My mother is the only person to ever give me a diamond. Yet, even she kept taking it back.

Once I put all the pieces of this story together it became a possibility to me that this praying mantis, this “Symbol of God”, this “Divine Messenger” could be my mother and she could very well want her necklace back.

The praying mantis is a symbol of stillness , patience, awareness, creativity. It’s a symbol of mindfulness, calm, balance and intuition. Supposedly when a praying mantis visits you, it’s prophetic. It’s like the praying mantis is a prophet.

Chapter One

The Will of God

My mom sat peacefully in the front seat of my car. Andrea Bocelli entertained us all the way up Route 9. He sang with The Three Tenors, with Céline Dion and weirdly with Ed Sheeran. We watched as the Atlantic City skyline disappeared in the rearview mirror. It was a warm summer day. We stopped for ­­soft serve. Then sometime after making it through the entire Pine Barrens we shifted to Elvis. It just seemed right.

We had almost arrived home when a neighbor sat in his car blocking the road. This altercation led to an unfortunate series of events, a broken windshield, police reports and threats of bodily harm.  

Realizing that I might need a lawyer, I called my cousin who is also my lawyer, who is also my mother’s godchild, who is also an ex-nun. Along with some sound legal advice she offered the hypothesis that my neighbor threatened to kill me because my mother’s spirit was not at rest. She accused me of messing around with the will of God. She insisted that I find a priest to bless my mother’s ashes right then and there.

So, because I am no expert on God’s will, the very next day I brought my mother’s ashes into St Edwards Catholic Church. With no priest in sight, I took it upon myself to bless her ashes with a splash of holy water. We knelt together to light a candle. I put $5 in the donation box. We did something like praying. It was a nice church. There were some super sweet icons hanging on the walls. It was nothing like an Atlantic City version of a church. But I liked it.

The very next day, St Edwards church got slammed during Hurricane Ida with some really intense flooding from the Creek nearby. Ultimately it was fine, but kinda creepy, nonetheless.

Chapter 2

The gift that keeps on giving and taking and giving…

As I remember it today, the first time she gifted the necklace to me was after my confirmation. But that couldn’t be the truth. I was only 13 years old. Why would she give a 13 year old a diamond necklace? So if that wasn’t the truth, then my next memory of having been gifted the necklace was my high school graduation. Although, that as well seemed unlikely. I was only 16 years old when I graduated high school and more than a little bit rebellious. A diamond necklace would not have been safe with me. The third time I recalled having been gifted the necklace was at my college graduation. But that couldn’t be the truth, either, because my mother was not at my graduation. My father took the ride upstate. It was a full six and a half hour drive from the South Shore of Long Island. After my Dad took me and a few of my friends out for a nice lunch, he drove right back home.  

But this is not a story about my father. This is a story about my mother and that diamond necklace.

I clearly remember that she took it back when I lived in a railroad flat on Bushwick Ave in Brooklyn in the late 1980s. So, she must have given it to me after I graduated something. Unless a thief was a glutton for punishment the last place they would look for anything valuable would be rummaging through my artwork. So, I hid the necklace in a Kodachrome slide box that was also filled with slides of my artwork.

When my mother asked why I didn’t wear the necklace I stated the obvious, “I live on Bushwick Ave, I take the ‘L’ train to Union Square every day, and I walk to work from there. I don’t want to get mugged for wearing a diamond necklace AND I am afraid that I might lose it.”

She took the necklace out of the slide box and placed it back around her neck.

When I got married, she gave it back to me again. I wore it on my wedding day. Then at some point she took it back again saying something about just “seeing it laying around on my dresser out in the open”.

Then when I gave birth to my son, my first child, in a fit of melancholy she gave it back to me again. I took it that time. Yet somehow, she got it back again. There were many other attempts at gifting the necklace. Probably when I turned 40 or 50, something like a real birthday here or there maybe when I bought my first house. Maybe even when Ripley was born. Over the years, she kept trying to re-gift it. At some point I just stopped accepting it.

Soon after my father passed away, she gave one final attempt.  At that point she was 89 years old. As she was drinking her coffee and reading her newspaper, I joined her at the breakfast table. She removed the necklace, pulled it over her head then placed it over my head and said, “This is the last time.” It was the last time.

