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 – Shaista Tayabali

This post is the third 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.

3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali
Writer and Poet,
Lupus in Flight www.lupusinflight.com

Shaista Tayabali

 
Anna:
I’m quite envious of your delicate touch with words. You conjure evocative imagery with just a stanza. What brought you to poetry as a way of expressing yourself? In your writing, how do you feel about the economy of poetry versus the expansiveness of prose?

Shaista:
The art of economy is a discipline I learned at university. Up until then, I had been a fairly indulgent prose and poetry writer. My composition of language was often deeply emotive, highly subjective and heavy with the influence of romance and Keatsian turns of phrase. Often, but not always. There has also been a trend in my writing, since childhood, towards describing a snapshot visual, and towards epiphany. I began university with the shadow of a complex illness already threatening to obscure me, so I was determined to excel. 

This proved difficult for two reasons – I liked to answer questions in my own merry, meandering way, and I did not know how to edit myself. My Professor, Simon Featherstone, taught me this: “The line that you are most attached to, is the line that has to go!”  In learning precision, I learned economy. And I think, perhaps, my poetry has begun to adapt to my rather fragile body. These quick brushstrokes of poems serve me well in and out of hospital.

Delicacy aside, though, sometimes I yearn to write a tome in the style of Tolstoy; an epic blockbuster of a novel packed with 108 Dickensian characters. Yearning is what we artists and writers do best! 

The Names of Things

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes

gazes out at me
behind the window frame;
Half content to be
in Billy Collins’ world,
half wishing to be me –
Cross legged in the evening sun
drinking rose petal tea.

I can name the Yellow Rose,
the frilly Poppy, the Bee
longing for that same tea;
the half-eaten bruised cherries,
the guzzling, drunken, blackbird feast.

Deep in the shadows,
lazy snakes of ivy curl
and the wind is a Tempest again –

I walk among the unnamed things
the secret, hidden lives,
I pronounce the names of Latinate things
and trip on the words
and smile –

Cerastium tomentosum,
snow in summer,
Galium odoratum,
stars in spring,
Lavandula angustifolia
where the herb garden sings.

 Anna:
When you begin writing a poem, do you focus on an image? A phrase? A song? What inspires the act of picking up the pen?
Shaista:
A line comes to me. I focus on a few words, a phrase, that forms the first line of the poem-to-be. Blog posts require titles, which  I often enjoy for their brevity, but my poems never used to have titles. Do poets think of titles first? When do the titles come? I prefer the idea of that first line being the clue to the poem. My inspiration as a poet is simultaneously influenced by the subtle and the obvious. Hospitals are waiting rooms filled with both. 
Two artists who have influenced my work are my parents; they paint their lives in very different ways. Father’s watercolours are mysterious, floating worlds, echoes of Turner and Monet; impressionistic – my Mother’s work is magnified detail, bright, strong, clear – O’Keefe comes to mind. Father talks in riddles, Mother is incredibly literal – I flit between worlds in my life, and make sense of it all when I write. 
Crocuses
My father knows
when the crocuses 
are out
And when the snowdrops
And when the bluebells
And how to listen, carefully,
to the nesting birds,
trilling
between our rooms.
Daisies will come
And roses will grow
And perhaps we shall walk
And reminisce about the snow
And kick up some leaves
And weave up some dreams
While the world passes by
My father and I.

Anna: 
I love ‘The Year of Yes’; it’s deeply inspirational. It speaks of great positivity, despite the challenges you face with lupus. How has keeping your positive energy and happiness been instrumental to your life and your writing? 

Shaista:

Have you read Victor E. Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’? He says, “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” I marry this idea with the engaged Buddhism teachings of mindfulness, and try to achieve ‘Happen-ness’. Living in the now, the here and now, is not easy with a sneaky systemic illness like Lupus. Lupus is an embodiment of many human fears: the What-Ifs and the If-Onlys. So the secret to happiness is being present for the happen-ness, the saying Yes! in gratitude for our ability as humans to be present. 
My friend Dr. Ho tells me to embrace pain, particularly the physical manifestations of it, because feeling pain means you are alive! And he is right – physical pain does not exclude twinkling eyes, sparkly smiles and the playful impulse to tease and be teased. The act of writing is instant happen-ness for me. Just holding the pen, the feel of my book of poems, the moment of connection between the physical materials and my soul, my thoughts, my sight… yes! yes! yes! It is the best of me. 
  
The Year of Yes
I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
When you asked me out to walk
among the leaves
the turning leaves
You were offering me
the sound of dreams, 
And I turned you down 
politely.
Not today, I smiled
Perhaps,
Maybe, tomorrow?
But I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
I wish we had shared this light.
Next time don’t ask
Just take me!
Order me to dress!
I am going to need your help
beloved
To begin the Year of Yes.
Visit Lupus in Flight, the serene home of Shaista’s writings and poetry: http://www.lupusinflight.com

Raison D’Etre

This post has been on my list for awhile, yet I never seem to write it. To define a raison d’etre (or roughly, “reason to be”) is very final and permanent-feeling…as opposed to constantly evolving. But perhaps if I put it out there, it will prove a touchstone along the way.

