Archive for April, 2020

Coincidences happened that introduced me to the great Ojibway storyteller Richard Wagamese

April 30, 2020

Discovering Richard Wagamese the Poet

I first discovered this great Canadian aboriginal writer on a blog I follow. I looked into the book she quoted from, Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese, and bought it based on this first entry I read in Chapter I: STILLNESS.

I AM MY silence. I am not the busyness of my thoughts or the daily rhythm of my actions. I am not the stuff that constitutes my world. I am not my talk. I am not my actions. I am my silence. I am the consciousness that perceives all these things. When I go to my consciousness, to that great pool of silence that observes the intricacies of my life, I am aware that I am me. I take a little time each day to sit in silence so that I can move outward in balance into the great clamour of living.

These two entries in Chapter II: HARMONY are equally profound. This first one, about the relationship between the soul and the body, reminds me of what the Sufi mystics said about the body and the universe, the microcosm and the macrocosm.

I USED TO believe my body contained my soul. That was fine for a while. But when I started thinking about oneness with Creator, I came to believe that it’s the other way around. My soul contains my body. It is everything that I am. I am never separate from Creator except within my mind. That’s the ultimate truth, and I need to be reminded, to learn again, to learn anew in order to get it. When I do, I know the truth of what my people say: that we are all spirit, we are all energy, joined to everything that is everywhere, all things coming true together.

Interestingly, when the mind forgets this oneness, loses its connection to inner wholeness, the result is what Maharishi calls Pragyāparādha, the mistake of the intellect, which identifies with a changing limited reality instead of our unbounded inner Self. This identification with the world and loss of memory of the Self is the root cause of all of our suffering, the difference between bondage and liberation.

The other entry, about coming under the influence of the muse, reminds me of William Stafford, another poet who would also get up early every morning to write before sunrise. Although similar in theme, but not as profound, his poem, When I Met My Muse, is more lighthearted.

WHEN THE MUSE is full upon you, you move to the chair at your desk as if entranced, and in that ghostly glow against the full dark before sunrise, story becomes a shape-shifter, a presence that cajoles you, tempts you, coaxes words to eke out onto the page, creating worlds and people from the fire deep within you so that this alchemy of creation becomes transcendent, making time lose all its properties. There is just you and the universe and this creative fire moving through your fingers in bold palettes of colour chasing the dark away until you emerge in the sure, calm light of morning and feel like a writer again.

I discovered a similar transcendent experience described by Canadian Realist Painter Sarah McKendry as she paints through the night until sunrise. See my comment and her quote below in the Responses section.

Discovering Richard Wagamese the Storyteller

Richard Wagamese (October 14, 1955 – March 10, 2017) was an internationally renowned, award-winning author, newspaper columnist and reporter who had also worked in radio and television. In this CBC interview, Candy Palmater asks Richard how a library helped him become a writer. As a destitute, homeless teenager, he walked into a building for warmth and noticed it was filled with silence and many books. He didn’t know where he was. A kind librarian brought him some food and showed him how to find what he was interested in. Richard had only a grade 9 education and devoured books on a wide range of topics. He taught himself how to become a writer and would copy sentences by hand of the great authors who moved him just to see what it felt like. He tells Candy the role he played in the making of the film based on his book.

Indian Horse, the novel and the film

I had just watched an emotionally-charged film on Netflix called Indian Horse. I checked and found out that the film was based on the award-winning novel Indian Horse written by this same Ojibway author! Clint Eastwood was the executive producer. It tells the tragic, yet hopeful and redemptive story of the main character, Saul Indian Horse. Events unfold during a dark era in Canadian history, when young native Indians were separated from their families (including Wagamese’s parents), and sent to notorious Catholic Residential Schools where they were forced to not speak their language or practice their culture. The nuns and priests tried to “scrape the Indian out of them” violently molding them into Christians, traumatizing them for life.

Despite this, Saul finds salvation in the unlikeliest of places and the most favorite of Canadian pastimes — hockey. Fascinated by the game, he secretly teaches himself how to play, and develops a unique and rare skill. Saul’s talent leads him away from the misery of the Residential School to a Northern Ontario Indigenous league and eventually to the pros – but the terrors of Saul’s past seem to follow him.

Wagamese suffered from second-generational trauma, abused drugs and alcohol, was homeless and landed in prison many times. He would eventually be diagnosed with PTSD, which gave him a better understanding of his helpless situation, and finally sought treatment.

