Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

Monday, July 29, 2013

Thoughts on Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

Once in a while, I stumble upon a work of prose that turns out to be a breath of fresh air and a genuine comfort to me.  I've recently discovered Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird, subtitled "Some Instructions on Writing and Life."  If you've not read this wise and funny little book, I recommend it. 

Bird in hand
Bird in hand by jcandeli 

It is always a great relief to discover someone who has also struggled with writing anxiety and has learned to thrive in spite of it.  It's also a comfort to know that I'm not the only one plagued now and again by the strange terror of dying suddenly before I can fix things in my work-in-progress. Bird By Bird is very much a conversation between Ms. Lamott and her readers about the process and perseverance of the writing life with an electric sense of humor.  Most of what she has to say I'd absorbed before in writing classes and workshops, but it was oh so good to read it again in her voice.  "We are just going to take this bird by bird," she says (p 20), in other words step by step.

One ray of sunshine that she offers us is the concept of the "shitty first draft."  In fact, it's not a concept - it's a fact.  "All good writers write them.  This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts... I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. (p 21)"  I need to pin this to my board (or my forehead), because I have do have a wild tendency to fantasize about published writers and the apparent ease with which they "should" be working.  But art isn't easy.  It's really hard, and yet really good.

Perfectionism messes us up and keeps us from completing anything: "the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.  It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and your shitty first draft" (p 28). Lamott emphasizes the beauty of sheer effort, perseverance, writing for the sake of the story, silencing the voices in our heads that tend to lead us off course.  Trust your intuition - the creative, irrational part of you, she says, "but be careful: if your intuition says that your story sucks, make sure it's your intuition and not your mother. (113)" 

We should be focused on story and conveying truth through our characters, getting to know them instead of forcing them to conform to some preset notion of what a story is. The thing is, we won't know what the story will be, what will happen unless we follow our instincts and continue unconsciously down the path of discovery. Ms. Lamott reminds us that we shouldn't write solely for publication, but to write to give something back to others, to let something out of ourselves.  "I tell you, if what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy" (214.) In other words: aim for the joy of story, not publication.

The over all message from this book that I intercepted was that the rest of the world will think I'm crazy, but that's okay.  It struck me that I should be writing a wider variety of things - bits and bobs, journals, bloggings, stories - persevering in them and pushing back the road blocks to enjoying the writing life.  I do have days when sitting down to my awful first draft (or any draft, if we want to be honest) feels like climbing Mt. Everest in 4 inch heels with a broken toe.  I'll just take a couple of deep breaths, put the nagging overly-rational voices aside and tackle the story - whatever it is - bird by bird.  Thank you, Anne Lamott. If we should chance to meet sometime I will greet you with a big hug.  

Friday, April 5, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 195:


Oxford Dictionaries indicates that rhapsody is a Latinate word taken from the Greek word rhapsoidia - a combination of the words for "stitch" and "ode" or "song."  A rhapsody - whether Bohemian, Blue or otherwise - is simply that: an expression of extravagant praise.  This is usually manifest in musical compositions that are irregular, unusual or otherwise, ahem, Bohemian.  

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue on youtube

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 193:


Sometimes spelled lissome, this adjective means thin and easily flexed with graceful movements; lithe, limber or supple.  Lissom is an alteration of lithesome.  I remember this word describing Tinkerbell in Peter Pan - the perfect word for a weightless, airy creature with the wings of a butterfly.

I also, of course, think of ballerinas and their long, strong limbs and feet.  They may look fragile, but in fact, they're incredibly strong.


by sebastian ayala

Monday, March 25, 2013


Hello again!  I took an inadvertent break from delving into the depths of my logophilia collection to devote some serious time to editing and novel-building. 

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 191:


unfeeling, unconscious; incapable of understanding human things or showing sympathy; in other words, inanimate.

Does this man look insentient to you?

I have been watching Star Trek: the Next Generation for the first time in fifteen years or so.  Having spent a good deal of my childhood immersed in this world, there a few questions I find myself revisiting.  For one, I believe the one-of-a-kind android Commander Data feels a great deal more than he lets on.  I find it hard to believe that C-3PO and R2D2 are more capable of producing emotion - oftentimes irrational, biting emotion - than Data claims to.  Why?