I can’t really explain why I started Yearning for Wonderland. I wrote a blog before. For the gluttonously curious, it was here: ruanna3.livejournal.com. I resisted writing one for forever. Blogs seemed an odd combination of public and private, half-diary and half-who even cares? The really private entries were locked and the really public ones didn’t seem particularly interesting, even to me. After awhile, it became clear that only a handful of people ever read it or cared, so I lost interest (see last entry? 2009).

Then one night I wandered over to Blogger and tried out a few names. Yearning for Wonderland just felt right. I added a vintage photo from my own collection and a few paintings. But what to write?
*cue obligatory finger on chin*

No, this is not me. My picture looked identical, except my roots are visible.

It took a few weeks before I started shaping what I truly wanted to achieve for the blog. This goal was was two-fold:

1) To force myself to write. Regularly. And to let my writing go. I’m such a harsh critic of my own work that it often paralyzes me. I try to write an entry every day or two. Because I only really have a few hours of free time, it forces me to do my best in a set time and then set it free. No writing and endless revising, just write and post. If it’s not Jane Austen or Shakespeare, I’m probably the only one surprised.

This also keeps me from playing endless hours of Plants vs. Zombies…which, incidentally, is quite fun and may one day be reviewed here. Currently the zombies are winning.

2) To offer a platform (however small) to others whom I admire. I have already completed two “3 Question View” posts for Paul Ramey and Sarah J. Stevenson. I have several others in the works: a poet, a travel writer, and a documentarian, Plus, I have a very long shortlist of people for whom I would like to do a 3QV. I really didn’t realize how many amazing, clever, peculiar and talented people that I know…until I sat down and inventoried them.

I have enough 3QV prospects until we colonize Mars…at which point I am heading to Mars for Red Rock Margaritas. My computer (which is smarter than me) can post to my blog.

You’ll find me there ===  , playing Plants vs. Zombies.
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3 Question View – Sarah Jamila Stevenson

This post is the second 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.

Sarah Jamila Stevenson

3 Question View – Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Writer & Artist, Author of The Latte Rebellion (Flux, 2011), Co-Author of Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog



Anna:
The Latte Rebellion deals with some sophisticated themes, including racism, bullying and complex adult choices. The main character, Asha, is referred to as a “towel head”. What do you hope your book can offer young readers, multi-racial and otherwise, who might be experiencing similar challenges?

Sarah:
There are rarely easy answers to such challenges, are there? I suppose I hope that my book successfully conveys that while some situations can be tough, and there aren’t many easy answers, it’s still possible to survive and even thrive despite (and even because of) life’s challenges. That you can make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. That being yourself is a complicated endeavor, and every person’s journey is different. That having a sense of humor is an important survival tool. That friendships may change, and plans usually do change, and life goes on. That, even if high school is disheartening, (to borrow some words of wisdom from Dan Savage) it gets better.

Anna:
Your writing and blog focus on Young Adult literature. Why were you drawn to YA literature? What has been your favorite experience with a younger reader?


 
Sarah: 

I’ve always enjoyed coming-of-age stories, and stories in which the characters continue to grow and learn and change, and explore who they are. YA literature seems to specialize in that, for sure. And because of that, I’ve never stopped reading YA books–in fact, the range, depth, and quality of the YA field has only increased since I was a teen reader. It’s a very exciting time to be a YA writer, and some of the most thoughtful, honest, tightly-written, and pretension-free fiction I can think of is being produced by YA writers.

My favorite experience with a younger reader happened this past February, at a visit to Balboa High School in San Francisco. I was invited to speak to their lunchtime book club, which was great because it meant the group of students I spoke to had already read my book! After I gave my reading and answered some questions, one girl came up to me to say how glad she was that there was a book out there for kids of mixed race, that talked about their experiences, and said “thank you for writing this book.” I was thrilled! That one moment confirmed for me beyond a doubt that this endeavor has been worth it. :)
Anna:
You are also an artist. One of my favorite features on the ‘Finding Wonderland’ blog is your “Toon Thursday”, a humorous take on the pitfalls of writing
.

 

The Latte Rebellion features your artwork as well. How do you divide your time between your art and your writing? Do you ‘rotate the crops’ artistically? Does sketching lead to story ideas or vice versa? Can you tell us more about your new printmaking/collage project in the works?

