Tuesday, March 3, 2015

7:30 BELLS: The Best of the Bells: The Gossamer of Possibility

Occasionally I feature the most popular past 7:30 BELLS posts. This one is from December of 2013 when I was stunned by an exhibit of Isabelle de Borchgrave's full size, gossamer paper dresses.

Art that resonates with you can set the bells wildly ringing. That happened to me this week when I saw the exhibit, A World of Paper, A World of Fashion: Isabelle de Borchgrave Meets Mariano Fortuny, at the Bellevue Art Museum.

Using the exquisite dresses designed by Fortuny (1871-1949) as a point of departure, Isabelle de Borchgrave concocted other-worldly dream dresses out of paper—painted, glued, torn, crumpled. A few have backdrops made entirely of paper, like the tent pavilion pictured below. Some of the other-worldliness comes from surprise and fascination—full size dresses fashioned of paper instead of fabric. Tissue thin veils sway in the breeze. Some of the other-worldliness comes from the evocation of the legendary past—Moorish, Arabic, Persian, Coptic, Japanese patterns painted in tromp l’oeil on the paper.

But for me, most of the other-worldliness comes from being cast into a realm of fantastic imagination. Some of these dresses had presences. Standing before a tent pavilion, watching gossamer paper drapes ripple, I rang with possibility. Lines of poetry filled my mind, ideas for stories, and shapes for a sculpture project I’m working on.

You never know what will make the bells ring and bring you alive. Never know what will converge with your current creative tuning and set you on fire. So seek things out. Fantastic worlds of imagination await, if you make time to open yourself to the gossamer of possibility. 

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesdays of every month. Join me on March 10 for a guest post with the wonderful children's author Laurie Thompson.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Plainsong by Artist/Designer Iskra Johnson

I am very pleased to share this 7:30 BELLS Guest Post by Fine Artist/Designer Iskra Johnson, whose work I've admired for many years.
When I was 15 I had a friend named Frank. He was handsome and angry, and one of the things that made him angriest was the bells of Epiphany, a church down by the lake. One afternoon as we sat together in his attic in a usual state of undeclared courtship, the bells began ringing. Time to walk home from school with arithmetic on our backs. Time to get down on our knees and pray.

Frank leaped up, enraged. The bells aren’t real, he shouted, they are a recording. How he wanted a real man, (preferrably a muscular man in rags and pearls of luminous sweat) to be the one pulling that long frayed rope to the sky. What a fraud they were, to impose this granular lo-fi hoax on us! I think in that moment I realized the beginning of unrequited love, it’s very nature. By which I mean not only love of a man susceptible only to fevers –– but of an idea. You can chase it all you want, but beauty won’t necessarily love you back.

Here again comes February, that grimy still-winter month with a red sticker in the middle. Here Cupid’s quiver of bent arrows. I always think of Mexico, of that year of urgent flight. I vowed I would not spend Valentine’s counting petals alone in my bathtub. Love me, love-me-not, let me go. Bring me to the balmy land of heart-shaped milagros and coral bits! The fish were bright and the coral was stubborn, resisting its own impermanence and building elaborate leaded windows undersea. I squeezed the salt out of my eyes and thanked it, and my heart was still broken into little pieces. I filled my pockets with abstract glyphs of shells and rocks and sorted them into sentences to send to myself.

My friends said, We should go see ruins. And so we set off to see civilization before it ended, batting off the red rose vendors of St. Valentine and wondering if the songs on the boom boxes were about love or drug deals gone bad. In this way it is very easy to get into a car accident. You aren’t quite paying attention, and before you know it you are in a five-car pile-up and then in a police station. On this side is the land of the Tourist and on this, the Other Side. No papier-mâché mermaids here, and no margaritas.

Prison? Hitchike to the airport? Slowly trade our belongings or bodies for freedom? Somehow the known Spanish was not enough to figure things out. For six hours we stood in the rain under a leaking wooden shed and watched the Mexican dogs. Two mongerel mixes, shepherd and retriever, dirty blond and scruffy black. They leapt and nipped in the mud in mad dog-love, while above us a bare lightbulb swung back and forth, intermittently bright. I held my camera under my coat and turned the lens cap, knowing that photographing police dogs at the police station was not a good idea.

I had survived the week through the eye of my camera. I had three hundred pictures of loving turtles and matching parrots and the bleak, beautiful abandonments of Mexican doors. Metaphor was my friend. But here nothing was anything other than exactly what it

was. I could do nothing but be here, and I had no idea how long that being here might last. What I had was just this, the dirty ochre light, the clouds floating in puddles, the barking. I don’t know how long I fell into a certain state. It’s not something you can measure. You don’t even know you are there when you are there. But later you look back, and everything is very sharp and clear. Frank would have liked it. It’s what he always wanted to hear: plainsong. Something with harmonies unrecordable. Something so real it never goes away.

