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About Penelope

When I first heard Jimi Hendrix sing, "Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced?" the questions took my breath away. When Hendrix answered back in a deep, knowing voice, "Well I have!" his response hit me like a second depth-charge. The drug-culture of the sixties had bypassed me, so I had none of the "wisdom tradition" from psychedelia to draw on, only naïve self-interrogation. "Am I experienced? Have I ever been experienced?" Mid-question, the intonation morphed. "Am I experienced? Have I ever been experienced?"

Doubts erupted instantly as I turned inward. I had no idea who "I" was, nor how I was experienced by others, by my young husband, or even by myself. The only answer I could give for those questions was, alas, "No." And it wasn't because I was intentionally withholding or hiding.  It was simply because I was just beginning my journey. I had recently jettisoned my prior pragmatic career plans, and instead entered a graduate program in myth studies. But the Magi still had a long way to go before I would experience epiphany -- that "showing forth" or "coming out from under" that would let me be known, that would change my response to "Yes!"!

Carved face emerging from Eucalyptus


"Caught Changing"
Penelope's eucalyptus sculpture
iinspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses



Penelope peeking
through repairs of an opening
in Great Wall of China


Penelope peeking out Great Wall of China

Over the years, the questions have returned. In what realms am I experienced? How often do I feel, deep in my being, that I have truly been experienced? "Not often enough," would be the resounding response from a persistent hollow place within. It wasn't until I had finally given up my aspirations in the polemic, defensive world of academia that I gradually wound my way into mythological writing and art, and I could finally answer, "Yes!" I do feel "experienced" - by and within myth. So now the question is how can I best I communicate that "experience," because I believe ours is a time when mythological awareness is essential. Many people on Whidbey Island (where I now live) and beyond are calling for the emergence of a "new story" in response to current global challenges. Myth and art together have much to contribute.

Islands of Experience

Looking back and to the future, I now see my life as "islands of experience," profoundly influenced by both an outer and inner geography. Where I have lived has directed my experience, opportunities, and responsibilities -- from Vancouver to Boston, to San Diego to Whidbey Island, with world travel in between. Along the way, the inner landscapes of my life have been shaped by family, spirit, community, education, and work.

Current "islands" in my work include wood sculpting, off-loom weaving, writing, editing, and guiding reflective workshops on art, myth, and creativity. My philosophical seas include becoming, belonging, home, and homecoming. Tools needed: mallet and chisels; hooks, needles and armatures; books, paper, pen, wood, and Word; a valid passport; the active imagination; compassion, time, love, and experience!


I was born in Vancouver, Canada. I grew up in a household with two parents and four brothers in a home primarily dedicated to my father's very male sense of esprit de corps, the "esprit" being my father's vision for a family hegemony where each of his children was assigned to a profession: an engineer, a physician, a lawyer, an accountant, and a builder, with any future spouses expected to fill adjunct roles. Alas, the "corps" had a mind of its own, which proved a profound disappointment to my father. When I graduated from University of British Columbia, I moved with my new husband to Boston where we both attended graduate school, neither of us in a field my father had chosen. A decade later, soon after the birth of our first son, we relocated for work to San Diego, where we raised our children, and where we became dual citizens of the U.S. and of Canada. After our children had left home, choosing to live in opposite quadrants of the U.S., we relocated too. As our retirement approached, we returned to the Northwest, closer to Canada. We now live on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, Washington. My four brothers continue to live in the Vancouver area, and as I age, I increasingly find myself the understudy to Sophocles' Antigone, adding to my more familiar roles of wife and mother, the fullness of what it means also to be daughter and sister.


Throughout my childhood, religious education was fraught with tension between my mother's unquestioning Christian faith and my father's profound hostility toward unquestioned anything, especially religion. We children were caught in the crossfire. Some people snicker when I share my most memorable childhood "spiritual" experience. Hanging on tenterhooks through each televised episode of The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, I would wait breathless, while the young orphan Rusty encountered grave danger, so I could once again witness the sudden intervention by the mist-enshrouded yet luminous Great White Buffalo. Perhaps it is less surprising than I first imagined, that as I grew older, I would find in Myth a deep well for nascent spirituality. Later studies in Phenomenology of Religion, Classical studies, Psychology, and Philosophy introduced me to rites of passage, sacred space, the power of myth, and archetypal psychology, gradually supporting access to a more personal experience of Spiri informing my active imagination, sculpting, and writing.


Community and a sense of place can help bridge the gap between longing and belonging. Like many people my age, I have on my CV a list of affiliations that could pass as community, yet as the affiliations attenuate, for various reasons, I find myself looking more closely at my actual connectedness. I realized recently that despite a deep longing for a sense of rootedness and of belonging, I have lived much of my life under the shadowy archetype of the outsider, uprooted, alien, other. With that recognition, questions arise: why would a person who seems so naturally gregarious to others appear as outsider to herself? Could early dissocation as a personal survival strategy create within the child a sense of self as outsider, a position both exilic and existential, at once fundamental, persistent, and necessary? What conditions might allow that positioning to change? Could a move toward wholeness, toward inner re-association, toward deeper connection, support an increased sense of inclusion, of belonging, of Community? I currently live into those questions!

To read about Aging in Community and Identity and Aging click here


Education has been a lifelong process for me.

