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.

A Raindrop. An Image. A Reflection.

“Raindrops” by Rebecca R. (aka Beckra)

Each raindrop holds within its entity
an image of the vast and ageless sea.

The quote above was printed on a card I received from a friend when we were teenagers. The words struck me and I committed them to memory. When I received the riveting photo postcard featuring raindrops in the garden from my pen friend, Rebecca R., the words immediately came to mind.

Although I read, memorized, and understood the words, I’m only now seeing the significance of the quote as it speaks to my relationship with Christ. If in a single raindrop we can imagine the vast sea, can others see in my pitiful humanity a reflection of Christ?

November.

Today was hard.

This year has been hard.

Though it has its incredible moments, 2019 has challenged me in more ways than I can count, so  when I read the words posted by S. C. Lourie [Butterflies and Pebbles] on Instagram a few moments ago, I felt her words deep. in. my. soul.

November.
It’s gotta be about staying or becoming true to you.
About not whispering when you want to shout.
About not turning when you really want to move forward.
November is the month of now or never.
Of let your voice shake but speak anyway.
And stumble as much as you do
but still go forth in the direction
of your dreams and of your peace,
like you deserve them,
like there is more meaning to your life
than just taking orders and fulfilling tasks.
November is nearing the end of the year.
November is live out what’s in your heart.
That it’s not too late to follow after what you really want.
These days, they matter.
You matter.
Finish this year with a bang,
so next year will begin with fireworks.  —S. C. Lourie, Butterflies and Pebbles

This is the kind of thing I needed to read on this first day of November when after one more “sucker punch,” I’m on the brink of throwing in the towel and “trying again” next year. It would be so much easier to kick back and wait for the year to end, but Lourie’s post reminds me there’s still so much possibility in the remainder of the year. There’s enough time to “take this year back […] and make something meaningful of it.”


Linking up with Dawn of The Day After in the Festival of Leaves photo challenge.

Autumn Dance

Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
–Emily Bronte, “Fall Leaves, Fall”

If you have three minutes to spare, perhaps you will enjoy this video of a leaf dancing and floating in celebration of autumn. I filmed the leaf October 1 while catching some fresh air just before a mid-morning meeting.

The leaf danced in the wind for hours. I was mesmerized by its performance and noted it throughout the day. Though I could not see it, a spiderweb must have aided in its dance. Or was it the magic of autumn?

The leaf is perfect for linking up with Dawn of The Day After in the Festival of Leaves photo challenge. It seems to be holding its very own festival!