Saturday, October 18, 2014

A New Way To Think About Sculpture - Willard Wigan

I think I have become a bit of an insomniac with age, or perhaps  being a little OCD, I just listen to late night radio too much. I have CBC radio on all day, and then when I hit the old fart sack at night I listen to certain shows I love, and it helps me to fall asleep. Only problem is, it will wake me up at some point, then I turn it off, but find can't get back to sleep. I turn the radio on again, and so it goes.

I really miss International Radio Canada but still listen to World Radio, which often covers compelling items about art and artists. Last night in the wee dark hours I heard on BBC, a feature about a remarkable artist, Sculptor Willard Wigan, who creates incredible miniature sculptures, that unbelievably fit and are mounted in the eye of a needle. You have to see it to believe it. Here's the link.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

John Waters - " Car Sick "

 I was a hitch hiker, and sometimes, out of necessity I still am. Of course growing up all through the 60s, this was big adventure, and simply the best way to get around.for a teenager or young adult, and a lot of us did it.

Over the years of thumbing a ride, I've been picked up by Stompin' Tom Conners, farmers, fishermen, professors, a pot smoking senior, who told me she had a twin growing out the side of her rib, and even a truck drivin' Russian who loved the snow, which I found real weird, because I've never been a fan of Canadian Winters.

Hitch hiking does two things; restores your faith in humanity, and can provide reasons for hating the human race.

 I've been yelled at, given the finger from car windows by old ladies, left on the side of the road in the wee dark hours of the cold mornings, by a neighbour who did give me rides, up until the light faded from the time change, in the late Fall into Winter. I think he thought because it was so dark, I'd never know it was him driving right by me. He was wrong, I knew exactly who it was, because he was the only one that went by at 5:30 a.m. in the morning. Having the loveliest wife, I hoped she found him possessing some better aspect of humanity about him, than what I did, after that demoralizing, and disdainful experience.

 I had a few meltdowns out on the country road, being exhausted, broker than broke, and disillusioned, but all in all, I have to say, my experiences were positive.

 I was grateful to have a good sense of humour, and to the folks that picked me up, some of them went out of their way. Many had picked me up on more than one occasion, and generally speaking, folks that gave me a ride, made me feel really good about human beings.

I have a very vivid memory after finally getting my car when I was attending University, and no longer had to hitch hike an hour and fifteen minutes each way, to and from school. I was heading back home after classes and stopped to pick up a hitch hiker, because I could hardly wait to find one to pick up that day. It was a pay back for all the times people had been kind enough to stop, and give me a lift. This elderly fellow looked homeless, down and out on his luck. He was carrying around his belongings in a green garbage bag. My thoughts wondered what his story was , and if he had a place to stay. He said he was going somewhere to try and find work. I suspected he had mental health, and maybe alcohol problems. Before I dropped him off, he asked if I had a smoke, or a few dollars. I told him I didn't smoke and I was broke, which I definitely was. It at least felt good to be able to give him a lift, but I felt sad that he was in such a circumstance. People don't hitch hike usually these days for the adventure any more. They mostly do it because they have to.

I heard John Waters interviewed today for the second time, with Jian Ghomeshi about his new book, Car Sick, that documented his experience of hitch hiking, and what he learned. He had some really insightful, funny things to say.

If I ever see John Waters on the road hitch hiking, I'll be sure to stop, and pick him up, as I am certain he will do the same for me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Eleanor Wachtel Writers & Company - Jeanette Winterson

Eleanor Wachtel on Writers & Company is one my very favourite interviewers on CBC Radio. I love when she interviews artists. I've lost track of how many of her interviews I have heard over the years, and thought I'd heard just about every one until today, when I found article posted by Marie Popova about the interview Eleanor did in 1994 with Jeanette Winterson. What Jeanette Winterson has to say about art and artists is so insightful, and I think profound. So glad I found this today. I'll have to see if I can find the podcast to this one.