Data is driven to understanding and becoming an acceptable participant in humanity.  We first see him whistling "Pop Goes the Weasel."  He proves himself an artist, classical musician and Shakespearean actor.  He is fascinated with Sherlock Holmes (aren't we all?).  He experiences grief many times.  Confusion and bewilderment, also.  He's been in love.  He expresses the desire to be a parent.  He owns a ginger-stripe cat named Spot - only a human would be able to embrace the irony of that.  Above all, he is a loyal member of the crew of the Enterprise, a friend to many, an enemy to few. 

And yet through all of this Data will declare that he has no emotions and is incapable of understanding love, grief, fear, humor because they (supposedly) reside outside of his original programming.  His brother Lore was the android outfitted with emotions, but he soon turned out to be the defective model prone to misanthropy and evil.  

Here's my theory.  Data was created by a human being - a human being he will refer to as "Father." He works with humans (and others) on a regular basis.  Without emotion, he'd have no drive, no curiosity, no will power to adapt, to learn or to better himself.  Without emotion, he'd reside in a closet until it's time for him to go to the bridge, would not be embraced by his crew, nor would he be a respected, trusted senior officer.  I'm not an expert on Starfleet, but would they really give such privileges to an insentient automaton?  My argument is that Data does have emotions.  The evidence is overwhelming.  He simply does not know what to do with them.  That said, he is like a child constantly learning about his world. 

Again, if 3PO can express pain, mourn, worry, spew insults, panic and whine, then Data can, too.  (Someone would argue - "hey! They're in two separate universes!" That's true. But it makes no difference to me.  I could very easily throw in a blurb about Daleks or Cybermen.)  When Data is outfitted with an "emotion chip" in the later years, it doesn't necessarily produce his emotions but allows him to experience and express them more fully... though this gets him into a great deal of trouble.

In the film Star Trek: Generations, Data goofs around with a tricorder puppet, is paralyzed with fear when Geordi is kidnapped by Klingons, expresses triumph when the crew wins a victory, and cries with joy when Spot is found alive in the wreckage of the Enterprise.  It wasn't the chip that produced these emotions.  These emotions were there all along, just buried in his android programming, waiting to come out.

So try to tell me that Data has no emotions, and you'll  be hearing from me.  He's more human than he realizes.  He just happens to be a well-made machine.  But aren't we all?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wisdom from Oscar Wilde

The Telegraph yesterday featured an article on a recently discovered letter that Oscar Wilde wrote to a would-be writer around 1890.  It felt like he was speaking to me from the dawn of the last century:

Oscar Wilde

"The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread, and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer... Make some sacrifice for your art and you will be repaid but ask of art to sacrifice itself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you."

To me this sounds like: "so you're a novelist who earns her living as a receptionist? Excellent!  You're able to let your art remain art!  I know you dream of one day earning your living by your novels, but it might not be as rosy as you think.  Until then, use this time to grow as a writer and a student of language and see where it takes you.  You might go farther than you think."  Thank you, Mr. Wilde.


In a similar vein, author Matt Haig also had thirty pieces of encouraging wisdom to share via the Telegraph. My favorites were:

  • Being published doesn't make you happy.  It just swaps your old neuroses for new ones.
  • Success depends on great words and passionate people.  The words are up to you.  The people you have to pray for, and stand by them once you have them.
  • Beauty breeds beauty, truth triggers truth.  The cure for writer's block is therefore to read.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 164:


A film (usually green) that forms naturally on copper and bronze due to long-term exposure (or artificial acid treatments), valued for its color.  I love this word - it is the surface mark of something that has grown beautiful with age and use.  It also describes ones appearance or aura derived from association, habit or established character.  More generally: a superficial exterior.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Myth: Ideal Writing Conditions (j)

Cassandra Mortmain writing in the 2003 film version of I Capture the Castle.

Last week, the weekly quote was from E. B. White who wisely said, "a writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper." The bare essentials to writing are a means of conveying words (paper, pen, keyboard) and a committment to fleshing out those words.  It doesn't matter where it happens and under what conditions.  Just that it happens.  "Ideal conditions" are a myth.

