Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Memory of Love

 Can you imagine yourself befriending a seven-year-old boy who happens to be a victim of physical and emotional abuse? This is is what happened to Marion, a fifty-year-old woman who lives by the sea in New Zealand.
  Marion is a retired physician who had migrated to New Zealand from Sweden, and she leads a solitary existence before she meets Ika, the shy boy who changes her life.
   The novel is made up of  three time periods in Marion's life. The different time periods alternate, so we read about the same character-- Marion-- as if they were different stories. Her present life is told in first person; her childhood is narrated in third person. Then there is a third story interspersed with these two stories. This third story is about Marion finding true love after she divorced  her husband, fourteen years before she meets Ika. This one is narrated in third person. The three stories are equally engaging.
  The author's prose is very simple. The first two chapters are lyrical and poetical, but the reader will be on tenterhooks throughout the whole novel. The book transported me to the landscapes of New Zealand, a place where  I lived for almost two years.
  What did I love about this book? There are many interesting thoughts and reflections. I loved to read how Marion describes herself in New Zealand, how she feels like an outsider there, even though she had adjusted to the place. I love how the author tells the story.
  It is shocking to read about people conniving in the physical abuse of a child: if people know about it and do nothing to rescue the child, they are conniving in it. On the other hand, it is  fascinating to witness how Marion's relationship with Ika unfolds, how they open up to each other and create a world of their own. Their communication goes beyond the realm of words. Ika is a gifted child with a natural ability to play the piano, but he also suffers from autism.
   Some scenes are idyllic and very romantic. Others are filled with tension. The novel flows well; this author will not bore you. There are a couple of situations that I did not find credible, but I can't tell you about them because I would be spoiling my review. On the other hand, I liked how she puts into words the psychological quirks of the community she lives in. I found this to be very realistic (I lived in a small community in New Zealand, so I know what she is talking about).
   If you want a book with a happy ending, easy to read, then The Memory of Love is a good choice.
   Let me share with you some quotes from this book:
"But there was no escaping the reality of the rest of the world. I was part of it by my sheer physical presence. This remote place where I existed was connected to the rest of the world in ways that I could not influence. I could ignore the world as much as I liked, but it would still be there and it would continue to affect me and my environment regardless of what I thought or did."
 "As he was, he was an extraordinary human being. Non-judgmental. Curious. Funny sometimes, though I never knew if it was intentional. I couldn't believe he would ever lose those qualities, but I knew it was likely to happen. Time would rob him of them, or life would teach him how to suppress them."
 "Someone once shrugged off something I had told him, saying that such things didn't happen in real life. That it was too far-fetched to be believable. But far-fetched things do happen. In fact, many people's entire lives are completely far-fetched. I think we are surrounded by extraordinary possibilities. Whether we are aware of them or not, whether we choose to act on them or not, they are there."
 "The road that is our life is littered with rejected, ignored and unnoticed opportunities, good and bad. Chance meetings and coincidences become extraordinary only when acted upon. Those that we allow to pass us by are gone forever. We never know where they might have taken us. I think they were never meant to happen."
  Linda Olsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1948. She left Sweden in 1986. She lived in Kenya, Singapore, the UK, and Japan, until she settled in New Zealand in 1990.
    Thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate each and every comment you make.
      May 2014 be a year of creativity and serendipitous connections.
        Thank you all for being there.
         Till next year...


Friday, December 20, 2013


  I am a lucky person: I have the privilege of working with seniors. My interaction with them inspired me to write this poem that was published by Gadfly Online today.
  Gadfly Online is an award winning publication that was pronounced "eccentric, odd and eclectic" by the Washington Post.
  Enjoy the read.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


  My poem Everything spins around its center was accepted by The Voices Project, a poetry journal.
    You can read it here.
    I hope you are all having a good week.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Not in numbers

  Bestsellers are not necessarily books with good quality writing. Selling lots of books does not mean that the story is well written. It means that the book was well promoted. Period. I have met writers on the blogosphere that may not be selling many books, but they are very talented and I believe their stories deserve more attention.
  Unfortunately, we live in a society that venerates figures, scores, numbers, budgets, standardized tests, number of followers, number of words written, number of books read, etc.
  I am not trying to say that numbers are not important, but when they become more relevant than quality itself the situation becomes absurd.  I see this problem at every level. The system wants to measure everything.( It makes me giggle at times. We treat numbers instead of human beings).
  A system that only cares about numbers runs the risk of turning us into automatons. I certainly don't connect well with people who are obsessed with numbers. I am more concerned with quality, sensitivity and other matters that are not translated into numbers.
  High sales are not a marker of good quality writing, and good scores in education don't guarantee that the students are more likely to think creatively, or that they will innovate in the future. In fact, knowledge changes over time. It is more important to be motivated to keep learning than to score well on a test.
 As I write this post I remember The Little Prince and his encounter with a businessman who was obsessed with counting the stars. He did not know why he was counting them, but he thought it was a very important matter. And so he kept counting them.

 Now those students at Harvard must be very worried about their scores because they did not remember the name of the capital city of Canada. Oh, well, you can't get everything in life.

Till next time.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Not NaNoWriMo but...

