Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New (a book review)

Bead by Bead coverBead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New

By Suzanne Smith Henley

 

Suzanne Henley is an artist. And a renovator of old houses. And an author. Her book, Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New, is being released by Paraclete Press on March 13. TODAY! I wrote a bit about it back in January, here:

“Prayer Beads and Weeping Icons”

I’ve been looking forward to this for many reasons, but mainly these four:

 

Prayer bead necklace made for me by Suzanne in 2013

Prayer bead necklace made for me by Suzanne in 2013

(1) In 2013 I was in a life-threatening car wreck. I broke my neck, right leg, and ankle, and was stuck in my house for the first few months of my recovery. One day Suzanne came to see me and brought me a beautiful necklace she had made from these exotic beads from all over the world. They were prayer beads. And a she had written a description and meditation to go with it. I held them as I lay in my hospital bed (at home) and prayed. And later I hung them on the wall near my computer as a reminder of her kindness and God’s grace and healing.

(2) I share a love of art and spirituality with Suzanne, although my art takes the form of writing (painting) icons in the ancient Byzantine style using egg tempera. And I have been taught to make and use Orthodox prayer ropes—tied with knots rather than strung with beads—as part of a practice of meditation and prayer.

(3) For several years I was in a writing group that Suzanne hosted in her home here in Memphis. I knew right away that she was a gifted writer, and when she submitted sections of her work-in-progress for us to critique, I knew it was something special. Part memoir, part spiritual meditation, her personal essays—which is what they seemed at the time—eventually joined with chapters about prayer beads, and Bead by Bead came together.

(4) A fourth reason for my excitement about this book is that Suzanne contributed a wonderful essay to a collection I edited, and which was published last year by Mercer University Press: A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. Her essay, “Beyond This Point There Be Dragons,” is a gripping story of personal trauma and her eventual blooming into a stronger, more amazing woman. And so for these four and even more reasons, I celebrate Suzanne’s book.

Suzanne doesn’t claim to be an expert on prayer beads, or even on prayer itself. But I love what she says about prayer in that very disclaimer in the beginning of her book, in the section called “Rebranding Prayer”:

I have no idea whether prayer produces any external results. I have to come to believe, though, if nothing else, it is where I most squarely meet myself. I think it is the psychic glue between my conscious and shadow self where we all wrestle with Jacob’s angel and count our scars later.

 

Suzanne Henley

Suzanne Henley

She introduces the book by explaining that the stories she has included represent “a prayer bead in my life’s rosary…. The book is also an adult version of Show and Tell of some of the hundreds and hundreds of sets of prayer beads I’ve made—each unique, many commissioned to be carried to diverse people around the world. Many of the stories I tell are accounts of these real people for whom praying bead by bead has become an essential spiritual practice.”

In the Prologue, Suzanne tells the story of her employee, O.G. Pierre (“Original Gangster Pierre”) who asked her to make prayer bead necklaces for all the members of his gang, using a Star of David for each one, since it was the symbol of the Gangster Disciples. She had to decline that request.

In “Talking to God in Braile,” she traces the history of prayer beads in various pre-Christian religions, and then continues with the history of prayer beads being used by Christian faiths, including Orthodox prayer ropes and Catholic rosaries.

In “Clearing Your Cache and Beginning to Pray,” Suzanne explains how to use the beads—physically and spiritually—in your daily encounters with God.

In “Prayers, Poems, Lectio, Music, Silence,” she encourages the reader to write her own prayers, but she also offers some traditional prayers for use with prayer beads, and talks about the use of hymns, chanting, and even classical music and opera to assist in prayer.

In “Praying the Beads Without the Beads,” she offers opportunities for prayer while grocery shopping, waiting in traffic or a doctor’s office, doing laundry, and other everyday situations. In this and other chapters, she infuses her writing with humorous true stories from her life, like “Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon.”

