Rui-katsu

…this word, this act, comes down to this: a created space specifically for tears.

Rui-katsu is a “happening” in Japan, an allowance for people to gather and cry.  Powerful stuff. The way it works is people gather in a movie theatre/ viewing room and they watch sad movies…very sad movies…so sad, that they tear up, cry, bawl even.  Here in the United States, that might seem odd, but our cultural allowance for tears in private or in public is generally accepted…not so historically, in Japan.

Think of the history that dominates the cultural practices of Japan in terms of self-expression…”self” period.  The “individual” is not Japan’s history – it is a history of Society: You are a part of the whole, acting not as one, sacrificing not as one, tending to the country not as one…but as a part of the whole.   What you do, you do for your country, not for self.  Japan is a nation of the Samuri: of Seppuku, otherwise known as Harakari: the taking of one’s life in order to maintain honor.  Harakari, or the taking of one’s life, was carried out in front of an audience so that the dishonor could be witnessed by the many, in order to ensure that the disgrace had been atoned…for the entire nation.  That is quite a weight to bear.

History lies down slowly.  I think this is true no matter which history you explore.

Here in the United States of America, our path is not aligned with the idea of “Society” – ours is, instead, the rugged path of the Individual.  America is the land of the Cowboy – “picking oneself up by your bootstraps” – of owning your failure just as equally as you own your accomplishments…you and you  alone.  Period.  And even if we do recognize that this is more than slightly ridiculous – no woman or man is an island –  everything we are/become, is a collective of who we have shared our lives/experiences with, along the way…nonetheless, the “myth” of the Individual stands strong here.  Powerful.  A mountain of a man (or perhaps, woman) strong, powerful, ready to face whatever comes his or her way…alone.

In this respect, both Americans and the Japanese are in need of the allowance of what Rui-Katsu opens in us…a safe place to experience and allow, Vulnerability.

When we writers, write about the lives of our characters, we are looking for the point of entry, the “punctum” that penetrates us/and our readers, emotionally, so that we/they, can FEEL what the characters feel…how it makes US feel.  We read books, poetry, watch movies, see stage plays, as a way to engage in the human condition, and perhaps, to remind ourselves that we are really not so alone.  We all have feelings that we carry around with us, that we often feel need to be kept under wraps because if we let them loose we might appear weak, unstable, incapable of facing life.  So hence, Art: music, cinema, painting, poetry, literature…these devices or platforms allow us the space necessary to safely engage in our own vulnerability…to wade into the waters of being human and all the challenges that this presents.  By having these “safe arenas” of artistic expression, we are allowed the space necessary to face these challenges, engage with them, probe them and better understand them…which allows us the breadth and allowance, to tackle our own.

 

 

Treasures…

secret treasure found while perusing a Susan Sontag novel at Eagle Rock Library yesterday afternoon...
secret treasure found while perusing a Susan Sontag novel at Eagle Rock Library yesterday afternoon…

The art of surprise is highly under-rated…and the gift of wonder, even more so.  The reason I love Artists and Art so much, is precisely because of the these two gifts: Wonder, and Surprise! Like little windows, beckoning.

Yesterday, I brought my kids to our local library here in Eagle Rock to get a few new books for the week.  It’s a sweet library, filled with high school students hanging out after school, people using the computers, small kids and mothers reading books surrounded by an audience of stuffed animals pulled from the shelves…in other words, a gathered smattering of our ‘hood.

For no particular reason, I asked the Librarian if they had any Susan Sontag books in stock, and she pointed me in the right direction.  I haven’t read Sontag since grad school, and I was slightly curious myself, what made me ask after her.  I hadn’t thought of reading her prior to stepping into the library…she hadn’t been on my mind at all.  At any rate, 2 of Sontag’s books were on the shelf and I picked one out – which happened to be a novel (surprise for me, I’d only been aware of her non-fiction work) and I flipped open to the first page.  I don’t even recall the title of the book, but I read the first few sentences and then did a simple shuffle through the pages, and wallah!  I discovered something wonderful. Something of Wonder, and of delightful Surprise.  A memory Lost.

wonderful wonderment
wonderful wonderment

The “Home Depot” image at the top of the page was tucked inside the Sontag book – it is by an artist named Allison Alford, and on the back side is a series of connected triangles that correspond with the downtown Los Angeles Library, where she has placed other “Lost Memories” inside other books.  Beautiful.  (She mentions that there are also Lost Memories placed inside ebay books if you search for her seller name…which I’m not sure I have the right to give out.  This is her Performance Art piece, if you will, and I am simply a part of her audience).  At any rate, this afternoon I will take my kids downtown and see if we can find other Lost Memories…or place some new ones ourselves. Art is contagious that way…it beckons us to join in, to be a part of the creation, a part of the journey through magic and wonderment and expression.

