Friday, June 29, 2012

Poetic License

Gaza Shield
While cleaning out my email, I received a request to enter a global poetry contest through the "World Poetry Movement".   Sometimes you just go with it and let the words flow and get out of the way.  That is movement.  Since this is a "World" emphasized "Contest", I placed special emphasis on the world.  The real movement comes from within your heart and getting honest about what we want to change.  These words do not apply to a specific nation and yet they apply to all of us when we do nothing when we can do something.  Empower your voice against the apathy of the world in whatever medium you choose to use.  I remembered the movie "Gaza Shield", a short movie about how a video game was used to send a response to an Israeli on-line video game that promoted the killing of Palestinians.  Well, in that same spirit, we have to know when to call out our leadership in whatever nation we may reside in...because we all know, it's not OK.

Oh, and a note about the "Contest".  The goal for me isn't about winning's about the message and I hope that you pass it on.

Picture: Güven Mendi

Crushing bones of war kissed with words of peace
Sounds of bombs exploding in the air
as the aid packages turn the food into blood
River run dry as the oil flows
another swollen dark belly
with skeletal frames crawl in the dirt
Throwing money at problems
leaving ill fated leadership to cut up the pie
sinking another immunization into a frail arm
with tongues swollen for thirst
and eyes that have only been blackened
by a heartless earth, laying barren and dry
soaking up the lifeblood of a native soul
no concern for the words,
no concern for the wishes
only want something on the dishes
No threads to pull together
No crops to sow
Just another body to bury with their plastic smiles
as long as its not their child but mine
The shadows of aid in a wasteland
with flowers in one hand and bullets in another
Is my skin not the right color?
Are my words understandable?
Would you have me hate my mother for giving me life?
Would you have my kill my brother just for a slice?
For a tank of gas...I cannot breathe.
For a diamond bracelet...the blood flows.
For your life, you demand my life.
For your peace, you give me war.
Behind the smile is a wall of words.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Please Do Not Touch The Sculpture, But Let It Touch You

 Touch.  To touch and not to touch.  Please don't touch me while I touch you.  As I was going through my pictures of my time in Washington DC, I found some shots that I hadn't edited yet and simply wanted to post for those who would appreciate them.  The raw humanity of torment captured in these faces conflicted with the sounds of laughing children in the background.  The story of the Burghers of Calais that Auguste Rodin captured in Bronze has moved me for sometime.  To see this version and the other in Paris, is a treasured memory for me.  I know that Rodin is quite possibly most remembered for "The Thinker", but for me, "The Burghers of Calais" whispers something new with each viewing.

There are many reasons artists 'go into' art.  One artist has mentioned that perhaps this is the only compensation received.  In troubled times, I beg to differ, after all, with art, when applied to any vocation, that imaginative touch becomes something more.  A skilled hand only remains so if there is life in its utilization.  As with anything that is not used, it withers away into oblivion.

In viewing Emile-Antoine Bourdelle's "The Great Warrior of Montauban", I have wondered if it was only the physique that was called great.  A raised sword, an outstretched arm, surely is this not greatness?  However, destruction of life is easier than preserving life.  Death is easy my friend, living is where the challenge is.  Where is his foe?  Whom is he protecting?  But that is art, that essence that makes you mentally explore the pieces that are rendered.  And when each person has the opportunity to do that instead of having it told to them, they find their truth as to what makes art real in a world of illusion.  You are free to be touched by the work only if you allow them to touch you.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Seeds of Faith or Little Things DO Matter

