Posts tagged ‘art’

October 13, 2017

“JUST” Words?

by lisa st john

“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.” Rita Mae Brown

 

Poetry especially could have a “hidden” power. But just like the moon, we know how it works. It all starts with gravity

 

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

 

If I have no name for snow, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Of course not. But if I have no word for freedom, that could be a problem. Although, the word freedom has multiple meanings in different contexts for different people. 

The language we use certainly does affect the way we think.

Everything from neuroscience to linguistics points to this. Language affects our perception of the world, not the world itself.

Philosophically, we could argue that our perception IS the world, but that’s another debate.

When our Secretary of Education has no background in education,
when our Federal Communications Commission wants to get rid of net neutrality ,
when the term for lying becomes alternative fact,
is it time to get scared?

Before I decide we are truly living an Orwellian nightmare, I have to think about …thought. Thought and language.

Words shape thought.

Watch this amazing talk on sexual violence and language (or, if you are pressed for time, scroll to 2:35 for his sentence structure example from Julia Penelope). 

Language matters.

“For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. What we have learned [however] is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently … Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.” -Boroditsky from EDGE (an amazingly fabulous website).

What language are we speaking? That’s it’s okay for a man to grab a woman’s pussy? Our children are listening.

“New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences.” (“Something universal occurs in the brain when it processes stories, regardless of language” Science Daily)

empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

 

“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” Philip K. Dick

 

 

Those who speak and write and make art have the power. For now.

 

 

 

September 8, 2017

What is There to Know?

by lisa st john

There is no other system that responds to aerodynamics and fluid dynamics quite like shifting sand.

Physicists have formulae for the behavior of solids, liquids, and gases but do not have an adequate scientific description of granular motion. Granular behavior doesn’t fit neatly into a single physical theory.

 

Long Beach Island

Why do you like games so much?

Because when I’m playing Bocce or Canasta or Scrabble I know there are rules, and if I play by these rules, with a little luck there is a chance I can win. Unlike real life, where you can do everything right and still get screwed.

 

Scrabble tile lost to the bushes

Games have a science behind them. They are analytical and organized, unlike shifting sand. But the beauty of science is that just because something doesn’t fit into a neat little theory is not to say that we know nothing about it. Knowing is not the same as universal truth. Science is based on change. Did the Sun and planets all revolve around the Earth back in Ptolemy’s time? Of course not. But was it “true” (scientifically) back then? Sure.

As artist Tim Minchin says, “Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed/Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved./If you show me/ That, say, homeopathy works, Then I will change my mind” (Storm).

I do not mean to discount belief. We must believe that sand moves in mysterious ways in order for us to know it as a fact. We can’t know something and not believe it. Aside from Gettier, knowledge must be justified, true AND believable. This is the logical analysis of knowledge.

Logic is important to me because without it, all we have is guesswork and belief. Logic isn’t always easy though. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy. If I throw two dice ten times and I don’t get a 7 then I am “due” to get a 7 soon, right? Wrong. The dice do not know (or remember) what the previous throws were. Every time you throw it will still be  6/36 chance that you will roll a 7. We tend to believe that we are “due” to get a 7 because it’s instinctual; it’s intuitive. Why do we believe weird things? Watch this 14 minute fun video:

Why am I going on about all of this? Because of fake news and social media and a HUGE lack of scientific, logical thought in our world today. We need sites like Snopes (no, we are not putting Robert E. Lee on the $20 bill) and Politifact (no, Katy Perry did not convince ISIS to lay down their guns) because we aren’t taught to think critically, and it’s a critical time to start.

We need knowledge.

We also need belief.

Crash Davis does not, “believe in Quantum Physics when it comes to matters of the heart,” nor should he. What does he believe in, you ask?

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hangin’ curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, over-rated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughta be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. And I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days” (Bull Durham).

It’s a great writing/mindfulness exercise. Rewrite Crash’s speech for yourself. I tried it. Here it is:

http://bovano.com/

I believe in double rainbows, the cock, the cunt, the wonder of the universe, the buzz of hummingbirds, real ice cream, red wine, that the poetry of my teenage years was angst-ridden garbage. I believe that Trump did “grab pussy.” I believe there should be a constitutional amendment making rape a high crime like treason and punishable by death. I believe in true love, soulmates, fuck-buddies and that only christians should celebrate Christmas. And I believe in the power of art.

What if we balanced every minute of mainstream media watching with an equal amount of poetry reading?

What if we didn’t comment on social media as much as we danced in our kitchens?

I would like to know.

 

Buy my poetry chapbook, Ponderings, HERE.

August 20, 2017

Time for Words

by lisa st john

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.                                                                                                                                —Buddha

Maine.

Homemade bluberry (picked that morning) pie with a crust so lovely it needs a better name (than crust).