A wise tribal Elder told him his role in life was to become a storyteller. Writing would become a healing redemptive practice for him. Surprisingly, many of his readers felt seen, understood. His stories helped them too in their healing journey, fulfilling his destiny.

People who knew Wagamese said he was the creator, parent and protector of stories. Host of CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter and chancellor of the University of Victoria, Shelagh Rogers said of her longtime friend, “Richard really believed everybody had a story.” Listen to Shelagh Rogers’ tribute to Richard Wagamese, a great man who passed away unexpectedly and too soon at the age of 61.

The nature of a writer‘s life

As a writer, Richard Wagamese would win many prestigious awards. On November 3, 2015 in Toronto, the Writers Trust of Canada honored him with the 2015 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life. In his humble, at times emotional acceptance speech, he beautifully described his early morning rituals followed by sitting for a while in the candle-lit darkness, thinking about what it is that he is about to do, “and you ask for as much guidance and strength from The Creator as possible.” He heads down the hall to a place where he will sit for hours at his computer. “And you sit there and you breathe and you hope and you dream and you close your eyes, and you feel the essence of that gift radiating inside you. And you put your fingers on that keyboard and watch while they emerge out upon the screen.”

I love this part of his speech: “And you wait for that time when you know that that perfect sentence has just occurred. And there‘s a gladdening in your spirit when that happens, and you seek to write another one, just like it, to follow it across the page. And in my experience, that‘s the nature of a writer‘s life. That immaculate sense of solitude, when there‘s just you and the language and the air and the universe and that gift that The Creator downloaded you with free-of-charge…. “

Richard Wagamese 2015 Matt Cohen Award speech

And in my experience, that‘s the nature of a writer‘s life. That immaculate sense of solitude, when there‘s just you and the language and the air and the universe and that gift that The Creator downloaded you with free-of-charge.

Writing for the story’s sake and not your own

In this talk at the University of British Columbia (Nov 27, 2013) on his book tour for Indian Horse, author Wagamese gives some valuable advice for young writers. His years of experience honing his craft as a journalist and a writer for radio and television prepared him to become a successful novelist and poet. “In that way of writing you learn how to be sharp, simple and concise, and learn how to trim the fat from every sentence, and you learn how to say exactly what you mean and to mean what you say.” He emphasized “that conciseness and that brevity that results in perfect clarity really served this novel well.”

He goes on to explain that it wasn’t necessary to be overly dramatic or poetic in his prose. “You harness that, you reign that back in and you learn to work for the story itself. And if there’s any aspiring or perspiring writers in the room, that’s the biggest advice I can give you, that if you work for the story’s sake all the time it will spare you the anxiety and the inner debate about how much you should write or in what way you should write it because you’re writing for the story’s sake and not your own. And again that particular rule served me well in the writing of Indian Horse.”

In a July 4, 2014 Globe and Mail article, we learn where he got that advice from: Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? A: Norval Morrisseau once told me to “work for the story’s sake” and that is the best advice I’ve ever received. When I work for the story’s sake I leave my ego at the door and the energy of the story emerges without my interference. It’s why Indian Horse and Medicine Walk ring so resonant with people – because me and my ego are not in the way of the story pouring outward.

Embrace everything and write what you don’t know

A year later (Nov 18, 2014), Richard Wagamese was invited to read from the MacEwan Book of the Year 2013/14, Indian Horse. It included an on-stage interview with author Richard Van Camp. He read from Indian Horse, answered good questions from the audience, and concluded with a reading from his new book Medicine Walk, a story about a reconciliation between an absent father and his son, something Wagamese had been grappling with in his own life. MacEwan University posted this inspiring event on YouTube.

He offered good advice to hopeful writers and shared his process, how when he goes on long walks, he connects with the land, and thinks about ideas that get triggered. He says them out loud to himself as he develops a story until it’s clearer to him, then returns home to type it up on his computer, offline to avoid distractions. He told them to be open to anything as it could trigger a story. They should open themselves up to and embrace everything as it would impact their writing and keep their readers engaged.

He also touched on the notion that “some courses and programs tell you to write what you know.” I found his take on that advice revealing: “But it’s come to me over the course of the last few books, that if I write what I don’t know, then the process of me discovering the answers to what I don’t know makes the journey of following the story in the book stronger for the reader, because we both get to find the answer together.” (These great writers said the exact same thing.)

But it’s come to me over the course of the last few books, that if I write what I don’t know, then the process of me discovering the answers to what I don’t know makes the journey of following the story in the book stronger for the reader, because we both get to find the answer together.