This year was the year that I thought about the fable of the grasshopper and the ant.  As children, many a story in varying versions are told about preparation and the value of hard work.  Growing up in the midwestern states of America, this story had a very tangible feel, because of our winters, being generally very unforgiving and bitterly cold.  My grandfather hunted deer in the northern woods of Minnesota, no so much for sport, but because they actually ate what they killed.  I heard stories of the "old country" and it always puzzled me, what was this "old country" I had heard so much about. Though I was surrounded by multiple European and Scandinavian languages we weren't encouraged to learn those tongues, but to stick with our assimilation into American culture.  We were the new generation and old ways were for other times, or so was the thinking of that time.  Whether I wanted to think of it or not, my existence was produced by war.  The emigration of my maternal great-grandparents was the direct result of the encroachment of the Russians into Finland.  My grandmother's family had emigrated from Sweden.  Meanwhile on my father's side of the family, they had steadily migrated towards the mid-section of the country after initially settling in Pennsylvania coming from France and Ireland with many a passionate love story in the mix as I traced my family tree all the way back to the 1500s.  My father had been traumatized during the Vietnam war, the sixth child of 13 children, yet, he was the first born son, and a spoiled child, he was used to being the center of attention.  That somehow did not translate well into military service for him.  The odds of my parents meeting seemed almost astronomical to me.  However, that is the nature of life.  For my son, when he thinks about it one day, his own story, it gets even more bizarre that his American parents would come from two very different backgrounds to meet in the United Kingdom, where he would himself be born where a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty resided in from of the hospital.  Significant only because his father was born in New York City where the larger version resides.  None of it planned in some sort of self aware fashion, but seemingly purposeful, as if each life is no accident, no matter how random it appears.
So this year, in a very random fashion, I planted my first garden.  In a chaotic rendition, I started with just seeds and started seedlings in April and nurtured them, watered them and bravely started to set them out as winter faded away, covering them at night and wondering if I knew what I was doing, but trusting my instincts along the way.  I trusted the earth, the sun, the rains, and pulled up a lot of weeds to prepare the soil to receive these new children.  I gently removed them from the garden boxes and transplanted them and still, I felt like I didn't know what I was doing, only vaguely having an idea that if I just did it, it would just happen.  The roots took hold and the soil was turned and I would just have a go at it.
 There wasn't a real plan.  I grew a little bit of this, that and the other, mislaid my labels and finally felt that I was just at the mercy of the fates.  There was an orderly chaos of rows of this, that, and the other to just became a garden that I visited every morning and sunset to take stock of how they were doing in the elements.  I wondered at times if they were receiving too much rain, if the hail was killing them, if the sun was scorching them, and if they were being devoured by pestilence.  Still, I was determined to run a course of non-interference with pesticides.  No traps for gophers or rabbits, and I pulled up weeds and moved some of them around with some measure of hesitation.  I realized my not having any idea of what I was doing was quite possibly my greatest asset because I wasn't afraid to try.
They are flourishing.  Lush bean stalks, peas that flowered and have vines that formed arms to link up to each other to grab life.  On days that I watered them, I noticed how they just bounced with life.  Whereas if you have seen a wilted plant that was devoid of life, the leaves seem flatter, something is lacking and in spite of its greenness, you could tell that life was no longer within those plants. 
This season has been a pleasure to explore and create something tangible as the broad pumpkin leaves spread.  I think about the journey, and it's not that I can't wait for the harvest, it's not really what was the important part of the lesson.  The important part of the lesson was that all life is really about the small things that grow into the larger things.  Oh, it was just a seed, placed into soil.  A seed, that doesn't seem important at least not until they are given favorable conditions to grow. 
Somehow, my garden, this little plot of land, has made me think about the miracle of life, it's fragile points, and it's durability.  In some ways the chaos that I look at, made me appreciate the act of just doing without premeditation, yet trusting all of my imperfect actions.  Perhaps that is what a real organic garden is; a mere reflection of the type of person I am. 

"Mary, Mary, quite contrary...."

How does YOUR garden grow?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Memories of Nanjing, China

As many of you know (or may not), I love to illustrate my blog with my own images of my travels as I go through this world.  I hope you enjoy the images and get a sense of what I was feeling along the way.  Nanjing is a very special city for me because I felt the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Many of these images was from my daily life.  From the Garden of the 12 Heavenly Gates where few westerners went (I never saw any, but I would frequent there to watch the couples dance under the moonlight), to images from the campuses of Nanjing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics which was built on the grounds of the ancient palace of Nanjing.