Her chapter, “Homework: Life as a Set of Prayer Beads,” contains the story of her experience having a panic attack and checking into a psychiatric facility, which she wrote about in her essay for A Second Blooming. She also writes about the business she started, renovating homes in a historic district here in Memphis, offering a strong parallel between her rehab in the psychiatric facility and rehabbing these houses:

And, as trite as it is to say, we are all, of course, rehabs. Every moment. Every day. Even when we seem to be stuck out in some endless, parched desert, our hearts and souls cracking and dying of thirst, we’re handed the gift of starting over. Failure simply means an opportunity to begin again. We get to wrench out those old, rusted nails we worked so hard to hammer in crookedly, pull out the warped boards, and try once more to hammer a straighter nail. Every day.

BEAD BY BEAD would make a wonderful gift for Easter or Mother’s Day or… just because!

Girlfriend Weekend Take-Aways (New Friends, Original Art, Inspiration, and Books!)

Authors at Girlfriend Weekend.

Authors at Girlfriend Weekend.

 

Dressed as Joan Didion (those are some of her books in my necklace) for the final party, with River Jordan in her Bohemian chic outfit

Dressed as Joan Didion (those are some of her books in my necklace) for the final party, with River Jordan in her Bohemian chic outfit

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve already seen how I photo-bombed the place all weekend with pictures from the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Nacodoches, Texas. And here’s a fun blog from River Jordan about the event: “Leaving Nacodoches.” It was a treat to have River spend the night with us in Memphis last night on her way home to Nashville, so we could rehash the weekend a bit. By the way, Nacodoches is the oldest town in Texas, and a lovely, quaint, artsy, little town. Wish I had had more time to explore while I was there. Maybe next time!

There’s so much I could say about the weekend… a wonderful time to get to know other authors and to visit with the ones I know and rarely get to see. Also great to meet so many enthusiastic book club members and readers, all lovers of good books. The theme was “Bohemian Rhapsody” so there were lots of costumes, as we dressed as hippies, gypsies, anything Bohemian, and favorite authors.

I was blessed to be on two panels during the weekend:

Thursday night: As editor for A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (with contributors River Jordan, Julie Cantrell, Susan Marquez, and NancyKay Wessman.)

Panel for A SECOND BLOOMING: Susan Marquez, River Jordan, Julie Cantrell, me, and NancyKay Wessman

Panel for A SECOND BLOOMING: Susan Marquez, River Jordan, Julie Cantrell, me, and NancyKay Wessman

Saturday afternoon: For my novel CHERRY BOMB, I shared a panel with three other authors whom I had never met: Deborah Rodriguez, Patricia V. Davis, and Stephanie Chance. Pulpwood Queens Founder Kathy Murphy moderated the panel.

Kathy Murphy moderated the panel I was on for CHERRY BOMB, with authors Stephanie Chance, Patricia V. Davis, and Deborah Rodriquez.

Kathy Murphy moderated the panel I was on for CHERRY BOMB, with authors Stephanie Chance, Patricia V. Davis, and Deborah Rodriquez.

With author Shellie Tomlinson Rushing at the dinner where the authors served the book club members.

With author Shellie Rushing Tomlinson at the dinner where the authors served the book club members.

After each panel, the authors went to the signing tables, where readers brought books they purchased from Murder By the Book, who were the book vendors for the weekend. All of this was pretty typical of a book festival. What wasn’t typical was the amount of time the authors and readers had to really hang out together and get to know one another. On Friday night the authors served the tables at the barbeque dinner for the readers. And all during the weekend there were opportunities to eat together or just visit over car or a drink at the bar. It’s a pretty magical event.

Something I loved was the silent auction. Authors brought items—often related to their books—for sale to benefit the Pat Conroy Literary Center. I was happy to sell a canvas print of the “weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt that I painted, which is featured in my novel CHERRY BOMB. And I made two purchases (of course): a set of Mexican pottery from Deborah Rodriguez, and a painting by Nicole Seitz called “Setting Free,” which has layers of meaning for me.