This final question was very interesting, one that he “was not often asked.” He gave a surprising and impressive answer. He shared how his 16 months of yoga and meditation practice, along with a change in diet had improved his life physically, emotionally, and spiritually. On all these levels, yoga was “informing my sense of myself.” It brought a peace and a quietness within the process “that I’ve been waiting for all my life.” Answering her question specifically he explained, “and so when I turn to the act of writing, I bring that same sense of holism into the process of writing.” He then described the kind of improvements he experienced in his skill as a writer, attributing them to that influence, which, he concluded, created “a big leap forward” that showed up in his new book, Medicine Walk. (A good question that elicited a great answer!)

Learning to become a better person

In her informative and heartfelt obituary (March 24, 2017, updated May 16, 2018): Ojibway author Richard Wagamese found salvation in stories, Globe and Mail journalist Marsha Lederman wrote that “his last book, Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations, came out of Mr. Wagamese’s daily Facebook posts. They had a devoted following and Douglas and McIntyre head Howard White proposed publishing them as a collection. On March 7, Embers was nominated for a BC Book Award. Two nights later, Mr. Wagamese went to sleep and didn’t wake up.”

The book actually did win the 2017 Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award. This is the conclusion to her article: In one of Mr. Wagamese’s final Facebook meditations, posted in November, he wrote about starting his day with candlelight, tea and meditation, and what the years had taught him. “Actions born of contemplation are wiser than those made in quiet desperation. If all that’s true, and I feel it is, then I have grown some in these 61 years. I have learned and become a better person. And from that maybe it’s the years ahead that will be the richest of my life. A quiet man moving forward, gladly beyond all expectation.”

Two new posthumously published books by Richard Wagamese

CBC Books posted news of two new posthumously published books by Richard Wagamese: the unfinished novel Starlight (Mar 01, 2018) and One Drum (Nov 06, 2019). This latest book review also includes 3 earlier CBC Radio interviews, 2 of which are referenced in this blog post. You can Read an excerpt from Richard Wagamese’s final book, One Drum.

Fairfield artist Chad Starling’s Word and Form drawings boggle the mind, belie the imagination

April 30, 2020

Integrating deep reflection with artistic creation

Chad Starling is a Fairfield artist who combines the written word with a visual labyrinthine language into a body of work called Word and Form. He integrates deep reflection with artistic creation. His process of art-making is a meditative practice engaging eye, hand, heart and mind as he repeatedly writes a certain phrase over and over again in a specific pattern while experiencing a steady stillness in action.

I first saw his work featured a few summers ago at Art Fifty Two. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at—a series of repeated hand-written words or phrases from large to extremely small print made into shapes and patterns, some appearing as mandalas. A detailed large work can take up to two years to complete with writing sometimes as small as over 400 letters per square inch. Chad recently told me that he can usually create three pieces per year. The fact that he is dyslexic and can produce such accurate repetitive word drawings belies the imagination!

Chad Starling next to his I AM print expanded to mural size at Art Fifty Two

Here is an example of his work, I AM, which was blown up to a wall size mural for the show. The actual size of the piece is 18 x 24 inches. Dale Stephens created this large size for Chad’s show at his Art Fifty Two. You get a perspective for the size of the mural with Chad standing next to it. Click on the title to see details of the work and closeups on his website.

I marveled at the JAI GURU DEV Mural. It’s amazing! Click on the title, then on the first image to expand it, and the arrow on the right twice to see increasing closeups of it. You will clearly see the words in the 3rd image at the center. Mind-boggling!

Words of Art Documentary

Chad Starling and Ashia Fredeen with their 2019 IMPA Achievement Award

Ashia Fredeen, the daughter of a Canadian couple I know, came to Fairfield to study film making in the Cinematic Arts and New Media Department at MIU. She has a background in stage theater, creative writing, visual arts and music. Ashia helped Dick DeAngelis on his 2nd film of the Fairfield History Series serving as 1st assistant director for the entire length of the 9-month production.

During her 2nd year, inspired by his work, Ashia reached out to Chad Starling to see if he would be open to her making a short documentary on him. The result is this 7-minute film, Words of Art, which captures Chad’s unique process and work. The film won an Award of Achievement at the 2019 Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards. Chad posted it on his Word and Form YouTube channel.

Here are Chad’s artistic statement, artist bio and artwork description. Visit his website for more information and images: chadstarlingart.com.

