June 25, 2008

I really don’t know. Obviously all art can’t be uplifting, but I was upset by this movie.

My friend Hugo often complains about the sugar sweet endings of so many American films. And I don’t think I require only happy endings to feel nourished by a film. But this was so g-d bleak.

I object to the DVD cover note: ‘Joined by love, separated by fear, and redeemed by hope’.  The last phrase is simply untrue and leads one to believe that things will turn out all right after all. They don’t,  not by a long shot.

It is based on the book by Ian McEwan, whose work I have been warned against by friends as having a brutal edge to it.

I am questioning what function this kind of art expression has. I certainly am still mulling about it, whereas, if it had been happily resolved I’d have forgotten it by now, probably.

But it tells the story of an intelligent and spiteful child and one act which has tragic consequences for her and several people close to her.

It is exquisitely made and acted, the Dunkirk evacuation scene, a 5 minute long camera shot with 1000 extras is dreamlike and stunning. And throughout the film, there is great beauty to be seen.

What I was left with from seeing the movie is that small actions can have horrific consequences, that war is more brutal than you ever want to imagine or can imagine, and that often people’s lives don’t have a happy ending.

I am not alone in my complex reaction to this movie, even the lead actor, James McAvoy said in an interview that he was still quite upset by the movie.   

So my question is what is the function of a piece of art that confronts you with some hard truths of life? How does it add to the quality of my life?  Is it just bitterness clothed in good technique? Or is there a more existential reason for taking someone’s time and attention to tell them a story like this, where something lovely was utterly and arbitrarily ruined?


June 25, 2008

Not having a TV and living a comparatively solitary life in a small village, books tend to be important to us. I found myself ‘bookless’ and in the middle of a bus strike without a car, so could not get to the library to replenish our stores.

But now I have a new book in my hands, ‘Changing Light’, by Nora Gallagher.  Here is an excerpt:

Einstein was sitting on a small screened-in porch crowded with old summer cottage furniture: wicker chairs with flaking white paint, a table with a water glass on it, an old canvas deck chair, three croquet mallets leaning against a wall in the corner. The floorboards had been painted white. The water of the sound could be seen through the grid of the screens. He was as Leo remembered him: a huge head, furrowed forehead, wisps of white hair, deep brown playful eyes…… 

The first page also has this kind of precise cadence, and I was not only drawn in by the images, but by the inherent sense of order contained in the rhythm of the writing. I also felt trust, asif I were in competent and compassionate hands. After only a few lines, I felt myself calmed by the clarity of the writing, and settled in for a good read.

It is about painting,
             and the atom bomb. 

On the back another favorite author, Annie Dillard writes, ‘At last a novel about something…’.

I’m looking forward to it.



Dementia and Dementers

June 20, 2008

Here comes a rant, be warned.

When I first stumbled upon the work of John Killick and Kate Allan in  creativity and dementia care, the first thing I learned from them was never never never to refer to someone with Alzheimer’s as ‘senile’ or ‘demented’.

In Holland where I live, there is an even more insidious term used, ‘dementerende’, which means ‘dementing’  or ‘dementer’ (which has its own associations from Harry Potter!, ‘dementor’)- in the process of getting demented. 

Otherwise intelligent, compassionate people across all the disciplines and organisations involved with dementia care use this unconsciously without realizing how ultimately degrading and outright damaging it is. 

Once someone has been diagnosed with dementia it is almost as if they’ve lost the right to define their own identity,  (paraphrased from ‘Communication and the Care of people with Dementia’, Killick and Allan). 

Repeatedly referring to someone as a ‘dementer’ ( I have a one page brochure on ‘Activities for Dementers’ here from the national Alzheimer Non-Profit which uses the term 5 times, interspersed with ‘patient’), is defining them exclusively by their illness. It effectively wipes away any trace of personhood. On the other hand if you simply say, ‘person with dementia’, as you would say ‘person with cancer’ or any other disease, you address the wholeness of the person first, and the illness second. Or if you are a doctor who must use the term a lot, then PWD (person with dementia) , or Dutch MMD  would work too.