With Nicole Seitz and her original painting which I bought at the silent auction.

With Nicole Seitz and her original painting which I bought at the silent auction.

Thanks to Tiajuana Anderson Neel who bought the "weeping" icon of Saint Mary of Egypt that I contributed.

Thanks to Tiajuana Anderson Neel who bought the “weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt that I contributed.

I’ve shared a few photos (lots more are on Facebook, as I mentioned) but I’d also like to share something about the 6 books I purchased from authors I met this weekend. I’m sure some of these will show up as book reviews here on my blog in the future. Although there were several New York Times best-selling authors at the event, some of the books that caught my attention were by lesser-known writers, and I can’t wait to read them:

books from PQ Wknd

 

GRADLE BIRD is J. C. Sasser’s first novel. I’m intrigued by the protagonist, sixteen-year-old Gradle Bird, who lives with her grandpa in a seedy motel and truck stop in Georgia. I think that she and Mare—the protagonist in my novel CHERRY BOMB (a sixteen-year-old runaway orphan who becomes a graffiti artist)—would be best friends! At one point during the panel that J.C. shared with Nicole Seitz and Bren McClain, J.C. mentioned that Gradle Bird and the other nobels on the panel were considered “Southern Gothic.” As she described the term, I wondered if CHERRY BOMB might also fit into that genre…. although I marketed it as Southern literary fiction. Anyway, GRADLE BIRD is on top of my “to read” stack from the weekend!

THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER is Laurel Davis Huber’s first novel. I enjoyed getting to know Laurel during the weekend, and learning that we are the same age and on a similar trajectory in our writing careers. We also learned that we both love art and it plays a major role in both of our debut novels. Can’t wait to read THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER, which is about Margery Williams Biano, the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, and her daughter Pamela, a world-renowned child prodigy artist

TO THE STARS THROUGH DIFFICULTIES by Romalyn Tilghman caught my interest because it features women who are descendants of the women who built fifty-nine Carnegie libraries in Kansas a century earlier. It’s about the importance of art and literature, and especially libraries, in our lives. Having visited six Friends of the Library groups in small towns all over Mississippi to talk about my novel CHERRY BOMB this past fall and winter, my interest in libraries has grown, and I can’t wait to read this book. And… a conversation I had with Romalyn this weekend sparked an idea for my next novel. Stay tuned!

WALKING ON BROKEN GLASS isn’t Christa Allan’s latest book, but it’s the one I bought after visiting with Christa this weekend. The subtitle for the books is FACING SOBRIETY WITH SOUTHERN CHARM. It’s about a southern socialist who goes to rehab. As Publisher Weekly says: “This nonformulaic look at the spiritual redemption of a life is a bright start; debut novelist Allan is one to watch.” Christa’s recent novel, which she spoke about on her panel Saturday afternoon, is BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME.

THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES also isn’t the novel that Alice Hoffman came to talk about this weekend. Hoffman is the author of Practical Magic, which was made into a movie. And about 30 other books! As a New York Times best-selling author, she was a keynote speaker on Saturday morning. She talked about how “writing is the most interactive of all the arts,” and “why reading is better than sex.” And she talked about “inside and outside stories in a novel—inside being what’s happening emotionally.” Lots of inspiration for authors and readers alike. But I was drawn to THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES because it’s about a famous artist and takes place in France… a favorite topic and location for me!

STEP OUT STEP UP: LESSONS FROM LIFETIME OF TRANSITIONS AND MILITARY SERVICE by Mark E. Green, Lt. Col., U.S. Army Retired (co-written with Echo Montgomery Garrett) is a book I bought for my oldest son Jonathan, who is a retired Army helicopter pilot. I enjoyed visiting with Mark and Echo, especially learning about Mark’s experiences with the 82nd Airborne and his service in Afghanistan. In his retirement Mark helps those in military service, veterans, and their families with resiliency and transition. I look forward to hearing what our son thinks of the book.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned as I move forward with a new novel and get busy with pre-marketing for SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING.

