I read Shel Silverstein poems to my children almost every night. They know them so well they usually finish the poems before I do. We only get through a few before they fall asleep, but I keep reading to myself, I love them so much. I find that at the end of the day, whenever something is nagging me, Shel Silverstein has made fun of it somewhere in a poem. They are always good reminders not to take life too seriously.
It is only Tuesday, but I have sent off a grant application that was hanging over my head and causing me headache. I have finally recovered from a marriage counseling session where I thought my husband and therapist were going to have to tie me to the chair to get me to stay and talk about my feelings. My oldest daughter, the "willfull" one, as she is lovingly called, is being tested for ADD/ADHD tomorrow (although I don't think she is, but is an extreme perfectionist, either way, I have no idea how to help her), and my mom has just come out of ICU eight hours away from me. She has COPD from "not smoking" my entire childhood and all the "not smoking" she has been doing has finally caught up to her.
Needless to say, I had to chuckle when I came across my favorite Shel Silverstein poem of all time. If this isn't the very definition of insanity, I don't know what is. Just as I believe it is no accident when I open the Bible or a Melody Beattie book which passage I land upon, I don't think it is an accident I landed on my favorite poem tonight. With this, I give you:
Peanut-Butter Sandwich by Shel Silverstein (from Where the Sidewalk Ends)
I'll sing you a poem of a silly young king
Who played with the world at the end of a string,
But he only loved one single thing-
And that was just a peanut-butter sandwich.
His scepter and his royal gowns,
His regal throne and golden crowns
Were brown and sticky from the mounds
And drippings from each peanut-butter sandwich.
His subjects were all silly fools
For he had passed a royal rule
That all that they could learn in school
Was how to make a peanut-butter sandwich.
He would not eat his soverign steak,
He scorned his soup and kingly cake,
And told his courtly cook to bake
An extra-sticky peanut-butter sandwich.
And then one day he took a bite
And started chewing with delight,
But found his mouth was stuck quite tight
From that last bite of peanut-butter sandwich.
His brother pulled, his sister pried,
The wizard pushed, his mother cried,
"My boy's committed suicide
From eating his last peanut-butter sandwich!"
The dentist came, and the royal doc.
The royal plumber banged and knocked,
But still those jaws stayed tightly locked.
Oh darn that sticky peanut-butter sandwich!
The carpenter, he tried with pliers,
The telephone man tried with wires,
The firemen, they tried with fire,
But couldn't melt that peanut-butter sandwich.
With ropes and pulleys, drills and coil,
With steam and lubricating oil-
For twenty years of tears and toil-
They fought that awful peanut-butter sandwich.
Then all his royal subjects came.
They hooked his jaws with grapplin' chains
And pulled both ways with might and main
Against that stubborn peanut-butter sandwich.
Each man and woman, girl and boy
Put down their ploughs and pots and toys
And pulled until kerack! Oh, joy-
They broke right through that peanut-butter sandwich.
A puff of dust, a screech, a squeak-
The king's jaw opened with a creak.
And then in voice so faint and weak-
The first words that they heard him speak
Were, "How about a peanut-butter sandwich?"
So, I must ask, what is YOUR peanut-butter sandwich? The one thing you refuse to give up no matter how sick it makes you? how much you inconvenience others? how much you scare others? how much it drives them crazy? or drives you crazy? Without a doubt mine is coffee. And that is the lesser evil. Are there really lesser evils? or are they all just different? do you have an addiction? sugar? self-loathing? alcohol? cigarettes? sex? love? attention? shopping? The list is ENDLESS I say!!ENDLESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I've wined and dined on Mulligan Stew, and never wished for Turkey
As I hitched and hiked and grifted too, from Maine to Albequerque
Alas I missed the Beaux Arts Ball, and what is twice as sad
I was never at a party where they honored Noel Ca-ad
But social circles spin to fast for me
My hobohemia is the place to be.............................................................................
Right on cue Becky Bucklewheat made her grand entrance from behind the rolling rack Leah and I struggled to control on stage. But it was okay because nobody was going to notice us anyway. Granted, we were dressed in what could only be described as a little black negligee. The fact of the matter was, Becky was the star of the show. The main feature. And in fishnet tights, her legs kicked our pajamas' ass. Thankfully, today was just the pre-dress rehearsal. Obviously Becky didn't get the memo because her diva self was spackled with cake batter and iced with hooker red lipstick. She showed up decked out in fishnet tights, black ice pick heels, with a white button down men's shirt being the only thing that covered her modesty. Oh, and her hair alone warrants an entry of its own. How she teased it up, over, and around the chicken wire armature before shellacking it in place was a complete mystery to me. I still think it was secretly housing a wasp's nest.
I get too hungry, for dinner at eight
Becky clipped across the wooden stage.....
I like the theater, but never come late
Her narrow hips wiggled with each clippity-clop...