  I've been haunted by the main characters of a novel that has been unfolding in my mind lately. They don't leave me alone. If I ever wake up during the night, their conflicts and situations come together and give way to new thoughts and ideas, inviting me to scribble notes. (Insomnia is my enemy, but it can also be my friend.)
  Plot, characters and setting are all evolving into something that can't be squelched. They already seem to exist somewhere.  In my mind they  grow gradually, like the branches of a tree, and I have been doing some research on the subject of this novel. The act of learning more about it triggers new ideas and kindles my imagination. Even though I know the end of the story, I don't know how I will get there.
   I wrote the first chapter. It came out of me like a tsunami. This time I did not have to force it out. ( I had written two other drafts before.)
  Writers have more than one life. The lives of the characters in the stories they write and the lives of the characters in the stories they read. Then there are the ones that exist as possibilities in the tales  we imagine we will  craft one day.
  Life is intense, isn't it?
What have you been up to lately?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A visit to the zoo

  Autumn is a season of warm colors, crisp air and magical landscapes; it is a lovely time of the year to visit the zoo. But before we start this stroll, let me mention something.
  I enjoyed reading Richard Hughes's  blog post Getting older: getting younger. As time goes by, we can allow our minds  to expand, to open in different directions. We are constantly learning. (Richard, I love your blog but I can't comment on it because I don't have Google plus). When we do the things we love doing, we feel happy. I agree with you, Richard.
                  Let's keep walking; let the soft cool air caress our skin.
  Elephants are fascinating creatures...

          But don't get too close to them.


Recent research showed that elephants are able to communicate over many miles by using infrasound. Here's a wonderful video about the secret language of elephants

Human populations are taking over more and more elephant habitat. Poaching for ivory is another threat to elephants.
  Elephants are extremely intelligent and have long-term memory. They form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups called herds. These herds are led by the oldest female elephant. Males leave the family unit between the ages of 12-15. They live alone or with other males temporarily.

 Did you know that hundreds of South African lions are being slaughtered to make bogus sex potions for men?

 Lions are farmed under appalling conditions in South Africa for "canned hunting" where rich tourists pay thousands to shoot them through fences.
  Let's show president Zuma that this brutal trade is hurting South Africa's image as a tourist destination. He can ban this cruel trade. Yes, he can.
Here's a petition you can sign:

"Tiger bone wine" and other tiger-part medicines were banned after massive international outrage.

 There are only 3,200 tigers left in the wild today.
Unlike other cats, tigers love water and are very good swimmers...

  Flamingos mingle well with the autumn colors.
 Did you know that flamingos dance to attract their mates?
 Are you familiar with the Spanish dance called "Flamenco"?
You can watch them here.

During this interesting visit we meet the bonobos for the first time. Bonobos share 98 % of our DNA. They are our close relatives. You can read about them here.

  Bonobos live in the Republic of Congo and the population is believed to have declined sharply over the last thirty years.

As we contemplate  the foliage around us,
we come across these creatures who display their colorful costumes with pride.


But they are not interested in us. Not like   this giraffe at least.
I always wonder what she is thinking about whenever she stares at me...

The rhinos are also in danger of extinction. Here is a petition you can sign to help  save them:
Why can't we, human beings, live in harmony with other creatures? Something to think about...

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Autumn is my spring

 Autumn is my spring, a time of rebirth. Like an ocean wave, all those beautiful colors conjure up the memories of him, and he was the one who taught me so much about life.

He taught me that no matter what I go through, I can survive, physically and emotionally.
He taught me about inner strength and peace.
He gave me the most blissful memories and the saddest ones.
He taught me how fragile life is.
He showed me how my co-workers could behave like  a family to me.
He made me a mother for the first time.
He only lived nine months inside my body but he taught me not to judge other peoples' pain. He taught me about compassion.

  If you've never been inside the body and mind of a woman who was pregnant for nine months and then lost her baby,  don't tell her how she has to feel or what she has to do.
  If you come across a woman who lost her baby, don't tell her that she can have another one. Babies are not objects to be replaced.
   He was my son and he was gone too soon, but he taught me so much about life...
    I don't have the answers to all the questions, but I can say that autumn is my spring.
     "A mother never forgets."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The serendipity of life

   "The brain is wider than the sky."
   Emily Dickinson

   Less than a month ago I wrote a post to express how much I appreciate and enjoy Alice Munro's writing, and I reviewed her latest book, "Dear Life." Three weeks later, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  I've heard many times that short stories are not popular. Alice Munro is a short story writer.
  I've heard many times that people don't care for poetry. I recently wrote a post called "For Poetry Lovers... and those who don't care about poetry." In less than two weeks it had more than 400 views... and it continues to be a very popular post.
   A month ago politicians were planning to close one of the libraries in the town where I live. We spoke up to protect our public library. Then politicians decided that it would not be a good idea to close the library.
  Let's talk about literary rejections.
  The editor of Boston's Atlantic magazine told Louisa May Alcott's father that "she should stick to teaching because she would never succeed as a writer."
  Yesterday I went to the theater to watch Little Women. Interestingly, the play started  with Jo reading a rejection letter.
 It was a delightful experience  to revisit this novel, a book that must have shaped me in many ways. Watching this play awakened memories from my childhood. I must have read it when I was 12. I remember how "Little Women" ignited my passion for writing. (I felt identified with Jo's personality).

 Rudyard Kipling was told  that he did not know how to use the English Language.

 Richard Bach was told that nobody would care about the life of a seagull. After 18 rejections, his book was accepted for publication and sold one million copies.

Gertrude Stein spent 22 years submitting before getting a single poem accepted.

  Emily Dickinson was told that her poems were "devoid of true poetical qualities."

 Stephen King received dozens of rejections for "Carrie" before it was published and made into a movie.

