Saturday, March 17, 2018

Arthur Rothstein - "the power to move men's minds."

Rehabilitation client at spinning wheel, Ozark Mountains, Arkansas 1935 Photo Arthur Rothstein

The above photograph was taken by one of the premiere photo journalists  Arthur Rothstein. This photograph of the Great Walking Wheel I especially loved as I recently had the great fortune to purchase one of these magnificent antique spinning wheels. I don't know the history of my particular wheel, but if it could talk I know it would tell a compelling historical story.

Arthur Rothstein was in the same company of photographers such a Walker Evans, who co-wrote the book with James Agee Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in 1936. Working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) between 1935-1940, during The Great Depression, these photo journalists reflected the culture of the time within America, documenting rural life and small town America. This documentation poignantly reflected the displacement and migration of farmers and industrial workers . Even more importantly was, what Arthur Rothstein described as his prime motivation to be documentary photographer.

 “the power to move men’s minds,”  and explaining, “The aim is to move people to action, to change or prevent a situation because it may be wrong or damaging, and to support and encourage people.”

Born in 1915 Arthur Rothstein  grew up in the Bronz of New York City. He was the son of Jewish immigrants,  Isadore Rothstein and Nettie Rothstein (née Perlstein) who fled the Nazis during World War 11. Arthur Rothstein died in 1985.

Until today I'd never heard the name Arthur Rothstein. His daughter Ann Segan gave an interview today about recently discovered photographs taken by her father, when he was assigned to work in China, and that were presumed lost for 25 years. This collection of photographs were discovered with the assistance from a very unlikely source.

Arthur Rothstein in China

Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day - Quiet


Today on this 2018 International Women's Day my thoughts are of course on the strength of inner beauty, and the resilience of women today and throughout history. But I think as many women do we think about these things a lot everyday, because we are so often having to rely on our inner resources not only to survive but thrive.

Music can empower individuals and it can express so much about struggle and the resolve to rise above it and to become stronger. Throughout history there have been songs that have become symbolic anthems for the women's movement  and many come to mind when I think about women taking to the streets to protest in marches.

 I heard about this beautiful and powerful song "Quiet" that went viral during the Women's March last year on January 21st 2017 and the young woman who wrote it and why.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Darlene Strong - Sand Hill

Darlene Strong

During my formative early years I was raised in Toronto Ontario in a culturally diverse environment. Then my family moved back to Amherst. My unhappy early teen aged years were spent growing up in Amherst. I knew where Sand Hill was, as I lived on what was commonly known as "The Hill", which was the same hill to my knowledge only the residents in my neigbourhood were predominately white.

 The majority of the residents in our neighbourhood were working class folk. Reflecting back on that 15 year old girl that I was in 1969, it was upsetting to me to see how class conscious many people in this small town were and I saw this attitude from some of my own relatives. I tried not to be affected by it, and rebelled against it, in whatever way I could, but this was not easy to do, when it became immediately obvious to me there were distinct prejudices that existed based on race, financial status, what side of the tracks you came from, who your family was, what church you belonged to, and judged accordingly. As a youth I found these prejudices very repugnant and gratefully my older brother of ten years and I were never raised by our parents to think of any one less then ourselves. 

The vivid memories I have of Darlene Strong (Cook) during our high school days, was how beautiful she was. She was very well liked in school. At this time I didn't know her very well, but later on into adulthood, when I'd returned to Amherst, after going away for work and school, I had the great pleasure of getting to know Darlene. I quickly saw how very creative, gifted, talented and intelligent she was. It seemed to me her very cells exuded creativity. I loved spending time with her when ever I had the chance, sharing our thoughts about art, creativity, matters of the spirit, life, relationships, working with youth, our love of music, and our conversations were always augmented with lots of laughter between us.

Darlene's love and empathy for her fellow human being was so genuine and her exuberance and enthusiasm  for life and in particular living a creative life, was and is infectious.

