“The Cycle of Life”

Steve and I were with his sister, Maureen, returning home from dinner with Maureen and Steve’s three other sisters, Diane, Sharon, and Janet, PLUS his mother, RoseAnn (his four brothers were not there), when I spied two bicycle wheels in the recycling bin of his mother’s neighbor.  I expressed the temptation those wheels presented to me, for they were not only scrap metal, they were ROUND and full of art-potential.  Then I dismissed the idea of salvaging the wheels because we were already transporting a van-load of art and paraphernalia necessary for my booth exhibit at the Flint Art Fair, which had just ended.  “Someone will take them,” said Maureen, an observation that alternately comforted and disturbed me.

Next morning at 7:00, as Steve and I pulled away from his mother’s home in Grand Blanc, Michigan, to head back to our home in Staunton, Virginia, I noted that those bicycle wheels were indeed gone from the neighbor’s bin.  Feeling once again comforted and disturbed,  I commented to Steve that Maureen had been right.  Steve agreed that someone probably took them, and then we started talking about something else, or possibly about nothing else.

Two hours later, however, as we approached Toledo, we were definitely talking about whether or not we should have taken Highway 23 or stayed on 23 or I-75 or whether it mattered, and more urgently, where we might find a bathroom, and after that, coffee.  I didn’t want coffee myself, or even a bathroom, but Steve wanted both, and as it turned out, a classic McDonald’s breakfast, which he got for himself while I rearranged a few items in the van so they would not slide around every time Steve changed lanes.

It had been a little tense finding this McDonald’s because I really wanted to find a Starbuck’s, and failing that, to stop at the gas station across from the McDonald’s for the restroom and coffee so that we could take advantage of the cheapest gas price I had seen since leaving Virginia four days before.  (By the way, in my travels up and down the eastern seaboard, into the south, and even the upper midwest, the cheapest gas prices I have found anywhere have been at home in Staunton, Virginia, which is conveniently located at the intersection of I-81 North and South and I-64 East.  In Staunton, the cheapest gas is off I-81 exit 222 as you go toward town on Highway 250.  Past the Walmart on the left and the Martin’s grocery store on the right, you will find the Hess and then a Texaco-like station.  Usually gas is cheapest there.  If you have a Kroger card and can find the Kroger, it may be even 3 cents a gallon cheaper.)

But we didn’t get gas in Toledo.  Rather, Steve fulfilled his hidden agenda of hashbrowns and an Egg McMuffin or some food like that.  When he came back to the van (a black Honda Odyssey, just so you can visualize it) he and I went to the rear compartment for water.  When Steve opened the tailgate, I burst out laughing.  There were the bicycle wheels, which he had purloined the night before while taking out the trash.

“The Cycle of Life.” 25″ diameter mandala wallpiece. Mixed media assemblage of salvaged metal pieces woven with copper wire onto bicycle wheel, finished with polyurethane varnish. $795.00.  SOLD

“You little sneak!” I said.  Or something like that.

I will spare you the individual salvation stories of every piece of metal I incorporated into what I made of one of the bicycle wheels, the mandala “The Cycle of Life.”  It is a tapestry of materials found on streets, parking lots, and sidewalks I and my friends have walked, from Louisiana, to Virginia, to Michigan, and places in-between, and also farther away, everything from rusty washers to broken jewelry to springs, and wings, hearts, and crosses.  I also used about 250 feet of new 24 gauge copper wire to weave the whole thing together.  The thing I love about old run-over, stepped on, rained on, broken, rusting metal, is that it is a manmade material in the process of being reclaimed by nature.  I appreciate evidence of experience in people and in things.  “The Cycle of Life” dignifies and coalesces the beauty of what was once thrown away.

