Archive for July, 2016

Failing eyesight or spiritual insight: a poet’s interpretation of a master artist’s vision

July 30, 2016

A previous post dealt with poets and artists who were Touched With Fire and created unusually beautiful works of art. Their poems and paintings were thought to be fueled by madness rather than a uniquely creative gift, possibly combined with a type of manic-depression.

Claude Monet "Water Lilies" (1906) Art Institute of Chicago (photo by Ryerson)

Claude Monet “Water Lilies” (1906) The Art Institute of Chicago
(Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection)

Here is a different twist on another kind of perceived abnormality. This poem’s title, Monet Refuses the Operation, leads the reader to believe that  Oscar-Claude Monet, founder of French Impressionism, was in need of an eye operation because of the way he painted.

But Nobel laureate Lisel Mueller gives us a different take on what may have been clinically diagnosed as failing eyesight due to cataracts, for the growth of a more profound spiritual vision—a ripened appreciation of nature, and a deeper more unified understanding of life.

Monet Refuses the Operation
By Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Source: Second Language (Louisiana State University Press, 1996)

The cataracts did cloud Monet’s vision, and hindered his perception, but he had reached a level of mastery that allowed him to paint with his heart. In the words of The Little Prince, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Later in life, Monet had discovered a different way of seeing and created a new way of painting. Another poet, William Stafford, wrote about youth and the mature artist in You and Art. The poem describes, in his own unique way, this spiritual transformation that takes place later in life.

You and Art
By William Stafford

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face—
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

and you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

The ending of another poem by William Stafford reminds me of an expansion to infinity and the “blue vapor without end” in Something That Happens Right Now.

Here is a collection of some of Monet’s paintings.

A baptism by fire: Why Paul Dalio’s debut as a filmmaker is Touched With Fire

July 25, 2016

TOUCHED WITH FIRE PosterPremiered last year at SXSW, with a theatrical run this spring, and now on DVD, Paul Dalio’s first full-length feature film, Touched With Fire, is a love story between two bipolar poets that reveals the relationship between illness and creativity.

Dalio was inspired by Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, which explores the link between great art and bipolar disorder. He read that many famous writers, poets, and artists suffered from this mania and may have produced their work because of it. Their genius was touched with fire.

This was a welcome relief for Paul who had become bipolar. He now saw himself no longer in clinical terms as a social outcast without a cure, but as a creative artist who was dealing with a neurological imbalance.

The most well known example of that heightened state was Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The painting is a kind of leitmotif throughout the film, even materializing as a literal hallucination by the main characters.

Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night

Reflecting on his own experience of being bipolar, Paul wanted people suffering with the illness, and those concerned with their health, to better understand what they are going through, that they are not necessarily crazy, perhaps gifted, and to help remove the stigma associated with the disease.

He compares the manic highs and depressive lows of the disease to the seasons. The film’s palatte of colors reflects the changing emotions within and between the main characters. Attempts to control these mood swings with drugs create deadening side effects, part of the conflict within their relationship.

In his Huffington Post blog, Touched With Fire, Paul asks: How much more receptive would a patient be to treatment if the patient was told that the treatment was to nurture a gift they had, instead of terminate a disease they had?

Director Dalio gave author/psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison a role in the film as herself, to explain how the right balance of medication can help rather than hinder a manic personality. Marco is concerned that the medications are stopping him from feeling any emotions, and is destroying his creativity. From her own experience, Kay shares with them how “medication can tamp the fire down a bit without losing that gift.” She tells him, with the right dosage, which takes time, she became even more productive than before becoming bipolar.

Cast and Crew

Paul Dalio wrote, directed, edited and scored Touched With Fire, his feature-film debut starring Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, with other performances by Griffin Dunne, Christine Lahti and Bruce Altman.

Paul’s longtime friend, Jeremy Alter, produced the film, along with Kristina Nikolova, Paul’s wife and fellow student at the NYU Film School, who convinced him to make this semi-autobiographical film. Their teacher, Spike Lee, is the executive producer.

The brilliant acting in this passionately moving film is intensely engaging. Holmes (Carla) and Kirby (Marco) play two poets with bipolar disorder whose art is fueled by their emotional extremes. When they meet in a treatment facility, their chemistry is instant and intense driving each other’s mania to new heights. They pursue their passion, which breaks outside the bounds of sanity, swinging them from fantastical highs to tormented lows until they ultimately must choose between sanity and love. Watch the official trailer.

Comments from the Critics

The New York Times Critic’s Pick wrote: “Luke Kirby and Katie Holmes boldly meet the challenge of playing bright, high-strung artists. An extraordinarily sensitive, nonjudgmental exploration of bipolar disorder and creativity.” Read the Review: ‘Touched With Fire,’ a Love Story Between Two Bipolar Poets.

