On Listening To Myself

Peony #13, ©1994

Peony #13, ©1994

I’m in the middle of nowhere on my way to some spectacular site that numerous roadsigns keep telling me I must visit. I’ve never been in New Mexico before. It’s been a wonderful week of wandering this desert landscape by myself in my rental car. I have visited phenomenal landmarks, old adobe missions and cemeteries. I’ve toured art galleries in Santa Fe and Taos and hiked around lugging my camera and tripod through the countryside. This trip started in Texas where I opened a show of my photographs in Abilene last week. In the morning I’ll be boarding a plane in Albuquerque to make my way home.

As I travel along I notice there are no houses out here. The tarred road has suddenly become a gravelHelenMacCloskeyFilec (2) road with a surface similar to a washboard. I slow my pace to avoid skidding off to the side. There are no other cars in sight. My stomach begins to grumble, but not in hunger. Just an hour earlier I had consumed a huge breakfast at the B&B where I spent the night. I left stuffed with fresh melon, berries and a yummy casserole of eggs, cheese, mushrooms and onions with a hint of heat.

As I continue to drive, both the road and my stomach become more unstable. There are large rocks appearing in the road and I’m creeping along trying to avoid them. Something is telling me to turn around and go back to the main highway and forget this foolishness. But I’m stubborn and berate myself for being a chicken. Sometimes I can be a brave adventurer but my body also houses a scaredy-cat. I continue in spite of my fear.

I’ve been in predicaments like this in the past. And yes, sometimes I’ve pushed myself beyond my fright, and found nothing but joy and safety on the other side of my unease. But there have also been other times, when my trepidation has turned out to be spot-on.

I was about 12 years old and walking home from the bus stop one day, when a strange pick-up truck pulled to the side of the road next to me. The driver, a man, opened his window and started asking me questions. Like where do I live, what is my favorite color, if I have a dog, and what is my favorite candy. I felt very uneasy and fled the scene, running as fast as I could. When I told my mother what had happened she called the police. We were told that the man fit the description of someone who had been stopping other kids on the sides of area roads and trying to get them into his truck. I had reacted to my building anxiety and gotten myself out of harms way.

At nineteen, working in Queens, New York, I rode buses and trains back and forth between home and work everyday. One evening when I was late leaving work, I got on a train that was packed full of other commuters. As they got off at the various stops, the crowd thinned out until I found myself alone in the car with a man sitting several seats in front of me on the other side of the aisle. He turned around and stared at me. Again I felt a bit of anxiety, but feeling very tired and not wanting to change cars, I ignored him and stayed in my seat. A few minutes later, he got up and walked up the aisle toward me. He unzipped his pants and facing me, started masturbating. I didn’t know what to do. He was standing in the aisle next to my seat, blocking my escape route. Fortunately the train came to a stop and more people started boarding the train. The man zipped up his pants and went back to his seat.

I quickly reported the incident to the conductor. He and another conductor escorted the man off the train. They came back to me and asked if I wanted to report the incident to the Police. When I said yes, they started telling me that the type of behavior I just witnessed happened on the train all the time and that no harm had ever been done by the perpetrators. And since they had already made him get off the train, it would be difficult to find him and could cause all kinds of difficulty, especially for me. Though I wanted to report it, I felt my hands were tied. To this day I regret that I hadn’t insisted on reporting the incident, giving the police the best description I could manage. I had not listened to my intuitive voice that had told me to move to another car, and to report the incident so that other girls could be spared the jolting experience I just had.

Now I’m again listening to what my inner voice is trying to tell me. I rethink what I’m doing, find a place to turn around and head back the way I came. As the road becomes smooth again, my stomach settles down and I’m at ease. I will never know what would have happened if I’d gone on. But it doesn’t matter.


Here I am, years later, still listening to that voice that helps me get through the thick and thin of life. It not only keeps me safe, it helps me in my visual art as well as in my writing. The series of abstract photographs of plants and flowers I exhibited in Abilene in 1996 wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t listened to that voice telling me when to move in closer to capture the image I saw before me. Nor would I now be getting ready to publish a memoir. It’s also what stops me when I’m overwhelmed and so tired I can’t think straight. I have found that there is no better authority when it comes to what I should do next. It’s a matter of trusting myself and listening to what my mind and body are telling me.

