Sunday, November 27, 2005

Liminal Experience


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Image: My collage based on Gauguin's The Joy of Rest

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All day I tried to think of ideas for my weekly art project.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I've decided to work with visual imagery in order to deepen my writing. I've pledged to do a small piece of artwork once a week (I may skip a week here and there) that will be based on a postcard image.

I did some prewriting on the theme of "rest," but nothing notable happened. Then I went to my little art room (which is more of a junk room, actually) and got out the folders in which I keep hundreds of little images I've snipped from magazines during the last few months. (I started snipping the images in ernest after seeing what an artist friend of mine, Marce does with collage. Marce's work is truly exceptional and really speaks to me. She works out a lot of her problems and obsessions through her art.) Although I believe writing is the perfect format for me to find meaning, I believe there's something for me to learn by doing artwork, too.

Within five minutes of sorting through the images, I came up with an idea for my collage.

My interpretation of the "joy" of rest, which I created on the back of the postcard of Gauguin's The Joy of Rest is my representation of a liminal experience.

A limen is "The threshold of a physiological of psychological response." I've been coming across the term "liminal experience" in much of my reading over the last few years, especially in Parabola, a journal devoted to myth.

The troubled-looking woman in blue is at a threshold between two experiences.

In the left panel, she looks back to her youth, a time when her life was ruled by romantic love. She remembers the excitement and peacefulness of the strong embrace. She remembers the feeling of having her whole life before her, and how the possibilities seemed endless. The birds fly up. They represent freedom and also the sacredness of relationships.

The image on the right is from a photograph by Terry Evans called Drawer of Meadowlarks. Here, the birds are mere specimens. They no longer fly. They no longer sing. They exist only for the cold eye of the critic who sorts and categorizes them. They have been claimed by death. I've also recently come to understand that the meadowlark is symbolic of the inner journey. So death does not necessarily mean physical death, it can also mean the death of willingness or desire to look within.

The woman, in this threshold experience, decides it is time to grasp all she can from life. Death awaits, but she is alive now. It is "Time to Get Down to Business."

In my own case, getting down to business means giving myself over to my creative life. It means getting back to image-making again, even though I know I'm rusty at it. I want to do it for the joy of the experience, not for the end product. Getting down to business also means devoting myself to my writing without worrying about how it advances my teaching career or about the publications.

I think kissing is a liminal experience. There is a moment when you are at a threshold, that moment just before you give yourself over completely to your lover. Similarly, when I do art or writing, I am within the realm of the liminal experience. There is a moment just before I fall into the creative act when a kind of tension is created. Yes, I am at rest in the same way one might be at rest during prayer. But it is a particular kind of rest. When you pray, there is an intense connection being made between yourself and your god. But to make that connection, you have to loosen your feet from the earth and fly toward the beloved god. When I'm creating it is the same. The moment, although restful, is shot through with the intensity of a lover's kiss or of an encounter with god.

I think it's natural for men and women to seek paradise. Gauguin looked for it in Tahiti. He went there but found paradise had already been ruined by colonization. He tried to recreate it through his paintings. In them, we see the human striving for wholeness.

I don't think I've experienced paradise any more fully than in my lover's arms or during intense periods of creating.

Truly, we don't have to go anywhere to find paradise. Paradise is within.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Gauguin and The Act of Creation


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Paul Gauguin, The Joy of Rest



I've recently been rediscovering the work of Paul Gauguin. Of course I've been familiar with his work since art school days, but I focused more on Van Gogh then, and Edward Munch. I think I wasn't ready for Gauguin. At the time, I didn't relate to the spirituality of his paintings. For instance, look at this painting, how the two women are divinity itself--one sports a halo and the other eats fruit (an apple?)



When I say "I'm rediscovering" something, that means I get rather obsessed with it. I do Internet research, and then I go to the library. I just finished ordering a bunch of books from Ohio Link about Gauguin. I also ordered a book for myself to keep, a book with Gauguin's journals.