The Los Angeles Times said: Writer-director Dalio has firsthand experience with bipolar disorder, and his perspective sheds fresh light on the unique ways in which manic-depressive individuals experience love and creativity. Read the Review: Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby propel ‘Touched With Fire’ as it shines fresh light on bipolar disorder and creativity.

This is a powerful film! We witness their struggles from the inside out. More reviews are listed on the film’s website.

The Role of Poetry in the Film

In one of the interviews from the Special Features of the DVD, Paul Dalio talks about the value of poetry in his life, and for the main characters in the film. “It was only when I met my wife that my heart became more tender, and I actually started reading poetry, which I never did, and I started writing poetry.”

Paul describes the transforming power of poetry to heal and create beauty. He speaks from his own personal experience as someone who has dealt with the ups and downs of this disorder while trying to become a writer, composer, and filmmaker. The film is an amazing testament to his artistic achievement! See his bio under Cast & Crew for more details.

“Poetry at its best has the deepest expression of being in the worst hell, and having no choice but to bring some kind of aesthetic meaning to it, and some kind of beauty to it, just to even cope with it. (and) Only by being forced down there to such a hell are you forced to bring that much beauty to that hell, and in the process it becomes a healing. And so it was natural how it wove itself into the film, as these two characters use it to cope with their psychosis, and to deal with coming out of their situation.”

From my own experience, writing poetry does have the power to transform and heal. Another film where poetry is featured is in Words and Pictures, where a poem invites you to be who you are.

The Soundtrack to the Movie

Paul Dalio’s blog post includes both the song and lyrics to Starry Nights. Listen to the Touched With Fire Soundtrack Preview, followed by Starry Nights, the song at the end of the film during the credits, published by Lakeshore Records. Download the album on iTunes.

Interviews with the Director and Actors

Charlie Rose: ‘Touched With Fire’ (Feb. 4, 2016)  Director and writer Paul Dalio, actor Luke Kirby, and psychologist Kay Jamison discuss the movie “Touched with Fire” and the connections between bipolar disorder and creativity. (18:51) Paul does mention his use of medication and meditation, which he elaborates upon in this next video.

At a David Lynch Foundation-hosted screening of the film, Paul opened up about his own struggles with bipolar and how pivotal the practice of Transcendental Meditation has proved to be in living a happy, healthy, and creatively rich life. “TM is the difference between surviving with bipolar and thriving with bipolar. I never stopped meditating, without fail,” he says. “That’s when my doctor, Norman Rosenthal, witnessed the power of TM and was so blown away he decided to do a study on the effects of TM.” Paul was responsible for Dr. Rosenthal restarting his long-lapsed TM practice, which led to the publication of two best-selling books on the subject. Visit NORMAN ROSENTHAL, MD for details. See Thriving with Bipolar – A Conversation with Writer/Director Paul Dalio.

TODAY: Katie Holmes Discusses Role In ‘Intense’ Film ‘Touched With Fire’ (4:41)

The Washington Post: Filmmaker Paul Dalio mines his bipolar disorder for feature debut

HotSpot: TOUCHED WITH FIRE | Katie Holmes, Luke Kirby, Paul Dalio & Jeremy Alter Interview | February 8, 2016 (26:54)

Video of Marbling Art Animation of Starry Night and Van Gogh

Check out this amazing video on marbling art animation of Starry night and a Van Gogh self-portrait: Van Gogh on Dark Water Animation. The Turkish artist is Garip Ay, and the ancient technique of painting on water to marble paper is called Ebru.

The Unexpected Math Behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

Physicist Werner Heisenberg said, “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.” As difficult as turbulence is to understand mathematically, we can use art to depict the way it looks. Natalya St. Clair illustrates how Van Gogh captured this deep mystery of movement, fluid and light in his work. Visit TED-Ed for more.

Sweetheart Haiku for Sali from @kenchawkin

July 17, 2016

i took Sali to her dental appointment last Friday. While waiting for the dental hygienist to come in and clean her teeth, I told Sali what she meant to me, and distilled it down to this simple haiku.

Sweetheart Haiku

The sweetness in you
Brings out the sweetness in me
Why you’re my sweetheart

© Ken Chawkin
Fairfield, Iowa
July 15, 2016

Enjoy some of the Zen Poetry of Ryōkan

July 3, 2016

Zen Poet RyōkanA friend loaned me a copy of Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf, Zen Poems of Ryōkan, translated by John Stevens. A delightful little book, his poems are deceptively simple, yet go straight to the heart. A Zen master, Ryōkan was also considered one of the greatest calligraphers of all time in East Asia. Living as a hermit, he spent much of his time writing poetry, doing calligraphy, and communing with nature.