Jeanette Winterson on Time, Language, Reading, and How Art Creates a Sanctified Space for the Human Spirit

by Maria Popova
“Art can make a difference because it pulls people up short. It says, don’t accept things for their face value; you don’t have to go along with any of this; you can think for yourself.”
In September of 1994, beloved British writer Jeanette Winterson joined Canadian broadcaster Eleanor Wachtel on the air for a spectacular conversation, later published in More Writers & Company: New Conversations with CBC Radio’s Eleanor Wachtel (public library) — the fantastic collection that also gave us Chinua Achebe on the meaning of life and the writer’s responsibility.
Winterson — who was raised in a church and began writing sermons at age six with the intent of becoming a missionary, only to leave home at age fifteen after falling in love with another girl — reflects on what the preacher’s technique has in common with the artist. (After all, if the commencement address is the modern secular sermon of our time, it’s no wonder that the genre’s greatest exemplars are delivered overwhelmingly by celebrated writers.) She considers what evangelizing can teach a writer about compelling storytelling:
Of course it was extremely useful training to be brought up in an environment where you must attract other people to your way of thinking, you must win them over; it’s the art of persuasion, it’s rhetoric in the old-fashioned sense. I learned how to handle language and the spoken word and the written word, and I learned how to persuade. That’s what preachers do, that’s what preachers are, and the most successful preachers are the ones who are able to convince their audience that the audience themselves have got it wrong and the preacher’s got it right. And the artist tries to do this too—there are close parallels — except the artist does it in its own right, for its own sake, not for some higher purpose, not for God. You can see from the look on somebody’s face whether or not you’re persuading, and that does translate itself to the way you then write. It’s not that you have an audience in mind, it’s simply that you can imagine what will perhaps tilt the balance in your favor, how to get underneath the barriers and the defenses which people normally put up to protect themselves from intrusion.

Contemplating her greatest learning from the Bible, Winterson complements Virginia Woolf’s meditation on the glory of language by considering the liberating power of words:
For me, language is a freedom. As soon as you have found the words with which to express something, you are no longer incoherent, you are no longer trapped by your own emotions, by your own experiences; you can describe them, you can tell them, you can bring them out of yourself and give them to somebody else. That is an enormously liberating experience, and it worries me that more and more people are learning not to use language; they’re giving in to the banalities of the television media and shrinking their vocabulary, shrinking their own way of using this fabulous tool that human beings have refined over so many centuries into this extremely sensitive instrument. I don’t want to make it crude, I don’t want to make it into shopping-list language, I don’t want to make it into simply an exchange of information: I want to make it into the subtle, emotional, intellectual, freeing thing that it is and that it can be.

When Wachtel points out Winterson’s signature sensitivity to “the artifice of language and its limitations,” the writer responds:
Yes, it is artificial, but it is, as yet, the best way human beings have found to communicate to one another their deepest, their most difficult, feelings. And that is the preserve of poetry and of true fiction, to put roots down through the surface into the subsoil of the human heart and to draw up those elements that would otherwise lie locked there, unheard, unspoken, perhaps unregarded. Language can do that, and I think that it is the duty of the writer to go on pushing language forward because if it’s not developing, if it’s not growing, if people aren’t using it in unique and different ways while at the same time regarding its tradition, then that language is going to start atrophying.
For Winterson, indeed, the artist has a moral obligation to this forward-facing elasticity of form. Echoing Henry Miller’s memorable assertion that “all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis,” she adds:
Art forms must always change… You cannot stop in art, you cannot fossilize art in a redundant form, and you cannot take a point in history and favor it above any other point and say, ah yes, this is the way to do it. If you want to read nineteenth-century novels, there are plenty for you to read, and you may as well read the real thing and not go out and buy a reproduction. Personally, I loathe reproduction furniture; I’d rather have something made by a living designer, just as I’d rather have something made by a writer now who, whilst recognizing patterns and traditions, is prepared to go on pushing the experiment forward.
Winterson argues that ordinary readers are much more receptive to the type of experimentation that pushes art forward than professional critics can be:
Readers, I think, are more sophisticated on the whole than critics. They can make the jumps, they can make imaginative leaps. If your structure is firm and solid enough, however strange, however unusual, they will be able to follow it. They will climb with you to the most unlikely places if they trust you, if the words give them the right footholds, the right handholds. That’s what I want my readers to do: I want them to come with me when we’re going mountain-climbing. This isn’t a walk through a theme park. This is some dangerous place that neither of us has been before, and I hope that by traveling there first, I can encourage the reader to come with me and that we will make the trip again together, and safely.