I'm particularly drawn to the spiritual element of his work, so I'm interested to see what the artist said of his own work and his own work habits. I did find on the Internet that he said:



Do not paint too much from nature. Art is an abstraction; extract it from nature while dreaming in front of it and pay more attention to the act of creation than to the result.



I rather like this because it relates to the way I'm coming to think of the act of creating. If I focus too much on the product, it destroys the essence of the message. It destroys the "dream." This quote from Gauguin reminds me of something John Gardner said. He also equated creating with dreams. Gardner said that writers create a "vivid and continuous dream" on the page, and if the writers do their work correctly, readers dream along.



In my previous entry, I showed how I used Gauguin's Vision After the Sermon to create my own little piece of artwork. Of Vision, Gauguin said:



I have just painted a religious picture, very clumsily; but it interested me and I like it. I wanted to give it to the church of Pont-Aven. Naturally they don't want it. A group of Breton women are praying, their costumes a very intense black. The bonnets a very luminous yellowy-white. The two bonnets to the right are like monstrous helmets. An apple tree cuts across the canvas, dark purple with its foliage drawn in masses like emerald green clouds with greenish yellow chinks of sunlight. The ground (pure vermillion). In the church it darkens and becomes a browny red. The angel is dressed in violent ultramarine blue and Jacob in bottle green. The angel's wings pure chrome yellow.1 The angel's hair chrome2 and the feet flesh orange. I think I have achieved in the figures a great simplicity, rustic and superstitious.



Well, for one thing, I never realized the tree in Gauguin's painting is an apple tree. I didn't know this, either, when I created my own image with the apple as the central image.



For another thing, I just love reading what artists say of their own work. I love it that Gauguin calls his creation, "clumsy." I believe that many artists feel this way about their own work. Reading Gauguin's words help me, because the words embolden me to try. If we, as Gauguin says, pay more attention to the creation rather than the result, we will get much more out of the process of creating, and so will those who look at our pictures or read our poems, stories, or blogs.



For my next little art project, I'm going to work with this Gauguin painting, focusing on the idea of "rest." We'll see what happens!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Power of Three


















Image Top: Postcard of Gauguin's Vision After the Sermon

Image Bottom: The other side of the postcard. It is a collage I created, depicting three aspects of my life: "Father" (left); "God" (center); "Mother (right).
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I call it "The Power of Three." It's an assignment I gave my university students this semester. I did the assignment along with them. First, some background: When I was an undergraduate at East Carolina University, I double-majored in art and English. When I went to Graduate School in English and then later in Creative Writing, I put away my pens, pencils, and brushes. I didn't have time to write and do artwork both.

Although I didn't do artwork for years, I remained intrigued by the idea that my two loves, art and writing, could somehow be combined. Now, after months of reading Judith Heartsong's blog and seeing the beautiful way she combines her art and her writing, I've decided I need to get back to image-making.

It's been so long now since I've done art that I feel like I'm starting all over again. And that's okay. I have no illusions about being a great artist, and "being a great artist" is not important to me, anyway. I simply want to use art as a way to make my fiction and essays deeper and richer.

Much of my creative output, whether visual or written, has been snuffed out through the years by unrealistic expectations, by what I think I should be capable of. Finally, I said, Enough! Just do something! So I did. I used the image-making as a way of "seeing" how I "see" the world.

It only took me about twenty minutes to create my image. That tells me that I probably could do one image a week. At the end of a year, I'd have about 50 images and probably a much richer connection to my own life.

"The Power of Three" showed me what I have always suspected: Doing Art can make writing better.

"The Power of Three" has several steps. There are discovery techniques used at the beginning, such as listing and webbing, to help students find aspects of their lives they want to write about. Finally, one of the last steps is to create a triptych, a visual representation of three aspects of your life. My triptych helped me to discover some surprising things about how I feel about "God," "Father," and "Mother."

I expected my images for "God" to be positive. And I expected my images for "Father" and "Mother" to be negative. But just the opposite happened. Through the prewriting assignments, I discovered the fruit imagery and ended up using an apple to represent "God."