The Translator’s Introduction ends with this sage advice from the poet:

Good friends and excellent teachers—
Stick close to them!
Wealth and power are fleeting dreams
But wise words perfume the world for ages.

Ryōkan’s poems are pure, honest, direct. Here are a few beauties that caught my attention as I read them aloud to Sali.

It’s a pity, a gentleman in refined retirement
……….composing poetry:
He models his work on the classic verse of China,
And his poems are elegant, full of fine phrases.
But if you don’t write of things deep inside your own
……….heart,
What’s the use of churning out so many words?

 —————

In the stillness by the empty window
I sit in formal meditation wearing my monk’s surplice.
Navel and nose in alignment,
Ears parallel with the shoulders.
Moonlight floods the room;
The rain stops but the eaves drip and drip.
Perfect this moment—
In the vast emptiness, my understanding deepens.

—————

At night, deep in the mountains,
I sit in meditation.
The affairs of men never reach here:
Everything is quiet and empty,
All the incense has been swallowed up by the endless
……….night.
My robe has become a garment of dew.
Unable to sleep, I walk into the woods—
Suddenly, above the highest peak, the full moon
……….appears.

—————

When all thoughts
Are exhausted
I slip into the woods
And gather
A pile of shepherd’s purse.

Like the little stream
Making its way
Through the mossy crevices
I, too, quietly
Turn clear and transparent.

—————

The Lotus

First blooming in the Western Paradise,
The lotus has delighted us for ages.
Its white petals are covered with dew,
Its jade green leaves spread out over the pond,
And its pure fragrance perfumes the wind.
Cool and majestic, it rises from the murky water.
The sun sets behind the mountains
But I remain in the darkness, too captivated to leave.

—————

Bamboo

The thick bamboo grove near my hut
Keeps me nice and cool.
Shoots proliferate, blocking the path,
While old branches reach for the sky.
Years of frost give bamboo spirit;
They are most mysterious when wrapped in mist.
Bamboo is as hardy as pine and oak,
And more subtle than peach or plum blossoms.
It grows straight and tall,
Empty inside but with a sturdy root.
I love the purity and honesty of my bamboo,
And want them to thrive here always!

—————

Leave off your mad rush for gold and jewels—
I’ve got something far more precious for you:
A bright pearl that sparkles more brilliantly than the
……….sun and moon
And illuminates each and every eye.
Lose it and you’ll wallow in a sea of pain;
Find it and you’ll safely reach the other shore.
I’d freely present this treasure to anyone
But hardly anyone asks for it.

—————

Keep your heart clear and transparent
And you will never be bound.
A single disturbed thought, though,
Creates ten thousand distractions.
Let myriad things captivate you
And you’ll go further and further astray.
How painful to see people
All wrapped up in themselves.

—————

I watch people in the world
Throw away their lives lusting after things,
Never able to satisfy their desires,
Falling into deep despair
And torturing themselves.
Even if they get what they want
How long will they be able to enjoy it?
For one heavenly pleasure
They suffer ten torments of hell,
Binding themselves more firmly to the grindstone.
Such people are like monkeys
Frantically grasping for the moon in the water
And then falling into a whirlpool.
How endlessly those caught up in the floating world
……….suffer.
Despite myself, I fret over them all night
And cannot staunch my flow of tears.

—————

Even if you consume as many books
As the sands of the Ganges
It is not as good as really catching
One verse of Zen.
If you want the secret of Buddhism,
Here it is: Everything is in the Heart!

—————

Chanting old poems,
Making our own verses,
Playing with a cloth ball,
Together in the fields—
Two people, one heart.

The breeze is fresh,
The moon so bright—
Together
Let’s dance until dawn
As a farewell to my old age.

See some of Ryōkan’s quotes at goodreads. Here’s one I liked:

“In all ten directions of the universe, there is only one truth. When we see clearly, the great teachings are the same. What can ever be lost? What can be attained? If we attain something, it was there from the beginning of time. If we lose something, it is hiding somewhere near us.”
Ryokan

Here is a goodreads description of his life introducing Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan.

Five great articles on #TranscendentalMeditation in The Quad-Cities Online @Dispatch_Argus

July 1, 2016

Here is a series of five stories exploring Transcendental Meditation written by Jackie Chesser and published in The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Click the titles to see each one of them online with photos at QCOnline. Or click Dispatch-Argus-May 2016 articles to see a PDF of them all together, courtesy of The Dispatch/Argus.

May 14, 2016: Transcendental Meditation could improve your life

May 15, 2016: Transcendental Meditation a lifesaver for vets with PTSD

May 15, 2016: Q-C instructors are passionate about Transcendental Meditation

May 16, 2016: Transcendental Meditation pays off in the classroom

May 17, 2016: ‘It has been a godsend!’: Q-C people talk about Transcendental Meditation


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