Prayer Beads and Weeping Icons

ASB CoverI’m off to Nacogdoches, Texas, on Thursday for the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, where as many as several hundred members of Pulpwood Queens book clubs from all over the country gather every year, along with several dozen authors. I’m on two panels:

Thursday, 7 p.m. A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE. This is the anthology I edited, published last March, and it has been chosen as the book club selection for February by the Pulpwood Queens. Several contributors will be joining me on the panel: Julie Cantrell, River Jordan, NancyKay Wessman, and Susan Marquez. Memphis author Suzanne Henley won’t be there, but she will be there in spirit. Suzanne’s essay, “Beyond This Point There Be Dragons,” is included in the collection. And she has a book coming out this March: BEAD BY BEAD: THE ANCIENT WAY OF PRAYING MADE NEW. It’s part memoir, part spiritual journal, part “how to pray with Protestant prayer beads.”

Bead by Bead FULLCover_need Spine

 

Prayer BeadsThere’s an auction during the weekend to raise money for the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina. Suzanne has contributed a hand-made set of her prayer beads, which I’ll be taking with me to the auction on Thursday. The beads she uses are from all over the world, some as ancient as 200 B.C. She includes a beautifully written description and inspirational note to go with each set. She has dedicated this set to author Julie Cantrell, who has inspired Suzanne, and who also wrote a wonderful blurb for BEAD BY BEAD. Julie is also on a panel for her novel PERENNIALS during the weekend.

Prayer Beads notes

On Saturday afternoon at 2:12 I’ll be on a panel for my novel CHERRY BOMB, which is one of the Pulpwood Queens book club selections for March. And I’m contributing an item for the auction, as well. It’s an 8 X 8 inch canvas print of the “weeping” icon of Saint Mary of Egypt that I painted… the one that appears on the back cover of the book. CB cover FINALIn CHERRY BOMB, the icon is weeping for women who have been abused (including the three main characters in the book). The icon I painted isn’t actually weeping, but my daughter-in-law See Cushman added the “tears” using Photoshop. I hope that it will be a blessing to whoever buys it during the auction.

 

Mary of Egypt weeping

 

 

I can’t wait to spend the weekend with these amazing women, sharing our love for books! The theme this year is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” so watch for some pictures on Facebook with lots of fun costumes!

The Big Reveal (for 2018)

After such a banner year (publishing 3 books in 2017) I’m excited to say that my fourth book will be out in May of 2018:

Southern Writers on Writing, an anthology I edited, coming from University Press of Mississippi.

With a foreword by Alan Lightman (a Memphis native known mostly for his brilliant science writing) and essays by twenty-six southern authors (13 women and 13 men), this is a collection the literary world has been waiting for. Last week I read this wonderful guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog, “How and Why to Edit an Anthology,” by Margot Kahn, which was encouraging, as I’ve had such a positive experience putting together this collection.

Just got the official COVER to share! Thanks to Oxford (Mississippi) photographer Ed Croom for this wonderful image. Ed read the essays in the collection first, and drew inspiration from them for his photo shoot at Rowan Oak, the historic home of William Faulkner. You can read more about the photograph in my Author’s Note when the book comes out!

SouthernWritersOnWritingCOVER

Pilgrim Interrupted

SusanwMoOlympiaI’m putting together a collection of personal essays with the working title, Pilgrim Interrupted. Many of the essays have been previously published, and as I’ve been going through them again, I’ve pulled out a few representative quotes. I’ll share them here, as teasers for what I hope will become my next book. (I’m querying literary agents for this one.) The essays are grouped into six sections: “Icons, Orthodoxy, and Spirituality,” “Writing, Editing, and Publishing,” “Alzheimer’s, Caregiving, Death, and Dying,” “Family and Adoption,” “Place,” and “Mental Health, Addiction, and Sexual Abuse.”