Stephen King wrote his stories as a full-time high school English teacher, staying up through the odd hours of the morning.  J. K. Rowling created Harry Potter and Hogwarts in cafes, taking care of her infant daughter. Stories are written on trains, on planes, on the road; in libraries, and in the back of lecture halls.  Art springs up anywhere, and thrives on adverse situations. 
Anne Frank hard at work in 1941, before the Annex.
I was an avid grade-school reader when I discovered Anne Frank's diary at the local used book store and read her for the first time.  She is one of the reasons I was first motivated to put pen to paper and seeing what I could with the words in my head.  She had a strong narrative voice, a bit sassy, but vigorous in ways i myself wasn't.  I related to her because we were the same age, because she was entering into confusing teenage years, and because she was honest about what she recorded in her diary.  She was (and is) more articulate than my friends and I were at that age, which intrigued me.

Anne is the champion of writing in adverse conditions.  Not merely because she and her family were hiding from the Gestapo, but logistics as well.  She had to share a room with the cranky, middle-aged Dr. Pfeffer (called Dussel in the published version of the diary) who monopolized the writing desk and didn't take her school work, her love of languages, history and stories seriously.  He wasn't the only one, and Anne (as a cornered teenager will naturally do) referred to herself as the misunderstood "Benjamin of the Annex." This did not stop her from writing. In fact, the diary is just one product of Anne's creativity during her time in the Annex; she wrote fairy tales and novel all while being shooed from one end of the apartment to the other, hiding in the attic, fighting horrible depression and the fear of death.  It makes my excuses of not wanting to get up early and write look awfully petty.  Anne had little space to work in, cheap (black market) exercise books to use and a plethora of daily interruptions, and she continued to write using what she had, using the time that was given her.

On 13 July 1943 Anne relates an incident with Mr. Pfeffer/Mr. Dussel over a matter of "the best little table."

Yesterday afternoon Father gave me permission to ask Mr. Dussel whether he would please be so good as to allow me (see how polite I am?) to use the table in our room two afternoons a week, from four to five-thirty. I already sit there every day from two-thirty to four while Dussel takes a nap, but the rest of the time the room and the table are off-limits to me. It's impossible to study next door in the afternoon, because there's too much going on.  Besides, Father sometimes likes to sit at the desk during the afternoon.  

So it seemed like a reasonable request, and I asked Dussel very politely.  What do you think the learned gentleman's reply was? "No." Just plain "No!"

I was incensed and wasn't about to let myself be put off like that.  I asked him the reason for his "No", but this didn't get me anywhere.  The gist of his reply was: "I have to study, too, you know, and if I can't do that in the afternoons, I won't be able to fit it in at all... Mythology - what kind of work is that?  Reading and knitting don't count, either.  I use that table and I'm not going to give it up... You're not the only one who can't find a quiet place to work.  You're always looking for a fight.  If your sister Margot, who has more right to work space than you do, had to come to me with this request, I'd never even have thought of refusing..."

5 April 1944: epiphany and determination

I finally realized that I must [emphasis Jillian's] do my schoolwork to keep from being ignorant, to get on in life, to become a journalist, because that's what I want!  I know I can write.  I few of my stories are good, my descriptions of the Secret Annex are humorous, much of diary is vivid and alive, but... it remains to be seen whether I really have talent.

11 April 1944: A break-in

"We should hide radio!' moaned Mrs. Van D.

"Sure, in the stove," answered Mr. Van D. "If they find us, they might as well find the radio!"

"Then they'll find Anne's diary," added Father.

"So burn it," suggested the most terrified of the group.

This and the police rattling on the bookcase were the moments when I was most afraid.  Oh, not my diary; if my diary goes, I go too!

Anne Frank: knew from an early age to be serious about her craft, especially in adversity.

Another recent quote I shared was from I Capture the Castle.  Dodie Smith's novel opens with Cassandra Mortmain beginning her first notebook:

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.  That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and a tea cozy... I found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring.  I wrote my very best poem sitting on the henhouse.

