Moving piece . . .
“When children are trying to make sense of things that are beyond their understanding, they will usually try and work it out within the context that they do know and understand. … I watch as art is used as a reconnection point, the bridge, between the destruction of self, and the beginning of some sense of future, of hope. It seems that in this reclamation of the soul art is reborn”. – Justine Hardy, author and trauma psychologist, on art, conflict and healing.
Alice, Milton & Oscar: Making Sense of it All
Later much later, but before she had discovered that Oscar wasn’t really wild, and Milton’s paradise wasn’t lost, at least not lost the way she perceived it, rather that it wasn’t in the place that she had put it, and it was there after all, on the book shelf, partly covered…
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Graphic artist and history buff Frédéric Duriez digitally colorizes vintage black and white photographs, breathing new life into their subjects. Duriez started colorizing war images three years ago, and today his work ranges from old mug-shots to actors and actresses, and most recently, ghost-like portraits from the Victorian era.
The incredible images depict glum-looking children, extravagantly dressed; a sullen young couple, adorned in frilly clothing; a pair of young women, their hair perfectly pinned back; and earnest men, posing proudly. Duriez explains he chose the images because he “was attracted by the beauty of the clothes and especially the dresses of this period.” He adds, “I was fascinated by these portraits without expression because all the looks are frozen in time.”
From monochrome hues, Duriez uses the open-source software GIMP to transform the portraits, presenting brightly colored clothing, blushed cheeks, and in…
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Beautiful poetry for your Sunday morning.
I send my heart out
wrapped in tissue paper
a bow on top
the emotions spring forth
a river overflowing
these feelings I have
when your image appears
on the street before me
the way your eyes shine
when you tell an amusing story
the tilt of your head
when in conversation
your smile when you dance
your bold assertions
leave me without air
to twist and turn
unable to express
what must remain unspoken
and thus reduced to words
my inner character exposed
in what I write
in what I do
but never in what I say
I speak through fictional poses
to the one who exists
in my mind
hoping somehow you’ll hear
the song in my heart
After Kenyon’s missionary friends are openly hostile to William joining their mission to the new Indian reservation at San Carlos, William blanches at the idea of first traveling back to Fort Grant to request a military escort but he has no other options.
By late day the team of missionaries and their hungover artist rolled up at Fort Grant’s entrance. William hung behind the others, but a guard spotted him.
“Sakes alive, it’s Bill Weldon. What’s he doin’ in among holy folk?” one asked another.
William kept his eyes to the ground with crimson cheeks as he walked along Officers’ Row.
“Willy? Willy!” came Thankful’s cry.
William tried his best to ignore the raven-haired beauty who ran after him. Thankful caught the heavily burdened men. “Oh, goodness, William Weldon, what’s happened to you?” Thankful exclaimed, grabbing his arm. “New clothes and all—and your hair! You look adorable!” she laughed.
“Thankful, it’s nothing really, I . . .”
Seth Kenyon and the other men tipped their hats.
“Hello, young lady. We’ve hired on your friend as our artist,” Kenyon said.
Thankful clapped her hands in amusement. “Did you make him cut his hair that way?”
“No, Thankful, it was Ginny,” William said.
Thankful’s face clouded and her mouth was grim.
“We’re missionaries, miss, to work among the Apaches at San Carlos,” Kenyon said.
Thankful kept her eyes on William. “I don’t understand, Willy—you’re going with them? It’s dangerous there.”
“Yes, I’m going for the money—that’s all—the money.”
Thankful turned to the missionaries. “Oh, I’ve prayed for so long that William would leave town—but the reservation, Mr. Kenyon? Do you think he’s fit for it?”
William winced. And Thankful saw it.
“By the way, gentlemen, my name is Thankful Crenshaw. I stay with Captain Markham’s family. If there’s anything I can do for you . . .”
The missionaries were suddenly all smiles. “Miss Crenshaw, you’re very kind. We’re off to headquarters . . .” Kenyon said. “But if you can keep Mr. Weldon out of trouble for a few minutes, I’d appreciate it,” he teased and slapped William’s back.
William didn’t want to go anywhere near the officers at headquarters but didn’t relish a conversation with Thankful either. The men deserted him.
“I know that I’m ridiculous to you,” William mumbled, rubbing his close-cropped mane.
“Oh, no, William! Not at all. Was it only two days ago that you were drunk at the dance? And now you’re to become a missionary? It’s exciting and wonderful for you—though scary, but I’m glad that awful Miss Peckham had such an effect on you.”
“I’m not going to be a missionary, Thankful and Miss Peckham had no effect on me at all! And why do you have to mention my drinking all the time?” William grumbled.
Thankful sighed and tied her bonnet tighter. “Willy, I’m happy for you. I laughed because now with your hair you look so like you used to in Englewood—but appearances are deceiving, I suppose. You are the man the West has made you,” she said with bite.
“I’m glad I’m not the way I was in Englewood—a burden and a fool.”
“I don’t know what you mean, Willy.”
Two riders and their horses streaked past, circled and came up beside them. Miss Peckham and Fahy dismounted. “My God, Bill, you’ve been scalped!” Fahy laughed too heartily and Miss Peckham joined in. Fahy continued, “I wouldn’t have expected you to show yourself here for a while after what you did to poor Miss Peckham’s things.”
“Be quiet, Lieutenant Fahy,” Thankful scolded. “William has found work with the missionaries.”
“The missionaries? You must be joking,” Miss Peckham responded. “They must be desperate for recruits!”
“They seem nice,” Thankful said.
“Nice until you’re snared in, and they’ve taken over your life!” Miss Peckham replied.
“I won’t be snared,” William explained. “I’m just looking to be paid.”
“There’s the Bill Weldon we know and love,” joked Fahy.
“Well, all I can say is that I’d never want to be involved with religious types,” said Miss Peckham, “selling the ignorant tribes a false bill of goods in the form of ancient bedtime stories. They’re no better than the contractors skimming annuities.”
“The Indians deserve no better. Don’t you agree, Bill? Didn’t your uncle die at the hands of savages?” Fahy asked.
“Yes, I’m no fan of Indians,” William replied.
“The best thing to do is to not allow any more undesirables have children until everything is sorted out,” Miss Peckham said.
“When will the world be sorted out? Humanity is fallen . . .” Thankful began.
“Humanity is capable of much improvement,” Miss Peckham asserted. “I for one don’t plan to wait for divine intervention. We can, through science and understanding, create a wonderful society. No missionary I know of has been able to keep Indians from debauchery and still they multiply—like the Irish.”
“I’m Irish, you remember, Miss Peckham,” Fahy said, twirling his mustache between his fingers.
“You’re hardly the type I’m talking about—you have control. The swarms of illegitimate children back east are very troubling indeed,” Miss Peckham explained.
William caught a desperate look on Thankful’s face. “Thankful, I’m surprised to see you not out riding. Are you unwell?” he asked.
His question cut to the bone. William saw it and felt like a cad, but how could Thankful be so stupid to give herself to Fahy before marriage?
“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”
“I had staked no valuable amount of hope or fear; it had enabled me to pass the summer in a novel and agreeable way, [and] afforded me some grotesque specimens of artificial simplicity.” Nathaniel Hawthorne from The Blithedale Romance
Having sent one of my main characters, BUCK CRENSHAW, to a 19th century perfectionist community based on THE ONEIDA COLONY and having lived on a modern-day farm with utopian pretensions, and having worked on yet another farm with similar pretensions, I was excited to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance—to compare his opinions with my own.
The book is a strange one; seeming to first be about the utopian society and then about the mysterious history of two female characters. Many of the people I’ve met in my utopian circles, who often disdained “conventional society,” tended to be running from some real or imagined life of mystery and horror.
Unlike my character Buck who arrives at my fictional “Middlemay Farm” as a somewhat prudish and naïve babe in the woods, Hawthorne’s narrator, Miles Coverdale is a poet who manages to keep just enough of his individualism to begin to question the motives of the charismatic leader of the Blithedale community. This leads to the first thing one can expect when joining a society of people who think they know just how to fix the world, and by world I mean other people.