I never bother, with people I hate
That's why the lady is a tramp
Leah and I jumped in line behind Becky to do the chugga chugga choo choo with a cane. Becky's left foot stamped the stage in front of her. I was pressed up against her six foot four inch frame when she stamped her left foot back...right...on...my...toe....
OOOOWWWW! I howled. "This is a rehearsal! Why the hell are you wearing heels anyway?" I cursed. But Becky ignored me over the music and kept dancing. Leah looked at me, puzzled, then followed along with Becky. I sat on the edge of the stage, mouth agape, as I cradled my bloody foot. Holy shit! Where was my toenail? As the music stopped, Becky finally showed concern. She clippity-clopped over to me and sat down next to me on the stage. "Honey, your foot wasn't supposed to be there."
"It was too!" I protested. She shook her head as she looked at my wounded toe.
"Look at that!" I whimpered. It looked as though a square of my toenail had been carved out at the cuticle, leaving a perfect puncture in the middle of my nail bed. Becky turned over her left foot to look at the bottom of her shoe. "Would you look at that?" she said as she plucked my nail off her heel.
To this day Corey and I get such a chuckle at this pivotal moment in our friendship. Ours is a friendship that was born in Butler Hall West during my very first painting class. We sang to Judy Garland together in that studio, drank wine between class at McEwan's during our lunch break, gorged ourselves on Indian Palace buffet when we couldn't afford wine, and laughed and cried on each others shoulder after critiques. We were determined to live our lives as artists, dammit, and we were going to push each other to the limit every step of the way.
Fast forward to several years later. Corey is too far away from me. My girls adore him and miss the man they have knick-named Uncle Hagrid because of his big hairy beard. There are no more drag shows for amateur talent contests (I totally think we should have won), no more games of Exquisite Corpse over bottles of wine, no more late nights sniffing turpentine on the third floor, and no more shitake mushroom breakfast casseroles. When Corey left after Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago, both girls said, "We miss him already mom. He's like our family." I do too, girls. He just has that effect on people.
So it was no surprise to me that when he bolted off to India on a whim, he was yapping it up left and right with every friend he met on the street. And with his astute attention to detail, following his journey was almost as good as being there myself. I posted a few months back about his trip. About the argument I had with my husband on why Corey was in India to begin with. Banging my head against the wall to make Chris understand that this IS work for an artist, and we are meant to live adventures in order to create. And although we have gained a little weight over the past several years, grown a few grey hairs, and don't dance and sing nearly as much as we should, we still live life like we are on stage. Outloud, for the world to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. But that is life as an artist. And I can't think of a better illustration of what life is like through an artist's eye, than the picture Corey paints.
So, my friends, I am very proud to announce the online publication of Corey's book:
A gritty and moving story by one of the most fascinating, brilliant, hysterical, loving, and creative people I could ever have the priviledge of calling my friend. I thoroughly look forward to taking this journey through India with Corey. And as far as Becky Bucklewheat is concerned, she can come too as long as she leaves her "bossy" self and ice pick heels behind.
Several years ago I had a very successful faux finishing business. I employed a few artists at a time on a regular basis, and my work made it into a few magazines, and on a few television programs. I was climbing in my painting career, at least where I thought I wanted it to go, when everything came crashing down and I had to scramble to repair the damage.
I had just had a baby and was ready to step away from the job of marketing and actually get my hands dirty again. The two girls that were working for me worked great together. They were the best of friends. When I hired one she insisted I give her friend a job so they could be a team. They duplicated all the finishes I had created. They showed up on time. They were great with the clients. I encouraged them to come up with their own designs and ideas.
One day I called them both to get them up to speed on our upcoming work schedule but I never heard back. I was booked solid for the next six weeks, and it was really unusual for them to not call back. I knew something was wrong. Finally, I got the three-way call attack. They stammered and stuttered to tell me they were both going back to school to finish degrees in something else. One, I think, was going to nursing school. No, they couldn't give me a two week notice. No, they weren't coming back to work. After the numerous hours I had spent on the job with them, this was all news to me. It sounded like it was right out of the blue actually. I began to panic, what was I supposed to do? We were booked!
As I pointed out the abruptness of their unanimous decision, that is when the truth came pouring out. I never gave them credit for their work. I never appreciated them. I never complimented them in front of the clients. I was uncaring and selfish. I was in complete shock and started crying. Uncontrollably. Nothing could be further from the truth of how I felt, but it hurt so badly that they thought this of me. Or interpreted my actions that way.
When we finally hung up the phone I scrambled to find more help. I went to Memphis College of Art the very next day for career day and found someone immediately. Brenna was my new partner. That was eight years ago, two more children each, one move, and we are still the best of friends. I love her dearly. Obviously things were meant to work out the way they did.
But to this day, the words of the previous painters still haunt me. And I am grateful for that. It makes me a better artist, friend, wife, and most importantly, mother. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool and is not mastered easily. In fact, it is something to be aware of at all times in case you miss an opportunity to give it.