Cassandra lives with her family in a dilapidated castle in humiliating and hilarious poverty in the late 30s.  She has the right idea: try new scenes, new places.  Living in the castle she writes in the attic, in the towers, on the hillsides... romantic setting, inspiring vistas, and while she is uncomfortable, hungry and never quite satisfied, she finds ways to find beauty and humor in everyday life.  And yet, she comes up with clever solutions - not necessarily to fix the problems she has with her writing environment but to use the resources that are available to her.  She knows she will be interrupted, cold or miserable but she writes anyway and doesn't complain about it.  I have learned a lot from her charisma.
Cassandra writes in bed, while sister Rose talks.

Places Cassandra writes:
  • kitchen sink
  • kitchen table
  • attic
  • in bed
  • tower
  • father's desk in the gatehouse
  • the mound
p. 24: writing by candlelight

I wonder if I can get a few more minutes' light by making wicks of match sticks stuck into the liquid wax.  Sometimes that will work.

It was no good - like trying to write by the light of a glow-worm.  But the moon has fought its way through the clouds at last and I can see by that.  It is rather exciting to write by moonlight.

p. 26

I don't intend to let myself become the kind of writer who can only write in seclusion - after all, Jane Austen wrote in the sitting-room and merely covered up her work when a visitor called (though I bet she thought a thing or two) - but I am not quite Jane Austen yet and there are limits to what I can stand....  it is extremely cold up here, but I am wearing my coat and my wool gloves, which have gradually become mittens all but one thumb; and Ab, our beautiful pale ginger cat is keeping my stomach warm - I am leaning over him to write on the top of the cistern.

p. 187

This is the first time I have used the beautiful manuscript book Simon gave me - and the fountain pen which came from him yesterday. A scarlet pen and a blue and gold leather-bound book - what could be more inspiring?  But I seemed to get on better with a stump of pencil and Stephen's fat, shilling exercise book.

Cassandra is also a queen of creative solutions and executes them determinedly.  She and younger brother Thomas attempt to break their writer father's creative block by imprisoning him in the old tower behind the castle.  The siblings know their father must write again to save his spirit.

p. 314

I felt dreadful, but Thomas seemed quite unconcerned.  He hauled up the basket father had filled, took out the plates and dishes, and put the dinner in.  I think he knew I was weakening, because he whispered: "we've got to go through with it now. You leave it to me." Then he lowered the basket and called down firmly:

"We'll let you out just as soon as you've written something - say fifty pages."

"I could never write fifty pages in less than three months even when I could write," said father, his voice cracking worse than ever.  Then he flopped into the arm-chair and gripped his head wth his hands.

"Just unpack your dinner, will you?" said Thomas. "You'd better take the coffee pot out first."

Father looked up and his whole face went suddenly scarlet.  Then he made a dive at the dinner basket, and the next second a plate flew past my head.  A fork whizzed through the door just before we got it closed.  Then we heard crockery breaking against it.

I sat down on the steps and burst into tears... "Please, please don't throw all your dinner dishes until you've eaten what's on them.  Oh, won't you just try to write, fatherWrite anything - write 'The cat sat on the mat' if you like.  Anything, as long as you write!"

How does Mr. Mortmain begin his long awaited novel?  THE CAT SAT ON THE MAT. 

Lastly: Stephen King, whose memoir on writing has been a tremendous help to me, writes about his dream desk:

For years, I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room - no more child's desk in a trailer laundry-closet, no more cramped kneehole in a rented house.  In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study... For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship's captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere... A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity... I got another desk - it's handmade, beautiful and half the size of the T. rex desk.  I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave.  That eave is very much like the one I slept under in Durham [his childhood home]...

Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room.  Life isn't a support system for art.  It's the other way around.
I was a teenager in the tiniest bedroom of the house and wrote a long, long sci-fi epic (alas unpublishable), four years of high school papers and massive journals.  I didn't hate my room, but it wasn't the best environment.  Until I was presented with a large wooden writing desk at age twelve, I perched on the edge of my bed and wrote my pages, front and back, on a piece of old foam board.  I did what I could to make the room better: plastering the walls with inspirations and rearranging my furniture every few months (not an easy feat when the bed takes up roughly a third of the room).  But I was happy.  I got things done.  I forced myself out of my room and into my characters' lives, and that was gold.  These days I try to put myself in this mentality in my current situation, even if I'm not completely satisfied.  I still use my old desk and don't necessarily love it, but it has loyally traveled with me to college, to my first post-college apartment, and is under my computer as I write this post in my current home. 
Writers thrive under less than ideal circumstance: in the rickety chair, at the tilting kitchen table, in the barn, in a room filled with noisy people, with a cat constantly jumping up in one's lap and walking across the desk.  These conditions flavor us and build up our carapace. The world is our office. Waiting for ideal conditions is simply an excuse not to write, even though - as proved by the sheer fact of our creative drive - we have the tools to make these conditions useful.  Granted, we're a stubborn bunch, but how awesome is it to say, "Yes, I shall write today even if this coffee shop is noisy and the coffee bitter, even if the cat jumps all over me and the dog whines on the other side of my door, even if that awesome television show is calling to me like a Siren."

I've been pondering the phraseology of "full-time writer." What is a full-time writer, anyway?  Well, you say (wondering if I've asked a trick question), it's someone who is fortunate to be able to write for a living by freelancing, writing stories, publishing novels.  Yes, a typical day in the life of a full-timer looks like heaven to us office-job-or-otherwise people.  But I don't "qualify" to have the "full-time" sticker next to my name simply because it isn't how I earn my bread?  Silly.

Writing is so much more than something to fill in those hours here at work.  Writing is a lifestyle, an attitude.  Courage and grace under fire!  It gets me out of bed and enables me to interact better with the world.  Nor does a writer ever really have the day off.  We're constantly processing, moving through our stories (if you open mail like I do, this is an ideal brain-time).  "Ideal" would be a place to myself, where I'm free from interruptions (no phones or walk-ins); but do I need ideal?  And is it really a solution or a distracting dream?

If you're fortunate enough to have a job where you can write in spurts as you work, take advantage of it... albeit discreetly. Get up early in the morning because your story means something to you.  Netflix and Redbox are not adverse conditions; they're choices.  Having trouble connecting to your story?  Try writing it by hand.  Don't like your handwriting?  There are ways you can improve it.  How much are you feeding your artist-child?  Read!  Take creative outings!  Go on quiet walks!  And give yourself more credit for weathering the storm!

Someday we might have that dream office or the quiet house, but until then, embrace the place in which you're writing now.  It's helping you more than you might think.

Happy writing!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Auteur (j)

Day 102


An auteur is the term for a film director who practice accords with the auteur theory, influencing a film so much to count as its (sole) author.  More broadly, this refers to an artist (especially a musician or a writer) whose style and practice make his/her work distinctive.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Neil Gaiman on Art

This is the reason I love Twitter.  How else would I find out about little jewels like this one? Neil Gaiman answers questions as part of a panel discussion on 1 December at the CT Youth Forum's Student-Roundtable Discussion.  A student asks how she should take the comment "there are enough artists in the world," and Mr. Gaiman gives the best advice for an artist to hear.  These words of encouragement made my day.

Friday, April 6, 2012

To-Do Lists from a Master (Jillian)

Leonardo da Vinci's to-do lists.

Hello, all. Though I've been idle as far the blogosphere is concerned there are one or two things that catch my writer's eye now and again - and tickle the grand thirst for whimsies. (I've recently joined Pinterest as well, which is home to a delightful plethora of visual whimsies.) This week, for example, I came across this tidbit from the Telegraph. Apparently, Leonardo da Vinci's do-lists and to-get lists are going on display next month at Buckingham Palace in Great Britain.

First of all... I was mildly surprised that an artist so, well, historically immortal would ever need to write out to-do lists. Or take notes. Or remind himself to pick up a set of chalk along with shirts and stockings before going off on a journey to Pavia to, um, dissect some cadavers at the medical school there.

Second, his lists and notes put mine to shame. This man truly had to have been a genius. Even these scribblings and anatomical drawings are beautiful, whereas mine have wound up in the recycling with absolutely no regrets.