A reform movement usually has a charismatic leader who, while possessing a dynamic sexual energy (felt by one and all), is actually kind of gross, mean-spirited and selfish in his desire to change the world as he sees fit. This man may be, as at Blithedale, a man who is obsessed with prison reform. Miles Coverdale is shunned when he expresses honest concerns about Hollingsworth’s grand schemes of reform:
“They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience … They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them, and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly straight path.”
At Middlemay, Richard Rhinedale is obsessed with sexual reform. Buck becomes a useful pawn until he is no longer useful. The socialist farmer I worked for was obsessed with Cuba, wind energy and shocking Hasidic Jews (who paid for farm tours) with his hatred of their religion. He did this in the name of women’s rights but it seemed to me that he was bitter at losing his own faith while attending Yale Divinity School. I was also shunned for questioning a socialist idea.
These strangely charismatic men often attract women who are willing to fund the leaders’ pipe-dream endeavors while also accepting the men’s only slightly veiled contempt for said women. Miles Coverdale is shocked by the mad infatuation and devotion the two lead female characters have for the brooding, self-absorbed Hollingsworth.
Utopian women often subject themselves to “free love” once they are convinced that it will improve their relations in the long run. At Blithedale, the woman perceived to have money is thrown aside when it becomes clear that she has nothing.
In MY NOVEL, Richard’s wife is given the job of training young men to control themselves sexually. This is Richard’s inside joke since he finds his wife so repulsive and assumes the young trainees will control themselves with little coaching. As I mentioned in a post long ago, a friend raised in a Utopian society bitterly remembers his mother’s neglect due to her devotion to “the cause” of socialism in the 1960’s.
Many (if not most) people who dive into this lifestyle really don’t like people they consider “common.” For instance, I’ve heard many an erudite farmer blame regular farmers’ stupidity for the loss of their family farms. The fact that many of these perfectionists often rely on unpaid labor in the form of eco-apprentices or converts to their cause and often aren’t more successful than the regular guys who don’t read Mother Earth and Foreign Affairs, their disdain seems pretty hypocritical.
One farmer I knew insisted on only using horse-power-unless he was in a hurry. His contempt of modern machinery was thrown aside when he butchered a lame old goat with a dull knife in front of a family of Hassidic Jews in the rain and unceremoniously shoveled up the animal with his tractor. Hawthorne brilliantly captures the uncouth but far more able true farmer who trains the city folk at country life.
Manual labor is often “spiritualized,” says Hawthorne, with the actual sweat on someone else’s brow at these colonies. There is something quite lovely about raising your own food, living by the seasons and going to sleep tired, but the work is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. From a distance golden hay bales look beautiful at sunset, but hay up close means work, sweat and worry. It doesn’t take long for those of us with big ideas to realize that picking and hauling potatoes isn’t the glamorous thing it looked like in the old peasant paintings. Hawthorne quips,
“I seldom saw the new enthusiasm that did not grow flimsy and flaccid as the proselyte’s moistened shirt-collar, with a quarter-of-an-hour’s active labor, under a July sun.”
Usually when living in utopia people start dressing funny. Many of these reformers think they are quite unconventional yet in most cases they only trade one uniform for another. Whether it be at the Oneida Colony where dress reform was explored or on your basic farm as at Blithedale. When city folk come for a visit you’re usually pretty shocked at how far off the path you’ve gone in terms of fashion. Zenobia, the beauty at Blithedale, wears a hothouse flower in her hair. In the city it’s a flower of jewels. I suppose it’s true that in real life we buy more fake things. Certain high-end farm gear is always in style on the “better” farms these days (on others the badge of honor is wearing 100% thrift store items—I do both ;)).
Utopians hate the present. Some romanticize the past. Some, at the very beginning of their endeavors, worship the future. In the present, many feel misunderstood, angry at humanity and depressed. I’ve seen this myself far too many times. It’s sad because if these reformers actually stepped out of their dream/nightmare they might possibly see some of the pleasant things in life that make humanity and the world worth saving.