ARTISTIC STATEMENT

Formed by the word, we are the word, creating through the word. There is a story that is being created every moment everywhere, which has neither beginning nor end. If we desire, we can be co-authors of this story on a much larger scale. For this reason I draw my purpose for living. Expressing my heart through abstract form, interpreted through literal meaning. In a steady stillness I repeat a phrase, experiencing it over and over again.

ARTIST BIO / ARTWORK DESCRIPTION

Starling is a contemporary artist using micrographic techniques with an added mental and spiritual dimension. Beyond the beauty of the forms he creates, Starling uses his once perceived handicap, dyslexia, as a tool to make a series of repeated hand-written words into visual mnemonic devices. With degrees in photography, graphic design, and theology, Starling pursues the integration of deep reflection with artistic creation.

Surprising and Amazing Final Performance to @GlblCizn One World #TogetherAtHome Concert

April 19, 2020

This surprising and amazing performance concluded and highlighted Saturday night’s Global Citizen One World Together At Home Concert. The 2-hour show aired in 175 countries, in the US on 3 major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), the BBC, streamed on Twitter, Periscope, then YouTube. The full 8-hour program, One World: Together At Home Special to Celebrate COVID-19 Workers, and individual performances are available on Global Citizen’s YouTube channel. They raised around $128 million!

Two of these amazing artists had previously recorded this song, separately and together on their respective albums. Earlier performances are on YouTube (with lyrics). This more recent one: The Prayer – Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli, a duet with David Foster on piano, is from Andrea Bocelli’s album, Concerto, One Night in Central Park.

Wikipedia: The album was recorded September 15, 2011, during a concert at Central Park’s Great Lawn in New York City. Bocelli was accompanied by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by its music director Alan Gilbert, and the Westminster Symphonic Choir. He was joined on stage by singers Celine Dion, Tony Bennett, Bryn Terfel, Ana María Martínez and Pretty Yende, instrumentalists Chris Botti, Andrea Griminelli and Nicola Benedetti, and producer David Foster.

Wikipedia: “The Prayer” is a popular song written by David Foster, Carole Bayer Sager, Alberto Testa and Tony Renis. The song was originally recorded in two solo versions for the 1998 film Quest for Camelot, in English by Canadian singer Celine Dion and in Italian by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. A duet between Dion and Bocelli later appeared on their respective studio albums, These Are Special Times (1998) and Sogno (1999), and was released as an airplay single on 1 March 1999. The song won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1999 and a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 2000.

Global Citizen is a social action platform for a global generation that aims to solve the world’s biggest challenges. On their platform, you can learn about issues, take action on what matters most, and join a community committed to social change. They believe they can end extreme poverty because of the collective actions of Global Citizens across the world. To find out more visit https://www.globalcitizen.org.

Breath and fire in the heart feed each other as essential creative forces in Erica Jong’s poetry

April 11, 2020

I’ll admit my ignorance here. All I remember of Erica Jong was her early 70’s infamous best-selling novel, Fear of Flying. I had no idea that she had become such a prolific award-winning writer. Besides being a famous author, she is also a fine poet. She says, “The poetry is the source of absolutely everything I do.” I discovered some of her impressive poems looking inside Becoming Light: New and Selected Poems, and on poetry websites PoemHunter and Poeticous.

Filled with life and passion, Jong uses breath, air, wind, “prana whistling in the dark;” and fire, “a flame in the heart,” “a living lantern,” as imaginary ways to describe the creative forces within the heart of a poet. They are beautifully expressed in these 3 poems: Alphabet Poem: To the Letter I, Poem to Kabir, and Zen & the Art of Poetry. There may be other poems with these motifs I have yet to discover, but these caught my attention for their shared imagery and theme of being a poet, a writer.

Alphabet Poem: To the Letter I (12th/last stanza, 3rd poem in Becoming Light) 

We are all one poet 
and always 
we have one 
communal name, 
god's name, nameless, 
a flame in the heart, 
a breath, 
a gust of air, 
prana whistling in the dark. 
i dies— 
but the breath 
lingers on 
through the medium 
of the magic 
alphabet 
and in its wake 
death is no more 
than metaphor. 

Poem to Kabir   

Kabir says 
the breath inside the breath 
is God   

& I say to Kabir 
you are the breath inside that breath 
which is not to say 
that the poet is God–   

but only that God 
uses the poet 
as the wind 
uses 
a sail.