Third, I am fascinated that someone found these lists and kept them. They're important little glimpses into an artist's process, and allows us to wonder at him several hundred years later. It is not necessarily that he was a genius or that his masterpieces appeared on canvas fully formed (uh, no) - but that he possessed the same drive to know and to explain and to imagine the universe that we do today... sketching and dissecting and creating as he did.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Computer Diaspora (Jillian)

Alas, the time is coming soon where I might have to part from my beloved laptop on a temporary basis. Long story short, my laptop – friend and ultimate writing tool – decided it no longer recognized its AC adapter and refused from that point on to charge its battery. There is, of course, no logical explanation for this sudden bout of computer amnesia. I had two different partial diagnoses from two different “geeks”, and, believe me, a new adapter did no good despite their insistence. Hence, the fear that the geeks’ favorite way of solving things – that is, sending said machine off into the great unknown so someone else can attempt repairs and wipe the drive for good measure (grr…) – will have to be implemented.

Forgive the moaning in the above paragraph, but I am sure you can relate. When a writer’s preferred tool of crafting and performing her art is mercilessly taken away, a feeling of hopelessness settles in. Last year, I had the misfortune of falling down marble stairs at work with the same computer. Result? Cracked screen, just like a car windshield, but in retrospect, it could have easily been my skull. It was taken a repair shop where it languished idle for about two and a half weeks. Never mind how expensive that venture was, it was next to impossible to overcome the feeling that my hands had suddenly been cut off, and I could not write. Period. I dread returning to that state of writing paralysis again.

As I consider sending my dear friend away for another necessary respite, I cannot help but think how ludicrous the “writing paralysis” is. Yes, it is almost excruciating to be separated from the thing that has been such a vital instrument in my writing, but… I can write… because essentially writing is not about the computer. My brain works the same. My hands still work. The story is in my head, and not necessarily in its most consummate form on the hard drive, anyway. And, I must remind myself, writing via word processing machine is only a recent trend. After all the likes of the magnificent Mr. Chaucer and Mr. Shakespeare, many before and many, many after, produced manuscripts without use of a laptop, spell-check, online references and dozens of fancy fonts. Quills, hand-made ink, grossly expensive parchment and/or vellum, blotting paper, and candlelight… those were the tools. And what wonderful tools they are!

In fact, only last year (if you recall), Agatha Christie’s writing desk went on sale, no doubt for a pretty sum. I read Lucy Davies’ blog on the Telegraph website, and was intrigued some time ago by an entry devoted to those who collect the palettes of van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Mattise, etc. Anne Frank’s diary is preserved under glass. So is the Magna Carta in its various surviving versions. I wonder sometimes if I ever become noteworthy (ha! If at all, long after my demise!) would they preserve my laptop behind glass? Would it convey the same meaning as Jane Austen’s simple writing table, or would it be just another old computer with a black, dead screen? Hm…

Jane Austen's writing desk, from the Telegraph

I must remind myself that I do have these simple tools, too. Wouldn’t it be such a challenge, such an adventure to continue work on my novel as if nothing ever happened… except the change in medium? If all those others can make use of simple paper and pen, why can’t I? I already do.

So, I am beginning to toy with the idea of writing actual chapters via legal pad. While I have not yet lost the ability to write with a pen and paper, I don’t know if I’d have the patience for it. Another idea… old typewriter? That would definitely be an easier transition. But where might I find one that is both functional and semi-affordable?

A lot of things to think about. My only hope is that any crazy experiment can cause me to grow into a more versatile writer… the kind of person who can write a novel on a train or in a coffee shop, even if all I have is a napkin. After all, that’s what J.K. Rowling did – legal pads, coffee and a café after hours.

By Jove! It’s so simple, it just might work!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Creeped Out - Hitler the Artist (Jillian)

Something has been bugging me for a while now - one of those little current events that surfaces now and then. It is coming to light more and more recently that Adolf Hitler, before he became the monster that history has proved him to be, was an artist. His paintings and etchings are on auction blocks and expected to fetch millions.

Yes, this creeps me out, and I am certain I'm not overreacting. To put "a Hitler" alongside, say, "a Monet" is inconcievable to me.

Art is powerful, no matter what the medium. It speaks volumes. It touches the soul. It is almost ineffable, sacred. That is why writing and painting and photography and dance, etc, etc, are incredibly important - they are created out of the struggles, triumphs and musings of the human spirit. If those creations are from Hitler, I want to stay as far away from them as possible. Not that I am worried about subliminal messages... but that anything I'd see is tainted by the knowledge of the Holocaust. It isn't the sort of art that belongs on a wall, displayed in glory.