One of Winterson’s most pause-giving points transcends the realm of art and touches on cosmology and philosophy. Reflecting on her intense use of history in fiction, Winterson reminds us that time is an abstraction that both contains and responds to our experiences, and examines the relativity of “reality”:
I can see no reason to be bound by chronological time. As far as we know, the universe is not bound by it; as far as we know, it is yet another construct of ours, this worship of the clock and the idea that there is a past and a present and a future which trot along obediently in line and never swap places. In our own lives we know that that’s not true because human beings seem capable of moving imaginatively, backwards and forwards, of pushing out of the body. I think of it really as an out-of-the-body experience — that’s not something that only shamans and New Age hippies have. It’s something that we all have quite often in our lives. And I wanted to bring that into fiction because it seems to me to be a more honest reality than the rather dull reality of the clock.
Responding to a line from her novel Art & Lies that Wachtel cites — “The nature of a work of art is to be not a part, nor yet a copy of the real world, but a world in itself.” — Winterson expounds on the limitations of time and, in the process, shines a beautiful sidewise gleam on what all great art does for the human experience:
Art & Lies is a journey into deep inner space, and the characters in the book are not characters in the physical sense that we know them on the street or perhaps even in our own lives. They are consciousnesses. They are ways of talking about ourselves, writ large, as we might be, more than we are. I know that the world of Art & Lies is a strange one, but it is a deeply emotional one and it is one which probes and peels away at the complacencies and habits that we take for granted and drag behind us as so much baggage in our lives. The worlds that I create are always worlds where it’s possible to find new space, not to be cluttered any more, to leave behind things which perhaps drag you down, things that you don’t need. In the book there is this freedom from gravity that we’ve been talking about. It is a sanctified space. And when you come out of it, what you do is up to you; but for a while it puts away the clutter and the jangle of modern life and gives time, infinite time. It may take four hours to read the book but actually it takes an entire life. The journey that you make is not one of the clock: it’s an interior one, and in it you travel through time, through space, through place.
To Wachtel’s question of “why sanctified space,” Winterson answers:
Because it’s a space that has been cleansed of other associations. It is itself, it’s coherent, it’s self-realized, it exists in its own right. Every work of art must be that; it must be a closed world. That is, you must be able to enter it and find it coherent and orderly, and be able to return to it to discover things you hadn’t found at first. But there is something cathedral-like about it: it’s a place where you can rest, contemplate, refuel and go out again knowing that it remains there for you. All art presents a sanctified space.
And in order to be able to craft this sanctified space, Winterson argues, the artist must come at it from a place of love. Echoing Ray Bradbury’s spirited defense of the right motives and Bukowski’s poetic homage to the only reason to write, she tells Wachtel:
If I wasn’t in love with language, what right have I to be here talking to you? What right have I to put pen to paper? It’s more than a job: it’s a life, it’s a vocation, it’s everything to me, and I must fulfill myself in that way and by fulfilling myself, I hope that I can give the best possible work to my readers.
But for a writer to do this wholeheartedly, Winterson — whose habit of reading five hours a day is rivaled only by Susan Sontag’s — argues for the essential, systematic immersion in language:
Unless I have a thorough soaking in all writers who have written in English then I cannot call myself an English writer. It’s a fantastic language, and to be ignorant of it as a writer is a sin that must exact the ultimate penalty, I think. If hell exists, that’s why one would go there, for calling oneself a writer and not knowing anything about English literature.

