Sunday, August 14, 2011



Tunnels of flesh,
the dew of devouring
throats – love, magnified

to show how deep
reach the velvet
and rapacious flames.

Could Eros blaze
from the ash of years,
even when you worked

in a lace factory –
petals crucified
with a ghost-fine thread –

Love unfinished yet,
blindness shut the world,
threadwork thick with age –

set of sun and moon,
of the ochre glow
on the rocks, on the red plateau –

Sangre de Cristo bone-lace light
infinite as the first
morning of the world. 

Blessed are they
who can choose
what destroys them.

~ Oriana, © 2011


“Viridissima Virga” – the greenest branch – this is what the medieval mystic and artist Hildegard von Bingen aspired to be. The moistness and perennial springtime of that image makes me think of the “green and juicy crone,” the ideal put forth by Jean Shinoda Bolen in her book on wisdom goddesses (Jean Shinona-Bolen, Goddesses in Older Women, HarperCollins 2001).

Already the first pages of the book are illuminating, with their broader definition of the "mother" stage (in the maiden-mother-crone trinity). Motherhood, Shinoda-Bolen asserts, does not depend on childbearing. The essence of motherhood is passionate commitment.  Many might add that motherhood is also deeply related to creativity, but I think Bolen is wise to emphasize commitment – one that is generated not by a feeling of duty, but by intense love.

A maiden is uncommitted, Bolen says; she is sampling life, changing goals. By contrast, a woman in the mother stage is committed. The commitment can be to raising children, but it can also be a commitment to a career or to developing one’s talent(s). That, too, is motherhood. It can mean giving birth to yourself, becoming who you feel destined to be. In some cases, physical motherhood would likely interfere with that kind of spiritual motherhood to oneself, and ultimately to others. As Gloria Steinem famously said, “I couldn't give birth both to myself and to another person.” 

For an artist, the crone stage should not be substantially different from the “mother” stage, except for a greater urgency and an ever-deepening commitment to produce exceptional work while there is still time. In my case, I simply hope there will be a continual reaching after that marriage of wisdom and beauty that creates the mystery of poetry, both in verse and prose.  I foresee that I will be an even sterner guardian of my “quiet life,” which is the foundation of my creativity.

The urgency is already greater than during the less focused younger years, not to mention the years of confusion before I found my vocation (a process delayed by having been told that I had no talent). The questions of youth are not the questions of middle age. I have a poem about this:


Camus said, The only
philosophical question left
is whether to kill yourself.

But that is the question of youth.
In my twenties, I could never look
from a high window or a roof,
and not feel a gathering leap.

Middle age asks two questions:
How much time left? and
How to spend what wakefulness
remains? I look out the window,

and the deep magnolia
gives the answer:
the morning light
glistening in the crown,

and the wreath of shadows.
But the layered wind
does not rustle To be or not to be
Each leaf silvers Hamlet’s

forgotten reply: Let be.
It’s too late to renounce
the privilege of surprise –
centuries, it seems,

since my father told me
not to worry about the universe.
“That’s Aldebaran,”
he pointed to an amber star.

When the universe shall ask
the final question,
will point: Aldebaran.
Great light seen only in the dark.

~ Oriana © 2011


How to spend the little time that still remains? For an artist, the answer has been the same from the start, but it becomes more and more clear as darkness nears.

The greatest surprise in Bolen’s book is her choice of Aphrodite as the goddess of creativity. One can readily think of Athena and Hephaistos (interestingly, Aphrodite’s husband) as patrons of craftsmanship; of Apollo and Dionysos as representing different aspects of the creative process, brilliantly described by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy; of Persephone as a symbol of recurrent descent into the depths, followed by the ascent into the world.  Orpheus, too, has often been invoked as the patron of artists.  But Aphrodite, that most sensual and erotic of the goddesses? 

Aphrodite seeks intensity, not security, Bolen points out. But writers learn that it would be foolish to destabilize their lives with stormy love affairs. An intense romance can be a source of material, but it can also become a drain of energy away from creative work.  The artist’s intensity needs to go into art. But Bolen finds a crafty way out of the embarrassment of Aphrodite’s promiscuity – her apparent lack of commitment once passion wanes and another object of desire becomes available. Bolen suggests that Aphrodite becomes the goddess of creativity when she has learned wisdom. 

