2017 . August . Buchenwald

Today it was Buchenwald.

Largely destroyed with heaps of buildings and their smithereened parts strewn everywhere.

A horrendous view from this hilltop hell.

It might have been a beautiful view in other lifetimes or lives lived, but up here, surrounded by brutality, one look down over the vast view of farms and villages must have brought a certain kind of aching smash to the hearts of the prisoners.

And my heart?

Never gets over the thousands upon millions who suffered these cruelties.

I carry them all with me, here, inside.

Considering the bigger picture of this devastating place, my empathy is a trite little effort to make a difference in a world gone by that I cannot change.

Ravensbruck, Day One

Ravensbrück Day One :::

Heart in my throat, I bicycled quickly down the cobbled road to Ravensbrück, mindful that the cobbles had been laid by tired, bleeding female fingers.

It was my second time on this road, the second time the sun poured over me while my heart and throat mingled in a symbiotic strangle of sorts.

Last here in June for a few hours, I felt haunted, hunted even, after leaving. Constantly pursued by thoughts of returning, of learning more about the women imprisoned and murdered here, and witnessing their stories.

So, here I am.

And here I will be for the next week. Bicycling back and forth through the forest, over the cobbles, weaving between the ghosts of bent-backed women.

Heart open and cracking, head high in spite of my own remarkably inappropriate terrors, and hellbent on breaking through this fog in my head that asks me repeatedly what the hell I am doing here.

Here's what I'm doing here: I'm showing up for *them*. For their lives. For their remarkably appropriate terrors.

To somehow funnel and articulate this gruesome historical climax of hatred, self-righteousness, greed, black and white thinking, and rigid adherence to propaganda.

I'm not really sure how this is gonna go down, if I'm honest with you.

But I am here, with great respect for the stories to be witnessed.

I am here, humbly, because my body is well-fed and wearing warm clothes. I have slept. I know where my daughter is. My family is alive, safe and well. They know where I am. My heart beats. My veins pulse to the rhythm of freedom. My skin is bruise and blister free. I have not been beaten. I am not witnessing brutality every minute of the day.

Approaching these stories feels frightening. Like, how dare I even?

But.

There is a large, hovering pull by someone, something, to do just that.

So I will bear witness. 130,000 women survived and died in this enclosure, surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. Many of them perished without a trace, stories unknown.

All worthy of being known.

All undeserving of their fate.

All with heartbeats, lungs pushing out breath in the most harrowing of circumstances, and holding on to the spark of their one precious life, until their very end.

Off I Go ...

Off I go. Window seat in a three-seat row. If my luck continues I might even be able to stretch out and sleep over three glorious seats. 
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When I land in Berlin I'll go to a couple spots right in the center of the city where my ancestors lived. I've been there before but a few photo shots have been haunting my sleep and I need to make them reality. 
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After Berlin its north I'm headed. There's a pretty intense research project waiting for me, and let's just say I'm kinda in awe and leave it at that. For now. I'll be sharing, for sure..
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My heart and stomach are colliding in my chest because the next few weeks are jammed with some pretty epic opportunities around my obsession with WW2 - it's not just limited to a few haunts in Germany. 
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Doors are opening. Or perhaps I am thrusting them open. But one thing is for sure ... I've worked damn hard to create a life lived from a passionate place where history, lineage, and art explode together in a rich landscape of possibilities. And I will keep working hard, through all the ups and downs, inside outs and arounds. There are stories to tell. Lives to honor. And truths to live.

Wolfsschanze ... Wolf's Lair

One of the stops on my journey through four European countries was Wolfsschanze, or Wolf's Lair, which was Hitler's bunker complex in northern Poland.

There are many bunkers still standing - if you can call it that. All are in various states of ruin, and just a couple buildings remain that you can actually walk through.

What a strange and hair-raising experience to walk through this overgrown cement-hell, where the fates of all of us were toyed with.