I’m in a kayak floating around the lake when I see a loon taking his morning bath. I wonder if he and his mate were the ones who brought on evening yesterday with their haunting call and response. He flips around and cleans his white underside, neck impossibly agile; he twists and flutters and shakes off the water that he is not floating in. I don’t want to get too close and disturb his routine but I like watching him.

I am reminded of my beautiful daughter-in-law saying that the living by the water is magical because it’s alive, full of life above and below the surface. Just like she and my son are—in love with life and knowing how important moments are. It’s a gift and I am filled with joy that they discovered it at an early age. That’s another word that should be different: daughter-in-law. The etymology isn’t interesting and the connotation is mechanical. The Spanish la nuera is prettier.

Words are powerful in a way no other form of communication can match. They stay with us, haunt us, remind us.

When the news blares hate over and over and over in baleful repetition I turn it off. The violence of the language and images of what happened (is happening) in Virginia is not going to stop violence.

In Toni Morrison’s essay, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear” she evokes the power of words, of art. I know that watching the talking heads postulate about what could happen and what should have happened will not help us heal. Rather than “what if-ing” (which is what most mainstream media seems to do lately) Morrison gives us a task: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Artists give strength to the idea of positivity and mindfulness and creation as tools against hate.

Lady Gaga: “I know we are not created to hate each other, but to help and love. Use hashtag #BeKind #ThisIsNotUS to tweet positive messages.” #Charlotte

Photo by Sarah St. John

Dave Matthews Band: “The multicultural tapestry that is America must come together, acknowledge our very difficult but remarkable history. We must move away from the racist and ignorant elements of our past toward an inclusive, kinder, more intelligent future.”

In response to a video showing a Neo-Nazi in a Johnny Cash tee-shirt, his family “sickened by the association” posted that, “Our dad told each of us, over and over throughout our lives, ‘Children, you can choose love or hate. I choose love.'”

The Presidential Arts and Humanities Committee resigned. They didn’t start a fire or blow up a building. They said, “No.”

Sara Benincasa provides a list of places to support.

Here are a few more ideas.

  1. Love each other and say so.
  2. Support artists who support peace and denounce hatred.
  3. Spread kindness.
  4. Refuse to be silent.

Remember: THIS IS NOT NORMAL. We cannot get used to this.

July 31, 2017

Art is My Religion

by lisa st john

Art is our new religion and museums our cathedrals.” Theodore Zeldin

Art is everywhere.

This is not a new idea. Alain de Botton’s beautiful talk “Art as Therapy” expands on Zeldin’s idea. He says that art’s function is in “giving us hope.” It reminds us that we are “not alone in our suffering.” Sounds theological doesn’t it? Recently, I realized I have a religion after all: art.

I got a last minute invitation to an event by The Secret City (“Sincere and fabulous community celebrations of the everyday creative life. With outfits”) recently, and it was nothing less than … spiritual. Artists getting together and

Chris Wells

sharing what they do with the rest of us, but also engaging us, inviting us to join them.

 

This interactive event included music by the Secret City Band, dance by Energy Dance Company, guided breathing, a shared ice cream treat by Cashewtopia, an amazing musical interaction by Sxip Shirey, a powerful a cappella protest song by Prana, fabulous memoir excerpt reading by Chris Wells, the most wondrous “Ukulele Anthem” by Amanda Palmer, and visual art provided by Martyn Thompson: meditation, music, singing, mingling, recitation…sounds like

 

AFP

church. It felt much better than any church-going I have ever experienced. It was a truly joyful celebration. We weren’t celebrating our union with a separate-from-us god; we were celebrating art and artists and the harmony that our union with them can provide. We need this. We need to connect with art so we know there are others like us. We are not alone.

 

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent.” –Toni Morrison

 

This brings me to how we connect to the arts. What can we do to promote and enjoy and partake in the magical making of things? One way is Patreon. We do not have to be insanely rich Medicis to support the arts. With crowdsourcing and gofundme and kickstarter, indiegogo, et cetera, we can all make a difference in the world; we can all be patrons. I give a little + you give a little + someone else gives a little = an artist has the money to record an album. That’s about as mathematical as I get, so … .

Let’s be kind.

Let’s share art,

and let’s be fucking joyful.

July 5, 2017

Little Things

by lisa st john

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

-Marcus Aurelius

It really is all about the little things. Cigarette machines repurposed as little Art machines, for example. Art-O-Mat is part of The Cosmopolitan’s fabulous, changing Art Program. This is only one of the many wonderful things about this hotel–the only one on the strip (I believe) to have balconies. Las Vegas is opulent and ostentatious, welcoming and lonely.

The nighttime lights of this city laugh at the vast desert, but the mountains hush the neon into submission at sunrise. Oh, Duality.

 

 

Back to little things.

Here is a brief list of little but magnificent.