 Don't pay too much attention to the naysayers. Keep doing what your heart tells you to do. I believe it is worthwhile.
  Don't let the naysayers shatter your enthusiasm and silence the voice of your heart. Don't allow their contempt to distort your views and motivations.
  The light of your dreams is the light that matters, the one that casts hope on the uncertainty of your life. Mistakes are inevitable. We all make them, but we don't need to let them hinder our actions.
 Naysayers don't always criticize us. They just make us feel that what we are doing is worthless or irrelevant. It is important to remember that their disdain is none of our business.
 My grandmother used to say that white butterflies presage good news. I'm not superstitious, but every time I see butterflies drawing silhouettes in the air I feel happy.
   Butterflies brighten my day, no matter what color they are...


Saturday, September 28, 2013

For poetry lovers... and those who don't care about poetry

"The sun strikes deep into the wells of the sky: depends on how you look at it -- for someone it is the hour to be shot at dawn, for me the infinite gift of red, of violet and blush-graying white above the bridge across the Loireo."
Tomaz Salamun

  Poetry is a universal dialogue that invites voices from every corner of the world. It embodies the desire to explore emotions and new realms.
 Poetry invites the mind to set itself free from its prison, but it is also a medium that can understand and console us. If I had to choose an anthology out of all the ones I read this year, I would pick Edward Hirsch's "Poet's Choice."
  Most of the poems he selected landed before my eyes just when I needed them - as if I had been destined to read them. Edward Hirsch brought together the voices of poets from all over the world without being biased by gender, country of origin, popularity, political ideas, religion or social class. Edward Hirsch was inspired and motivated by his passion for poetry.
   I was spellbound by Hirsch's essays on the poets and their works. I admire his wit,  sensitivity and open-minded approach. I savored each and every sentence he wrote and was compelled to read them more than once. This book is a masterpiece. It unleashes the vast universe of human experience.
   Not only did I fall in love with the poems he selected, but I also experienced a strong kinship to most of these poets.
 Now let me share with you Edward Hirsch's quotes on poetry:
  "I have tried to remember throughout that poetry is made by flesh-and-blood human beings. It is a bloody art. It lives on a human scale and thrives when it is passed from hand to hand."
   "Poetry is a means of exchange, a form of reciprocity, a magic to be shared, a gift. Poetry saves something precious in the world from vanishing."
   "Poetry challenges us to find meaning in the midst of suffering. Poetry answers this challenge. It puts us in touch with ourselves. It sends us messages from the interior and also connects us to others. It is intimate and secretive; it is generously collective."
    "Poems defend the importance of individual lives and rebel at the way individuals are dwarfed by mass culture."
    "I have carried poetry with me like a flashlight-- how many small books have I crammed into my pockets?-- and used it to illuminate other lives, other worlds. I discovered myself in discovering others, and I have lived with these poems until they have become part of the air that I breathe. I hope they will become part of the reader's world too."
 Some of the poets he included in this book are Jorge Luis Borges,  Sappho, Blaga Dimitrova, Charlotte Mew, W.B. Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, Czeslaw Milosz,  Radmila Lazic, Primo Levi, Taha Muhammad Ali, Yehuda Amichai, Kadya Molodowsky, Avraham Ben Yitzhak, Saadi Youssef, Cesar Vallejo, Miguel Hernandez, Pablo Neruda, Julia de Burgos, Alfonsina Storni, Octavio Paz, Amy Lowell, Naomi Nye, Wallace Stevens, Jane Mayhall, Dorothea Tanning, Kathleen Raine, Mark Strand, William Carlos Williams, Jane Mayhall, William Matthews, Robert Bly and many others.
 I believe there is something urgent about poetry, something that rescues us from our own uncertainty...
Ars Poetica

Write each of your poems
as if it were your last.
In this century, saturated with strontium,
charged with terrorism,
flying with supersonic speed,
death comes with terrifying suddenness.
Send each of your words
like a last letter before execution,
a call carved on a prison wall.
You have no right to lie,
no right to play pretty little games.
You simply won't have time
to correct your mistakes.
Write each of your poems,
tersely, mercilessly,
with blood -- as if it were your last.

Blaga Dimitrova (Translated by Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dear Life