Enjoy the walk with me.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Traverse The World

Many people do different things when they go through a major upheaval in life.  Some might call it a mid-life crisis, I would have called it a mid-life explosion.  The end of things, a change of priorities, the sifting of souls, etc.  Whatever you want to call it, I learned an important lesson, embrace the free fall.  At the time, I was reading a lot of Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Proust, D.H. Lawrence and George Orwell's lesser known work and even a lovely bit of Charles Chaplin's life.  They were my counsel and guides through the city of Paris and in particular about poverty.  When I came to Paris the first time, I did not seek out the glamor of the higher rent districts.  I sought out the streets of Pigalle in the 18th and in the 19th, I met an assortment of people from all walks of life.  Each district, in their own way said they were the "real Paris", while others weren't Paris at all.  To an outsider, it appears that there is a bit of having to validate yourself.  Is the Eiffel Tower...Paris or is the person staring at the Eiffel...Paris?  It seems in the city, so full of symbols about freedom and liberty, one would realize the importance of not having to dominate others in order to have a 'free and open' society.  It was in Paris I had prepared myself for the 48,000 miles I would travel within 3 years and I began my journey on a street named for an ancient route.  I do take notes along the way, because the signposts have seemed like funny coincidences. 
So I felt like I was going to undergo an ancient journey, since I was free to do so.  All obligations had fallen away and my time in Paris, writing what I saw, experienced, and learnt enabled me to focus on illusion, reality, fantasy, art, love, passion and the experience of being apart of a city that is known for the world walking through it.  Countless creatives come to Paris for some sort of divine inspiration.  Often many fantasize about becoming someone important, famous through whatever they create in the city with a focus on becoming "somebody".  Of course that totally destroys the process and more often than not, you see copies of other brushstrokes instead of the original.  The original gets buried somewhere because of that gnawing fear of public rejection or being made a fool of in the gallery world.  That fickle world of art, where experts proclaim or denounce a person and you cannot make a mistake.  I met many a great artist, many a good artist, and many a poor artist.  Perfect strokes of illusion that copied other lives and yet, even in advanced ages, failed to live their own.  Too caught up in the image game in order to be "accepted".

Wandering around in Pere La Chaise, sometimes feeling that death was more celebrated than life in Paris.  It's a strange city that actually celebrates pain more than love, often equating misery with art as I recalled an artist who showed her "Dear Jane" rejection letter to strangers to ask what they thought of it and using their responses to gain press.  I found it rather pointless because all she did accomplish was a way to exploit her relationship failure and make it public.  In a way, a bitter cast-off.  Bitter women are miserable to be around and are never pleased with anyone.  How does one heal with an openly wounded heart if you keep ripping off the emotional bandages??
Perhaps Saint Roger has an answer for the lovelorn...and then again, perhaps talking to stain glassed windows loaded with lead might earn you a well needed rest in a observation ward.

Paris, is not just a city famous for love, but is infamous for its suicides.  Whether it's jumping into the Seine, or in front of a Metro train, Paris is quite possibly the most famous city you can choose to die in. 

So why does this city seem to suck the life out of the young and aspiring? Hmmm.
When I returned to the states I stayed in a very small township.  The town was named "Divide."  I myself was divided.  I felt old beliefs shattered.  I felt new ones trying to take root without any success.
And that was a good thing.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Giving During Broken Times

Giving.  Just saying the word leaves many a little fearful.  What if they want more from me?  What if I wind up on some sort of mailing list?  What if I am exploited? Actually, these questions came up when I went on a search for a charity because I wanted to find a foreign child to connect with.  The sentiment within a lot of countries that are going through austere times is "we need to take care of our own." or "we already give."  I remained silent.  I heard the words before.  I said the words myself.  However, I looked at the 'type' of giving our nation usually does and honestly, throwing money at a problem doesn't do much for a problem. 

In our giving, there is something within us that wants it to be authentic, from the heart, unasked for and simply appreciated.  Maybe in a way, it just makes us feel better.  We want our hearts to be alive with the knowledge we have helped someone.  We define it.  Whatever the motivation, within us, we hear that call towards giving, and to be honest, many of us cringe.  The first thing many people think about is their wallet.  They don't think about their possessions, time or talent.  In some ways, many charities have also made it very difficult TO give and TO receive.

I started searching.  I was looking for something very specific.  I wanted to sponsor a child through a humanitarian program that was not affiliated with the IMF, a government organization, the World Bank, any religious organization and I was able to find three that looked really good.  One was an orphanage that to my surprise had enough sponsors and had a DONOR waiting list.  I had read about all of the funds going directly to the children, great correspondence, willingness to encourage visits and donors received monthly expense reports.  When you encounter a great steward of resources, it's understandable WHY people are attracted to this organization.

I submitted a request to be a donor, but my search went on.