Decisions made here have trickled down to so many of us, by way of the various experiences our ancestors had, and the choices they were faced with, in this devastating time.

Whether you know it or not, chances are you carry some residue of decisions made in these once looming and solid, now scarred and toppled, piles at the center of our collective history.

Some folks are still living who were alive when this war raised its ugly head, and with any luck, we can sit quietly at their feet and ask questions.

Most certainly, there are books and documentaries that tell the myriad of tales from all fronts - and most importantly, all sides.

We can truly listen when they tell us what they carry in their memories, bodies, psyches, and souls because of what they witnessed or participated in.

What we learn from their stories we can take further into the present moment, to navigate a crossroads where critical thinking, moral examination, and quiet personal reflection intersect.

In this way we play our own small part in determining our future, and our descendant's futures too.

Leaving Riga

Today I'm leaving Riga and flying to Paris. I'll crash in a hotel near Charles de Gaulle, then rise with the sun to catch my flight back to Texas.

Remember when I left for this 20 day journey through Europe, and mentioned that my goal was to connect with myself again?

Well, I did. It's that simple.

And at the same time so un-simple that I can't find any words that would even come close to the surges of emotion and hands-on experiences of the past weeks.

All I know is that I plunged into this with one whopping intention, bought a plane ticket, took a huge leap of faith into new experiences that scared the crap out of me, and here I am so many days later as I begin my exit out of Europe ... feeling like a brand new person.

I can't wait to tell you all about it, and I will when the time is right.

For now, I'm sending huge gratitude and hugs to all my new friends. You know who you are, and I hope you feel even one tiny shred of the gratitude I'm sending your way today for all the moments and all the feels. You people are amazeballs.

Looking forward to the next time .... and I'm looking forward to being me again.

Treblinka

Treblinka.

To be at this former death camp is to experience a profound sense of being watched while watching.

I am alone, having arrived after hours. There aren't gates, so I wander freely through the various camp locations like the extermination area, the labor camp and barracks, and the gravel pit where prisoners worked under horrifying conditions.

There is nothing left of any buildings, just feelings and sensations that linger in between my thoughts and breath and the movement of my feet.

It is difficult to stay here; to engage with the sparsely placed placards of information and absorb the magnitude of suffering is beyond overwhelming.

I want to go, to run to the safety of my car and the freeway just down the old bumpy road.

But I stay, with my heart in my throat and all my senses alert.

What you can't see in this photo is the sprawling flatness that once held the labor camp. It spreads behind me, pitted earth with cement foundations marking where the barracks once held the prisoners - all of whom were doomed to certain death.

Surrounding all sides of the field is thick forest, a curtain of trees separating the memory of horror from our modern world.

I'm standing at the edge of deeply hollowed and sloping earth, and the placard next to me says this was the SS guards' swimming pool.

The sun is beginning to dip behind the density of trees.

Birds are singing, and the smell is earthy and rich, like the forests near my hometown in Northern California.

I am so alone and so not alone all at the same time.

I am pulled in and pushed out.

Eventually, I leave.

Warsaw and the Jewish Ghetto

Yesterday I walked through what once was the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw.

Words are not good enough for this powerful experience. My guide (whose hand you see here with a map of the ghetto) was the perfect match for my curiosity, because I wanted to know everything there is to know and see every site still intact, which isn't exactly an easy ask.

But I saw more than I could have imagined, even though 85% of Warsaw was destroyed in WW2. Anything that wasn't destroyed in the invasion or in The Uprising was systematically flattened by the Germans. The ghetto itself was pretty much obliterated after the last Jews were sent to the gas chambers in Treblinka.

Then, more devastation followed when the Russians liberated the smoldering ruins.

The city is a massive tomb; they still regularly discover hastily dug graves when they turn over the earth at building sites.

To give you an idea of the scale of devastation, at the time of the German invasion in 1939, Warsaw had a population of 1.3 million. Only 1000 people remained in the ruins at war's end in the spring of 1945.