Reading Alice Munro’s collection of short stories has been a sweet delight. She knows how to build suspense and how to make it escalate. Secondly, the characters feel real. She reveals the intricacies and quirks of human thoughts and lives. Her stories extort behaviors from the depths of human idiosyncrasies.
    I’ve also noticed that she evokes strong emotions in the reader—she made me sad or angry at the characters at times. Some of them are likeable and it’s easy to empathize with them and to feel deeply touched by their circumstances and situations. Others are not so likeable. For instance, there is a poet in a passionless marriage who gets obsessed with another man, and in giving way to her impulses she forsakes her little daughter. (This is the first story of the collection; it is called “To Reach Japan”). I couldn’t put it down till the end.
   The second story, “Amundsen”, is about a teacher who goes to work to a rural area where tuberculosis is prevalent. Then she becomes engaged to a doctor whose intentions are not as benign as we believe they are.
   Another unforgettable story is “Leaving Maverly”. It is about a girl who had a very strict religious upbringing in a small town. Yet, as time goes by, we learn that the outcome of this strict upbringing is quite a surprise.
   “Haven” is another story that I enjoyed. It is about a childless couple: a doctor and his wife. They are taking care of their niece -- the narrator-- whose parents are in Africa, working as volunteers. The wife has a docile personality and she lives to serve her husband. She is never upset, and everything she does seems to revolve around her husband’s life.
   “Dolly” is also one of my favorite stories. A mathematics teacher decides to stay at home writing entertaining biographies of Canadian novelists that have been neglected.  One day she discovers that she needs some company and opens the door to a stranger: a woman with a load of cosmetics.
    The subtle hints of social criticism she instills, through provocative comments, in some of her stories caught my attention. I will give you examples:
 “It would become hard to explain, later on in her life, just what was okay in that time and what was not. You might say, well, feminism was not. But then you would have to explain that feminism was not even a word people used. Then you would get all tied up saying that having any serious idea, let alone ambition, or maybe even reading a real book, could be seen as suspect, having something to do with your child’s getting pneumonia, and a political remark at an office party might have cost your husband his promotion. It would not have mattered which political party either. It was her woman’s shooting off her mouth that did it”.
  “It wasn't just her big bones and her big white nose, and the violin and the somewhat silly way you had to hold it—it was the music itself and her devotion to it. Devotion to anything, if you were female, could make you ridiculous.”
  There are fourteen stories in this collection, so I’m not going to comment on all of them, but “Dear Life” includes a unique gift: four of the stories are autobiographical. This is what Alice Munro says about them:
  “The final four works in this book are not quite stories. They form a separate unit, one that is autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact. I believe they are the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life.”
    Alice Munro’s characters stayed with me after I’d finished her stories -- as if I had met some of them in person -- and the scenes were so vivid that now I feel I have been in the stories myself.
     I also like the fact that some of her fictional stories are populated by characters that have an interest in books, writing, or some kind of art. It helps me to feel a deeper connection to them.
  Last but not least, Alice Munro breaks every single “rule of writing fiction”. I am referring to the "imaginary" rules that linger in literary groups and workshops. Her writing debunks all those myths. It captivates and enthralls me. Thank you, Alice Munro.

   Alice Munro is the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. She’s also a three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction and a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Two Women Inside One

 My poem "Two Women Inside One" was accepted by Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. You can read it here

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar"

 If you wonder what it feels like to be inside the mind of a person who suffers from severe depression, reading The Bell Jar will help you approach such a person’s reality. However, stating that this book is about a lady who falls prey to this disorder undermines the complexity of this fascinating book.
  This novel, which is based on true events that Sylvia Plath fictionalized, unravels the conflicts that trouble a young woman who struggles to meet the demands of a society that classified people into “losers” and “winners," while she attempts to be loyal to her identity and to unearth her true self.
  Esther is willing to figure out how to find her place in the world. At the same time, she tries to understand the nature of relationships between men and women. In doing so, she ferrets out the inconsistencies of these relationships, and how the moral code imposed on men and women differs from what happens under the surface. Through different situations, she exposes this reality with humor and irony.
  Esther Greenwood, the main character, tells us her story  in a conversational style that is effortless and captivating--Sylvia Plath knows where to place her metaphors. The raw honesty of her thoughts bemused me.
    How can we fail to understand what a depressive person feels after we have read the following remark?
   “If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn't have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
  Esther sees the world and her life through the stifling glass of “the bell jar”: her depression. Before descending to the bottom of her nervous breakdown, she dithers over what she should be doing with her life, what paths are the ones she should choose.
   Her doubts unsettle her. She is trapped in a snare, caught up by the false belief that she will not make the right decisions and will lose her chances to accomplish something meaningful. The metaphor of the tree illustrates her concerns.
   “From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.
  “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
  Her experiences in the asylums are memorable and interesting. It is hard for the reader to forget her acquaintance, Joan, who is almost like a friend to her despite the fact that she had dated the same man: Buddy Willard, a medical student.
 The ambiguity of the relationship between Joan and Esther is a recurrent theme. Esther states that she does not like Joan. Yet she also admits that she will always treasure her. "I thought I would always treasure Joan. It was as if we had been forced together by some overwhelming circumstances, like war or plague, and shared a world of our own."
 Interestingly, Joan's final decision foreshadows Sylvia Plath's destiny, and one cannot help but wonder about the blurred boundaries between fiction and reality.
  Another riveting aspect of "The Bell Jar" is revealed to us in the relationships she had with the psychiatrists who treated her. First, the cold distant encounter with her first psychiatrist, Dr Gordon. The treatment started by Dr Gordon was unsuccessful. Then with her second psychiatrist, Dr Nolan, she had a friendly relationship cemented by trust, and the outcome was different (Dr Nolan was also more knowledgeable). Through precise body language and realistic dialogues, Sylvia makes this relationship jump out of the page.
   I think physicians and psychiatrists will benefit from reading this novel, even though the set of events took place in 1953, when Sylvia Plath was a freshman in college.
   Many of the problems portrayed in this novel are universal. This is a literary classic that I thoroughly enjoyed, not only because her writing style is impeccable but also because her reality is as relevant today as it was in 1953.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.