Chapter 3

The praying mantis, the yellow lamp, and the final attempt to get that diamond necklace back.

Did you know that the Kalahari Bushmen consider the mantis the oldest symbol of God? I found this fact ironic considering that I had just read “The Old Way”, a story of the first people, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. It’s all about her time with the Kalahari Bushmen. And, did you know there is an entire website called I found a lot of groovy mantoid facts on that website. You can even buy mantis egg sacs for your garden or your classroom!  Who knew?

With my mother’s ashes freshly blessed and her and the diamond necklace draped around my and formerly her, yellow enamel lamp, I sat working at my computer.

I don’t know if she was hiding in the lamp, or if she flew over to the lamp, but the freaky moment the praying mantis allowed herself to be seen, catapulted me right off my computer chair.  I found myself with my hands over my mouth in disbelief. A mental flash of Sigourney Weaver with that false sense of safely, falsely believing that she had killed the alien, came to mind. The praying mantis hands dropped the same exact way, at the same exact speed, suddenly and unexpectedly as the Alien did when she revealed herself hiding in the shuttle’s dashboard.  And remember when the Aliens’ head twisted ever so slowly to take a look at Lieutenant Ripley??  The mantis’ head twisted ever so slowly to look at me. Or maybe she was turning to look at the necklace. Either, it was totally uncanny.

This event had no small significance for me. I named my daughter Ripley after that Sigourney Weaver character in Aliens. This was an important set of symbols for me to decipher.

After I accepted the reality that I was sharing my entire afternoon with a Praying Mantis that was about sixteen inches from my face and about three inches from the diamond necklace, a recollection surfaced.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are about my mother’s fear of the natural world. This one was all about a praying mantis.

I was standing at my mother’s side while she was talking to a neighbor on our front stoop in Brooklyn. There was a praying mantis just sitting on her shoulder. It terrified her. Then it terrified me! it terrified us both together.  

Val Sivilli

October 2021

Other Stories:

Rescue the Princess


This morning I wondered, can a Pisces can actually put out a Leo’s Fire? I wondered this because a close and very dear acquaintance once told me that I should not be with a Pisces because water puts out fire. This statement has sat at the back of my head since she informed me of this astrological factoid. I wondered if I am just now old – 62 in 2 weeks – which is why my fire feels more smoldering slow burning embers that occasionally catch some oxygen and reignite – or if my Leo fire has successfully been extinguished by my resident Pisces.

That’s when I recalled Zelda. I thought that maybe I finally just needed to rescue Zelda.

At the beginning of April of 1991, when I was 8 months pregnant with my son, Jack, I decided that the only meaningful activity I would engage in for that month, other than eating Entenman’s Chocolate Covered Doughnuts whenever I felt like it, was to rescue the Princess Zelda. I was bound and determined that this act would be the defining conclusion of my pregnancy.

The defining moment of any pregnancy should just simply BE the pregnancy, or rather the birth. But as my therapist told me during my regret filled divorce sessions , “Stop ‘SHOULDING’ all over yourself!”

I am of the 80’s generation. I transitioned from pinball tournaments at Nathans game room in Oceanside to a Nintendo home console. Both Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda were the games I enjoyed playing.

I never did rescue Zelda. My water broke 3 weeks before I could actually rescue that princess. For the past 30 years, I have regretted not rescuing Zelda.

so…I think it’s time to rescue Zelda.

I will need help, though. I am not even sure how to begin to rescue Zelda. I don’t even know if Zelda requires rescuing any longer. In 1990, I played Zelda and Mario with the original Nintendo. I don’t even think these exist anymore, nor would they help me to become a gamer. Part of this decision is that I would like to enter the gaming world. I want to have more fun, reignite that fire! I want to connect with younger artists, I want to become immersed in their universe. I want to know their language from the inside, as a player.

Mostly, I just want to FINALLY rescue that damn princess.

Any Suggestions? How should I begin to do this?

Late night melancholy

Tonight is somewhat like that fateful night so many years ago when I realized that borrowing from Peter to pay Paul had run its course. Terrifying moment. When it comes – to make yet another biblical reference – it was a ‘Come to Jesus’ kinda moment.

