From the Shadows…Into the Light

I did not come to photography looking for magic. I came looking for a way to speak my pain. In the process of finding images to portray my darkness, I passed through the shadows into light. Now, I am one of photography’s many lovers, devoted to the art of seeing and revealing. […] There’s something holy about this work, something healing about this search for light. Like the pilgrim’s journey, it’s heaven all the way.

–Jan Phillips, God Is at Eye Level

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

–Mary Oliver, “The Uses of Sorrow”

Through a casual Facebook post featuring some of her favorite books, my pen friend Connie F, introduced me to Jan Phillip’s book, God Is at Eye Level [Thanks, Connie!]. With Amazon [birthday] gift card in hand [Thanks, Tee!], I ordered the book and two others on creative and contemplative photography. 

The photograph of the wilted sunflower is the result of an exercise in God Is at Eye Level that invites readers to use an entire [pretend] 24-exposure roll of film to explore one strong emotion. It is my attempt to capture the tension between the darkness that walks with me as I deal with grief and trauma and the light I feel I need to project.  

But I am learning, day by day, there is value in darkness, particularly if we are using it to move toward Light.

In the quote above, Phillips underscores the usefulness of darkness, its role in our creativity and healing. Darkness is a “gift,” a necessary part of process; therefore, it’s critical that we face the darkness, wrestle with it, deal, so that we might emerge whole, or maybe not as fractured. Running away from it—creating some inauthentic happy place—only imprisons us. The operative word is emerge. Eventually, we “pass through” darkness and into the fullness of Light.

Children’s Book Illustration Postcards | Gumnut and Wattle Babies

I hope you’re prepared for some super cuteness this evening. The postcards below were sent for Children’s Book Illustration swaps 49 and 50 on swap-bot. I had never heard of “Gumnut” or “Wattle” Babies, and then suddenly I was introduced to them when not one or two, but three postcards featuring May Gibbs’ Australian Bush Babies made it to my mailbox within days of each other.

CBI 50: Original watercolor for The Gum Blossom Ballet from Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie, 1918. Illustration by May Gibbs (1877-1969)

This first card came from Yvonne and Jeana, who sent the Bunyip and Magic Pudding Maxicards I shared earlier this year. The card features the “Gum Blossom Ballet,” from the book Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are:

two adventurous little gumnut foster brothers who long to see a Human. Snugglepot, the leader, and the gentle Cuddlepie are good friends with Mr Lizard and Little Ragged Blossom and together go on many heroic adventures.

And what are gumnuts?

[Gumnuts are] the first of the bush babies, the inquisitive Nuts are full of fun and mischief. They love all the Bush Folk, but are a little afraid of lizards and snakes. Mrs Kookaburra is most fond of them as they make her laugh. In the hot sun they hang their heavy heads over the swaying leaves and sleep.  –from May Gibbs website

I “met” Jess, another Australian swapper, earlier this year. Like Yvonne and Jeana, she also adds unique postcards to my CBI collection. She sent two Wattle Babies postcards.

BLC CBI 49: Original watercolor for frontispiece of Wattle Babies, 1918. Illustration by May Gibbs

The cheerful Wattle Babies are the most good-natured of all the Bush Babies. Their bright yellow clothes brighten the bush on a Winter’s day. In Spring they love to go boating and swimming with their frog friends and have fun playing hide and seek with the baby birds. —-from May Gibbs website

BLC CBI 50: “Wattle Babies.” Illustration by May Gibbs

These are some pretty impressive watercolors!

Gibbs (1877-1969) was an English-Australian children’s author, illustrator, and cartoonist. She was best known for her “bush babies” or flower fairies. Her works have entertained the children of Australia for more than a century.

Gibbs willed her works to the Northcott Society and Cerebral Palsy Alliance. As a result she has helped thousands of children and their families. You can learn more about May Gibbs, her work, and charities here: May Gibbs.

See you tomorrow…

Children’s Book Illustration Postcard | La vie des mini-héros

CBI 57: La vie des mini-héros. Illustration by Oliver Tallec.

From time to time the mini hero must stop being a mini hero.

Isn’t this an adorable postcard?

The postcard, featuring a mini hero, came from Valériane  (LuneDePapier on swap-bot) of Brittany, France. She rightly assumed I would love the postcard because of the humor.

La vie des mini-héros [Life as a Mini Hero] was authored by French illustrator Olivier Tallec. The books are designed for preschoolers:

Clad in bright suits that bespeak their daring deeds, these mini heroes live their daily lives assailed by all sorts of difficulty and disaster. Whether jumping rope on the playground, eating towers of ice-cream, or hanging upside-down from the ceiling, they are never short of plans and prospects! Sometimes, it’s true, they have to pause, which may be the greatest challenge of all.  –Google Books.