What do you do to embrace the wonder of creativity and tap into the stream?  “Masterpieces” are NOT required…as a matter of fact, I encourage you to NOT create a masterpiece…to not even try!  Art is a shared venture between maker and viewer – it is created again and again and again with each new set of eyes that encounter the creation, and everyone has their own idea of what Masterpiece even means.  Masterpiece, in my view, is aligned far too closely to Perfection, and Perfect does not exist…it’s bullshit.  As Salvador Dali said: “Have no fear of perfection.  You’ll never reach it.”  Art is about play, exploration, expression, giving form to the unformed, bumping up against the ephemeral… It’s about engaging with your own creative force and expressing how you move through this world: what you see, think, feel, ponder…it’s about beauty and joy and conversation and communion.  It’s about touching a stranger, and a lover and a friend.  It’s about nothing at all, and everything under the sun.  It IS.  That is art.  It exists. And that in itself, is profound.

This morning I was lucky enough to spend some time with a beautiful community of women artists at Occidental College, a gathering put together by my dear friend Jocelyn Pedersen – a Professor/Artist/Book Maker of rich talent and extraordinary knowledge.  We were there to witness and honor one of her graduating students, Hannah Rindlaub, and her thesis show in the Weingart Building on campus.   Hannah is a collector of detritus, and turning this “rubbish” into art.  Her show was beautiful and rich and expansive in its meaning/allowance/mutability.  The highlight for me was the Mandala she created out of detritus collected and gathered along beaches, shorelines, walks through her neighborhood…alongside the book that she printed with images and text that give insight to her musings and how she explores her world.  Please do click on the link above to explore Hannah’s work and expression.  It is a wonderful journey indeed.

Sometimes I think art has to do with being at the right place at the right time…bumping into the right people at the right time…flipping open a book to the right place at the right time…or the right detritus at the right time:)  Happy accidents?  …or guided by the mysteries to land where you are in need of landing?  Like flipping through a Sontag novel in your neighborhood library:).

This morning, as we were talking with artist/Professor Linda Lyke – who also works at Occidental College – I mentioned my finding  this “Lost Memory” at the library and explained how I came upon it, and that is was the work of artist Allison Alford… and what do you know?  Allison Alford was one of Linda Lyke’s students at Occidental College!  Happy Accident, or Grand Design, or a little of both, or none at all…?  I can’t say.  All I know is I’m so glad that it exists…whatever this “it” is.  Our world contains barrels of magic all around us, waiting to be discovered…and the older I get, the more and more I believe that we are granted moments of entry into this grand design, moments that are meant for us, for whatever reason, for us to do something with.  A gift.  What we do with it…that is up to us.  I feel I was meant to find this treasure – this Lost Memory that Allison Alford left behind in 2014, inside Sontag’s book and to share this encounter with family and friends…and to do something with it!  Even if I don’t yet know what that is:)

Swing High!

IMG_0798

I found this sweet little book yesterday, while celebrating Mother’s Day at one of my favorite little eateries/bakeries in Los Angeles – Little Flower.  This sweet gem of a place is the brainchild of Christine Moore – an amazing baker/candy maker/pastry chef – who makes THE BEST Salted Caramels I’ve ever eaten!  I once worked with her, years ago, at Nicola’s, a restaurant that was in downtown Los Angeles, before moving into Beverly HIlls.  Christine was as kind and sweet and yummy as her baked goods were – and she remains ever the same to this day.  Recently, she opened a new restaurant called Lincoln in Pasadena, and I hear it’s as terrific as her first place, if not better! Check it out, either location – you will be so delighted.

…but the book!

Swing High  Life Lessons from Childhood – by Anthony Gunn, is basically a Self-Help book…124 helpful tips that come straight from the mouths of babes…or the truths that babes (young children),  seem to grasp without muddling the simplicity of things.  It’s a charming read, full of no-bullshit insight, that allows the reader to simply plop the book open anywhere and glean something of value, while gently pushing us toward a more positive/healthy direction.  And that direction has everything to do with Play, Allowance, Persistence, Freeing our perspective….and Surprise.

Some of my favorites:

#2. The Goldilocks Complex –  Gunn writes how Goldilocks was a perfectionist, always wanting things to be “Just Right!”  But life is not often, Just right, right?  He reminds us adults that children are much easier with simply allowing things to be as they are…or in other words, less than perfect.  The more able we are to “go with the flow” and allow, the more we can actually get things done and the happier we will be!   And besides, as Salvador Dali reminds us: Have no fear of perfection – you will never reach it!  Amen, and move on!

#85.  The fear of emotion – Children display a wide palette of emotion…they let it all hang out!  Anger, frustration, joy, tears, excitement…!  But as we move into and through adulthood, we often “bottle” our emotions…we hold it all inside.  But these unexpressed emotions can ultimately, destroy us – they are linked to depression, heart disease, cancer, insomnia, neuroses…Maybe we should try being freer with our emotions, more honest with our handling of them.  Sometimes the best thing is just to  “let it all hang out!”