Thirty essays. Four poems. Numerous icons and other pieces of original art. I hope there’s something here for everyone to reflect on, and that my readers will find some measure of joy or inspiration from the journeys I’ve shared. My pilgrimage—mostly in the “Christ-haunted South”—has definitely been interrupted over the decades of my life, but hopefully the prose, poetry, and art that litter the pathway are of some value.

Here are some samples:

“Maybe my brokenness, like the egg yolks that I use to make tempera paint for my icons—themselves a form of life interrupted—is part of my offering to God.”—Susan Cushman, from “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow” (published in Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, University of Alabama Press, 2012)

“Sometimes I stop and look at the unfinished images with a melancholy longing. The other day I paused before the icon of Christ, fingering a soft sable brush and scanning the jars of pigments on the nearby shelves. There are eggs in the refrigerator, waiting to be broken for Him. Their yolks, themselves a type of life interrupted, are ready to bind the dry pigments and fill my palette with a range of ochres and siennas for the face of Christ. Everything I need is here, waiting for my touch.”—Susan Cushman, from “Blocked” (published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, literary awards finalist, July 2, 2008)

“Sobriety—it’s about more than not being drunk. It’s clear-eyed brush strokes and poetry that knocks your socks off and page-turning prose. It’s Iris Dement singing, “I choose to take my sorrow straight,” and Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks) turning a personal affront into a hit song with, “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice.” It’s Mary Chapin Carpenter singing, “forgiveness doesn’t come with a debt.”  But it’s also allowing yourself to be human, and turning that broken humanity into something redemptive with every stroke of your pen or brush or keyboard.”—Susan Cushman, from “Blocked” (published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, literary awards finalist, July 2, 2008)

“The distinctive chug chug chug of the wine filling the glass. It’s not really a cork—it’s a rubber wine stopper (from Rabbit) and its phallic shape and texture is tempting. I place it in my mouth and suck the last drops of wine from its surface as I slowly pull it away and push it back into the bottle. The first swallow is always the best, bringing instant gratification, holding promises of relief, of edges softening, jaws relaxing, mind slowing down, dark clouds abating. And sometimes it makes good on those promises, but the relief is only temporary.”—Susan Cushman, from “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day- Search for Everything,” published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (Rivers Edge Media, 2015)

“After binging all day on chips and grilled cheese and sausage biscuit and wine, the self-hatred drives me to my knees once again. But not in prayer. My reflection in the bottom of the toilet bowl—and a fetid memory long ago encoded in my frontal lobe—are enough to trigger my seasoned gag reflex. This ritual takes less than a minute. I puke up most of what I’ve eaten in the past couple of hours. It brings relief, but not without more self-loathing. I cannot, as James Baldwin urged, “vomit the anguish up.”—Susan Cushman, from “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day- Search for Everything,” published in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul (Rivers Edge Media, 2015)

“It was surreal— like an invasion of the profane into the sacred— and it continued for about forty-five minutes. They would enter to the right of us, in their khaki shorts, fanny packs, and white Keds and cameras (which weren’t allowed inside the cave) and move slowly along the wall where Saint John had once sat, dictating to his scribe, Prochorus. The tour guide alternately pointed to the hole in the wall where the disciple pulled himself up after sitting for hours on end, and the crack in the ceiling where he heard the voice of God. Their mouths formed large, silent “O”s as they crept along, nodding at one another. Then the guide would wave the tourists through the tiny chapel, and they would walk in front of us as they exited.”—from “Pilgrim Interrupted” by Susan Cushman

A Piece of the (Art) World

a-piece-of-the-world-by-christina-baker-klineI love books about art and artists—obviously—since my novel Cherry Bomb features a graffiti writer, an abstract expressionist artist (or several) and weeping icons. I’m always entertained and inspired by stories about famous (or even not-so-famous) works of art. Some of my favorites include:

 

Girl With a Pearl Earring and The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Forest Lover, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, and The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis

The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

The Raphael Affair by Iain Pears

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr

 

Last week I read Christina Baker Kline’s (author of Orphan Train) A Piece of the World. It was wonderful. Rich prose with beautifully descriptive settings and characters. It’s an “imagined fictional memoir” (according to Erik Larson) of the woman in the famous Andrew Wyeth painting, Christina’s World.