Tallec has illustrated more than 50 books, including the gorgeously illustrated This is a Poem That Heals a Fish. [The link leads to a Brain Pickings article filled with images from the book].

You can find out more about Tallec’s work through this brief interview: Interview with Olivier Tallec.

Until tomorrow…

Children’s Book Illustration Postcards | Dikkie Dik!

I haven’t done a post featuring children’s book illustration (CBI) postcards in a long time, so I decided to dedicate three posts this week to CBI postcards. I have more than 60 to share; I won’t get caught up this week, but I’ll do what I can.

Today’s offering…Dikkie Dik! Both cards below were sent for Children’s Book Illustration Postcard swaps on swap-bot. The cards came from Dutch swappers, Marianne and Marleen.

CBI Swap 30: Dikkie Dik. Illustration by Jet Boeke, 2017

Dikkie Dik is a series of Dutch children’s books featuring a naughty orange cat named Dikkie Dik. The cat originally appeared on the Dutch version of Sesame Street (SS). According to Marianne, who remembers fondly the stories from SS, the books are “cute with big illustrations and very little text.”

BLC CBI Swap 57. Dikkie Dik. Illustration by Jet Boeke.

The Dikkie Dik books are illustrated by Jet Boeke and written by Arthur van Norden. Though the series began in 1978 as stories told to children on Sesame Street, the books soon made their way to bookstores. There are now hundreds of Dikkie Dik stories to enjoy.

Dikkie Dik Postage Placeholder. Illustration by Jet Boeke

Dikkie Dik doesn’t look so naughty to me, but looks can be deceiving. I guess, I’ll have to read some of the stories to know for sure.

Ernest J. Gaines | The Artist and the Heart Surgeon

Ernest Gaines, San Francisco, California, March 13, 1975. Photograph from Black Writers. Photograph Credit: Jill Krementz. Postcard from my collection.

Without love for my fellow man and respect for nature, to me, life is an obscenity. –Ernest Gaines (January 15, 1933 – November 5, 2019)

I had a different blog post planned for today. but then I learned Ernest J. Gaines, my favorite Louisiana author, passed away today.

I’m pretty sure that Gaines was the first African American writer with whom I came in contact–through one of his earliest works, Miss Jane Pittman.  Much later, as a young professor, I began to include his A Lesson Before Dying on the reading list for my composition courses. After reading A Gathering of Old Men, my hubby was hooked. Gaines became his favorite author.

I don’t normally swoon when I meet “celebrities,” but I gushed when I met him at the Short Story Conference in New Orleans some years later–he was personable, wise, humble. I squealed when one of my colleagues gave me an autographed portrait of Gaines for my birthday one year.

I’m saddened over the loss of another elder, another critical voice in the American literary scene, but I am grateful for his life and works, his bringing to the fore the complications of personhood, race, life, and love in rural Louisiana.

Yesterday, I shared some brilliant first lines, but today I’m sharing literary wisdom from some of Gaines’ works:

Ain’t we all been hurt by slavery?  —The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

I think it’s God that makes people care for people, Jefferson. I think it’s God makes children play and people sing. I believe it’s God that brings loved ones together. I believe it’s God that makes trees bud and food grow out of the earth.  —A Lesson Before Dying

How do people come up with a date and a time to take life from another man? Who made them God?  —A Lesson Before Dying

Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.  —A Gathering of Old Men

The artist must be like a heart surgeon. He must approach something with sympathy, but with a sort of coldness and work and work until he finds some kind of perfection in his work. You can’t have blood splashing all over the place. Things must be done very cleanly.  —Conversations with Ernest J. Gaines

If you haven’t read any of his fiction before, I encourage you to add Gaines to your reading list. Click here for a list and overview of his novels: Gaines’ novels.

To hear Gaines talk about books, writing, and his own story, be sure to watch “Conversation with Ernest J. Gaines” produced by the National Endowment for the Arts:

Rest in Peace, Dr. Gaines.

Brilliant Beginnings!

Have you ever picked up a book that reeled you in with its first line? Many books fit that description for me, so when Holly (aka hollycm6) hosted a “Brilliant Beginnings” swap for the Cup and Chaucer group on swap-bot I was all in!

Swappers were to send a postcard with a favorite first line to two partners. I received two postcards today and one a few days ago.

