Monday, October 17, 2011


or a while now I've been thinking of giving this blog a fresh face, and I've finally started the process. Check out my new digs at I'm still tweaking things there, but that is the fun part, right? I'll post 'alerts' here for awhile, but the wordpress site will be THE site shortly.

Barbara Butler McCoy

[[Photo: Roundhouse Railroad Museum; Savannah, GA; August 2011]]

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Musings.17: Barbara

ven as I write this I am amazed and excited to share quite an interesting development regarding illuminated Christian texts in the Western world, such as the "Book of Kells" in Ireland, that is appearing in this work.

The story until recently has been that of "ragged scribes in a lonely struggle to preserve Christian culture from the forces of darkness." One's imagination shifts into overdrive picturing Irish monks perched at tall desks in the scriptoriums of monasteries at the edge of Western civilization, the Dark Ages rolling inexorably toward the island. One hears the sea through the slit windows, crashing against the rocks and shore.

As related in a recent story in the magazine The Economist, scholars are studying religious texts from the library at the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai "whose foundation in the mid-sixth century roughly coincides with the spread of Christianity, and hence Latin writing, from Ireland to Scotland - whence it later shifted to the north of England."

"...the Sinai collection is vast and diverse. Along with over 6,000 early printed books, there are 3,300 manuscripts in a dozen languages, mainly Greek, Georgian, Slavonic and three Semitic tongues - Arabic, Syriac and Aramaic."

Put simply, as Christianity was spreading from Ireland to Scotland roughly 1,400 years ago, the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai and its library of Christian manuscripts was being founded. Christians in the East were preserving texts at the same time the monks in Ireland were copying and preserving such texts.

Michelle Brown, professor of medieval manuscript studies at the University of London, and paleographer and art historian, has extensive experience studying and describing northern European manuscripts held by the British Library. She "believes that scribes from the British Isles may have worked on the slopes of Mount Sinai, writing in Latin." The Irish monks may not have been as isolated as previously thought.

Beyond the use of ornate capitals at strategic points of a manuscript (or the opening of blog posts), how does this story relate to Melissa's latest dream? The answer is - Utah. A companion piece to this article discusses efforts to digitize ancient manuscripts from various sources. The data and images are secured in repositories under the mountains of Utah.

I was happily surprised when I realized Melissa's dream was alluding to this story in The Economist. While I have no idea where in the mountains of Utah these repositories might be I needed moonlight and a body of water in the mountains. Consulting my atlas I found Moon Lake, east of Salt Lake City, near the Uinta Mountains, the High Uintas Wilderness Area, and the Uinta and Ouray Indian Reservation.

Now I must propose a more startling question: Why is all of this pointing to a link between Melissa and William Shakespeare's 'Juliet'? This blog, as I hope you recall, is to explore the character 'Melissa' as it develops. I promise you I did not see this coming!
The first hint of Juliet I find in this, oddly enough, is at the end of the dream when the crow and the swan appear together with the 'J' - shaped dagger that Melissa carries away in flight. My mind flashed to the instrument of Juliet's 'death', then I recalled Benvolio's boast that he would make Romeo "think thy swan a crow." (I.iii.94) That triggered the realization that Romeo leapt the orchard wall after the ball to try to get a further glimpse of Juliet. So, I saw a correspondence to the opening of this dream - Melissa standing in an orchard.

The strongest connection I see, however, is found in Juliet's musing there on her balcony: "Deny thy father and refuse thy name." (II.ii.37) We saw evidence that Melissa may be doing just that when she discovered the abandoned St. Clair Shores. The message from her father is rather clear, I would say, but Melissa appears to be ignoring it.

Irish monks. Monks at Saint Catherine's on Mount Sinai. Illuminated Christian manuscripts. Mountains in Utah. The crow and the swan. The dagger.

Some questions answered, others proposed.

[[Bibliography: "Illuminating a dark age." The Economist 18 December 2010: 149-151]]

[[Photo: Apothecary shop in Hendersonville, NC; June 27, 2011; Barbara Butler McCoy]]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Swan: 'Melissa'

he serenity in the snowy moonlit orchard felt complete, so much so that it was moments before I realized I was in a dream. Happily, my Crow was there and he seemed eager to lead me hop by hop, branch by branch, through the orchard. I tried not to disturb the silence, but once or twice I happened to kick some withered apples on the path (Rome Beauties, perhaps?).

We hadn't gone far when I began to see fleeting movement among the trees. I thought it mist at first, but when I stopped and focused on the movement I realized the 'mist' was a woman's filmy gown floating around her as she danced a winding path beneath the branches.