 

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

There are so many things to love about this book. Kline’s descriptions of life in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine, carries the reader into the world of Christina Olson, who ends up being Wyeth’s hostess in the summer months for several years, serving as his muse and also the subject of Christina’s World. I couldn’t help but love Christina, as the book takes us back to her heartbreaking childhood and then moves back and forth between the nineteen-teens and the 1940s.

It’s fascinating to me that Kline’s connection to the painting began in her own childhood, growing up in Bangor, Maine, where her father gave her a woodcut by a local artist inspired by Wyeth’s painting when she was eight years old. She made up stories about the girl in the painting throughout her childhood, and years later realized she was meant to write a book about it.

This is exactly the kind of experience I keep hoping to have—I’m looking for a subject for another novel, and I’m hoping to find either a piece of art or an artist that inspires a story. I know I’ve mentioned that I started one a couple of years ago about Jackson Pollack’s last painting, “Red, Black, and Silver,” but I haven’t been able to love it enough to continue. When I visited Paris for the first time in May of 2016, I hoped that the time I spent in art galleries might lead to a discovery, but nothing grabbed my attention long enough to inspire a book.

Meanwhile I keep reading. My current read is Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel The Almost Sisters. The protagonist is a comic book artist. I think I’m drawn to contemporary art and edgy stuff more than to the classics, although I also love anything about icons. I’d love to hear any suggestions for a painting or artist to write about… just leave me a comment here or on Facebook, or email me at sjcushman@gmail.com. Thanks!

The Blessing Basket

On Sunday afternoon when I dropped into my local boutique grocery store, Miss Cordelia’s (in Harbor Town, on the Mississippi River in Memphis) I was stopped in my tracks by this beautiful display of colorful hand-woven baskets in the front of the store. They are part of The Blessing Basket project, which helps end poverty in Bangladesh, Ghana, Madagasgar, and Uganda. My basket came from Uganda.

 IMG_9634

When I registered my basket on the web site, I “met” my artisan, Nsoh Adogyoo.

 

Here’s how she’s uses her wages from making baskets and other items:

 

 

I have used my Prosperity Wages to provide food for the family and register for national health insurance scheme for the family members to access health care when one falls sick. I have also used my wages to pay admission fees for my daughter who has gained admission to Senior High School this year.

The changes I have seen in the community are that now our children are in school and we can feed them as well. I have also seen that now our children are entering into higher institutions like universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education because of the inception of BBP in the community.

Thank you very much for giving us hope for our future of our children. You buy our baskets and now we are happy with each other. Thank you and May God bless you.

 Blessing Basket w books

 

The web site has a place where you can write a letter to your artisan, so I just sent one to Nsoh. They will read it to her. I told her that I am a writer and that I am using the basket to carry books to deliver to people and to put in the mail. The basket she made is so sturdy—it can easily carry 8-10 hardback books.

 

Blessing Basket If you’re interested in purchasing items (they’re gorgeous) from the Prosperity Shop, just click here.

 

I’m so thankful to have discovered Blessing Baskets. Maybe a good “Christmas in July” idea….

“Slow Art” and the Marriage of Art and Literature

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

This weekend I delved into the book section of the Saturday Wall Street Journal (a favorite activity) and discovered “The Image as Event,” Ann Landi’s review of Arden Reed’s book, Slow Art. Reed’s passion for “slow art” began with his repeated viewing of Edouard Manet’s “Young Lady in 1866” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He defines “slow art” as “a prolonged encounter between object and observer.” He contrasts this activity with the average time an American museumgoer spends with any work of art—about 6 to 10 seconds.

