Thursday, December 23, 2010
I can only imagine the rush she must have been in, the woman who left this artifact on a New York subway staircase. The sole of her shoe came off, but she kept going, leaving her sole behind. I know that in reality it may not have been a very romantic scene, more likely a disturbing one, but it just makes me think – sometimes it’s good to just keep going, even when you’ve left your sole on the staircase.
We sometimes move forward in life as though we’re walking under water against an undercurrent, engulfed in resistance. We make our way onward and things get torn from us. But we forge on, leaving the dead weight behind. It’s not easy leaving some of these things behind. Just as leaving the sole of her shoe behind almost definitely made walking more difficult, sometimes what we are forced to let go of in life can make it difficult to move forward. But we learn to adjust our gait, develop new patterns for ourselves and move on.
The sole on the staircase is a reminder of the parts of ourselves that have been torn from us, that we’ve had to let go as we push forward. Even if we feel like we’ve left our very soul behind on the staircase of life, we keep walking. We grow. We move on.
(Photo by Kelene Blake)
Sunday, December 12, 2010
“A book burrows into your life in a very profound way because the experience of reading is not passive.” Erica Jong
There are people who do not read? There are people who do not read! It is not that they cannot read, they just do not read. They exist! I’ve met some. It is strange to me because I love books. I have always dreamt of building myself a vast library of good reading to last a lifetime. Reading a good book is one of the events that make life beautiful.
Literacy is a gift so powerful that it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write. Why? So that the slaves would remain in a state of mental slavery, the basis of submission to physical slavery. Reading, writing, expression and knowledge – these are keys to expanding and freeing the mind, and where the mind goes the body follows. Why is it that tyrants, dictators and oppressors burning books is a theme repeated so often in history? Because reading opens people up to ideas, helps people to experience in their imaginations and emotions a world outside of their own. Freedom of thought and imagination does not suit an oppressor’s intentions.
We live in a fast advancing technological world and there are far more sources of entertainment now than ever before in human history. Stories are beautifully told on film all the time, in a far shorter time than it would take to read the book. Yet Erica Jong poses an excellent point. Whereas we simply sit and take in a film, the act of reading is not passive and that is what gives the book its power. We think while we read. We enter the story with our minds, interpret, create our own mental film to tell the story to ourselves. We are not watching the director’s interpretation of the story – we are developing our own interpretation and directing our own images of the scenes.
I feel pity for people who do not read. It is one thing to not be able to read. It is another thing to not be interested. It is like a treasure in a cardboard box sitting in the middle of the room. There are those who cannot get into the room and therefore they cannot find the treasure. But there are those who live in the room, see the treasure box right in front of them, but simply have no interest in opening the box to enjoy what is inside because the box isn’t flashy. It seems like self-imposed mental slavery. I think maybe they were unfortunate enough to not have discovered any truly good books at a young age, and that is why they have no interest in reading. All I can say is that it is a pity, non-readers are really missing out.
(Photo by Kelene Blake: The bookshelf that started it all...The bookshelf I had growing up.)
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
By Kelene Blake
I walk through scattered pieces of love
Swirling around my feet like autumn leaves
Swirling like sadness as I wade through my pain.
What’s to be done with the seasons of life?
Chilly Decembers melt into soggy Marches.
Time’s changes flow ever onward.
One day the tears will stop
And leave my eyes clear for looking
At the summer sun whenever it comes back.
I had the task of creating my own verse form in poetry, complete with rules and example, as an assignment given by my professor M.K. Asante Jr. It's the second time I've created my own verse form. Tell me what you think about my "Shrinking Tercets"
i.) The poem is made from an even number of tercets (3 line stanzas) with 2 being the minimum.
ii.) Each pair of stanzas work together as a tercet pair and can stand alone as a single poem.
iii.) The end words of the first stanza of a tercet pair makes up the entire 3-word second stanza of the pair.
iv.) The three words of the second stanza of the tercet pair remain unchanged and must be used in the same order as the end words of the previous stanza.
v.) If there is more than one tercet pair, each must be able to stand alone as an independent poem as well as fit cohesively with the other tercet pairs of the poem.
vi.) When there is more than one tercet pair the even stanzas (3-word stanzas) should be able to be pulled out to make an independent poem.
vii.) The even stanzas are unpunctuated.
viii.) Rhyming is not required.
