As writers and artists we have unique opportunities to change the world.
Check out my article in Night Owl Reviews about the win-win opportunities of social activism.
As writers and artists we have unique opportunities to change the world.
Check out my article in Night Owl Reviews about the win-win opportunities of social activism.
I am teaching English online to kids and adults in China. This is proving to be an enlightening experience and my students are delightful. I love nothing more than finding out about a new culture and meeting new people. Funny how the differences remind us how much we are the same.
Lately, we have discussed the air pollution in China, as some of my students have been kept home from school because of it. Another one of my adult students works in waste management in Beijing and described the challenges of dealing with this problem.
Being able to communicate one-on-one with people in another country, one where the United States seems to have increasingly hostile relations, brings a deeper level of understanding. Now, I read that Americans’ feelings of good will towards Russians has dropped by 30%. It’s important to remember that we, the people of any nation, are all the same. Nothing has changed from day to the next, from one year to the next, from one administration to the next, in who we are. We all want to live a peaceful life, have a roof over our heads and take care of our families. It is the governments, the media, the corporations, the special interest groups with their own agendas, that create these widening gulfs of misunderstanding and manipulate emotions and play on fears.
Now we have new buzzwords, within the United States, polarizing groups of people, more and more. We lump people together inside a prison of words, and think we have the right to keep them there. Then, the other side fires back with its own prison of words. And before we know it, the words are so deeply embedded on our consciousness, we don’t even remember how they got there or why. The story gets repeated and embellished, always from one point of view. The other side retaliates. The words become violence, somehow justified because we no longer look at our opponents as people just like us. They are something dangerous and worthy of extermination–or at least worth of being taught a serious lesson.
Such as those “fly-over” states, spoken of with such disdain. It seems that highly educated pundits now find it okay to openly label country folk stupid. How stupid is that? Surely one of the most basic rules you learn in college when doing research is not to make sweeping generalized statements about an entire group of people? Mind you, the country folk do the same. despising the city folk for their privilege and education.
Amazing… the word stupid was banned in my family. One of the best things my parents taught me was to be very careful about using a word like that, because using it could well prove my own stupidity. Be sure of your facts. Don’t generalize. Calling people who are somehow different from you stupid (or any other negative term) only shows your own ignorance. And fear.
In fact, the whole flinging of nasty comments across borders is just plain, well… stupid. And that means it could well grow into something dangerous. For everyone.
“Conservemas la Naturaleza y aseguremos la Vida al Mundo.”
~ Eugenia Alvarez Elizondo, teacher in the Maleku school.
Maleku school children, their teacher, Eugenia Alvarez Elizondo, and Daniel Spreen Wilson
On July 6, 2016 I landed in Liberia, intent on staying near Lake Arenal for three months, maybe longer. It’s now September and the time has flown by. I am returning to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks and then, I will probably come back. I haven’t quite had enough of this beautiful place yet.
During my time here, I’ve had the joy of conducting the My World Project with Maleku youth on the Reserva Indigena Maleku. There are only about six hundred Maleku left in Costa Rica. They have been rounded up and given land on which to live. Meanwhile, much of the land they used to call home has been cleared in order to create pastures and fields. Many Maleku are now farmers. The Maleku can no longer build their traditional homes, since the palms they used have become endangered. Kind of ironic. The Maleku are not the ones who caused the plants and animals to become endangered. Yet, they are the ones whose lives have been changed forever because of it. Now they must live in cement houses that do not “breathe.”
Everywhere I go I meet people who offer to help with My World Project. And I have people contacting me who want to do it in other places around the world. So, day by day, this community is growing.
As happened in the Sahara Desert, I had no idea when I got to Arenal how I would make this project work. But I have always found if you open yourself to possibilities, they will find you. Sure enough, I met a great guy, Daniel Spreen Wilson, who founded La Reserva Forest Foundation. This great nonprofit has taken upon itself to help reforest the Maleku Indigenous Reserve, allowing native animals, such as the Mantled Howler Monkeys, sloths, reptiles, amphibians and tropical birds to once again live in their natural habitat.
Daniel has been here for thirty-three years and speaks fluent Spanish. So I was very thankful to have his help. Together we traversed the bumpy road from Lake Arenal to the reserve. We met with the teachers in three schools. So far, we have been to the first school to do the program and we go to the others over the next week.