I was actually frustrated with a number of organizations that stopped child sponsorship, calling it a 'waste of money'.  With technology advances, you don't have to spend money on postage when emails and photos can be sent via email.  Where did these children come from?  What was their story?  What kind of opportunities are they going to be afforded besides food and clothing?  What kind of hardships did they need assistance with?  What level of involvement was needed?  Nope, it's a waste of money to correspond with these children.  We just want your money and just trust us to help them out.  The skeptic in me saw their poverty being used in a negative way. 

Other organizations are busy trying to 'save souls' and want you to buy religious books and fund schools for heavily impoverished areas.  Maybe they might build a well, but to me, it looks a little like a religious organization exploiting their poverty in order to sell their message of hope.  What if the child rejects their message and just wants to play, eat, and have a safe place to be?  Would the organization reject them (as I have heard stories of aid workers being rejected because they don't share beliefs, but had the necessary vocational skills required...I think this is a valid question)?

Giving should be intentional.  The giving I have done in the past has been on multiple levels, from teaching, to service, to tangible items, time and even just an ear to listen, an eye to see and a smile. 

Giving should be without thought of reward. 

Giving should be spontaneous.

Giving should be from the heart.

Why give?  The largest reason to give is to realize that we are not here forever.  To reaffirm humanity.  What reason can you think of to not give?  For many people, it seems that the less they have, the easier it is to give.  Let's be honest, if many of you received a large sum of money, name any amount, and in your head the first thought that pops into your mind is what to do with it for yourself.  I heard one woman say, the first thought that came into her mind was how to keep it.

How odd.

Keep it?  Currency is a tool.  It is meant to be used, circulated, not hoarded and underutilized.  However, that is how we are programmed to think.  We are told the stories of how so many people partied their monies away and as these stories are paraded before us we are taught to cling, out of the fear of never having enough.  We just don't seem to have a handle on what we need.  We don't even know how to define need. 

Changing a mindset is difficult for many.  Rigid beliefs are often our biggest obstacle.  In the west we have gotten used to NOT trusting.  So I decided to set up a challenge for myself.  Find a way to make an impact.

I decided to pick a country, find an organization I had never heard of and see if there was a way to help.  The best way to be a peacemaker in this world is to care, put aside my skeptic's glasses, because there is real need out there.  I found Givology.  You can sponsor children, projects and get involved through many means.  What will YOU find?   

It's a small start, a small step towards the path I want to continue on no matter how jaded the world may seem to get.  We aren't alone. 

I want to give because....

and enjoy the journey.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Being Green...Like a Frog

While out gardening today, I happened to have my camera in my satchel for some strange reason.  A camera and a frog who really wasn't afraid of me as I approached the water spicket.  It seemed to know I was photographing it and just shifted from here to there like it was posing for me.  I was actually kind of amazed at how close it let me get.
Perhaps I have been used to wild things running off whenever something "human" approaches, but this little guy just sat there. 
and I just kept snapping away. 
 What kind of visitors have you found in your garden today?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Solar Eclipses, Full Moon and the Transit of Venus. Why do we pay attention to these celestial movements?

The skies of Minnesota seem to at times rob us of the more spectacular views.  Our winters are famous for the seasons of gray clouds that serve to insulate us, but leave us begging for a glimpse of the sun.  Not so this last winter, but we seem to be getting our clashes of arctic air confronting warm air masses when we get into warmer weather.  I always loved watching the drama in the skies.  The dragon's belly clouds that just seem pregnant with possible tornado activity, still, calm, and awesome in its appearance.
 Our view of the solar eclipse this year could only be viewed through special film or glasses, so to us, did it or didn't it happen?  Much like the transit of Venus that is occurring.  None of us will be able to view it with the naked eye, but perhaps on the Helio viewer we may get a peek.  There is a lot of chatter about the Transit of Venus, that happens in pairs that span about 7.5 years apart about once every 100 years.  Astrologers are talking about love, and if that were true, then it seems that the last transit ended a marriage for me, and this one?  Seriously, I am just joking.  If we were at the mercy of the stars, then I would believe this would be a more ordered world.  Or is it that there is far more chaos in the Universe than we realize?
With a full moon obscuring the view of a normally well populated night sky, I fend off the mosquitoes, or try to.  I look around and just see everything in balance.  I breathe.  I note the smell of the earth and don't miss the urban or suburban.

Enjoy the transit of Venus, even if you don't see it, someone will show you pictures to ensure you do.