artNotes from Hyde House: Storytelling

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Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! May yours be filled with the vitality of spring’s plethora of green!

With my people hailing from the Celtic isles, naturally green is my go-to palette just as storytelling is my favored form for art making.  But what is story?

Fulbright Scholar Robert McKee, author of the bestselling “Story” and the world’s most sought after teacher of screen writing tells us, “Stories are metaphors for life—equipment for living more successfully. They give us deeper and deeper understanding of what is absurd and comic, what is tragic and dark and painful. Stories…enrich our understanding of how and why people in the world do the things we do.”

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My story told here began when I left my artist life in Manhattan driving south back to Arkansas intending to stay to see my aging parents through their end times. I did.

After the passing of both my parents, I found myself too depleted in body, mind and spirit to make my re-entry into the fast-paced east coast urban life I had exited. Seeking solitude and restoration, I went to the way-back wilderness of the Ozark highland mountains to live with two cats, two dogs and four chickens beside the Little Buffalo River.

My plan was to stay in seclusion for twelve months before reentering community. Instead, before I moved on, four years passed recuperating and reading, dreaming and journaling and deep spiritual diving; four years painting and writing through my grief to find my mending.

Wordsmiths like Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés helped me. I reread her “Women Who Run with Wolves,” again captivated with her recounting of the tale of “The Handless Maiden”. (The original German fairy tale, “The Armless Maiden” was collected by the Brothers Grimm and first published in 1812.)

In Dr. Estés’s telling, the Devil, promising wealth and a privileged life, bargains with a father for what stands behind his barn. The father thinking there’s nothing but an old apple tree behind his barn, agrees to the bargain, not knowing his daughter stood there, too; hence, we are reminded that a “fruiting tree has represented the talent, sexuality, life-giving force of women: the maiden, the mother and the old woman, all in one.” Alas, the father has traded his fertile daughter when she is ready to bear the fruits of her talents.

When the Devil returns to claim his prize, as Dr. Estés writes, “The girl’s purity of heart continually repels him so he cannot take her as though a force field surrounds her. The devil tells the father that he has to cut off his daughter’s arms so that the devil can take her. The father is horrified, but he follows through, for the devil threatens to take the father’s life if he will not sacrifice his daughter.

And thus, in one of the most horrendous episodes in ancient tales, the father hoists his sharp axe and severs his daughter’s arms. The girl is disparaged and offered up for the father’s ease of life and material gain. She and the apple tree behind the father’s barn are not protected even though fully filled with gifts. They are instead judged as nothings: her gifts, not appreciated or seen, are thereby forfeited. She is not allowed to grasp or live her own deep and pure reality as a force of the feminine.”

With my own retelling of the tale, the maiden regains her limbs. Nourished by the running waters beneath the star spangled mysteries of darkness, my Handed Maiden with her arms restored is made verdant once again—fertile, flowering and yielding fruit, rooted in the wisdom-rich soil of the ancestors gone before. Her hands bearing eyes are those universally known, like the Hamsa Hand, for uniting the good, dispelling the bad, thwarting negativity and bringing about positive energies.

Come bask in the positive energies of storytelling inside Hyde House! FOILED AGAIN! remains on exhibit through March 18.

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