Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

3 Question View – Ananda

This post is the eighth of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire. You can find quick links to the other 3QV’s on the right-hand sidebar of the blog.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Ananda 
(Guillaume Ananda Coantic)
Singer/Songwriter, www.followananda.com
Anna:
Your influences have been global, as your French parents met in India and you have lived in places as diverse as Ghana and New York. How have the places you lived shaded the ideas and rhythms of your music? Where would you like to live next?
Ananda:
Traveling and meeting new people is definitely a key source of inspiration. The time I spent in Ghana was such an experience and I’ve learned a lot recording with the Pidgen Music label. It was also fantastic to go on tour with such amazing West African musicians.

Working with Tony Graci in New York was unforgettable and the recording of We Will Go was such a smooth process. Tony is a talented music producer and an incredible musician. I love the energy of NYC; it is very powerful.

Now I’m planning to spend some time in Nashville and very much looking forward to that.

Anna:
You started playing instruments at the age of 12. In your video “You and Me”, you play piano quite lyrically. When you are writing a song, how do you decide what will accompany your voice? Do you choose the piano versus the guitar based on mood? Which is easier to write for? What is an instrument you would like to learn?
Ananda:
Thank you. Actually, I like to compose and play on both guitar and piano. It’s just a different way to express my feelings, like using different languages to sing. Now I’ve started to play the banjo and it’s a great instrument; it can bring a certain mood, a very unique feeling.

Anna:
Your newest video is called “Standing Alone”. The lyrics are simple (“I’m standing alone now / Alone”), but the imagery communicates a vast feeling of solitude and yearning. What was the inspiration for this song and video? In your creative process, what is the part of being alone that you like best? And least?

Ananda:
This song represents for me a new way to create music. I’ve been working with a twelve-musician band in Ghana and then I started to compose the album We Will Go, which is more personal and mainly based on guitar-voice combinations. Also, I like to be alone in nature, that helps me to find some peace of mind. It’s really useful when writing songs!

I like writing songs on my own, but then at some point it’s vital for me to play with musicians.

Ananda
You can visit Ananda’s website: www.followananda.com
Follow Ananda on Twitter: @followananda
Follow Ananda on Facebook: www.facebook.com/followananda
Purchase We Will Go on iTunes

3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick

*Please note: this 3QV features mature work and themes by a very talented artist. Please do not click through if this is something you do not wish to see or read*

This post is the seventh of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.


Cynthia Cusick
3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick 
Sculptor and Ceramicist, www.cynthiacusick.com
Anna: 
You describe your work as introspective, with a focus on sexuality and maturity. As an art historian, I’ve been trained to see “girl parts” in every flower and fruit, so it’s relieving to see it as clearly intentional. Why do these themes inspire you? How has living in Manhattan and now Kentucky brought different influences to your work?

Cynthia:
Being raised Catholic initially helped shape my views on sexuality as something to be hidden, confined, and separated from the self. The lip service was, ‘Yes, sexuality is a natural thing.” The unspoken message was that it was dirty, to be shunned and private to the point of being completely denied. This conflicting message made sex and sexuality an uncomfortable experience for me. I learned to avoid any sexual references, intellectually and emotionally, personally and collectively. As I grew older, I finally reached a place in my life where I assumed I had everything figured out. Instead, my marriage fell apart; I initiated the process without realizing it. I was out there alone and became acutely aware that I knew nothing.  I avoided things of which I was fearful, that scared me or made me uncomfortable. So I made the choice to face head on all of my fears and ask, “Why does this scare me?”

