More than Just Words

More than Just Words

2018.09.24.

The Creative Soul

 

“Your Turn – 3”, the creative encounter I asked you to undertake Sunday, Sept 16, involved using a list of common words.  The challenge involved pen, paper, and your imagination in writing something in the form of prose or poetry.  I included a total of seventy-five common words found in the English language, twenty-five each nouns, verbs, and adjectives.  The words from the list that I used are underlined and yes, I did sometimes change the tense of the verb.

 

Here are my two poetic responses.  The first is a haiku, a three-line poem in which the first and last lines have five syllables while the middle line contains seven syllables.  Haiku is a very short Japanese poem with seventeen syllables and three verses. It is typically characterized by three qualities: The essence of haiku is “cutting”. This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colors the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.  In English haiku, this may or may not be found.

 

He felt time go past

The child of old now a man

Finding the good next to come

 

An ABC Poem is a poem that has five lines and creates a mood, picture or feeling.  Generally, lines 1-4 are made up of words or phrases while the first word of each line is in alphabetical order.  Line 5 is one sentence long and can begin with any letter.

 

Able to delight for hours

Big smiles found within

Come inside the walls beckon

Day passes quickly in fun

The joys found within a child’s playroom are important and endless.

 

There are approximately fifty-five different types of poetry.  The sonnet has fourteen lines; the limerick, seven; the haiku, five; the couplet, two (and can stand alone or as part of a larger work).  There are strict rules for some types and none for poems known as free verse.  A poem can be about anything.  There are metaphor poems and creative poems, historical poetry such as many of the works of William Shakespeare and humorous poems often heard during a child jump roping or on the school yard.

 

In a fast-paced high tech world, poetry may seem antiquated.  However, the lyrics of every song are a type of poetry and music does not (thankfully) seem to on the way to oblivion.  Rappers create their own poems to rap.  It has been said that poetry is the budding, flowering and ripening of human mind in the social setting.  Poetry is of paramount importance to society and has been considered by some anthropologists to be a refinement of character evident as progress in society. Poetry can move the human mind through emotions easily and quickly.  The study of poetry from other cultures can help one understand universal truths, as well as cultural differences, and provides a unique and fascinating window into that world.  Poetry could be described as music of words, readable art, the painting of a scene with words, the dance of linguistics upon a page.  Can you tell I love poetry? LOL

 

As a young child, I saw poetry as a way to know my life, the good and the bad.  At an early age, I made a poem and never looked back.  By using poetry, my way became my own; the young child I was had a sense of right and importance.  [This is my paragraph of prose and the words italicized are from the list.]  An expert of this type of prose that was also poetry is the inestimable Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.  I have used his books in teaching everything from diversity to acceptance and each lesson ended with complete understanding and a smile.  Truly, words have power and we should always use them carefully and thoughtfully.

My Favorite Canvas

My Favorite Canvas

2018.09.20-21

The Creative Soul

 

There is a very good likelihood that you have never heard of Suffolk, VA, even though it is, by land area, the largest city in the Commonwealth (state) of Virginia and Fourteenth largest in the country.  Earlier this week the local paper features an article by Alex Perry which read:  “Families, children and others with an artistic itch will have the opportunity to spend an evening with a paintbrush in downtown Suffolk this weekend.  Suffolk Tourism is partnering with Paint Me Purple Studios for “A Night Under the Stars” paint party at 7 p.m. Friday at the Suffolk Visitor Center, 524 N. Main St. Space is limited and advance reservations are required on Thursday at the latest, with about 20 spots left as of Tuesday, according to Visitor Center Supervisor Kevin Sary.  Participants will use provided painting materials to do their own rendition of “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh with careful instruction by Kim Ellis, owner of Paint Me Purple Studios. They’ll also enjoy some tasty star-themed treats during the 90 or so minutes they’ll have to complete their paintings under the night sky.”

 

I do not live in Suffolk and have only briefly passed through there once in my life.  However, I would love to be there this weekend.  Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” is one of my all-time favorite paintings.  Van Gogh is a perfect answer to those who say “I cannot be creative” or “I have no talent” because he defied all the odds and left the world with a beautiful portfolio of creativity.  The following is from the MoMA website on Van Gogh.