From Africa to the Americas and beyond, what are children telling us with this project? Well, they are telling us that they love their natural world. They love their lakes and rivers, mountains, forests, deserts and oceans. They love their plants and animals. They love their families and their traditions. They love peace. They are interested to share their ideas with other children around the world who feel the same.
What they don’t want is the continued destruction of their worlds by outside forces. Not only is their natural world being destroyed but so is their spiritual world, meaning their traditional ways of life. And the drug culture that is now so prevalent in the United States is slowly but surely invading their lives as well. These are not just clichés to be switched off because we have heard them a thousand times. These children do not know the meaning of a cliché. This is the world they live in. This is what is happening to them. These are their real day-to-day struggles. These children see very clearly, without anyone having to tell them how express it, that their worlds are being destroyed.
Perhaps we should listen more to our children.
I want to thank Christine for hosting me. This is my first experience writing a post in an exchange with another author and it was fun! Here is my post about how my traveling experiences inspired Book of Angels and the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, with photos and everything! The photo featured here is the seventh century Swiss castle I lived in as a child.
Inspiring view from my balcony, Lake Arenal, Costa Rica.
It is my opinion, as an artist, that we do not have a responsibility to society. We are not answerable to anyone other than ourselves.
As artists our struggle is to be true to our own voices, not some else’s. An artist shouldn’t feel a burden or obligation to set an example for the entire world. They shouldn’t feel that they have to reflect the beliefs or opinions of a certain segment of society. Pressure should not be put on an artist to “set a good example.” Or to change people’s political or moral views.
The first books I created were beautiful and sweet children’s books. The Rumpoles & The Barleys series, which I wrote and illustrated, will always be favorites of mine. I am blessed to know they have been a positive force in the lives of children around the world. On the other hand, I always knew I had so much more to say and I fought for years to be able to say it. With my creative nonfiction works and the publication of the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES, I feel I am finally an artist who is true to myself.
Artists create from a deep place inside. It takes courage to go to that place and to let it out. Sometimes this can be horrifying. Sometimes it can be beautiful. Sometimes it can be painful. Sometimes it can be sweet and innocent. Playful. Brutal. Violent. X-rated.
My art (and I mean my paintings and drawings and writing) is mostly fantastical worlds of escape. This is because I find the real world to be horrifying on so many levels. I don’t have answers to the world’s problems. Well, actually, the world doesn’t need answers, it is humanity that needs a makeover. I don’t think we have even come close to figuring out those answers. Or perhaps we are afraid of them…or…I just don’t know. Due to my personality, my life experiences, my spirit, I am compelled to create art that uplifts and brings a ray of light to the darkness. That said, my art can be quite dark in its reflection of my own experiences and the suffering that I see around me.
As a woman artist, once I was married and had children, I was told over and over in many different ways, all of them painful, that I should put aside my compulsion to create, for the sake of my family. That my art should no longer be important. I had a husband and children now. They should be my focus. Of course, they were my focus. But I did not understand why being a good wife and mother and being an artist wasn’t possible. I couldn’t give up creating on paper. I couldn’t give up my imagination or the stories inside of me. Not any more than I could give up breathing. This was a difficult time for me as an artist and as a woman. And it went on for many years.
At various times, I have been told by the men in my life, that they needed to guide me. That I wasn’t a real artist, I was just pretending. That I needed to stop because the amount of time I spent doing my art didn’t make sense monetarily. Once, a drawing that I had worked on at night when my family slept, was thrown in the fire the next morning because it was “worthless.” My nose was broken as a punishment when I painted a picture that did not measure up to my husband’s standard. My writing was ridiculous and why would anyone ever want to read it? I should give up. I was a bad wife and mother because my focus wasn’t completely on them. Anyway, I was far too shy and I had no ability to “sell myself.” On and on. Even when I was finally a free woman and I was seeing someone “in the business,” he told me I should leave it all to him. I didn’t have the experience or the personality to know what was best or how to present anything.
My children are grown now and I am without “entanglements.” I am traveling and writing. I embrace all my life experiences. It comes out in my work. It is coming out right now as I write this! I have remained true to my love of fantasy and now I can indulge it. Fantasy is what got me through the darkness. I love creating that darkness in my writing. And then filtering in those moments of light. I know how it feels. I lived through it. How tragic it would be if I had given up. To think that if I had listened to those voices I would never have written Key of Mystery or Book of Angels, or gone on this NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES journey.