I heard neither birdsong nor human music accompanying her dance, only silence, sylvan silence. She appeared so ethereal I was surprised to see snow sift over her satin slippers when once she passed nearly close enough to touch. I resisted my urge to touch the hem of her rose-sprigged gown and followed my Crow out of the orchard and beyond, until he bade me climb upon his back. We flew.

We flew to a place that reminded me of "The Faraway Nearby" - majestic mountains, sovereign in the landscape. I saw a lake or pool lit by the moon, and I saw two parallel strips of light, almost like a landing strip in the mountains.

When we drew closer I saw that the lights were actually discarded pie tins affixed to sticks. I also saw that the landing strip was still under construction, so to speak, and that the 'technician' was the little girl who'd played music for the King of Faery, who'd fashioned wings for leprechauns in the labyrinth.

Too soon we landed and I had to walk on land once again. My Crow was hushed and watchful, as if awaiting someone or something. I waited with him. In the deepest darkness before dawn a magnificent swan flew in to land on the lake. The ripples of the swan's landing had barely ceased when, without warning, Cupid darted from a blind and shot a fatal arrow into the swan's heart.

She (the swan seemed to me to be female) struggled to reach us and collapsed, successful, at the Crow's feet. He ministered to her with sweet and exquisite care. When it was evident that she was gone he hopped a short distance away, then returned with a steel dagger fashioned as the letter 'J'. After he dropped the dagger into my lap he held up one of the swan's wings.

Horrified, I realized he wished me to cut off her wings, to mutilate that magnificent creature! I could not bring myself to do it - until I remembered that logic and cause and effect in dreams do not follow the rules of material life.

That is the only way to explain how I was then able to gird my shoulders with those wings and fly off with my Crow, dagger in hand. Only with a dreaming mind can I credit that the swan herself flew off with us.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Musings.16: Barbara

erhaps you've seen one, too? A blindingly brilliant smile from a stranger that hits you with all the wattage of a lightning bolt and, most curiously, both roots you to the ground as it spins you around counterclockwise! I write this and I think of Natalie Cole singing her cover of "Orange Colored Sky on"Unforgettable" ... and, yes, such a smile is unforgettable.

I had been wondering what would be 'Melissa's' first glimpse of her 'Dark Man's' face and I love that it happens this way. All her previous glimpses have been enigmatic, incomplete and, to an extent, suffused with pain. (Remember his bloody shoulders?) Well, now she sees his smiling face and evidence of the depth of his feelings for her as she realizes he's written poetry about her, his Muse.

This is a significant development in 'Melissa's' story for another reason. I've written previously about the connection to timelessness, to depth of vision, to universal love and truth that comes to those who sincerely practice art. What we are seeing with this development is that in his sincere practice of poetry the 'Dark Man' finds reason to smile at and about his Muse. That is not to be taken lightly.

The book of poetry is, like the poet himself, enigmatic. I am intrigued. "Sonnets to Ophelia" and Renaissance dress? What will we learn about 'Melissa' from these hints?

Perhaps more intriguing is the setting for the dream and the activity we see - princesses drinking tea from their slippers as part of a performance. "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" was one of my favorite fairy tales as a child so I will enjoy watching how it unfolds in the context of 'Melissa's' story.

One part of the dream, its location, matches my life experience. Years ago I lived in Williamsburg, VA and on a number of occasions I visited the National Park at Jamestown, along the James River. There is a centuries-old chapel on the site and from a certain perspective one can stand inside knowing the river flows past off to the right. For some reason this past Easter season I was particularly touched whenever our cantor, Samuel, would sing that verse, "I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple." I was quite happy to realize it would be a lovely part of 'Melissa's' dream.

She has presumed to pull herself away from the people and situations that once left her "formulated, sprawling on a pin ... pinned and wriggling on the wall." (T. S. Eliot, "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock") Now she has the 'Dark Man's' smile to light her way, and some enchanting stories appearing in her dreams. Wonder is blossoming in her life. I wonder what will happen next.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Never: "Melissa"

ever, never, ever! - would I have guessed that someone could look at me and smile like that! I remind myself over and over that it was just a dream, but it still rocks me. I feel like I've been hit by lightning. And the blinding smile isn't even all of it! I think I'd better begin at the beginning.

In this dream I was wandering around somewhere, I don't know where, but
it looked like a park of some sort. There was an air of expectation, I thought, and I looked around to see if something was happening. There were people walking into a ruined building - I think it was an old church or temple or something. So I followed them.