During a recovery meeting a few years ago a very powerful reading came up along with the analogy of a ladder. It went like this: We have a tendency to put ourselves on ladders. We take up one rung. And people are either above us or below us. But rarely is there ever room on our rung for another person. Of course, the analogy is that we constantly see people as being better than or less than we are. The solution? Step off the ladder! How simple is that? If we all step off the ladder we are on even ground together.
I have to pat myself on the back a little each time someone tells me how kind, or thoughtful, I am. Even if I was raised to be a "nice" person, actively being selfless doesn't come naturally to me. I was not an evil person before, but I grew up keeping my cards close to me, and I forget that I don't have to do that anymore. Since stepping off the ladder my world has been flooded with new people and new adventures much more fulfilling than I ever could have wished for.
Aaaaaaah, the wedding dress story...where to begin, where to begin....
I was a senior in college, just about to graduate with honors from Memphis College of Art. I was living with my fiance and we were planning our wedding which was going to take place two weeks after I graduated. No detail was spared. We were having a jazz brunch at Bonne Terre Bed and Breakfast in Nesbit, Mississippi. A harpist was carefully chosen for the procession while Joyce Cobb was playing our reception. We were releasing butterflies, from the steps of the cedar chapel, following the ceremony. Flowers and cake were meticulously poured over. But the wedding dress was the main prop of the event.
I met a woman at a bridal show several months prior. A dress designer from Philadelphia. She was working with a local seamstress and I loved the samples I saw. My mother and I made an appointment with her for the following day at the home of the seamstress. When we arrived it was as sweet and quaint as anything I could have imagined. We were led upstairs of a beautiful Germantown home, into one of the guest bedrooms that had been converted into a bridal dressing room. Dresses lined the wall on a rolling rack. We were met with tea and coffee service and relaxed in large wingback chairs. The conversation was warm and pleasant. I explained that I had a design in mind already, and pulled out my sketchbook (of course! haha!).
The designer worked with me to come up with the perfect style and combination of materials. She took the plans back to Philadelphia, and within weeks, she sent my dress to the seamstress so I could get fitted and hemmed. Every time I showed up to the woman's house she had a coffee service ready, and I gave her a check. In all, the dress cost me $2500, of which I paid for by working as a bartender until 4am several days a week while finishing school. Because I paid with my tips, each payment was a small one stretched out over several months in small increments. At my final fitting, everything was great. The dress fit. We were giggling over mishaps and nervousness. The last detail we added were appliques to the veil. I gave her the last check along with a formal invite to the wedding and a map.
She walked me to the car where she hugged me goodbye. She told me that she was going to press my dress for me, and she will drive it to the B&B in the back of her SUV to protect it and keep it from getting wrinkled. She did this as a courtesy to all her brides.
After a festive rehearsal dinner, I went to my best friend's house and spent the night with my bridesmaids. We woke up early the next day to go to the salon and have our hair and make-up done before heading to the chapel. The wedding was scheduled to begin at 11am. At 10 I was just arriving and my mom handed me the phone to tell me the seamstress was on the other line.
I could barely hold the receiver to my ear as hiccup crying on the other end threatened to puncture my eardrum. She was running late. I told her no worries. If she left at that moment she would be on time, and we would wait. My exact words being, "Well, we can't start without you!"
And wait we did. 11 o'clock rolled around. Then 11:30. We called her and there was no answer. She must be on her way. Then noon. We asked the guests to leave the chapel and make their way into the reception hall. Then 12:30. Highway patrol was on the look out for accidents. Time to open the bar and start passing hor'dourves. 1 o'clock. Joyce Cobb starts to play. I refuse to leave the dressing room because I don't have any clothes to wear other than my cut off shorts and a t-shirt. I am sitting in my undergarments, champagne flute in hand, peering from behind the curtain at the parking lot and hoping to see her SUV zip in any minute. My mom hands me her cell phone. It's Chris. He says we are about to lose our harpist for the procession, and what are we planning on doing. Are we going to postpone? Cancel?
I remembered my rehearsal dinner gown was wadded into a ball in my overnight bag. I pulled it out and a woman at Bonne Terre ironed it for me. I hastily slipped it on, figuring the show must go on. Walking arm in arm with my dad up to the chapel door I took a long last look around the parking lot. My dad said, "Lis, it's not happening. She's not coming." With that, the chapel doors parted and we walked down the aisle.
I thought of this story the other day when my kids asked me about my wedding day. They asked me about the dress, and as they get older and understand more, I tell them a little more about the story each time. My 8 year old asked me if I forgave her.
Well, I have. I did immediately, only to realize later it was only as a way to avoid the pain of my disappointment. But over the years I have found myself in moments where I need to find forgiveness as well as seek forgiveness, and this story is always a good reminder to me of the healing power of forgiveness.
