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.

Sunset: Stillness and Dreams

“Sunrise” by Lisa C.

Out of Sunset’s Red
William Stanley Braithwaite

Out of the sunset’s red
Into the blushing sea,
The winds of day drop dead
And dreams come home to me. —
The sea is still,— and apart
Is a stillness in my heart.

The night comes up the beach,
The dark steals over all,
Though silence has no speech
I hear the sea-dreams call
To my heart; — and in reply
It answers with a sigh.


About the Image: Today’s post features a photo by my Love Notes friend, Lisa C of Chasing the Sun. Lisa shoots gorgeous sunrises and sunsets as evident in this photo. This is a sunrise photo, but for some reason it makes me think of  William Stanley Braithwaite’s poem [above]. You can read a few more of his poems here: Poems by Braithwaite.

NaBloPoMo Note: November is National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and I’ve been figuring out how to squeeze in daily posting with all the general madness of end-of-semester and my “more serious” writing projects. I need the daily moment away from the madness, so for the fourth year in a row, I’m in! Besides, my “to be blogged” bin overflows and NaBloPoMo will [hopefully] give me a chance to empty it a bit. Most posts will be “short and sweet,” but I plan to be here every day, so I hope you’ll check in every now and then and cheer me on! 🙂

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

Meet My Student Bloggers | If You Build It, Will They Come?

Image by Sophie Janotta from Pixabay

I submitted final grades today [yay!], but I cannot let the semester go until I fulfill my promise to my students to share links to their blogs here on Pics and Posts.

Yes–I taught a blogging class this semester! Since this was my first time teaching the course and learning new technology can be difficult for some, I kept the goals simple. I expected students to create blogs based on their (non-academic) interests, learn some WordPress basics, interact with other bloggers, and blog on a regular basis.

Easy-peasy, right?

There were a couple of “experienced” bloggers in the course and they were lifesavers for me and the other students–especially with the technical stuff.

We covered all the “beginner” topics and talked  [a lot] about working around the pitfalls. But I underscored no matter how many strategies we have, keeping up with a blog requires practice, a little discipline, and patience.

Students were encouraged to share their blog posts on social media and follow bloggers who share their interests, but I cautioned against “blogging for likes” or following just to get followers. That creates unnecessary pressure and mental clutter and diminishes the pleasure one can find in maintaining a blog.

Though the students were excited about the course and the idea of becoming bloggers, they quickly learned that finding a niche and something to say isn’t always easy; finding time to blog with a busy-busy schedule is even more challenging. I think some were also surprised when they discovered blogging involves more than writing and posting. They seemed to have in mind that if they wrote the posts, the readers would magically appear.

[Imagine me rolling my eyes at them for resisting my pleas to add tags and categories and ignoring my constantly repeating that blogging is also about building community.]

See below for the list of blogs. They’re an eclectic bunch, with blogs based on travel experiences in Spain; natural hair care; minimalism and veganism;  fitness;  self-love; and navigating/loving life for college students and the rest of us. Please take a moment to visit them, comment, like a post or two and/or follow. I trust you will like them and they will be so encouraged by your feedback!

Here are my “honorary” students:

The students have been blogging for about three months, but I think they’re well on their way. If they continue–and I hope they do–their blogs will evolve and grow.

I’ve received many requests to teach the class next year, and I’ve taken lots of notes on what I’d do differently–so we’ll see!

Have a happy week!

12 Days of Christmas Postcards | Day 7

The abstract Christmas card above came from my pen friend, Beckra. She always surprises me with her unique approach to photography, and I find this card intriguing. It carries the light of Christmas and the fireworks with which we welcome the coming year, so it is apropos for today, the seventh day of Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.

Ten days ago I read the poem “kindness” by Emina Gaspar-Vrana and I’ve been looking forward to sharing it with you as we say farewell to a year filled with frustrations and victories, love and loss, joy and sorrow. Whatever fell in your path in 2018, I hope that “life was kind to you.”

kindness by Emina Gaspar-Vrana

I hope that this year, life was kind to you;

not in the sense of not challenging you,
not making you question it, or
not causing you pain,

but that it made you discover your strength,
brought you new perspectives and
taught you that healing brings peace

that is kindness,
that is growth,
that is preparing you for greatness and
a better version of yourself–
the person you are becoming and
that you were always meant to be

I wish life is even kinder to you next year

Farewell, 2018.