A very odd thing I’ve noted and Hawthorne mentions is that there’s usually a utopian who insists on being called by a name that isn’t their own. I’m still not sure what to make of a young lady I once met who called herself “Fiddlin.” She didn’t play an instrument as far as I know. Zenobia at Blithedale sported a fake name as well (for mysterious reasons).
Utopians are bound by their hatreds:
“Our bond, it seems to me, was not affirmative, but negative. We had individually found one thing or another to quarrel with, in our past life, and were pretty well agreed as to the inexpediency of lumbering along with the old system any farther. As to what should be substituted, there was much less unanimity.”
Hawthorne, like many other people who end up deserting these attempts to change the world one elevated summer at a time, sees the characters he once called friends as tragic and deluded.
Related: UTOPIA & SEX
***Peasant Girl by Jules Breton
“To hear never-heard sounds,
To see never-seen colors and shapes,
To try to understand the imperceptible
Power pervading the world;
To fly and find pure ethereal substances
That are not of matter
But of that invisible soul pervading reality.
To hear another soul and to whisper to another soul;
To be a lantern in the darkness
Or an umbrella in a stormy day;
To feel much more than know.
To be the eyes of an eagle, slope of a mountain;
To be a wave understanding the influence of the moon;
To be a tree and read the memory of the leaves;
To be an insignificant pedestrian on the streets
Of crazy cities watching, watching, and watching.
To be a smile on the face of a woman
And shine in her memory
As a moment saved without planning.”
Painting: Venus Veiling Pandora by Charles Courtney Curran
No matter the genre or time period, all good literature tells something about how to be human. I don’t mean the classic elements for writing like plot, character development, conflict, setting, and resolution to the dilemma. I mean the motives for human interaction: love, honor, quest, change, relationships, violence, fidelity, revenge, sensuality, history, courage, cowardice, defense – these are the scaffolds of writing because they are the markers for living. They are what make people tick, what stimulates their actions. A story should expose the extraordinary range of human behavior, morality, intelligence, corruption, and spirituality.
To me this is key: how one feels about one’s place in the universe and how one functions in response must be the essential blueprint of the story.
Just a Thought 8
Painting The Storm by Pierre Auguste Cot, 1880, courtesy Wikipedia
MY MESSAGE TO EVERYONE is to NEVER STOP SEEKING PURPOSE! Never settle for what others think is enough for you.
For most of my life I drifted with that uneasy feeling of never finding a life purpose. As a purpose-driven person I dove deep into things I was only mildly interested in and relationships that were fascinating but dysfunctional. At the time these weird relationships and ridiculous career choices were only slightly amusing–to others. Family and friends thought I was successful enough. They thought I was too serious. I was doing pretty normal things fairly well, but internally I was in a constant state of unrest.
Then I wrote a novel about life, family, love and addiction. One hundred pages into the first draft I knew, I really knew, that I’d found my purpose–or that I’d finally listened to the inner voice given to me at birth. And now with the end of one long novel about an addicted soldier and his wife and a series about their offspring coming to a close after 5 books, I’m satisfied.
This doesn’t mean I plan to die from Lyme complications or that I’m tired of writing, but if I had to stop after I publish the novel I’m editing right now, I’d be okay. Before I was never okay. I was a caged tiger, a malnourished creative and a diamond in the rough.
Some people who like epic sagas loved THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD (a few didn’t). The next books starting with WEARY OF RUNNING are shorter and possibly better, but I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish writing the series I’ve hardly talked about all the fun, sad and exciting characters who’ve become a second family to me. Now I know what happens to them all, and I can’t wait to share them with the world.
I don’t know where I end, but it’s okay. It really is.
My mission was to write imperfect characters. That I’ve done. Will readers understand the hearts hidden behind pride, fear, stupidity and a desperate need for love and meaning? I hope so. The mission was (and is) to take imperfect people and let them know they are loved. I love them.
My fantastic designer and I decided with the series nearing completion that it was time to re-do the covers. They so fantastically capture the spirit of the books I have a hard time not bringing them into every conversation I have with strangers.
Aren’t they beautiful?