Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Exhibit on Immigrants at Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga

Photo of Maja Trochimczyk at Exhibition on Immigrants, Bolton Hall Museum, Tujunga

An exhibition about notable immigrants to our corner of California is currently on display at Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga (10110 Commerce Avenue, Tujunga, CA 91042). The Bolton Hall Museum celebrates its Centennial in 2013, and the exhibition is one of the many that have been held there. Fellow poet and exhibition organizer, Marlene Hitt, invited me to send in a photo and a quote and thus, I found my way to a Museum display!  It has been a wonderful adventure, coming to and settling in Sunland.  I love this place, luxuriating in the sun!

For my reflection, I presented the following mini-essay, ending with a quote from "The Music Box" (published in Rose Always: A Court Love Story, 2nd rev. ed., Moonrise Press, 2011).

Maja Trochimczyk at Art Exhibition by Taoli-Ambika Talwar, 2011

Why California?
The sunlight in California is so different from northern areas of Canada, or Poland. There it is pale, often grayish, frail. Here it brings a rainbow of colors to everything it touches. Everything is more vivid, more intense, under the bright rays, in summer or winter... 

I came to Los Angeles in 1996, with three advanced degrees and three children, for a job at USC that has since ended, with a husband who has since returned to Canada. Two of my children, Marcin and Anna, moved away, but I’m still here with the youngest, Ian. I made Sunland my home, with a garden of roses and pomegranates overlooking the magical grass-covered mountains. I became the Sixth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga. 

A citizen since 2009, I rode in three 4th of July parades, published four books of poetry, organized countless events… A music historian, poet, and nonprofit director, I love writing and taking pictures of flowers, leaves and the sky. 

Like my roses, I’ve flourished in sunlight – I started a small press that issued five books, I published about 200 poems in various journals. I have also created and  maintained blogs for various organizations, such as Village Poets, Moonrise Press, the Modjeska Art and Culture Club (of which I’m president), and the Polish American Historical Association

As Sr. Director of Planning at Phoenix House, I love helping people in trouble, because I’ve been there, too, overcoming PTSD and depression. Not having an extended family here means that I have time to write a lot, to share with and inspire my readers.
What else? . . . "My music box plays on. I make up the words/just as I made up this love of clay and gold,/the dust of the earth and starlight –/partly fragile and partly eternal."


Maja Trochimczyk with Items from her Music Box, Beyond Baroque Poetry Reading, 2010

The Music Box

What the world needs now
 is love, sweet love…

My china music box plays a song
from your childhood.
Under the lid with one pink rose
I keep my sentimental treasures –
the miniature portrait
in a grey enamel frame echoing
the color of your tank top
worn in defiance 
of my sophistication.

The white tulle ribbon – a memento 
from my wedding gown?
It held the ornament up 
on the bough of the Christmas tree 
after that second, numinous summer.

My broken ring, bent not to be worn again,
 with a deep scar from your blunt saw, 
a shape marked by the strength of your fingers. 

It was a moment of liberation –
I don’t have to – anything – any more.

The three little diamonds – 
faith, hope and love – embedded 
in the scratched gold, still shine,
though not as brightly as the forty three 
specks of light surrounding your face.

The missing ring piece hit the ceiling
when it broke off with the pent-up energy 
of unwanted love – the marriage that wasn’t.  
It is still somewhere in the corner
of the coldest room in my house.

What else? 
Three brown leaves from the ash tree 
that grew by itself and died, 
unwelcome.  The Cross of Malta 
waiting to shine on your chest.

*  *  * 

What the world needs now
is light, God’s light. . . 

My music box plays on. I make up the words
just as I made up this love of clay and gold, 
the dust of the earth and starlight –
partly fragile and partly eternal.

Cover of Maja Trochimczyk's "Rose Always: A Court Love Story" Poetry Volume, 2011

Sunday, November 4, 2012

On Virtues and Gratitude in Time for Thanksgiving

Liquit Amber Leaf in Sunlight, Photo (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk

For my class on Ethics and Values in the Arts that I taught at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, I tried to simplify the centuries of moral teaching into a clear scheme that's easy to visualize and remember. I came up with an idea of focusing on virtues, and selected Four Cardinal Virtues as the core. I enriched this framework with what I called the Four Moral Actions. Below are fragments of my introduction that outline some of these fruitful ideas. I end with a couple of poems on gratitude, that I'm gradually learning every day.

On Cardinal Virtues and Moral Actions

What is a Virtue? Virtues are character traits that help individuals orient their lives towards a greater good. Virtues help people act properly, morally. The word “virtue” stems from a Latin root, “virtus” – which, in turn, comes from the word “vir” – “man.” The dictionary definition brings together several related meanings:

  • 1. Moral excellence; goodness; righteousness.
  • 2. Conformity of one's life and conduct to moral/ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.
  • 3. A particular moral excellence, like cardinal virtues
  • 4. A good or admirable quality or property: the virtue of knowing one's weaknesses.

