All posts by elliaglassing@yahoo.com

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

My morning commute has become much less enjoyable, thanks to the ever darkening news in this new Presidential cabinet that now occupies Washington.  I imagine yours has also – if you are brave enough to listen to the morning news.  If any of you ever thought that it really doesn’t “matter” who sits in the Oval Office, and in the President’s cabinet – I hope you can see clearly now, how desperately wrong that thinking is.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington…I haven’t seen this film in many years – but I was thinking about it today, out on the trail, as I day-dreamed about doing something that could disrupt this vulgar cabinet and presidency that now controls the United States of America.

Words.  Words were the weapon of choice for Mr. Smith, as played by one of my favorite Actors…Jimmy Stewart, bless his soul – and the message this film delivers is a powerful one.  Civic Duty.  Remember these words: “Ask not what your Country can do for you, but what you can do for your Country!” (JFK – in his Inaugural Speech).

Mr. Smith did just that – he stepped up and fought, on behalf of freedoms – not with guns! but with words, and words alone.  In the film, Mr. Smith was fighting against a corrupt political system (sound familiar?) and in order to “hold the floor” he had to maintain a steady flow of words, or speech – or he would lose the floor.

BTW: (Before the film was released, in the year 1939, the director, Frank  Capra asked the Washington Press Club to set up a screening for the  Congressman, Senators, and Supreme Court Justices – it did not go over well.  One third of the audience left before the film ended; the Senate Majority Alban W. Barkley described the movie as silly and stupid, and complained that it made the Senate look like crooks (hmmmm…)  – and Joseph P. Kennedy, the US Ambassador to the U.K., said the film ridiculed democracy and would do untold harm to America’s prestige in Europe. )

Words.  Jimmy Stewart’s character maintained control of the floor, not with pitchforks or firearms, but with Words.  The amazing power of words is their ability to be used in ways that can be tricky…like “double speak” if you remember this term from George Orwell’s brilliant book “1984.”  Words can be used in  support of concrete scientific proof – such as Global Warming…and words can be used in support of those who believe that Global Warming is simply “a hoax.”

Words are merely tools, and as with all tools, they fulfill the aim that we attach to them.  A simple word, in and of itself, can have a rather static meaning: ie – woman.  But this word “Woman” does not stand alone – it simultaneously represents a fully fledged belief system in our country; a belief system that further expands and articulates  the very meaning of this word “Woman” – thus solidifying a specific position in our society….ie: “Women don’t deserve to earn as much as Men.”  This word “Woman” thus presents a narrowing of what it means to be an earner…to be less valued as the man sitting in the cubicle beside you, who is making more money per hour – simply because he is NOT a She.

What about the dangers that certain individuals must face on a daily basis, here in the United States, because they are seen through the prism of these three considerably dangerous words: Young, Black, Male.  Woman may be limited – but Young Black Male?  African American?  He is the weight of the Americas itself.   What does one do when the very name you carry on your person, on your skin, is an on-going assault, a swarm of carnage that affects you in a dangerous and very real way, all around this country….or this newly injected phobia into our mainstream culture – “Muslim”.

Words…even a single Word carries weight; carries history; carries expectation, silence, invisibility,  and sadly, even danger.  And yes, there are times when a single word can also feed the on-going obliteration of an entire race, an entire people; and it is then that a word in itself, becomes dangerous.

Words, language, they are one of our greatest and most powerful tools,  and they serve all people – regardless of color, race, or creed.

Words can serve as a tool for freedom – or repression.

Words can restore justice, or create greater injustice.

Words can desecrate, illuminate; guide, or disrupt.

Words are power.  And what they deliver is and always will be, entirely up to us.

I think of Jimmy Stewart, standing before Congress, owning the floor through his steady flow of Words – and through this simple, daunting, civic act – he created profound disrupt!

Let us remember. We might be in need of our own profound disrupt in the coming days, months, and years ahead.

 

 

Sick Day…..

Feeling restless…feeling like shit…feeling the pull of a sharp twisted rope around my neck, around my spirit – in this wasteland of a Presidency, this wasteland of a Cabinet, this wasteland of sick and twisted demons that call themselves human.  How is one “human”  while stripping hundreds of thousands…if not millions, of people’s medical insurance?  How is one Human while they rape and pillage and disrespect our beautiful planet Earth…all for the love of greed, and power, and their despicable vulgarity toward Truth?   There is no time for silence any longer – we must resist the desire to crawl into a hole and “wait this shit out!”…because it won’t work.  We must be willing to put ourselves on the line..to challenge what we see, to challenge what we hear, what we bear witness to…now, and for  perhaps – years to come.