The first to arrive was a handmade, mixed media card by none other than the mixed media queen, Diane W (aka midteacher).

Mixed Media by Diane W. (midteacher)

She appropriately paired her handmade postcard with an Edgar Allan Poe beginning from “To Science, A Prologue to Al Aaraaf”

SCIENCE! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

Shelby (aka Shellbee8), a new swapper to me, sent a Notre Dame postcard with two classic beginnings–Charles Dickens’ familiar lines from A Tale of Two Cities and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot:

Notre Dame, Paris

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.  -Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Nothing to be done. –[Estragon] Beckett, Waiting for Godot

I received a bonus card from Holly (yay!). Happy mail dance! Thank you, Holly!

She wrote on the bookish postcard two quotes from Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine–one from the introduction:

This book, like most of my books and stories, was a surprise.

And of course, the first line of chapter 1:

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed.

I haven’t read this one, but Holly wrote a micro review that compelled me to add it to my “to be read” list:

[This is] such a beautiful, sweet book, one that makes the world a better place because it exists.

There’s no way I can pass up a book that “makes the world a better place.”

My own brilliant first line came from Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. That book! Not only did it give me a memorable first line but it also helped me find words for my struggle with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre:

They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks. The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother, ‘because she pretty like pretty self,’ Christophine said.

What about you? What are the first lines that kept you turning pages?

Sylvia Barnes and Toni Morrison | Teaching, Preaching, and Doing the Work

Dr. Sylvia Barnes, October 2014.

Last week was not a good week for my heart.

Before I could digest the news that the literary goddess herself, Toni Morrison, had passed, I learned that Dr. Sylvia Barnes, one of my undergraduate mentors, had passed. With the news of both deaths, I felt as if every bit of oxygen was squeezed from my body.

As I sat through a brief meeting holding in the knowledge of their passings, I realized with everything in me that I am sick and tired of loss.

I’m tired of trying to find the words to express the deep sense of emptiness I feel when someone significant to me dies. There are no words for the love I can’t give, the unexpressed admiration and near deification of those who have profoundly impacted my life and who have had a strong hand in shaping who I am as a person, a writer, a scholar.

Sisters. Aunts. Uncles. Friends. Mentors. Professors. Literary goddesses. I’m tired of processing loss.

It is interesting that both women died the same day, August 5, 2019. I held both in high esteem for their unapologetic focus on black lives, for their commitment to excellence, for their wisdom, for their very humanity.

Dr. Barnes was the Toni Morrison of my undergraduate world. We were in awe of her—her standard of excellence, her fiery passion, her unflinching dedication to the deep study of literature, language, and light. Her dignified presence filled any room she entered. She taught eager undergraduates so many things, not just about literature but about life and love and how to navigate the madness of the world. I distinctly remember some of the wisdom she shared about the importance of reading in gaining and creating knowledge, about relationships and love and attraction.

In her raspy voice, with polished Jamaican accent, she urged us to “Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on. Read!” She wasn’t just an English professor. Like Baby Suggs Holy of Toni Morrison’s Beloved–preaching in the clearing–she was a divinely inspired preacher offering keys for life; every single class with Dr. Barnes felt like a sermon of love for our beautiful Black selves.

When I struggled with racism in graduate school, I reached out to her for counsel, and she candidly shared stories of her own similar experiences while in pursuit of the doctoral degree. Somehow, just knowing she overcame them intensified my determination to push through.

Toni Morrison speaking at “A Tribute to Chinua Achebe–50 Years Anniversary of Things Fall Apart.” December, 2008. Photo by Angela Radulescu

I spend a great deal of time studying, teaching, and writing about Toni Morrison’s novels. My first real encounter with her came when I was in college through my own not-for-a-course reading. The Bluest Eye left me in utter despair. I had read other black writers. I was drawn to them because of the way they spoke to an American experience with which I could identify. But it was Toni Morrison who awakened the scholar in me, who made me ask questions and drove me to write about books; it was her body of work which led me to theorize through literature the unique experiences of Black girls and women.

It was Sylvia Barnes who showed me I could, who encouraged me to use my singular voice to speak about Black girls’ and Black women’s experiences.

It has only been a week, so I’m still processing these losses and what they mean to me. These women—goddesses, really—have filled me for more than half my life and have prepared me for their parting. Though they toiled tirelessly, there is yet much work to be done. The mantle has been passed on, and we—those of us who write about, think about, theorize about Black experiences—must get down to business and with urgency do the work.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge–even wisdom. Like art.  Toni Morrison, The Nation, 2015

Photo from Pixabay