Monday, December 22, 2014

Art, literature and writing

"Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man."
Vladimir Nabokov

  It's time to celebrate my blog's birthday. My blog is your blog; my words reach the people who search for them. I'm celebrating four  creative years of inspiration, learning and growth. Within the last 24 hours this blog has been visited hundreds of times. The views are from the United States, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Argentina, Algeria, Tunisia, Poland, Ukraine, Japan...
  Like butterflies, these words travel to distant places. I feel proud to be able to spread the wonders of literature, poetry and art across the globe.
  Far from being elitist, art and literature are like creatures that stoop down to reach out to us, and we can reach out to them. They make the uniqueness of the human soul shine with meaning. They  bring us together, superseding the labels of mediocrity.
 Since I started blogging I've had my works published in different venues.
 First and foremost, I thank my family and  friends for their motivation to read this blog and, above all, for their love and support.  Next,  I want to thank ALL my readers, wherever you are.
Thank you.
 I 'm also grateful to all the writers and poets who awaken the music within my soul.
 Last but not least, I thank all the naysayers out there who through their negativity inspire me to bolster my will power to read and write better each and every day.

  I compiled some of the most important links to my blog posts on art, literature, and writing. Enjoy my blog-library... and don't miss the last part of the party. Keep scrolling down. There are quotes, art and music!

Art posts:

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo (second part)
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso's Guernica
Thomas Sully
Uncommon folk
Writers who paint
An uplifting post
Inocente, a story of resilience

Leo Tolstoy's novellas
My Antonia
The Fall of The House of Usher
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Age of Innocence
Helen Keller's autobiography
A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man
Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar"
"Wind, Sand and Stars" by Saint-Exupery
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984
Down and Out in Paris and London
Homage to Catalonia
Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham
The Artist at Work by Albert Camus
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Doris Lessing's "Love, again"
"Runaway" by Alice Munro
"Dear Life"
The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Posts on writing
Writers take risks
The art of writing fiction
Humor in creative writing
Online resources for writers
Likable characters?
The wonder of beginnings
Points of view in creative writing
The benefits of hand-writing
Creating characters for a story
The art of being subtle
The characters living in my head
What's in a rejection? Take it easy
Writing dialogue
Description of places in creative writing


For poetry lovers... and those who don't care about poetry
The mystery of poetry
Switch off the television
The poets of the twentieth century

To finish this birthday post I'm sharing some quotes by famous writers and poets from all over the world...

"Those who control their passions do so because their passions are weak enough to be controlled."~William Blake

"With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence: they must not -- they cannot at will be excited, with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations of mankind." ~Edgar Allan Poe

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."~Marcel Proust

"The role of the artist is to ask questions- not to answer them." Anton Chekhov

"My New Year's Eve Toast: to all the devils, lusts, passions, greeds, envies, loves, hates, strange desires, enemies ghostly and real, the army of memories with which I do battle-- may they never give me peace."~ Patricia Highsmith

"I write for the same reason I breathe -- because if I didn't I would die." Isaac Asimov

"I think... if it is true that there are many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts."~ Leo Tolstoy

"The Spanish Inquisition understood the danger. Leading lives through fiction that does not live in reality is a source of anxiety, a maladjustment to existence that can turn into rebelliousness. One can understand why regimes that seek to exercise total control over life mistrust works of fiction and subject them to censorship. Emerging from one's own self, being another, even in illusion, is a way of being less a slave and of experiencing the risks of freedom."~ Mario Vargas Llosa

"The important task of literature is to free man, not to censor him, and that is why Puritanism was the most destructive and evil force which ever oppressed people and their literature: it created hypocrisy, perversion and fears."~ Anais Nin

"It is from reading, even before writing, that I became part of a community -- the community of literature -- which includes more dead than living writers."~Susan Sontag

Merry Christmas. May 2015 be a remarkable year.
May the light of love, peace and hope shine in our hearts.
Till next year.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Lives of the Heart

"The World loved by Moonlight"
You must try,
the voice said, to become colder.
I understood at once.
It is like the body of gods: cast in bronze,
braced in stone. Only something heartless
could bear the full weight.