This is a lovely bedside book – flip it open at random, and allow the subtle wisdom to inform your day, your actions/thoughts/behavior.  Make a mud pie! Sing a song at the top of your lungs!   Grab your kids’ scooter and take a ride down the hill!  Play.  Be free.  and Live Childishly:)

…at least every now and again…:)  A little is better than none at all.

*Anthony Gunn is a psychologist and specializes in Anxiety – he has a knack for helping people step outside their comfort zone…so challenging, so very often, for us Adults!  He is the author of multiple books, including: Raising Confident Happy Children, and Walking Tall.

The Wonders of…

nina simone ..Nina Simone.  and yes…take time to pause.

It does not matter what Art you practice, how you express your internal life, what “floats your boat” – there is simply No One like Nina Simone.  Check out her autobiography in 1991 called “I Put a Spell on You – Hell yes, she definitely puts a spell on me!  And isn’t that what we strive for in our writing, in our stories – to put a “spell” on our readers? To make them feel.  To make them think.  To make them question, and engage, and dig deeper than they might perhaps, on their own?  I don’t think this even qualifies as a question – of course that is what we strive for as writers!

What makes Nina Simone so powerful, so phenomenal?  I think there are many facets to her engaging powers, but mostly, I think it boils down to these three things: Her Chops.  Her Truth. Her Honesty.  She bares herself through her music – she risks everything.  She exposes everything: feeling, honesty, and deep engagement.  Simply put – She is “Real.” Are you “real” in your work?  Are you digging deeply into your characters so that you understand what exactly their story is?  What they need to convey?  Who they are?  What drives them?  How they arrived at the place they now stand?  And Why?  Ask yourself… does their story need to be told?  This is a powerful question…and truly, if the answer is not an indefinite Yes!  than it’s time to let it go, and move onto something else.  Time is precious – a book can take years, sometimes a decade or more before it has finished with you…so ask yourself: Is it worth it to you?  Make sure this is a  resounding Yes before you commit.

The closer aligned we are with the “truth” of our characters, of their story, their world – the better we will understand the inner workings of their inner life and their conflict…which translates to this: the better we are be able to “tell” their story, with nuance, insight, truth, humanity….and the greater we are able to engage our readers. It is always about keeping it Real.

When we sit down with a book, we want to lose ourselves in the page…we want to “see” what we could not once see…we want to grow as we read about the lives/conflicts/struggles/joys/grapplings that the characters engage/battle/overcome/or lose to. We willingly step into the alter reality of the characters – but ONLY when the author has done due diligence: formed a fully alive world, with fully alive/conflicted/engaged/REAL characters that Leap off the page.  They enter our being, they grab hold of our reality and stretch our conception of what it means to live and to experience what life has to give.

In the immortal words of Nina Simone: “my function as an artist is  …to make people feel on a deep level.” Yes!  I believe this to be profoundly true.  This is what drives me in my writing – to “touch” people, to elevate the stakes and heighten “feeling.” To impact the reader in some way that broadens their understanding and awareness; has them asking questions about the way things “are.”  But mostly, to make the reader Feel.    

Nina Simone went on to say this about this slippery thing we call Feeling: …And of course, this can be difficult to describe.  It’s difficult to describe because it’s not something you can analyze; to get near what it’s about you have to play it. And when you’ve caught it, when you’ve got the audience hooked, you always know because it’s like electricity hanging in the air.”

As writers, we don’t often get that immediate response from our audience – most reading is done in private, away from the author’s reach or ear…but I do believe that when we “tap into” the pulse of our characters, we can get close, often very close, to that “electricity” by hooking into the truth of who our characters are – and when we do, they begin to sing off the page.  We can feel it…and when when we can, our readers can. Chops.  Truth.   Honesty.  The guardians of Art.  Practice each one.  Cultivate daily.  Strive ever more, to reach this pinnacle of grace.  And let your Art sore!

Critics started to talk about what sort of music I was playing,” writes Nina in her 1991 autobiography I Put A Spell On You, “and tried to find a neat slot to file it away in. It was difficult for them because I was playing popular songs in a classical style with a classical piano technique influenced by cocktail jazz. On top of that I included spirituals and children’s song in my performances, and those sorts of songs were automatically identified with the folk movement. So, saying what sort of music I played gave the critics problems because there was something from everything in there, but it also meant I was appreciated across the board – by jazz, folk, pop and blues fans as well as admirers of classical music.” Clearly Nina Simone was not an artist who could be easily classified.

This is the kind of Artist I wish to be…if only strive for.  Nuanced, broad, dedicated, well practiced, and hooked into the inner workings of the pulse of my Art and Form with honesty, chops and truth. Blessings Nina, and Ubuntu

Click here for a treat  – How it Feels to be Free