A traditional list is that of the Seven Contrary Virtues which are opposites of the Seven Deadly Sins:
  • Humility – the opposite of Pride
  • Kindness – the opposite of Envy
  • Abstinence – the opposite of Gluttony
  • Chastity – the opposite of Lust
  • Patience – the opposite of Anger
  • Liberality – the opposite of Greed
  • Diligence – the opposite of Sloth
Its focus on the negative, the deadly sins merely mirrored in the positive attributes, has underscored centuries of moral education that centered on avoidance of evil and fear of punishment, instead of pursuit of the greater good for good’s sake. The purpose of virtues is to act more human, to help create and strengthen societal bonds based on love (trust, honesty, fairness) and to help each individual succeed in his or her pursuit of personal happiness.

In the 20th century, a French philosopher, Andre Comte-Sponville wrote a treatise about 18 different virtues, which included all the above Spiritual/Cardinal Virtues and more. This set of virtues appears in the context of his atheistic and humanistic philosophy: Politeness, Fidelity, Prudence, Temperance, Courage, Justice, Generosity, Compassion, Mercy, Gratitude, Humility, Simplicity, Tolerance, Purity, Gentleness, Good Faith, Humor, Love.

 The unusual list includes the “pre-virtue” of politeness with a surprising and the novel virtue of humor. The discussion of these virtues will be focused on their links to underlying values – physical, psychological or spiritual, and their expressions from the values of being useful, through being pleasurable, to being, to being spiritual.

Pomegranates, Photo (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk

What about the Cardinal Virtues?

They were outlined in the classic antiquity by Aristotle and Plato:
  •  Courage (Fortitude), 
  • Wisdom (Prudence), 
  • Justice, and 
  • Moderation (Restraint, Temperance).
These “four cornerstones of the soul” have been taught to generations to create a moral framework for individual lives and create a balance between the excesses of each of these virtues appearing by itself, in isolation. In the four-part ethical framework presented here, the severity of Justice is balanced by the gentleness of Wisdom (Prudence), which, without the urgent sense of fairness could devolve into fear and inaction. The bravado of Courage (Fortitude) is balanced by the meekness of Moderation (Temperance, Restraint), which, without the passion of courage, may result in withdrawal and passivity.

The image of the “cardinal” virtues is related to the “cardinal points” on a map (North-East-South-West), as a compass for moral life. In a graphic representation, the virtues are located at 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees on the circle, with the heart of an individual in its center. In another image, they form a circle around a central point and connect to one another; thus surrounding and protecting the core of one’s being.
The balancing act of practicing the cardinal virtues requires a focus on the present, on this infinitely small point in time in which we live, constantly moving from the past to the future. It is by paying attention to present actions, thoughts, and emotions, and by seeking the proper balance of justice with wisdom, and courage with moderation, that an individual may act in a virtuous way and may set a course of his/her life towards real happiness.

The four cardinal virtues, practiced in a way that they balance each other and help the individual remain in the center: courage will be tempered by moderation, wisdom will inform justice. The virtues will change the invisible attitude but will be visibly expressed in moral actions. The direction for the cardinal virtues, the “needle of the compass” are the three spiritual virtues: faith (in one’s own goodness and potential on the one hand and in the goodness of the world on the other), hope (in one’s ability to accomplish one’s goals in the future and in the benevolence of others who will be helpful and will share one’s successes and help on the spiritual path) and love (for oneself and others, spreading from within in concentric circles from the nearest kin and closest friends, to all people).


Justice: Do what's right, what's fair.
Fortitude:  Keep smiling. Grin and bear.
Temperance: Don't take more than your share.
Prudence: Choose wisely. Think and care.
Find yourself deep within your heart
               In a circle of cardinal virtues
                                  The points of your compass
                                                    YOUR CORNERSTONE.
Once you've mastered the steps, new ones appear:
Faith:   You are not alone . . .
Hope:  And all shall be well . . .
Love:    The very air we breathe
                          WHERE WE ARE. . .
The poem may be recited by a group of at least three participants -  the colors indicate individual voices and the text in black font and caps is said by the whole group. Try it!