And after she “gets a life,” we might add.  Once she discovers something in life that fulfills her as much as or more than romantic love, an Aphrodite woman turns her incredible energy (has anyone ever commented on the fact that passion is a tsunami of energy?) to whatever seizes her imagination in the same wild, rapturous manner that romance can. She can become a mystic like Saint Teresa of Avila, or she can become an artist like Georgia O’Keefe. The point is that she is totally in love.

Shinoda explains, “The same intensity and total absorption that happens when we fall in love is essential to the creative process. Each new work or direction has vitality; the creative person is often fascinated and preoccupied with what is emerging in the work.”(p. 174) Shinoda also comments, “The creative person becomes both lost in the work, and, at the same time, is sensitively observant, like a lover.” (p. 132)

Both Jean Shinoda Bolen and Julia Cameron point out that when work is going well, the creative person may look so radiant that people tend to assume s/he is in love.  And that is true: the artist is in love with her work, and also with the Inner Artist – that daring, even heroic part of us who laughs at the fear of failure, or anything as petty as worldly acceptance or rejection. Failure is merely the opportunity to revise, to make the work better, bolder, more original.  

During my years of chronic depression, I was once asked, “How can anyone with your talent and creativity ever be depressed?” Right then, the question embarrassed me out of a depressed mood. There was so much to be done!  Fragments to be developed into complete poems, early drafts to be revised . . .  Aphrodite knows well that depression is not about deep feelings to be explored, but about a lack of love, or not being connected with what you love. It is a sheer waste of time when the work you love awaits you every day.


Christianity has tried to degrade Aphrodite to a mere seductress – the goddess of sex, not love.  But the ancient Greeks had in effect two kinds of Aphrodite. There was Aphrodite Pandemos, Aphrodite “belonging to all people,” associated with sexual love, and APHRODITE URANIA, the Heavenly Aphrodite, associated with the planet Venus. Aphrodite Urania was one of the oldest of gods. She was also called the Queen of Heaven, possibly a translation of the Semitic makat ha-ssamayim.  It was Aphrodite Urania who was associated with the Muses and artistic inspiration. More broadly, she can be seen as sacralizing an intense emotional connection to one’s work. 

Aphrodite Urania cannot be reduced to the goddess of sex. She is the enormously powerful goddess of love and beauty. And love, though is has many forms, is a compelling experience that has a mystical aspect. We can’t control love. We don’t choose to be artists, though we may try to run away from our vocation – but only at the price of lifelong misery. Likewise, we don’t choose what and how we paint, or what we write about. We surrender to our creativity, to the deeper forces, obsessions, and contradictions within us.

Aphrodite demands that we give ourselves totally.  An “Aphrodite woman” needs to be in love – whether with a partner or with her work, or both. She must always be in love, or she doesn’t feel truly alive. She has to be in love to be happy. Her reply to Baudelaire’s manifesto “Be always drunk” would be “Be always in love.” There must be the intensity, the delicious intoxication.

When an Aphrodite woman’s attention shifts away from youthful romance to life’s work, she insists on the kind of work that fascinates her, the work that she can be in love with. And perhaps that is at least a part of the artist’s mission: to show others what it means to be wildly in love with one’s work. Another part of that mission is to be unrepressed in showing one’s humanity – much as one might reveal oneself to a lover.

It is interesting that Aphrodite is married to Hephaistos, the god of craftsmanship.  Much has been made of the fact that Hephaistos is lame, that he is a wounded god – most artists know what it means to be wounded. But the central fact remains that this is a creative god, one who produces objects of beauty. For art to be produced, Aphrodite as the love goddess of creativity MUST on the inner level be married to a deity who personifies craftsmanship. 

That, too, is part of acquiring wisdom.

In ancient Greece, Aphrodite was attended by, and sometimes fused with the goddess Peitho, Persuasion. Aphrodite Peitho was thus the goddess of eloquence.  

