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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

“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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“Storytelling is how we survive, when there’s no feed, the story feeds something, it feeds the spirit, the imagination. I can’t imagine life without stories, stories from my parents, my culture. Stories from other people’s parents, their culture. That’s how we learn from each other, it’s the best way. That’s why literature is so important, it connects us heart to heart.”

Alice Walker

Alice Walker, author of  “The Colour Purple”, represents for me more than the literature of the oppressed and the marginalised, more than literature of  social justice, more than literature of a gifted writer. Yes, she has the power to reach across boundaries and to connect with people regardless of nationality, gender, class, ethnicity. Yes, she has the ability to change lives and can influence the way we think about racism.  Yes, she uses literary devices to breathe life into characters and situations.

She has the gifted writer’s ability to draw us into relationships with her characters. She gives us the opportunity reflect on the ethics and values of our community, to empathise with characters from different backgrounds and experiences, to walk a mile in another’s shoes.

Her storytelling has the power to connect many hearts because her storytelling is literature.

Nonetheless, everybody has stories. Everybody needs stories.  “(stories are) … how we learn from each other, it’s the best way.”  Stories tell us who we are, tell much about the community that shaped us.

My son set up this blog for me to encourage me to write. I’m not sure what he thought I would write about. At first I didn’t know what to write about. When I realised that this was an opportunity to tell stories to my grown up children I realised I had an audience, at least one I could address in my head. They can choose to read or not read what I write, but I can share stories with them that otherwise might not be told. I have told stories about my mother and her mother. I have told stories about my travels, stories about our family, what it is like to live with a spinal cord injury, my hopes and dreams, opinions on social or political issues, my interests and thoughts in general. My daughter always clicks “like” when she has read a post “Because”, she told me, ” I want you to know I’ve read it.” That’s when I knew that it’s not only literature that “… connects us heart to heart” but all storytelling, whether it is sharing experiences or thoughts and ideas. When I see that she has read a post I feel a connection.

The storyteller, like the artist or poet makes herself vulnerable  because she reveals something of herself and the background that has moulded her. Opinions can reveal prejudices and introduce conflict. But that is how we learn about each other. Reflections can stir the imagination, expand and inspire ideas. Memories can provoke interest in finding out more about who we are and the forces that given us “identity”.

Using technology anyone can create a social role as a storyteller. We can connect with people on a global scale. I am excited to read something written by a woman who has lived most of her life in Africa and the Middle East. To connect with someone from such a different cultural background and to learn something of her life and yet find we share many concerns and priorities is eye opening.  It is awesome that someone may read my words and connect in some way, and that conversely I will read someone else’s story.

By the way, Alice Walker has a blog. I recommend reading it!

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I am thoroughly enjoying reading Jodie Picoult’s “Handle With Care”. I haven’t finished reading it yet so this is not a book review … And I shouldn’t say this, but after having read three quarters of it, I think it might be her best yet.  Picoult chooses some meaty subjects to write about but sometimes there seems to be something lacking, perhaps in character development, or something contrived. This time she’s seems to have nailed the complexity of  the issue, and the characters are real.

What’s bothering me is the metaphor Picoult uses to suggest that we grow in adversity.  One of her central characters is a baker and baking metaphors are used to introduce each new section of the story.  To paraphrase, a baker punches down the dough between proofing.  ” … in baking, and in life – the cost of growth is always a small act of violence.”

I prefer to compare growing in adversity with the forging of steel. It requires great heat. The imagery of fire and a forge implies sweat, hard work and hammering, but also suggests passion, determination and perseverance.

Punching dough suggests bruising and caving in. Bread suggests something light and airy.

Perhaps we are meant to think that this character is on the brink of giving in, but has the inner strength to carry on, that the cost of being able to persevere is a feeling of being battered and bruised and broken.