 

Vincent van Gogh: Emotion, Vision, and A Singular Style

“Mention Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890) and one of the first things likely to come to many people’s minds is the fact that he cut off his own ear. This stark act, committed in 1888, marked the beginning of the depression that would plague him until the end of his life. But to know van Gogh is to get past the caricature of the tortured, misunderstood artist and to become acquainted instead with the hardworking, deeply religious, and difficult man. Van Gogh found his place in art and produced emotional, visually arresting paintings over the course of a career that lasted only a decade.

“Largely self-taught, van Gogh produced more than 2,000 oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and sketches, which became in demand only after his death. He also wrote scores of letters, especially to his brother Theo, in which he worked out his thoughts about art. “Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better,” he wrote in 1874. “Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”

“It was nature, and the people living closely to it, that first stirred van Gogh’s artistic inclinations. In this he was not alone. Landscapes remained a popular subject in late-nineteenth-century art. Driven in part by their dissatisfaction with the modern city, many artists sought out places resembling earthly paradises, where they could observe nature firsthand, feeding its psychological and spiritual resonances into their work. Van Gogh was particularly taken with the peasants he saw working the countryside; his early compositions featured portraits of Dutch peasants and rural landscapes, rendered in dark, moody tones.

“In 1886, van Gogh moved to Paris, where he encountered the works of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists, and the Pointillist compositions of Georges Seurat. Inspired by these artists’ harmonious matching of colors, shorter brushstrokes, and liberal use of paint, he brightened his own palette and loosened his brushwork, emphasizing the physical application of paint on the canvas. The style he developed in Paris and carried through to the end of his life became known as Post-Impressionism, a term encompassing works made by artists unified by their interest in expressing their emotional and psychological responses to the world through bold colors and expressive, often symbolic images. In a letter to his sister Willemien, touching upon the mind and temperament of artists, van Gogh once wrote that he was “very sensitive to color and its particular language, its effects of complementaries, contrasts, harmony.”

“By 1888, van Gogh had returned to the French countryside, where he would remain until his death. There, close once again to the peasants who had inspired him early on, he concentrated on painting landscapes, portraits (of himself and others), domestic interiors, and still lifes full of personal symbolism.

 

Observation and Imagination in The Starry Night (1889)

“This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” wrote van Gogh to his brother Theo, describing his inspiration for one of his best-known paintings, The Starry Night (1889).3 The window to which he refers was in the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, where he sought respite from his emotional suffering while continuing to make art.

“This mid-scale, oil-on-canvas painting is dominated by a moon- and star-filled night sky. It takes up three-quarters of the picture plane and appears turbulent, even agitated, with intensely swirling patterns that seem to roll across its surface like waves. It is pocked with bright orbs—including the crescent moon to the far right, and Venus, the morning star, to the left of center—surrounded by concentric circles of radiant white and yellow light.

“Beneath this expressive sky sits a hushed village of humble houses surrounding a church, whose steeple rises sharply above the undulating blue-black mountains in the background. A cypress tree sits at the foreground of this night scene. Flame-like, it reaches almost to the top edge of the canvas, serving as a visual link between land and sky. Considered symbolically, the cypress could be seen as a bridge between life, as represented by the earth, and death, as represented by the sky, commonly associated with heaven. Cypresses were also regarded as trees of the graveyard and mourning. “But the sight of the stars always makes me dream,” van Gogh once wrote. “Why, I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to go to a star.”

“The Starry Night is based on van Gogh’s direct observations as well as his imagination, memories, and emotions. The steeple of the church, for example, resembles those common in his native Holland, not in France. The whirling forms in the sky, on the other hand, match published astronomical observations of clouds of dust and gas known as nebulae. At once balanced and expressive, the composition is structured by his ordered placement of the cypress, steeple, and central nebulae, while his countless short brushstrokes and thickly applied paint set its surface in roiling motion. Such a combination of visual contrasts was generated by an artist who found beauty and interest in the night, which, for him, was “much more alive and richly colored than the day.”

 

It is reported that in a letter to his brother Theo, van Gogh wrote passionately about painting a scene as he experienced, imagined, and, ultimately, interpreted it, not as it was expected to be rendered. Comparing painting to playing music, he argued: “We painters are always asked to compose ourselves and to be nothing but composers. Very well – but in music it isn’t so; in music, a composer’s interpretation is something.”

 

Whatever you draw is a creation, just as whatever you play is music and whatever you write is either poetry or prose.  You have created something.  You engaged in a creative process and you were creative.  Your soul gained value from that.  Whether or not someone else decided it had value does not negate your creative efforts.  You were creative and your creative interpretation is, to quote Can Gogh, “something”. 

