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Archive for the ‘Quotations’ Category

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

This post is dedicated to my daughter who “got” Proust before she was twenty. I couldn’t get much further than the first sentence of “Swann’s Way” the first of seven volumes of “In Search Of Lost Time” (although, in my defence, the sentence was three pages long.)

I didn’t manage to read Proust’s novel(s) in English, let alone French, but with the help of my daughter I am better able than otherwise to enjoy and appreciate his (and her) reflections. As some wit remarked “they would rather visit demented relatives than read Proust”. I understand the sentiment and I am very lucky to have had some of his themes explained to me and discussed in contexts I understand.

Although memory, especially involuntary memory, is the main theme of Proust’s work, it is the idea that if we understand our life experiences and know how they affect us and change us, and we can use those changes to transform ourselves, that has me punching the air saying “yes!”

Now, I didn’t explain that very well, so I was really pleased to find this quote from Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.

I can apply that to so many of my experiences, from the traumatic to the seemingly trivial. And i think I can see how Proust spoke to my daughter. She was four when I damaged my spinal cord, and she adapted her life around whatever I could offer her. (As did my sons, and they too would probably “get” Proust if they ever decided to read his work.)

Some of my real voyages of discovery:

One of the most important lessons I have ever learned was after I lost my mobility – don’t let the things you can’t do stop you from doing the things you can do.

When my twin sons were babies I learnt that housework doesn’t matter. It will always be there, but your babies will grow up. (Or I needed to sleep more than I needed to vacuum.)

I learned that if I walked at the same pace as my toddlers we could all see the caterpillar in the grass.

Teenagers are extraordinarily receptive to exploring all sorts of ideas, from politics to ethics to science … They like to share their discoveries, and I learned to listen.

I learned that dreams come true, but my dream of walking has required determination, persistence and commitment. And creative thinking, by me or by others.

I have lots of art projects on the go all the time. I have learned that this is a good thing because something I read or hear or see adds to my experience and even the most subtle change can enlighten or inspire me to bring something more or different to what I am working on.

Writing focuses and clarifies my thinking, and often helps me look at issues from new perspectives.

I find myself wondering more and more how many opportunities I miss to learn about myself and others. This is not a bad thing. My mind is opening.

By expressing myself in art, no matter how skilled I am, I am translating to another medium an aspect of who I am and what I see. Art makes it easier to have new eyes.

I’ve also learned that those few words defining a real voyage of discovery have provoked me to think carefully about what “having new eyes” really means.

The Real Voyage of Discovery

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I was looking at our living room this morning and my heart sank. I’ve been having a lot of fun messing around with art and drawing apps for my iPad, as well as designing some wedding stationary for my daughter and her fiancee, and I’ve been scattering bits of paper and “stuff” all over the floor. And the room intended for all this wonderful creative work is even messier. What to do? Where to start?

One step at a time.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of a task, or unsure where to start. Sometimes the whole picture seems too big to know where to begin to look. Sometimes it seems easier just not to start.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao-Tzu

Nearly nineteen years ago I began a journey that literally began with one step. I was about to be discharged from the Spinal Injuries Unit in a wheelchair, unable to even stand. I had a little movement in my right leg but not enough to use functionally. I was unable to even pull myself to standing. Yet one afternoon in the gym, challenged by the other patients, I did just that. The physios didn’t think it possible, but said if I could stand they would place me between the parallel bars with a callipur on my left leg and help me walk. And I did. I pulled myself to standing for a few seconds before collapsing. True to their word, the physios put my left leg in a full length callipur and placed me beteween the bars. The callipur kept my left leg rigid, my arms took the rest of my weight and I lifted my right leg to take my very first step.

Some say that Lao-Tzu’s words are best translated as beginning your journey with the ground under your feet. That’s pretty much what I did, and still do. I focus on the step that I am taking now. I’m not thinking about whether I’m improving or whether I’ll be able to throw one or both crutches away. I’m thinking about the best possible quality of step that I can take now.

Action begins this very moment. Procrastination is the enemy. Pick up the messy papers and sort into folders. Do the exercises and stretches that keep me mobile. Go to the gym and focus on my body alignment. Enjoy creating the current artwork. And live in each moment that is part of every journey.

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“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world”

Recently I have come across a lot of bucket lists. I am inspired not by the lists, but by the people who are sharing their accomplishments as they achieve their goals. The young man who is cycling from Canada to Mexico, the woman who has published her fifty thousand word novel … These people are focussed. They have thought about what they want to do, made a plan, then acted on it. They may not be changing the world in the way that Mother Theresa did, or Gandhi, but they’ve changed their world and the worlds of people they’ve encountered.