Much has been written about the mission of an artist.  One of the most famous statements was made by Emile Zola: “If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”

Goethe, on the other hand, put it very quietly: “The gods gave me the gift / to say what I suffer.” All this sounds self-centered on the surface, and an artist who is not developed enough will come across either as self-centered or, paradoxically, as evasive, closeted, repressed, too scared to tell the truth of his/her heart and therefore hiding in generalities. “The only thing that matters is if the story is true,” the Hemingway character says in a recent Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris.” That went through me like lightning.

To be personal and yet universal – that is the magical combination. The more personal you are, the more universal you become – just as by concentrating on something very small you can get through to something very large. The personal element connects with the reader’s heart, and allows the author to avoid preachiness. Virginia Woolf's simple account of how she wasn’t allowed to enter the library at Cambridge because she was a woman tells me more than any feminist essay. I am glad that she lived that incident “out loud.”

Aphrodite’s sacred bird is the dove, the white dove of peace and loving gentleness. This certainly shifts her toward spiritual union and the deep feminine. To get away from gender, perhaps "tenderness" is the best term. It’s hard not to think the dove as the icon of the Holy Spirit. Some identify the Holy Spirit with the feminine part of God that “brooded upon the waters.”

I am all in favor of user-friendly eroticism in later years too.  The culture has sullied Aphrodite with the “slut” image, and it's only now that we are re-gaining her.  Still, for me personally life fills with a more lovely and imagistic glow when I see Aphrodite and Eros as immanent in creativity.  My greatest love affair has been with books, with ideas, with words for their own sake, and finally with writing. (I realize that this is a pretty heavy statement: “My greatest love affair has been with books” – it feels like discovering that “my real homeland has never been/ any country” – since my homeland is the country of the mind.)

To be united with what one loves: that, for me, is the opposite of depression. Here is my hymn to Aphrodite Urania:


Only one flame burns eternal:
many-hued, many-tongued,

flame before the other Aphrodite
whose bird is the dove –

quiet as the Spirit brooding
over shining water,

creating the world  
again and again in the mind.

Every man will disappoint,
every woman;

the Prince will turn into a frog,
the dream house will burn down.

Then we can start the real,
unexpected journey

until the whole world
becomes the Beloved,

and the darkness
comprehends it not.

~ Oriana © 2011



Do writers love words more than people? Did Hemingway love writing more than any of the women in his life? The question is rhetorical.

But right now it’s another element of art that just stuns me when I think of it. Or perhaps I should say “poetry” rather than “art,” with no possibility of making money that way. I could write a masterpiece of a poem, but nobody is going to turn it into a movie – not even a brilliant, novelistic sequence of poems like Anne Carson’s magnificent The Beauty of the Husband. Writing poetry is thus a revolutionary, subversive activity in this age of buying and selling things and minds. Poetry: so much dedication, so much soul and effort put into something that’s not about buying and selling. It’s the opposite of alienated labor, of working for hire. Poetry dares to say that money is not the highest human value. Being a poet, that marginal looney, says that even louder.

And the same could be said of any dedicated work, any labor of love: planting trees and herbs when it’s done by volunteers, or something as nearly universal as motherhood, which typically penalizes the woman in terms of career advancement. Even scientists could generally make twice as much money working for private industry rather than doing research at a university. “Labor of love” – what a scandal, especially if it’s unpaid work. Work as a vocation, as reward in itself: what a subversive, non-commercial concept.  Aphrodite is the most subversive of the gods, whether in the realm of sexual eros, or the Eros of the Soul – doing that which you love doing, to which you can surrender completely.

I do not mean to put down anyone who works for wages at a job s/he can barely endure.  I’ve done plenty of that myself, and perfectly understand the need to take care of material necessities. But I’ve met – and in my youth I have been there myself – the almost literally starving artists who work only part-time in order to create more time for their real work. Or those who manage to paint or write for hours into the night after a full day on the job, or else start at dawn, before going to work (one year I did that, writing early in the morning – there’s something immensely satisfying about starting the day with an act of love).

Money alone could never buy this kind of motivation. It’s both bliss and martyrdom, it’s heroism, it’s superhuman energy and dedication. It is love. And the glorious and rapacious flames of that kind of love reach much deeper than the average romance. 

Much of that labor is, strangely enough, devoted to simplifying all that we see, all that happens to us. Simplicity is practically the foundation of lyricism. The drive to simplify is the drive for meaning. This too, unexpectedly, is Aphrodite, in her drive to connect, to make everything intimate and soulful. Make no mistake: this goddess of sensual love is also the goddess of what I call “mind sex.” 

Then there is a matter of sensuality itself, of voluptuousness.  “Is there a pleasure more voluptuous than music?” a composer-friend once asked me in half-whisper, as if afraid to speak of such intimacy. 

At the same time, we must note that Aphrodite is not the only god or goddess to have been associated with creativity. James Hillman says that Hermes is the god of writing. Hermes the Messenger certainly governs communication, and could be the god of prose, but of poetry? Hermes is too glib a deity – though there exists a type of glittering, witty, intellectual poetry I’d call Hermes-poetry (I emphatically do not mean “hermetic”).  

If we need a more mystical god or goddess for poetry, I see both Dionysos and Persephone as a possible choice. Better yet, why not a trinity of goddesses: Aphrodite to provide the love energy and the drive toward beauty and sensuality, Persephone with her access to the depths, and Athena with her brilliant mind, including the ability to come up with career strategies. 

For persistence, I would also include Penelope – a mortal, but probably based on a primeval goddess. But persistence is another huge topic. For now, let us say only that in the arts, patience is perhaps the highest expression of passion.

On the whole, I think that Jean Shinoda-Bolen is right: Aphrodite who has learned wisdom is an appropriate choice for the main patron goddess of creativity. The artist is a lover. Because, first of all, you have to be shamelessly, utterly in love with your work.

Second, you need to know that your time here where you can accomplish that work is limited, and is not to be wasted. That life is not to be wasted – on depression, on grumbling, on drifting and dabbling. Love now while there is a chance. This applies to both work and relationships.


Over the ocean a cave of blue
holds out against the night –
an entrance to a newer world,
where it is still day.

I trace a glow of lucent green,
while you say look, that violet rim,
that lip of ripe plum purple.
The soul, we know, is tender blue,

like memory of being loved
back in the mother cave, and now,
this moment made of shades of blue,
a window of remaining light.

It’s Aphrodite’s blue-green glow,
the life that yet remains –
I take your hand and we hope
that dark leap is a dolphin.

~ Oriana © 2011


Really enjoyed your last posting, it hit home. I have been struggling of late with my mundane job, will have been there 25 years in October. I have been working on some ideas for poems the last few weeks, it's been good to work on them. I liked John's comment too; who knows indeed why we do what we do or why our interests interest us. For me, the obsession with history, whaling, poetry and Moby Dick are unexplainable as far as logically speaking, but I like what I like. An odd sidelight that has me intrigued of late is the story of a group of Hawaiian sailors who, after the American whaler they were aboard was burned in the Pacific in the Civil War, joined the crew of the ship they were attacked by and wound up in England in November of 1865. I wonder; did these men ever make it back home to their islands, did they leave any record of their story? One might ask...and I could  understand....'what the hell does it matter Scott, of what impact does this quirky side-note of the American Civil War mean to you?! Does it affect your job, are you one bit better for it by thinking on or about it?' My answer would be no, by dollars and sense logic nothing at all is profited by such an odd and trivial matter. I'm not Hawaiian or a  naval historian yet the story fascinates me; my day job is soooooo incredibly mundane and boring that if I did not have such things to occupy my mind, I truly don't know how I could function. Of course, I have my wife and daughter; it goes without saying that they are of the utmost importance. What I'm referring to is the life of the mind, the creative bent, what makes you....well, you. My weekends and nights are what I live for, am never happier than when I leave the cube at work I've called home for a quarter century. I wonder sometime if I'm not wishing my life away, wanting the day/week to fly by to get to what really matters. I'm also in a strange time of my life where I desire very little real contact with anyone outside of my family; except for the handful of people I e-mail and share my ideas/quirks. Forgive me, I'm starting to ramble! Thanks again for such an insightful post, we must indeed not waste our creative talents and I hope to craft some  more poems out soon, have been working on them a lot more the last few weeks.