She did show up eventually with the dress. All the guests had gone. The only people with us were our parents and grandparents, and a few out of town friends. We sat on the back porch of the reception hall visiting. The chairs were tipped over and stacked on top of the tables. The janitor was vaccuuming the floor. I watched the wedding coordinator replace my orange daisies from the chapel doors with the next bride's flowers for a 6 o'clock wedding.
All of a sudden I heard my grandfather grumble, "I can't believe she has the nerve to show up now." And up walked the seamstress with my dress draped over her arm. "I'm so sorry sweetie, I slept in."
And so I draw dresses. Lots of dresses. Some are snarky. Some are sad. Some are fantasty. I never dreamt of being a princess, but I dreamt of wearing her dress! The clothesline allows them to twist and turn in the wind as if an unforeseen and/or uncontrollable force is manipulating them, rather than allow them to float unattached in empty space. Which is what I did that day, twist and turn due to an uncontrollable force. But I believe we are defined by our responses to life's challenges. By the time Chris and I sat down to dinner that night at the restaurant, I found out I had been dubbed the "Steel Magnolia" of Bonne Terre. Today I can still fit into the rehearsal dinner/graduation/wedding dress hanging in my closet. I wear it on our anniversary, and when we go out to dinner it is our little secret
My six year old daughter was working on a project for school this evening. She was decorating a Pringles can, what for, I don't know yet but can't wait to find out. My eight year old daughter, not one to be outdone, got her own Pringles can to decorate. It reminded me of myself at their age, and the kind of art I did...
I drew people. Lots and lots of people. They danced, flipped, dove into the water. They were always in some type of setting. Around a pool. On a stage. In a parade. Walking a dog. Watering plants. They were always doing something. Busy busy busy. Sometimes I would get it into my mind what the finished product was "supposed" to look like, which of course frustrated me because it NEVER looked like what I had imagined it would.
Which taught me to throw the idea of the perfect picture out the window. Bob Riseling at MCA used to tease us about this. We learned how to build cradles in his class and stretch raw canvas over top, pull around the sides and staple in the back for gallery wrapped canvases. I loved the woodshop. I loved the smell of burning wood and sawdust. I loved the power tools and sanders. Once stretched, nothing excited me more than gessoing. Once you gessoed you could feel the cotton absorb it, and it was transformed into a literal springboard for creativity. I was always excited to do the prep work for painting. Which brings me to his jest...once the perfect cradle is stretched, what do you paint on it? You've just spent hours building, gessoing, sanding some more...you must paint a masterpiece!!! We usually just stared at the pristinely stretched canvas too scared to touch it.
I miss the woodshop at MCA, dearly. I miss the intimacy of building my own structures, and feeling capable with power tools. I miss finishing a painting and knowing that I single-handedly produced this piece from start to finish all on my own, built from scratch. What I love is that I recognize now how much I appreciated the process. And I was really good at it, mainly because I had made some pretty big and costly mistakes in the beginning.
Today I get to watch my kids in action and see if I can pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses. I learn so much about myself from watching them. And I love how individual they are. Two years ago I took them over to our church one day after school. In the basement was a labyrinth in the shape of a Celtic Cross, candles adorned the decorative canvas drop cloth, soft Celtic music was playing, the lights were dim, and reading material was placed so we could learn about the path we were about to take. I had already walked this labyrinth, and wanted my girls to experience it for themselves.
My now eight year old sped through the labyrinth as fast as she could so she could get to the middle. Once she reached her destination in the middle, she sat cross-legged in the middle of the candles, placed her hands on her knees, closed her eyes, and began a meditation. She stayed perfectly still. While she was meditating, my now six year old walked slowly, taking deliberate steps through the labyrinth. She took her time, got to the middle, pivoted, and turned right back around to walk out. Her meditation was the journey itself. Both of them walked away from the experience cheerful and peaceful, I walked away thinking "wow, they were perfectly silent the whole time, and I've learned more about them by watching than if they had told me."
I was reminded about this tonight while watching them with their art projects, and seeing just how well they are beginning to understand their strengths and weaknesses. In the past, the eight year old would get so wrapped up in the finished product, that if it didn't turn out right she would toss it away. The six year old would get so wrapped up in the process that she could mix colors to the point of mud, and be discouraged because her picture didn't look like anything "pretty."
Tonight the eight year old was thoughtful without being a perfectionist. She chose her colors, mixed them, and painted a thorough base coat. And when the piece was too wet for her to do what she wanted next, we decided it was time to put it aside with a fresh approach tomorrow. The six year old worked slowly picking through scraps of fabric and handmade paper, lots of paint, and craft materials. I could tell she didn't know what she was going to do, she just knew she really liked the way the fabrics felt so she wanted to use them. Her piece turned into a beautiful sunset behind clouds cut from paper with a Japanese print, fabric doily flowers and an iridescent orange ground.