There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Czelaw Milosz

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I mentioned the word passion on my previous post.
What is passion?
 I believe passion is the essence of any kind of art. In my writing life passion is the intense desire to create something with words. It is attached to discipline. Discipline is what helps you to attain your goals.
  My main goal is to read and write something meaningful. Let me be clear on this:  my passion is not to convince people to read what I write.
 Working on your creative passion brightens the shore of your island. It invites you to see the world through refreshed eyes.
  I also believe that being passionate is about being sensitive. Our societies may mock sensitivity and there is a general trend to believe that being sensitive means being weak. I disagree.
  Being sensitive makes you stronger. Being sensitive is about feeling the world under your skin. This does not make you weak. It makes you more compassionate and mindful, and it invites you to expand in different directions and to embrace the bittersweet side of life.
    Being passionate encourages you to create ripples that will reach the shore of other islands and universes.
  Working on your creative passion makes you feel the heat of spring amid the winter; it brings you a cool breeze in the summer. It’s like holding onto a raft in the turbulent waters of life.
    Working on your creative passion enables you to grow flowers in the desert and it infuses you with the resilience of a weed that survives a drought. Your passionate creativity transports you to diverse settings and will enhance your own identity by pouring over you a different one.
  There’s a time to feel sad and a time to feel happy, and the pain of different situations opens up bridges and highways to other souls. You need your solitude just as you need your time to share a part of yourself with others.
   Being passionate is what allows you to appreciate the beauty around you and to celebrate each second of your life because being sensitive is about being alive. (If you can’t feel pain, you are not as alive as you think you are).
  Being passionate is about conjuring up a world of possibilities under the rocks that you encounter in your journey. Working on your passion is like being inhabited by a population of birds in the core of your being. You watch the birds fly away in different directions, and you feel the bliss of knowing that a part of you exists in those birds while your feet are happily dancing on the ground.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Two of my short stories are out there...

 as part of two different anthologies, both in kindle and paperback.

  My short story “The Broken Wing of Your Ideal” is about a woman who volunteers to recruit people who want to learn to read and write  in a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires.
  This short story was accepted for the  Freedom Forge Press Anthology, which is a compilation of essays and fictional tales related to freedom.
  My story "A Hospital in Latin America" is included in the "You, Me & a Bit of We" Anthology. It is based on a true story that I fictionalized.
 The "You, Me & a Bit of We" Anthology is a celebration of writing in first and second person.
  I will probably be blogging less frequently in September because I will focus on other writing projects that need my attention. The news is that my blogging schedule will continue to be irregular on a regular basis.
  My question for you is the following: Do you prefer other bloggers to have a regular blogging schedule or are you indifferent to it?
   Another important reason for blogging less frequently is that I’m also starting a new job in September. Outside my writing life I have another career that I love. I don't make a living writing. Writing is  a passion, an inner call that I cannot silence. It is something I will do until I die. In fact, there is nothing I do without passion.
 I am made of passion. 
  Till next time.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Happy birthday, Jorge Luis Borges

 "A writer-- and, I believe, generally all persons-- must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art."

"Writing is nothing more than a guided dream."

"The mind was dreaming. The world was its dream."

"You have wakened not out of sleep, but into a prior dream, and that dream lies within another, and so on, to infinity, which is the number of grains of sand. The path that you are to take is endless, and you will die before you have truly awakened."

"A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changeable and durable images it leaves in his memory. A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships."

  I've been reading short stories and essays from "Labyrinths", a compilation of some of his work.
  How can  I describe the originality of his work? I can say that his stories are inspiring to the mind. He writes about the infinite, dreams, labyrinths and immortality. He creates imaginary and symbolic worlds while playing with the possibilities of time and space.
  His stories have historical, literary and philosophical allusions. Even if you can't grasp everything he intends to communicate, reading his stories awakens and fuels your imagination.
 Borges opens doors to unknown infinite corridors in the tunnel of the mind. He invites you to see the universe from imaginary perspectives. The power of his originality is intense. His prose is poetic and profound.
  Borges never wrote a novel. He crafted short stories, essays and poems. He identified himself first as a reader, then as a poet, and finally as a prose writer. Sometimes the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction  in his stories are blurred.
  Borges was born in Argentina, but he was nurtured on universal literature. His spiritual homeland was the world. In Argentina he was at odds with the Peronist dictatorship. For political reasons he lost his job as a librarian.
   "Any great and lasting book must be ambiguous, " he said.
   His international recognition came with the 1961 Formentor Prize, which he shared with Samuel Beckett.
  I shared a couple of his poems on my blog not long ago:

The Art of Poetry

Happy birthday, Jorge Luis Borges. Thank you for your legacy.

The Enigmas (poem)

I who am singing these lines today
Will be tomorrow the enigmatic corpse
Who dwells in a realm, magical and barren,
Without a before or an after or a when.
So say the mystics. I say I believe
Myself undeserving of Heaven or of Hell,
But make no predictions. Each man's tale
Shifts like the watery forms of Proteus.
What errant labyrinth, what blinding flash
Of splendor and glory shall become my fate
When the end of this adventure presents me with
The curious experience of death?
I want to drink its crystal-pure oblivion,
To be forever; but never to have been.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dreams and their meaning (Part II)