Uncommon Art for the Common Man

To See, Feel, Touch – Uncommon Art for the Common Man

2018.18-19

The Creative Soul

 

Sculpture is a unique form of art – related to but separate from painting, music, poetry, and writing. Unlike the others, a sculpture is a three dimensional work of art. From its very beginnings, a sculpture was meant to last. Sculpture pieces were created using materials that themselves had passed the test of time – stone and marble, hard metals such as gold and silver, and wood.  Sculptures are usually found in parks, in museums, in open spaces – all places where the average person goes. 

 

Sculpture, like most forms of art, is created with the idea of expressing a view.  A view can be personal, political, religious, historical, or something else.  Ultimately, the sculpture is also intended to evoke a feeling.   Determining the quality of a sculpture is very difficult and is subjective at best. Artists as well as artist styles go in and out of vogue and sculpture is no different.   

 

The very nature of art is to make something never seen before, even if the subject is well-known.  Heads of states and countries are always done in portraiture as well as having thousands of pictures taken.  Some have sculptures done as well, each trying to represent a different side of the individual, presenting the subject in an interesting, usually favorable light.  Some also represent the ethnicity and culture of the artist or reflect a particular style well-liked by the subject.

 

Art has value, both in economic and social terms. A 2002 study demonstrated the economic impact, finding that nonprofit arts organizations generated $134 billion nationwide, including $24.4 billion in tax revenue. The arts not only inform us about the world we live in, but also provide creative and challenging environments.   After all, the concept of museums as a gathering together of civilization’s best and most beautiful things is only a few hundred years old. For most of our history, art was never intended to be displayed in museums, but in more public places. 

 

Art is a form of communication, and the arts express the ideas of society in which they are produced.   Exposure to the arts helps expand our thinking and encourages dialogue and creativity.   Public art is an essential component of creating a vibrant community and nothing adds to the public panorama like sculpture.

 

One of my favorite sculptures is “Rising Cairn” by the artist Celeste Roberge.   “Rising Cairn” is a 4,000 lb. stone sculpture that many interpret to reflect the process of healing from grief.   Roberge says that she didn’t necessarily intend to depict anguish in the piece but doesn’t mind the alternative reading of her work. “I imagine her in the process of rising up from her crouching position…when she is ready,” she explains. “I am not disturbed by individual interpretations of the sculpture because I think it is really wonderful for people to connect with works of art in whatever way is meaningful to them.” 

 

Roberge became intrigued with cairns (piles of stones hikers used to mark trails) after learning about human-shaped inuksuit sculptures created by the Inuit people in the Arctic region. For each site-specific sculpture, Roberge finds each stone herself and places them within the steel cage that holds its shape. “I was hoping the feeling of weight, would [symbolically] be carried in the sculpture itself,” said Roberge in a video by the Portland Museum of Art.

 

A professor at the University of Florida, Roberge suggests that art lovers ought to consider the artist’s original intent too. “If the image has helped some people to find a way of expressing their unspoken feelings, then I think that is beneficial. At the same time, I think viewers should give some thought to the artist’s intentions because the meaning of a work of art can be very complex and multi-layered.” She says her cairn sculptures are tribute to the rugged North Atlantic landscape.  Roberge created the first Rising Cairn in the late 1980s when she was a fellow at Harvard University and creates them on commission today. “Each time, I am surprised that the process is still interesting to me,” she says. “I was just installing a cairn in San Francisco last month and I noted that they are never the same: different place, different light, different stones, different siting in the landscape, different energy.”

 

I think her last sentence is an important thing to remember whenever we critique any art form or piece of creative effort.  Where we are, physically and personally, the light with which we view or hear, the light within our souls or the lack thereof at that particular moment, the energy we feel or do not feel – all of these things affect our response.  It is in sculpture that we are able to see, touch, and even stub our toe on the art form.  Sculpture as an art form helps us rise above our past like cairns, creating markers along the history of humankind in our sculptures as we move forward.

 

A Reflection of ….

A Reflection of …

2018.09.05-06

The Creative Soul

 

“We and all creation reflect the image and nature of God the Divine Artist. Creativity, the ability to make or think new things, is of God’s essence. Creativity reflects God.”  These words of Br. Luke Ditewig sounded so wonderful to me the first time I heard them.  It was during a sermon and I was an impressionable teen-ager.  Suddenly from the pew behind me I heard a very gruff whisper.  “Oh yeah?  Then how do you explain heavy metal music?”  The elderly gentleman’s wife saw my shoulders move as I tried to stifle my chuckle.  After the service she turned to her husband and gave his shoulder a marvelously targeted punch:  “Maybe heavy metal music is what God sounds like when he’s mad,” she replied and then winked at me.

