Thursday, July 20, 2017

Help Me! Help Me!

What you can't see in this photo is that I'm
wearing my favorite black, knee-high riding
boots. I loved those things so much and
wore them for so long I'm pretty sure
my mom had to cut them off me.

Before we were able to video every blessed moment of our children's precious existence with our Dick Tracy watches and Star Trek tricorders, our family made audio recordings on reel-to-reel audio tapes. Some were made just for fun, many were sent to our grandparents who lived in North Carolina and Louisiana. Thanks to my brother Lon, who rescued a bunch of these tapes and had them digitized, I can now expand my social media oversharing by several decades.

Here is an audio clip from 1969 of me singing "In a Cabin In the Woods".  If you know the song, you'll remember it's done with hand gestures gradually replacing the lyrics so by the end of the song you mime the whole verse. This being audio-only I decided to hum the hand-gestures instead and in this ridiculously cute rendition the humming takes on a life of its own; so much so that I clearly felt the need to acknowledge it at the end of the song.

Here are the lyrics so you can sing along... I leave the hand gestures up to you.

In a cabin in the wood, (trace a cabin outline with your index fingers)
Little man by the window stood; (hand to your forehead shading your eyes and look around)
Saw a rabbit going before, (hold two fingers of one hand like rabbit ears, hopping)
Knocking at his door. (knock with fist)

 "Help me! Help me! Help! he said, (raise your hands up like you're surprised on each "help")
"Or the hunter will shoot me dead!" (gun pointing like Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits)
"Little rabbit, come inside, (beckon in)
Safely you'll abide." (Rock the baby in your arms)

I still love dresses with pockets.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Munlochy Clootie Well

One of the most powerful sites we visited in Scotland was the Clootie Well at Munlochy. A Clootie Well is a place, usually at a spring surrounded by trees, where people seeking healing from an illness or woe make an offering of a piece of cloth (cloot). Sometimes the cloth is dipped in the waters, or used to wash the ailing person. Sometimes coins or other offerings are left. These sites are pre-Christian, but often came to be associated with Christian saints. The Clootie Well at Munlochy is associated with St Boniface and dates to before the time he worked as a missionary in Scotland around 620 AD.

My photographs can't convey the overwhelming power of the grove. When you first walk up the path the site seems quirky and odd, or even whimsical. A pair of trainers over a tree limb reminded me of my Philly home with end-of-school-year sneakers tossed over telephone wires. But as we wandered deeper into the wood, the air became still, the birds quieted and a full view of the offerings came into view.

It took my breath away - I don't think I've ever seen anything so human in all my life. Thousands of wishes and prayers for healing tied to every tree and vine. Suddenly I could see the sneakers were no longer thrown on a dare - maybe they represented a teen with leukemia and the bras weren't a drunken afterthought - they were for a mom with breast cancer. Some people left healing prayers for the world, just wanting everything to be better for everyone. I've seen the site described as "creepy" or "weird", but I wasn't spooked; I felt surrounded by longing and a desire for connection and peace. We live in a crazed world filled with suffering and frustration and yet here in this ancient grove people still come as they have for more than a thousand years to say, "I am one of you. I share your pain. Let's ask for help together."   I don't think I'll ever look at a shopping mall wishing fountain the same way.

You can read more about the Clootie Well here:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Memory - Safety Tom

When I was in elementary school (6th grade maybe?) I wore one of these Safety Badges, along with the white webbing sash/belt - for about 2 days. The other kids hated the Safetys because we were their friends and "Not the boss of me!" It felt ridiculous to stop traffic because we didn't have any really young kids on the route that needed help and we all were going home to play in the middle of the street anyway. (Car! Car!! CAR!!!) I handed in my belt with a "Thanks, but no thanks".

There was a kid named Tom who took over. We teased him terribly for his high-water trousers, thick glasses, and button-tight shirts straight out of the 1950's. He stoically endured our taunts, staring straight ahead and tucking in his chin with the most determination I have ever seen before or since. But man oh man, Tom had the Safety Arm Spread down to a science and I swear the cars would stop just because he willed them to. He was Safety legend.

