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.


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

Synesthesia

" 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."


References

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

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

www.montessori.edu/maria.html
  










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.”
Rumi

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.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A friend in Saudi Arabia


I can hear them say
how much everything has changed
over the years.
A friend of mine
just moved to Saudi Arabia;
she cannot leave her house
without her husband;

her gender encircles her life,
what she can do,
and what she can’t.

Windows close to the ceiling,
 heads wrapped in abayas,
cars with male drivers.

“I brought you your woman,” somebody
said to her husband,
announcing his belonging.

 The world is busy praying.

Justice does not fit in our mindsets.

Freedom is  a frail word
with fragile bones, 
     elusive
 as a forsaken dream
whenever you believe
that every woman is ready to submit.

Julia Hones

In Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to study or work without the permission of a male family member. They are not allowed to drive, and they cannot travel overseas unless they have the consent of a man.
I dedicate this poem to the women in Saudi Arabia who are silenced or beaten whenever they try to change their situation.
 I dedicate this poem to the victims of domestic violence in Saudi Arabia. The ones who don't belong to the statistics, the women and kids whose silent suffering is forgotten by the world...

http://www.dw.de/women-in-saudi-arabia-are-caught-in-a-system-of-gender-apartheid/a-17330976
http://www.dw.de/freedom-not-luxury-brands-makes-you-complete/a-17186662
http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/saudi-arabia/report-2013
http://nypost.com/2014/04/19/a-saudi-arabian-princess-reveals-her-life-of-hell/

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Marin Luther King

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Birds


"In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and ... snap! The job is a game." 
Mary Poppins
I agree with Mary Poppins, and so do the robins that live in a our house.
Can you see one of the baby Robins staring at me? Every year  a new couple of robins choose our home to build their nest.
 This year their location –or I should say one of them, because we have multiple nests attached to our home- enabled us to watch the parents raising their offspring. No documentary would be better  than the experience of being so close to them... here is a very brief video of the babies.

Two years ago we had a nest built by the Say's Phoebe. 

 They do have a predilection for porch roofs near the door- and this is what they did in our house two years ago. 
               










 By the way, when I was writing this post on the deck I spotted a mother deer breastfeeding her baby. What a beautiful scene. A mother breastfeeding her baby.( Sorry, I couldn't take a picture of them.)


  I've always been impressed by the variety of birds that live here, in Western Wisconsin. On one of my recent visits to the ecopark I popped into the local library and borrowed this book to learn more about the birds that I see on a regular basis. 

The creeper's way of foraging always captivated me: starting at the base of a large tree, it spirals up the trunk, poking into bark crevices, until it reaches the first large branches, at which point it flies to the base of a nearby tree and starts over. You can watch the bird do this a few times before he disappears. They eat insects, larvae, spiders and their eggs from the bark crevices.


Two months ago I was delighted by the visit of a cardinal. He perched on our deck for a few seconds before he flew away. I know he was a male bird because the male is completely red except for a small black mask and  chin. 


The kind of hummingbird that we can find here is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. They have a feisty personality and aggressively defend their nectar source from others. You can find some astounding pictures of hummingbirds here.

 They feed on nectar, small insects and spiders. 

Have you been watching any birds lately?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Corporal expression

“One’s dance is fed by one’s life.” 
Patricia Stokoe













 Corporal expression, also known as "free dance", is an art in which the body is the medium used to tell stories, express emotions and thoughts, and interact with the environment.
 It unleashes the creative forces that lie dormant inside the body.

Why can a writer be passionate about corporal expression? 
 Corporal expression is an art, just like music, painting, writing and many others. The different kinds of art are not separate entities. They are woven into a universal language; they feed on each other.
 Corporal expression is a transformational force. It releases tension stored in the body and uses this energy to mold something meaningful.
 It has three branches:
-Artistic
-Therapeutic
-Educational
 Emotions may not be visible, but they are locked in your body. They can stifle your mind and  bridle your creative potential. Through  body movements, we can materialize these emotions, and let them flow into other creative activities.
  









  Take your hand, for example. Explore all the movements that you can make with it. Let your arm and hand explore the infinite spectrum of movements that you can create. Try different rhythms and choose the ones that suit you. You can use music if you want. 