It's amazing the evolution that has taken place in them over the past two years. Some of us never come to these realizations about ourselves. Do we rush to the finish and skip the journey? Sometimes only to be disappointed in what awaits? Or do we spend so much time on the journey we never reach a destination?
For eleven years I waited to see Machu Picchu, and I chose to visit via the four day hike along the Inca Trail. I had built up this magical destination for so long in my mind that I was certain I would collapse in a fit of tears once I arrived. But I didn't. Instead I got out my sketchbook. When I returned to my hostel in Aguas Caliente and reflected on the trek, I realized that the entire trek itself, including Machu Picchu, was equally significant and important. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into the hike for me and all my companions. And we all agreed that we were expecting a big WOW factor once we reached our destination. But instead, we were blanketed in serenity with an enormous respect, gratefulness, humbleness and humility for the journey, and realization that the two went hand-in-hand.
Every year the day my children start back to school is a magical day for me. I make a date with myself the first day that sets the tone for how the rest of the year is going to go professionally. At first these little miracles would pop up on their own without much forethought. Now I have learned to open my mind and ears so I can recognize them when I see them.
Two years ago after dropping my daughters off at school, I drove to Cancer Survivor's Park and walked the labyrinth. I stepped up to the entrance, closed my eyes and posed a question to the universe, hoping that by the time I made the journey out, I would have the answer. And I did!
That question and answer continues to weave through my life every day. It was recovery related and although I had no idea how dark it would get before the light, I know I am the person I am today because I dared to ask. Today I am a better person for it, and my painting has become a "real" job as a result.
Last year I went to the Center for Southern Folklore after I dropped the kids off at school. For what reason, exactly, I have no idea other than the fact that I had never been. I took a tour by a wonderful volunteer tour guide who was very helpful and chatty. I met the director, had coffee in the cafe, and perused the gift shop for a long time. I had to laugh because the woman at the gift shop told me that although they highlighted the contributions of many Memphis musicians, Elvis was the one that sold consistently to foreigners, their primary clientele. The problem, she said, was that there were too many Elvis paintings, and nothing the people could toss in a carry-on bag for their flight home.
All this was fascinating to me, and I took notes. In preparing for the Winter Arts Show, where I had to come up with a way to make my paintings into product, an idea began to fester. There were some horrible Elvis paintings, but no matter what, you could still identify who it was. My inner Q&A dialogue kicked in...Who else is known the world over as well as Elvis? If I were to do an Elvis painting, what could I do that would make it unique? Is it something I'd want to try to sell here? Where else could I put it? And as what kind of product? If Picasso had painted Elvis, what would he have looked like? Would he still be recognizable? What are the traits that make him recognizable?...
And the questions continued from there until I developed the outline for the 12 Months of Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Calendar, Elvis as depicted by the Masters. I chose artists that I thought would be recognizable the world over, and paintings that would be recognizable by people who weren't artists. And thus my little experiment began.
A year later and the concept has moved from my sketchbook to the front cover of the Desoto Magazine featuring Klimt Elvis. I've sold enough calendars, cards, magnets and prints to cover the cost of production and maybe make a little for myself. But it was a very big gamble that paid off!
Some gambles never pay off. And some take years to pay off. It's all part of the trial and error of being an artist. But Elvis allows me to paint what I want to paint when I want to paint it. I can explore the passion and subject matter that is not as "sell-able" by putting out artwork that is, without compromising my taste, sense of humor, artistic style or integrity. This is all part of being a fine artist.
Last week I had lunch with an old friend who does graphic design, my major in college prior to a powerful meeting with my revue committee that encouraged me to switch majors. He asked me to talk to the daughter of a friend of his who was weighing the pros and cons of a fine arts degree. We joked about all the scary stories I was going to tell. I told him about the time my mom cried when I told her I was switching majors from graphics to painting. She said, "what will you have to fall back on?" I said, "I guess I just won't fall back!"
A great friend of mine, Ann Lewin-Benham, introduced me to the Reggio Emilia schools, and I helped my great friend Dalila open a Reggio Emilia school in Cooper-Young several years ago. There are so many wonderful things I could highlight about the schools, but pertinent to this post and life in general, is the fact that the philosophy is one which states children will learn what they need to know, when they need to know it. It is not as ambiguous or flaky as it sounds, it really is how we get through life.
I don't have a business degree, and yet I've learned how to: write business plans, calculate budgets and projections, run a small business, start a small business, build a website, put together a marketing package, do market research etc. etc. etc. I'm not always successful at the above, but I learned how to do it. When I told my friend all the things that go into being a fine artist, he seemed a little stunned. By switching my mentality of hobby-artist to one of professional-artist, painting now takes up thirty percent of my time. The rest of it goes towards business related things. And I actually really like that!
At my husband's class reunion in rural Oklahoma last weekend, I had to chuckle at the responses from people when I told them I was an artist. They stared in disbelief, like I was a UFO. I forget what life is like outside an artist community like Midtown Memphis. People tend to stereotype artists. Words used to identify artists are usually negative: flaky, flighty, temperamental, unorganized, unprofessional, starving...