Tom also played the piano like a dream - we were in the school orchestra together (I played cello) - and with the same fierce determination he used to deflect 2 tons of metal from plowing through our tiny grade school bodies. While the rest of us sawed and bleated our way through barely recognizable Bach, he held us together with his piano, chin tucked in, glasses sliding down his nose, top button straining, but never flying loose. He had our backs, and with his musical safety net, we navigated the score without suffering any orchestral tragedies.

After I moved away, I wrote him a letter apologizing for being so rotten to him and hoping he never stopped playing. I don't know if he ever got it, or if it made any difference. I hope so. Through a little internet sleuthing I know he went on to get married and become a well-liked minister and that he still plays piano and organ, so I take comfort in knowing his life went on after grade school.

Thanks for looking out for us, Tom. We need more Safetys like you.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Me: Is that...?
BQ: Our snowblower dangling from the clothesline like a butchered hog? Yes. Yes it is.
Me: Intentionally?
BQ: Not this time.

The BHE accidentally got tangled in one of the lead lines we use to take the cats out in the backyard and the blower got sucked right up! I thought my hair in the vacuum brush was bad - this was epic!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Thanks, You've Helped Enough

When you have cancer, there are two really obnoxious ways people try to help. The first by telling you you your cancer was caused by something stupid like childhood trauma, or a vitamin deficiency, or lizard spit. Even if your friend is a hot dog eating, cigarette smoking, alcoholic, telling them what you think caused their cancer DOESN'T HELP, so just keep it to yourself.

The other super annoying thing people do is offer the latest in alternative "cures" and treatments. (My personal favorite was the "Baking Soda Cure".) When I told my brother Lon about this, he started sending me these hilarious texts. He may not have cured my cancer, but he kept me laughing...

This was especially funny because I've been gluten free for about 20 years.

Then when he got injured doing stunt work I got to return the favor....

I love my family.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Art Is Our Salvation

2016 is finally over and, like most folks, I’ve been reflecting on what a bizarre year it’s been. Setting aside the inevitable naughty and nice lists, the place my meditations consistently come back to is the concept of Chaos, that relentless howling wind tearing at our peace of mind. If fear is the opposite of love, then chaos is most certainly the opposite of peace.

2016 has shown us the face of chaos in all of its gibbering glory. From an election full of such hateful rhetoric it’s scaring the pants off of even my most non-political friends, to unimaginable world-wide wars, bombings and acts of desperate terrorism brought to us in living color via the internet. Sound-bites and headlines that make no sense, yet are accepted as truths. The deaths of family, some in their right time, some unexpected, and the deaths of musicians, writers and actors have left us reeling.

Thinking about the year I had an insight as to why we cherish our artists and why we take their passing so hard. I was also struck by how many artists were unwilling to perform for the upcoming inauguration and my epiphany crystalized.

Art is how we as a species tame the chaotic thoughts and emotions of our imperfect humanity. Art is how we conquer fear and birth inspiration and hope. Art, and its cousins science, mathematics, philosophy, and logic, give us a matrix where we can sort our pinball thoughts and feelings and give rest to our screeching animal hindbrains. Art shows us the ways we can feel empathy and gives us permission to laugh at ourselves. Art tells us we aren’t alone.

Our artists have spent years perfecting their craft and learning how to connect with us by understanding us. Artists open their hearts to all that is good and all that is messed up in living life as a human being. They take that stew of humanity and distill it into something we can understand and give it back in a story or poem or painting. Every time we create, we set chaos back, and for that reason alone I believe art will be our salvation. We should sing at the top of our lungs, dance to exhaustion and play music until our fingers bleed. We should paint and draw and weave and sew and sculpt and knit and write write write all the beautiful poems and stories as if our lives depended on it, because they do. In that place of creation we transform Chaos to its beautiful form of Peace and in peace we find our true selves.