  If you have an interest in dreams and their meaning, Carl.G. Jung's "Memories, Dreams, Reflections" will mesmerize you. This book had a profound impact on my inner life. (I even had an epiphany close to the end of it).
  It is hard to describe this book because everything I say will undermine the depth of his thoughts, and I believe thoughts encompass  energy that is connected to personal experiences.
  I will complete this post with Jung's reflections in an attempt to communicate some of his insights without distorting them.
  This book is a trip into the recesses of the mind, an introspective account of  human experiences and reflections. Jung invites us to go beyond the realm of rational thinking and the boundaries of our reality.
   Jung starts narrating episodes of his childhood that reveal how he was at odds with his surroundings. He also wrote about his youth and how he decided to study medicine. Throughout the book he shares dreams and analyzes them. (If you have an interest in precognitive dreams and synchronicity, you will enjoy reading about his dreams).
  He also takes us to Africa, where he lived with different tribes and tried to plumb into the psyche of those people, struggling to capture their views, perspectives and dreams. The experience of being in touch with these people helped him to see his own culture with refreshed eyes. (He visited North Africa, Kenya, Uganda and India).
   Carl Jung was impelled to express his own ideas, and his boldness triggered some conflicts. His close relationship with Freud came to an end because of their different views and behaviors. As a result of this, many of his colleagues shunned Carl Jung.
  At one of their discussions, when they were analyzing their dreams, Freud refused to give details of a dream he'd had because he thought he would lose Jung's respect. Jung thought this was not an honest way of dealing with the matter.
      Last year I wrote a post about Carl Jung's Red Book and his confrontation with the unconscious. In "Memories, Dreams, Reflections" he gives us some information on some of the characters that appear in the Red Book.
   Another interesting aspect of "Memories, Dreams, Reflections" is the set of analytical reflections on different religions, but my favorite parts are in the last two chapters:
Chapter 11: On Life after Death
Chapter 12: Late thoughts.
 After his writing, there is an appendix of letters. Some of them were written by Freud. Others were written by Carl Jung to Emma, his wife.

 I've selected some of his quotes from the book because I think they deserve to be shared.

 "I have realized that one must accept the thoughts that go on within oneself of their own accord as part of one's reality. The categories of true and false are, of course, always present, but because they are not binding they take second place. The presence of thoughts is more important than our subjective judgment of them. But neither must these judgments be suppressed for they also are existent, thoughts which are part of our wholeness."
 "Rationalism and doctrinairism are the disease of our time; they pretend to have all the answers."
 "The unconscious helps by communicating things to us or making figurative allusions. It has other ways, too, of informing us of things which by all logic we could not possibly know. Consider synchronistic phenomena, premonitions and dreams that come true.
  "When one follows the path of individuation, when one lives one's own life, one must take mistakes into the bargain; life would not be complete without them. There is no guarantee-- not for a single moment-- that we will not fall into error or stumble into deadly peril. We may think there is a sure road. But that would be the road of death. Then nothing happens any longer-- at any rate, not the right things. Anyone who takes the sure road is as good as dead."
  "A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. They then dwell in the house next door, and at any moment a flame may dart out and set fire to his house. Whenever we give up, leave behind and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force."
  "In my medical experience as well as in my own life I have again and again been faced with the mystery of love, and have never been able to explain what it is. I had to lay my hand on my mouth. Whatever one can say, no words express the whole. To speak of partial aspects is always too much or too little for only the whole is meaningful. We are in the deepest sense the victims and the instruments of cosmogonic 'love'. Being a part, man cannot grasp the whole. He is at its mercy. He may assent to it, or rebel against it, but he is always caught up by it and enclosed within it. He is dependent upon it and is sustained by it. Love is his light and his darkness, whose end he cannot see."
 "Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views that others find inadmissible."
 "It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respect is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then life is whole."

"A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his demon."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

On lakes, ecopoetry and other matters

"To see a World in a grain of sand
   And a heaven in a Wild Flower
   Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
   And eternity in an hour."
 William Blake

 Who doesn't like to gaze at a blue lake? Who doesn't enjoy to soak the feet in its cool waters on a hot summer day? Don't we all enjoy the softness of the wet sand on our skin?
  Wisconsin lakes are associated with happy memories and experiences.
   Going to the beach, however, has become an unpleasant experience. The water in some places is now pestered by algae, and it stinks. Some areas  of sand look like coffee grounds. I noticed these changes last year when we lived  close to lake Michigan.
  Five years ago the water was clear. A friend of mine also encouraged me to look into the matter  after she expressed some concerns about the lakes in Wisconsin.
   One of the main culprits is pollution from factory farms. Unfortunately, the state is letting the industrial farms ignore water laws that protect the lakes.
    Industrial agriculture in Wisconsin creates as much untreated waste as 69 million people. That is 100 times more than the population of Milwaukee. Much of this animal waste ends up as run off pollution in the lakes, making them unfit for swimming, fishing or other activities. This waste is also associated with the proliferation of algae.
    It  is very important to make sure that the factory farms comply with the laws. You can read more on this here.
   Reading about ecology and the consequences of human interaction with the environment inspired me to write ecopoetry. I learned about this term for the first time when I came across this book at the library. It has a nice variety of nature poems and poems that deal with the interaction of human beings and the environment.
   How do we define ecopoetry? I did a google search to clarify this because I find the concept intriguing and interesting.
    Ecopoetry investigates the relationship between nature and culture, language and perception. Poetry is not limited by the intellect. It goes beyond the intellect and can provide deeper insights because it is intimately related to emotions and perceptions. It explores the connection between human beings and their environment, acknowledging that we cannot exist as separate entities.
    Even though there is no precise definition, the word ecopoetry embraces the ecological imperative for personal sensitivity and social change.
     James Engelhardt's essay "The Language Habitat, An Ecopoetry Manifesto" published at Octopus Magazine states that ecopoetry is about "connection". Poetry is a place to observe, to think, to negotiate between human and non-human concerns, to engage with environmental issues, whether directly or indirectly.
    Ecopoetry has an open-ended ability to ask questions.
 This is a list of literary journals and/or websites that have an interest in ecopoetry and environmental issues. If you would like to add a website or magazine that has an interest in environmental issues, feel free to let me know. Thank you.
Plumwood Mountain
Verse Wisconsin
Octopus Magazine

Friday, August 2, 2013

Life stories and a meaningful cause

"Many of the things can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer 'Tomorrow'; his name is 'Today'." Gabriela Mistral

    Sharon Bradshaw put together and edited a bunch of short stories and poems for a meaningful cause.
  The Hope and Dreams Anthology is about hope, endurance, love and second chances.
    My favorite story is “Amosi”, by Josephine Lilian Alice Grinham. This is the true story of a British woman who spent four years living in Tanzania. While she was there she hired a servant, Amosi.
   This story that moved me to tears will make you realize that little things we do can have a huge impact on somebody’s life. Sometimes we are too busy to notice this. All I am going to say is that Amosi is not a character that you will forget. This is a tale of honesty and friendship.