 
Sarah:
I’m so glad you like Toon Thursday! It’s a labor of love, so my primary reward is when people let me know they enjoy it. With respect to my art and writing, it’s definitely a challenge to juggle them both. I’m usually focusing more on one than the other–lately it’s been mostly writing, but the artwork is never far from my mind. I try to take as many opportunities as I can to stay in drawing practice. Fortunately, my husband is a college art professor, and I have a standing invitation to come into his class and draw! That helps a lot.
Sometimes sketching does lead to story ideas, and vice versa, but usually the ideas are separate. I do have a strong interest in graphic novels, though, and would love to write and draw one sometime. Also, the project I currently have in the works combines elements of text and image. The plan is to carve an image into a linoleum block, print it several times, and then collage text and maybe images–different ones–onto each print. I want each print to have the same basic underlying image, but be distinctly different visually and tell a different “story” using found text. This idea got started after I worked on a collaborative print project with 9 other artist friends (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=36097397321). I used various collage techniques on my contributions for the project, and wanted to pursue that line of inquiry further. I’m excited about it, but so far I haven’t had as much time to work on it as I would like.

Thanks so much for interviewing me and asking such great questions!

The Latte Rebellion Manifesto

If you are reading this, you are clearly sympathetic to the cause!
What cause, you ask?
The cause of brown people everywhere—
whether you have espresso-colored hair,
a perfect latte tan, or you’re as light as a mocha bianca!
The world must acknowledge you!
The world will appreciate you!
Our philosophy is simple:
Promote a latte-colored world!
Forget bananas and coconuts!
Go for the seamless blend! You can’t un-latte the latte!
It doesn’t matter if you are only coffee on the inside.
If you’re a latte at heart, you are welcome.
Iced or hot, raise your cup to the cause!
Lattes of the World, Unite!

See Sarah’s very clever website for the book here: http://www.latte-rebellion.com/index.html

You can order your own copy of The Latte Rebellion at: http://www.fluxnow.com/product.php?ean=9780738722788

Synopsis:
When high school senior Asha Jamison gets called a “towel head” at a pool party, the racist insult gives Asha and her best friend Carey a great money-making idea for a post-graduation trip. They’ll sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students.

Seemingly overnight, their “cause” goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide fad. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own-and it’s starting to ruin hers. Asha’s once-stellar grades begin to slip, threatening her Ivy League dreams, and her friendship with Carey is hanging by a thread. And when the peaceful underground movement turns militant, Asha’s school launches a disciplinary hearing. Facing expulsion, Asha must decide how much she’s willing to risk for something she truly believes in.

Visit Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog, the excellent writing blog Sarah co-authors: http://writingya.blogspot.com

See Sarah’s website: www.sarahjamilastevenson.com

3 Question View – Paul Ramey

This post is the first 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.



Three Question View – Paul Ramey, Surya Namaskar

Anna:
This video for Surya Namaskar features a lot of unique, handmade elements, stars on the fingertips and hand-painted backdrops. What was your inspiration for this style?

Paul:

I was at work and doodling, wondering how to transfer this new song to video. I wanted to incorporate a sky motif, with the rising of the sun. I didn’t have much of a budget and wanted it to be different and clever enough that video might go viral. We had no time to do animation, so we decided to go simplistic. I thought how funny it would be to have stars on the end of fingers, dancing.

Hands are such a basic human part and express so much. It was very fun to do physically; Haley and Tina loved getting their hands painted, hiding behind cardboard, playing the stars to manifest the sky.  The crescent moon rises and the stars tremble and pull away from the moon.

Surya Namaskar is Salute to the Sun or Sun Salutation in yoga. We were taking yoga at the time and our attitude was one of gratitude yet playful, to greet the song with joy and not hammer it into place, to go towards the feel.

Anna: 
The imagery of veils and the hidden seems to be a recurring theme in your work. How did it develop in this video?

Paul:
We wanted to capture day and night and the transition; both are entities here. We wanted to express especially the veils of night, veils hiding what you can’t see. I didn’t want Tina or Haley to be people, just one aspect of the sky.

Tina plays the role of Night, giving way, and Haley was the Rising Sun. Both have their veils and represent the yin-yang of the sky; some things are hidden no matter what side you’re on. The veils conceal and reveal.

Anna:
Who and what was the muse behind this song?

Paul:
I had just moved off a big project, Veil and Subdue, which played with night and dreams and hidden aspects. After that, I wanted to do something more upbeat, techno, positive and accessible. I have this ongoing fascination with Middle Eastern music and iconography. I bought a new computer program that opened a new world with sounds we could pull in – wonderful exotic sounds, to capture the flavor I wanted.

Also, during the filming we knew that Tina was pregnant and that definitely influenced our awareness as we were creating it – it was a new day, our new daughter.


Enjoy Surya Namaskar:

This post dedicated to Sofia Ramey, who will no doubt consider her dad the nerdiest, coolest thing ever.


Paul’s Links: