Tuesday, December 28, 2010
I dreamed of Ghana last night. I woke up remembering how this trip change my life in ways small and large . This morning I came across some pictures I took while traveling down one of the highways. I love this picture, how the overcast field was bejeweled by a faint but brilliant band of a rainbow.
I thought of Rumi and one of my favorite poems by him. So in this season of Kwanzaa on this day of the third principle, Ujima ( Collective Work and Responsibility.) I offer you a poem by Jelaluddin Rumi, the 13th century mystic poet.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks
Friday, December 24, 2010
My father bought the book some 47 years ago to read to us. For years my mom and dad took turns reading until me, my brothers and sister became old enough then each of us in turn had the honor of reading from the book. Because I am the oldest I was the first child to read. Mom and Dad are gone but the tradition continues. The next generation is now reading continuing the tradition.
My favorite part of the book is the last passage perhaps because it emphasis the power of the story teller in every culture and religion. So I leave you with this from the little, tattered blue book.:
When the shepherds returned from Bethlehem, they told everyone what they had seen in the stable. And all who heard it marveled at their story. It has been told and retold every since.May the peace and joy of Christmas be with you and yours always.
I hope you are a skin horse to somebody special in your life.
What is a skin horse? You ask.
A skin horse is somebody who is wise in the ways of the world and tells you the truth about life and living even when you may not want to hear it. My character Grace skin horse is named Dr. Monroe.
It is this part of the story that seems to resonate with many readers. The question the rabbits asks about, what is "real" is a question we all ask or maybe should be asking ourselves and others all through our lives.
The skin horse has his own book but it not as well know at the rabbits story. It's kind of a shame, because the Skin horse is a powerful charater. I've been able after a long search to find a copy of The Skin Horse can't wait to read it in full.
For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn't know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.
There was a person called Nana who ruled the nursery. Sometimes she took no notice of the playthings lying about, and sometimes, for no reason whatever, she went swooping about like a great wind and hustled them away in cupboards. She called this "tidying up," and the playthings all hated it, especially the tin ones. The Rabbit didn't mind it so much, for wherever he was thrown he came down soft.
One evening, when the Boy was going to bed, he couldn't find the china dog that always slept with him. Nana was in a hurry, and it was too much trouble to hunt for china dogs at bedtime, so she simply looked about her, and seeing that the toy cupboard door stood open, she made a swoop.
"Here," she said, "take your old Bunny! He'll do to sleep with you!" And she dragged the Rabbit out by one ear, and put him into the Boy's arms.
That night, and for many nights after, the Velveteen Rabbit slept in the Boy's bed. At first he found it rather uncomfortable, for the Boy hugged him very tight, and sometimes he rolled over on him, and sometimes he pushed him so far under the pillow that the Rabbit could scarcely breathe. And he missed, too, those long moonlight hours in the nursery, when all the house was silent, and his talks with the Skin Horse. But very soon he grew to like it, for the Boy used to talk to him, and made nice tunnels for him under the bedclothes that he said were like the burrows the real rabbits lived in. And they had splendid games together, in whispers, when Nana had gone away to her supper and left the night-light burning on the mantelpiece. And when the Boy dropped off to sleep, the Rabbit would snuggle down close under his little warm chin and dream, with the Boy's hands clasped close round him all night long.
And so time went on, and the little Rabbit was very happy–so happy that he never noticed how his beautiful velveteen fur was getting shabbier and shabbier, and his tail becoming unsewn, and all the pink rubbed off his nose where the Boy had kissed him.
( To be continued)
Thursday, December 23, 2010
The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Becaome Real begins on Christmas. So for the next couple of day I thought I would put up a page by page of the the original picture book story with the original illustrations.
But first. a few words about the author. Margery Williams Bianco (1881-1944) was born in London , and first came to the United States when she was nine years old. She lived in the United States and England alternately for the rest of her life. Her first adult novel was published when she was 21, but the Velveteen Rabbit( Pub. 1922) was the first, and best-known, of her thirty children's books. Something I did not know about her was that her last book Forward Commandos! ( 1944), a story of wartime heroism, included an African American Soldier as one of it's Charaters. Acknowlegement of the contribution of blacks to the war effort was extremely rare during that era and that fact was noted in the book's reviews. Margery Willima Bianco did not live to see World War II come to an end. As Forward Commandos! went on sale she died at the age of 63.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
Much of my adult life I have been more a quilter than a writer. For years I told the stories I had about African American life with fabrics, thread and needles. Even though I loved books, I never thought I could write a novel, didn't think I was really smart enough to do that. But then a story, a story I knew was my story, caught my imagination and I was compelled to set out my writer's journey.
Writing fiction, I would find, was a lot like piecing and quilting fabric . You stitch thousands of words together to create an intricate pattern of theme, plot and characterization. Then, one by one, you layer all the pages, one on top to the others, to produce what you hope will be an interesting and powerful work. Over the years, I became more writer than quilter because I found I couldn't serve two obsessions properly. However, recently my fabric love came back to me in the form of an invitation to celebrate the anniversary of a quilting project I was involved in some 13 years ago.
