 21--there's no wedding photos, as it was all done quietly, and the dates of the marriage in relation to the births of my brother and eldest sister are a subject we don't discuss. Her marriage lasted 12 years, long enough to produce another daughter.

The version of history my mother told me quite late in her life is that her husband physically abused her, and she threw him out. There was a lot of drinking in their home. He became involved with a much younger woman, whom he eventually married and with whom he had four children, before succumbing to a heart attack in his early 40s.

My mom used to cry on some nights when she drank, telling me how she lost custody of her children to her ex-husband and his wife through ignorance of the legal system. I suspect my sisters and brother might have a different story, but that was my mom's to me.

By the time I came along, my mother had moved to Southern California and was waiting tables to support herself. My brother, Kuk, and eldest sister Diane, were both grown. Kuk had married and was working at the steel mill in Youngstown; Diane was living in Northern California putting herself through college. Sam (Saundra) my youngest sister (12 years my senior) was living with my brother and his wife in Ohio.

My father, different from siblings' dad, was separated from his wife when I was conceived. The family folklore holds that he told my mother he was sterile and so no birth control was used. I look quite a bit like my dad, so clearly the gentleman wasn't sterile. But by the time my mom learned she was pregnant with me, his relationship with my mother had ended (according to my dad because of my mother's rage which he could not handle) and he had reconciled with his wife, to whom he remained married the rest of his life.

My mother then was left unwed and pregnant, 38 years old and divorced, with no high school diploma, 2500 miles from her family, and damned lonely, in 1967. I'm 42 now, four years older than my mother was then, and I have to say, it's not hard for me to imagine why she would drink.

She raised me alone, and despite the anger, the abuse--emotional and physical, the scars of which I'm still healing from--the beery nights, the financial instability of our lives, she did a good job. I'm here. I'm educated, happily married to a fantastic man, I have great friends, loving siblings, awesome nieces and nephews, I'm in good health. I've traveled the world, published stories and articles, worked at the UN, studied astronomy in Puerto Rico, gotten arrested for my beliefs, continuing the family tradition, built a strawbale house, learned to farm, and begun a life of simplicity and sustainability of which I'm really quite proud, though it certainly has its challenges.

All this is possible because of my mom. My dad provided child support for 21 years, and I'm grateful, but it was my mom who was there for me, who taught me about social justice, about economic and political repression, about lipstick, and through it all, who loved me unconditionally with her whole heart. For all her faults--on which I generally choose to focus--my mom was a good, strong, intelligent, extremely funny, generous, hard-working woman, and I love her. And I miss her something awful. I hope wherever she is she is enjoying the peace, love, ease and luxury she knew so little of in this life.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Greetings from Wyoming!

Hello Everyone,

Well, here I am at writing residency #2 of winter 2010, the insanely gorgeous Jentel Center for the Arts in the Lower Piney Creek valley, under the watchful gaze of the Big Horn Mountains. I feel like I won the lottery. First wonderful Kimmel Nelson Harding and now this?!?! I'm in a dream--please don't pinch me!

My beloved Marcos drove me the 600 miles up here so I could spend a month writing, reading, napping, walking, getting grounded in the rural West as a writer, and hopefully getting close to finishing my collection of short stories. We arrived yesterday to a warm welcome, a breathtaking residency house for artists, and an idyllic studio. The residency, and all its buildings, were designed by the benefactor/founder, Neltje. I haven't had the chance to meet her yet, but it's clear from the design and interior decoration of the buildings that she is an artist of consummate skill and vision. I have taken and will continue to take photos while I'm here, but they can't begin to do the place justice. The colors, the textures, the quality of light, the use of geometry, the melding with place...I am just in love with this woman's style.

She and the other fine folks here have created a space that is simutaneously peaceful and energizing, which provides sanctuary from the elements yet keeps one connected to the outdoors, in a truly beautiful setting. I feel hugely honored and privileged to be here.

There are five other artists here: one other writer, Zachary, and four other artists, three visual and one sound, Gail, Fannie, Elizabeth and Yann. I'll definitely share more about them, including links to their websites, as we get to know each other better. They seem like fabulous, brilliant people so far.

We had a lovely time together last night eating a delicious supper prepared for us by program director Lynn Reeves (who accommodated both mine and another artists' dietary restrictions with a grace and culinary talent reminding me of my sister-in-law, Jenn) and a HUGE bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which we all delightfully finished together. Everyone here, I think, is a coffee drinker, several are runners, all are gourmands. I look forward to sharing stories of this blossoming, albeit temporary, community of artists.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos. I'll work on getting more up soon, and more reflections as things progress.

I always appreciate snail mail as well as email. You can drop me a line at

Val Phillips
Jentel Center for the Arts
132 Lower Piney Creek Rd.
Banner, WY 82832