The apple represents "The Fall." The eye and the tear (Apple of my eye) represent the pain associated with "The Fall." But there is also a golden snowflake under the eye, representing the beauty we can bring to our suffering. While "The Fall" is a painful process, it also leads to growth and transformation.

The strawberries in the left and right panels are simply a representation of how much both parents loved this fruit. My father loved eating them. My mother loved picking and preserving them. My father also loved birds and was very gentle with them. The pig represents one of my first memories of my mother, the time she helped some friends of hers load a big pig into a trailer so they could take it to the fair. I have always remembered my mother's strength and how surprised I was that she had that kind of strength. It is a memory I have held onto like a life buoy for many years. I need to explore why the memory is so precious to me.

My triptych surprised me in many ways. It surprised me because I chose unexpected images to represent the three aspects of my life that I chose to explore. It surprised me because it truly did deepen my awareness about my life, particularly in how prominent "The Fall" is in my thinking. Although leaving paradise is painful, it really does represent the beginning of our personal journey through life, our heroic quest.

I wanted to get this entry up before Thanksgiving. I have oodles of papers to grade tonight and conferences all day tomorrow. And I haven't even done my food shopping for Thanksgiving dinner yet! Have a great holiday, everyone.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Rashomon


Who and what do you see when you look at this photograph?

The photograph is of me in the 6th grade. I look happy in my headscarf and hand-me-down dress. In reality, my brother had just gone to Vietnam and I feared for his life every day. Another reality was that my father had stepped up his drinking to the point that our whole family was in turmoil. I would go to school every day frightened, not of school but of what I might return home to.

But looking at the photo now, I can almost believe that the child looking back at me is happy.

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I guess I'll know I'm over feeling sad about leaving my AOL Journal when my first thought here at Blogger is not how sad I am that I'm not posting in my AOL Journal.

Ah well. Over at my AOL Journal, I recently did an entry about "Reality," and Vince posted a one word response: RASHOMON. I'd never heard of Rashomon, but because it came from Vince, who introduced me to the excellent book, Denial of Death, I thought I should check it out.

I did a quick Internet search and found out it is the name of a movie directed by Akira Kurosawa. The term "Rashomon" has entered our vernacular to mean the unreliability of "truth." If I'd heard of the "Rashomon Effect" before, I didn't recall it, but apparently it is a common way of referring to the phenomenon of eye-witnesses having different accounts of what happened at the same event.

I rented Rashomon from our video store and watched it twice this evening, once with and once without the commentary. It is a powerful film. What struck me the most --and everyone will come away from the film with different thoughts because it's that kind of film--was the message that we come to believe the realities we create for ourselves.

The film definitely opens up a new way for me to think about my own writing. It deepened my insight into what motivates people to lie. As the film says, we all lie.

This is where someone who prizes authenticity begins to get into severe trouble, I think. If our self-concept is based on authenticity yet all human beings lie, then who are we? (Add to this the dilemma that the purpose of the artist, according to Picasso, is to lie in order to depict the truth.)

I know that I need to work at adopting a more playful orientation toward life, one taking into consideration the natural failings of human beings, my own failings. I've known this for a long time.

I believe this recognition on my part of what I need to do is why I am so drawn to the Trickster figure in mythology. That Trickster is an ornery trouble maker who turns reality upside down. The Trickster is always mixing volatile cocktails of fantasy and reality.

I highly recommend Rashomon. Thank you, Vince, for telling me about it.

Here is the original entry from AOL:

What is Reality?

What is the truth?

I'm thinking now of the writer whose self-concept depends on authenticity.

Does this describe you? It describes me.

Perhaps I'm more comfortable writing fiction than non-fiction because I worry that non-fiction has to be completely "true," detail by detail, and I drive myself mad trying to get all the details "right."

I'm finding more and more that I don't know how to tell "the truth." I only know how to tell "my truth." And in telling "my truth," I find myself constantly departing from facts and into the realm of mythology. I believe there is so much truth in myths.

