Friday, May 30, 2008

On Going Blogless

abstract sculpture


That is how I feel.

Because I said two little words that changed my week.

I said, 'So what?'

That was Sunday morning. Sunday is a day I've personally decided will be computer-free. No blogging. Not even email.

On Sunday morning, before anyone else was up, this is what happened...

I flick on the computer. I love that little sound it makes when it's booting up. My heart speeds up a bit. I feel light. A thought comes, 'It's Sunday you know.' The thought is maybe from my own brain, no voice from the Universe or anything. Still, I reply as if to Someone. 'So what?' I say in my head. I check email. Flit to a few favorite blogs. Decide to start breakfast. Pick up a mug full of water and take it directly over the keyboard, which I NEVER do. I'm home free. Even stepping towards the kitchen now. I pause. Why? I tip the cup backwards, in a most awkward and unnatural movement. I am surprised. Bizarre, this thing I've done. And now I see it. Water all over the keyboard. I tip the computer, wipe it off. I go back on-line to check things out. The machine seems okay. I push the 'Off' button. Hours later, my spouse asks what is wrong with the computer. How can I say it could be just this.... I said two little words to Someone. 'So what...'

The rest of the week was the answer to my bold and unwise question of so what? This is so what, when we compromise our commitments... isolation, loneliness, ruin, inconvenience, cost.

I should have known this of course. I had just finished a talk I would deliver on Tuesday, called Stone Upon Stone (hat tip to Ted Gossard by the way, for the phrase 'praying through sin', which I used in the talk.) One verse I hadn't included in the talk but which fit the imagery was from Proverbs, 'A man without self-control is like a city without walls.' On Sunday, I chose to go wall-less. What was I thinking?

I should have known.

(On a lighter note, here is what came of going blogless: I read Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions. A REALLY good book. I started Keeping House, another excellent book. I kept house. I lost weight. I started playing my guitar after 15 years. Not the best, but you can hear proof below. Going blogless was painful, but life offered good things in exchange.)

Riddle Song, sung (not well, but hey, I'm a writer not a singer : )

Riddle Song Lyrics, spoken

Abstract Sculpture photo, by L.L. Barkat. Taken in Washington, D.C.


Ted's book club Heron Road, suffering discussion

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Enforced Solitude

I want to tell you about the Brooklyn Bridge, which I walked over this weekend. And about how Art can change the course of a life. Thoughts about attentiveness have been swirling too. So much to share!


My computer died. Sort of. Or maybe I was visited by an angel. More on that when I get the machine back, oh, about nine days from now.

Until then, it's enforced solitude. With the exception of a few borrowed moments over here at my gracious neighbor's house. Of course, I'll miss you. I really will.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

I Remember

Mother and Child

Just last week, I took this picture at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. The photo I photographed is mother and child, beside the child's coffin tree. In the Chinese village where the original photo was taken, the tradition is to choose such a tree at a child's birth. When the child grows into old age, she will order the tree to be cut down, carved and hewn, made ready for her eventual burial.

One week later, I learn that my gardening grandmother has need of such a tree. A few months short of her 95th birthday, she leaves me to remember her. So, I do, with this small excerpt from my book. Thank you, Grandma, for holding me close like Mother and Child. For leaving me with memories so dear I set them down to share with the world...

When I look out across this river, I see the cliffs and mountains that shelter a special place…a house I loved to go to as a child. Inside its walls, pickles and jellies poured off shelves and pies marched from an ancient oven—cherry, apple, rhubarb, peach. On its property, berries swelled into round moons of pleasure. Vines curled, climbed in the clefts of rock walls. Trees swayed and bowed, dropping fruits into my eager hands. I stained my lips purple with mulberries, dirtied my nails digging potatoes, tripped through golden grasses chasing tiny blue butterflies. My grandmother rose early to care for this place, donning denim overalls and shading her face with a wide straw hat. She sweated dark circles around her neck and armpits, perched red-faced on towering ladders to prune and shape. She combed the lake in her rowboat, lifting lily pads like fainted water nymphs to build a pyre of amber green beneath the flames of the sun.

Photo of Mother and Child (original photo by Lynn Johnson), by L.L. Barkat.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Conversations in Art 2,TWO, II

KNM-Sara's sculpture

[I went on a trip last week... here's part of the lowdown, from then and beyond]

Call it serendipity.

I'm driving to Washington D.C. There's popcorn on the floor of the rental van. Crumbs on my black pants. Cups with our names on them. And Chasing Vermeer playing through the back speakers; I can't hear it very well.