   Peter Caunt’s story “The End of School” is about a child in Africa, James, who is highly motivated to learn and study, but the school building has just been demolished for unclear reasons.
 The school building had been built by community volunteers with very few resources. His grandfather had dragged raw material for miles to help make this dream possible.
  James’s enthusiasm to learn, however, will be stronger than the effects of the destruction of the school building that had involved the work of many community volunteers.
  This anthology supports a cause in Ifakara, Tanzania, where weather changes can affect the harvest and become a cause for starvation. 
  In 2001 the contributors of the Free Bread Funds Ifakara supported the bakery project by helping to cover the costs for transport, clearing and installations. The Sisters of St Francis were trained to work on this project and now the bakery is self-funded.
  The bakery saves them from starvation, provides employment and also supplies bread to the Lepra Village and the local Orphanage.
   The supply of bread has had a positive effect on the children’s attention span. Over 80 % of the Free Bread Funds go to children, and they supply daily bread to nine wards of the St Francis Hospital and the Nazareti Leprosy Center.
 The bakery is kept clean, and the machines work well and are properly maintained. The Sisters make sure that everyone in need has access to bread irrespective of any tribal or religious affiliations.
   The Free Bread Funds have provided an irrigation system and now the farmers can grow rice, beans and spinach. Now the local people can afford medicine and have the resources to educate their kids.
    The Free Bread Funds continue to support this to make sure that no kid goes without bread. This anthology supports the Free Bread Funds and the Ifakara Bakery Project.
   For more information feel free to visit their website:
     “I cried because I had no shoes, when I saw a man who had no feet.” Mahatma Gandhi


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mysteries to be unfolded

"Human beings are not issues to be fixed; they are mysteries to be unfolded."

 I came across this quote last week. I can't remember the name of the person who wrote it, but it motivated me to write this post.
 In this technological era it is easy to forget that human beings are not like computers. The intellect is not enough to understand them. Human beings have feelings and emotions. They are not iPads and iPhones. (Paradoxically, those who belittle other people because of their weaknesses are blind to their own foibles).
 It is tempting to believe that a magic pill or something similar will "fix" their issues.
 I love listening to people. When I do, I pay attention to every word they say. I don't ask too much. I just listen with an open attitude, providing support and reassurance. That's when people dare to expose their life stories.
 That's when I encounter questions that have no answers.

Mi mind is focused on  the energy of new projects.
I hope your mind is also brimming with energy. Have a good week.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The lives of poets of the twentieth century

Even if you are not interested in poetry you may still be entranced by the lives of the poets portrayed in these fascinating anthologies. Many of these poets did not make a living writing poetry and this “double life” makes them, in my opinion, much more interesting.   
  Such was the case of William Carlos Williams, a pediatrician who jotted down his poems between examinations and house calls, often on prescription pads. His friend Wallace Stevens also had a double life.  Wallace Stevens was as forward-thinking in insurance as he was original in poetry, but he kept his two lines separate.
   T.S. Eliot presented himself as a businessman. His most important works of poetry emerged from his intellectual struggles and the emotional crises of his private life.
  Other poets whose lives I found interesting and somewhat chaotic were Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath and many others. This is an excellent selection of English-speaking poets of the twentieth century that kept me turning the pages. The individual introductions provide biographical details with historical background that are followed by samples of their work. Their poems piqued my curiosity to read more by them. The selection and writing of  this book was done by Joseph Parisi, former editor of Poetry Magazine.

Another great anthology I borrowed from the library is called The Poetry of Our World. This one brings together poets from all over the world (Europe, the English-speaking world, Latin America, Africa and Asia). The presentation of the poets resembles the one of the book I discussed above.
  We are invited to understand the circumstances of their lives, challenges and historical setting.
    This book, however, has an important flaw in the selection of Latin American poets. Nothing is said about Gabriela Mistral, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Gabriela was a poet from Chile who was ostracized in her own country for being honest and straightforward in her writing and also for being a woman.
   Other important poets that were not even mentioned are Alfonsina Storni from Argentina and Juana de Ibarbourou from Uruguay
    It dawned on me that out of the 15 poets from Latin America that are included in this anthology only one is female: Claribel Alegria. And the reason why she was included was that she had met the writer of this section in person. The writer of this section is Carolyn Forche.
   This past weekend I contacted Carolyn Forche, award winner poet and professor at Georgetown University, to ask her why they had ignored these remarkable poets. I also pointed out the bias against female poets. There is no reason to believe that these women are less talented than their male counterparts (Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Jorge Luis Borges and others).
    Forche said that she had not made the selection herself and was unable to provide any more information. At least I sparked her curiosity. (Now she is also wondering about this bias).
    If you can read in Spanish, feel free to read the articles I wrote about Gabriela Mistral and Alfonsina Storni two years ago. If you don’t read in Spanish and are interested in them, you can google their names. (You may end up finding the reason why they were not included in this anthology).
   What I learned from this experience is that these poets who had to endure gender discrimination in their own countries during their lifetime, continue to endure it now that they are dead.
  Perhaps it's time for a discussion on elitism in literature.
  Till my next post. ( I may not post on Sunday because I will be busy working on a deadline, but I will try).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pablo Picasso