There is another personal significance to this piece.  Less than a week after Steve sneaked those bicycle wheels into the back of our van, he took my hand across the table at Staunton Grocery, which is not a grocery store, but a fine little restaurant in the Staunton historic district, and began a sentence with the words, “I was wondering . . .”  I thought he was going to finish that sentence with, “. . . if you’d like to go to the Split Banana for gelato” which would have been fine with me.  But instead he said “I was wondering if you would like to get married.”

Now this was a surprise and not a surprise because although I wasn’t expecting him to say those words at that moment, I had sensed that he was warming up to saying them, especially when we were taking down the booth at the Flint Art Fair and in front of his sister, Janet, who was helping us, he called me his ex-wife’s name.  I knew he’d been thinking of me in a husband-like way for awhile.  But still, I was expecting him to ask me for gelato right at that moment, so his question did open my eyes a little.  And then, although I had entertained fantasies of making him wait, say 24 hours, or 3 days, or a week for my answer, I could only say Yes! and right away.

Steve has asked that question before in his life; I’ve said Yes to that question before in my life.  And yet both of us, in our somewhat chastened, more experienced 50s, have not given up on the possibility of enjoying a loving living lasting harmony in marriage.  We have learned things in our lives, about what is important and what is not important, and we have had some rough edges rubbed off.  Nature–my own nature– is reclaiming me with serenity and felicity.

Here is a poem that suddenly comes to mind.  These words are lyrics to a song by Franz Schubert, from his song cycle “Die Schone Mullerin” (umlauts over the “o” and the “u”) “The Fair Maid and the Mill.”  The text of this poem, “The Miller and the Stream,” is by Wilhelm Muller (another umlaut over the “u”), translated by William Mann, and copyrighted by him in 1985.  I quote now as I often did to myself during the four years I lived alone following a divorce:

“And when love conquers pain,

a new star twinkles in the sky,

then three roses,

half red and half white, spring

on a sprig of thorn and never wither.

And the angels cut off their wings

and go down to earth every morning.”

These words encouraged me through some dark times, to not stop believing in the renewal of life, or of the seasons through which we pass in our lives.  For winter is essential to the spring that follows.  I can see that now.

–Deborah Norsworthy, 7 July 2011

“The Cycle of Life” (detail)

Making Mandalas

From "The Gracious Circle." Gallery exhibit at the Jung Center of Houston, January 2011.

Making mandalas has taught me that it is good to be centered and it is needful to have boundaries.  Making mandalas has shown me how things grow.  I have seen that

1.  You must start from somewhere.  Anywhere.  Preferably the center.  But anywhere.  You  must start.

2.  It is perfect to be imperfect.  Even more, it is beautiful.

3.  What seems like not much in the beginning may add up to something good, even remarkable, in the end–if you persevere.

4.  It is not helpful to judge until a piece is finished.  And even then it is not good to judge too much.  Or maybe I should just go all the way and do as Jesus said:  “Judge not. . . .”

"Poesis Lyrica." 18" x 21" set mandala wallpiece. Paper collage on wood finished with polyurethane varnish. Hanger fixed on back. $325.00.

5.  Repetition of the same simple thing may become beautiful.

6.  When you work from the center the piece maintains a measure of wholeness at every stage.  As the circle grows it becomes more complex and interesting it gains depth.

7.  Things that seem not to go together can go together if you let them and help them.  This is called integration.  There is integrity in that.

"Song of the Eye." 7.5" x 9.5" set mandala wallpiece. Paper collage on vinyl record, vintage book covers, and wood, finished with polyurethane varnish. Hanger fixed on back. $125.00.

8.  Surprises stand out in the context of a consistent pattern.

9.  Many pieces go through an unattractive adolescent period.  Don’t give up.  Sometimes the ugliest adolescence develops into the most beautiful and unique maturity.

10.  Expectations and preconceptions are often unhelpful.  To create a piece that is alive one must be open to what it is and what it is becoming, and then help it to become that.

11.  Courage is essential to creation.

Here is a poem I found in a list of words I made out of letters of the word “refrigerator.”