I am having another ‘Come to Jesus’ moment right now. It might be related to the current political crisis – probably. Isn’t everything lately?

Basically, it’s a sad time to be an artist. Maybe it’s always been a sad time to be an artist – I suppose. As I search the internet tonight to find some inspirational words, or some process to help me distill and focus myself through my next set of seemingly unsurmountable projects, pivoting to make myself viable in the art world, I realize that everyone is selling themselves. We are all selling ourselves. I don’t want to sell myself anymore.

Civilian was my business. Through it I could apply my visual arts skills and sell t-shirts. That made sense. It rubbed against artmaking, but it was not Art. Art is not about selling, it is about making, sharing, watching it reveal fundamental truths about who we are, what we are and where we might going. It helps us to FEEL, to THINK to understand the world on a deeper level.

I watched Mira Schor on a Brooklyn Rail Interview yesterday. She stated the opinion that we, as artists, are currently in the place where identity and personality are what drives our artmaking, not concepts, not ideas. One of the presenters disagreed with her. The presenter stated that ideas are what captivate her. I hope Mira Schor is not right. The veneer of the cult of personality is super thin. It does not go deeper than the desire for popularity. It is not about the substance of the work, or the person. It is about fabricating an easily digestible story. A sound byte. As we have seen this week, the cult of personality is very dangerous.

I want to survive in this world right now. I have to sell something. I am trying to find an honest way to be an artist right now. Teaching opportunities are shrinking. The World is shrinking. Some opportunities are expanding, so it’s those, I suppose that I will gravitate towards.

I cannot help but wax nostalgic about the time when it was the role of the gallery owner or the curator to sell our work and it was our job as artists to make the work. Was that a dream? Was that a fake thing that I invented in my head? There are way too many things we need to be good at in this world to make good art. I know that gallery representation is real for some artists. I have never had the luxury of that commitment from a gallery. It’s a something I still yearn for.

Anyway … in my late night melancholy, I will post this.

Psych 101


“Festinger’s (1957) cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and behavior in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). This is known as the principle of cognitive consistency. When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.”

Practically the only thing I learned in Psych101.

“Notice that dissonance theory does not state that these modes of dissonance reduction will actually work, only that individuals who are in a state of cognitive dissonance will take steps to reduce the extent of their dissonance.”

In the fall of 1976, I went to Stonybrook university for my first year of college. I had one painting class, with Judith Bernstein. She wore rose colored glasses while she taught. I have little memory of anything else in that class.

I took an Art History class. I had an awesome nap each and every class!

I took French. Oui!

I had to take Psych 101. Everyone had to take Psych 101. There were 1500 students in myPsych 101 class. If you came too late, 8:01am, you had to sit in the aisle because there were not enough seats. Needless to say, no one took attendance.

Again, falling back to sleep was rampant amongst us Freshman.

Even though I was not a stellar student of Art history, it was interesting enough to me that I was seriously more engaged in Art than I was in Psychology.

Although, I did learn one single very important thing in Psych 101: Cognitive Dissonance. I learned that concept so completely that I almost never failed to recognize when I myself was justifying my own ill fated and uninformed opinions to the point where I would fight tooth and nail for them.

I did this often throughout my life. Although not as many times as I’d hoped would I actually actualize my behavior, opinion, point of view, to fully alter it.

Sometimes I would, just not often enough.

In 2019, it is obvious that the human psychological tendency toward the avoidance of Cognitive Dissonance is the raison d’etre of Fox News, right wing conspiracists, and the Trump loyalists. They just cannot live with their own misjudgments. They cannot live with the reality that they have been hoodwinked, scammed, lied to, bamboozled, grifted, scammed, so fully by the corporate filthy rich oligarchs in this country who manipulate our entire culture because they are formed and defined by it. They are the flesh born out of the lie. They themselves are that lie.

Christianity and it’s existence can be codified with this explanation as well. But, jeez, I’m not so sure I’m equipped to take that baby on.

There is no way that any brain having been formed by manipulative media and greed and lies, can balance into cognitive consistency without more lies, more deception and further grifting. It’s become the stuff of their DNA .