(Image: Artwork by Trinbagonian artist Lauralin Maynard)
Sunday, November 28, 2010
It is exhilarating when your heart stumbles upon the words that express its longing. I have found my heart's prayer. This prayer was in the program of a Thanksgiving service held by the various congregations in Roland Park, Maryland. I think it is a beautiful prayer, full of imagery and wisdom. I thought I would share:
Native American Prayer
Oh, Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have
hidden in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight* my greatest enemy - myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my Spirit may come to you without shame.
(translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887)
*In my own personal version of this prayer I figured I'd much rather "master" myself than "fight" myself.
(Photo by Kelene Blake)
Sunday, November 14, 2010
There’s a phenomenon I notice each fall. Sometimes a leaf will make its imprint on the concrete. Concrete is a most impersonal surface. It is cold, hard, and once it has set, you cannot make a footprint in it. Yet somehow these fragile leaves manage to make an imprint, letting the world know they’ve been there long after they’re gone.
Autumn and the other three seasons are new to me. I grew up with Dry Season, Rainy Season and Petit Careme (a little dry spell during rainy season). In Trinidad and Tobago, if a tree’s leaves turn brown and fall off it’s because that tree is dead, and it’s not going to come back to life in a few months, or ever.
But here the trees go through this annual purging where all the impurities of the tree are stored in the leaves which then fall off, giving the tree a clean start. Yet it is the impurities that give the autumn leaves their bold vibrant colors. And it is the impurities that leave the imprint on the concrete.
We are like autumn leaves. Life isn’t perfect. It is the hardships, the impurities, that make us strong, bold, colorful. Without a struggle we cannot build strength. It is the impurities that give us what we need to make an imprint in the cold hard concrete. The imperfections in life and the imperfections in us give us the material we need to make our imprint in this cold hard world.
(Photo by Kelene Blake)
Saturday, October 16, 2010
I am the kind of person who chases butterflies, or boulder-hops across a river to take a picture of a flower (specifically the flower in this picture), or stops to let a squirrel cross the pathway ahead of me. I love nature’s beauty and soak in its energy. People are sometimes surprised that I take time to appreciate “the little things.” They say “Aww, that’s nice.”
I say it is more than nice, it is necessary to appreciate “the little things.” Your world consists of what you focus on. You choose what to include in your view and what to ignore – thus expanding or narrowing your world. If you focus only on those things right before your eyes; that project, that bill, that incident, that goal, you narrow your world, and the narrower your world the more easily it can topple and fall apart.
If however you look up and out, you see the beauty and life that surrounds you, you marvel at the pretty flower growing through the cracks in the concrete (they’re usually called weeds), you take pleasure in the warmth of the sunshine, or the clean coolness you feel passing under a tree, you expand your world. You allow all these mundane “little things” to renew you and keep things in context. After all, when the big things feel like they’re all going to hell in a hand basket, sometimes the little things are all we have that we can smile about. So even if that project deadline is fast approaching and that bill sits on the counter unpaid, it doesn’t stop that butterfly from being pretty. Life continues on in all its splendor, and so will you.
(Photo by Kelene Blake)
Sunday, September 26, 2010
I went to a performance entitled From Jail to Yale on September 24th starring Charles S. Dutton, who many of us would fondly know as Roc from the old TV show about the garbage man and his family. (Interesting tidbit: Roc is Dutton’s real nickname. They named the show after him.) The event, held in support of the Greater Baltimore Urban League, was at the Murphy Fine Arts Theatre at Morgan State University and free to students (which was a good thing; otherwise I would not have been able to see it).
The performance started off with Dutton relating an account of his own life experiences since “Jail to Yale” is his own true story. That to me was certainly the most entertaining part of the play. His is a truly inspiring story. However, trained in classical theatre, he included excerpts of such timeless works as Death of a Salesman, Richard III and King Lear. He did the scenes with Morgan’s own Theatre majors, which was both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing about that is that the students had the valuable experience of working with and learning from a professional, well-trained actor. The bad thing is one could see the glaring difference between the students and the professional. One thing I learned from watching this play though, diction makes all the difference when performing Shakespeare.
