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?

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! 🙂

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.

Pink Is More Than a Color

Pink is not just a color. It’s an attitude.

Here we are at the end of October and I haven’t even checked off half the blog posts I’d plan to write this month.

But I cannot let the month end without acknowledging Breast Cancer Awareness Month and reminding readers to mind their breast health. Though my sisters, Karlette and Lori, eventually succumbed to breast cancer, they first detected the disease via self-examination. If you’re not in the habit of performing a monthly examination of your breast, begin today. Be sure to examine yourself monthly and schedule mammograms regularly; your doctor will help you determine what regularly means for you based on age, health, and medical history.

If you’re unsure of how to do a self examination, there are a number of resources available online. Some are simple and straightforward and some provide a bit more detail.

There are also many organizations that provide free or reduced cost mammograms for those who do not have health insurance or cannot afford the cost of mammograms.

Finally, if you or someone you know is coping with a breast cancer diagnosis, allow me the pleasure of sending a bit of cheer and light. Simply, click the Karle’s Wings link above and fill out the contact form near the bottom. I’ll be sure to send heart mail soon.


About the image: The image above features Ellie’s Belles, a gift from my dear friend Lauralee (LL).  LL, who works with organ and tissue donation, hosted a BRA Day event earlier this month in which the dolls were featured. She gave them to me when I visited DC earlier this month and spent a few hours with the family. The elegant dolls were created by artist Loren Martz. You can find these and many other dolls in her Etsy shop.  [Thank you, LL for the special gifts, and thank you, Browns, for making time for me. ❤ y’all!]

About the title: The title of today’s post was inspired by one of the art journal pages my photographer friend, Diane W., posted on Instagram earlier this week. “Pink is not just a color. It’s an attitude.” It’s an attitude  that I hope is sparked whenever we see the color pink, an uncompromising attitude that we will do what we can to manage our breast health and well-being and do all we can to support our sisters [and brothers] who have to deal with breast cancer.