I could go on and on and onnnnnn about everything I saw and felt in Warsaw. To be honest, I'm completely taken by surprise ... I did not expect such intensity from this city.

I expected to pop in and out, recouping a bit from France and Germany, and laying low for a few days. Instead I'm leaving Warsaw totally knackered, bursting with experiences I'll never forget, and a hunger for more.

Today and Ravensbruck

Today I spent ten hours with the best tour guide ever, and took a million photos. In spite of my over-stimulated mush brain I will share this one photo with you.

We went to several different places, among them Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, and abandoned Soviet bunkers and missile bases in the former East Germany.

This shot is from the interior of one of four identical warehouses in Ravensbrück. These warehouses held personal items that had originally been taken from the people arriving at Auschwitz, then were shipped by train to the female prisoners of Ravensbrück.

The women mended or repaired the clothing in a huge sewing factory that stood in the corner of the camp. The items were then put back on a train and shipped back to Germany for use by the population.

I've been to several different camps now, and I guess on some level I'm waiting for the day when I can comprehend how all of this actually happened.

Why someone didn't stop it.

And why people just gradually let themselves be swayed by the subtly escalating tyranny of a madman until it was too damn late to turn back the hands of time.

Today, it feels like that moment of comprehension I'm waiting for gets further and further away.

I Made A Little Deal

I made a little deal with myself before I left for Europe.

I would bring along my art journal and do a few super quick sketches every day. Like, super quick ... only a minute or two of quick expressive drawings. No perfection, just quick hits of pen to paper.

It would be nice to fill one of my journals before I return home, which means 40 sketches of places that move me in some way.

Today I managed three while out and about in Berlin, and here's one of them.

These poor old feet of mine wandered around for 10 hours, letting my eyeballs go crazy over the layers of Berlin architecture, and letting my self be wifi free for most of the day.

Amazing how *present* one can be when not on one's phone. I even did old-fashioned navigation, checking the maps placed handily in various places rather than keeping my nose in my iPhone.

 

Berlin and Inner Space

I'm laying here in my sweet little AirBnB in Berlin.

There is a bird chirping outside in occasional collaboration with a cawing crow, otherwise it is dead silent even though I'm in the city center.

A couple hours ago, the overcast humidity was broken by a sudden rushing downpour. I put on my blue flowery raincoat, and walked around the corner to a little Italian joint that had €4 pizzas for happy hour.

I chatted with the owner, Dante, for a few minutes about how much he loved America when he visited years ago. I don't speak Italian or German, so we made do with his broken English and the thickest accent you've ever heard. It's amazing how humans can communicate with so few words - we understood each other perfectly. He was in California and Arizona for three months when he was younger, and said he would have stayed in a heartbeat.

He was all smiles, hand gestures, and a few Italian words thrown in for good measure.

After finishing my super cheap and super delish meal, I walked around the corner to the River Spree. The lushness of the trees lining its banks made my heart gush a little, I'll admit.

Now I'm back in my room, bone tired from three nonstop and exhilarating days in Normandy, plus one travel day from Normandy -> Paris -> Berlin.

I'm working on a new collage and stitching my brains out, contemplating the necessity of inner space. I'm releasing my 'Inner Space' mixed media art online class in August. And boy do I ever need to take my own workshop!

So, I kinda am.

I'm deepening into my own need for a slow-down and get back to basics creative lifestyle: taking time back. Getting off the computer. Setting my phone waaaaaaay off to the side, and reaching for something creative, something tangible, something that will feed my soul.

I don't know if y'all would agree with me, but I'm feeling the need to unplug more ... and do the REAL kind of plugging in.

Since I'm going to be leading so many into this soul-deep land of a REAL-deal lifestyle, I am leading myself in first.

And I gotta tell ya ... it feels pretty good in here.

Walking in My Grandfather's Footsteps

Walking in my grandfather's footsteps on Utah Beach.

