Portrait of Li Qingzhao on a stone, Cui Cuo (崔错), attributed to Zhao Bingzhen school

I peruse the poems of Li Qingzhao (1084-ca. 1155 CE), pause, and feel her tears. There seems no space between us even though she brushed her characters 900 years ago in a language I cannot read. Performing epically, Li Qingzhao stood out in her own day―an era when Chinese women were discouraged from publically sharing their writings―and up to the present she is considered one of China’s greatest poets. I invite you to open to this most lyrical of ancestors for a glimpse into the mystery.

Innately gifted, Li Qingzhao positioned herself within the Northern Song dynasty’s revival of the musical form of poetry known as ci, or song poetry. In this revitalized form, lyrics joined music taken from a song book of 800 tunes. The presentation was sung (usually by a woman) at a gathering accompanied by lute and/or flute. Primarily considered feminine, song poetry raised the expression of feelings to a noble level, so much so that prominent male poets donned the personae of a woman to write their lyrics. Li Qingzhao, as a woman, brushed past the men to become the song’s mistress of delicate restraint.

While alive, Li Qingzhao published a volume of her poetry and had several poems published in an anthology. These publications have not survived. Only a few dozen of her songs made it into subsequent anthologies after her death. Ci often alluded to the classics of Confucianism/Daoism and Chinese legends while incorporating nature and sentiments. Although many of Li Qingzhao’s extant songs are filled with sadness, in the following song we glimpse her lighter and more adventurous spirit―perhaps written in her youth. [Read more…]


In 1973, Mary Daly topped the feminist movement with her publication of, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation. For a brief time, it appeared that the tidal wave of radical feminists―with the sun, moon, and earth all in gravitational pull―would attract men and women alike to overcome the dichotomies within their natures and cause an end to society’s “sexual caste.”

For nearly a decade, from the early 1970’s up to the early 1980’s, the radicalization of women moved forward with such force that new visions of living “beyond opposites,” actually appeared on the horizon of hope. Mary’s incisive languaging with her deconstruction of the patriarchy’s “reversals” of words and their meanings, contributed immensely to women re-claiming their inherent power.

But as the radical edge dissipated and energy lapsed, the vision of a new way became less delineated, for example, “Feminist Studies” morphed into “Gender Studies.” For Mary assimilation was deadly, obscuring women’s ability to both identify and resist male domination. Sensing the shift away from an actualization of a “gynocratic or gynocentric” society, Mary began projecting herself and her “sisterhood” into the “Fifth Dimension,” into the element of ether where time and space lose all linearity and women live free of all imposed constraints from a “phallocentric” reality. As Mary’s thought increasingly spiraled outward, her credibility as a feminist philosopher proportionally diminished within academia. [Read more…]

Marie Laveau – Voudou Queen of New Orleans

“Marie Laveau at Home” – Courtesy of the Artist Bob Graham. You can visit his website at

Unraveling the life and legend of Marie Laveau inevitably spirals into mystical forces of rhythm, religion, and cultural synergy. Beautiful, regal, and self-possessed, Marie applied her full power in antebellum New Orleans in a practical and tangible way that empowered other free people of color (gens de couleur libres), especially women.

Yet one should not be seduced by modern liberal thinking into portraying Marie as a civil rights leader, which she was not as her and her white partner owned several slaves. Pegging her as a feminist likewise suffers an uneasy fit. One way to view the significance of Marie’s life is as a bridge. She linked the magical and the practical; the religions of Voudou and Catholicism; the sacred African rhythms and the poly-sounds of New Orleans; and the oppressed and the oppressor. Acutely aware of her station as a woman of color, she nevertheless pushed the limits and boundaries to create her own domain – never backing away from her gifted nature and innate strength.