 

We are all critics.  Seriously.  If we are to be honest, we really are all critics.  Everyone knows what they like and what they do not like.  We also all want to matter.  The recent #alllivesmatter is not a new concept.  Countries have undergone revolutions for that very thing.  The recent controversy, which is still ongoing, in the USA regarding playing choosing a different way to show respect during the National Anthem is nothing new.  Civilizations have forgotten to address the critics and tried to sweep them under the carpet.  History tells us that people are not so easily silenced.  The creative arts are also evidence of this.  It may seem that the artist owes his/her audience something delightful but the truth is…What the artist owes the world is an honest reflection of the moment in time they are capturing.

 

Any creative work is a dialogue between the artist and the audience member and no two audience members are going to hear the exact same dialogue.  Criticism is also dialogue and an important form of feedback that the artist should not ignore.  First, if someone takes the time to critique you, they are honoring the time you spent creating.  Negative critiques do not seem like a compliment but they are.  They also offer a chance to evaluate your work.  Not every critic is going to understand your intent or perhaps the meaning of your work.  Not every critique needs to be followed but they should ne given respect and heard.

 

The language one uses in response to criticism is vitally important. Never engage in an argument. Instead, turn the exchange into a discussion about how to resolve the differences or what was unclear.  Most of create because we have a burning need inside to let that creativity out.  However, we do need the audience, the viewer, that person who listens to what we are trying to say in whatever form we are creating.

 

“The Critic as Artist” is an essay by Oscar Wilde, containing the most extensive statements of his aesthetic philosophy. A dialogue in two parts, it is by far the longest one included in his collection of essays titled Intentions published in May 1891. “The Critic as Artist” is a significantly revised version of articles that first appeared in the July and September issues of The Nineteenth Century, originally entitled “The True Function and Value of Criticism.” The essay is a conversation between its leading voice Gilbert and Ernest, who suggests ideas for Gilbert to reject. 

 

Through the title, Wilde explores the fact that even a critic is an artist and the critique is in itself a creative art form.  The essay champions contemplative life to the life of action. According to Gilbert, scientific principle of heredity shows we are never less free, never have more illusions than when we try to act with some conscious aim in mind. Critical contemplation is guided by conscious aesthetic sense as well as by the soul.

 

The soul is wiser than we are, writes Wilde, it is the concentrated racial experience revealed by the imagination. Criticism is above reason, sincerity and fairness; it is necessarily subjective. It is increasingly more to criticism than to creation that future belongs as its subject matter and the need to impose form on chaos constantly increases. It is criticism rather than emotional sympathies, abstract ethics or commercial advantages that would make us cosmopolitan and serve as the basis of peace.

 

“Critics don’t help you at all, they are not better than a randomly-picked person,” says Dr. Pascal Wallisch, a psychologist at New York University.  A 2017 study by Wallisch and perception researcher Jake Alden Whritner found that our taste in movies is highly idiosyncratic — they’re peculiar to an individual. Their paper, entitled ‘Strikingly Low Agreement in the Appraisal of Motion Pictures’, also revealed that our preferences are often at odds with those of film critics.  Wallisch and Whritner gave almost 3000 people a list of over 200 popular films — major motion pictures released from 1985 to 2004 (including some in the Star Wars series). The data was collected over 10 years (2005-2015) via an online survey where participants were asked to rate every film they had seen and give each movie a star rating on a scale of 0 to 4 stars.

 

The scientists compared everyone’s scores with everyone else’s in a pairwise manner, compared people to 29 professional film critics (like Roger Ebert) and compared individual scores from those groups with aggregated sources of reviews, including Rotten Tomatoes and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).  As reported earlier this year in Forbes, “Prior to our research, what was shown is that critics agree highly, but no-one’s ever looked at how critics correlate with regular people,” says Wallisch. “What was relatively unusual is that the average rating between critics and movie-goers was so different. This is the only research that actually shows scientifically that critics and people don’t agree.”