This is a good time of the year to read “The Lives of the Heart”. Grounded in nature and the everyday, Jane Hirshfield’s poetry collection evokes the interconnection—or disconnection -- between inner and outer worlds, nostalgia, life, grief.
 Some of the metaphors are like drawings that unfold stories. Others tap into the energy of experiences and emotions.
  I found a delicious recipe in one of the poems. Even if you don’t like this poem (it's a fragment of it), you may be willing to try the recipe. I did!

Returning home, slice carrots, onions, celery.
Glaze them in oil before adding
the lentils, water and herbs.

Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.
Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.
You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.
Begin again the story of your life.

Matter and Spirit
A shadow empties itself into a river.
No one sees.
But the cloth for washing the bodies of the dead
Softens, gentles a little.
Neither the cloth nor the body feels this.
Yet it matters. Someone else, you see, is there
in the blunt and the blind of grace—
Someone stands silent,
listening, the looped cotton held in her hand.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cat's Cradle

Cat’s Cradle has been compared with some of George Orwell’ s dystopian stories.  There is a social satire in Cat’s Cradle just as  there is one in both Animal Farm and 1984. Yet Cat’s Cradle relies more on the plot than on the development of the characters. I am not trying to imply that characters are not well developed in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, but his approach is different.
  First of all, Kurt Vonnegut breaks the popular rule of writing fiction: “show, don’t tell”. He tells us a lot about the characters. The telling takes precedence over the showing of their identities. I don’t get to feel emotionally close to the characters, even though we learn a lot about their intimate lives. Yet this is not a flaw of the tale but a way of featuring the robotic nature of the society he portrays through humor and interesting insights.
The novel is told in first person by John, a writer who wants to research the life of the deceased scientist, Felix Hoenikker, the man who created the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. John gets to interview his three kids who are now adults, and his life changes drastically throughout the course of the tale.
 Kurt Vonnegut creates a fictional religion, Bokononism, through which he shows a society that is more concerned about faith than about the search for truth.  But Felix Hoenikker, the venerated, controversial scientist, was different from the rest (mind you, "different" does not mean "better").
 “I suppose it’s high treason and ungrateful and ignorant and backward and anti-intellectual to call a dead man as famous as Felix Hoenikker a son of a bitch. I know all about how harmless and gentle and dreamy he was supposed to be, how he’d never hurt a fly, how he didn’t care about money and power and fancy clothes and automobiles and things, how he wasn’t like the rest of us, how he was better than the rest of us…”
 Kurt Vonnegut’s  carries us away to imaginary settings and hilarious social situations in which the characters interpret their reality under the light of their dogmatic beliefs. The novel has many twists and turns that are evidence of Vonnegut’s fascinating imagination.
  One of the most important themes  of Cat's Cradle is the role that human stupidity plays in self-destruction.

 I found some thought-provoking quotes in this novel:

“She hated people who thought too much. At that moment, she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.”

“It was the belief of Bokonon that good societies could be built only by pitting good against evil, and by keeping the tension between the two high at all times.”

“Sometimes I wonder if he wasn’t born dead. I never met a man who was less interested in the living. Sometimes I think that’s the trouble with the world: too many people in high places who are stone-cold dead.”

“Americans are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be.”

 Cat's Cradle was banned in 1972 by an Ohio School district board. The reason for this is not clear. The decision was later overturned in 1976.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Happy Holidays

"Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ~ Isaac Asimov

In a few days you will start your Christmas shopping. We all exchange gifts for Christmas, don’t we? Yet the essence of Christmas has little to do with presents.
Bear in mind that many of those Christmas presents will end up in a landfill in just a few months or years, so let’s make conscious choices when we buy gifts.

   We are all in this together.  Mother Nature does not care about human borders. The consequences of our actions transcend the boundaries of our borders.
 There has been a human population explosion over the last 200 years. We are seven billion human beings populating the planet.
 We don’t need to be mathematicians to understand that in a planet with finite resources if the population continues to grow at this rate life on earth will not be sustainable in the future. Is it sustainable now?
 If all the countries of the world consumed at the level of those that consume the most we would need at least three planets to survive.
 I found some interesting statistics:
In the United Kingdom 1.5 million computers are discarded every year in still perfect work order.  The same fate applies to three million cell-phones every year in England.
As far as I know the United Kingdom is not even one of the countries with the highest level of consumption.
 This young lady found herself amid this trash when she went on vacation to this island. You can read her story.
Is this what we want for our grandchildren? 