I love your comments, Scott. I love the way you work in Moby Dick and Hawaii and history no matter what the blog post is about. A writer doesn’t choose his central themes, and those are yours. What does Moby Dick symbolize: Nature, Fate, Necessity, an Unknown God taking revenge for revenge-seeking? To me Moby Dick is like a Gothic cathedral, so over-the-top that evolution can provide no reason, though perhaps a rhyme – like humans, does Something out there create for the pleasure of it? Or is it a random process, give or take some Hawaiian whalers? That’s where a writer comes in: to redeem those lost, voiceless men. Or so we say, since we need to believe in ideals such as human dignity and the worth of every individual life. The writer writes, not knowing why. After the fact, we say, Isn’t it wonderful: S/he gave voice to the voiceless. S/he saved them from oblivion.

A mundane job – I hear you. I’ve had more of those than I care to count, and yes, that is a very good reason for writing and other deeds of darkness (though some people write at dawn – think of Hemingway rising at 5 am and staying at his typewriter, sober, until 11 a.m. – then he’d start drinking. He gave himself to his muse and to alcohol completely; nothing could stop him.

Sometimes I wonder: do bosses realize the difference between a labor of love and the kind of loveless labor that goes on in offices? The Grand-Canyon size gap between a boring job versus creative work, profit versus prophet, the mundane against the soul? In your post, I’m especially struck by this: “My day job is soooooo incredibly mundane and boring that if I did not have such things to occupy my mind, I truly don't know how I could function. . . Of course, I have my wife and daughter; it goes without saying that they are of the utmost importance. What I'm referring to is the life of the mind, the creative bent, what makes you....well, you.”

What is most important in life? “Love and work,” said Sigmund Freud. On this, for a change, he was right. You mention your wife and daughter: that’s the human love, affection, a private haven of tenderness.  Just as important, though, is doing what we love, call it “work” or “the life of the mind.”

By work I mean the kind of work that engages our mind, and not what Marx would call “alienated labor.” Yet some people will work in a dedicated manner no matter what. I’ve met waitresses who put their heart into serving burgers and French fries in some fancified diner off the highway. It’s amazing to be served by a waitress who loves her work!

And this is apparently a modern phenomenon, this giving oneself to work as the meaning of one’s life. The word “workaholic” is fairly recent, though when you read about the famous achievers in any century, they certainly seem like workaholics. But a workaholic is self-driven. If self-direction is impossible, if we have alienated labor, then we live for evenings and weekends, when we can do what we love doing. (Working mothers might protest that they never get that luxury.) Still, the human need is to be busy. Freud was right: “Love and work.” The work we love is best; barring that, any work.


I love these lines:

It’s Aphrodite’s blue-green glow,
the life that yet remains –
I take your hand and we hope
that dark leap is a dolphin.

and also

Tunnels of flesh,
dew of devouring
throats – love, magnified

to show how deep
reach the velvet
and rapacious flames.

Could Eros blaze . . .

-- intoxicating, Ms. O!


O! I love being Ms. O! Thank you, sweet Kristen.

I’m pondering the matter that mythology leaves obscure: in the later myth, where Eros is the son of Aphrodite, who was his father? We know that Aphrodite was the wife of Hephaestus, whom I call the wounded artist. Myth scholars keep silent on this, but isn’t it psychologically fitting that a union of the divine artist with divine beauty (nature, a woman’s body) would give rise to that subtle seduction that we call erotic? I’m thinking here more of the eros of the soul. Unlike Artemis, Aphrodite is not the goddess of forest; she is the goddess of the garden and of luxurious interiors. She infuses the glow of beauty into artful things. Too little has been said about the necessary marriage of Aphrodite and Hephaestus, the love of beauty and the labor of love. Jean Shinoda says about those work in a creative realm, "When work comes through his Hephaestus-Aphrodite union, he feels touched by divinity as he creates. He is an inspired instrument through which beauty becomes manifest in matter." 