We pull in to a rest stop and the hum of traffic dissipates. Now I can hear Chasing Vermeer. The characters are having a philosophical discussion about Art. What makes some things worthy of being in a museum? What makes other things trash we'll throw away? I am reminded of Long Island Express Girl's challenging comments on the last post.

Anyway. One character says that art is a puzzle. It makes him think in new ways. Though I don't know it yet, I will agree with him over the next few days as I view many pieces at the National Gallery of Art, including The Way Things Go (an art-in-motion piece I'll write about in an upcoming talk) . I will also agree with the character when I get home and my eldest daughter secretly begins reading a book I used for last month's book club.

The book? Missing Mountains, about the issue of Mountain Top Removal. Eldest is moved by it. Essays, photos, poetry, short stories, songs. Art that makes her think in new ways. One thing leads to another, and I tell my girls about a beautiful woman who lives in Appalachia, who is using her musical art to try to help people think differently. Maybe even help them to have compassion. To love. To long for what they didn't know.

We sit for a long time. Littlest on my lap. Eldest leaning into my shoulder. We listen to this haunting music. I am overcome. Tears rise. I can feel my heart beating, swelling even. Littlest Child decides she loves Appalachian folk music. And the Appalachian dulcimer. She wants to find someone who can teach her to play. A twelve string one, she decides. Because she is convinced that the beauty she hears from Blue Mountain Mama is from a 12-string dulcimer.

What makes art Art? A little child shall tell me. Has told.

Water on Paper Sculpture, by Sara. Used with permission.


Gabriel Scheller's Art and Inspiration at Christine Scheller's blog

Gabe Scheller's profound thoughts on the sacredness of art.


Ted's poetic discussion of Chapter 3: Tossed Treasure.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Conversations in Art

KNM-Michaela dandelion

This morning, I taught art. To children. It went something like this...

I sit on the floor. Kids around me, pressing in. I ask, what is art? The answers begin where I expect... pictures, sculptures, drawings. Is that it, I ask. My own kids have seen the books which are still hidden in my bag— Goldsworthy, who planted seedlings in stone (the namesake of this blog) at the Jewish Museum in New York City. So my Littlest says art can be things you find. Sticks, leaves, molded, used.

Art is beauty, says another child. It's pretty, someone adds. No, says another, not always. Sometimes art is sad. Or scary! You can get stuck in art in your dreams. Art makes you feel things, says a boy who thinks he is bad at art. Yes, I say, it does.

What can you use to make art, I ask. Paints, pastels, they say. How about water, I ask. Can you use water? One boy says, water color! And ice sculpture, adds another boy triumphantly. Yes, I say. Snow men. Yes, I say again. Waterfalls. Hmmm... that's God's art, I say. Let me show you a man who uses water to create art, I say, as I pull out the books on Goldsworthy.

Oh! Look! That's... How?! Look! They all talk at once, relating to this art that uses things any child can find. Reeds, rushes, thorns, icicles, dirt, stones, sticks. The boy who thinks he is bad at art says, I can build things that other people can't when I'm outside. A smile spreads slowly across his face. His eyes are intense in this moment. Yes, I say, you can.

Then we begin. And every child finds he is an artist.

Photo by L.L. Barkat: Michaela's "Dandelion Seeds in Silver Bowl."


Additional pieces are at Green Inventions Central.


This week's book club discussion at Ted's place Christmas Coal: shame


Scroll to the bottom of Sam's Breathtaking Poem for some great art quotes.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

What I Learned from Mashing

Mashing SC

Over at Middle Zone Musings, they're mashing. Not potatoes. But topics. School, writing, children, television, recreation, relatives, movies, friends, heroes, planes, food, pets, trains, time, space, automobiles, technology, mountains.

The challenge is to write something using at least two or, for the brave and inspired, ALL of the topics in a piece about... well, about anything one could come up with in a pinch...

I seriously thought of submitting the digital file of Stone Crossings, but decided that might infringe on copyright laws. Too bad. There are heroes (Indiana Jones and God both count, right?) There are automobiles (like the one in which my father broke the news about his fifth marriage).

Of course there are children, who play in creekbeds and poke in the dirt. Relatives (oh boy, are there... steps, halves, you name it... 18 siblings picked up along the sorry way.)

There's a school, where I hid in the bathroom, to weep during a season of being pursued by a good (bad) hunter. Of course, there's something on writing. How could a writer produce an entire book without mentioning writing? I remember putting something in there about Annie Dillard's writing process teaching me stuff about Sabbath.