 

In a 2014 New York Times article James Parker answered that age-old question “Should we respond to our critics?”  Parker’s answer was succinct and to the point.  “No. … Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. We’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere.”  He continues:  “Sometimes you are the pigeon,” Claude Chabrol said, “and sometimes you are the statue.” Wonderful, Gitane-flavored words. But we are not statues — we are not made of stone. Anointed with guano, do we not feel it? And right now everybody feels it. Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. Writers and non-writers, mandarins and proles, we’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere, at the bottom of some page. Scroll down, scroll down, take that Orphic trip into the underworld of the comments section, and there they are — the people who really object to you. Their indignation, their vituperation, is astonishing. It seems to predate you somehow, as if they have known and despised you in several former existences. You read their words and your body twitches with malign electricity. You must get out of this place immediately, run toward the light. Let the dead bury their dead. And don’t look back — because if you do, like Orpheus, you’ll lose what you love the most.”

 

The critique is a reflection of the moment in which it was given, nothing more.  In his memoir, “Prince Charming,” the great poet Christopher Logue, in mellow old age, dives into “a chocolate-liqueur box filled with dated clippings of every review that my books, plays or radio programs had received since 1953.” He makes a discovery. “How differently they read now. At the time, oh, the complaining: That fellow failed to praise me for this, this fellow blamed me for that. . . . Now, how fair-minded their words appeared, how sensible their suggestions for my improvement.”

 

As we delve further into the science and muses of creativity, please remember this:  This blog is a creative work and, like all other creative works, merely a reflection of the moment in which it was written.  We all have our great moments and then those that, hopefully, will one day be a learning experience.  All are creative efforts are simply steppingstones of the past and it is up to us as artists to not allow them to become millstones that drag us under. 

Erik Larson

Erik Larson

2018.08.23

Literature and Life

 

Despite many attempts to make it so, life is not black and white.  We live in the shadows and no author portrays this so well than our featured author for today and his favorite author.  Erik Larson describes himself as a journalist who has also written nonfiction books.   Larson has written a number of books, mostly historical nonfiction. In a 2016 interview with the Knoxville Mercury, Larson stated he does all of his own research, asking, “Why should I let anybody else have that fun?” He also rejected the idea of trying to imagine or take factual liberties with scenes and conversations from the past, stating that in his work, “anything that appears in quote is something that came from a historical document.” He included among his literary inspirations David McCullough, Barbara Tuchman, David Halberstam, and Walter Lord.

 

Larson calls “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett his all-time favorite book.  “I love this book, all of it: the plot, the dialogue, much of which was lifted verbatim by John Huston for his screenplay for the beloved movie of the same name.  [The film was shot in film noir style – black and white.]  The single best monologue in fiction appears toward the end, when Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy why he’s giving her to the police.”

 

Larson is also an avid reader.  “I’m very perverse.  If someone tells me I have to read a book, I’m instantly disinclined to do so…. Reading is such a personal thing to me.  I’d much rather give someone a gift certificate to a bookstore, and let that [person choose his or her own books.”  Larson says he never starts a book with great intentions but rather a blank slate.  The one difference might be his writings on H. H. Holmes, Chicago serial killer around the turn of the 20th century.

 

In an interview for Bookpage with Alden Mudge, Larson explained how he stumbled across the gruesome particulars of Chicago serial killer Herman W. Mudgett, alias Dr. H. H. Holmes.  “I was suitably horrified,” Larson recalls from the comfort and safety of his home in Seattle, where he lives with his wife, Christine Gleason, M.D., head of the neonatology department at the University of Washington medical school, and their three daughters. “I actually read a little more about Holmes,” Larson says, “and then decided that he was a kind of slasher and that I wasn’t that interested.”   Instead, Larson tracked another small detail that played a bit part in another Gilded Age murder mystery. [This] led him to begin reading about the big Galveston hurricane of 1900. [That] resulted in Larson’s thrilling 1999 best-selling narrative of that catastrophe, Isaac’s Storm, which proved to be a turning point.

 

According to Larson, although he had always known he wanted to write books, he approached a book-writing career obliquely. After college he got a job as a gofer in a publishing house and “convinced myself that I was actually kind of writing because I was working in publishing.” Next he made the mistake of seeing the movie All the President’s Men and “decided that’s what I want to do: bring down a president.” Unsure of his exact course toward that end, he determined to let fate rule, so he applied to only one journalism school. He got in. Eventually, he took a job with the Wall Street Journal, reluctantly accepted a transfer to San Francisco, where he met the woman who would become his wife, then a day after marrying her, moved with her to Baltimore where she had been hired by Johns Hopkins University. “I was going to write novels,” Larson says, “but once again I took the oblique path and freelanced.”