So, us liberal Democrats, we need to simply try to teach the next generation how to not be manipulated by the media.


At the end of my semester at Stonybrook, my friend Leslie and I did each other a favor. She was failing Art History and I was failing Psych 101 regardless of my cellular comprehension of Cognitive Dissonance. Shocking, I know. We took each other’s final exam. No one noticed. We passed each other’s final exams! That’s what good friends do!

I still think we bucked the system! Yay for us!


Thinking about buying one? Click here.

I am painting Bumble Bees because Barry and I have been living with a tribe, a nest, a colony of Bumble Bees this past summer. They have taken to living beneath the thresh-hold of our back door. I have written a short story. I hope you like it.

Barry and me and our BUMBLE BEES:

Directly beneath the back door of our house lives a colony of bumble bees. These bumble bees forage all day long out in the world for pollen and nectar, I suppose, and collect it on their bodies.  I probably should google this fun fact, but I am not in the mood to look at my phone. Regardless, these bees, they have made a home.  And the home that they made is inches from the bottom of the door that Barry and I use every day, many times a day. The strangest thing about this tribe of bumble bees – not sure if ‘tribe’ is the correct term, probably more like ‘hive’, I mean they are bees for crying out loud – anyway – these bees have decided that this active, noisy, busy place, is their home. It seems to me that they easily could have chosen a location at a higher elevation.  For crissake, they can fly! They don’t actually need to be 18” from a cement patio, underneath a wood staircase, beneath the threshold of the door to our kitchen.  But they did and they do and I think I know why.

Barry, he talks to the bees. Maybe he just chats, possibly sometimes in his head, like a telepathic kinda communication. But I think he possesses a direct line of communication to these bees. I know this because he told me and I choose to believe Barry when he tells me stuff – truth or lie – I just choose to believe it. It’s easier on my brain and my general sense of well-being to believe that he is not fibbing, or making things up, or evading the truth – so I just believe him. Easier.

So, when I expressed my concern about these bumble bees, he said, “Leave the bees alone, they are my friends, they like it there.”

Okayyyy…. But really?

And then he said. “They won’t bother you. They don’t sting.”  Okay, for this I consulted google. And, yes, they sting. So, maybe that was not a total lie, but just simply some misinformation or a diversion technique. The basic idea here is that bumble bees will only sting if they feel their nest is threatened.

Ok, I got it.

So, because these bees never go into the house, even if the door is left wide open – which is weird but true –  we are allowing them to stay. Well, except for that one time when an overly protective member of this bee tribe, I mean hive, possessing a severe case of unjustified paranoia that I might attack the nest, which resulted in Mr. Bee dive bombing me and me falling back onto the corner of the cement slab – except for that one incident, these bees seemed to have learned that we, are not a threat to their nest.

They don’t follow us into the house. They don’t threaten us or swarm us. They usually do not dive bomb us.   Granted, they buzz quite loudly and are always very busy flying around collecting pollen.  But not once, all summer long, has one stung either of us. It’s as if they know that if they do, their nest would be destroyed.  That they would have crossed that invisible line. It’s as if they know – actually KNOW – that stinging one of us would be the destruction of their nest. So, they just do not cross that line.

It’s now August. Our bumble bees are very active. We all have lived together for months with only one incident and no real injuries – well except for that huge purple bruise on my left thigh. Yet the future survival of this hive is uncertain. I am not convinced that one of our ‘bee friends’ wouldn’t sting one of our ‘human friends’ just because they don’t speak ‘bumble bee’. Christ, my son is severely allergic to bee stings!  What are we thinking?

But I do know that they respect us, are thankful for the use of the threshold, but have created very clear boundaries surrounding their right to life. They seem to know us somehow. They must have been watching us. Certainly, they must have created many nests in other locations around this property.  They probably witnessed Barry vacuuming up the wasp nest or the yellow jacket nests. It seems that Barry only speaks bumble bee, not yellow jacket or wasp.

Because they have decided not to sting us, not to venture into the house and most importantly, they have made friends with Barry, for the forseeable future, these bumble bees will live with us, busy and noisy little buzzers that they are, we will continue to live with them. THE END

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