Making tangible objects out of intangible fears makes my fears approachable. Being alone was the biggest fear of mine at the time but it forced me to reconcile myself without outside feedback and approval. Sexuality and sexual identity elicited an uncomfortable response within me; it made me intensely curious. In current American culture, we view it as a power element rather than what it truly is: a biological construct that exists everywhere. I combine sexual elements or references with ambiguous, natural elements as a reminder of our most natural part of ourselves, that keeps us connected to the rest of the world. Some of the reactions to the genitalia-like parts of my work are thoughtful, some are repulsed, some reactions are funny. All are part of the mix. I respond to the quirky, unexpected and humor aspect. Humor eases the discomfort and make the scary less scary. 
The Incidental Observer

The Incidental Observer (Detail)

Living in Manhattan for over 15 years allowed me an environment rich with diversity of culture and points of view, the importance of being true to yourself in a sea of humanity. When I came to Kentucky, I came to fulfill my childhood dreams in an environment that inspired me. NYC has some amazing green spaces and parks, but nature is experienced in a controlled setting. I love the uninhibited quality of my rural setting; it’s never quite clear who or what has the upper advantage. I love that sense of the unexpected. It keeps me focused on the moment at hand and my relationship with the natural world. I find a sense of humility in that paradox. 

Anna: 
One of my favorite series is “The 35 Symptoms”, an exploration of the common symptoms of Peri-Menopause. How did creating these works express your feelings about this transition in your life? How do you think your work has developed and matured?

Cynthia: 
The 35 Symptoms is a cathartic work for me. Knowing ahead of time as much information as possible gives me the illusion of having control over uncontrollable things. When I first made The 35 Symptoms, I placed the little icons around this womb-like sculpture. It made a nice presentation but became static for me – menopause frozen in a metaphor. This phase of peri-menopause, the 2-9 years before actual menopause (yes, that’s right, sometimes it’s nine years, folks!) is anything but static. And the process doesn’t just affect me, it affects those around me. I need to give some warning and acknowledgement to the most problematic symptoms so I’ve created a kind of a shrine to display them. I use this small stage to contemplate my most prominent symptoms of the day and, in doing so, the little icons help me keep perspective. They keep me aware of what’s going on within me, but with a sense of humor about the whole process. 
When I was younger, my art was paintings, drawings, photography, two-dimensional pieces that tended to focus on solitude, stillness and isolation. Now that I’ve moved into three-dimensional work, there is more literal and metaphorical depth. Because my work in clay and other sculptural media is relatively new, I have a ways to go to feel as if my work has matured. Yet my perspective is that of a mature woman so I think I am able to use my experience to reflect and ponder some deeper experiences and questions that confront us. 


Feeling of Doom
Disturbing Memory Loss, in situ, in Adaptation Exhibit

See the whole series here: http://www.cynthiacusick.com/Portfolio/35_Symptoms.html

 

Anna: 
Now for a little whimsy – you create personality by putting little feet on most of your pottery mugs and cups, which are historically utilitarian. It’s endearing and yet simultaneously earthy and organic. How did you come up with the idea of foot-ing your drinking vessels? What about the idea of usable art appeals to you?

Cynthia:
Many terms in pottery are derived from the human body so it’s a natural extension to turn a utilitarian object into something more human-like. Terms used to describe parts of cups, bowls, and bottles are things like “foot,” “lip,” “belly,” “body,” “neck.” Moving from pure utility to personality feels natural. I find that I enjoy making functional work that behaves more like an evolved creature as opposed to making very traditional utilitarian work. My talent lies in the clumsy dent, the falling handle, the bowed-out edge and then seeing what that flaw inspires. Nature, itself, is not perfect. Nature contains many flaws, mistakes and bumps in the road but it has this wonderful capacity to adapt and evolve from those points into something even more exciting. 
I find my passion lies in seeing the form and then letting myself go back to being a kid again and using my imagination to ask: what does this look like to me? Is is a little monster? A queen? A slithery underground creature? A twisted plant? Carving, pinching and sculpting things I can still use for everyday functions transports me into those imaginary worlds and moments. For me, it makes drinking a cup of tea a much more expressive act.