Some art is visually disturbing and is meant to be. Just look at Francisco Goya's painting of Saturn devouring his children. (You might want to google it; I really don't want to post that horror here.) I cannot look at it without incurring nightmares. In Hitler's case, it is disturbing in the historical context that cannot be erased or forgotten on an auction block.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sandy: A Recantation (Jillian)

I spend a fair amount of time at UNL, despite the fact that I graduated in May. There is something about it that spells home to me, and its hidden nooks and woody areas provide a retreat from my not-so-quiet job. If you've ever been to UNL, you've probably walked through the "Sculpture Garden", the area of which is merely sprinkled with a collection of modern statuary. One of these is Richard McDermott Miller's "Sandy: in Defined Space", or as I often dismissed it: "Girl in a Box." When Michelle visited me last week, I have to say what came out of my mouth was an arbitrary "I hate it." And yet, in almost five years, I'd never really looked at her. And for a writer to have never looked deep on a piece of art… well… it's silly.

The statue, as you can see, is a naked girl perched in one of two little boxes. On campus it is located in front of a boxy-looking Art building (Woods Hall) - not exactly in the middle of campus foot traffic. And yet, she's always made me uncomfortable… for obvious reasons. When I see nude sculptures - particularly modern ones - I tend to be nervous. At first glance, "Sandy" is trapped in the box. I always detected a thread of womanizing sentiment from it, especially since, not twenty feet away to the north there is another sculpture of a woman's backside, as if the rest of her is buried just below the soil. I recoil. I cannot abide the objectification of women.

After my dismissive comment about hating "Sandy", I started thinking and really looking at her… and the silly fears I had about her began to fade. First of all - yes, she's nude, but why is she nude? Is it any worse than Michaelangelo's David? The nudity, I decided is only a small part of it. In this case, it is to measure an unhindered spirit, protected inside the little space and concealing nothing. Further, she isn't trapped. There is no look of terror or despair on her face - nor is she looking out at me or any passersby with a silent plea for help. In fact, she is glancing off into space, at the foot she has planted up on one of the panels. It is a deep, pensive look - neither smiling nor frowning. Inside herself. She lets one hand dangle free. She does not grasp for an invisible door because she is free. She has made a choice between this box and the box beside it. She has made this space "defined". She is not, I am confident to say, associated with the one submerged in the soil a few feet away.

It is amazing how much I am still learning… by seeing and thinking about the possibilities… imagining her to be a character with feelings and choices and a name instead of an object made of metal! Meanings inside meanings… the perpetual nesting doll! That is art!

Sandy - with the Sheldon Art Museum to the south of her

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Botanical Inspiration (Maren)

As Spring approaches (oh, please say that Spring approaches!), my mind is turning more and more to garden planning. I keep turning over in my mind the different things I would like to plant this year, and it turns out that a lot of these have their inspiration in literature. I want to plant blackberry bushes because they appear in The Wind in the Willows. I want to plant feverfew because it appears in Dealing with Dragons. I want to plant lavender because Harriet Vane's potpurri smells of lavender in Busman's Honeymoon. Almost every plant imaginable has some significance in some work of literature, and is therefore tinged with meaning.

On the one hand, this meaning seems as if it must come from the work of literature, right? I mean, my response to feverfew very clearly comes from Dealing with Dragons. That's undeniable.

At the same time, however, does our response to roses come from the way they are used in literature, or does literature merely reflect the way we feel about roses? Would Beauty and the Beast speak to us in the same way if Beauty's father had picked a buttercup or a daisy? There is something serious and complex about a rose that makes the Beast's rage somehow comprehensible, even if we do not understand it.

In Hamlet, when Ophelia drowns under the willow tree, somehow this seems to make sense (and not just because willows grow near water). There is something melancholy about willows, beautiful as they are. Even The Wind in the Willows has something of this sadness in its nostalgic tone, as bright and playful a story as it is.

The role played by flora in literature illustrates a give and take between nature and art. The natural world and the artistic one each lend themselves to one another in such a way that a person can never be absolutely certain whether meaning is bestowed by art or whether it belonged, somehow, to nature in the first place.


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