A wonderful poem by Rabia al Basri explains the difficulties of writing from the heart, of writing, to, for, out of, or about the Divine source (by Divine source, I mean that mysterious place our creativity and imagination comes from):

REALITY
In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Open House







OPEN HOUSE
by Theodore Roethke

My secrets cry aloud.
I have no need for tongue.
My heart keeps open house,
My doors are widely swung.
An epic of the eyes
My love, with no disguise.

My truths are all foreknown,
This anguish self-revealed.
I'm naked to the bone,
With nakedness my shield.
Myself is what I wear:
I keep the spirit spare.

The anger will endure,
The deed will speak the truth
In language strict and pure.
I stop the lying mouth;
Rage warps my dearest cry
To witness agony.
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I just posted my very last entry on my AOL Journal. I quoted Theodore Roethke's "Open House" as a way of trying to explain why I find the ads so offensive. My blog is my house. My thoughts are the opening of my house to the world. This makes my blog hallowed ground, no less hallowed than Gettysburg.

I don't think I'm going to transfer my complete AOL Journal here. I think I will just make a new start here and see where the experience takes me.

To all my AOL friends: please be patient with me. I'm slow to learn. HTML? What is that? This whole experience has been quite overwhelming. If you don't hear from me for a while, please understand I haven't forgotten you. It's just that I'm trying to find my way in new territory.

Also, I look forward to making new friends here at Blogger.

Please know that I cherish each and every comment and that your comments give me strength.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hanging Up a Familiar Picture


It's time to hang a familiar picture at my new place here at Blogger.

You know how it is when you move to a new place. It stays bare for a while, until you accept that you really can't go back to your old place. In my case, my old place has been hijacked by marauders and defaced beyond my own recognition.

Yes, I'm an AOL Refugee* and I'm still reeling from the effects of being displaced from my AOL Journal, a place I have called home for more than a year. http://journals.aol.com/theresarrt7/TheresaWilliams-author/

AOL has tacked ugly banner ads on the journals of its customers, and I vowed I would not post there again unless the ads were removed. I miss my old place. I'm in mourning. I'm trying to get used to Blogger.

For a while, I had some hope AOL would rethink its position about the ads. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen, despite the outrage of many journalers, despite a mass exodus. As a result of the ads, AOL has lost many of its best journalers, most of whom seem to have ended up at Blogger.

Blogger does offer some intriguing features. For example, I kind of like how you can list favorite books and movies on your profile and then find other Bloggers who share your interests.

Below I have copied one of my recent posts from AOL, kind of like hanging a familiar picture in a new place to make it feel more like home. Hopefully soon I'll get myself to posting here regularly, like I did at my AOL Journal. I also hope to bring more of my AOL Journal entries here. It's going to take me a while to move, though.

*AOL Refugee: A phrase coined by my friend, Vince, who also came here from AOL.

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My entry from the other place.
I chose this one because it illustrates the interests I listed in my profile--reading, writing, loving:
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From "The Song of Songs"

Like an apple tree among the
trees of the forest
is my lover among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
He has taken me to the banquet hall,
and his banner over me is love.
Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love
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A fellow journaler recently expressed some sadness at not having found the perfect lover. The journaler writes of having unreturned love. I've found that the best writing comes out of such longing.

Walt Whitman once wrote of the pain of unreturned love, saying, "Now I think there is no unreturn'd love, the pay's certain one way or another. (I loved a certain person ardently and my love was not return'd, yet out of that I have written these songs.)"

There is nothing else to say: Channel your longing into your art.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Theresa Williams has left the building


This first post is simply to stress my disappointment with AOL, where I have kept a journal for more than a year. AOL, without prior notice and without our permission, has tacked banner ads onto our journals, causing a mass exodus and many sad hearts. Shame on you AOL.

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken

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Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych

Wishing

Wishing

Little Deer

Little Deer

Transformation

Transformation

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking Forward, Looking Back
CURRENT MOON

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