Growth should come with a feeling of triumph and victory.  Punching dough implies defeat, giving in, being moulded by someone else. We grow in adversity; the cost may be pain, hurt, struggle, humiliation, but we forge our victories, we transform ourselves under stress. Growing in adversity is the forging of steel.

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Years ago I discovered a world where art intersects with words. Two of my passions gave birth to a third passion, calligraphy. I call my version of calligraphy letter art, where there are no rules or limits to what can be created. I might feel like doing a water colour wash then add letters and words in one or more media applied with any sort of tool, from brush, nib, stick, card or finger. Or I might start by drawing letters in rubber then wash over the top, peeling off the rubber to reveal a message.

"Letter Art" in watercolour wash

Once, when I was at a party I became animated about how much I enjoy this. The next moment is etched in my memory. Some woman piped up “Next you’ll be doing cake decorating.” Initially I was shocked that she would mock me by comparing art with cake decorating, then I realised how judgemental I was being. I began to think about how creativity finds an outlet whatever, and that judging and comparing creativite outlets in an attempt to diminish one or both, is to demean the human urge to express ourselves, to interpret the world, to discover beauty, or do whatever.

I often return to that thought, that is, the legitimacy of the human urge to be creative, and that creativity has no boundaries. Whether writing poetry or prose, the writer has a message and uses literary devices to create something special. The artist can blend media, surface, technique and so on. Singing, playing a musical instrument, photography, sculpture are also conventionally regarded as being creative, so why not cake decorating, meal presentation, calligraphy, scrapbooking, dancing, dress design, furniture design, and so on. (incidentally, some of these latterly mentioned creative outlets are regarded as “feminine”, so perhaps there is some gender bias at work here.)

Creativity and imagination are related. Albert Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. This inspires me to believe that human endeavour is at its finest when we apply creativity – to look for opportunities, to solve problems, to seek wisdom and understanding. It is through art, literature, music, any creative work or thinking that our spirits soar.

Einstein's "Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge" in watercolour wash

So what is creativity? I’m not sure it can be defined or measured. What is art?. Where painting intersects with calligraphy, is it no longer art? Clearly that isn’t so, otherwise Colin Mc Cahon wouldn’t be regarded as one of New Zealand’s great artists. Does someone’s willingness to pay for artistic endeavour define a work as art? If someone will pay for a cake to be decorated does that mean that cake decorating is art? I believe it can be, and that it can certainly be an example of creativity.

Is literature only the work of great writers? If only the greatest writers were published, my reading world would be impoverished. I love reading “coming of age” novels (I have realized in the last few years that I have yet to come of age – will I ever grow up?). Barbara Kingsolver is perhaps best known for writing “The Poisonwood Bible” yet it’s “The Bean Trees” and “Pigs In Heaven” that I enjoyed the most. And I’d be a lesser person if I hadn’t read Billie Letz’ “The Honk and Holler Opening Soon”, “Where The Heart Is” and “Made In The USA”. And I find plenty to chew over in Marion Keyes novels.

And good things happen when creativity intersects with technology. I’ve discovered plenty of great writing on blogs. One of the best things I’ve learnt about blogging is that because it provides a great medium for writers it’s become a treasure trove for readers, and a fantastic forum for ideas. It’s a wonderful spark for creativity. It’s a great place to find poetry:

Julia Fehrenbacher of Painted Path writes wonderful poetry and prose.

This via kind over matter

Held

When she slows
quietly down
instead of pushing
urgently forward
When she asks and listens
and receives
instead of talking and telling
and trying
When she bows
deeply
to this light-filled
Now
instead of running
screaming away
It bows deeply back

and she feels herself
falling

freely
falling
safely
falling
softly
falling
back into
the wide open
arms
of Grace

People have always found ways to express themselves creatively, to feel their spirits soar and their hearts sing. Creativity is an essential part of who we are. It can’t be measured and it shouldn’t be compared or minimised, but rather celebrated and embraced, wherever it is found.

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