Slipping in between the brutal forces of slavery and the damning shame of segregation, Marie was born on September 10, 1801. She landed in a time bubbling with an exciting blend of cultures, languages, rhythms, and religions influenced by Native Americans, French, African, Spanish, Haitian, and white Europeans – a hundred year ancestral mix of edgy chaotic gumbo. [Read more…]

Artemisia Gentileschi – Authenticity in the Face of Adversity

Aurora, 1627 - Artemisia Gentileschi

Sweeping aside the night, Artemisia and her angel paint the dawn. An alchemical turbulence turning nocturnal obscurity into the promising light of day. Stepping onto the Roman stage of the 17th century, amid great male painters, appeared an audacious woman. Through her peerless use of color, brush stroke, and luminosity, Artemisia Gentileschi created forceful and sensuous women immersed in their story. Passing through all the adversity her life served up, she rose to celebrated prominence, never forsaking her true gift, her authentic vision.

Born July 8, 1593, Artemisia was the only girl in the family and the only child with an aptitude for her father’s profession. At age twelve she lost her mother, Prudenzia, who died in childbirth. Her father, Orazio Gentileschi, already an accomplished Roman artist, began tutoring her in mixing colors, even though she could not yet read or write.

Extending out from Rome, all of Europe was at war with itself over religion – Catholics versus Protestants. It was, however, a good time for artists such as Orazio with the Roman Catholic Church richly investing in artistic renderings of biblical stories in an attempt to quicken religious fervor. This new calling, later known as Baroque, afforded artists advantageous positions and ensured their personal pathway to immortality. Most notable of the Italian Baroque artists was Caravaggio, a contemporary of, and influence on, Orazio who then instructed Artemisia in his style. [Read more…]

When a Life Pivots


Robert Frost’s, The Road Not Taken, enchants with a musing walk on the pathway of pivotal decisions. Curious about the interplay of choice, luck, and opportunity after a directional commitment, I peered into the life of Hollywood’s film goddess Lana Turner. Looking at openings, momentum, lucky breaks, pitfalls, and reflections.

A 15 year old Lana attending Hollywood High decided to skip her typing class one day. She dashed across the street to the Top Hat Café for a coke and quite by chance a well-known reporter sat watching her, approached, and asked if she wanted to be in the movies. She smartly replied, “I need to ask my mother.” The year was 1936, the country mired in the great depression, her mother widowed and barely able to support her daughter on her beautician’s salary. The choice was easy for both mother and daughter. [Read more…]

Hat and Hill

Two Women – 3500 Years -The Political Conundrum of Women Leadership


This is a comparative tale between two remarkable women leaders separated by about 3500 years: Maatkare Hatshepsut of Egypt and Hillary Rodham Clinton of the U.S. – Hat and Hill. Both women recognized as politically astute, highly intelligent, ambitious, and devoted to their beliefs.

Journeying back to 1470 B.C.E., we find a bold and impassioned woman decreeing herself King of Egypt. As one in only a handful of female pharaohs over a 3000 year period, Hat immortalized herself by claiming she was chosen by the God Amen-Ra and proceeded to rule progressively for over 20 years. [Read more…]

Fishing, Freedom, and Fate

My paternal grandmother remains a mystery to me and all I know from personal experience is she liked fishing.

During my adolescent summers, I would watch some relative drop her off at the driveway around our ranch. She arrived in long sleeves, long pants, and a scarf about her head. Fishing pole in hand, she took off on the quarter mile dirt road to the river. Small in stature, she disappeared into the tall grasses before reaching the river channel. [Read more…]

Astrology, Greek Mythology, and a Time for Healing


As a young woman I took up the art of astrology. Exploring numerous western astrology texts I came upon a unique book, whose title and author I am sorry to admit, I cannot remember and of which I have no record. The novelty of the book’s approach was the use of 13 signs, rather than the traditional 12. Identified as “Ophiuchus” and translated as “The Serpent Holder,” the 13th constellation falls across the ecliptic between Scorpio and Sagittarius. [Read more…]

The Act of Transition


At the last Holy Smoke Workshop a shared theme was transitions. The question arose as to how to move through them gracefully?

[Read more…]

Hypatia – Lover of Wisdom


Emerging out of ancient Alexandria’s cauldron of brilliant minds was the luminescent teacher, mathematician, and astronomer Hypatia (355-415 CE). Like many of her Alexandrian predecessors, Hypatia was also a philosopher, a Greek word meaning, “lover of wisdom.” Her brutal death at the hands of the Archbishop of Alexandria is legendary, but it is the breadth and depth of her inquiring mind that endures and inspires through time. [Read more…]