 There is a lot that we can do. For example, avoid using disposable plastic forks, knives and spoons. If millions of us avoid them we will make an impact. It's easy to blame others but we can all do something, so let's be part of the solution. Reuse, reduce, recycle.
  And, by the way, if you love coffee take your own mug instead of buying one every time you want to drink coffee. The same applies to plastic bottles.

 One of the most serious threats to oceans is plastics pollution. Plastic constitutes 90% of all trash floating on the ocean. Over 100,000 marine mammals and one million sea birds die each year from ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic. You can learn more about this here.
 Last year I wrote about the plight of  polar bears as the Arctic melts due to climate changes.
  Pollution from animal manure can be used creatively. Instead of polluting landfills it can be used to produce electricity, filter water and power your car. This is what we call "clean energy".

Advertising makes you believe that buying stuff will make you happy, but minimalists disagree. My family and I are minimalists. This does not mean that we are hippies. It means that we are responsible consumers. There is nothing strange or mysterious about being a minimalist. (I don't care about buying what is in fashion or the latest version of "x". We buy what we need). Free of debts, we have more time to focus on meaningful activities. I also find that empty spaces open up my imagination and provide a “room” for my creativity. 
  All things considered, I find it more sustainable, realistic and socially responsible. We only have one planet.

 I hope that when you do your Christmas shopping this year you will remember this post. Our future generations will be thankful for your wise decisions.
Happy holidays.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Fall of The House of Usher

   “The Fall of The House of Usher” is an outstanding masterpiece. After reading it I was curious to learn what the critics said about it and I got disappointed.  The intricacies that make up the fabric of this fascinating short story by Edgar Allan Poe have been overlooked.
 According to Benjamin F. Fisher  “the ‘Usher’ narrator’s sojourn in the ‘house’ of Usher may symbolize a journey into depths of his own self, where he confronts psycho-sexual-artistic elements that horrify him by the far greater negative than positive possibilities they raise”. I agree partially with him on this statement, so let me start by saying that many of Poe’s stories explore the dark tunnels of the mind. This one is not an exception.
Poe was a daring writer who, under a literary veil, revealed the emotions and feelings that society might have judged and condemned. His poetical prose dredges up profound feelings and thoughts that had to remain hidden to avoid the inconvenience of their social consequences. Having said this, I will now explain my  perspective on “The Fall of the House of Usher”.
 I believe the house of Usher is the embodiment of Mr. Usher’s depressive state of mind. And what is a depressive state of mind but the entrapment of the soul in a network of dark thoughts and emotions? This dark web distorts the sufferer’s views. Yet falling prey to this complex network requires a specific kind of substrate: a combination of  sensitivity and a profound understanding of reality (both inner and outer realities). This is a kind of journey that Poe understood well.
 Through this story Poe paints the complex labyrinths of Mr. Usher’s moods, and the physical descriptions of the house are symbols of his mental experience. There is a spiritual connection between the narrator and Mr. Usher. Neither of them can be rescued from the sorrow of the atmosphere described by many critics as "claustrophobic".
 The narrator fathoms Mr. Usher’s emotional turmoil while he navigates the waters of his own melancholy. 

 “We painted and read together, or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe in one unceasing radiation of gloom.”

Roderick Usher had invited the narrator to his house because there was a “mental disorder that oppressed him”. Roderick had an earnest desire to see his childhood friend for he believed his visit might help him to “alleviate his malady”. Even though Roderick considered him his personal friend the narrator confessed that he did not know him well because of Usher’s introverted nature. He explained this in this paragraph:

 “Although, as boys, we had been intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the orthodox and easily recognizable beauties, of musical science.

  Each and every description is memorable and vivid. Reading this story is almost like visiting this Gothic house or dreaming of it because of the powerful images that his prose evokes:
 “There were many books and musical instruments scattered on the floor, but they failed to give any vitality to the scene.”
 “The windows were long, narrow and pointed, and so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within.” All these simple details of the house carve out a feeling of isolation and loneliness. Right from the first paragraph we are thrown into an obscure landscape:

