Honoring Creators

                                               

Today is International Artist Day, a time to celebrate all kinds of art: paintings, sculpture, mosaics, photography, textile art and more. Launched in 2004, IAD is designed to honor the contributions all artists make to society. These days, though, one of the common themes I’m hearing from artists is ‘how can we (or even should we) create when world events are so dark?’

Artists work hard to produce their work, though when judged against something like, say, a peace treaty between nations, a painting or a sculpture inevitably comes up short. Maybe that’s why so many creative types are questioning themselves lately.

Novelist Theodore Dreiser once said that “art is the stored honey of the human soul.” I love that quote almost as much as the one by Thomas Merton: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

 So, yes, the news is grim but the arts – and artists themselves – have a place and a role to fill.

Since the beginning of time, artists have communicated ideas and even kept records of important events. Through many different mediums, they record history, the good and the bad, and they help us make sense of it. Artists show us the truth, or at least the truth as they understand it. They tell us stories, they pass on traditions, and they forge connections with others. Artists add beauty to our lives which raises us all up. Some even say that artists offer the world messages of hope, and I think a message of hope, in a world filled with bad news, is a message we can all get behind.

So today, on International Artist Day, I hope you reach out to an artist to lift them up. Maybe tell them that your world is just a little bit better with them in it.  

My October Reads

                                    

The world outside my window is misty today. The rain is falling, the wind is up, and the autumn leaves are swirling. The garden is nearly put to bed for the winter, though the hardier leeks and chard and kale are still in the ground promising us some good eating ahead. Inside, the fire kicks on more often in the mornings now, the manuscript revision calls, and there are plenty of books waiting to be read. Here’s what I’m enjoying this month:

The Starfish Sisters by Barbara O’Neal

Greenfeast: Autumn & Winter by Nigel Slater

The Little Book of Ikigai by Ken Mogi

Books read to date in 2023:  53

Giving Thanks

                                                 

Thanksgiving, which we’ll be celebrating in just a few days, is one of my favorite holidays. I love the focus on food, friends and family, and the generosity of nature. There’s a joyful simplicity around Thanksgiving. And this year, as I gratefully pick the last of our tomatoes and dahlias, I’m giving thanks for everyone who has been a teacher in my life.

It is back-to-school time after all, and every morning now I hear the laughter of children heading down the trail to the nearby elementary school. Teachers are gearing up with lesson plans and activities; some are reaching out to authors to see if they’re available for talks and workshops (I am!).

I’m taking a few workshops myself this fall – some single ‘just-for-fun’ one-off classes and another in a more professional vein that will run once a week until December. My first session of the latter was yesterday. It was quite a change to sit back and let someone else lead. As I looked through the binder of information the instructor had assembled for each of the participants, I was struck all over again about how much goes into the process of teaching, whether that’s in a structured academic environment or in a more creative studio space. It takes time, energy, and effort to instruct others well.

Last spring, I took a one-day security course at VIU ElderCollege in Parksville. It was fantastic and incredibly worthwhile. Sadly, Vancouver Island University announced this week that it will end its affiliation with ElderCollege on December 31st after 30 years. The university cited financial difficulties as the reason. The decision is a real blow to the many islanders who have benefited from ElderCollege over the last three decades.  But the 3,000-member organization isn’t closing the doors just yet. Board members are determined to continue providing ElderCollege courses. They aren’t sure how, but they’re determined not to let the organization fade away.

Let’s hope they’re successful, because learning is something we can all be thankful for.  

My September Reads

Today is the autumn equinox, that point of the year when we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night time. From here, as the calendar marches us towards winter, the days get shorter and the nights get longer. Trees lose their leaves; plants go dormant or die; and animals begin to hibernate. Humans tend to draw inward at this time of year too, and since I have books to write and books to read, I’m fine with that. Here’s what I’m reading this month:  

Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

Prom Mom by Laura Lippman

Kitchen Bliss: Musings on Food and Happiness (With Recipes) by Laura Calder

Books read to date in 2023: 47

All In Good Time

                                                  

I’ve written here before about being a turtle instead of a hare when it comes to producing art. Go here if you missed that blog post.  https://lauralangston.com/get-your-turtle-on/

The idea that we don’t always get instant results came to mind again recently. On this date in 1501, Michelangelo started carving the statue David . . . and he finished it three years later. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, took Michelangelo four years to paint (and speaking of churches, La Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona – one of Gaudi’s most famous works – has been under construction since 1882 and it’s still not finished).

 In my small corner of the world, I’m revising a novel I’ve been fiddling with for probably three years now. Some books come together quickly, but others don’t. I’m more accepting of that than I used to be. Maybe because I’ve been at this writing gig for decades. Maybe it’s life experience. More likely it’s a combination of both.

And as always, the garden (and nature generally) reminds me on a fairly regular basis that some things take time. For instance, I’m harvesting tomatoes right now. We have a glut of them and they’re especially sweet this year, especially fresh off the vine. But they’re also wonderful in other ways too.  I turned some into confit last week . . . it took about five hours in a very slow oven. While that was cooking, I filled the dehydrator with tomato slices. The process of getting them to sweet, dried rounds took a couple of days.  