I remember Darlene had come to my house when I was living with my mother. I wanted to show her this amazing Mahalia Jackson album I'd bought for 99 cents from the Amherst Salvation Army store, which then was a little hole in the wall, so many years ago.  Mahalia Jackson was then and still is my favourite Gospel singer. Darlene and I sat on the edge of my bed listening to the songs of the greatest Gospel singer in the world that day, as it played my brother's record player I inherited from him, because he now had one of those big fancy floor console models now.
 I think Darlene and I experienced a little glimpse of Heaven that day, as we listened to Mahalia's songs.

Darlene is not only a writer, she's a wonderfully expressive visual artist and is also so musically talented. She can simply sit down at a piano and begin playing spontaneously, without sheet music, the most beautiful soulful songs. She did just that, when she sat down at my mother's piano the day she came to visit, and it was something I'll never forget as I watched her and listened in amazement.

Her excellent book Sand Hill, she'd generously given to me a number of years back. I'd lent it to a neighbour last year and they'd returned it the other night. I was so glad to have the book back, as I'd forgotten I'd lent it out. Now I had an opportunity to re-read it and I found I've enjoyed it even more than the first time.

If you are from Amherst, you'll take a special interest in this wonderful read, but regardless of where you dwell or where you're from, Sand Hill is an important book to read, have on your bookshelf, and to share with others. Just be sure to get it back! You'll enjoy it even more the second time round!

The Crops - Darlene Strong - 2017

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

I'm Grateful for The Shit Parade

My week started off like this, so I knew I'd have to turn it over and have faith...

Mid-week I was beginning to feel a little like Qrplt*xk the Alien, but kept trusting that this was going to work out...

I finally had an answer to my prayers and gratefully the resolution to my potential turmoil presented itself,  and all seemed right with the world again, for today, because today is all I have.

There are mental health tools that help me in living everyday especially when the shit parade begins. and I feel like I'm on the verge of an anxiety shit attack. These three coping tools all begin with the letter "H". I need to have humility, use my sense of humour, and remember and appreciate my humanity. Now I have another tool to add to the list, that also begins with the letter "H". Hygge.

I have so much to be grateful for today, and everyday.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Arthur Black - Basic Black

In 1990 I wrote one of my favourite, and irreplaceable CBC Radio hosts, Arthur Black, a letter. All I can remember is that Arthur had done this really funny imaginary commentary about P.M. Brian Mulroney running around the Parliament building Ottawa in the buff. It was so funny, I  had to take the time to write Arthur a letter, and share my thoughts about his commentary on Brian Mulroney. I hope my letter gave him a good laugh like his commentary certainly gave me. He sent me this postcard that I treasure. I'm not sure what info Arthur sent me in the mail, but I'm sure it made me smile.

I seldom would ever miss a Basic Black episode. His show made my Saturday mornings.

I don't want to go on about how CBC Radio has changed, but it has and I'll say this. Perhaps it's due to budget cuts,(can you say re-runs ) or the change in demographics, pandering to a younger audience, but those of us who are a certain age, mainly Baby Boomers remember just how good CBC Radio programming was, and how colourful, intelligent, and humourous many of the hosts were who are sadly now gone. Oh their still are a few left, but their few and far between now. In spite of my criticism I'm still a CBC Radio head and don't have a TV. I was weaned on CBC Radio and I think it's part of my DNA and I like it that way.

And so I'm sad to here of another consummate CBC Radio host, Arthur Black has left this mortal coil for that big broadcast beyond, but I have no doubt it will be a great great show, and Arthur will keep rockin' in the free world.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Colum McCann - The Butt in the Chair

It's often been said by those who write that we all have a story to tell. I believe this to be very true. Okay  not all of us have a first book waiting to be written, but story telling is like breathing for human beings. It's the natural order of things, until for whatever reason in whatever way, we've become disconnected from story telling, and that's in itself is a story, perhaps sad one I think.