The interior of this ruined temple had been transformed into a theatre and up on the stage I could see the twelve dancing princesses. The set was made to look like their bedroom on the morning after they'd been dancing. They were lounging around drinking tea from their dancing slippers! How funny. The scene was witty and kind and thoughtful, and enchanting. They seemed so sweet. It would be so much fun to know women like that.

I was smiling on the inside and the outside by the end of the play so I wandered into the gift shop to see what I could find to take home with me. The Richard-the-Lionhearted puppet was there as were some adorable papier mache slippers like the ones the princesses used to serve tea to one another. I laughed out loud when I saw those. There were fools' caps, too, like the one in the office at St. Clair Shores, and each had a scepter to match - a scepter with bells.

Then I saw rows and rows of a book of poetry. The covers caught my attention because they were like the photos and pictures in the "Harry Potter" stories - the people moved and spoke. There was a woman in a Renaissance gown standing in a garden of some sort. She was stroking the brow of a unicorn and speaking with a young girl who also wore a dress of the Renaissance period. In the background I saw a lion, like the one on the Richard-the-Lionhearted puppet.

In a flowing script across the top, with flowers and vines interlaced among the letters was the title, "Sonnets to Ophelia." I remember thinking while I was dreaming that "Sonnets to Ophelia"sounded very intriguing. I turned the book to see if there would be a photo of the poet - and had the shock of my life.

As soon as I saw that dark, dark hair and the blood-stained white shirt I knew he was my 'Dark Man' from the warehouse - but I still could not see his face. His back was turned to me. I must have cried out or something (I was so frustrated!) because he turned very slowly and looked at me. He smiled. He smiled that smile that blinded me. I felt - still do feel - like I'd been struck by lightning. A cliche, I know, but ... Can you feel everything stop inside you in a dream? You must, because that's what if felt like, everything just stopped. I never knew anyone could smile like that. I never knew anyone could smile like that at me! And everything just stopped. I can feel it all stopping, and shifting, inside even as I write this.

By the time I gathered my wit (not wits, only one wit) it was too late. He'd turned away again. I wanted to cry, but decided to buy the book, and the little shoes, instead. As I was paying for them I heard someone who sounded like a cantor singing back in the theatre: "I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple." I looked to my right and, yes, there was a window and, yes, I could see a river flowing past.

I don't know how long I spent sketching his face from memory, but I'm glad I did it. I had to. Since I sketched the tableau of the women in the garden I find myself thinking it feels familiar to me, but I can't say why. It is strange, too, to realize that the girl's face reminds me a lot of my face - I saw that as I turned it over in my mind while I sketched. Strange.

I do not understand this. Why is a girl who looks like me wearing Renaissance period clothing depicted on the cover of a book of poetry, written by my 'Dark Man,' with the title "Sonnets to Ophelia"?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Musings.15: Barbara

elissa's dreams have been criss-crossing my actual life in a number of ways, but yesterday morning this happened in a wholly new manner: my work with this character crossed over into my dreams. Until this dream the process had worked in the reverse; I dreamt on occasion and on occasion aspects of my dreams would appear in Melissa's story.

Yesterday I dreamt I was sitting somewhere happily minding my own business, painting with a luscious light blue color and some creamy frothy whites when some unknown woman shows up and looms over me. She leans over my right shoulder (she is behind me) and begins berating me for not following her instructions and insisting she had told me the "assignment" was to do a piece in "black and white."

I was thoroughly confused because, until she appeared, I had no clue I was in any sort of instructional setting. I'd just been playing with the colors, having abandoned an attempt at design to let the colors 'do' what they would 'do'. (To do or not to do, that is the question, eh?)

So, anyway, she persists in her harangue so I decide to go come up with something in black and white to silence her. I told myself I would go around looking for white pieces in "the sweepings of a street" and put them on a black background. As I left the room I wondered whether I should tell 'her' I was leaving and what I was going to do, but I decided she didn't deserve any explanation from me.

In searching for refuse through what appeared to be school corridors, I saw jaguar costumes on display in a large glass trophy case. There was a sign saying that these were the new costumes for the dance team, or something like that. I remember stopping in my tracks for a moment, blinking and thinking, "Oh! The jaguars are back," and feeling rather
Awake and pondering the dream, waiting for my tea to steep, I suddenly realized that in developing the character of 'Melissa' through a fictional dream journal structured, in part, around William Butler Yeats' "The Circus Animals' Desertion" - which includes a line about masterful images beginning from "A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street" - I had produced 31 original drawings in graphite on white paper. Black on white, but then mounted on dark blue and black paper.