Spring in the foothills after last years fires
Spring in the foothills after last years fires

I myself have been complacent.  I have allowed “America” to be my key, to be my solace, to be my freedom, to be my protection, to be my right, to be my privilege!  And for as long as I’ve been alive – 50 years! – I was able to hide  behind America’s Flag and understand that I was FREE…along with the vast majority of my fellow Americans.

NO MORE!  This attitude of take without give must swiftly move far far far from the likes of me!  It is time to Mother-Fucking-HUSTLE for my Beautiful Amazing Selfless Abundant EARTH.  It is time for me to Mother-Fucking-Hustle… not for me, but for the generations upon generations upon generations to come!  So our future generations of children may look upon a sunset that ripples with unbound beauty…so that our brilliant wondrous Forests may continue to spill across the landscape, and young ears will hear the song of wind in leaves, the music of bird on limbs, and feel firsthand the healing power of simply residing in Earth’s magnificence.

The next four years are going to happen, whether I…or anyone else, likes it or not.  But this MUST NOT make us slink into the shadows – it must propel us to do the exact opposite!  We must disrupt ourselves, step outside our comfort zones and do whatever we can to protect Mother Earth, to protect our fellow humans, to protect the most important idea known to HUMAN KIND, and that is to protect the rights of ALL LIVING THINGS…Human, Animal, Air, Water, Woods, Moss…Rights !!!…for all living things.

 But lest we forget – we can have all the Rights on Planet Earth…all the rights we want –  but they will mean nothing if we do not have our Dear Mother Earth to provide for us all.

Calling All Artists!!!

“The artist vocation is to send light into the human heart.” – Robert Schumann.

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Hard to believe a New Year has landed! I hope one and all have had a beautiful year in 2016, and that you…WE…all feel grounded and rooted and certain of our beliefs as we face this new year. This beautiful collection of books are a few of my favorite reads from 2016!

Peter Mathiessen – The Snow Leopard:  Mathiessen is an exquisite writer – his language is like moving through beauty itself.  This deeply moving reflection on Quest and Loss as he traverses the Himalayas, begs us to consider what we are willing to give up, and at what cost… alongside what we might gain. If you love language as an art form, you must read his work.  Beautiful.

Shirin Ebadi – Until We Are Free:  A profound look at what it means to dedicate one’s life to advocating for Human rights,  personal Freedoms, and the Right to live according to those personal beliefs…even when your own country conspires against you.   Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 – the first Muslim woman to receive this highest honor.  Read this.  It will change you.  It will expand you…and it might just make you get up off your couch to create a better, saner, safer World!

 Jennifer Ackerman – The Genius of Birds – is a Wonder for anyone that loves birds!  We love their song, we love to watch them flit about through the sky, but their genius?  Oh my.  This book will bring you a new-found sense of awe and respect for our gorgeous feathered friends of the air.

Rumi – blessings upon him.  Years ago I was able to attend the Breadloaf Writers Conference, where I met and was inspired by many beautiful writers.  One of them, a young handsome man turned to me one afternoon, on the expansive lawn and asked me this:           R U?  M I?  (Are you?  Am I?) to which, he continued: I M, U R (I am, You are.)  This was my introduction to Rumi, a poet of sheer brilliance, love, joy, and wonderment.  Is always a treat to take this book off the shelf and swim in his sea of profound human beauty.

Joshua, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton – Atlas Obscura – A pure delight! This gorgeous collection of interesting, arcane, expansive, extraordinary, odd-ball tidbits of knowledge and facts is SO wonderful and fascinating that I can say with complete abandon that I love it – and I know you will love it too!  There is something for everyone in this one:)

and last but not least…

Ruth Ozeki –  A Tale For The Time Being!  I gulped this novel down within a matter of days – loathe to separate from it.  Ruth Ozeki created a remarkable, beautiful, haunting and elliptical world that swims through the great sea of humanity…as well as the sea itself. Her novel moves us to engage with memory, loss, love, family, war, and the necessary process of letting go – while simultaneously finding our own way to endure.  This beautiful novel is a meditation on living, on love, on seating oneself in the moment, and acceptance: acceptance of letting go – even when we are not ready to do so.

Thank you Ruth Ozeki!  You expanded my heart, my being, and my humanity.

 

…and so!

Here we are – 2017…a year that ushers in a particular and uncertain time of change.  There is a great deal of discomfort inside the hearts, spirits, and minds of many, all across the nation…and rightfully so. We are off the grid; we have entered a territory for which there is no compass, no guide rails for us to study.

Trump.

How did this happen?

I have no answer for that..I did NOT vote for him.

But I DO know this: More than ever before

 ART will be, MUST be

 our guiding compass. Resistance through Art. More than ever before.

 Perhaps our country, our world, will fare well over the next four years…perhaps…I certainly hope so…but no matter what, it WILL BE, MUST BE time for ALL of us to step outside our comfort zones and make noise.  Make resistance…and one of the strongest ways to be heard will be through ART. No matter what,  Art will profoundly and absolutely, be necessary!