 Now imagine that the source of your creativity is an imaginary object. Imagine a shape and a color for this object. Pretend you are holding this object with both hands. Rock it, sway it; let your body follow your hands. Discover the story that your hands and your body want to tell while they play with this imaginary object. Invite your body to follow your hands and dance to the music you selected.

 Now release the object and let your hands touch each other and draw something in the air. 

 Are you having fun already?

Here’s another secret: your creative body movements are a personal seal of your own life story; by the same token, a poem is the personal seal of a poet 
 Your body can create its own poem through a unique combination of movements. 
Don’t you think this is fascinating?



Who created corporal expression?
Patricia Stokoe is the person who has been officially recognized as the creator of this art. 
 Patricia Stokoe (1929-1996) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but her native language was English. When she was ten years old her parents sent her to London to visit her relatives. In England she studied classical dance in the Royal Academy of Dance. She also studied modern dance. Years later she studied many different kinds of dance. In 1950 she returned to Argentina.
      Patricia Stokoe developed methods that facilitated the search for movement and expression with personal meaning. She gave several lectures and conferences in the United States, Latin America, Spain, Japan and Israel.
  During her life she worked to incorporate corporal expression in schools and to make sure that everybody had access to this art.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Wind, Sand and Stars


“You’ll be bothered from time to time by storms, fog, snow. When you are, think of those who went through it before you, and say to yourself, ‘what they could do, I can do.’”

  Have you ever wondered what it feels like to fly?

  Antoine Saint-Exupery reveals the pitfalls, dangers and adventures of flying a plane in the thirties and forties, but his anecdotes go beyond the flying experience. He will also make you float in the air through his musings and profound insights on life and human relationships.
  “Wind, Sand and Stars” is an invitation to fly away to distant places. This memoir will make you relish each moment of your life.
 The sour taste of tragedies and upheavals leads us to mold resilience, strength and comradeship. Saint-Exupery takes us on this path, while he inspires us to reflect on our own life experiences.
   His writing enchants and bewitches me, for he has the ability to put into words the emotions and feelings that we harbor in our hearts. His stories resonate on a personal level.
 As you enjoy his adventures you will visit different places: the Saharan desert, The Chilean Andes, the Argentinian Patagonia, the Pyrenees and many others.
 Reading this book is like embarking on a captivating journey to the past, present and future. His writing has the power to evoke childhood experiences:
“Gazing at this transfigured desert I remember the games of my childhood—the dark and golden park we peopled with gods; the limitless kingdom we made of this square mile never thoroughly explored, never thoroughly charted. We created a secret civilization where footfalls had a meaning and things a savor known in no other world.”
   Yet the greatest feat of this masterpiece may be the journey into the inner self and into the core of friendship and human connections. It has been extremely difficult for me to make a selection of quotes from this book.  I have savored each and every line, and I know I will return to them in search of wisdom and inspiration.

“Once again I had found myself in the presence of a truth and had failed to recognize it. Consider what had happened to me: I had thought myself lost, had touched the very bottom of despair; and then, when the spirit of renunciation had filled me, I had known peace. I know now what I was not conscious of at the time – that in such hour a man feels that he has finally found himself and has become his own friend. An essential inner need has been satisfied, and against that satisfaction, that self-fulfillment, no external power can prevail.”

“But by the grace of the airplane I have known a more extraordinary experience than this, and have been made to ponder with even more bewilderment the fact that this earth that is our home is yet in truth a wandering star.”

“Men are not cattle to be fattened for market. In the scales of life an indigent Newton weighs more than a parcel of prosperous nonentities. All of us have had the experience of a sudden joy that came when nothing in the world had forewarned us of its coming – a joy so thrilling that if it was born of misery we remembered even the misery with tenderness. All of us, on seeing old friends again, have remembered with happiness the trials we lived through with those friends. Of what can we be certain except this – that we are fertilized by mysterious circumstances? Where is man’s truth to be found?”

“Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.”

"Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: it is something molded. These prison walls that the age of trade has built around us, we can break down."

“I lay there pondering my situation, lost in the desert and in danger, naked between sky and sand, withdrawn by too much silence from the poles of my life. I knew that I should wear out days and weeks returning to them if I were not sighted by some plane, or if next day the Moors did not find and murder me. I was no more than a mortal strayed between sand and stars, conscious of the single blessing of breathing. And yet I discovered myself filled with dreams.”