 

Larson has taught non-fiction writing courses at San Francisco State University, Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, and the University of Oregon.  He work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, where he is still a contributing writer. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and other publications. 

 

 

Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat

2018.08.07

Literature and Life

 

This series about authors and their favorite books began by my reading a quote about if someone really wanted to be a good writer, they first had to be a good reader.  John Cheever, a celebrated writer of novels and short stories from New England once remarked “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”  One can, of course, write, but without it being read, it often seems like wasted energy.  There is the old adage that the difference between a good writer and a bad writer is that the good writer perseveres and the bad writer simply quits but one still does hope, at some point, to have their work read. 

 

Cheever also defined art as the triumph over chaos.  I think perhaps this is one of the reasons our featured author today began to write although she described it this way:  “Whole interaction between the storyteller and the listeners had a very powerful influence on me.”  Born on the island of Haiti, Edwidge had a life that was a bit chaotic.  Haiti gained its independence from France in 1804 only to see itself sold to Americans.  It has a history of tyranny and neglect and many seem to have forgotten it most of the time.  Edwidge moved to New York at the start of her teen years after being raised for ten years by an aunt and uncle.  French is the national language of Haiti but at home she spoke Haitian Creole, a conglomeration of words from 18th century French with influences from Portuguese, Spanish, English, Taíno, and West African languages.  Moving to be with her parent in New York was nice but also very isolating.  Literature became her escape and comfort.

 

Edwidge Danticat wrote a story about her immigration experience for New Youth Connections, a citywide magazine written by teenagers entitled “A New World Full of Strangers”. In the introduction to “Starting With I”, an anthology of stories from the magazine, Danticat wrote, “When I was done with the [immigration] piece, I felt that my story was unfinished, so I wrote a short story, which later became a book, my first novel: Breath, Eyes, Memory…Writing for New Youth Connections had given me a voice. My silence was destroyed completely, indefinitely.”  Danticat went on to graduate from Bernard College in NYC and then receive masters’ degree in creative writing from Brown University.

 

It is therefore not surprising that she lists Marie Vieus-Chauvet’s book “Love, Anger, Madness” as a favored and influential book on her writing.  Written by an exiled Haitian writer one year before Danticat was born, the book is actually a trilogy – three stories that reflect the American invasion and economic control of Haiti, Haitis troubles from the occupation, and its own internal struggles. Each story has a character that finds refuge in art, struggles to overthrow dominant forces, and battles for integrity against the devastation of war in a corrupt state. Oppression cuts across class and race lines. The dramas are large and small, and the villains are not always who you think they are.  It is easy to understand the book’s appeal to Edwidge Danticat who once remarked “The past is like the hair on our head …You always have this feeling that wherever you come from, you physically leave it, but it doesn’t leave you.”

 

Three themes are prominent in the writing of Edwidge Danticat: national identity, mother-daughter relationships, and diasporic politics.   It might seem like this are applicable to only her native land but diasporic politics affected the African slave trade as well as that of the Sephardic Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 ACE.  Great literature crosses time and space, uniting us all and both Danticat and her influencing Marie Vieus-Chauvet write such literature. 

 

Edwidge Danticat has given us a picture book, a young adult novel, and five other books in addition to her short stories, essays, and work as an anthology editor and guest contributor for such publications as “The New Yorker” and “The Washington Post”.  The busy mother of two daughters has been known to say the greatest gift one can give a writer is time and she eagerly seeks to connect literature and life.   “We need literature because we wouldn’t fully know ourselves without it.  We need good literature to be fully human.”

 

 

 

Humanity Lost

Humanity Lost

June 18, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

It was a Friday when Frederick Lewis Donaldson said the following in a sermon given at Westminster Abbey in London, England:  “The seven social sins are…wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice; politics without principle.” 

 

Most of us freely admit to being human and by that, we imply that we are not perfect.  Mistakes are going to be made and while we are better at forgiving our own than those of others, we do allow the possibility for their being made.  What about when society makes them?  How forgiving are we when it is a collective sin?  Do we still extend a sense of humanity to such?

 

 “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to belong to each other.”  These words from Mother Teresa might very well be the key to making this ordinary time extraordinary.  How we think of ourselves is reflected in how we treat others.  Truthfully, though, there is no “them” and “us”.  There is only “we”.

 

Recently a group of people identifying themselves as being patriotic to their own cultures and homelands came together for an experiment.    You can watch the results here and they are far more compelling than anything I could write.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyaEQEmt5ls