Chubby Cup

You can order Cynthia’s work on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/teahorsestudio

Cynthia’s portfolio website: http://www.cynthiacusick.com

You can visit Cynthia’s blog, reflections on art and life: http://cynthiacusick.blogspot.com

3 Question View – Alisa Libby

This post is the sixth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.
Alisa Libby

3 Question View – Alissa Libby

Author, The Blood Confession and The King’s Rose

Anna:
Your novels, The Blood Confession and The King’s Rose, are historical fiction; what drew to this genre? In your travels to do historical research, where was your favorite destination? How does being in a place inspire you? What is the most fascinating fact you discovered in your travels by being “on the spot”?
Alisa:
I came to write historical novels by accident. History was a bore to me in school, just a list of nameless dates and facts to memorize. But when I started reading about particular people, it occurred to me that history was filled with characters who were once vital and alive. History is about people—fascinating, flawed, lovestruck, mad people, in many cases.

As for historical research, my husband and I took a trip to England to research Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. We visited the Tower of London on February 13th, the anniversary of her execution. I visited her crest on the chapel altar, beneath which she is buried. I felt her presence there more strongly than I had at Hampton Court, where her ghost supposedly still haunts a particular gallery, running and screaming Henry’s name. 

It was a bittersweet meeting; Catherine is buried alongside her infamous cousin, Anne Boleyn, who had a half dozen roses on her crest on the day we visited, while Catherine had none. The yeoman guard showed us that the white marble of Anne’s stone has turned pink from so many years of red roses being laid upon it. This made me sad for Catherine, the overlooked (but still doomed) wife of King Henry. I said hello to her and left a stone to mark our visit, and made it clear that we had come a long way to visit her, specifically.


Anna:
On your blog you say you are attracted to “characters who do something
wrong.” Which character was a greater challenge for you to write – Katherine Howard or Countess Bathory? Out of all the females in history, what led you to these two as the focus of your novels?


Alisa:
I love this question! Each character posed unique challenges. With Bathory, the challenge was to make her a sympathetic character. That book is more historical fantasy, because I added many fictional elements to her life (this is why I changed her name to Bizecka in the book). I still wanted her to commit the crimes of legend: bathing in the blood of her servants, believing that it would keep her young forever. So, how to make the reader empathize with such a character? How to show her madness growing gradually, in a way that is believable? That was the challenge. I started at a place that I could deeply understand: I gave the young Countess a best friend, and felt her betrayal when that best friend leaves her behind. A very common story, but it alters Erzebet’s perception of her world.

With Catherine Howard, the challenge was perhaps even greater: her sin was stupidity. This is extremely difficult to empathize with, as a reader. What could she have been thinking, cheating on King Henry? Didn’t she know that adultery – or even the intent to commit it – was a crime punishable by death? She surely must have understood this, to some extent; the Tudor court was a dangerous place, ruled by an emotional, unpredictable king. I had to remain true to historical accounts of Catherine while also filling in the gaps to reveal more of her character and create her own “logic” (however illogical) to explain her actions.

Anna:
When writing historical fiction, how do you balance between sharing juicy historical bits with the reader without overburdening the story? Has there been a historical detail in one of your books that you badly wanted to include, but cut for story purposes? Will you stay with the genre of historical fiction or are there other types of writing calling your name?

Alisa:
Oh, so many details! It really was difficult, especially with The King’s Rose. I researched their food, clothing, daily life, holidays, music…The details are valuable for world-building, but it is tricky to include just what you need and not a sentence more. A delicate balance that I’m still learning to strike! I took a break from history and was working on some contemporary stories for the last few years. But there is something exciting about setting a story in a different time period. The beliefs and customs of that time influence the characters and the story itself in very interesting ways.

The King’s Rose
Appointed to the queen’s household at the age of fourteen, Catherine Howard is not long at court before she catches the eye of King Henry VIII. The king is as enchanted with Catherine as he is disappointed with his newest wife — the German princess Anne of Cleves. Less than a year from her arrival at court, Catherine becomes the fifth wife of the overwhelmingly powerful, if aging, King of England.