On that note, Charles Dutton did manage to alter my perspective on Shakespeare, for which I am sincerely grateful. Dutton spoke about the African-American actors of history performing Shakespeare during racially charged times. He said that the reason they performed Shakespeare so well is because they identified with it – Shakespeare wrote for the commoners. I can honestly say I never identified with Shakespeare, at least on stage. I could read it and appreciate the stories being told, but Shakespearean plays never quite impressed me the way I usually see them performed. Dutton, however was able to use Shakespeare’s old-English lines, usually difficult to swallow, and infuse all the real emotion, and storytelling into them in the way only an actor of his caliber can. He wasn’t reciting Shakespeare. He was saying the words as they were meant to be said. This is the first time I’ve heard an audience react to Shakespearean insults with the same “Oooooo” and “Dang!” as a low-blow during a catfight.
I have a new appreciation for the power of the actor thanks to Dutton. The actor has the power to bring characters to life, to translate a story into reality, to bring the audience into the drama: make them feel the pain of loss, the glory of triumph, or the burn of a brutal Shakespearean insult. Or the actor has the power to make a story fall flat. I hope the theatre students, my talented Morgan counterparts, learned this well from Mr. Dutton. I hope they learned their power as actors to bring a storyteller’s vision to life. Most of all, I hope they learn the importance of diction.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Now I can’t help but wonder; if I shouldn’t be full of myself, then who the heck am I supposed to be full of? Who exactly is supposed to saturate my being? Whose thoughts should I think, emotions should I feel, opinions should I express, stories should I write? Whose struggles should I respect? Whose imperfections should I accept? Whose strengths should I build? Whose creativity should I nurture? Whose beauty should I appreciate? Whose uniqueness should I treasure? Who? Who? Who?
The phrase “full of yourself” implies being vain and arrogant, thinking yourself more important than you really are. The people who tell you that you are full of yourself are trying to “take you down a notch” and “put you in your place.” What they do not know is how hard many women have to climb to get to her place – a place where she can honestly say “I am brilliant” or “beautiful” or “talented” and believe it. It’s not that we think ourselves more important than we really are. It’s just that we are important. And we need to acknowledge our importance and treat ourselves like the most important person in our lives.
I’m not trying to encourage arrogance or shallow vanity (although I do believe we should all be vain enough to take good care of ourselves and be at our best inside and outside, but that’s best left for another day’s rant). I acknowledge the virtues of being humble and selfless – to an extent. There are two types of humility. (a) There’s the self-depreciating humility of those who literally believe (or try to believe) themselves to be nothing. (b) There’s the humility of the truly great who are willing to step down and support and encourage the hard-pressed, the outcast, the homeless, the young, those who can really benefit from their insight but who most people would overlook, on their own journeys to greatness.
Likewise, there are two types of selflessness. (a) There’s the selflessness that stems from someone who does not feel like they are worth anything unless they are beneficial to others’ lives. (b) There’s the selflessness of those who recognize their worth, their talents, their beauty and believe in such abundance of good within them that they are able to freely share it with others. If the Heaven Entrance Exam or the Good Person Proficiency Test asked which is more virtuous, in both cases I’d choose (b). I believe one should work on being self-full before trying to be self-less, because then one has so much more to offer. If you think you are nothing then where’s the virtue in giving away something you do not value?
I’ve tried being full of others; setting others’ ideas, opinions, validations and goals ahead of my own and I promise you it is a bad idea. The truth is you need to be full of yourself. Otherwise you will be empty inside – and then you will fill yourself with all these toxic, ill-fitting external influences. You are custom-built to fit only you. No one and nothing else can make you complete.
So every morning I am going to fill up a glass of Kelene and drink myself in. I am brilliant. I am beautiful. I am talented. And if anyone has a problem with me saying that they really need to look into themselves and figure out why… because it could be they’re simply full of shit.