  • I received my BSc at University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada.
  • In Boston, I received an MA in World Religions at Boston University (BU), submitting a thesis on the phenomenology of "The Guardian of the Gate," with Prof. Carl Ruck and Prof. Daud Rahbar as advisors.
  • Concurrently, I studied fiber arts informally with Canadian artist Elfleda Russell who encouraged my early creative efforts combining myth and fiber arts.
  • Supported by fellowships, I pursued a PhD in Myth Studies through BU's doctoral program in Interdisciplinary Studies, with courses also at Harvard University. I remain ABD (all but dissertation), but my studies in myth continue to inspire me and to inform my work. For more about the extended misadventure, you are welcome to explore "the bigger story" in the Work section below.
  • While in San Diego, I took courses in special education, gifted education, creative writing, and master teaching at University of California San Diego (leading to California Community College Instructor Credential in Philosophy and Religion).
  • I participated in creative writing residency programs at IWWG (International Women's Writing Guild) in New York, and through Booming Ground, the creative writing residency program at UBC, as well as a storytelling residency on Whidbey Island with Laura Simms http://www.laurasimms.com. Most recently I attended a writing retreat on Self as Source of Story, with Christina Baldwin, author of Storycatcher, and with her partner, global circle leader through through Peer Spirit. 
  • I continue to participate in Whidbey Island Writers Association allied with Northwest Institute of Literary Arts; the Powers of Leadership program at Whidbey Institute; integrative Jungian Body/Soul programs with Marlene Schiwy in Vancouver; and through SecondJourney.org, and Sage-ing International to explore issues of aging.


I have worked for many years as a mythologist, teacher, writer, and sculptor. I have also served as an advocate in education and in community planning.


  • In Boston, in addition to my work as teaching assistant, and then as teaching fellow in Greek and Roman Mythology, I served as consultant to the Boston Zoological Society (the zoo!) during the development and implementation of their Myths and Tails program, an integrative arts and science program for children and adults.
  • In the San Diego school system, I advocated for both gifted education and for appropriate developmental programs for children with other special needs. Community leadership included serving on several Community Planning boards. Working to protect public open space included organizing a neighborhood group to oppose institutional development of neighborhood open space, a process which involved lengthy, complex, fractious, and bitter litigation against the City of San Diego.
  • I taught myth, the heroine's journey, weaving, writing, and the role of art in leadership.
  • Since moving to the Northwest in 2006, I have lectured and exhibited my sculpture series at Whidbey Institute, University of Washington, North Shore Unitarian Church, and Vancouver School of Theology in Canada.
  • I have continued to create mythic sculptures and weavings, some of which appear on this website.
  • I continue to write in several genres, including three recent award-winning essays, wit publications in journals, books, and newspapers.
  • I executed a commission to create props, a vertical loom with weaving-in-progress, and large projectable images of my Odyssey sculpture series for a new dance called 20XPenelope, designed and choreographed by Prof. Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, for presentation at University of Washington, Bothell.
  • I edited and contributed to online journal Itineraries 2013, No. 1, "Odysseys for the Soul: Travel and Transformation," a collection of essays, poems, and photos about elder travel and change, for SecondJourney.org concerned with issues of conscious aging.
  •  I edited and contributed to a book of essays, poetry and photos, Journeys Outward, Journeys Inward: Travel and Transformation, ed. Penelope Stuart Bourk, 2013, 210 pp., available from SecondJourney.org and through Amazon Books.


The Bigger Story of Work Life

I am also interested in the formative influence of early work life and of changes in immigration status on social identity and sense of self in the process of becoming. In the next iteration of this website, I will also explore my worklife from pre-teen to thirty-some, bridging my teen years in Canada, and my moving to the United States after my undergraduate education. Sometimes a reader, especially a younger reader starting out, might wonder about whether and how jobs during the younger years influence who a person ultimately becomes. Early work experience is often discounted as without significance, yet my first twenty years of work, from age twelve through my early thirties, whether part-time through the school year, seasonal, or full time, were formative in ways I only now, in my sixties, comprehend. They opened windows on the world, providing insights and growth experiences both instructive and traumatic. Early work influenced who I would become as my education proceeded and my future unfolded in these varied environments.

Some of these environments were profoundly enriching, and some unnecessarily toxic. Some opportunites escaped me, as I did not yet realize the significance of the invitations to open new doors of experience. Some challenges and verbal lacerations almost broke me. Little did I know in the seventies how close to the mark my research into the mythical theme, The Guardian of the Gate, would prove for my own life: especially how to recognize those who guide us through the young years and those toxic influences that thwart! This retrospective -- looking back -- will be an offering for young people who have been scared off work, for instance, by how it has consumed their parents, or for those who, for any of a number of reasons, may have lost their way, missing the peer windows of high school or university graduation, into a validating work life. It is my hope that by documenting ascent and descent of forays into the work world, more nurturing mentors may be encouraged to step forward for young people. It can be overwhelming for young people told "you can do anything" to figure out specific and satisfying work and work places that draw on their talents, energies, training, and heart's deep purpose. Stay tuned for a look at how one person negotiated those shifting sands. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while we are making plans!" Meanwhile, for those struggling now, Maya Angelou has a poem at www.poets.org, to encourage resilience: Still I rise.