Caught up in a dazzling whirl of elaborate celebrations, rich gowns and royal jewels, young Catherine is dizzied by the absolute power that the king wields over his subjects. But does becoming the king’s wife make her safe above all others, or put her in more danger? Catherine must navigate the conspiracies, the silent enemies, the king’s unpredictable rages, as well as contend with the ghosts of King Henry’s former wives: the abandoned Catherine of Aragon, the tragic Jane Seymour, and her own cousin, the beheaded Anne Boleyn. The more Catherine learns about court, the more she can see the circles of danger constricting around her, the threats ever more dire.

Check out the book trailer for The King’s Rose! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGaAGyAgvas

The Blood Confession
Erzebet Bizecka lives in a remote castle in the Carpathian mountains, the only child of the Count and Countess Bizecka. Born under the omen of a falling star, Erzebet is a child of prophecy: the predictions of a scryer tell of a child whose days will end quickly, or whose days will have no end. As a teenager, Erzebet strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young village girl, Marianna, but even her dearest friend can not understand her overwhelming fears of growing older and losing her beauty. The only one who does understand her is Sinestra, the beautiful, mysterious stranger who visits Erzebet and assures her that there are ways to determine her own destiny. With the Biblical passage “The life of the flesh is in the blood” he successfully lures her into a dark world of blood rituals in order to preserve her youth and beauty for eternity. But will the blood treatments—exacted from willing servant girls—be enough to keep her safe forever? How far will Erzebet be willing to go to sever her life from the predestined path God has chosen for her?

Visit the book trailer for The Blood Confession: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYyij1xBLv8

Alisa’s Links
www.alisalibby.com
www.alisalibby.com/blog

3 Question View – Gordon McCleary

This post is the fifth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

 
Gordon McCleary

3 Question View – Gordon McCleary
Writer, Humorist & Blogger,  

A Yankee’s Southern Exposure

Anna:
The writings on your blog, “
A Yankee’s Southern Exposure“, focuses on the humorous side of the culture clash between North and South (Dunkin Donuts vs. Krispy Kreme, NY Jets vs. NASCAR, Philly Cheesesteak vs. Fried Green Tomatoes). What brought you to the South? What do you love best about your adopted homeland? What do you miss most about the North?

Gordon:
First off, thank you for this unique opportunity to participate in your interview series. I ended up down south while working for a state contractor. Once the contract ended, I had the opportunity to move with the company or stay in Florida and find another job; I stayed. I stayed because I love the pace and the people. The pace is more deliberate and not as tense as it is up North. The people down here (most of them) have good souls and go the extra mile in extending a courteous gesture.

On the other hand, I do miss the fast-paced environment up North and the daily grind the big city offers. I am conflicted and it does come out at times in my writings.

Anna:
Your style of blog post writing is breezy and charming, interspersed with exaggeratedly funny photos, such as this:

 

Your style of witty one-liners is also quite popular on Twitter (57K followers at publication). How do you divide up your time and inspiration between your social media? What are your favorite ways to engage with your followers and readers?

Gordon:

I write it as I think it and see it; I am a very visual person. At times, I will look at many photos of the subject matter and write around the visual experience. Things that strike me as funny and quick, I will post on Twitter. If the tweet has some relevance, sometimes I’ll add a link to my latest blog post.

As far as how long I spend on social media, it depends on my mood. I have days where I am gone, M.I.A…and then I have consecutive days where I will post on the blog/ Facebook/ Twitter. I never go too long without updating something. I like to tweet a funny, off-the-wall comment about my latest blog post and then tweet that with a link; this seems to bring in a lot of traffic. I don’t like a lot of ads when I am reading online, so I made it a point to not put any advertising on my blog. I am in it for the pleasure of sharing and writing.