(Oh no she didn’t! Aw snap! Yes she did! Lol!)
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Now what? Well, now, I either resign myself to never gaining entry to my own personal kingdom of heaven (so not me), or I start searching for a vent. Always up for an adventure I searched for that vent and, sure enough, there it was, staring me in the face.
The door slammed rudely when my marriage ended. The window snapped shut when I did not get a job. No husband to take care of me, no income to take care of myself; what entrance to heaven was staring me in my face? My redemption lay within me. It always has. My creativity. I’m a writer. I make jewelry. I sew. Why not make a living using my own creativity as my product?
So, I’m relaunching my jewelry line as JadeTygress Creations. I’m also going to write and publish. Maybe if I work as hard for myself as I do for other people (I’m usually a great employee) then maybe I’ll make something of myself (something other than a fool). Hmmm… Lets see where this road goes.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
What happened to my muse? That flow of creative energy that enters the crown of my head, runs down my spine, infiltrates the blood flowing to my fingertips, compels me to write… is gone. The words don’t flow as they should any more. Instead I have to forcefully drag them out, trailing blood, from my heart. It’s excruciating. I think someone took aim and shot my muse down from over my head. I want to find the shooter and take vengeance. All I had were my words.
But my words aren’t gone. I just have to search harder to find them. Writing becomes an uphill trudge rather than the exhilarating freefall it once was. In a way, my writing mirrors my life. The important thing is that I am alive, and so are my words. As long as I infuse life into my words, then my muse isn’t dead. I’ll just write and keep that mysterious little thing alive until I can find it again.
(Image by Kelene Blake)
Friday, September 3, 2010
Poetry is a prison
For emotions the heart can no longer contain.
Fear, pain, love… dangerous hope
Trapped on paper, where it is safe,
Where it will not bother anybody.
But it does. It bothers everybody.
The emotions imprisoned behind the words
Contained on the paper
They will not be confined.
Instead, they call out to everyone
Within earshot, within view,
And leave their stain on hearts and minds.
Emotions like silvered blood, seep through the paper
From behind the words
And the poetry, if it is real,
Becomes a mirror where everyone sees
The emotions their hearts can no longer contain.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
“Live out of your imagination, not your history.” Stephen Covey
The artist begins with a vision of what she wants to create. She figures out what she needs to make it: should she use canvas or paper, watercolor or acrylics, wood or stone, pen or pencil? She goes through the plethora of options and routes; determines what tools and skills she needs to achieve the effect she desires, the vision she imagines. Decisions are made and she begins her search… she already has this, she knows where to find that; she’ll have to buy this and maybe ask around to get a hold of that. Oh no! She doesn’t have that! But maybe this will work instead. She gathers what she needs and, taking a deep breath, sets to work. Sometimes she knows what she’s doing, other times she’s learning as she goes along. Some brush strokes are deliberate, some pencil strokes are just “winging it.” She makes some mistakes, but there’s no erasing.
She realizes early on that this may not go exactly as she planned, but she pushes on, believing in herself, believing in her vision. As the creation unfolds the creator understands – it’s not exactly as she envisioned, it’s even better! With a tweak in perception here and a change in method there she begins to discover her own masterpiece. She releases the reigns of her creativity and lets the art flow because she has exactly what she needs to do exactly what she’s doing.
She steps back. She looks at what she has before her. She knows it is done. She releases it to its own existence. She has done her part, and now it is finally over. Her creation may go on to inspire the world, or it may sit in a quiet room unseen. The important thing is she acknowledged her vision, sought what she needed, used what she had and created something beautiful – a life lived out of her imagination. She exhales for the last time and smiles.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
I miss you. I miss feeling the muffled pound of your heartbeat. I miss tingling with the medley of emotions that you felt, that I felt, when I was in my water filled cradle… the intermingling of joy, fear, worry, hope… love. I miss the safety of you, surrounding every aspect of my being. We were one then. You nurtured me before even you knew I was there. And when you found out I was in you, you nurtured me more. You didn’t even know me yet, but you loved me.