Art is the light shining into the dark spaces.  Art is where Truth is given center stage… no matter how askance one must peek from the corner of  their eye. Year 2017 can be the year that changes us from weak, to bold…the year that ushers in a new Era of Sound, a new Era of Fight, a new Era of Resistance, Unity, and Creation.   2017 may insert the very real necessity for artists and the socially conscious individuals around our country, around our world, to fight for what we believe in…to step outside comfort zones, to raise a voice, to be counted, to be heard. I know that I will be relying, deeply, on the voices of Artists around the world…and I know I will not be alone.

Resist. Resist. Resist.

Create. Create. Create.

Remind the world that we, the larger segment of our nation, did NOT  vote for Trump…and that we are here, we are united, and we will not step down to whatever lies ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Long…Pause

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Welcome back, I say to myself.  And to you…if you are out there:)  It   has been a long time since I’ve visited this animal –  but I am glad to be here today, with you, and with the page.

I was about to dump this site after such a long hiatus, and when I sat down to do so, I had a change of heart.  All these beautiful words – I can’t just throw them away.  And so here I sit, typing away, not knowing what to write for this new “first” post…because, indeed – it does feel like I am starting all over again.  But I view that as a gift, because starting over means we have already been around…something, so we have experience, we have knowledge, we have…history.

The photograph above is another example of not visiting for a long while.  This is my childhood home, yard, pond – in Oakdale, MN – a place that holds so many beautiful, powerful, formative memories I can hardly breathe, for the emotions this brings up in me.  I had not visited my childhood home since my parents had to sell in the late 80’s, early 90’s.  It was heart-breaking then, but I was a young young woman, looking forward to my future…my eyes were not on the past.

And now, having children of my own – and building a life, together, with them, here in this house, on this street, in this crazy beautiful state that we live in – it brings me to a place that feels…liminal.  As though I stand, now, in a place of in-between.  Not young.  Not old.    But weaving in this shifting landscape.  And that’s good, that’s okay – because it’s certainly better than the alternative! Right:)

So – welcome back to ekholab…my excursion into what it means to be an artist, a writer, an explorer of the human soul.  I’m so happy to share this journey with you…and to have you share this, with me.

The Narrow Road To The Deep North

 

…one might immediately recognize the above title from a Basho haiku.

…one might immediately understand this to be the 7th novel by the powerfully gifted writer, Richard Flanagan.

…one might immediately be drawn in by this visual provocation of the Narrow Road drawing one ever deeper and deeper toward their own private North.

…but no matter your association, or your lack of one, what one such as you, should do, is to clear hours away on your personal calendar and enter this book…and prepare yourself for it to enter – and carve out – a terrifically deep north, inside of you.

Richard Flanagan, a new favorite writer of mine that I will continue to learn from for books to come!
Richard Flanagan, a new favorite writer of mine that I will continue to learn from for books to come!

For the past two weeks, I have given my breath over to this book…letting the daily existential “must do’s” of life fall away as much as I possibly could so that I could experience the gut-wrenching brilliance that Flanagan seemed to carve out of some “David-esque” like marble inside of him.  It is not a book for the faint-of-heart…initially, I stopped reading it myself after a few days in, though for different reasons.  It is a deeply masculine novel and at that time, I was not interested in what that offered.  But I must say, I am immensely grateful and forever glad that I decided to return to this book –  because once I did, I was loathe to put it down.

To read this novel is to be granted insight to the complexity and enormity of love, to the deplorable and inescapable bonds of the nature of war, to the incredibly simple and poignant moments of humanity, to the senseless brutality and grotesqueness of war and its demands…and somehow, the vulgar yet understandable, despicable yet perhaps ultimately necessary, ways in which humanity progresses forward.  The finger pointing blame never stands still, to live is to be complicit and so it moves among us, spreading blame like a fever, like a fog blown silently with the wind, landing on each and every one who has ever taken breath, lived, loved, hated, taken, said yes, said no, or even said maybe.

Basho in all his majesty
Basho in all his majesty

Somehow, through poetry, through what lies just off to the center, through what resides inside the flotsam… the particles that illuminate through the dance of light – Flanagan reveals to us the shadow that we all reside in. In war, indeed, in love…there are no rules, we play by the “winner takes all” mentality – doing what we must so that we may continue on, dance among the living, and BE.

This textual dance that Flanagan weaves between love and war, between beauty and ache, thrive and waste, interruption and continuance, loss and salvation…infuses this novel with a rhythmic, agonizing, decrepit pulse of blood, wound, artery, scream, and through silence. It destroys and demands and loves and kills and intercedes and allows and falls and lies down…leaving the reader battered and bruised and completely re-arranged.

