Welcome to Voca Blogita – our “little voice blog.” At Voca Femina we’re passionate about women, about creativity, and about self-expression. The feminine voice is powerful, creative, life-giving, and beautiful, and we’re here to celebrate it.

It takes courage to speak up. To write. To sing, dance, paint, sculpt, or shoot pictures. This little blog is just another way to infuse you – and us – with  enough courage to keep the spark of creative expression alive, to fan it into flame – heck, to burn the house down if we can!

Every week we’ll offer a little something to help you believe in the spark that’s already inside you, waiting to be expressed.

So tune in, jump in, and join the conversation.

I’m Over Oprah

I’m reading a book from the Oprah Book Club.  It’s a sad book, the story of misfits and misguided fits and the consequences of their actions, which are tragic – beautifully described, but tragic. In fact, it’s a lot like other Oprah Book Club books I’ve read. There’s a sense of obligation almost, like the reading lists in college or on Facebook. But you read it at arms length, letting in only tiny bits and pieces – turning on NCIS in the background so you don’t completely fall under the spell, the shockingly fascinating spell of people completely screwing up their lives and their children’s lives. Not really reading it, but unable to put it away – quickly forgetting as soon as you’ve turned down a corner and spread it on the side table, breaking the spine. Needing a break.

I blame the Chicago diva. She who creates millionaires with the wave of her Book Club wand. Then that made her feel guilty and she stopped it, but not really, so it’s still out there. The power is unimaginable. Power Oprah. With favorites.

The thing is – I used to love the gutsy, robust woman with the country phrases and the big laugh.  I loved the magazine – finally a publication that made me feel good about myself instead of bad about myself!  I loved the search for the spiritual, the center, the new norm, the love of self.

But somewhere along the way the contradictions have become too much. The little school for the “right” African girls – again the life-changer waves a wand. That hasn’t gone too well. The advocacy for simplicity juxtaposed with the lavish gifting. Who are we kidding, girlfriend? And the scourge of existence – body image – going on and on and on and on in endless, belly-button-examination about eating and exercising and denial and freedom and getting coaching and doing it on your own, liking yourself, but changing your belt. This never-ending dance around self-loathing. Please stop. Step away from the navel.

So, what is the Oprah Winfrey Network except taking it all to a deeper level?  Behind the shows? Show business about the reality behind the show business? Does anybody still care that much? OWN?  No, Oprah, what happened to Let it Go? Dr. Phil? Nate Burkas? Gayle? Do we really have to see everyone cash in this last year?

I happened to be home today at the time the show comes on. Thought about it. But couldn’t really bear the thought of twirling on that merry-go-round for an hour. In the end, it’s all been a phenomenon. There will never be another Oprah.  And I don’t think there should be.

I love Thanksgiving. The Harvest. Fall.

The frivolity of summer, scampering around in flip flops, long shadows embracing the hills while a slow sunset after the evening meal draws the day to a close.  That’s a joy.

But then there is the crispness in the air when tired leaves put up a fight of red and orange before falling to the ground shriveled and dried. Darkness comes quickly, before dinner.

“Is it 10 o’clock?”

“No, it’s 7:30.”

We shut the windows, draw the curtains and build a fire in the fireplace. Out come the afghans and quilts to drape over the sofa and armchairs. Launched by trick-or-treaters distracted by having to wear sweaters over their costumes, Fall hides on the occasional hot, sunny days, then sneaks out at night when wind and moonlight drop the temperature way down at night Chill. Can’t wait to run the oven for six hours and cook the bird.

The smell of the cooking turkey is the culmination of the other Fall smells – chimneys, the last summer tomatoes and eggplant sizzling in olive oil, cinnamon, pies. The pan drippings, the salty crunch of a bite of skin, the perfection of the first slice, the crazy caveman bite into the drumstick. Then the huge wishbone. The huge wishes of Fall.

Almost at the end of another year.

“Where did this year go?”

“I know, I know.”

Stuffed with stuffing, snuggling under the blankets, listening for the furnace to kick on. Dreaming of pumpkin pie for breakfast.