Liquit Amber Tree, Photo (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk

Virtues in Practice: Moral Actions

In order to be fully effective and surround the individual with a protective circle that will ensure selecting the best option from thousands of possible choices, the Cardinal Virtues should be associated with a mirror framework of four Moral Actions that both modify and express them.
  • Compassion (Justice) – I am compassionate, I share pain
  • Forgiveness (Courage) – I am forgiving, I let go of pain
  • Generosity (Moderation) – I am generous, I share joy
  • Gratitude (Wisdom) – I am grateful, I thank for joy
I selected these four Moral Actions from a multitude of possibilities as echoes or reflections of emotions with which they are bound; these are the opposite of such actions that would result from fully giving in to negative emotions.Compassion or co-suffering is an antidote for anger and grief; it helps break the isolation and alienation caused by the negativity of violence (anger) or withdrawal (grief). Forgiveness breaks apart the toxic shame and fear that again, prevent us from integrating ourselves into whole and healthy individuals and connecting to others in a healthy, well-adjusted way. It is, by far, the hardest of all Moral Actions, as it is based on overcoming the consequences of profound traumas, seared in the memory of pain. Generosity reaches out to the others, while Gratitude permeates the person and all the individual actions with a spirit of thankfulness that lights it all up with joy from within.

The Moral Actions, when taken and practiced together, unify a person’s core being around positive, healing attitude that extend from self to others, from an individual self-definition, to the self-in-the-world. Compassion and Generosity breaks the isolation and create communities. Forgiveness and Gratitude have the greatest healing impact internally, when applied to oneself. Practicing these Moral Actions, based within Cardinal Virtues is a transformative act that results in the healing of an individual person while simultaneously healing the world. Through the practice of Virtue, the present moment is permeated with positive Moral Actions.

Justice is truly “fair” when it is based on compassion, defined as shared suffering, “feeling for/with the other,” or “I know your pain.” Courage to forgive is far more powerful than courage to fight, it is far more liberating than courage to merely endure and survive. Forgiveness gives rise to courage, courage to forgiveness. The generosity of sharing joy may be the one difference between a true saint and an ordinary moral person. For the ordinary person, lacking the convictions or the endurance of a saint, generosity is to be tempered by Moderation, all actions made within reason. True Wisdom arises from gratitude: we are deeply thankful for every opportunity to feel, live and share, grateful for every day, every breath. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) expressed the feeling of universal gratitude in a beautiful maxim: “Two things awe me the most: the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.”

Intertwined with the Cardinal Virtues, the four Moral Actions form yet another protective circle of goodness. Compassion and Generosity are primarily directed outside the circle, towards others whose suffering we understand and with whom we share our gifts. Forgiveness and Gratitude are primarily directed inwardly. We heal ourselves first; we learn to be thankful for our own gifts first. Then we can turn towards the others. The image of oxygen masks falling down on the plane is appropriate here: the adult passengers have to put on, adjust and fasten their own masks first, and only later, while already able to breathe, they should turn to take care of others. We heal ourselves by forgiving ourselves first and by learning to be thankful for the little things in life. Then, we can go on and find a place, mission, or purpose for our future Moral Actions concerning others.


Liquit Amber Turning Colors, Photo (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk


Love’s gift cannot be given, It waits to be accepted
~ Rabindranath Tagore, “Fireflies”

I’m filled with gratitude. It makes me sleepy.
I’m ready to purr with contentment
like a stray cat that found its pillow.

The warmth of satiation shines
a smile plays in the corner of my mouth,
full of your kisses - the softest kind.

My lungs expand with fresh afternoon breeze
bearing a hint of orange blossoms
Too early for jasmine. I close my eyes.

I live in the moment when our togetherness
slipped from my fingers. I listen
to the monotone chant of the mourning dove.

I watch the ruckus of house sparrows
fighting for a crumb on a cement path
overgrown with weeds, sprouting through crevices.

Life is stronger than stone.

I’m grateful for each breath
filled with loving you. I rest
in this knowledge, this air...

The Good One, the All-Knowing Wisdom
will not deny my prayers. Shameless, insistent,
I’m the dove that refuses to be silent.

This is my song. This is my melody,
My thankfulness, my Amen.

Let it be, God, let him be. 

(c) 2009 by Maja Trochimczyk

Liquit Amber Leaves, Photo (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk


A Box of Peaches

You locked your Wisdom in a gilded box
Placed dainty flowers where metal bars
Cross to hold them

You made a window for Compassion
To look out from onto the world
Glowing with the unseen

Would the talisman of the Smiling One
In your pocket save you? Draw luck
To your game of cards?

Let it be, let the ancient words fall
On a carpet of bronze petals on your path
Dappled with tree shadows 

Walk slowly through the magic
Orchard filled with an avalanche of peaches
Ripening in the sunset

Stoop down to pick one, feel its warmth
In your hand, taste the mellow richness
beneath the fuzzy, wrinkled skin

Say to no one in particular
The sun maybe, or the tree, or this late hour – 
Thank you, yes, thank you very much

(c) 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk

Pomegranates, Photo (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk


NOTE: Photos of pomegranates and Liquid Amber trees in Sunland, November 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk.  The peaches were too early. We ate them in July.