Winterson returns to the role of art in human life and society — something she has since explored beautifully in a short essay — and adds to history’s most memorable reflections on art:
Art can make a difference because it pulls people up short. It says, don’t accept things for their face value; you don’t have to go along with any of this; you can think for yourself. It gives you a kind of self-reliance. We all feel powerless and we can’t really manage to do anything because there’s just so much. I want to try and cut through those feelings of apathy and powerlessness and be a kind of rallying point, offer a rallying cry, to people who would otherwise feel dispossessed.
Wachtel, an elegant interviewer, springboards this into the grand question of how to live — perhaps the only common denominator between everything I read and write about here on Brain Pickings — to which Winterson answers with equal elegance:
It’s an individual answer, and it’s certainly not an answer that can be got easily. It’s the answer of a lifetime. It seems to me to be the work that we are here to do, to answer that question — first of all in our own lives and then as a community… But I do think [the question] has to be asked, and if people then begin to ponder on it and ask it of themselves, then that is a good thing. I do believe that when you start asking these questions, you find the answers that you need, if you’ll put in the effort, even if it takes a lifetime.
But the answer art gives us is that of many lifetimes. Winterson speaks to the combinatorial nature of creativity and the idea that, as Mark Twain once bluntly put it, everything is a combination of second-hand ideas, that art builds on what came before, that to create is to uncover existing relationships. Winterson reflects on the very origin of the word “invent,” which originally meant “to come upon” rather than to “devise” or “fabricate” out of nothing:
It’s from the Latin invenire, which means to come upon. This takes us back to Plato’s idea that we are in a continual state of remembering, that the human life span is to remember, to remember the things that we are, that we can be, that we’ve left behind — to remember the glories of the soul, as Plato would have seen it.
[For the artist] it is a question of always going back and uncovering what is already there because the artist is something of a dredger: you have to let down your net and pull up things from the mud, from the silt, that are unrecognizable, that have been forgotten, that have lain disused and ignored for a long time. You bring them up and you clean them off and you look at them and you bring them back into the present where they can speak, where they have a place. I think it’s a dual role of dredging and of cleaning, but then also of re-creating so that you are always offering something that is right for your own time, that is new in itself.

Echoing Emerson’s ideal of self-reliance, Winterson returns to art’s function as psychoemotional therapy, its power in fortifying our psyche:
To learn how to heal yourself seems to me to be the most important thing that you can do because at that moment you are genuinely self-reliant, and if other people hurt you — as they will — it won’t matter because you have now in your own hands the tools of healing.
I have to believe that in the end what is good, what is honorable, what is exceptional about human beings will triumph over what is simply small and mean and devious. If I didn’t believe that, I might as well slit my own throat now and certainly stop work, because writers have to believe that their words will carry on speaking to people and that there is a people worth speaking to. You have to believe in a kind of continuity, and you do especially because you look back at the past and you were glad that those books have been written, that they exist, that they are there for you now, and you want to go on adding to that.

Monday, October 13, 2014

" Not My Circus, Not My Monkey "

" Not My Circus Not My Monkey "- Polish Proverb

I love words of wisdom and proverbs. I listen and watch for things said, in conversations that I consider insightful, and in the future can be a useful tool for living.

I subscribe to a wonderful site from Rabbi Brain Mayer. He has something he calls, " Wisdom Biscuits " , from  Religion Outside The Box. If your looking for some good spiritual wisdom, as opposed to religious dogma gobbledygook I highly recommend it.

I read this one today from Rabbi Brian. Along with the quote from the Austrian-Bohemian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

 " Not my circus, not my monkey ". Such a great Polish proverb. Figuratively speaking it means simply, it's not my problem.

 Any one who knows what it's like to be a caretaker can identify with being rather preoccupied with the problems and concerns of others, and being drawn into situations that really aren't your concern or issue. I know I certainly have in the past.