When my cradle became too small, became cramped, I felt you gently squeeze me, coaxing me out of my warm cozy world. Then you pushed! You pushed me out of the only home I knew. I was so frightened. I didn’t know then that my new home in your arms would be so much better, because from there I could see your face beaming down at me like the morning sun. I miss your face.
I was here for two days… two beautiful days when I had you all to myself. You held me, fed me, cleaned me, and answered my cries. You held me close to you. I can still taste your sweet, comforting touch. You sang to me with your cottony voice. You loved me, like no one else. I was your first born.
Now I look at my four siblings with envy. They have so many experiences I never had. You held their hands when they were learning to walk. You picked them up and comforted them when they fell. You put band-aids on their bruises. You cooked them Sunday meals and Christmas dinners. You swung them on swings, took them into the water at the beach, carried them to see fireworks on Independence Day. You took them to Church every Sunday and taught them about God. You taught them to drive. You let them use your car. You gave them relationship advice. You taught them to love. If I knew how much I was going to miss I would not have left. Now they have you, and I don’t.
They get to give you gifts every Mothers’ day, Christmas and birthday. If I were there, Mother, I’d give you a gift every day. They get to kiss you and hug you. But from where I am, I long to touch your face, but I cannot. They don’t deserve you Mother. My siblings do not treat you the way I would. I would bring you flowers every day. I know you like flowers Mother. I would hug and kiss you every chance I get. I would tell you I love you a million times a day. I never even got the chance to tell you I love you.
You never tell my brothers and my little sister about me. They don’t know what by birthday is. They don’t know the color of my eyes. They don’t even know my name. Do you remember what you named me Mother, on the day I was born? Sometimes I wonder if you have forgotten all about me. But there are times, those rare moments… when you’re gardening, or holding one of your grandchildren… that I see it in your eyes. You remember me. You feel my presence. You still love me.
Mother I am sorry I left you so quickly, but the angel said it was time. It wasn’t your fault that I left. I heard you cry out when my body stiffened and I stopped suckling at your breast. I saw the anguish on your face. But it was too late. I couldn’t come back. My purpose on this earth was fulfilled. I came to teach you to love in a way you never before knew… and to be loved by you. I had two days. Those two days I will treasure for an eternity. I never really left you Mother. One day you will understand…
Your First Born
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Stand naked – no clothing, no shoes, no jewelry, no makeup, no tattoos even - naked as the day you were born. With none of these tools, these media of self-expression, you’re still wearing something. You still have one way to be your creative, expressive self – your hair. It is part of our bodies yet we manipulate it, change it, cut it off, twist, plait and weave it in all sorts of ways. Hair is our truest most basic form of self-expression and body-art. Without adding external adornment we have our built in play dough right atop our heads. It is probably for this reason throughout history hair and how it is worn has been given social, spiritual and psychological significance.
From the thin red locks of the Massai warrior to the shaved heads of Buddhist monks to the long flowing tresses of Hollywood starlets hair tells people who you are and is part of your image. And just like one’s image, it can change. It is said when a woman cuts her hair off it is a sign she’s making some major changes in her life, and to nosy inquirers she answers “it will grow back.” Sometimes we do need to cut off the baggage of our old image and start anew. Our lives, our image of ourselves, may become but a stub of what it used to be – but it will grow back. The style may not be the same but it will still be your crowning glory, your sacred, locks, and the new you will be just fine.
Picture: Portrait of Massai (1979) by Paul Collins, courtesy the James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University.
(Photo by Kelene Blake)
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
A friend of mine bought this fascinating painting by Brazilian artist Lena Hali in a Sunday Market in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The painting is of a Native American woman. I am no sophisticated art critic and cannot tell you about the use of shadow or hue. What I can tell you is that this painting moved me considerably. My eyes landed on it and it stirred my soul, swirling it, mixing my emotions so that I didn’t know how I felt because I was feeling everything at once. The painting is beautiful and its beauty gave me joy. The woman’s face drew me in. I saw humility and a hint of sadness in her face that made me want to reach out to her. I connected with her as if she were there in the room with me, in the flesh.