This depersonalizing of people with dementia is a grave violation of human rights. It makes possible situations like the one I heard of near here, where a beautifully situated waterside psychiatric nursing home is getting gutted, the residents moved to a less idyllic location, and apartments are being built because, ‘The patients don’t know the difference anyway and can’t appreciate the scenery’. Need I say more?


Restless and feeling a bit blue, I perused my bookshelf for something to lose myself in for awhile.

I took down one of my Barry Lopez’s: just the heft of the book and its sober cover promised comfort. I’m not talking about the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ kind of comfort. Spending some time with Barry is more like being with a good friend who looks you in the eye and lovingly but clearly speaks the truth. 

On the first page of  his autobiographical, ‘About This Life,  Journeys on the Threshold of Memory’, he uses the word adumbrations. So you know right away you are not going to be pandered to, and will have to work a bit.

On the book jacket is a picture of the author, in this one, he looks a bit grim to me. But I think that neither he nor his writing are the cuddly sort. (Though, he might be if you got to know him well enough). 

What moves me most about his work is the passion under the words; this man cares to the point of pain about the natural world and our relationship to it.  But there is never overt sentimentality in his subjects. Sometimes his images are harrowing, but there is always a reason. His prose can be richly desciptive, but also pared down to a keen flint edge. What it comes down to is everything he writes matters. To him. And as a result, to the reader.

I have been reading his work for years, and his phrases are some of the most recurring in my calligraphic art. Through the example of his unwavering integrity, he has taught me about the role of the artist in the greater community. He says it best:

If I were asked what  I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it is to contribute to a literature of hope…I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns.
Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story in the end is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part.

[here he refers to himself as a child ]… When I write, I can imagine a child in California wishing to give away what he’s just seeen– a wild animal fleeing through creosote cover in the desert, casting a bright-eyed backward glance. Or three lines of overheard conversation that seem to contain everything we need understand to repair the gaping rift between body and soul. I look back at that boy turning in glee beneath his pigeons, and know it can take a lifetime to convey what you mean, to find the opening. You watch, you set it down. Then you try again.
-Barry Lopez



Mysterious crazy order

June 12, 2008

I’ve been taking voice lessons in the Lichtenberger method for about a year now and every lesson there are revelations. ( Lichtenberger is a scientifically based training for developing more strength, resonance and brilliance in the voice, I haven’t found any English info on it on the web yet)

Today, for instance my teacher, Petra Bierling said the following:

‘The first time I heard Gisela Rohmert, the founder of this method, sing, I was profoundly moved. There was nothing between her and the sound, so you heard her, not someone performing.

Before she developed this method, Gisela was a professional singer, when she performed, people came up to her and said, ‘Oh how beautiful your voice is, how beautifully you sing’.

But after she had been applying the method, when she sang, people came up to her and began sharing things with her about themselves.  They had been opened by the purity of the sound’.

During my lessons, I get different tasks to do while I sing long notes on ‘ooo’ ‘ oh’ ‘ooo’. For instance, today I had to hold my tongue in a certain position and notice what the tongue wanted to do to regulate the sound.
This was a pulling back reflex and had been an unconscious pattern and had acted as a damper on the sound. Once in awareness, this reflex was minimized and the sound became naturally deeper and more resonant.  The hardest thing about this is that you are discouraged from then consciously trying get the tongue to stay in the new position. You just trust the body to absorb that new knowledge and the body will know exactly how to regulate the sound. SO the ego- the part that says, ‘Oooh that was a nice sound, I want to do it again, so I have to do x, y  and z’ has to be sidestepped. You really do step aside, let go,  and watch the sound. And it is amazing what dramatic changes in tone come about after such miniscule physical adjustments.

Petra closed by saying,’

‘When it is the ego doing it, there is separation- its about ‘Look at me!’. When the ego is no longer dominating, then there is connection and communication’.

And of course the parallels with visual art follow on closely. If the ego gets in the way trying to direct a painting towards certain results based on achievement, reputation, or sales, there is no longer contact with the soul. The piece will have a very different function and feel than one made closer to one’s soul values.

But when I can get out of the way and let the work unfold, it speaks its own language. When people see it they don’t see ‘Sarah being a good artist’, they hopefully see something that speaks to their own experience, and connects them with a sense of meaning, beauty, and despite evidence to the contrary, a mysterious  crazy order underlying it all.