Do you listen to yourself when it’s trying to tell you something?

Rejuvenation On The River

DSCF0305I’ve had time to myself for two weeks. My husband went off on his own adventures, while I decided to adventure further into my writing. Doing that helped me to discover new things about myself.  About being alone. About what I can get done when I decide to do it. And how the work, the writing, can leave me gasping for air.

I’ve always known that I’m an introvert, but often wondered if I could go a bit further and be the hermit I once thought I’d like to be. When I first visited the shores of Ireland back in the ‘80s, I thought how wonderful it would be to spend a winter on the rugged, windswept, west coast, in a tiny cottage overlooking the Atlantic.  There were few houses in the area that I loved most. The only sounds were of the sea, the wind, sheep calling to one another, and an occasional barking dog. I  felt that this would be the closest to God that anyone could ever get.  I dreamed about trying it.

But all it took was one week here at home without the love of my life, to convince me that I’m not made for that kind of life. I’m not introverted enough to dream again of crawling into a cave somewhere on a lonely cliff watching waves pummel the shore, spending every moment alone, contemplating God and his linty home in my navel.

Though I’ve been alone for two weeks a number of times, it has never been at a time when I’ve been so drawn up into myself as these last two have been. I’ve not written memoir before and didn’t realize how reliving difficult times might affect me. But I had a mission to write as much as I could during the time that Bill was away, hopefully finding myself closer to the end of my first draft.

In my first week here at home, I wrote some 6,000 words in three chapters.  They are three of the toughest ones I’ve gotten through and there are still a few more to go before I can concentrate on the good parts … finding myself and beginning to make major changes in my life. Reliving difficult times is hard enough just letting them flash by in an instant. But spending one week all alone, writing about incidents that were some of the worst moments of my life broke the bank. I’m one  who likes to edit as I go along, hoping to get as close to an imperfect, perfect draft as I can.

On the fifth day out, I knew I would need a break. I did not realize that my self induced hermitage would leave me feeling so low. I needed some time out. I spent more time fantasizing about what I might do to have some fun than I did writing. I thought about all of the things that might bring me back up from the past into the present day where there is fresh air, funny people abound, and I could begin to refill my now empty tank of energy. I made a dinner date with a friend, went to a movie, and wished I was with Bill or a bunch of friends who were gathered together out in New Mexico.  But I had made a deal with myself and I knew I had stuff I needed to do.

Still daydreaming about what else I could be doing to make myself feel better, I remembered the kayaks that Bill and used to have when we lived in our last home on the river.  Early summer mornings were the best time to be out on the water, before too many fishermen and rowers made it feel like rush hour and the wildlife all disappeared for the rest of the day.

Remembering that the kayaks are still at our disposal,  now owned by our son, I decided to give him a call to see if he’d like to join me for a morning excursion out on the river. Living here in townfor just a bit over three years, I haven’t thought of my little yellow boat until then.  And knowing that Bill was spending some quality time with our daughter and grandkids in North Carolina, I thought that kayaking with Mark would be a great way of being with just him, without the rest of the family taking up so much of my attention.

Great Blue Heron © Mark Rough

Great Blue Heron
© Mark Rough

Sunday at 8 AM found us on our way to the river.  By 8:30 we were on the water. It was warm, sunny, and the surface of the river reflected every leaf and blade of grass along the shore. There were few fishermen about and no rowers. I decided to take Mark up Ivy Creek, which feeds into the South Fork Rivanna River, where I used to paddle when I felt like being completely alone.  He’d never been there before and enjoyed the abundance of wildlife we saw … several bald eagles, herons, both Great Blue and Green, an Osprey eating its breakfast at the top of an old dead tree, turtles by the gazillion, kingfishers, and so much more.  Mark was a super paddling companion.  Not in a rush to get somewhere, just casually paddling to see what we could see and being in the moment as dragonflies and butterflies flew near.  I was touched by those old mother feelings,  being with my son and being able to share with him a place I’ll always love. It was a beautiful morning in every respect and when I got home I was ready to plow back into those three chapters. I edited and rewrote them several times, then sent them off to my writing coach for his approval.