And although I may be one, or several of the above, and far from being rich in monies, I am rich in life and talent. I feel that makes me a success and makes me proud to say I am a fine artist by profession. Not to mention how cute it is when my kids show pride in what I do. And that is priceless.
P.S. As for the little miracle the first day of school this year? I had coffee with an editor who "gets" my vision, so let's see what journey that will
My two guides and our chef and several porters on the Inca Trail were Quechua. They spoke Quechua, lots of Spanish, and English if we were really lucky. They ranged in age from late teens to fifties. They grew up in the Andes, on farms in small villages. Their lives were and are very different than mine. This is a culture of people that have a unique and beautiful history, so different than ours, yet what they do works.
I was thinking about this after posting about Chick-fil-a in my previous blog post because what we tend to think as classic Christian values are not recognized by other cultures, necessarily. And even in the instance of the Quechua, where many of them have been Catholics since the Spaniards conquered the Incan empire, they do things differently, for very good reason, because they have a system that works for them.
Jose, my guide on the trail, told us about the Quechua customs on marriage and family. Years ago their families were huge, eight to ten children was the average. Now they have dwindled down slightly to maybe more like five or six. When our porters introduced themselves, they gave us their names, number of children they had, and relationship status. Most of them had children, unless they were single. Those that had young children were not married, but spoke of their girlfriends. And the older men, whose children were probably grown, judging by their age, were married. On average, the people tended to find a partner when they were fairly young, begin a family, then marry much later in life. This spoke to a lifestyle in which producing crops and running farms and making a living is top priority. And in order to do that they need help. So they have lots of kids!
Why not marry before children? There are reasons why, although differing. Many times they have trial marriages. Separations are no big thing. And communities work together to farm, raise livestock, and rear children. With a community so large helping eachother, maybe contributing children to the work force is all that is needed, and coupleship hasn't been as important until later in life when you marry the person you will be with forever. One thing is certain, however, and that was whatever their rules and regulations are surrounding marriages and relationships, those are separated completely from the government. During the "taming" of the natives once the Spaniards arrived, the Quechua partaked in Roman Catholic confessions where they made no qualms about the fact that they were having affairs outside of their relationship with their "spouse." The priests gasped in shock at the admissions, but I bet if you asked the "spouse" if they cared, they'd say "no."
These things are so fascinating to me. Infidelity hurts. But does it hurt because I've been raised to believe it's bad? Because the Bible tells me it's wrong? Because I'm just a typical jealous woman who doesn't like to share? What if it was just the norm. It's a big contrast from polygamy, where technically it's not infidelity I suppose if the husband is sleeping with his wives and they are all married...and maybe the Quechua men have the right idea by not putting a ring on it just in case they change their minds later in life. Whose to say which is right and wrong? Well, usually religion! When I think back to my moral teachings growing up they all stem from religion.
But WHAT IF the institution of religion has it wrong. WHAT IF religion is really trying to pull the wool over your eyes. I'll give you an example: La Qorikancha. This was the most sacred Incan religious site, period. It sits in the middle of Cusco. Although today it is a convent after having been taken over by the Spaniards in the 1500's. When I finally toured this site I had already started my trip in Puno, where the legend of Incan folklore begins. I had walked the twenty seven miles along the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu and explored its splendor at sunrise. When I visited La Qorikancha it impacted me emotionally to such an extreme that I cried at several points during the tour. Particularly when looking at the religious paintings done by the Cusquenan artists of the Cuzco School. These were large religious paintings commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church and painted by the natives they conquered, who were not Catholic. The paintings are gorgeous and incorporate rich earthy reds and browns along with lots of gold leaf. They have Peruvian flares such as Jesus dining on his last meal, a plate of cuy (guinea pig). The reason the church commissioned these paintings was for the people who were illiterate and therefore could not read the Bible.
Wow, think about that for a moment. People that are following mere mortals, men in religious cloth who committed acts of violence in order to gather gold and land. I don't know if they would be trustworthy to follow! But when one is in desparate need of leadership, it's amazing who one will follow. It's no secret the patrons of the arts chose to use the opportunity to rewrite history. My favorite painting was a large piece with Pizarro and a Bishop sitting atop horses, with the Incan King, Atahualpa, on another horse, graciously accepting Jesus Christ as his savior. This didn't actually happen. Atahualpa did not accept Jesus, or Catholocism quite like this. He was about to be burned alive. Horrified by Pizarro's choice of execution since the Incans didn't believe the soul could ascend if burned, a Bishop convinced Atahualpa to convert to Catholocism. So Atuahualpa was baptized and renamed, and executed by strangulation with a garrote instead. The funniest thing about the painting depicting a fictional scene is that although it is supposed to have taken place in Peru with the Spaniards approaching Atahualpa, in the background is a Spanish castle. Thankfully we know the real story and do not have to rely on the artwork to tell us inaccuracies. But it makes me wonder how often that has happened in history. And how many times man has rewritten in order to tell a biased story.