Ringgggggg!  It’s 3 a.m. – time to shop!  Christmas, Christmas, Christmas! Doorbusters!  Half off!  Hurry, hurry, wait in line. Circle to find a parking place.  Lights on the houses!
Blow-up Snowmen on the lawn! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph blinking in wire next to the driveway.

And Fall gets slapped in the face. Pumpkins and Indian corn get dumped and out come the flashy, glittery wreaths, fake snow, fake trees, fake smiles, fake joy to the world.
Before the turkey soup is even cooked, we plan for the goose and ham.

I propose that we give Fall a more decent burial. Give Thanksgiving Day an extra few hours and let Black Friday become Brown Friday and Black Saturday. Sleep in. Take a last look at the leaves, split open the pumpkins by the front door and scoop out the seeds to bake with oil and seasoned salt. Cook the pulp and make one more pie. Make a sandwich with the last of the gravy. Let Fall drift down like the fat maple leaves and have a day to say Goodbye.

It’s election day. Across America there are hopeful hearts beating hard and fast as candidates for school boards, fire districts, state offices, Congress and Senate think, Wow! This day could change my life. Secret smiles bubble up because, at the end of the day, anything can happen. No matter what the polls say, the commentators, your best friend, or your mother, the outcome of the day is going to be decided by a vote of the people.

Yes, the voters. And while candidates may wake up excited at the prospect of winning, every voter in America is waking up thinking – thank God it’s over.  The end of the phone calls, e-mail messages that you don’t open (Let’s see, do I know a Joanne? No. Delete.), television commercials that feed on one flavor – disgrace.

Disgrace is the last character flaw that can still be used to distinguish between someone who governs well and someone who cannot, apparently. In a time of Snookie showing her cleavage and Situation scoring with really stupid women; when Sarah Palin’s daughter scuttles her chubby teen-mom ass across a dance floor and makes a fool of herself; when a glib, self-absorbed polygamist can convince his fourth wife that love should expand (or, only HIS love, not hers) – disgrace? Really?

So the candidates drone and whine and dig up phony flaws and half-truths, accusing their opponents, hoping to paint them with the brush of disgrace. And others make good money – big money – mixing that paint. Because what we tolerate in Snookie or Kody won’t do for those we elected to office. Elected officials have one thing that no other celebrities have.

Power.

We hold politicians to a higher standard because they have power over us. When we get a babysitter and drive to the DMV only to find that it’s closed on the third Friday – that affects our lives. When we plan a trip to the park and the toilets are all broken and little Jason wets his pants – that affects our lives. When we try to get a permit for a deck and it takes all summer to get approval – that matters to us. When we try to find adult day care for our loved ones with dementia and all of the funding has been cut – that matters.

So we respond to the unpacking of a candidate’s character because there is still some vestige of hope that the people we elect to have power over our lives are a little better than we are, a little smarter, a little more stronger in character, more able to figure out right from wrong. More able than we are. Living lives slightly less disgraceful than our own.

But what if someone made a political commercial about your life? About mine? “Francine Phillips wasn’t thinking about taxpayers when she took the last peanut butter cup out of the Halloween candy cauldron. She was only thinking about the smooth, creamy mix of salt and chocolate melting on her tongue. Phillips should be ashamed!”

Guilty as charged. Disgraced for sure. I guess I’ll never run for office. But if I did, I bet I’d be able to figure out how to keep adult day care open. There’s the real disgrace.

When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and the arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace. Beauty is mysterious, a slow presence who waits for the ready, expectant heart. When the heart becomes attuned to her restrained glimmerings, it learns to recognize her intimations more frequently in places it would never have lingered before.

John O’Donohue, Beauty, the Invisible Embrace: Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity, and Hope

photo by tara bamford

LIVE FROM PHOENIX

On Saturday, October 16th, Voca Femina live went on the road. Thanks so much to Joy Schroeder, for hosting this lovely event! We enjoyed art, jewelry, music, pottery, and some incredibly artful cupcakes. The wonder and joy generated by these live gatherings never cease to amaze us.

Here are highlights of the event, plus some great offerings from local poets.