Reed also writes about “tableaux vivants,” which he describes as “living pictures” in which actors hold theatrical poses for 90 seconds or so, often as recreations of well-known masterpieces like Leonardo’s “Last Supper.” This art form gained popularity around 1760, waned in the 1910s, and seems to have regained steam around 1960.

But before these modern-day examples of slow art presented themselves for viewers seeking (or just needing) an opportunity to slow down and have a serious encounter with art, early Christian icons “demanded slow looking and veneration from viewers.” Later, religious processions with floats featuring tableaux vivants acting out Biblical scenes appeared. Reed ties all these into a genre he calls slow art, taking us from Malevich to Serra, and even into the fiction writing of Don DeLillo.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381Which brings me to my second “treasure” of the weekend. I started reading the book I purchased at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when I was there for a reading/signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. And what a treasure—Anka Muhlstein’s wonderful book The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter) explores the relationship between art and literature with specific examples from Balzac, Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust. Muhlstein chose these five authors because “each in his own way truly invented a visual style of writing.”
Balzac referred to himself as a “literary painter” rather than a writer. He enjoyed including Italian Renaissance art and Flemish painters as well as contemporary painting in his writing. He spent a lot of time at the Louvre, and his knowledge of art fed his writing. An example:

Another illustration of this genuine knowledge of paintings appears in The Peasants: as a finishing touch in describing a horrible old woman, “a hideous black parchment, endowed with movement” he adds, “her likeness is found only in David’s painting of the Sabine women,” which does indeed feature a wizened old woman as a second character.

Balzac often gave fictional characters more credibility by using a known painter’s name. Not that I’m in his league, but I chose to do this with my novel Cherry Bomb (which releases in August) by having the well known abstract expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning appear as a major character, although I fictionalized much of her story in the book.

Balzac’s ambitions include one to “paint a Delacroix in words,” and he writes at length about colors and their symbolism, especially in The Girl With the Golden Eyes, in which “Paquita’s room is bathed in red, gold, and white tones which, in Balzac’s mind, suggest inexpressible desire: “the soul has an indefinable connection with white, love is happiest in red, and gold puts passions to their best advantage.”

Muhlstein says that “Opening a Balzac novel is like walking into a museum, but a museum where the artists (and sometimes even their models) often step out of their frames to come into the story. Balzac would not be the powerful novelist he is had he settled for describing paintings and not created his own huge gallery of painters.”

I’m just now getting to the sections on Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust, so this isn’t a complete book review. Just a preview. I can’t wait to see where these next four writers take me in their journey into the art world. I have a feeling I’ll be reading some of their novels soon….

The Afternoon of Life

irene-carr-blog-post21

 

In Monday’s post I wrote about three seasons of life as I saw them in Petula Clark’s song, “Fill the World With Love,”—the morning, noon, and evening. Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend (who is in her eighties) over coffee at her kitchen table and I said, “You know, I think I may be in the afternoon of my life. Surely I am past the noontime and not yet to the evening.” She agreed and encouraged me that the afternoon of our life holds much that is wonderful.

At home later in the day I found an email from her with a quote from Jung, so I Googled the topic and found this article which reflects on Jung’s wisdom about this season, “Enjoying the Afternoon of Life: Jung on Aging.” There is much wisdom in this article, but I especially like this part:

Jung called the elder years—those from c. age 56 to c. 83—the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the Sun through the sky from morning to night. Youth was “morning,” noon corresponded to mid-life, and night was old age, while the sixth and seventh decades see life energy wane, much as the Sun’s warmth declines as it sinks lower in the sky. Just as we need the full cycle of the Sun to support life, so we are meant to live out the full cycle of human existence, and Jung recognized this. More than just living, Jung urged us to enjoy the “afternoon” of life….