Anyway, I guess my point is, that we should be very careful when we use religion to back up our arguments. Man is not infallible. Even if one believes the word of God is infallible, man has a history of distortion in order to tell the story he sees fit. In order to impose rules that are his personally, and may not be those of God. What works for one group of people may not work for another, but who are we to write or re-write history? Who are we to re-write facts? Who are we to say what is right or wrong? Why do we fight against others and their rights when we are not a higher power? Who put us in charge and what makes one group of people better than another? We are only human. What if we do all this hollaring over the giving and taking away of (our interpretation) of rights, only to stand forth in front of our higher power who says to us, "What did you go and do that for? That was MY job?" What if we are wrong? Maybe we should just stay out of the way and let our Higher Power guide.
Let me first start off by saying that I love my gay friends and I love my heterosexual friends equally. I love my conservative friends and my liberal friends equally. That said, those who love me will know my opinion on this and love me anyway, so I don't feel the need to express my personal opinion. Rather than opinion, what I have below are the facts taken from numerous historical websites about the history of marriage. From traveling to different parts of the world with different cultures, it's always fascinating to me to see just how small we are. Including our religions and beliefs. It's easy to see how confined to one small space we come to believe that the entire world thinks like we do, or should. Christianity is one tiny puzzle piece in a HUGE puzzle that spans the world. It is a puzzle piece that is shaped only to fit it's place in the puzzle and cannot be molded to fit into another space. Myself, I tend to enjoy taking in the entire puzzle at once, with open eyes, and not just focus on one little piece...
History of Marriage
"Most ancient societies needed a secure environment for the perpetuation of the species,a system of rules to handle the granting of property rights, and the protection of bloodlines. The institution of marriage handled these needs. For instance, ancient Hebrew law required a man to become the husband of a deceased brother's widow. Some varieties of marriage are
Ancient Egypt, in theory, gave women equal rights, but it wasn't always practiced. Medieval women faced dual responsibilities to religion and marriage.
Throughout history, and even today, families arranged marriages for couples. The people involved didn't and don't have much to say about the decision. Most couples didn't marry because they were in love but for economic liasons.
Some marriages were by proxy, some involved a dowry (bride's family giving money or presents to the groom or his family), some required a bride price (the groom or his family giving money or a present to the bride's family), few had any sort of courtship or dating, but most had traditions.
One nearly universal tradition is that of the engagement ring. This custom can be dated back to the ancient Romans. It is believed that the roundness of the ring represents eternity. Therefore, the wearing of wedding rings symbolizes a union that is to last forever. It was once thought that a vein or nerve ran directly from the "ring" finger of the left hand to the heart.
The notion of marriage as a sacrament and not just a contract can be traced St. Paul who compared the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Christ and his church (Eph. v, 23-32).
Joseph Campbell, in the Power of Myth, mentions that the Twelfth century troubadours were the first ones who thought of courtly love in the same way we do now. The whole notion of romance apparently didn't exist until medieval times, and the troubadours.
The statement of Pope Nicholas I in which he declared in 866, "If the consent be lacking in a marriage, all other celebrations, even should the union be consummated, are rendered void", shows the importance of a couple's consent to marriage. It has remained an important part of church teaching through the years.
There appeared to be many marriages taking place without witness or ceremony in the 1500's. The Council of Trent was so disturbed by this, that they decreed in 1563 that marriages should be celebrated in the presence of a priest and at least two witnesses. Marriage took on a new role of saving men and women from being sinful, and of procreation. Love wasn't a necessary ingredient for marriage during this era.
Years later, the Puritans viewed marriage as a very blessed relationship that gave marital partners an opportunity to not only love, but also to forgive.
Many people hold the view that regardless of how people enter into matrimony, marriage is a bond between two people that involves responsibility and legalities, as well as commitment and challenge. That concept of marriage hasn't changed through the ages.
The institution of marriage has had a long and sordid history. Not always referred to as marriage, which is a word from the 14th century French (marier) to marry, this sacred state had slipped through history under many guises and forms.
Monogamy – describes a union of male and female or (today) same sex couples, so long as the partners are only sleeping with each other. Until only recently in the long history of humankind, marriages were arranged according to lineage and economics. Kingdoms united through members of each royal family. Countries aligned with arranged partnerships. Bloodlines blended throughout history, in the belief that it made them more royal or enduring. Arranged marriages in tight royal bloodlines, often came about because of the sometimes humiliating and always detrimental outcome of too much inbreeding in a family line. Try as they might, attempting to keep the blood pure was not conducive to strong rule.
Polygamy – is the practice of one man or woman with several spouses of the opposite sex. Often, the need for this type of arrangement came from times of war, plague or other disaster. Women left with children and no husband to provide for them were taken as second wives to a brother-in-law or other adequate provider. The idea of multiple spouses as a show of love was virtually unheard of.