As a young person I always felt the need and desire to tell stories and write but not understanding why, and I certainly knew nothing about writing well. It was intuitive I think, and gradually morphed into a way to express my feelings, enabling me to comfort myself or work through whatever I was experiencing in my life. Fortunately I improved  with work, time and reading. I don't aspire to be a commercially published writer, I simply want to write and continue to improve. If the day comes to compile a bunch of pages I can call a book, great!

My words written on the page became the tools for me to use for personal growth and gain insight into who I am, who I've been and who I'm becoming. I've continued on with writing, more seriously so over the past twenty years, dedicating myself to the daily discipline of getting my butt in the chair to write.
This might sound odd to some but writing makes me feel more normal, completes me as a person and nurtures my creativity. It's what I feel compelled to do.

I read a number of books about learning how to write. Some of the best have been Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Becoming a Writer by Dorthea Brande, Julia Cameron's The Artist Way and Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird, to name a few. I know there are numerous others to read. For instance Colum McCann's book about writing I've yet to read.

Listening this morning to an interview he gave about his book Letter to a Young Writer really resonated with me, and much of what he says I think can be related to art and life generally. There's no magic formula here, other than making sure you park your butt into a chair and write, that's where the magic lies. Whether it be in the form of a book, a blog, a memoir etc., Colum McCann states, when we have the desire to write and we write, we become a writer.

"It's really a way to say to the young writer that it's about desire, it's about stamina, and it's about perseverance. It's about putting your rear end in the chair and fighting the terror of the blank page." - Colum McCann

Letter to a Young Writer

Do the things that do not compute. Be earnest. Be devoted. Be subversive of ease. Read aloud. Risk yourself. Do not be afraid of sentiment even when others call it sentimentality. Be ready to get ripped to pieces: it happens. Permit yourself anger. Fail. Take pause. Accept the rejections. Be vivified by collapse. Practice resuscitation. Have wonder. Bear your portion of the world. Find a reader you trust. They must trust you back. Be a student, not a teacher, even when you teach. Don’t bullshit yourself. If you believe the good reviews, you must believe the bad. Still, don’t hammer yourself down. Do not allow your heart to harden. Face it, the cynics have better one-liners than we do. Take heart: they can never finish their stories. Enjoy difficulty. Embrace mystery. Find the univer­sal in the local. Put your faith in language—character will follow and plot, too, will eventually emerge. Push yourself further. Do not tread water. It is possible to survive that way, but impossible to write. Never be satisfied. Transcend the personal. Have trust in the staying power of what is good. We get our voice from the voices of others. Read promiscuously. Imitate, copy, become your own voice. Write about that which you want to know. Better still, write toward that which you don’t know. The best work comes from outside yourself. Only then will it reach within. Be bold in the face of the blank sheet. Restore what has been ridiculed by others. Write beyond despair. Make justice from reality. Sing. Make vision from the dark. The con­sidered grief is so much better than the unconsid­ered. Be suspicious of that which gives you too much consolation. Hope and belief and faith will fail you often, but so what? Share your rage. Resist. Denounce. Have stamina. Have courage. Have per­severance. The quiet lines matter as much as those that make noise. Trust your blue pencil, but don’t forget the red one. Make the essential count. Allow your fear. Give yourself permission. You have some­thing to write about. Just because it’s narrow doesn’t mean it’s not universal. Don’t be didactic—nothing kills life quite so much as explanation. Make an argument for the imagined. Begin with doubt. Be an explorer, not a tourist. Go somewhere nobody else has gone. Fight for repair. Believe in detail. Unique your language. A story begins long before its first word. It ends long after its last. Make the ordinary sublime. Don’t panic. Reveal a truth that isn’t yet there. At the same time, enter­tain. Satisfy the appetite for seriousness and joy. Dilate your nostrils. Fill your lungs with language. A lot can be taken from you—even your life—but not your stories about that life. So this, then, is a word, not without love and respect, to a young writer: write.
Dear Readers, The full Letters to A Young Writer by Colum McCann will be published by Random House on April 4, 2017. Keep a lookout for it in your local bookstore!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Smallest Birds Sing the Sweetest Songs

I had visitors today perched on my Lilac tree outside my studio window, Black Capped Chickadees.
To me they are the sweetest birds and the songs they sing are innovative and varied.  Chickadees start to sing in earnest in January. In February they sing more and in March and April the number of songs increase even more. They have at least 15 vocalizations that mean different things.