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was – but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible.”
 In this paragraph the narrator is clearly deprived of hope, another hallmark of Mr. Usher's mental condition. 
 The loss of Mr. Usher’s beloved twin sister Madeline may have been the trigger of his mood disorder. Madeline had been his sole companion for many years. Some critics suggest that there are innuendos regarding a possible love affair between Madeline and Roderick. There are those who claim that the image of their  embrace under the moonlight at the end of the story hints at the union of their souls and the beginning of a new life together.
 A sense of despair looms as the story progresses. We later learn more details about Mr. Usher’s situation and how his disorder  wreaks havoc on his life:
And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed , an observable change came over the features of the mental disorder of my friend. His ordinary manner had vanished. His ordinary occupations were neglected or forgotten. He roamed from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless step. The pallor of his countenance had assumed, if possible, a more ghastly hue – but the luminousness of his eye had utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of his tone was heard no more; and a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme terror, habitually characterized his utterance. There were times, indeed, when I thought his unceasingly agitated mind was laboring with some oppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for the necessary courage.”

  His descriptions help to deepen the character and move the plot forward while they build suspense. The man is struggling with his secrets. He is overwhelmed by the terror that guilt and uncertainty inflict upon him. He is very frightened and anxious.  The narrator educes Mr. Usher is a slave to his emotions. He has lost control over them; thoughts of death abound:
 “To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. ‘I shall perish,’ said he, ‘I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves but in their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul.”

   I believe Edgar Allan Poe was ahead of his time. He was able to reveal complex insights on the human psyche. His poetical, timeless story is the detailed account of  a mental crisis that resonates in our era of depression epidemics.

Monday, November 3, 2014


" I saw all the colors in my mind; they stood before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me."
-Vasily Kandinsky

When I read "The Noisy Paint Box" to my daughter I learned the concept of synesthesia. "The Noisy Paint Box" is a book about Kandinsky’s childhood. In his writings Kandinsky describes hearing a hissing sound as a child when he first mixed colors in his paint box. Kandinsky experienced colors as sounds and sounds as colors throughout his life.
 It is thought that Vasily Kandinsky had a harmless genetic condition called synesthesia. Synesthesia is a word that derives from the Greek. It means “union of sensations”. There are more than sixty types of synesthesia. In people with synesthesia a stimulus in one sensory modality (e.g. vision) involuntarily triggers another sense (e.g. hearing). Scientists believe that this happens due to co-activation of different areas of the brain as people with synesthesia probably have more pathways between such areas.
 After reading this book to my daughter I wanted to learn more about synesthesia. One of the pioneers in the study of synesthesia is the neurologist Richard Cytowic who published a number of case reports and wrote books about it.
 Reading about synesthesia, however, left me with more questions than answers. I don’t know if I have synesthesia but what I do know is that I have  synesthetic experiences with some words. There are many words that elicit colors or images in my mind. A few of them can trigger flavors. Now this does not necessarily mean that I am a synesthete.
 Perhaps synesthesia is one feature that may or may not exist in people with creative trends. After all, the creative mind is adept at making connections and finding meaningful associations between things, ideas or objects.
 Do you ever have any synesthetic experiences, or do you know anybody who may have this condition? Share your experience.
 Here is a list of other famous people who may have had synesthesia:
Vladimir Nabokov (writer)
William Blake (Poet, writer and painter)
Albert Einstein (physicist, philosopher of science)
Isaac Newton (physicist, mathematician)
Olivier Messiaen (composer)
Richard Feynman (physicist)
Amy Beach (pianist and composer)
Charles Baudelaire (Poet)

I read somewhere that children are synesthetes but as they grow they lose the capacity to have these synesthetic associations. 
How about combining music with art in schools? Writing with music? Writing and art?    Physical movements and writing? Maths and art?
 Think about all the combinations. We tend to separate everything into boxes, and, as we do that, we may be curtailing our kids' creativity.        
Something to think about and research on. I hope neuroscientists and educators will work together to research this and enhance the educational experience. 
 If you want to learn more about synesthesia feel free to visit the website of the American Synesthesia Association

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tin House

On browsing literary magazines at Barnes & Noble I came across Tin House. The cover was intriguing and enticing, but there was much more to it.
  It was one of those days when concentration drifts away easily and worries grip the mind. Yet as soon as I began reading one of its short stories I was enthralled. I knew I had to read it till the end. One paragraph brought me to the next with ease. I could not put it down. I was hooked.
  The  first story I read was "Mr. Voice" by Jess Walter. It had quirky characters and there were twists that I did not expect. It flowed well and there were no descriptions that bogged it down. It made me laugh.
   I later read  essays, poems and other stories from Tin House and I was not disappointed.
   Above all, I love the essays. The themes resonate; honesty shines through them for they have the simplicity and the complexity of human experience.  Tin House helped me to learn a lot about the society I live in.  Diving into it is like finding a treasure of interesting anecdotes, insightful reflections and thought-provoking situations that strike a chord, so if you are thinking of reading a literary magazine, try Tin House.
  Just in case you are wondering about the art cover, let me tell you that it was created by Emily Winfield Martin, a Portland artist. Her artwork explores "the implications of masks... personas and disguises." It addresses ideas of belonging and hints at the strange relationships found among kinfolk.