Anna:
Your experiences down South have led to some bizarrely comic escapades (the disappearing roosters, adventures with food – pigs feet and collard greens). What is the oddest thing that’s happened to you thus far? What would be the title of your dream blog post?

Gordon:

I would say attending the annual “worm grunting festival” in Sopchoppy, Florida is right up there with one of the strangest experiences I have had. I also attended the worm grunting ball at the end of the festivities. They are serious about their worms!

Title of dream blog post? Bless his heart, A hot mess in a cool place” 

Best Tweets from @ASouthernYankee:
* My wife: you wanna watch Glee? Me: you know, I’d love to but I was gonna drink battery acid and play with my poison ivy plant tonight.

* Anybody know exactly what time tomorrow the end is coming? I need to tell my wife that this “honey do” list may not be happening.

* Tweeting from my bunker……my wife is pleading with me to come out….I know a zombie when I hear one !!!

Visit Gordon’s blog, A Yankee’s Southern Exposure
http://yankeeexposure.blogspot.com

Follow Gordon on Twitter: @asouthernyankee

3 Question View – Frances Figart

This post is the fourth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (“Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three.”) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.


3 Question View – Frances Figart
Writer, Editor and Marketing Consultant

Frances Figart

Anna:
One of the focuses of your freelance writing and promotional work is eco-tourism, responsible tourism and sustainable travel. What drew you to that specialty and how do you define these terms? Why does travel writing in general attract you?

Frances:
One of my professional incarnations placed me in the role of magazine editor for a mainstream travel industry association. I was attracted to that position because of its three-fold offering of people, places and publishing: the extrovert in me loved meeting the people who made the travel industry go ‘round; the adventurer in me loved exploring new places and learning new things; and the editor in me loved being able to publish a monthly full-color magazine. In that role, I met an industry mentor who was like the Edward Abbey of ecotourism, and he started educating me about responsible forms of travel: ways of traveling that ensure there are environmental, social and economic benefits, what we call the “triple bottom line.”

There are many definitions of ecotourism, but it boils down to environmentally responsible travel to relatively undisturbed natural areas in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features, both past and present). It promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local people in the areas visited. Most ecotourism is by its nature also sustainable, meaning it can be maintained over the long term because it results in a net benefit for the social, economic, natural and cultural environments of the area in which it takes place.

Once I started learning about these forms of travel, I was no longer interested in supporting most mainstream types of travel because they were not taking into account the environmental and social aspects of the triple bottom line, only the economic aspects. So from then on, I dedicated myself to responsible travel. The type of writing I do to support these forms of tourism, much of it being marketing oriented, interests me because I feel it allows me to make a difference not only to the consumer choosing to travel responsibly, but also to the ecosystems and local peoples benefiting from their visits.

Anna:
Since you write for a living, what are some of the techniques you use to keep your writing fresh and inspired? When on a deadline, how do you stay focused? Do you have any advice for aspiring freelancers?

Frances:
I think both reading and writing keep things interesting for me. The types of works I like to read most are biographies (especially of musicians and poets) and inspiring psychological, spiritual, philosophical or sociological studies laid out for the intelligent lay person. I have never been the voracious reader that some folks are because I am slow at it. This is because I hear each sentence and paragraph as if read aloud by an eloquent and graceful narrator—and that is what has provided me with the “voice” one needs in order to truly write with a style of one’s own.

I cannot remember ever having a day when I didn’t want to write something. Even when I do not take the time to read, I am always writing. Even when I am in between assignments, I still want to write, and I sometimes go all creative and write something totally different to amuse myself. Never a poet or creative writer in the modern sense, when I do wax poetic (which is quite rare), I tend to want to emulate the conceits, meter and rhyme schemes of my favorite English Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. Here is an example:

Spring Separation

How fast the moon binds lovers held so far adrift
That, would she shine on both at once, they would be free!
One soul made two, split by fate and geography,
They seek an end to this eternal-seeming rift.