Learn more about Iskra Johnson and see her work at http://iskrafineart.com/ and http://www.iskradesign.com/

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

7:30 BELLS:Carillion Bells of Past, Present, and Future

When I passed this blooming cherry tree yesterday, a bright February day, my first thought was, “It’s coming!” Spring, of course. Hope and anticipation, those age old Spring feelings, surged through me.

Then I thought, “the joy is now.” Here was this glorious tree in front of me, right now. What a miracle to be well enough in body simply to take a walk on a beautiful day and see the world. To be well enough in mind, unburdened by worry, to notice the blooming tree. My joy also came from comparing this moment to past times when I haven’t been well enough, or unburdened enough, simply to walk.

To be able to walk on a beautiful day is a simple gift, a great gift.

And so the joy of this moment was made by the simultaneous ringing of the bells of the past, the present, and the future. That’s what I think of as being fully alive to life.

Happy Spring.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on February 24 for a guest post with fine artist/designer Iskra Johnson.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

7:30 BELLS Guest Post by author Brent Hartinger

I'm so pleased to share this 7:30 BELLS Guest Post by the prolific author/playwrite Brent Hartinger.

Anyone who's lived in Seattle over the past few years knows that the city has changed recently in ways that seem almost unimaginable. In fact, I just read in the newspaper that, with the amount of construction going on right now, Seattle might be changing faster than any major city in the last one hundred years. They're literally building a whole second downtown in the South Lake Union area. It's crazy!

And it's not all good, of course. Rents are insane, we now have the fourth-worst traffic in the country, and apparently both things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

But even with the crazy rents and horrible traffic, there's a sense of creative energy to the city right now that is just incredible. It really does feel like the focus of the whole world is on us, like people are listening to the things we say and do -- like we're setting trends and solving the problems of the whole country. We're literally curing cancer (among many other things)!

Late last spring, I was outlining my latest book, The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know, about a 23-year-old gay guy trying to make sense of life and love. I thought about where I should set it, and all I had to do was look outside my window to think, "Oh, this book can't be set anywhere else but Seattle. The city perfectly captures the character's sense of fear and optimism."

It was as clear as, well, the ringing of a bell!

Even better, I knew the time-lag on this book was going to be a lot faster than any of my earlier books. Rather than have to wait two or three years for it to be published, I knew the book would be out by the end of the year -- just months from when I was writing that first draft.

That meant I could try an interesting experiment: I could set the book in the place and time that I was actually writing it: Seattle in the summer of 2014.

It was one of the most interesting writing experiences of my career. My characters were reacting to the things going on around me, to things in the news, things that were happening to me. Amazon, Dan Savage, minimum wage, the weather, and on and on -- I was able to write about it all, while everything was still fresh and exciting and "real."

People often say, "The setting is like a *character* in this book" and I've always thought that was mostly pretentious nonsense. But for the first time in my career, it really did seem to describe what I was doing.

The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know is out now. And I guess I captured something about the city, because lots of people have told me how much they want to visit now.

That makes me smile. I confess, I love Seattle. And I'm excited it shows.

Be sure to check out Hartinger's new music video!  A song by Brett Every based on the Hartinger's novel THE THING I DIDN'T KNOW I DIDN'T KNOW.

Brent Hartinger is an author, playwright, and screenwriter. Geography Club, the first book in his Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series, is also a successful stage play and a feature film co-starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky. 
Visit him at www.brenthartinger.com

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on February 24 for a guest post with artist/designer Iskra Johnson.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Stumbling Over the Wall and Into . . .

"It is by jeopardy, not invulnerability, that the hero matures.” Jane Hirshfield's line from Nine Gates rang in my mind when I passed this moss-covered stone wall. Before it lay last year’s sodden leaves—known, dead, and yet leading to the crumbling wall with its vibrant moss. On the other side of the wall, a deep canyon drops down into the woods.

I remembered the rest of Hirshfield’s passage: 
“It is by jeopardy, not invulnerability, that the hero matures. Habit, laziness and fear conspire to keep us comfortably within the familiar. There we may make our way in the dark and never stumble against an unexpected wall . . .”

Usually we think of the unknown being dark, not the known and the familiar. This reversal resonates with me. The vulnerable places we turn toward cast light on the walls we need to cross. On the worlds we need to enter to keep growing up and growing up, forever up.