 Tin House is a house where the untold dares to be told.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Still I will rise

What a powerful poem! Last weekend my family and I attended a play that combined poetry and dance. This poem by Maya Angelou was recited.
May you all have a peaceful week.

Still I will rise

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I will rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from  a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave
I rise
I rise
I rise.

                                                 Maya Angelou

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Homage to Catalonia

“One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war- propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”
George Orwell
   I already wrote about George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London”, a non-fiction book about his life as a homeless man in the early 1930's in Paris and London.
George Orwell died at age 46. During his short life he fought in the Spanish Civil War. In Homage to Catalonia George Orwell transports us to Barcelona during the years 1936 and 1937.  Without sentimentality, he exposed the reality of a war that gnawed at the human spirit.
  It is an invaluable feat to be able to reveal one’s truth while acknowledging that this truth may be biased by one’s personal perspectives. I believe this is a sign of wisdom, a humble approach to sharing personal experiences:
      “I hope the account I have given is not too misleading. I believe that on such an issue as this no one is or can be completely truthful. It is difficult to be certain about anything except what you have seen with your own eyes, and consciously or unconsciously everyone writes as a partisan. Beware of my partisanship, my mistakes of fact and the distortion inevitably caused by my having seen only one corner of events. And beware of exactly the same things when you read any other book on this period of the Spanish war.
 As he described the different political movements (anarchists, communists, PUOM), I came to the realization that the boundaries between them became blurred. Orwell explored a territory that was crippled by deception, paranoia, hatred, and false accusations between the parties.
 Aside from plumbing the tendencies and features of the political parties that were involved in this war, George Orwell narrated the shocking details of his daily life during this chaotic time. The soldiers were unable to change their clothes for months. When they slept they had to keep their boots on lest somebody attack them.

  “All of us were lousy by this time; though still cold it was warm enough for that. I have had a big experience of body vermin of various kinds and for sheer beastliness the louse beats everything I have encountered. Other insects, mosquitoes for instance, make you suffer more, but at least they aren’t resident vermin. The human louse somewhat resembles a tiny lobster, and he lives chiefly in your trousers. Short of burning all your clothes there is no known way of getting rid of him. Down the seams of your trousers he lays his glittering white eggs, like tiny grains of rice, which hatch out and breed families of their own at horrible speed. I think the pacifists might find it helpful to illustrate their pamphlets with enlarged photographs of lice. Glory of war, indeed! In war all soldiers are lousy, at least when it was warm enough. The men who fought at Verdun, at Waterloo, at Flodden, at Senlac, at Thermopylae—every one of them had lice crawling his testicles.”