Now, television stymied me. But then I recalled telling the story of my stepfather's temporary penchant for knobs. All kinds. Off of everything, including the TV. Hidden from us. (Oh, but he should have hidden the wrenches too! Where there's a will there's a way, as they say.)

Unlike television, movies came easy, since I watch them for recreation. Wit, for instance, became a great entree to discuss crossing the River Rhode (like unto the River Styx... a symbol of fording our way to the eternal.) Okay, that's a little hard to explain without summarizing the whole chapter. (Technology fails me here, or maybe my typing fingers are just lazy. For those who simply MUST understand the point, I could suggest borrowing Stone Crossings from a friend.

There's a brief mention of how I don't like to leave my family, especially not by plane.

Oh! And, can you believe it? Besides making mention of the man who threw our food out into the snow (and, ouch, our pet puppies into the pond), Stone Crossings actually has a vignette that includes... this is too good... mashed potatoes. [note to Robert: really, I'm not making that up].

I'm thinking that the poetic appearance of Venus rising counts for the topic of space. She rises right over the Hudson, just above the train line. Stone Crossings leaves out the part about the train, but it's there in spirit, directly across the river from the Palisades Cliffs, which are nothing more than mountains gouged by a passing glacier. The cliffs show up in a chapter about doubt.

At last there is time— for Stone Crossings traces a life through time. In hopes of healing the vagaries of hard times. In hopes of revealing the promises of time redeemed by God's hand.

Which is all to say, dear Robert, that I learned you can mash a whole bunch of topics together to make a blog post that kind of confuses people. Or you can take up a lot more time and space and mash up something for the night stand. Or the beach. The mountains. Or even a book club for cyber-friends.

Phew. I feel sufficiently mashed.

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Monday, May 05, 2008


Laity Lodge Water

Recently, Long Island Express Girl talked about how her journey to Mount Hermon shook things up in her soul. Sorted things. Righted things. Clarified. As a result, she's actually going to change churches.

Journeys can do that for us. Turn things upside down and sideways. Take us away, only to bring us home with a new perspective. Bring us to action.

In his book The Attentive Life, Leighton Ford talks about embarking on a second journey, along which we begin more and more to become our true selves, to discover the true End of our lives. We often need, he says, a spiritual jolt to start us on the second journey, to make us stop and listen long enough to pay attention to what God is saying to us. (p.139) As I thought about Long Island Express Girl, I considered that, in going away, she had experienced a jolt that got her to stop and listen, to pay attention.

In the past year this jolt has been for me, quite simply, going nowhere at all. Just my own back yard. And I'm going to write about that, as many of you already know.

But even as I prepare to write about that, I'm quietly stepping into a new place. Yes, I spent a year going nowhere to go somewhere. Now I'm thinking about the flip side. Going somewhere to go somewhere. I may not manage to do any of these retreats offered by the people at Laity Lodge (sigh), but I am feeling a nudge to step beyond my own geography to discover the true End to my life.

I don't know where you're at. Maybe this year you need to stay put in your own back yard. Or maybe you need to journey elsewhere. If you're led to take a journey, you might just want to retreat to Texas. The offer to win that opportunity might be all the jolt you need.

Picture 2

Photos of Laity Lodge provided by Laity Lodge. Retreat Logo and Banner design by L.L. Barkat. If you want to join the High Calling Blogs group writing project and share your thoughts about the issue of retreat, alert Mark Goodyear and link to Chris Cree where all posts on this theme will be featured.


LL's Retreat to Appreciate
Kathy's poignant Only the Strong Retreat and Surrender
Carl's enchanting and profound Sacred Ingress
Gordon's lull-you-into-longing A Listening Prayer
Sam's touching story Asleep I Sang with the Body of Christ
Robert's surprise meetings, body and soul: The Power of Retreat
Mary's simple thoughts: Retreat, Retreat, Retreat... at Home
Spaghettipie's brief but powerful time of Retreat
Heather's poetic thoughts on Retreating into Creation
Gerrard's persuasive 10 Reasons: Retreats, Why?
A. Anjeanette's thoughtful (as always) It's God Who Draws Us to Retreat
Brandon's climb to retreat: The Symbol on the Rock

Ted Gossard started a book club for Stone Crossings. I love his first post and the surprising place of his conversion! If you'd like to listen in or comment on the conversation, check out Stepping Stones-Conversion. It would also be great to hear your own stories of conversion. If you post on the topic, you could feel free to upload your story to the Zimbio Stone Crossings Book Club.

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