This green wall is beautiful. Unexpected. Promising. I stop long enough to look over into the woods. And wonder. How it would be to cross the wall and plunge into the woods, risking brambles, sliding stones, to reach . . . what? 

All we can glean in advance about that “what” is the strength of the choice we make to find out. Sometimes all we know is that it's time to reach out of the familiar darkness, stumble over the wall, and press onward into the good green light.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on February 10 for a guest post with author Brent Hartinger.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Poet Linda M. Robertson

Linda M. Robertson and I met near this bell in the Cape George Colony. She was walking down the road toward the beach and I was walking up the road. We smiled at each other. She asked, "Did you see the sea otters?" And friendship blossomed. We were both poets, had both had lived and loved the Methow Valley. Robertson's beautiful, fine press book, Letters to Julia: 1898-1899 is set there, as are my books Eva of the Farm and After the River the Sun. 

I'm so pleased to share her resonating essay: Sense of Place.

At the edge of the Salish Sea, there hangs a large bronze bell. Shapes of fish and stones are cast in the metal, as well as the words: “Our simplest wisdom is to follow the sea-bright salmon home.”

The idea of “home” makes me think of place. I am a writer that cherishes sense of place. It is place that makes me feel alive, that rings and resonates in my work. Place provides me with vocabulary, with narratives, with inspiration for image-making; with a landscape to discover and chart as I build word-cairns, poems. My poems act as time-capsules; they bring people, incidents, and places of the past into the present.

I don’t consider “place” to reference only outer landscapes. My poems and prose also illuminate emotions, visual art, and dreams. I have written about “the places of goodbye,” as well as spiritual journeys: “Walking the Edge of Heaven.”

In the essay “The Art of Finding” poet Linda Gregg recalls the landscape of her youth and writes “The elements of that bright world are in my poetry now…They are present as essences. They operate invisibly as energy, equivalents, touchstones, amulets, buried seed, repositories, and catalysts…” She refers to this recalled landscape as her own “resonant sources.”

As I reflect on the landscapes that continue to be present as “essences” in my work, I think of San Diego, where I was born and lived for the first 20 plus years of my life. My memories pulse with broad beaches, fishing boats, shorebirds and the sea’s salt-songs. I think also of the shrub-steppe eastern slopes of the North Cascades in Washington state—a remarkable place I called home for nearly 30 years.

In December I completed a Low-Residency MFA program at Chatham University, Pittsburgh. My Thesis “The Missing” is a manuscript of 51 pages of poems. As I review the work I crafted over the past three years while I was living and traveling in the US and the UK, I see how sense of place pervades the manuscript. No matter if I was writing about personal struggles, dreams, a painting from the 15th century, my son who died too soon at age 20, or my elderly parents—place is often present and resonant. The southern sea and the northern mountain world are with me as I sit at my desk and write. This poem, the final one in my manuscript— written while in England as I wrestled with change of place and home, is an example:


Later I will say
the hills conspired: crowds
of balsam root and lupine
hindered my passage; my shoulders
bound by snow-thrift clouds.
Not one clock struck
the hour. I leaned
the broadest yellow pine, the flags
of prayer, where a male grouse
stood sentry. The maple tree
sheltered the bird-bowls sheen
a last offering. The distances before me
inscribed with raven wings.

In my writing, I find truth in the I Ching’s: “There is no going without returning.”

Linda M. Robertson is a recent graduate of Chatham University’s Low-Residency MFA program. Publications include “Letters to Julia: 1898-1899” by the Methow Conservancy, Visions of Verse, The Methow Naturalist, Mirror Northwest. A chapbook, Reply of Leaves, was published by Magic Mountain Press in 2002. Linda lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest and England and hopes to publish work from her manuscript The Missing in literary journals.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on February 10 for a guest post with author Brent Hartinger.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Rilke's Bell Tower

What batters us can become our strength. So says Rilke--the pinnacle of the German Romantic Poetry tradition that began with Goethe and went on through Holderlin, Heine, and Novalis. (Jung flowed out of this tradition as well.)

An accident last week left large second degree burns on my legs. So there have been many days of late where I've felt the night is indeed "uncontainable." 

"Let this darkness be a bell tower
 and you the bell." 

I read Rilke's poem for the first time three days after my accident. I've long believed that transformative power can come out of any experience of pain or darkness. But I'd never thought of darkness itself as the bell tower.  

Here is the entire poem:

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

--Rilke/Translated by Joanna Macy
--Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

We are the mystery, and we are the meaning. If we hold to that, we can ring, flow, and speak in any weather--in darkness and in light, in pain and in joy.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on January 27 for a guest post with poet Linda Robertson.