On this day, the 73rd anniversary of DDay, I honor the day he crossed this sand.

He didn't land on this beach on June 6th like so many who fell here, and so many who went on to fall in the fields, barns, dirt or cobbled streets, and forests.

My grandfather came here from an airfield in England in the months after, to secure the return of France to its own people.

He went through villages and airfields with his unit, on to Belgium, and then to Germany before he returned home to California.

He got married, had four children, and nine grandchildren.

Though he is no longer walking the earth, he lived for many days and years after the war, and his descendants are now in the double digits.

His DNA lives strongly in many of us ... some of us share his passion for books and learning, some of us have green thumbs just like his; leaning strongly into the natural world and all of its bounty.

Some of us are seekers of decency and gentle, quiet stillness.

Some love using our hands to create, mold, and bring to life something where there was nothing before.

We all have in common our love and respect for him, because as he served our country, he served as a gentle, calm, and steady rock in our family.

We are lucky. He came home.

Yesterday as I stood on this beach, the westernmost of the Allied landing beaches, I felt the somber and silent voices of the men who didn't come home, and the men who fell on the sand here, to remain silent forever.

And, I hold in my heart a quiet hope for peace, that we will never forget the vast and far-reaching ripple effects of the violence and trauma brought by war.

This Is the Airfield in France ...

This is the airfield in France that my grandfather was stationed at for one month in the Second World War.

Yesterday morning, fresh off the plane, I set foot on this hallowed ground.

It's hallowed because it has been through a few iterations over the last 77 years or so.

The Luftwaffe took this airfield from the French, and then the Yanks wrestled it from the Luftwaffe.

Now it's back in French hands, with a sweet little memorial to all the Americans who helped restore France to its own devices.

I was pretty excited to see the memorial at the modern-ish yet teeny tiny airport plopped in the middle of a French meadow, but when I saw the cluster of old buildings almost hidden across the meadow I truly jumped for joy.

I had to scour dirt roads and gates, but found my way into this WW2 portal, thanks to my own tenacity and the help of a good friend.

I don't know exactly where my grandpa would have worked here, but I know he was on this land in 1944, in good company with the men who flew bombing raids over Europe.

I love you Grandpa, and I'm proud to be the granddaughter of a great man, who served in such a noble cause with so many of the Greatest Generation. ❤️✌️

When I Was A Little Girl ...

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a detective, archaeologist, and artist when I grew up.

Those three trajectories have somehow woven themselves together inside me, even without my planning it so.

Over the last couple of years, my art has sidelined (aka exploded) for the most part into inspired creativity from a vortex rooted into a time over 70 years ago.

I don't talk about it much publicly, because there is no language to describe the world I visit through my art.

Also, I carry some self-judgment ... shouldn't I be making art that makes people happy(ish)?

Art based on war, and a whopping world war at that ... it's a little intense. So I tend to hide the art and the topic away, mostly.

BUT ... I think I'm tired of hiding. Tomorrow I am doing something very exciting.

I'm getting on a plane and heading over to Europe to dig full-throttle with my hands and heart and soul and brain into my biggest passion: the history of the Second World War, and the humans who lived a full spectrum of possibilities, choices, and experiences.

Every time I go to Europe, I dive into this topic ... I kinda can't help it.

But this trip is dedicated to my art exclusively, not jangled and squeezed in around other things.

So, why on earth is a girl like me so passionate (aka obsessed) about such a devastating topic, with endless layers of tragedy, grief and horrific violence?

I've always had a soft spot for the shadowy side of life ... and this topic?

It's more relevant than many of us would care to believe.

Colorado

Colorado ... you so purty.

It's funny how places smell and feel the same no matter how many years between visits.

The moment I stepped out of the car in Colorado (did a cheeky little overnight visit while I was in NM) I was thrust back in time to 2002-ish.