Raindrops and Perfection

He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. –Matthew 5:45 MSG

It seems appropriate to talk about rain today–this 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina–but I have no desire to revisit that horror today. The photo above features my favorite line from R.H. Peat’s poem “Perfection.” When I “encountered” it on the blog Sightseeing at Home a few months ago, I decided to create a series of photos using lines from the poem.

Every oak will lose a leaf to the wind.
Every star-thistle has a thorn.
Every flower has a blemish.
Every wave washes back upon itself.
Every ocean embraces a storm.
Every raindrop falls with precision.
Every slithering snail leaves its silver trail.
Every butterfly flies until its wings are torn.
Every tree-frog is obligated to sing.
Every sound has an echo in the canyon.
Every pine drops its needles to the forest floor.
Creation’s whispered breath at dusk comes
with a frost and leaves within dawn’s faint mist,
for all of existence remains perfect, adorned,
with a dead sparrow on the ground. –“Perfection” by R.H. Peat

The photo above is the first in the series. I even photographed a dead sparrow I happened across one afternoon. There was nothing poetic about that image, so we can probably forget about adding the last line to the series–unless I approach it less literally.

The incongruity between the poetic lines and the actual image of the sparrow reminds me of our tendency to use language to “pretty up” some really “jacked up” aspects of life. I’m learning that such language doesn’t minimize the ugliness and does little, if anything, to help. In some instances, what appears to be encouragement or inspiration is actually damaging. There’s nothing glamorous about struggle. Nothing to celebrate in being strong enough to withstand the blows. People who struggle with mental and/or physical illnesses don’t need platitudes. They need help. They need support. They need love. It is easier to come to grips with life when we realize, no matter how hellish, life is just that. . .life.

Isn’t that the point of Peat’s poem? Life with all its “stuff” happens to us all–whether we’re good, bad, nice, nasty, or somewhere in between. That is part of our messy, perfect existence in this world.

Fear Is in the Air: Eyes, Art, and Winning

A couple of months ago, I “won” a couple of postcards from artist and writer Eva Newermann. She’d posted a challenge for readers to find three “strange” things about the eyes of Ewa Lowe, the main character of her SciFi thriller, Fear Is in the Air. I spotted them immediately, but was travelling at the time and WiFi was sketchy. Eva was kind and declared me a “winner” anyway!

Can you see what’s “different” or strange about the eyes?

While you think about that, here are the two oversize (5.5 x 8.25) postcards Eva sent to me:

“Gunvor Bengtson” aka “Ewa Lowe” by Eva Newermann

This is a painting of one of Eva’s friends. She had an interesting experience while painting this one. “Her [friend’s] face appeared through her body.” Eva plans to use the image on the cover of her new Ewa Lowe book, Ewa 51, which comes out next year.

“Winter in Scandinavia” by Eva Newermann

The winter landscape is from a cabin Eva used to have in Norway.  Peaceful. Isn’t it?

Did you see the “three things” about the eyes? You can check your answers here: Ewa Lowe’s Eye Challenge.

Even though the “eyes challenge” is closed, you can be a winner too! For a few days each month Fear Is in the Air is available free with iBooks on Mac or iOS devices. And here’s a bonus win! The Universe a Work of Art is also free. Eva wrote the children’s educational book with her daughter Line Newermann, a Norwegian drone photographer. It was inspired by Eva’s father who made the “night sky magic for her as a child [so] she seeks to do the same for other children through her paintings.” If you don’t have a Mac or iOS device (gasp!) you can still purchase them on Amazon.

They’re on my weekend reading list, but I skimmed both books earlier today–the artwork is fabulous!

Be sure to check out Eva’s website to see what Ewa is up to and to see more illustrations. Then, go and download the books!

Have a great week!