We all live through darkness. We are all artists trying to express ourselves. Art is so powerful. It can uplift us. It can spiral us further down. A song or a poem can inspire kindness to a neighbor. Or it can lead to murder and suicide. It can incite riots. It can spark a revolution. It can bring reconciliation. I can’t judge any of that. I don’t understand enough about the forces and motivations behind it all, on a spiritual level.
For so much of my life I was bombarded with angry, resentful voices of society, telling me what I should do with my art. If I had listened to all those voices and let them guide me, I would have lost my balance and fallen too far into the darkness. With my spirit, with the way I see the world, how would I have faced each day?
How can I breathe if I can’t tell a story?
“For me, this is a way of life. It isn’t a “cause,” it isn’t a “movement.” I can’t put some spin on it. There aren’t any buzz words. It is how I choose to live, and I really can’t help it. It is so much a part of who I am.”
Honored to have this interview, by Constance A. Dunn, published in The Missing Slate, an international arts and literary magazine. The interview tells about My World Project and the backstory leading up to it. Here is a brief excerpt from the backstory…
“I went on a personal quest…I met a woman named Alma Woods, who was responsible for single-handedly getting the Watts Library built. And to illustrate the politics, they didn’t want to name the library after her, they wanted to name it after some big-wig politician and there was a huge outcry and they had no choice but to buckle under public pressure and name the library after her. She was a simple lady, lived in a simple house in Watts and I would go and visit her and “sit at her feet,” as it were, she was a real guru, she taught me so much! She would take me around her neighborhood and I saw Watts through her eyes. If there were kids loitering outside the liquor store she would reprimand them and they would hang their heads in guilt and listen to her. She was respected. She was fearless. I grew to love her. She encouraged me to follow my heart and not be afraid of where it led me. It was after that that I went into Central Juvenile Hall and talked to the principal, Dr. Arthur McCoy, an older version of the nutty professor and the most amazing human being, and he let me start teaching there, along with the amazing teacher in the girls’ school, Cheryl Neely.
Like a beautiful, magical web, one person has led to another in my life. Not big celebrities, or what you would call “movers and shakers,” but the salt of the earth people. The ones who really have the power because they don’t care about it. They are the ones who truly balance the good against the evil. The ones we never hear about. I know I use the word amazing a lot, but really, there is no better word for all these people.
I have been busy lately! I have been in Sucre, Bolivia since April 7th and will be here until June 7th. What an amazing experience. This is a gem of a tiny city, all painted white. The sky is piercingly blue. The contrast is breath-taking. I was told that long ago a plague came to the city and they started painting the buildings white, I am not sure why, perhaps to indicate which house had the plague or which house didn’t. The habit stayed and eventually, all the buildings were painted white. And so they still are, today, making this city unique and memorable.
I came here to write and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working on Cave of Secrets, the third book in the Night Angels Chronicles series. This place has truly inspired my writing. I have become obsessed with the churches. The heavy austerity, the gold on the alters, the light pouring down from high windows. I can never fully reconcile the contrast between the beauty of these monuments, built to display the power of God, with the poverty of the people upon whose bent backs these monuments were built. It is the same around the world, religion is used by the powerful as a form of control, through fear, of the masses. Yet, you also see how these awe-inspiring buildings bring comfort to those who enter them to pray. A young woman, an old man, I have seen so many people sitting in silence, staring up at a carving of a saint, and you know they have a heavy heart about something and have faith that there is an answer and that these lifeless images hold that answer.
I am here long enough to get a real feel for these churches and how religion is so integrated into every aspect of life. The churches dominate the city, they are the landmarks you look for when you are walking. If the door is open and you go inside, there is always something happening, musicians practicing for a performance, ladies placing flowers in front of statues, children laughing and playing, preparing for something, who knows what. The schools all seem to be associated with the churches and I have been told that children are brought here from the outlying villages. Since there are so many churches at the center of Sucre, children are everywhere. You hear them playing, practicing in bands, and at lunch break and at the end of the day, they spill out onto the streets in hordes, from the tiniest tots to college age. I really have never seen the center of a city so filled with children.
As a visitor, you cannot escape the overwhelming spirit and presence of the churches. Mostly, the doors are closed and locked, as are the gates in front of the churches. If you are a tourist, you can pay to visit certain ones of the convents or the churches, during visiting hours. At San Filipe Neri, my favorite church, you can climb up to the roof and enjoy a view of the city and the mountains. If you go at sunset the beauty is astounding.