This is a good one to write down on a post-it note to keep at the forefront of you mind, just in case you are tempted to join someone else's circus!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Martha Nussbaum - Take My Advice

I had a crazy kind of vivid, lucid sexual dream just before waking this morning. It was with a man I really don't know, but did years ago, and I have unexplainable feelings toward him. This got me thinking about what this dream meant. I conjectured that so many of us avoid wading into emotional waters in order to protect ourselves from getting hurt. We are afraid we might drown of we let go and give our already broken hearts to another. Or perhaps the dream was about wanting what I can't have. Regardless my dream certainly does not match my reality. But it was an curious reflection, and I do believe our dreams can tell us about the greater and lesser secrets of the inner world.

I am not big on giving or getting advice, suggestions yes, but here is the best piece of advice I've heard in a long time, from  philosopher Martha Nussbaum, a letter she wrote, that can be found in James L. Harmon's book, Letters To The Next Generation From People Who Know A Thing Or Two. She writes about the importance of having a rich inner emotional life, not fearing feelings, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and how story telling can nurture empathy.

" Do not despise your inner world. That is the first and most general piece of advice I would offer… Our society is very outward-looking, very taken up with the latest new object, the latest piece of gossip, the latest opportunity for self-assertion and status. But we all begin our lives as helpless babies, dependent on others for comfort, food, and survival itself. And even though we develop a degree of mastery and independence, we always remain alarmingly weak and incomplete, dependent on others and on an uncertain world for whatever we are able to achieve. As we grow, we all develop a wide range of emotions responding to this predicament: fear that bad things will happen and that we will be powerless to ward them off; love for those who help and support us; grief when a loved one is lost; hope for good things in the future; anger when someone else damages something we care about. Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them. Perhaps males, in our society, are especially likely to be ashamed of being incomplete and dependent, because a dominant image of masculinity tells them that they should be self-sufficient and dominant. So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences. The current psychological literature on the life of boys in America indicates that a large proportion of boys are quite unable to talk about how they feel and how others feel — because they have learned to be ashamed of feelings and needs, and to push them underground. But that means that they don’t know how to deal with their own emotions, or to communicate them to others. When they are frightened, they don’t know how to say it, or even to become fully aware of it. Often they turn their own fear into aggression. Often, too, this lack of a rich inner life catapults them into depression in later life. We are all going to encounter illness, loss, and aging, and we’re not well prepared for these inevitable events by a culture that directs us to think of externals only, and to measure ourselves in terms of our possessions of externals.
What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. Storytelling plays a big role in the process of development. As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. As we grow older, we encounter more and more complex stories — in literature, film, visual art, music — that give us a richer and more subtle grasp of human emotions and of our own inner world. So my second piece of advice, closely related to the first, is: Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others. "

Friday, October 10, 2014

Joni Mitchell/ World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Growing up with loved ones who suffered from mental illness and being affected by this, Joni Mitchell's music and lyrics were sanctuary and a kind of therapy to me, not unlike every other young teenaged girl growing up in the sixties. She helped me grow up, understand myself, and gave me comfort, in feeling like I was not alone in my mental angst and despair. I always knew in my heart, that she had experienced similar feelings in one way or another.

Today the site Brain Pickings has a post written by Maria Popova entitled, Joni Mitchell On Therapy and The Creative Mind, and about Joni Mitchell's new book, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Doug Copeland - Kitten Clone

Doug Coupland is a great guy, pretty darn handsome too. Look at those piercing steel gray eyes! I could listen to him, and his intelligent ramblings all day. I've only read a couple of his books, Generation X, his first book, and I can't remember the other, or maybe there wasn't another :( Truthfully I rather listen to him talk than read his books.

Doug Coupland is a curious combination of intellectual, humourist, gifted artist, and a kind of sage-like visionary. I would compare him to a much more interesting modern day Marshall McLuhan with big creative artistic twist, and having great insight into our contemporary culture.

His new book about the internet and Alcatel-Lucent, entitled Kitten Clone. He was on the current this morning and as usual he did not disappoint, and I going out to get his latest book Kitten Clone!
Here's the link to this Anna Maria Tremonti's interview with Doug Coupland on The Currrent.