I settled for a few short years in to the top floor of what once was an old farmhouse, in a little town called Glenwood Springs.

I was not yet 30, and I was totally trying to figure life out ... a quest that never really ends, come to think of it.

There is a certain thin-aired smell like trees, dirt, and rugged fresh air lightly blended in a high altitude wind stream, with a dash of very mountain-y coolness that is specifically Colorado.

Memory lane follows closely on the tailwind of the air itself ... and then of course the rumination. Oh, the rumination!

Ghost Ranch and Georgia

This is my home away from home at Ghost Ranch, where I am hosting our 2017 art retreat.

This sweet little cottage is where Georgia O'Keefe used to stay the first few summers she spent here, before she bought a home on the property.

It's pretty awe-inspiring to stop for a few moments here and there, and consider Georgia's presence and her experience all those years ago.

She didn't have the internet to occupy her brain cells, for starters. I'm doubtful that there was a television in the wilds of New Mexico in 1934.

There weren't many people on the ranch then, and Georgia was a bit of a loner anyway.

So I'm imagining her world as one of crystal sharp clarity, where the colors of red that emanate from the rocky cliffs weren't dulled by how many likes she got on Facebook that day.

Or the sound of ravens circling and cawing wasn't drowned out by a Netflix binge.

I'm guessing she spent many an hour sitting inside and outside this adobe home, ruminating on life with all its complications and complexities, 1930s style.

Georgia's world had its own wounds and struggles which have been recorded for posterity.

And yet, I can't help but feel a slight (and undoubtedly romanticized) envy of her stripped down life, sitting in wonder of the natural beauty of Ghost Ranch that so inspired her art and her luminous career.

Morning Practice

As I was traveling and teaching over the last couple weeks, the issue around taking time for pure, pleasurous art-making came up several times.

For you and for me it can be hard to carve out the time and space to just create, right?!?!

I heard myself encouraging the women in conversation to wake up early and get their groove on. I know this is beneficial, because when my daughter was born I was hell-bent on maintaining time for artmaking. I woke up every morning at ungodly hours and started the day painting.

In spite of having a brand new baby and some hellacious post-natal anxiety, I was rather prolific. I'm sure the daily creative time also helped process the intensity of the panic disorder that was raging through me, and helped me start each day fully present while stoking the fires of healing.

Since I'm being totally honest I can also tell you that somewhere over the last couple of years, I've stopped that practice and instead lay under piles of covers each morning until I'm forced out of bed by life.

Lately I've been missing the early morning art practice, and this weekend while encouraging the women in my life to wake up and throw some paint around in a dedicated practice ... I decided to return to my own.

So this morning I woke up early (with a little help from my old friend jet lag) and have been painting ever since. Let's hope that this jet lag will provide the resurrection of this crucial and nurturing habit.

Henry the 8th and Glastonbury . March . 2017

Morning sun at Glastonbury Abbey ruins.

Having been here more times than I can count, it feels like home.

And it kinda is, because I happen to know my ancestors at least ten generations back lived in this historically rich little village, which is also the location of the abundant lore of King Arthur and Avalonian mythology.

I'm feeling all the feels as I rest against the cathedral wall, destroyed nearly 500 years ago by the henchmen of King Henry the Eighth .... who is quite possibly my 10th great grandfather thru his affair with the sister of Anne Boleyn.

So crazy right?

One 10th great grandfather born and raised here, a humble weaver who died in an almshouse (still in existence) across the street from where I sit.

Another 10th great grandfather, drunk with personal and political ambition, destroying this abbey and murdering the Abbott (as well as a ton of other unspeakable eviscerations of the great dissolution of the Catholic Church in England).

I am quite certain one grandfather would have borne witness to the devastation of this great Abbey, one of the most powerful churches of its time, at the sole command of the other.

And here I sit, 500 years later, just doing my thing. Little old me, in the shadows of my own unique kaleidoscope of lineage. Mind blowing, really.