I miss the river and being able to go out the backdoor and into the watery world of rivers and streams any time I

Osprey © Mark Rough

© Mark Rough

choose. Still I love living in the city where I’m finding it easier to balance my needs. I’m within walking distance to the University, can hear the marching band warm up for the coming football season, while sitting in my garden. Yet I’m able to able to drive a short distance and find myself peacefully floating through wooded countryside for the rejuvenation I so desperately need as I work my way through this ongoing, sometimes difficult project.

I’ve spent years searching for this balance. It could be my age, but I no longer dream about that cottage on the coast of Ireland. I have everything I need right here.  Next time I’m having difficulty keeping at my writing, you’ll be able to find me in a small, yellow kayak drifting down the river.

The bird photography above was taken by my son, Mark. If I ever had a dream for him it was just this, to love and respect the natural world around us, as he does.

The photo of me at the top of the page was taken by my friend, Susan Preston.


The Music Of The Wild

DSCF0109“There is language going on out there –the language of the wild.
Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning
derived over eons of expression. We have yet to become fluent in the language —
and music — of the wild.”  

Boyd Norton (Serengeti)

It’s that time of year, when along with flowers and blossoms, I awaken each morning to a sunrise chorus of bird song.  I throw on my dirty clothes from yesterday and take my dogs out for their early morning walk.  Birds of all kinds are singing … robins, a wood thrush, jays and chickadees, the drumming of a woodpecker. I love the sounds of spring along with the visual bliss that each day brings as new flowers open, bringing color back into the winter weary world … green leaves unfurling, yellow forsythia, and pink cherry blossoms … later, snow-white azaleas bloom in my garden.

Way back in 1984, I spent twelve days and nights in Kenya, on a photo journey with eight other photographers, under the leadership of Boyd Norton, who wrote the quote above. I will never forget that trip and the music of the wild as we journeyed through the Masai Mara and the Serengeti Plains. Every night we ate dinner around a watering hole, in the company of elephants, zebras, and giraffes. We fell asleep in our tents to the sounds of life and death going on all around us.

Along with the tapping of rain on the roof, the wind in the trees, the rumble of a coming storm, and the ocean heaving itself against the shore, the language and music of the wild, brings me peace and the knowing that I am only one tiny speck in the greatness of our universe.

My photos from that trip still lay hidden in one of the boxes in the attic.  One of these days I will break them out and share some of them with you. But, it won’t be the same as being there, away from sirens, jack hammers, and the roar of jets overhead … the sounds our very own species projects out into the world.  But thankfully we also are the makers of music …  the humming of a harp, the voice of a soprano,  and the magical weaving of notes performed by a symphony orchestra … all of it comes from the heart.

Painting Spring


Water soaked grey sky
pure tones of birch
magnolia, forsythia
spring green leaves


Raindrop music
fills the air
my paint brush
drips with color


I made these photographs and wrote this poem back in April of 2008, posting it on the blog I was then tending.  I’m going back through all of the posts now and considering putting together a small e-book to repurpose some of the writing and photography I was doing at the time.

Spring, being the season of rebirth finds me also at work on a new Website and hope to have it up and running before too long.  I’ll let you know more as it progresses.  In the meantime next week will be all about getting my studio cleaned up and getting back to work on my memoir.  There are many new ideas filling my thoughts.

What Is The Life I Should Live?

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

“All through our gliding journey, on this day as on so many others, a little song runs through my mind. I say song because it passes musically, but it is really just words, a thought that is neither strange nor complex. In fact, how strange it would be not to think it — not to have such music inside one’s head and body, on such an afternoon. What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift I should bring to the world? What is the life I should live?”  –

Mary Oliver (from “Flow,” Long Life)