This is the first time I hear of Aphrodite Urania and Aphrodite as the goddess of creativity. How come these aspects of Aphrodite remain so obscure? Also, I am confused about Eros. Who is the father of Eros?


Jean Shinoda-Bolen can be disparaged as a pop-psychologist, but I’ll always defend her as a pioneer in the exploration of the goddess archetypes. She inspired me to read more on the subject. And I was particularly struck by her “discovery” of Aphrodite Urania. Shinoda rescued Aphrodite from the beautiful but not very interesting image given to us by famous painters: that of a sensual woman gazing in the mirror.

Of course Christianity tried to demonize pagan gods and goddesses, making Aphrodite a kind of super-harlot, a mere sex pot. But there is so much more to Aphrodite. There is, for instance, the Lamenting Aphrodite, related to the broader archetype of a goddess wandering the world, weeping for her lost lover. And there is certainly the intellectual/artistic Aphrodite Urania. I’d say my mother was an intellectual Aphrodite, and retained that amazing power of attraction into her seventies and even beyond. When her face lit up, it was the divine light of a lively mind seized with sudden interest.

It’s been said that Aphrodite Urania is the goddess of “spiritual love” as opposed to sexual love. But given the sensual and downright erotic aspect of most art, I don’t trust the phrase “spiritual love” and the rejection of the body that it implies. I like to say that you can’t separate the soul from hormones. But there is a realm that I’d call “eroticism of the soul.” It includes poetry, music, and similar delights. Inspiring women who led salons were not known for their physical beauty so much as their intelligence, combined with charisma, warmth and charm. 

As for the father of Eros, the best answer is that he has no father. I know I suggested Hephaestus, but I also know that there is no textual support for this. Eros is either the primeval god, the living force behind all that exists, or Aphrodite’s fatherless son, the force of love, of connectedness.


My favorite poem here is “Aphrodite Urania.”


Interesting that Aphrodite Urania is your favorite -- I thought you'd like that one the least. How wrong we most often are when trying to make these predictions!

This passage, I know, is unusual – but as soon as I learned that Aphrodite’s sacred bird was the dove, how could I not think of the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit? And that goes back to the Hebrew myth of creation, when the Spirit of God (ruach elohim)– note that ruach is a feminine noun)  “brooded over the waters.”

whose bird is the dove –

quiet as the Spirit brooding
over shining water,

creating the world
again and again in the mind.

I do like those lines -- I like the fusion of the Greek and the Hebraic mythologies that seems to happen in some of my poems. Culturally I was formed by both cultural traditions. I am completely ecclectic, so I want to choose the best of each. 

I am also struck by how there was no way I could identify with the Virgin Mary, much as I loved her, whereas I immediately felt close to certain goddesses. Aphrodite, however, was not one of them, degraded as she'd become by the popular culture. I came to appreciate her only later in life, and learning about Aphrodite Urania had a lot to do with it. It fit immediately with the importance that intellectual connection has for me, and with beautiful, delightful writing as "mind sex" and "eroticism of the soul." I mean intellectual intimacy, and not what is usually understood as intimacy – that it is an emotional bond. With no disrespect for emotional bonds, there is also a bond based on having read and enjoyed the same books, having viewed and been affected by the same favorite movies; it's having thought deeply about the same big issues, carrying the same questions, doubts and ambivalences as well as beliefs. It’s a union of the minds. Let me not to the marriage of true minds . . .

Aphrodite Speaks

I am the wisps of foam
like white lies
a snake of light
across the shiny black water

don’t blame the flesh
calling it an animal
it’s an animal of the mind
insatiable for delight

I Aphrodite tell you this 
the shining goddess 
lover of laughter

This is how I want
to fall asleep
rocked and caressed 
by many hands

until all you remember of me
is brightness

~ Oriana © 2011



My first thought is that Aphrodite may just very well be the sexpot she is made out to be and it is the culture that has a problem with it, not Her or anyone who's beyond that.  What is more powerful than sex and beauty in a woman?  What is more hated?  Is that a coincidence? 