Remembering back to my time in the Sahara Desert, in Morocco, during the month of December, 2015, it would be hard to find two more contrasting places than Sucre and village Tissardmine. In the desert, I was finishing up Book of Angels, while in Sucre, I am finishing up Cave of Secrets. I signed the contract for Book of Angels while in Sucre. Both places inspired my writing but in such different ways–going from the stark desert, endless, undulating waves of sand and rock, to the up and down streets of Sucre and the ornate colonial buildings. Here, the altitude takes a bit of getting used to, as it is over 8000 feet. In the Sahara Desert, the wind and flies, the freezing nights and often hot days, the heavy shadows and blinding light, everything spoke of extremes. In Sucre, the extremes are in the altitude, the brilliance of the white against the blue sky, the heavy dominance of colonialism, almost as if old spirits still haunt the streets at night.
At least a few times a week I face the challenge of walking up the steep cobbled path to reach La Recoleta, a big plaza with, yes, another church and convent, established by a Franciscan order in around 1601. There is a garden café up here and I like to sit outside and enjoy the warm sun. Relaxation takes over, after hours of sitting at a computer, writing. In fact, I think I will go up there after I finish this! From there, you can look down on the sparkling jewel of a city, with the Andes Mountains a purple shadow in the distance.
Although I have been here for five weeks already, I still huff and puff my way up that hill, never getting enough oxygen. Once I reach the top, the feeling of accomplishment makes it all worthwhile. Fortunately, it isn’t a long climb, but the last block is extremely steep. Again, the plaza is often filled with children playing soccer, if they are on break from the school attached to the church. This church has a beautifully serene monastery with a one thousand year-old cedar tree. The tree stands outside the convent wall, somewhat forlorn and forgotten, looking down on the city below. I was shown it by a young girl who guided me through the various parts of the convent open to the public, all the while, listening to some television show on her phone. It was an odd juxtaposition of the past and the present.
I am looking forward to being here on May 25th, Independence Day, which happened in 1809. I was wondering why early every morning I was awakened by bands playing the type of music you associate with military functions and political events. Well, they are practicing for Independence Day. Although, every day seems to be an excuse for some kind of celebration. The main square, aptly named Plaza 25 de Mayo, is always alive with music and parades.
I still have four more weeks here and it is going by way too fast. This is my first visit to South America and I would definitely like to return. I knew nothing of Bolivia or Sucre when I came. At the place I am staying, Casa Verde, I have encountered only two Americans. Which is one of the reasons for its appeal, I wanted to completely escape from everything that was familiar to me. And I am happy I made this choice. It is a renewing experience.
I am thankful to have had the opportunity to come to this magical place. Of course, every place that I visited has been magical. I can’t wait to see where I will end up next.
Rasaq Malik Gbolahan, a Nigerian Poet, has honored me by writing two poems for the children of the world and the MY WORLD PROJECT. Please listen to the words and visit the Facebook page and maybe together we can find a way to bring this project to more children around the world.
Salam, they say
whenever a bomb blazes in the sky,
in the streets, in the eyes of a girl
who sleeps in a room filled with the screams
of her mother, filled with terror moving like
wind. Salam, they say whenever houses
become morgues for those who search
for the corpses of their relatives, those
who count the number of corpses left
unclaimed, unburied, opened like a
bud to the sun. Salam, they say whenever
grief gnashes their hearts, whenever fear
dims their eyes, whenever bullets sculpt
holes in the portraits hanging on desolate
walls, whenever they assemble to mourn
those who rot in the dark, those whose
countries become dust. Salam, they say
whenever a woman cradles the corpse
of her only son, whenever blood splatters
on the face of a boy in Nigeria, Iraq, in Paris
in Burundi, in Yemen, in Bangladesh.
Every day they search for light
in the remains of their countries.
in the bodies wrapped with rags
disposed like waste, ferried to where
their relatives ask how and why a body
becomes an object, a mere name, another
synonym for trash, a symbol of how war
litters the earth with wrecks. Every day
they walk the streets to where a boy carries
a placard that bears the names of his parents,
his elder sisters–raped, battered, left to bleed
to death. Every day the world fades into the darkness
that war births, in the turbulence of missiles, in the
sound of a bullet that leads them to where blood clots
dust, to where silence tunes their ears to the cries
of people dying in far away countries. Every day
they remember their dead beloveds, their families
at refugee camps, people buried beneath stones,
covered with leaves. Every day they say, Salam.