  The atmosphere of suspicion made everybody paranoid:
Various people were infected with spy mania and were creeping round whispering that everyone else was a spy of the Communists, or the Trotskyists, or the Anarchists, or what-not. The fat Russian agent was cornering all the foreign refugees in turn and plausibly that this whole affair was an Anarchist plot.  I watched him with some interest, for it was the first time that I had seen a person whose profession was telling lies—unless one counts the journalists.”
 Unlike the journalists, Orwell tried his best to be objective by exposing what he witnessed.
   Enticed by the ideals of freedom and equality Orwell fought for the PUOM.  He believed that fighting was necessary to defeat fascism. Yet, at later stages, the group for which he fought was accused of being fascist and was suppressed by law. This meant that every person who had been enlisted was persecuted and incarcerated without trial.  For this reason George Orwell and his wife had to escape from Spain. They fled to France with the aid of the British consul.
  Political prisoners lived on scanty food, in filthy conditions, under the pressure of an uncertain future.  People who tried to visit the prisoners more than once were considered suspicious and ran the risk of ending up in jail for no reason.
 Another interesting aspect of his memoir is the description of Barcelona at different stages of the revolution.  Not only did he describe what the city looked like through vivid, interesting scenes, but he also disclosed the way people behaved and interacted.
  All in all, this memoir is a vivid testimony of a period ravaged by war. It is the story of a man who dared to show how his ideals were at odds with the political reality. Orwell expanded these situations and experiences by carrying them into the realm of fiction: he wrote his novels 1984 and Animal Farm, two masterpieces that explore the deceit of the totalitarian regimes. In doing so, he dwelt on the stratagems of the political power, the slogans and the realities underlying those slogans.  
   Orwell was an Englishman fighting in Spain, and the fact that he was an outsider made the stories even more compelling. Even though he had seen the darkest side of humanity during the war, he did not lose his faith in human decency. He had met Spaniards who had given him whatever they could to help him. Their kindness was heartwarming-- to the point of being comical at times.
 After reading this book I pondered over the concepts of reality and truth. Reality is what really happens. Truth is the perception of reality. People can tell you different “truths” about a specific event, and their different versions of reality are colored by their preconceptions.
 A totalitarian regime imposes the existence of an absolute truth, and those who do not adhere to it are in trouble.
Homage to Catalonia sold poorly in England and it was not even published in America. Perhaps reality is not always welcomed by the masses.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Books I will be reading

   I have a passion for literature, poetry and writing. My zest for reading and writing is the driving force of my posts, and it continues to be the inspiration of this blog.
 This weekend I will be posting an essay on George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia", a book about the Spanish Civil War.

In the next few months I will probably be less active on the blogosphere to devote more time to reading and writing.
Some of the books that have been patiently waiting for me are the following:

Roberto Bolano's "The Savage Detectives",  a novel about the lives of a group of young poets from Mexico.

The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. His poetical prose is captivating. He is the kind of writer who speaks directly to my soul.

Julia De Burgos's Song of the Simple Truth. The complete poems of Julia De Burgos, a bilingual edition. In addition to her poems there is a fascinating introduction about her life.
 Her poetry is mesmerizing.

James Joyce's Ulysses. If you have followed my blog for a while you know that I wrote about  "A Portrait of The Artist as a Young man" so I  am now compelled to read what happens next...

Jane Hirschfield's "The Lives of the Heart", a poetry collection.

A poetry collection by HD which I found when I was browsing books of poetry at a bookstore.

What are you planning to read?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The mystery of poetry

"How do I explain these poems? Not at all. I quit teaching in colleges because it seemed so criminal to explain works of art. The crisis in my teaching career came, in fact, when I faced an audience which expected me to explain 'Dubliners' by Joyce."
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

 Sometimes I hear people saying that they don't understand poetry.
A poem is not to be understood. It is to be felt, experienced, lived. This is the reason why people can either love a poem or be indifferent to it.
 A poem is an intimate space of possibilities. When you listen to music you don't expect to understand it. You connect to it or you don't.
 Education is deeply concerned with logic and rational thinking, but poetry transcends the boundaries of logic. It is not confined to this type of thinking. The creative process engages an intuitive side that mingles with emotions. Poetry paints music with words. It composes paintings on words; it writes a dance.  It sparks a connection to you... or it doesn't. That is poetry.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Maria Montessori, the Italian physician who revolutionized education for young children