That’s what art is about. We gloss over reality as we move through our lives, but art has the power to make us live and feel not only what is placed before is on canvas (or in stone or paper, glass, whatever the medium) but it brings us to a point where the line between our reality and the art before us becomes blurred. In the words of Doctorow, “good writing [and I think all good art] is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader; not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” I’ve encountered art from time to time that makes me feel like the art and my reality are somehow related, blurred together such that there is no clear distinction. I really “feel” it. Lena Hali achieved that with this piece. There’s no saying when you’re going to be moved and by what, but for me, now this painting brings the rain. I am right there with the woman in the painting each time I look at it, I become her and the lines are blurred. When art can blur the lines of reality, that is when it is truly “good.”
(Photo by Kelene Blake)
Friday, June 18, 2010
There was certainly no lack of creative movement in Karate Kid. The choreography of the training scenes with the bamboo posts, the “wow” moves of the fight scenes, the awe-inspiring physical control of the kung-fu masters or the breathtaking unity of hundreds of students practicing a kata were all well presented. The raw beauty of China as well as the juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern, the east and the west, were elements well displayed in this film. I particularly loved the contrast of the delicately patterned traditional walls of Mr. Han’s home and the old beaten up car in his living room. The infusion of humor was also nicely achieved throughout the story. One subtle joke (intentional or not) that you should keep a keen eye out for is on Mrs. Parker’s t-shirt which says “Beware of naked Emperors.”
I am no movie critic and I have no desire to get into the nitty gritty of the film. All I do is appreciate beauty and I saw plenty of it in Karate Kid. As for how good it is – well I loved it and would definitely tell my friends to go see it. Take from that what you will young grasshopper.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I tend to do things the hard way; I also tend to do things well (just go along with it). I think the reason I do things well is that I do them my own way and don’t take shortcuts. As previously mentioned, “my own way” tends to be the hard way. Take my beading method for example. As a teenager I developed my own method of weaving beads. I had no one to teach me and had to figure out for myself how to achieve certain effects. The result was my own unconventional beading method involving stringing each bead one-by-one. Yes. That’s right. I painstakingly strung each bead on that Diamondback Necklace in the picture one… by… one. That would be the hard way. The result: an intricately beaded necklace, one of a kind, that reflects just how beautiful doing things “the hard way” can be.
That may be an interesting way to live a life: each moment, a bead consciously picked and strung. Imagine if at the end you get to take a look at the pattern you created by the way you strung your moments. Wouldn’t that be something? I want my moment-beaded life-necklace to be dotted with many colorful moments. At 27 I still have a lot of living I want to do and many more moments to string. Perhaps if I live consciously I can string an elegant and colorful pattern. I imagine living consciously each moment would be “the hard way” to live since so much of what we do is intended to distract our consciousness from the harsh realities of life. But at the end if I get the chance to view my pattern I can have that joy that comes with knowing I’ve just completed an amazing work of art.
(Photo by Kelene Blake)
Monday, June 14, 2010
Sitting next to my bed are two dying roses. At beauty’s end they release a scent stronger than anything they ever deigned while they lived. It is the scent of roses with a pungent hint of death. I love the smell. It is the smell of struggle, of pain, the last exultation of a life now ended. It is fitting that a final moment all energy and consciousness is used in that ultimate push to release all that is good in us into the world before we leave it. In that moment of struggle we release our sweetest scent.
It is in our struggle that our art has the greatest value, and it is our art that makes the struggle worthwhile. I can say without a doubt that poetry helped me survive adolescence. I came through that turbulent time – probably not quite sane but at least able to feign sanity well enough to get by – because I found a way to rip the turbulence from my being and entrap it on paper where it was far more manageable. Even now the release of my creativity as a poem, short story, item of jewelry or strategically chopped up article of clothing embodies the turbulence of the intense struggle that is my life right now. My creativity is my last ditch effort to release into the world all that is good in me even as my spirit complains there is no good left; I preserve my life in my art even as my life crumbles around me. But from the ruins rises a new era, from the ashes a phoenix, and from a dying flower the bittersweet scent of art.
(Photo by Kelene Blake)