Design, Nanny, Observations

children’s book illustrations.

At the house of one of the kiddos I nanny, the upstairs neighbors were getting rid of a bunch of books. One of said books, which I rescued is an old-school compendium of “the best” children’s illustrators. I haven’t read any of the text (who does, for a coffee table book?) but the artwork is gorgeous.

I freely confess to judging children’s books by their covers/ illustrations, and this is just further proof that that’s a great idea.

 

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Spirituality, Writing

the best book i’ve read this fall…

…is The Spiral Staircase, by Karen Armstrong. Well, er, I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s too good not to share rightnow.

Ostensibly a spiritual memoir, it’s also a harrowing account of the British mental health system in the 1960’s, an ode to the life-leading power of literature, and a powerful rumination on eating disorders. Armstrong joined a convent at age 17 and left just before the Church modernized, immersing herself in the Church at its worst, most traditional form. It’s impossible to know whether Armstrong would find herself drawn to the Church now that it’s taken a more progressive face. But her experience of it– likely shocking to those of us unfamiliar with Catholic history– as austerely, oppressively anti-human and anti-secular, forever colored her views on God.

Armstrong left the order because, in her words, she could not pray. She had never experienced consolation; she could not find God. There were little other spiritual paths available to her after such a totalizing experience of alienation, and she turned to scholarship to occupy her fragmented inner life. While reading English at St. Anne’s college and then Oxford as a graduate student, Armstrong came to understand she had never really believed in God. She describes her newfound secularism in gentle, matter-of-fact language: her slide from faith seems inevitable and almost reassuring, as though she had finally been released from its punishingly nonsensical grip. But a new reality quickly replaced it: her undiagnosed epilepsy, descriptions of which glide in and out of snippets of literary analysis and records of relational woes, cased frightening hallucinations and lapses in consciousness that made her feel as though she was living as a shadow.

I’m currently at the part where it seems her life might take an upswing: Armstrong is able to recognize herself and her ghost world in the poem “Ash Wednesday” by T. S. Eliot.

“Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again”

That image of turning again, even against oneself, forms the spiral staircase Armstrong envisions herself climbing toward wholeness. I keep comparing my own journey through and away from and back to faith to hers, and I can’t wait to see where her next step brings us both.

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Self, Spirituality, Writing

the artist’s way.

Have any of you used this book before?

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(Also, have any of you struggled when typing the word “artist’s”? I misspelled it like five times. No? Just me? Ok then.)

I heard of Julia Cameron through her book The Writing Diet, which I picked up on the bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble back in the early 2000’s. I’d been struggling with disordered eating for several years and was desperate for anything to break me out of my funk.

That book was both helpful and not. Julia, bless her heart, is a lunatic.

No sugar, she advised. Absolutely none. She was ahead of the clean eating bandwagon. But the relapses she admitted to having– splitting a dessert at a restaurant with friends–apparently led to major regret and sugar hangovers. If clean eating meant I would get sick every time I ate a dessert– nay, SHARED a dessert– I wanted no part of it. Still, I tried. I lasted less than a day.

However, she also plugged her signature strategies, Morning Pages and Artist Dates. Cornerstones of the emotional healing required to resolve eating issues, Morning Pages and Artist Dates were the one techniques she said were non negotiable.

So they were the one thing I didn’t try. I didn’t lose any weight.

Fast forward to now, when a dear creative friend of mine, Nandita, invited me to join her in working through Julia’s best known work, The Artist’s Way. I prepared myself for lots of pseudo-spirituality and anecdotal evidence and admonitions to move to New Mexico, where people just get it. 

And now I’m on chapter 6, admittedly far behind in the schedule Nandita and I set, and I have to say, it’s working!

I’ll be writing about it more in depth later, but for now I’ll say that the major theme I’m taking away is that we live in an abundant universe where God is waiting and eager to bless us a thousand times more than we can imagine. He’s extravagant. He’s effervescent.

“We have tried to be sensible– as though we have any proof at all that God is sensible,” Julia writes.

OH MY GOD, I felt like shouting. HE’S TOTALLY NOT! THANK YOU FOR SAYING THAT! BECAUSE THAT HAS BEEN MY MAJOR CRITIQUE OF CHRISTIANITY!

‘There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds. This creator looks suspiciously like someone who might just send us support for our creative ventures.” And you know what? As soon as I started working my way through this book, I landed my first ever paid writing gig. And while it’s not panning out the way I thought, it was enough to encourage me to seek out other paid writing gigs.

(SO, LOL, hire me! Kidding. Well, not, I’m not, but, ya know.)

So the universe does seem to be encouraging me creatively. Thank you, Julia. Thanks for being so woo-woo you. I’m curious: have you used this book, or Julia’s others? What’d you think? 

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Nanny

nanny storytime, or: what look were you going for, Clement Hurd?

I read this book to the children I nanny four times today. I had it when I was a kid, too; I remember being aware even then that it was a classic, but I also knew I didn’t like it very much. Why was the room so big and dark? Why did the little kid have a tiger-skin rug and candlesticks? And what is with that “Goodnight nobody” page? It reminded me of the Addam’s family house. Very unnerving.

But now I love it, and these kids do too. They can stare at some of the larger illustrations for minutes, poring over each section of the great green room. There’s a giraffe on top of the dresser on the far left side, for example. I’d never even seen it, but 2-year-old Adam did.

The words of the story don’t always stay in rhythm–sometimes a single-sound rhyme extends longer than the reader expects it to, and the first two pages don’t even come close to the iambic pattern of the rest of the book. Now that’s a little exciting for me, since I spend so much time reading aloud “stories” that bounce right along and require no attention (looking at you, counting books).

I do have to say, though– that green wallpaper and orange carpet are still the stuff of nightmares. Why, illustrator Clement Hurd? Were you having visions of the 70’s?

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