Happy New Year to all of you!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Woman’s Choice

You accuse me of “voting with my vagina” and to that I say, Damn straight!
This vote was decided the year I wanted to take shop class, But my vagina was told to learn to cook, Learn to sew, Learn to take care of a home.
This is a vote shaped with the job rejections (and 70% salary) Determined by the very existence of my vagina.
A vote earned with every dollar spent on birth control and health care For my uninsured vagina.
Today I cast a vote with catcalls fresh in my ears, Every abuse, humiliation and torment still aching and raw. And yet I’m still being asked why I didn’t just hold my legs together. My vagina survived… and remembers.
This vote is made with the strength and courage it takes to push another human being into this world and feed her with my body while my vagina still bleeds. Here is a vote for every single time I was told I threw, fought, cried like a vagina As if that was something weak and unworthy.
This vagina has survived pain, felt shame, And shared pleasure. It has carried a lifetime of secrets and memory, And knows exactly what it wants. Sarah Gowan - November 2016

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Visit to the Barnes

Yesterday we visited the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia and I have to say it was one of the most appalling museum experiences I've ever had. First, try to find your way into the building - the place looks like Fort Knox and is about as welcoming. What initially looks like the front door is actually a loading dock. We made our way around police barricade tape and finally found a sign that said "Tickets". The ticket kiosk guy looked at us like we were nuts and pointed us to the main building to buy tickets.

Inside, we were asked if we had reservations. Reservations? Nothing on the website said anything about reservations.
::big sigh::  "Well, it's OK for today, but next time you really should make reservations." 
Uh, OK. Whatever....

We were given cryptic directions to check our coats downstairs and the gallery upstairs and also there's a mezzanine. We grabbed a couple of guide maps and thought we'd figure it out from there. Uh right. the guide maps might as well be blank squares, the information was that unhelpful.

Downstairs we were told we had to put all our stuff in lockers. No coats. No bags. No umbrellas. No Cameras. No phones.  The coat check lady was very nice and helped us figure out how the locks worked, but we were already pretty frustrated.

Back upstairs we first went to the ornamental iron exhibit. OK, that was very cool - extremely well laid out, well labeled and very interesting. We did our best to ignore the security guards pacing around (you'd think they were guarding the crown jewels) and admired the door knockers and engraved boxes.

On to the main galleries. We passed through a security checkpoint where our tickets are scanned and we're told, "No photos, No touching, Don't cross the dark line." We were offered free audio tour devices, but declined them. We should have taken them.

Because in the Barnes there are NO LABELS, except for teeney little brass plates with the artist's last name affixed to the truly hideous frames. All well and good, but if you lean over the dark line to read the microscopic label, the security guards yell at you to GET BACK, YOU ARE OVER THE DARK LINE. Never mind that some paintings simply can't be seen without crossing the force field of security summons.
Dark Lines
The galleries are small and very crowded with both art and visitors. I was also a little creeped out by everyone walking around with headphones on - Children of the Corn on a Field Trip.

It was wonderful to see the paintings, and appreciate the unusual exhibition style, but I really didn't feel like I could take my time and relax. There were so many ways the museum could make its visitors feel welcome, but it's almost as if they deliberately chose to cultivate a manner of elitism just this side of hostility. Even the bathroom fixtures were non-intuitive, Euro-design that mocked my failed attempts to flush, wash and dry. So, if you don't mind being treated like a petty criminal with no class at all, by all means visit the Barnes and check out the Picassos. I'll be at the Art Museum on Free Sundays with the rest of the fun Philly crowd.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tears. Breath. Rage. Stone.

Tears. Breath. Rage. Stone.

The perfect image clutched in my hand
I coax it to paper,
and sob as it burrows deeper into my fist.
I resort to a squall of words.

My chest rises and falls, my heart pounds
The tattoo of a life still lived.

Salt. Wind. Flame. Bone.

My friend offered to hold my anger for me
Until I could take it up again.
A lifetime later and I still gasp with the wonder
and relief
of a burden shared.

Infant. Daughter. Mother. Crone.

I offer this pebble from a shaking hand,
Secret handshake, we know who we are.
Veins racing with memory, I offer this tiny thing
For you to drop from your aching hand and stand upon.

Sarah Gowan, 10/15/2015