So how are we to enjoy these years, where so many of us “Baby Boomers” find ourselves? I see many people trying to stay young—those with money chasing the elusive fountain of youth with personal trainers, expansive wardrobes, makeup routines (and plastic surgery), and behavior which denies aging. While I want to remain active, I don’t want to compete with younger generations. My body won’t let me, and I want to be content, to actually enjoy the afternoon of my life. But the article at the Jungian site describes a lifestyle I’m not ready to completely embrace:

The interval between age 60 and age 80 is the time most people retire from full-time participation in the work world. Generally in this interval children have grown up, gone off to college and set up their own families. This means there is more leisure, fewer family demands, and minimal restrictions in daily life due to the demands of work. Ambitions and desires tend to decrease, and oldsters often feel relief as they “downsize” into smaller homes, condos or collective living arrangements. There may be relief also in the realization of no longer having to keep up with new technologies.

Since I never had a “career” (I was a stay-at-home mom most of my life, other than running an aerobic dance business and doing some freelance writing) I’m not “retiring” at age 65…. I just had two books published and have two more in the works. I’m just getting started! And yet, I’m doing these things without the restraints of a mother with children still at home, and yes, with more leisure. I can choose what to do with my time, which is a great gift for which I try to remember to thank God daily.
I guess my main “complaint” in the afternoon of my life is the limitations placed on me by my body—although those limitations are mostly my own fault for not taking better care of it. The weight gain, the daily aches and pains (many from the car wreck three years ago), the sagging chin and drooping eyelids, all scream at me and make me yearn for my youth. But do I really want it back, with all its anxieties? No!

Today I will move forward, learning to enjoy the afternoon of my life. I will even allow myself to take a nap when I need one, or read a book or watch a movie in the middle of the day. But I also realize that my privileged leisure comes with a responsibility to others. No longer my mother’s caregiver, and with my grandchildren 2000 miles away, it’s easy to become lazy about reaching out to others. And to feel guilty that I’m not doing more volunteer work. I talked with my octogenerarian friend about these things yesterday, and she encouraged me that I have a gift to offer—my writing—and that in order to do my art, I will need to go inward and not spread myself too thin doing multiple “good deeds.” I’m still thinking about that, and trying to consider my writing as a full time job. That and taking care of my body. I’m so lazy when it comes to exercise, which will greatly help the aches and pains and weight management.  So how do I move forward?

Jung felt the older person had the opportunity to re-imagine him or herself. Approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality, the oldster can improvise more, with less need for perfection and more boldness in affirming his/her uniqueness. No longer feeling the need to honor the past, no longer needing to honor dysfunctional family patterns, the oldster can even dare to be outrageous, to adopt the persona that feels right, rather than conform to what society expects.

I love what this says about no longer needing to “honor dysfunctional family patterns.” I’ve struggled with issues from the past for 65 years. Many of those issues have fueled my writing, but as I begin a new novel (yes!) I want to move on, to leave those issues in the past, and to “dare to be outrageous,” whatever that might mean for this season of my life. Hopefully I can tell a new story (one that has been percolating for only a few weeks) without those shackles. Here’s to the afternoon of life!

Cover for A Second Blooming is, well, BLOOMING!

ASB CoverI am so excited to share the cover for my second book to be published in 2017—A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, March 2017). This is an anthology I edited, with essays by twenty wonderful authors and a foreword from Anne Lamott. Can’t wait to see it!

Isn’t it beautiful?

 

If it feels like I’m bombing you with book news, just wait until 2017! I can’t help myself… JOY JOY JOY!

And here’s the entry for the Mercer University Press spring/summer catalog. Watch for a listing of events where I’ll be reading/signing next spring. If you can’t make it to an event, please ask your local indie booksellers to order the book for you! (Of course you can get it online if you must.)

ASB MUP catalog page

© Copyright SusanCushman.com