… and ever the more, human.

As I flip through my book, I see dog-earred pages everywhere.  If I could consume this book, I would.  I would eat it and let its despicable and wondrous nourishment substantiate me into a fully formed understanding of what it really means to live, to be at the top of the chain – to be human.  I do not think I have that inside of me…not yet, perhaps not ever.  But this grew in me as I read, like a lotus, coiling up through dark mud.  And as I read, and walked upon my own narrow road toward this deep north, I recognized that this is precisely what we must all do. Walk toward our own immanent death from the very first intake of breath.  Life calls, and we begin. And the road inevitably, and in varying degrees, calls us to our place of reckoning where we ultimately come face to face with our truest self…

I deeply hope to find there, my humanity continuing to reside.

 

Yes!
Yes!

A bee                                                                    staggers out                                                      of the peony.

Basho

 

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!

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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

Dotoku

 

 

This is Aizen-Myo-o...a mystical King of light, symbolizing the power and victory of knowledge and wisdom over passion and desire...popular among Artists and Geishas and professions connected with matters of Love.  Artwork by Seigan Glassing
This is Aizen-Myo-o…a mystical King of light, symbolizing the power and victory of knowledge and wisdom over passion and desire…popular among Artists and Geishas and professions connected with matters of Love. Artwork by Seigan Glassing

Perhaps you are familiar with this phrase, dotoku…or perhaps not.  If you are a writer, in particular, or a human being that craves to communicate with others in a way that allows for clear understanding – than dotoku is for you. My brother-in-law, Seigan Glassing is a Zen Buddahist monk…at least he was for nearly 30 years of his life.  He currently uses his Zen Buddhism training/experiences as a Zen Buddhist Chaplain, helping people face their lives/illness/fears at New York Presbyterian Hospital.  He is a remarkable human, as well as a remarkable artist.  Do check out his Zen Artwork on Etsy @MonkandMoe by clicking on this link – beautiful altar pieces to help elevate your meditation/yoga/spiritual practices.  At any rate – he recently came to spend some time with our family and as I am ever curious about what others know/do/are, and as I am ever a Seeker – we often discuss Zen/ spirituality//Tolkien/and other life approaches with one another…mostly me listening to him. :)  Lucky me.  I learn a great deal from him, and I feel so very fortunate for our friendship.

So yes, dotoku.  Just what is this? Do – is Tao, or, The Way.  And toku, is to speak, or communicate.  So this literally means “the way to speak” so that there is clear understanding between speaker and listener.  What makes dotoku so powerful for me as a writer, is the reminder of intention.  Intention informs all spiritual practice, and is not writing a rich and provocative practice of the spirit?  When I am writing the lives of my characters, or developing the breadth of the narrative, it is essential that I communicate, or express my writing, clearly enough/vividly enough/intentionally enough, that my audience may be able to fully immerse themselves, and lose themselves, inside the world of a crafted story that rings true.  My words on the page are all I have to tell my stories in such a way that the story grows inside the readers’ mind.  Intention demands that we pay attention – to the details of the world that we are creating: Who the characters are, why they behave the way they do, what the causes are for their actions, how they resolve conflict, what, or why have they landed in the state they are in.  The deeper we understand our characters – or the more intentionally we explore their humanity, the richer and deeper your readers will experience the work.

When we pick up a book, we want to lose ourselves.  We want to enter the mind/perspective/experience of “other.”  A book may be a mirror reflecting back our own experience, or it may be completely foreign – but these “alter” worlds allow us the doorway to expand our sense of what it means to live, to be affected, to error, to blunder, to fly, to succeed, to surprise our very selves.  And the mindful act of moving with Intention, in all aspects of daily life, creates a much greater and more profound opportunity to engage deeply, personally, and effectively.

I bumped into a delightful book on this subject that I can’t recommend enough – I enjoyed this book so very much.  It is a conversational book between two fellows, both highly engaging and ever questing on their walk toward enlightenment…It is called… The Dude and The Zen Master.”   It’s a conversation between Bernie Glassman (a Zen Buddhist monk) and “The Dude” – Jeff Bridges, the actor – and how Buddhism informs their lives, actions, thoughts, and intentions.  It is filled with humor, joy, a deep sensibility of humanity, and not taking things too seriously.  This is a wonderful book that dwells in the arena of seriousness, but manages to dance with wit, charm, humor, and humility.  I loved this book and read it in one sitting.  I highly recommend it, and you will also, if you enjoy meaningful and thoughtful conversation on how to live a rich and rewarding life;  how to dig deeper and engage more fully; how to be;  how to remember joy and humor, and gratitude…and other fine ways of being.  It’s Dude-a-licious! haha…and it really is.

Dotoku on my fellow friends and writers and people that live!  May Dotoku be with you :)