If one considers her a symbol of desire, it will explain a lot on many levels.


There is no question that most people know Aphrodite as the goddess of erotic love and beauty, and only a few have even heard of Aphrodite Urania, the heavenly Aphrodite who, according to Jean Shinoda-Bolen, is the goddess of creativity. I think Shinoda is onto something important here. On the other hand, there is no denying that sex drive and eros and the creative drive are very intertwined. Not that we need to go to the Freudian extreme of trying to see sex in everything, but even color perception is related to the levels of sex hormones!

And yes, feminine beauty and sexuality have always been seen as both creative inspiration and a threat – primarily a threat, if we think of religions in particular. And yes, thinking of desire in the broadest sense can indeed explain all kinds of drive, including falling in love with one’s own creative projects. You are absolutely right about Aphrodite’s being the most dangerous, "subversive" goddess. Other goddess mostly uphold the existing order. Aphrodite, the goddess of falling in love, is like a fire storm. Creative passion can also be a fire storm. You plod, plod, plod, and suddenly – inspiration that nothing can stop.

Aphrodite is also the goddess of beauty, and not just bodily beauty, and not just beautiful clothes, but beauty in music, in the arts in general, in creating a beautiful home . . .  For me, beauty is a great value. Like love, it can be a subversive value, a protest against a dull life filled with drudgery – but drudgery in the name of what? Life is too short to let it pass without beauty.

Rebecca Seiferle opens one of her poems by invoking the subversive power of Aphrodite, the goddess who can make us give up (often dubious) social commitments in favor of the torment and delight of passion:

Oh tell me why

do we fear passion more than we fear war?
Why those ancient warriors outside Troy
fear Aphrodite more than devastation, why is she
the only god driven, shrieking and wounded,
from the field? Why is it better to die
by one’s own hand than to enter the depths
and be changed?



The essence of motherhood is passionate commitment. 

My reply to this statement: I wanted the experience of pregnancy, childbirth and delivery only once and I got what I wanted. I wasn’t interested in “raising” my child and fortunately, his father and I had joint custody after we “divorced” and then he took over completely once my child was 5 years old (with many customary visits during my son’s growing years.)

This arrangement coincided with my entry into the Master’s program in art school. 


Actually, this does not contradict Bolen’s statement. She’d consider a passionate commitment to art as “motherhood” – giving birth to yourself as an artist, giving birth and nurturing your work. I’m reminded of Gloria Steinem’s explanation: “I could not give birth both to myself and to another person.”

I think you were very lucky. A lot of creative women crave the experience of pregnancy, birth, nursing, watching the child’s unfolding as a whole new person. It’s just that they also want to be free to work on their art. Some have managed to find a way, e.g. Louise Nevelson had her parents raise her child. Anna Akhmatova let her mother-in-law do the child-rearing. A friend of mine, a writer, also had a very supportive mother-in-law; in addition, her own mother also helped a lot.

But in many cases, there is no help, and the woman artist decides against motherhood. She knows it’s a loss of beautiful experiences (and, for a writer, of a rich source of material), but she is too afraid of being devoured by the demands of parenting without help. And anyone with a creative vocation already knows the meaning of “devouring”!

I like the saying: “It’s wonderful to have children, and it’s also wonderful not to have children.” Above all, it’s wonderful to have some sort of passionate commitment in life, and that commitment need not be motherhood in the literal sense.


During my years of chronic depression, I was once asked, “How can anyone with your talent and creativity ever be depressed?”

A dear friend recounts the saga of her immensely talented friend who claimed that after she washed the dishes, she felt a great sense of accomplishment. This friend committed suicide shortly thereafter. 


My sense of accomplishment definitely comes from writing, but, up to a point, I love doing housework. After the intensity of mental work, I find any physical work relaxing and strangely enjoyable. And I agree with the Buddhist view that anything done wholeheartedly and “mindfully” is a pleasure (there may be exceptions: I admit I never shoveled manure).