“To influence society we must turn our attention to childhood. Out of this truth comes the importance of nursery schools, for it is the little ones who are building our future.”
Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was the first woman to become a physician in Italy, a journey that had not been free of hurdles and challenges. 
   Maria Montessori pursued a career in medicine against her father’s wishes.  At the medical school the authorities were   appalled at the idea of a young lady becoming a doctor.
  The other medical students shut her out of conversations and even made fun of her in the corridors. With much grace Maria replied to them: “Blow away, my friends; the harder you blow, the higher up I shall go.”
 Once she graduated from medical school she was invited to  Berlin to give a conference on why women should be given the same pay as men for doing the same work. At that time, women in factories and and on farms were paid considerably less than men. (Interestingly, equal pay continues to be an issue these days).
  In addition to being an outstanding physician, she became interested in the education of young children. As she had not been trained as a teacher, she did not have the fixed ideas that teachers were taught in those days.
 Inspired by the work of Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin, who refused to believe that mentally retarded kids could not be educated, she worked with kids that had disabilities. Instead of using the usual teaching methods, Dr. Montessori encouraged them to learn by exercising their senses of touch, sight, smell, and sound. She developed special materials to accomplish her goals.
  Thanks to her work, some kids with disabilities were able to reach the same standards and pass the same exams as those without disabilities.
The next step for her was to work with kids who did not have disabilities, so she tried her methods with children from the slums. These kids were poorly fed and miserable.
 Maria Montessori welcomed these children in The Casa dei Bambini (The Children’s House). Up until then education had been based on rigid principles. Kids had to memorize facts and repeat them like parrots. They were not supposed to ask questions. Children who did not learn this way were labeled as “lazy”.
 The opening of the first Children’s House in San Lorenzo, Italy, was the starting point of a revolution in education. In 1907, when Dr. Montessori was well known in Italy as a physician and a campaigner for women’s rights, she began to work intensely on education, and she would later spread her methods all over the world by giving conferences in different countries. She also wrote books on this subject. Her methods became popular.
In her private life, things did not go  well. She fell in love with Dr Giuseppe Montessano and she became pregnant. Single pregnant women were a shame (interestingly, women—not men— can still be fired for conceiving a baby out of wedlock these days). It is not clear why they never married, but she had to hide her son away. Her child had to be raised by some relatives that lived in the countryside. Her work would have been discredited if she had acknowledged him publicly. Making a living as a single mother would have been difficult.
   Maria Montessori channeled her frustration and pain into her work by devoting more of her energy to the study of children’s development and to their education.
 Maria Montessori was able to show the world that kids are motivated to learn. She observed children and studied their behaviors. One thing she learned was that although there were plenty of toys in The Children’s House, kids preferred to work with the sensory materials. 
            What she noted was that when kids were in an environment that was conducive to learning they would be motivated to learn. The sullen and crying children became happily involved in their learning experiences. There were also plants and pets to care for.
 Maria Montessori thought it was important to allow the children to decide what to do. Children had the opportunity to work at their own pace in a peaceful, non-competitive environment.
Working outdoors on purposeful activities was also encouraged.
 Maria Montessori believed that teachers should follow the      child. She believed that children taught the teachers, not the other way    around.
 The true Montessori philosophy  contemplates the emotional and social aspects of education. It fosters peace and understanding at every level.
 Dr. Montessori believed that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed, rather than as a "blank slate" waiting to be written upon.
 During World War II Dr Montessori was forced to leave Italy due to her antifascist views.  Mussolini closed all Montessori schools. Maria lived in Spain for a couple of years, and then she moved to Holland. In 1947 she  undertook a lecture tour in  India, which lasted two years. There she developed her work Education for Peace.
  Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times (1949, 1950 and 1951). 
 Peace education is about developing skills to resolve conflicts peacefully. It  provides opportunities and experiences for the children to learn to live in harmony with other people and the environment. 
 "Establishing lasting peace is the work of education."
Dr. Maria Montessori
 Regarding prizes and punishments she said, "The prize and the punishment are incentives toward unnatural or forced effort... the jockey offers a piece of sugar to his horse before jumping into the saddle. The coachman beats his horse that he may respond to the signs given by the reins. And yet, neither of these runs so superbly as the free horse of the plains."
All in all, Maria Montessori believed in the kids' motivation to learn and discover. She was convinced that kids have a world of their own, and that adults should not interfere. 
 Now, do kids still have that world of their own? Or do we violate it through the images and messages imparted by television screens?
 Do we respect kids' vulnerabilities these days? Something to think about.

 Maria Montessori liked to tell the story of a little girl who came to a Montessori school for the first time. The little girl asked the first child she met, "Is it true that in this school you're allowed to do what you like?"
 "I don't know about that," replied the child, "but I do know that we like what we do."


Maria Montessori. The Italian doctor who revolutionized education for young children. Michael Pollard

Maria Montessori. Her Life and Work. E.M. Standing

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The gifts of nature and a thank you note

 There is a marsh one mile away from where we live.
 It is an area of breathtaking beauty where we go for walks along trails by the forests.
 It is a place where we can rest our eyes and recharge our energy. We exercise and reflect; we watch the  birds that inhabit these peaceful landscapes.

This land has a unique educational value, for it allows us to teach kids why it is necessary to protect our ecosystems.