The last art instruction I received was in elementary school and, I confess, it left me feeling totally incompetent. Forgive me, but I used to dread that one hour a week art class. I loved the array of colors in the box of 64 Crayola crayons, especially the periwinkle for some reason, but I could never figure out how to get the opalescent scenes I dreamed up in my child's mind onto the paper in a way that would satisfy myself and not add a failing mark tomy report card.

When I decided to explore Melissa's character using a device designed to be an intimate personal journal my journalistic instincts told me I needed to break up the text with visuals of some sort. After trial-and-error I discovered that the graphite drawings promoted that idea of impromptu sketches made while writing - like Monet or Matisse including impromptu sketches in their letters. For the sake of individuality and visual harmony I chose to present the drawings in a uniform style.

So, I sit here nearly four decades after those dreaded and dreadful weekly art classes feeling rather surprised to discover I have done over thirty original graphite drawings. I was just minding my own business, letting this project be what it wanted to be, and ... I am a bit non-plussed.

[Photo: the author's, of a copy of Michelangelo's "David" at a stoneware shop a few blocks east of The World Peace Cafe; Atlanta, GA; 2010]

Friday, January 8, 2010

'Statues Crumble for Me': "Melissa"

verywhere I go statues crumble for me ... who knows how long I've loved you?" I heard that over and over in my dream last night; it sounded like part of a song. Maybe it is. I don't know. All I know is that I dreamt I was back in that office at St. Clair Shores staring in fascination at a mirror someone had hung on the wall. I was startled, to say the least, because it was the same mirror those demon cats held in that dream from a long time ago - the one with Medusa.

Before I could figure out just why the mirror would be in my St. Clair Shores office I saw Medusa herself appear in the mirror and stand with her back to me, looking into an identical mirror. A mirror within a mirror. Medusa asked the mirror, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the foulest of them all?" All I could think was that this was certainly not the way I learned the "Snow White" story when I was little. My mouth dropped open - I must have looked like some landed fish! - when the mirror told her a name just before she stepped into the mirror and walked between two rows of beds in some amazing room in a gothic church or castle of stone. It reminded me of the children's story "Madeline" ... twelve little girls in two straight lines. I counted them as I watched.

She was utterly silent and wasted no time singling out one of the sleeping forms on one of the twelve beds. A pair of worn out shoes with battered soles lay at the foot of each bed and each princess - for I recognized the twelve dancing princesses asleep on those beds - had dropped on top of the bed covers in her ball gown.

Twelve times Medusa questioned the mirror and twelve times she went into that vast room on the other side of it, to touch a princess and turn her to stone. I have no idea why she asked her question of the mirror repeatedly, but she did. I remember it vividly.

I stood there staring at the sight of those twelve immobilized princesses lying there in that vast space - effigies, it seemed, atop their tombs. Answers, I wanted answers, but I wasn't sure where to begin. I did receive a happy answer, of sorts. My Crow arrived just then, along with young Ham and his buddy, Sam. They flew in on a pig, the pig from the 'Lost and Found' bin, right behind my Crow.

Ham called out to me that we had to go break the spell on the princesses. I started to climb onto my Crow's back, but suddenly remembered something. I shouted "Wait!" and ran out of the room. The next thing I knew I was digging through the 'Lost and Found' bin, pulling out shoes, their tongues flapping. I shoved the shoes into a bag and climbed on my Crow's back, then we flew - boy, girl, and woman, pig and Crow - through the mirror into the princesses' sleeping chamber.

Ham leapt from his pig and ran from bed to bed, kissing each statue as I ran from bed to bed leaving shoes for them. I could not hear what Ham said to the princesses because the sound of crumbling and falling stone became a bit loud, and we hurried away because the Crow said it was time to go, time to leave.

Back at St. Clair Shores Ham, Sam and I snacked on animal crackers and cocoa in the office. The Crow joined us after flying around a bit, and he gave me a puppet he found somewhere. The puppet was LOVELY - a medieval king in beautiful robes with a crown on his head. His robe was embroidered with a myriad of stars among shields decorated with a gold lion of the coat-of-arms of King Richard I, King Richard the Lion-Hearted.
I slid my hand into the puppet then picked up my pen. I wielded it like a sword and tapped Ham first on one shoulder, then the other. "In the name of King Richard the Lion-Hearted I knight thee Sir Ham, for your courageous and loving service to the Order of the Heart. I hereby knight your loyal and steadfast steed also. Rise, Sir Ham."