But getting to the serious issue of “how can anyone with your talent and creativity ever be depressed?”– there are of course endless reasons for depression. In that way, depression is more a symptom than a specific disorder. Nevertheless, the question did take root, and eventually I became ashamed of wallowing in depression (mine had a large volitional component; depression-inducing thoughts were a bad habit, like nail-biting). So, like Milosz, rather than brood about the past and live from my wounds, I decided to “escape forward into work,” as Milosz puts it. And I discovered that working works! For me the opposite of depression is work.


To be personal and yet universal – that is the magical combination.
I totally agree and learned this much later in my work. 


Some even claim that the personal you get, the more universal you get. That may be correct, though we always transform the personal anyway. “Pure” autobiography simply doesn’t happen; it’s always part fiction, braided with a larger meaning. We seek meaning and produce meaning; “real life” is a confusing maelstrom. We have to simplify and enhance. That’s what art does – one of the main mechanisms through which the personal becomes universal. 


Some additional comments:

Great light seen only in the dark.   What a profound line! It is concrete evidence that life is still worthwhile.

An intense romance can be a source of material, but it can also become a drain of energy away from creative work.  

To talk about one’s work drains the energy from creating the work, said a famous male artist whose name slips my mind at this point.

There have been times when I am making art and music is playing that I almost have an orgasm – slight but still felt.

I always imbibed literally when creating at my outside studio. Now that I work in my bedroom/studio, I do not drink. I have minimized my alcohol and tobacco intake considerably although I still use.

I like Zola’s “I am here to live out loud”.  If I didn’t have my art/talent/creativity, I would find it hard to continue living. My son is a grown man so I needn’t stay around for him. There is, however, one urgent reason to live:  I must write my autobiography so I can feel as though I organized and tied up loose ends.


Thanks for the reminder that while working on your art is usually energizing, talking about it is a drain of energy. Novelists know very well that they must not talk about their novel while it’s in progress, since there is a danger of “talking it away.” Once you’ve put it into words talking to a friend, there is often no motivation left to put those words on paper. You must find the words while communing with yourself and with the page. It’s fascinating, how much energy creative work takes, and how we must guard that energy with silence and solitude.

A new poem is a high – sometimes just one line can give me a “buzz,” and I find myself repeating it in my head many times just for the pleasure of it. When I listen to great music, I experience not quite an orgasm but rapture, a kind of mystical orgasm when I have a feeling of total surrender to immense pleasure.

As for the privilege of being an artist, there is of course the saying, “An artist is never poor.” Having creative work is indeed wealth beyond meaningless stuff such as having a Rolls-Royce. I would extend it beyond art: the greatest wealth is being able to do the work you love. This should be a human right; Ruskin, for instance, wrote about “work pleasure” as part of the essential joy of life. He pointed out that a craftsman enjoys his work, while a factory worker feels enslaved and can hardly wait for the shift to be over. My own Utopian ideal includes work pleasure for everyone – at least one hour of it every day.

Why “work pleasure” and not just pleasure in general, such as watching a movie? Work has meaning, and we need meaning. That’s why “all play and no work” is a kind of torture, an empty life.


Lilith sent this poem as her comment:


Ripe apricots, I smear them on my face,
their skin softens mine

Their only wrinkle lines –
two hemispheres from stem to top,
a life-line on the palm
their future is suspended

Apricots, plentiful as a young woman’s suitors,
fill the yard in the long season
even the birds so full they don’t harvest them
as no one stoops to pick up pennies

And now that I am sixty
I gather apricots
and stoop for copper pennies
the season short, the line of suitors brief

I hoard the promise
scarce as mid-life kisses
a fresh day precious now
as perfume of crushed blossoms

~ Lilith



A gorgeous poem, and so true. I don't think in youth we can possibly "live in the moment." The burden of the future is too great, especially for women who go for advanced degrees. Graduate school is usually an impossible pressure-cooker. Even without it, youth, that time of physical attractiveness, health and energy, is often a period of greatest emotional and financial hardship. Study after study has found that people become happier and more “in the moment” as they grow older. That’s when women like us become sensualists, living for pleasure as much as we can. That’s when we fully savor the apricots – and the figs and golden apples of Aphrodite, every variety of delicious, once forbidden fruit. Here is to the late-blooming Aphrodite!