 We can all celebrate these gifts of nature. It is nobody's privilege to do so there.
 Today I want to say thank you to the group of conscientious people  who stood up against those who thought that building a highway was more important than preserving these gifts of nature.
Thank you.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

To my grandmother

 My poem "To my grandmother" was published today by The Voices Project. You can read it here.
The first picture of this post was taken in the year 1936 in Mar del Plata, Argentina. My grandmother is the woman wearing the black hat. Two years later, in this same city, the poet Alfonsina Storni committed suicide by throwing herself into the ocean.( She had an incurable cancer and the pain had become unbearable).
 The second picture of this post shows my grandmother taking care of me when I was little. I am the girl riding the tricycle.
 Unfortunately, my maternal grandfather died before I was born, so I never met him in person.
 Thank you, Denise Powell, for accepting this meaningful poem...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Doris Lessing 's "Love, again"

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”

Love, again is populated by artists and intense personalities. From the very beginning I was so hooked to these characters that I needed to know what would happen to them.
 Sarah Durham and Stephen become good friends. Sarah is a writer who works in a theater in London. Stephen is madly in love with a woman called Julie Vairon. Julie is dead, though. She died one hundred years ago. She had been a gifted musician, an artist and a writer; she had also been a kind of outcast who loved to dance in the woods.
 Julie Vairon is  the main character of the play Sarah and Stephen are working on together. Sarah is a woman in her sixties who had not cared about romantic love for two decades, and, all of a sudden, she falls in love with Bill, the young actor who plays the role of Julie Vairon’s first lover. 
  Sarah had lost her husband in her late thirties. She had to raise her two kids by herself, so she had always been too busy to date men. 
  We are then invited into the intimate territory of Sarah’s thoughts, fantasies and emotions.
  While I read this novel I came across many interesting revelations about society, and I found myself saying, "Finally somebody dares to assert what I have been observing and thinking for many years". 
  Sarah did not know she was capable of being in love this way. She wondered how these exhilarating sensations had evaded her for two decades and is somewhat shocked at feeling what she feels. There is a mutual attraction between Sarah and Bill but their relationship never flourishes, and I am left wondering if her feelings had more to do with lust than with love.
 The frustration of not accomplishing a true love relationship with Bill transforms into something else. Just like Julie Vairon, Sarah Durham falls in love a second time. Doris Lessing dredges up the obscure realities and inconveniences of falling in love. She will make you burn in flames of passion and desire, and will later splash you with icy water. 
 After she falls in love, Sarah Durham is caught up in a swamp of grief. She yearns for her lost youth and falls into the prejudice of thinking that she will never be cherished and desired the way she had been when she was young. For many years she had been too occupied with life responsibilities to be bothered with the physical changes that had been happening over time. We witness the stages of her grief.  
  Now she also examines her life under a new light of introspection. Her quest for love leads her to ponder over her relationship with her brother, mother,  father. She is also flooded with memories of past lovers. 
   Everybody adores Julie Vairon. Her life is a mirror of their heartbreaks. Sarah and Stephen are two heart-broken souls “living in their own deserts”. They understand Julie Vairon’s misery from their own personal experiences and they are deeply touched by her music. Amid their despair, they share moments of solace and comfort in literature and philosophy.
  Yes, Julie Vairon is dead, but her spirit is alive through her art, music and words. It is the shadow of these characters’ love stories.  
  Sarah and Stephen are fond of each other.  They miss each other, but their friendship is crippled by misunderstandings, fears and doubts. The fact that Sarah is a woman and Stephen is a man plays a role in the dynamics of their communication. Yet their sincerity  had brought them together. I have never come across a writer who deals with these matters so openly.
  Doris Lessing made me feel that Sarah and Stephen are my intimate friends. I kept mulling over their inner conflicts and troubles after I finished reading this novel.
  I would have given this novel a different kind of ending -- a happier, hopeful one.
  It is clear to me that Doris Lessing had more faith in the arts than in the act of falling in love.
  If human relationships intrigue you and keep you awake at night, this novel will captivate you. If, on the other hand, you prefer fairy tales, you may be better off reading something else.

  Doris Lessing was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2008 The Times ranked her fifth on a list  of "the 50 greatest British writers since 1945". In 2001 she was awarded the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement  in British literature.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Celebrating World Compassion Day July 7

   As we celebrate compassion day, I reflect once again on the power of literature. I believe literature has the power to make people more compassionate.
  It has the potential to open doors of understanding.
  May you all have a peaceful week.