I am fortunate to have time every day to do what I choose to do. But how am I choosing to use that time? I am busy. I go to the gym, I read, I draw, I design graphics, I write a little and I think a lot.

I believe we are defined by our actions, but without purpose our actions are just a means of passing time. By changing the way we think and act we change who we are … we change who we are, we change the way we think. But it’s not a closed loop, or even the infinite figure eight. It’s a linear progression:

I have realised a dream. I have always wanted to express myself creatively in images but have lacked the skills and medium to do this. Now I can combine my love of letters and words and images with the satisfaction I get from exploring ideas and concepts. Creating a calligram allows me to take something intangible and turn it into an image with a message that conveys far more than any number of words I might use. It may provide entertainment or pleasure or a challenge to others, even inspire or change their thinking. An image is powerful. It can have immediate impact, or it can be subtle, or require time to think about, and lead to other ideas.

Dreaming is easy. Processing and focussing your thoughts, then taking action requires effort and hard work. your goals and how you achieve them help define who you are and who you can become. So although the progression to self development and self awareness through dreams, thought and action might be linear, it isn’t simple. It requires some effort to sort the tangled messages:

The next step is to wrap it up with a big bow and colour it in rainbow colours because life is a gift and it’s up to us who we become.

Creating a calligram challenges me and expands my thinking. While I am creating, my mind free wheels and other related or unrelated ideas take shape. While thinking through all these ideas it occurs to me, that although I have no bucket list, I have three things I am desperate to achieve. First, for thirty years I have loved having time with my children and I intend to continue investing everything I can in them. Second, for nearly twenty years I have been determined to walk and I will continue to do everything needed to improve and maintain my mobility. Third, I will do everything I can to return to Tuscany with my husband while I am still mobile, he is able to carry all my bags, and we can plan and explore its art and history together.

So I can either pass the time while I’m doodling and playing with words and shapes, or I can use it as an opportunity to think … to plan my day, reflect on my ambitions, or explore something inspirational that I’ve heard or read and think about how I might apply it to my life.

Enough. A time to write, a time to draw and a time to progress my plans.

Otherwise it’s only dreams:

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All of us at some time in our lives experience trauma or tragedy. I was listening to an interview on National Radio where a self help guru was talking about a book he had written about dealing with tragedy after his young son was diagnosed with autism. He had developed a phrase called the “reality gap” to describe the adjustment people in tragic situations have to make between their expectations and their new reality.

I don’t like this phrase. Everything about it seems negative. “Reality” smacks of “get real” and gap emphasises what you’ve lost.

I compare this to the strategies that are implemented in the spinal unit to help paraplaegics and tetraplaegics get back on their feet, figuratively speaking … Hit the deck running, so to speak. (Humour is a great tool.) Patients are encouraged to grieve, for loss of mobility, loss of bodily function … and to understand the stages of grief they will experience. Then there is a plaque on the wall “Think about what you can do, not what you cannot.” This is hammered in. Staff demand the maximum independence possible.

In these circumstance the human spirit is at its finest. People discover personal qualities of resilience, problem solving, empathy, co-operation, determination, optimism, hope. I met a gang member who extended his hand in friendship by showing me, a middle aged, middle class woman, how to use my wheelchair as a weapon. There is also depression, frustration, anger, denial, but nearly always people find the strength and the tools to move forward. The only thing that can stop someone growing and adapting is bitterness. Bitterness is the great enemy.

I don’t believe a catch phrase like “reality gap” is particularly helpful. Focussing on what you can do, not what you cannot is a powerful force.

I do believe that having a mantra can be a useful way of empowering yourself. My favourite is ” Steel is forged in great heat” another is “the best roses grow in real shit” and “diamonds are just bits of coal that did well under pressure”

It’s a bummer, but we don’t grow in peace and contentment, we grow in adversity. Some of my best thinking and inspiration has happened under pressure, not moments of quiet reflection.

As Winston Churchill said, “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”

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My gallery of original artwork is now continually updated as a page. This page can be found as a tab at the very top of the page above the banner, along with “About Me” and “about Spinal Cord Injuries” (since February 2012). It’s much more iinteresting than either of these. Please check it out.