First, peruse photos of the Phoenix gathering, by Tara Bamford

justiceSwagger, a collection of sassy, artful clothing by Rae Mayfield Godson

Song of Life, by Michelle Jungbauer

Fly on His Nose, and The Lake, by Rocky Rhoads

Unpacking, by Charlotte Butler Sulafia

Spirit/Strength Mandala, by Wendy Hawkins

Encouraging comments make an artist’s or writer’s day. Please take a moment to share an encouraging word with these lovely women.

Here’s a quick plug for one of our own.

If you live in the Denver area and want to develop your photography skills, you’re in luck. Voca Femina’s own Shelby McQuilkin is teaching a class!

Shelby’s work is more than photography, more than getting a great shot. Her work is pure art.

Follow this link and sign up today.

This is me, telling this story, along with the painting I managed to do with the very expert help of Jenny Herrick. I told the story at Voca Femina Live last Friday night. Such a beautiful evening. (More pictures to come)

Forget Me Not

I was just a kid in the late sixties, when the hippies proclaimed that flower power was going to heal the world. So even though I was only in the sixth grade, I did my part by embroidering some flower power on my bell-bottomed jeans – five petals with a stem and leaves.

After that, the 5 petaled flower became my signature. Every letter to a friend, every note I passed in Social Studies, every notebook I labeled with my name, all bore the signature of the 5 petaled flower, right next to my name.

I grew up Phyllis Hanna, at the edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota, right alongside granite spires, sweet-smelling pines, deep wooded lakes and clear shallow streams.

Growing up as I did in a large family, it was easy to get lost in the shuffle, and I made it my business to be the one nobody had to worry about, and I ended up becoming the one nobody seemed to see.

The August after high school graduation, after the motorcycle rally and before we split up to go to college – just about this time of year – a few friends and I packed whatever gear we had and  headed for the hills to camp for a week. My friend Brenda had spent her summer at a work camp in the Hills, so she knew just the place. Hanna campground. I was stunned. That was my name – Hanna. Who knew they named a campground after me?

It was a glorious week, hiking through the mountains, weaving daisy chains, showering in Roughlock Falls, and talking late into the nights by the fire. One morning I went off by myself to put my feet in the stream. As I was sitting there I noticed thin stalks covered with tiny blue flowers, growing right at the edge of the bank where I was sitting. I looked closer.

Five petals of sky blue, the whole flower less than a centimeter in diameter, with an orange-yellow dot in the center. It looked like a miniscule sun in the middle of a tiny blue sky.

Have you ever had a moment when time seems to stand still? When the whole world holds its breath and suddenly you find yourself in that thin space between heaven and earth?

This was my flower. The flower I saw in my mind when I so lovingly embroidered it on my favorite jeans. The flower I saw in my mind when I fastened it to my signature. My signature flower, here in the real.

I felt this flower was sent here just for me. A little piece of loveliness I’d always longed for, waiting here at the edge of nowhere, just for me to find.

And although I know it grows in many parts of the world, I’ve never seen it anywhere but  in the clear cold streams of my home.

Since that week I’ve often made my pilgrimage to that obscure part of the world. One summer, in search of my little blue flowers, I found them a few miles up from Hanna campground, growing in a shallow stream that meandered through the meadow next to the road. As we followed the road I noticed they’d taken over the entire stream, so that, instead of the water, all I could see was a ribbon of blue, made of millions of my tiny flowers, winding its way before us.

It wasn’t until recently I learned the name of the flower – forget me not.

This last month we made another pilgrimage to visit my little blue flowers. The Hills were more beautiful than I’d ever seen them. Not the purple mountains’ majesty kind of beauty we live in the midst of here in Colorado, but the kind of beauty that can wrap me up like a blanket and sing me a lullaby.

I felt the thin spaces again.

And as I held my little flowers in my hand, contemplating their delicate beauty, I knew these things:

there is a place in the world where the earth knows my name

the sweet-smelling pines and the clear mountain streams stitch the foundation of my body and soul

and most importantly,

in the smallest places of my deepest heart, I am not forgotten.