a mosiac

 I.

mosiacI was listening to Bill Evans this evening and he reminded me You Must Believe in Spring.  As he tinkled the keys, so spry and light, with amazing skill and beauty – I thought about Spring (which is here! and there! and everywhere on our North American Continent) and how it contains such promise, awakening, continuation, resurgence, life, wonder…oh my, the list is long for Spring.  And I instantly found myself, completely and profoundly, once again (always!) filled with gratitude for artists – artists of all kinds, every stripe and persuasion, as they so deliberately delve into the grist of life, into the eye of it, into the mystery and horror and joy and sorrow of it, and render it transformed through their own unique gestation, offering it up to us, the viewer, or listener, or one engaged with it, that we might transform it yet again through our own individual experience.  It becomes personal, to whomever it touches…so amazingly cool, huh?

Art is created for all.  Art is created for one.  Simultaneous.

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II.

Yesterday evening, I slipped inside the rich and expansive world of Terry Tempest Williams and her luscious birdsong of When Women Were Birds.  Oh sweet marvel of all wonders this book!  It is a journey through lineage; what (or who, and how) shapes an individual; how language (or lack of) defines the landscape of one’s life; how interiority can take flight no matter age, no matter circumstance – through the lift of wind from a loving, guiding heart(s) alongside your own.  I feel this book is a gift to all women, to all daughters, to all who have mothers, to all who have children, to all who love birds, to all who question what it means to stand beside, and honor, what matters to you.  To all who have struggled with decision.  To all who love this planet. To all who have encountered mystery.  To all who hold a love for language.  To all who yearn to dance with the divine. This slim book is remarkable in its ability to expand the reader; I felt as if I were under the canopy of sky, standing out in the vastness of the world…enlarged somehow…more than…softened.  Extraordinary.

III.

rock mosaicA few days back, my dear sister Mary sent me a quote that she stumbled upon as she set out to read The Grapes of Wrath.  Steinbeck wrote this as he embarked on his journey of writing what turned out to be The Grapes of Wrathand as I read this, I was touched in a powerful way.  It took me several days to understand and articulate the reason this had such a resonating impact on me, and it has everything to do with the responsibility one faces as they embark on the journey of creation.  Here is the quote:

“If I could do this book properly it would be one of the really fine books and a truly American book. But I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability. I’ll just have to work from a background of these. Honesty. If I can keep an honesty it is all I can expect of my poor brain…If I can do that it will be all my lack of genius can produce. For no one else knows my lack of ability the way I do. I am pushing against it all the time.” [from Steinbeck’s posthumously published Working Days]

I came to understand that what touched me so deeply in this quote from one of our most gifted and important authors, was this: Steinbeck was squarely placed on the path of what mattered most about this work was not him, as the author, but the work itself. Steinbeck yearned to do right by the subject matter of which he would write about, about the lives and individuals that he was honoring with this work; to make it as true and alive and honest and poignant and richly profound and complex as it deserved to be rendered.  He felt an enormous responsibility, as the artist birthing this story into the world, to do it justice – and that is an incredible responsibility to take on…as is every act of creation.

But in truth, I don’t feel that every artist approaches their creation with this kind of self-sacrifice, or awareness…too often, there is a glorification of the Artist, rather than the awed respect deserved for the Art itself.  I know, it’s complicated, because the Art IS the Artist, one could argue. But I believe that is true only to a point…we are the vessel through which the river flows…but we are not, and never will be, the river.  There is humility with this realization, and acceptance, and Steinbeck’s humility as he approached his masterpiece, is…well, it’s beautiful and profound, and fills me with a strengthened desire to continue on my own path of honoring the voices, lives, stories that speak to me, knock on my door and ask me to birth them into the world.  I too hope that I might deliver them with the grace and depth and truth that they deserve.

Steinbeck and dog
Steinbeck and dog

Create.  Honor. Live.  Love.

 

 

Das Abenteuer zu umarmen!

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Embrace the Adventure!  (das Abenteuer zu umarmen) German is spoken a great deal in our household as our 2 kids are in a German Immersion program, and I am doing my best to keep up with them.  It seemed fitting to inspire all of you out there to seek out your own adventure, with German, because the Germans are hearty travelers and we ran into a fair amount of them out in this mighty, amazing, vast expanse of sand/salt/sky/and wonder.

In a past life, I believe I must have lived in a desert.  Something about the endless horizon, the powerful silence, the whistling wind, the brilliant sky, the barren landscape, the interminable heat…makes my heart, body & soul, go all a pitter pat pat:)  My kids and I just returned from a 3 day jaunt to Death Valley, and if you have never been, all I can say is that you must.  It is perhaps the fiercest National Park in the United States, and I mean fierce in these ways: fierce in its beauty, its bounty, its intensity, its peace, its silence, its demands, its wildlife, its brilliance, its sand, its heat, its lack of water, its presence, its overwhelming awesomeness!

My first foray into the demanding sun of desert life was in the Middle East, first in Israel, where I worked on a moshav, out in the grape fields for several months, and then in Egypt, where I traveled the length of the Nile for about 6 weeks.  I’m a Mid-West girl, used to long COLD winters, short humid summers, luscious melting springs, and love-is-in-the-air Autumns.  Dry, brutal heat was a new experience for me and yet, I felt oddly at home, and very much in love with this new experience of living.  There was a rhythm to the day, out in the grape fields in Israel, that was almost melodic: early rise in the cool dark of morning, watching the sun explode into life, the song of birds calling across the fields, the scoop of wind that would tickle the silence as it whistled through the leaves, cooling the back of the nape like a splash of water.  Hot peppers on pita for lunch to make you sweat, and cool you off – hot Turkish coffee with sugar as dessert, to make you sweat and cool you off….one does not rush in the desert, one moves with the demands of the sun, slowly, easily, letting go of all things but the here and now, of this precise moment.