To get fire:  rare.

To free fire:  rarer.

To err:  oft.

Tiger at gate:  go

Forge art or fear.

Great gift after grief.

—Deborah Norsworthy

"No One's Perfect." 13" diameter mandala wallpiece. Paper collage on discarded cd, ceramic charger plate, finished with polyurethane varnish. Hanger fixed on back. $165.00.

Queen of the Heart

 

“Queen of the Heart.” 16″ diameter mandala wallpiece. Paper collage on assemblage of compact discs, finished with polyurethane varnish. Hanger fixed on back. $375.00

I sometimes fear that too much struggle in the creation of a work will violate its purity and integrity.  Time and experience have shown me, however, that each artwork has its own story and character, and that a piece born smoothly is not necessarily better than one over which I have worried.  Sometimes it takes me a long time to learn to like a work simply because it is so different from my expectation, unlike anything else I have made.  Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, writes “We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it.  That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us:  to have courage for the most strange, the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter.

 In Queen of the Heart, the struggle for art and love unite.  I created the piece in 2009, near the end (of course I did not know that then!) of a four-year period of living alone without an intimate partner.  During that time I encountered many individuals who were cynical about the possibility of loving relationships; I myself sometimes struggled to keep my faith.  This mandala incorporates an earlier collage which I had to seriously refashion in order to create an aesthetic harmony in the piece.  It also incorporates texts that encouraged me to trust love, even in its winter; those include a stream of consciousness meditation on excerpts of 1 Corinthians 13, part of an e. e. cummings poem:  

love is the voice under all silences,/the hope which has no opposite in fear;/the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:/the truth more first than sun more last than star

and the important words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves, a book that has become like a bible to me.  Wisely she writes:  “Three things differentiate living from the soul versus living from ego only.  They are:  the ability to sense and learn new ways, the tenacity to ride a rough road, and the patience to learn deep love over time.”

“Flower of the World” by D. M. Norsworthy

 

"Flower of the World." 13" diameter mandala wallpiece. Mixed media collage (paper, plant materials, glass) finished with polyurethane varnish. Hanger fixed on back. $165.00. SOLD

 

The combined materials in this mandala present a reconciliation of sorts, a peaceful coming to terms with the crosscurrents of life.  The dried roses at the center are from a former husband (or, as I wrote on the box into which I packed them for the movers, “Dead roses from my ex-husband”).  They were beautiful to me, nonetheless, and since both he and I gained  much from our association with one another, it seemed good to keep them, and then use them (along with pieces of stems from those flowers) in this collage.  When a very special man appeared on the scene more than four years after the last roses, he loved to bring me tulips. I have learned that if one drops one’s preconceptions about what constitutes a lovely flower, the tulip possesses an individual winsomeness in every stage of its flowering and withering.  Therefore I used dried petals saved from flowers Steve brought me to form the middle circle of flowers, bringing flowers from the past and flowers from the present together.  I also incorporated the base of garlic stems (those whiteish discs surrounding the rose centerpiece) and pieces of broken glass (I think of it as “naturally” faceted glass, and often find it both interesting and beautiful) into the center of the collage.  

Radiating to the outer rim of the piece are the 31 lines of a poem I created for the work:

1 Why any flower may be
2 being but a day
3 a week
4 to die too soon.
5 But in the life of dying
6 quickly saying
7 what may be
8 fragrant
9 lovely 
10 reaching
11 seeding
12 softening edges
13 of the earth
14 to tell the wisdom:
15 ALL MUST CHANGE.
16 All changes,
17 all rolling to
18 Death rolling to
19 Life rolling on:
20 YOU, PAY ATTENTION!
21 In the dying
22 is beauty also
23 if you see.
24 Flower of the world
25 never bloom or fade
26 far from the rooms
27 where I, as you
28 go swiftly, softly
29 as we are
30 and will be and always
31 to never be taken back.

 

 

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