Zen & the Art of Poetry
 
Letting the mind go,
letting the pen, the breath,
the movement of images in & out
of the mouth
go calm, go rhythmic
as the rise & fall of waves,
as one sits in the lotus position
over the world,
holding the pen so lightly
that it scarcely stains the page,
holding the breath
in the glowing cage of the ribs,
until the heart
is only a living lantern
fueled by breath,
& the pen writes
what the heart wills
& the whole world goes out,
goes black,
but for the hard, clear stars
below.

In the last section of What You Need to Be a Writer, Jong comes clean, listing her fears, then describes what it really takes to be a writer — having something to say so intensely, that it “burns like a coal in your gut…pounds like a pump in your groin,” and concludes with having “the courage to love like a wound that never heals.” Ah, the human condition.

& then there’s all 
I did not 
say:   

to be
a writer
what you need
is
 
something
to say:
 
something
that burns
like a hot coal
in your gut
 
something
that pounds
like a pump
in your groin
 
& the courage
to love
like a wound
 
that never
heals.

In a Mother’s Day Playboy interview last year, the first question daughter and writer Molly Jong-Fast asks her mother is how she knows things, especially what’s happening to women in the socio-political arena. Jong answers: “I think a writer is someone who lives like a wound that never heals. And if you’re a writer, you feel the rumblings in the air.” It’s interesting how she uses the same metaphor for a writer to love or live like “a wound that never heals.” How she’s been bravely living her life.

I found this beautiful ethereal painting online, Walking Lily, by Vietnamese artist Xuan Loc Xuan

April 1, 2020

I found a beautiful painting on Colossal by Vietnamese freelance illustrator Xuan Loc Xuan. Titled, Walking Lily, it is also posted on her Instagram page. Her work is available at Toi Art Gallery.

“Life creates art while art changes life.” – Xuan Loc Xuan

Xuân Lộc Xuân was born in Vietnam. Her name means “Spring.” She lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Xuan Loc Xuan studied Fine Arts at HCM University, the biggest art school in the south of Vietnam. She’s been working as a freelance illustrator for several years. She uses traditional and digital tools to draw. Her designs tend to be minimalistic and the use of color is a main factor in her artworks. For her, “life creates art while art changes life.”

Independent journalist & editor of The Floating Magazine/TFM Studio, Payal Khandelwal interviewed Xuan via email. She introduces her: Xuan Loc Xuan dresses up melancholy in vibrant colors in most of her artworks, and the results are breathtaking. Having grown up as an introvert child in a large family, Xuan always felt an inherent sense of loneliness and sadness. And the essence of those feelings drips down into most of her work. Her subjects are always shying away from the audience. They are either glancing sideways or have their back to the world, and are always lost in their own thoughts. Most of Xuan’s work also has a very ethereal feel to it. Read the interview: People: Xuan Loc Xuan.

This is a magical, mystical image. I love the various shades of green in the picture, their textures, especially the girl’s dress, the different colored flowers. She appears contemplative, in her own world. This work holds an otherworldly, timeless silence. I found a companion piece, Water Lily, of a boy sleeping among the same water lilies, or lotuses.

Lily could be the girl’s name and/or the lilies, but these are lotuses. Their larger pads and flowers rise high above the water, whereas most water lilies, pads and flowers, float on the water, with some flowers rising a few inches above it. Maybe the word means the same for both in their language, but these are different species.

I learned that distinction over three decades ago in the fall, when a friend and I encountered many tall, large lotus pads and pods at the second Round Prairie Park pond in Fairfield, Iowa. There had been a drought that summer, and many stood high above the lowered water level. She began sketching them, and I attempted to write about the process in a poem as an observer. After several attempts, I gave up, switched perspectives, and surprisingly, the poem wrote itself; we had become the observed! You can read the poem and more about what happened afterwards in Ode to the Artist Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park.

I submitted the poem to a poetry competition at Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum and forgot about it. Much to my surprise, on a very special day, I found out by Registered Mail that I had won their Distinguished Poet Award, which included a $100 check! They mailed the plaque separately, published the poem, and sent me a copy of Treasured Poems of America, their anthology, which contained my award-winning poem.

The editor requested a follow-up poem. The only thing I could write about was that mysterious, creative interaction that took place between us and the lotuses. He published Sometimes Poetry Happens in their next issue. Those experiences gave me the confidence to keep writing, and a flood of poems continued to flow from me, for which I was very thankful.

I like Walking Lily so much I ordered a large print of it to hang in my entrance way on the wall above the small antique green cabinet. I was given a 20% discount on my first order and free shipping, a nice surprise!

Another beautiful artwork is of a stunning sunrise or sunset in “A Fjord” painted by Norwegian artist Adelsteen Normann.


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