Polyamory – is a multiple-partnered marriage whereby the partners get together out of love. Polyamory was sometimes practiced in the Polynesian Islands prior to missionaries and their stodgy ideas of Christian marriage. In these areas, the expression of sex and desire was a gift given by the gods to ensure a strong race. Just as much of the parenting was done in a communal type atmosphere with many mothers and many fathers, so too, were the relations that developed among members of the village. Partnering with one person was entirely foreign to this area, as with many areas of the world.
Common-Law – is the relationship of a couple without legal ceremony or license.
For most of mankind’s “civilized” history, a woman was considered a possession of first her father and then her lawful husband. She had little voice in where they lived, what her husband did and her own duties. She (post-Christianity) must devote herself to her husband, family and faith. Aside from that, her time was her own.
There were exceptions. Many countries, prior to Christianity or missionary outreach, believed the women to be the spiritual advisors, warriors on equal footing and often times judge and jury. Women’s councils were commonplace, for everything from healing and midwifery to dream interpretation for the community.
The ancient world had practices that set women up as trophies of war, competition and feats of strength or bravery. Like a gold statue, a chariot, a horse, farmland or other prize, officers and victors were awarded wives into the bargain. Armies would often return home with women as booty from a raid or battle won. These women were either enslaved or married off to the soldier who brought her home.
Monogamous marriages rose to their peak during the Victorian period in British history. The Puritans moved marriage to a point where love counted and delighting in the state of marriage became commonplace, yet extremely committed. The Victorian period dragged marriage into the closet. Sex was something embarrassing and improper with a quiet understanding that married couples engaged in marital relations, without pleasure and as duty and God dictated.
Until as recently as twenty years ago, in some areas of North America women still needed a husband’s signature to obtain a credit card or mortgage. As in ancient Rome, women went shopping in the marketplace, but they carried no money. They had a manservant to carry it for them. Things have certainly changed. You don’t see many manservants in the local supermarket.
Some argue that marriage is defined narrowly as only being between a man and a woman, so gays can’t possibly marry. The fact is, though, that the nature of marriage has changed in definition and make-up many times over the centuries. Marriage today isn’t at all like what it was two millennia or even two centuries ago. The changes in marriage have been broad and fundamental, so what are traditionalists really trying to defend? What is “traditional” about modern marriage?
Most of these changes have moved power in marriage away from the families and to the couples, as well as making women more equal. Let’s look at just a few of the most significant changes in marriage in the West over the past centuries:
Why was it acceptable in the past to make so many reforms in the nature of marriage that ultimately benefitted heterosexuals and women, but not acceptable now to make one reform that benefits gays? Is there any reason to think that all of these other reforms were somehow more “minor” or “superficial” than legalizing gay marriage? No — making women equal in marriage rather than property, eliminating polygamy, and allowing people to marry for love are all at least as significant as allowing gay couples to marry, especially since gay marriage is not unheard-of in human history.
The last change in the list above is the most important: throughout of Western history, marriage has been primarily about unions which made good economic sense. Rich people married other rich people in order to solidify political alliances and economic futures. Poor people married other poor people with whom they thought they could create a livable future — someone who was a hard worker, reliable, strong, etc. Love existed, but it was a minor consideration next to simply surviving.
Today, the relative positions of the two have switched. Economic issues aren’t totally irrelevant and few people rush to marry someone who appears unreliable and with no economic future. At the same time, though, romantic love has been made the most important basis for marriage. When was the last time you saw someone praised for marrying for economic considerations? People marry for love and personal fulfillment — and that’s what’s driving divorce, because when love disappears and/or one no longer feels personally fulfilled, they see little reason to continue the marriage. In the past, such changes would have been irrelevant given the importance of economic survival and familial pressures.
In 1886, a Judge Valentine ruled that two free-love activists, Lillian Harman and Edwin Walker, did not have a valid marriage even under common-law rules because their union did not fulfill the traditional characteristics. The “essentials” of marriage which Valentine listed included: life-long commitment, a wife’s obedience to the husband, the husband’s absolute control over all property, the wife taking the husband’s last name, the right of the husband to force sexual intercourse on an unwilling wife (that would be rape, by the way), and the right of the husband to control and have custody of any children.
Valentine's decision mirrors the arguments made by opponents of gay marriage today. His sincerity and conviction were no less than the sincerity and conviction of those who claim that a valid marriage, by definition, cannot exist for same-sex couples. The things which Valentine regarded as absolutely essential and indispensable to marriage are today unnecessary for most who marry. Thus it's not enough for opponents of gay marriage to simply assert that it would be contrary to the definition of marriage. Instead, they must explain why it is essential to the definition of marriage that a couple must consist of different sexes, and moreover why a change to include gay couples would be any less valid (or any more of a danger) than the changes we've experienced since Valentine's day. "