All things in good time. Or, maybe that should read: time makes all things good.

On This Day in History . . .

                                                

. . . a monster was born. Actually, that’s a bit of a stretch. The truth is, on this day in 1797, the woman who unleashed a fictitious monster into the world was born. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the creator of Frankenstein, entered the world in London, England. Why talk about someone born so long ago? Because Mary Shelley was responsible for singlehandedly changing the trajectory of storytelling as we know it.

Frankenstein is considered the world’s first science fiction novel. Published when Shelley was only twenty-one, Frankenstein raises questions about the origins of good and evil, the existence of God, the impact of solitude, and human nature’s tendency to judge others by appearance. More than 200 years after it first appeared, the story of Frankenstein is still considered universal and timeless. In fact, Frankenstein is one of the most adapted novels of all time.

Stories abound as to Shelley’s inspiration for the tale. Some say she created it after having a nightmare. Others suggest it was inspired by terrible global events. 1816 was famously known as the ‘Year Without a Summer.’  The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia triggered massive and sudden climate change, sending temperatures in Europe lower than they’d ever been (and the record for those low temperatures held from 1766 to 2000!). Those low temperatures, coupled with ongoing heavy rain, resulted in crop failures and the largest famine of the 19th century. It was during this gloomy time that Mary and her husband, Percy Shelley, vacationed in Switzerland with Lord Byron and a number of other friends. Forced to spend most of their time inside, Lord Byron suggested they all write ghost stories to share with one another. And that, as they say, is history.

True or not, it makes for an interesting piece of trivia about a story that has become a classic.

My August Reads

It’s the height of summer. That’s what I tell myself, though I know, technically, this is the last full month of summer and we are heading inexorably toward fall (I refuse to go there). The harvest has started – we’re picking masses of blueberries and plums and figs, tomatoes and peppers and eggplants. And beans. Lots and lots of beans. We’ve had friends come to stay and soon we’ll be having a family reunion of sorts with a beloved aunt and cousins. It’s a happy and productive time, but a busy one, and that means less time for reading. That said, I’m stealing a few minutes here and there, and I always fit in a few chapters before bed. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Echo of Old Books by Barbara Davis

The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work At 72 by Molly Peacock

The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell

Books read to date in 2023: 42

Animal Farm

                                                        

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.  George Orwell, Animal Farm

Seventy-eight years ago today, George Orwell’s Animal Farm was published. The novella is the story of a group of overworked and mistreated farm animals who rebel against their human farmer in order to create a society where the animals can be free, equal, and happy. Ultimately, the rebellion is betrayed, and under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon, the farm ends up in a state as bad as it was before.

Orwell wrote the book in late 1943, when the United Kingdom was allied with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany and at a time when the British intelligentsia held Stalin in high regard, something Orwell strongly opposed. Animal Farm is considered one of the most satirical fables ever written, painting a dark picture of what can happen when a group revolts against tyranny but ends up embracing a totalitarian dictator instead.

It wasn’t easy for Orwell to get his manuscript published, largely because of fears that the story might upset the alliance between Britain, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Considering it communist propaganda, four publishers turned it down, though one initially accepted it and then declined after consulting the UK’s Ministry of Information. Eventually, Secker and Warburg took a chance and published it.

Initial reviews were mixed, though the story gained traction and has only grown in popularity. Between 1952 and 1957, the CIA, in an operation called Aedinosaur, sent millions of balloons carrying copies of the novel into Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Time magazine chose Animal Farm as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 – 2005). It also featured at number 31 on the Modern Library List of the Best 20th-Century Novels. It won a retrospective Hugo Award in 1996, and it remains popular amongst students, coming in as the UK’s favorite book from school in a 2016 poll.

Animal Farm’s cutting clarity and message resonate deeply, even today. And it remains somewhat controversial, still being banned in Cuba and North Korea, and continuing to be the target of complaints and even bans in some US schools.

My July Reads

Summer here means drought and high temperatures, so when it rained earlier this week, everyone celebrated. Not only was the moisture desperately needed for the forest fire situation, it was also a refreshing change from bright sunshine. And it provided a little more incentive to stay indoors and read. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Other Daughter by Caroline Bishop

Olive Odyssey by Julie Angus

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Books read to date in 2023:  39

In Stillness

                                                 

The last few weeks have certainly not been monotonous, but they have been quiet. That’s given me more time to write, to read, to walk and to think. It’s the kind of slower pace I usually associate with August. This year, though, we’re expecting lots of company in August, so I’m embracing a little solitude now.

Solitude and stillness are important to creativity. We know that intellectually – creatives generally need alone time to pursue their path. But what we tend to forget is that the stillness can also help us clear our minds and even inspire us. “In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for the constructive use of solitude,” said Rollo May. “One must overcome the fear of being alone.”

A little time alone gives us a chance to think about what we’ve done artistically and where we might want to go; it helps us focus on our own priorities and our own voice; and in my case at least, it gives me a chance to appreciate some of the simpler things in life – losing myself in a good book, enjoying a delicious meal from the garden, and listening to the sound of the baby quail as they make their way along our back fence.

I hope you’re enjoying summer!