“Everything you can imagine is real.” Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

  Let’s pretend this is a real art exhibition. I promised I would write a post on Picasso’s art and life and here it is. It is not easy to write about an artist who created more than 25,000 works. Why did I choose to write it? I was impressed by the variety of his work and the changes of his style over time.
  Picasso was not afraid of experimenting and trying new things.
 "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it," he said.
   Picasso was not just a painter. He was also a sculptor, a ceramicist, a printmaker and a stage designer. His  vast, diverse artwork is intricately related to his personal life and his historical context. 
  Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain. He discovered his passion at a very early age. When he was sixteen he moved to Madrid to study art at the Academia of San Fernando. He dropped out soon after he started, but his devotion to drawing and painting did not dwindle. He continued visiting museums and working on his craft.
  Before he migrated to Paris he lived in Barcelona, where he met other artists at the Els Quatre Gats Café. One of his friends was Carlos Casagemas with whom he traveled to Paris in 1900 to attend an exhibition that included one of his paintings.
 In 1901 his friend Carlos Casagemas committed suicide. He shot himself in a Parisian Café after he was rejected by a woman he fell in love with. The death of his friend set the beginning of the “blue period”.
 This blue period (1901-1904) is a time of profound melancholy and sorrow in Picasso’s life. Blue hues dominate the scenes. Most of his paintings during this period were done in shades of blue and blue-green.
The last painting of this period is called “Life”. Picasso portrays his friend Casagemas with a lover. A mother with a child are also present. In this painting he expressed his wish of happiness  for his deceased friend.
   The blue period is followed by the rose period (1905-1907). Orange and pink were the colors that prevailed during this time. His artwork was lighthearted and cheerful. He drew and painted figures, clowns, harlequins, jesters and all kinds of circus performers.

     In 1907 he painted Les Demoiselles d' Avignon (The Young Women of Avignon) and this was the starting point of a new era that permeated not just the arts, but also literature, music and architecture. The young women of Avignon is an 8 feet square canvas in which the brush-strokes are violent and the figures are contorted. Picasso broke the conventional rules of space and perspective.

    Breton, the leader of the surrealists, saw in it the revolutionary menace of the unconscious mind. Critics and historians were convinced that African art exhibited at the Musee d’ Ethographie du Trocadero in Paris had influenced Picasso, but he denied this. Europeans viewed African art as a symbol of savagery. Picasso, on the other hand, considered this idea of savagery as a source of vitality and energy that he applied to his own work. Picasso called this painting his “first exorcism picture”. The importance of this painting lies in the fact that it paved the way to cubism.

               Picasso and his friend Georges Braque were the pioneers of cubism (1907-1920). Cubism was a new art movement in Paris that refused to accept the traditional techniques of perspective. Objects were dissected into geometric forms. The motifs were still lives, musical instruments, bottles, pitchers, glasses, newspapers, playing cards, the human face and figure.

  Their approach was adopted and further developed by other painters (Fernand Leger, Juan Gris, Marcel Duchamp, Jeam Metzinger, and others). Cubism  led to abstract paintings, but Picasso never produced purely abstract paintings. Reality was always present in his artwork, even though he recreated it through his own personal style.

After cubism Picasso returned to more traditional patterns. This is the Classicist period. He drew portraits of dancers and fell in love with one:  Olga Koklova. He married her and they had a son. With the birth of their son Paolo in 1921 he began to focus on the Mother and Child theme.
                    This is a portrait of Francoise Gilot with whom he had two kids: Claude (1947) and Paloma (1949). Paloma is the Spanish word for dove. Her name was related to the dove of peace that Picasso painted in support of the peace movement post world war II.
  Frustrated with Picasso’s infidelities and his abusive nature, Gilot left him. She later married American-physician researcher Jonas Salk. Gilot wrote a book called “Life with Picasso”, which was published eleven years after their separation.
   Bulls and  Minotaurs are recurrent elements in his artwork and may have symbolized  Picasso's passionate nature.   He could be kind and affectionate, but he could also turn into  a  tyrannical, selfish and domineering man, a kind of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality.
 The Minotaur also heralded the onset of new political unrest in Europe. Spain would be ravaged by civil war. This is the time when he painted Guernica. I wrote about it here.

Another theme that haunted Picasso  is the relationship between the artist and his model, an obsession that he expressed repeatedly in his drawings and paintings.
 In 1951 Picasso said to the writer Giovani Papini, ""Today, as you know, I am famous, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I haven't the courage to consider myself an artist in the ancient sense of the word. Great painters are people like Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya. I am only a public entertainer who has understood the times and has exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity and the greed of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than might seem, but it has the merit of being sincere."

 In 1961 he married his last wife, Jaqueline Rogue, with whom he shared the last  twelve years of his life. During those years he had an  outburst of creativity and painted compulsively. He continued to be obsessed with the theme of the female muse and the artist. His work was charged with eroticism. It might have been the expression of his unconscious mind striving to cling to life against all odds.
    He died in 1973 at age 91.