Each male and female Chickadee recognizes and can differentiate between male and females by the first and second note of their song.

Scientists have found that we have much to learn about creativity from birds and other animals. The bigger the brain the more innovative the bird. If species like Crows and Ravens live longer it results in them being more innovative because they survive a long time and this can increase their creative abilities. Like human beings, the longer we live the more we learn.

When I lived in the North West Territories, where the Ravens are numerous. I saw first hand how smart they are, taunting and tormenting tied dogs at the end of their tether, the Ravens would get as close as they could , but not enough for the dogs to catch them. It was told to me a Raven was seen  flying overhead with a KFC box in it's beak, and even flying upside down (I'm not too sure about that story).

Raven's recognize faces, tell one another where the food is, grieve for one another when one of their own dies, and can even use tools of their own making and it's not much wonder they are commonly known as the Trickster in Indigenous culture.

When I was about 12 years old, I had my first little bird, an Albino Budgie bird named Billy. It was then I got to understand just how humans and birds can bond with one another, andthey are so emotionally, if not intellectually intelligent.

My Budgie Billy was so smart and very loving. He would rub his little head against my nose, and that was our cuddle time. He loved to listen to music, especially when my mother would play the piano.

Every single day, and we never missed, when I came home from school, I'd immediately go to open his cage  and out he'd come standing on the door bobbing up and down in excitement. Then he'd hop onto my extended finger and we'd spend the next few hours enjoying each others company, until supper time, while he was on my shoulder. Then one very sad day came, when I buried Billy in the backyard after he'd died, gently placing him in a shoe box, and I had a little service for him and marked his grave with a little cross made from Popsicle sticks. I was very sad to loose my sweet friend, who'd helped me to keep from sadness and loneliness.

I live in a beautiful spot on a tidal river where there's a plethora of birds. like Canada Geese, Great White Egrets, Blue Herons, Bitterns, Humming Birds, Eagles, Buttings, Snow Birds and so many more.
So I keep my eyes and ears open especially for signs of Spring after a long Winter, by watching and listening to the bird songs. And so today after seeing a group of Chickadees in my lilac tree, it certainly lifted my heart knowing that Spring isn't so far off!

Here's a photo I took of a Great White Egret when I looked out of my studio window. I snapped this a few years back during the early Winter and it was sitting on the hood of my car.

The Canada Geese below are frequent in tidal river and numerous. I love to hear them every year, as they are the first confirmation Spring has arrived..

Great White Egret Hood Ornament

Canada Geese on Apple River Sea Marsh in the Fall

"Littlest Birds" Lyrics: Well I feel like an old hobo, I'm sad lonesome and blue I was fair as a summers day Now the summer days are through You pass through places And places pass through you But you carry 'em with you On the souls of your travellin' shoes Well I love you so dearly I love you so clearly Wake you up in the mornin' so early Just to tell you I got the wanderin' blues I got the wanderin' blues And i'm gonna quit these ramblin' ways one of these days soon And I'll sing The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs... Well it's times like these I feel so small and wild Like the ramblin' footsteps of a wanderin' child And I'm lonesome as a lonesome whippoorwill Singin these blues with a warble and a trill But I'm not too blue to fly No I'm not too blue to fly cause The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs... Well I love you so dearly I love you so fearlessly Wake you up in the mornin' so early Just to tell you I got the wanderin' blues I got the wanderin' blues And I don't wanna leave you I love you through and through Oh I left my baby on a pretty blue train And I sang my songs to the cold and the rain I had the wanderin' blues And I sang those wanderin' blues And I'm gonna quit these ramblin' ways One of these days soon And I'll sing... The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs.... I don't care if the sun don't shine I don't care if nothin' is mine I don't care if I'm nervous with you I'll do my lovin' in the wintertime