The long center of night bids wood spirits awake:
A sharp white silence mingles with the joyous knell
Of one lone bird whose bold and throaty warblings tell
Of thirst for female company he longs to slake.

This avian knows every other’s every note
And he recites the chortles, chatter, pipes and trills,
The songs of night jars, jays, hawks, thrushes, whip-poor-wills,
Spring’s every winged voice he one by one doth quote.

Yet his own song he saves for her alone,
That mate he waits for with expectant breast.
Until she comes, his script is set in stone;
Until then, this performer knows no rest.

Behold eternal nature that propels this beast
To lark and nightingale its moonlit night away!
My own lament now rallies at the very least
To recollect my spirit for nigh-breaking day.

But hark, a new and stranger melody arises
From out the repertoire (one swiftly recognizes)
For she has come! The two souls join as one again;
The soloist has found his own unique refrain.

And so, we lovers each to each will sing
The song that no one else but we shall know.
Together underneath the moon we’ll go;
Like mockingbirds we’ll be, my fairy king.

May 25, 2008, Frances Figart

Deadlines are an integral part of a writer’s existence, and one without which we cannot function. Quite simply, if someone expects something of me, no matter who they are, I cannot abide the notion that I would let them down, and so “focus” merely appears of its own accord as the sole priority of the moment and I simply get the job done – usually ahead of schedule.

To those who aspire to freelance write for a living, I say: Combine your literary talents with a specialization that is very… specialized. The more scientific it is, the more money you will be assured to make. And do not get into this business unless you truly love your specialization and unless it can truly be said of you that to write is to breathe.

Anna:
For many writers, your job would be considered a dream job, to be paid to write. What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What would be a dream assignment for you?

Frances:
Before I begin to write, there is an incubation period, when ideas swirl around in a primal chaos until out of the murky waters something that really excites me rises and takes form; then I can begin and everything starts to flow. What I love most about writing during the process is that flow, what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high-ee”) defined as our experience of optimal fulfillment and engagement, whether it be in creative arts, athletic competition, engaging work or spiritual practice—a deep and uniquely human motivation to excel, exceed, and triumph over limitation. There is nothing more fulfilling. After the finished product is complete, what I love most is receiving positive feedback from those who find the writing in some way helpful, educational, inspiring – or from those whom it benefits directly because it promotes their business and their own contribution to the world.

The challenges are the same as anyone’s, really, in this economy: trying to keep one’s head above water and have enough financial stability to continue enjoying the elbow room and exhilaration of entrepreneurship. Travel writers have to be careful to make sure that others are paying for their travel… or else it’s easy to find yourself just breaking even. Flexibility has been my forte since I started freelancing many years ago; and now, it’s more important than ever. For instance, one of my alternate income streams over the past few years has been to take on others’ social media management. Facebook is even more fun when you are getting paid to post pictures of Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, kayakers amid icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland, and yoga retreats at eco-resorts in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

My dream assignments in the travel industry are those that allow me to visit places I already love, or where I can have new and exciting experiences in a natural setting, and write about them to promote sustainable and responsible forms of tourism. For example, I’ll be going out to Portland, Oregon, in a couple of weeks to participate in a “fam” tour, a trip designed to familiarize a writer or tour operator with a tourism product. I have been to Portland a handful of times and love the city and region, so I will be learning lots of new information about this area and can help to promote it through one and maybe two articles for a publication about group travel. However, I am always all about expanding my horizons, and so I also welcome new types of writing assignments outside of my field that will challenge my skills and allow me to grow in new wacky and wondrous ways.

Thanks again, Anna, for this opportunity to share. It has allowed me some great reflection time that will no doubt lead to yet another unexpected escapade.

Visit Frances’ blog, the home of marketing support for sustainable travel professionals worldwide: http://francesfigart.wordpress.com/

If you would like to contact Frances, you can reach her at ffigart@gmail.com