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While my kids and I were in Death Valley, we too followed the ritual of time according to the sun: we rose early – (due to the gathering of birds that would congregate in the tree above our tent and proceed to sing amazing and strange bird song until the sun peaked above the distant mountains…never heard anything like them :).  We ate little (mainly fruits), set out and explored while the sun was low on the horizon…returned to camp in the height of the day to hide in the shade, rest, read, crack open the many wicked-cool rocks and crystals we found, play card games…and then wait for the sun to begin its descent so we could get out and explore some more!   The picture above are salt crystals that cover an ancient, dried up lake bed –  the area is known as The Devil’s Golfcourse (cool name huh!)  See pic below for a better scope of what this area looks like.

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Here is my son, a truly happy camper as he explored these ancient salt formations.  He could hang there all day if not for the brutal heat that presses down from the endless sky.  Such a wicked cool adventure, this place, this park. It is wild, foreign, harsh, insanely beautiful, and humbling.

I think life is meant to be an adventure.  There is something profound about placing yourself outside of your daily experience…about moving yourself beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Adventure stretches you, expands your understanding of what it means to live; it allows you to dig into the depths of your own capacity to face the unknown and to rise to a challenge…I think of it this way: the universe is ever expanding, ever pushing further and further into un-chartered territory, moving outward and forward in deep continuation…it would serve us humans well to follow the universe’s lead and continue to expand and grow and press onward and forward as well.  So, get out there – Explore!  Adventure awaits.

 

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The tangled complexities of this muscular literary tome Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks are truly phenomenal.  An often challenging, disturbing, heart-wrenching, beautiful, horrifying, and trying, book, it takes the reader for a long and arduous ride, disrupting his or her emotions equally, alongside the characters who live this profound tale.   This novel requires surrender – a “joining” if you will, into the gnarled root that simultaneously splays outward/inward, revealing its history: the pain, humiliation, love, union; the complicity, and barricades – external and internal, both, of slavery.  We, the reader, spiral downward, looping over and over, deeper and deeper, until our feet walk this root with our hearts thumping hard against our chests as we begin to understand, to see, the enormity of this “story’s” scope and the heinous entangled web in which all have played a part.

There are moments of surging elegance, that lift like a dream for those who read for the love of language.  As I lay in the bath last night reading, I read and re-read a particular passage that made me hold my breath for its beauty and movement and complexity.  Here it is:

“I stared up into his narrow, dark, closed face: he was thinking not of the gun in his hand but of the lion, I saw – the beautiful, powerful, ferocious mountain lion, an animal from another world than ours, a beast controlled and driven, from its first breath to its last, by hungers and fears that Lyman and I had been privy to only in the most terrible moments of our lives.  We could not forget those moments; the lion could not distinguish them from any other.  The beast’s sudden, long leap from the rock across water to land had been extraordinarily beautiful and at once familiar and strange, like the best, last line of a beloved hymn, a graceful arc from bright, certain death to the dark impenetrable mystery of the forest.   Why could I not make that same leap?  From my place out there on the back of the rough, gray rock, I peered across the water to the thicket of willows at the shore and the trees beyond, up the beech-and hickory-covered slope to the spruces and the tangled heights and rocky parapets above, where I imagined the lion now, moving in solitude freely and safely all day and night, tracking down its prey and suddenly leaping upon it, pulling it to the ground with its great weight and the brutal fury of its attack, rolling it over in the soft, rust-colored pine needles, and burying its hungry mouth in the body. (p. 470-471).

These two pages, which fall at the end of the middle act of this novel, expose the profound internal affliction and malaise of Owen Brown, the son of the mighty Slave Abolitionist John Brown.  But they do so much more than that – these two pages illuminate the vast, multifarious, sinister complexities of slavery and how this heinous construct – that our “modern day society” STILL suffers and struggles through under its dim and not so distant shadow – implicates ALL who are touched by its dark and despicable web, whether they are fighting for it, or against it…no one is immune.  John Brown (to please his father? to please himself?)  has spent his life in pursuit of ridding the United States of slavery, risking his life repeatedly moving slaves through the “underground tunnels” toward freedom.  And yet….     For John Brown, who for all purposes, stands decidedly on the right side of slavery – he suffers the horrors, the complexities, of this deeply lodged, inexplicable, unknowable “yet”… much like you and me – we distant relatives of this deplorable time, this deplorable act, this deplorable stain that continues to “color” the way we see.

I will begin to read the 3rd and final act of this book tonight, nearly 200 pages long (the heft of this novel weighs in at 671 pages).  I wonder if clarity will shine into the heart of John Brown; somehow I feel this will not be his fate.  The depths of humanity, indeed the single human being, never cease to enrich my understanding of what it means to live – alongside the challenges that arise no matter which road we follow.  The challenges we often have no control over – but our response to those challenges, we must ever strive.  I believe that is the inhale to our journey.

Highly recommend that you read this book some day.  It is edifying…confusing…difficult…rich…challenging.  All the best reasons to read:)