Here is my artwork posted til then:

Welcome to my gallery of original artwork, calligrams. The word calligram means “beautiful writing”, probably because the letters and words are arranged into an image. It is sometimes called concrete poetry. I prefer to describe it as visual poetry. From most recent:

Calligram – The Beginning of Love

Calligram – Reach For THe Sky

Calligram – Music Breaks My Heart

Calligram – Music Sets Fire To Your Soul

Calligram – Music Sets My Heart On Fire

Calligram – Life Is A Gift

I Am What I Think And Do

Calligram – Just Another Dream

Just Another Dream

Calligram – I Dream Therefore I Am:

I Am What I Think And Do

Calligram – Lost in the music:

Calligram – One more for Valentine’s Day:

Valentine’s Rose

Calligrams – For Valentine Day:

Heart On Fire

For Valentine Day

What Is Love

Calligram – The Sweet Sleep – Anastheasia

Sweet Sleep – Anastheasia

Calligram – Adversity, Forging Steel In Great Heat

A Christmas Calligram

Calligram – Blood Diamond

Calligram – Blow Your Own Trumpet

Calligram – Bubbles

Calligram – Let Your Heart Sing

Calligram – Reach High, Dream Deep

Calligrams – Destiny
The next two are meant to be viewed together as one work:

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I am exploring the power of visual poetry.

My friend and I were sharing our thoughts on the meaning of “character”. Our thoughts can be summed up as
Watch your thoughts, they become your words,
watch your words, they become your actions,
watch your actions, they become your habits
watch your habits, they become your character
watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

This was a “light bulb” moment for me, and I immediately saw how powerfully this message could be conveyed using visuals, and turning this into visual poetry – a calligram, or calligrams.

Take two extremes of people whose thoughts, words and actions changed the world:

Calligram – Hitler’s Destiny

Hitler was a destructive tornado, a cold dangerous wind that blew through Europe. The power of his words swept ordinary people into acts of bigotry, hatred and cruelty. The character and destinies of millions were changed.

Calligram – Gandhi’s Destiny

Gandhi was committed to non-violence, human freedom, equality and justice. His ideals of truth and non-violence led to acts of passive resistance. His words and actions sent ripples of change around the world. Ripples that continue to remind us of alternatives to war and military action.

Words can inspire, but combined with typography or calligraphy, colours and shapes, transformed to visual poetry, become powerful and provocative.

Other poetry – calligram posts:
Calligrams – Visual Poetry
Blood Diamonds
A Christmas Calligram
Poetry – Calligrams

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How could I have lived this long and not known about about calligrams? I love letters and art, so throw poetry into the mix and voila, there is a thing of such beauty it takes my breath away.

I’ve seen letters cleverly arranged into shapes to create an image that expresses the meaning of the letters or words. Simple, nice. For example,

Letters or words create a visual image of themselves

An image created using related words

But calligram poetry! It’s beautiful:

Apollinaire's Dessin

Apollinaire's Dessin Il Pleut

Apollinaire's Eiffel Tower

Guillaume Apollinaire was a French writer born in Italy in 1880 of Polish parents. He famously wrote a book about calligrams, published in 1918. (Makes me feel really ignorant, having not heard of or seen these wonderful visual poems.) Calligrammes: Poèmes de la paix et de la guerre 1913- 1916 (1918) from An Introduction to Guillaume Apollinaire. He also wrote the children’s books “Madeleine”, which I do know about.

Other beautiful calligrams that I’ve found:
(Click on the title to find out more about the author)

DIAMOND

*
*the*
*diamond*
*on my hand*
*reflecting love*
*stars , dance*
*an endless*
*diamond*
*sky*

Tears

t        a            d
e                       o
a         r             w
r               i           n
s                v
e            a
  s               r
t                              s
r            o             a
e            f                d
a
m            s                 f
i                 o                a
n                  r            c
g                r                e
o
w

(Sometimes it is called concrete poetry – I suppose because the visual element gives a solid dimension – but I don’t like this description at all) This author calls her poem a concrete poem …

‘A gentle breeze … “

Apparently calligram means beautiful writing, and so it is!

I’ve started creating my own calligrams. These can be viewed in My Artwork and Calligrams Where you will find calligrams for love, inspiration, hearts, music, valentines and more …

If you’re interested, the context for these calligrams can be seen in these posts:
The Power of Visual Poetry – Destiny
Calligrams – Visual Poetry here you will find calligrams of hearts, stars, music and more.
A Christmas Calligram
Blood Diamonds

Calligrams for Inspiration

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