In 1997 a few of my quilts were selected to appear in the book, African American Quiltmaking in Michigan put out by the Michigan State University Museum. I remember being so thrilled to be included. It felt wonderful to have my quilts documented as part of Michigan history. Afterwards, I felt confident enough to open a small studio where I taught African American quilting for years. Then, the writing fever hit and I became more of a novelist. I thought quilting for the most part was in my past.
Imagine my surprise when two weeks ago I got a invitation to the African American Quiltmaking in Michigan reunion. The Michigan State University Museum is holding reception for the quilt artists and quilt owners whose work were featured in the book and exhibit. The reception is a part of the Unpacking Collections: The legacy of Cuesta Benberry. A Symposium on Researching and Using Quilt History Collections. Saturday morning I will be heading up to Michigan State to celebrate the quilter I was and still am. I plan to do the full day of lectures in addition to going to the reception, because quilts and quiltmaking have become an an important part of my next novel. After ten years, my two artistic halves are now merging into a joyous creative whole and that is a wonderful thing.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Where have I been ?
I’ve been away editing my speculative novel Act of Grace, putting more shine on the pages before it goes out into the wilderness of readers and critics. It has been an amazing journey back into my Grace’s world of conjuring, faith, African American mythology and magic. It was good to be back in her company again. She is so different from when she first flowed out on to my yellow note pad some ten years ago; but then I was a inexperienced writer back in those days-- full of more passion than skill.
Grace was born shouting, her first words came in a very vivid dream one night . Woke me from a deep sleep, with what was then the first line of the novel. After that she didn’t shut up or stop growing until I was done and she and I had a publisher. Every now and then I still hear her voice as I work on my second novel and let’s just say my new characters are not amused.
Soon Grace will be speaking to a wider audience. I’ll be blogging more because as her world opens up I will have more to say.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
But I had the wordy itch and finally it occurred to me that I at least needed to try and scratch it just once. One evening as I went to an event at a local community college, I saw a poster for the school’s literary journal Northern Spies. They were requesting submissions so I sat down and over the next two weeks composed an essay about my grandfather. To my delight and surprise, Northern Spies accepted my little essay. There was a fancy reception and reading for those whose work they published. I remember being nervous as I got up in front of a small but appreciate crowd to read:
The Nature of Happiness.
On this winter day with cold so deep one could call the sun a liar, I have made my heart and archaeologist and sent it to sift through my past; down, down, down to the thin layer of subconscious matter that contain the faint images I have of my grandfather, who died when I was young.
Most of my memories of the Reverend Dr. John Van Catledge are created from my mother’s lore, but because he was what I wish to become scholar, writer, teacher most of what I understand about my grandfather flows from my small collection of his photographs and written works. Few photographers caught his smile. Some might say he had no love for the camera. To me, however, he embodied the African and African belief that constant smiling denotes a lack of seriousness, sincerity and character. What the Yoruba defined as ashe , a spiritual wisdom is what my grandfather projected with his calm eyes and sealed lips.
No, he had no mirth for cameras to steal, but his written work revealed a scholar’s joy of learning, a writer’s hope filled vision of life. There is one splendid letter he wrote to my mother about the nature of happiness. It is this letter I open now because today melancholy is too good a friend, contentment seems a distant rumor, and the sun still is a shameless liar. I will read myself well and whole again.
I didn’t know it back then, but the word, Ase literally means “ it is so”,or “may it be so.” I believe now that when I wrote that word down and then said it aloud up at the podium, I set into motion, the full power of my dream
Ase…it is so.
I am to be an author in a few months. Act of Grace, my novel will be birth into the world by Plenary Publishing come February 16, 2011.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Excerpt Two :
The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death
After such knowledge, what forgiveness
I have this memory left over from the hospital, Mr. Gilmore, that I feel I should share with you. I’m not even sure if it is real. It has the texture of being a figment of fever, trauma, drugs and remnants of Bible verses. I believe I was coming out of unconsciousness after surgery. I felt myself trying to shove aside the darkness the way you push away dirt to get out of a hole. Eventually I saw a circle of light with Monroe’s face stamped on it, and I stopped digging
“Exactly why did I save him?” I shouted up to Monroe.
“Love,” Monroe shouted back, “but not the kind of love one has for God or friends or lovers but Agape the love of redemptive good will for all people. It’s the kind of love that makes it possible to save an enemy.”
“Like when Jesus said love your enemy.”
“Yes,” Monroe replied, then I heard him chuckle “Dr. King once said that we should be happy Jesus didn’t say “Like your enemies, because like is such a sentimental and affectionate word. King’s view was that it was hard, perhaps impossible to be affectionate toward a person whose avowed aim is to crush you. Agape love allows us to get past the hate. It allows us to recognize the fact that all life is interrelated, all humanity involved in a single process. You did what one human sister should do for a brother.”
"I’m tired of being so damn magnanimous.”
“I know, Rabbit.” he told me, “but it’s important that you are.”
Love I am beginning to learn Mr. Gilmore is stronger than death and even a greater mystery than life.
Originally posted Jan 2008