-campfire light in the backyard
-roses and daisies together in a vase
-watching your son live a life all his own, beautiful as his birth almost thirty-one years ago
Halo Top ice cream
-landing on your feet again
-loving your tribe and feeling the love back
-Art
-romping dogs
-just…landing

 There will be time; oh yes Mr. Eliot. This year there will be gorgeous amounts of time.

sabbatical (adj.) 1640s, “of or suitable for the Sabbath,” from Latin sabbaticus,

from Greek sabbatikos “of the Sabbath” (see Sabbath). Noun meaning “a year’s absence granted to researchers” (originally one year in seven, to university professors) is from 1934, short for sabbatical year, etc., first recorded 1886 (the thing itself is attested from 1880, at Harvard), related to sabbatical year (1590s) in Mosaic law, the seventh year, in which land was to remain untilled and debtors and slaves released.

And where is my metaphorical untilled land? Who are the debtors and slaves of my heart?

This too, I will explore. Adding to the little list: gratefulness.

 

I just landed. I’m a little rusty. It’s time to let the writing genie back in (or at least unlock the door).

 

December 10, 2016

More links than content, but isn’t everything connected?

by lisa st john

censorship-quotes-85

Some things happened recently that made me remember that not everything is okay. Not everyone is okay. And I am not even talking about the elections. I teach English Language Arts in high school. But really, I teach kids. I try and teach kids how to be good adults. I do not always succeed. And that knowledge hurts, because I forget sometimes. We all have choices.

But I have noticed over the years that physical pain can take me away like fucking Calgon. So thanks, Doc, for the cortisone shot in my thumb that brought me to tears. Yes, there is crap and Trump and Orwellian cabinet positions but there is also Art.

I can go an hour south and see Modigliani at the Met or Clyfford Still at MoMA. I can re-read American Gods (again) and visit Roland in his Dark Tower quest again and again.

Until they close the museums.

Until they burn the books.

orwellian

I can go hear live music like the amazing Joanna Teters and Amanda Palmer. I can go to poetry readings and workshops like Word Café, and I can even occasionally get published (thank you Chronogram).

 

Until they close the theaters and the clubs.

Until they round up the artists and intellectuals.

The fear of being helpless is dangerous. We are not weak. We are more connected to each other than any time in human history. When we feel powerless, we can go to real places and virtual places and listen to each other, and share silly cat videos and remember to smile and to see.

My mantra for today: Make Art. SEE. Join. Don’t give up. Don’t go back.

And we will not go back (to the kitchen or the closet or the back of the bus). Will we?

 

This is just a little list. There is SO MUCH MORE out there.

American Civil Liberties Union
LAMBDA Legal
Planned Parenthood
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Campaign

 

Look at the beautiful things going on in the world that we can ALL be a part of!

Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding so, so many.

 

See you in D.C.

pussy                                      a new poem 

July 23, 2016

Mystery and Majesty

by lisa st john

DSCF1564

There are horrors all over the world. It’s as if the news just smells of death. Part of me wants to delete my AP News app. Part of me knows I need it to … just know. But knowing doesn’t mean bowing down. Knowing doesn’t mean giving in to only a small part of the reality we share.

Sometimes knowing means cathartic, empathetic crying. Sometimes knowing means sending supplies, or helping a crowd funder, or signing a petition, or starting a petition, or fighting back. Knowing also means not forgetting.

If I forget to run outside at the possibility of a rainbow after a summer storm, what am I knowing then? If I forget to smile at sun-blonded boys diving in the sand to make the catch, or to laugh as a puppy braves the waves in sheer puppy-joy excitement, then what do I know?

The poetry of the Counting Crows says it well. Sometimes there is, “…the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters but no pearls/All at once you look across a crowded room/To see the way that light attaches to a girl… .”

“Survival is insufficient”

(“Survival Instinct Star Trek: Voyager qtd. Station Eleven).

Jack and Amanda Palmer with Thor and Friends put on a fabulous show at Le Poisson Rouge Wednesday night. In answer to her unspoken questions, all I can say is that we need to keep making art. Without art, what’s the point?

Remember the animal cracker scene from Armageddonanimal_cracker

Grace Stamper: Baby, do you think it’s possible that anyone else in the world is doing this very same thing at this very same moment?

AJ: I hope so, otherwise what the hell are we trying to save? (Armageddon)

We need to remember things like:
-The majesty of whales right beneath the boat who come up to breathe with us.
-inevitable sunrises
-soft breezes
-libraries
Modigliani

Beauty is here–maybe not on the surface all the time, but it’s here. Babies are being born and people are still falling in love. Life is a lot like whale watching. You look out at the sea waiting for a glimpse of the magic and your heart knows it’s always there but we don’t always see it because we don’t take the time to look.

May 30, 2016

Some Things I Know

by lisa st john

 

I may not know the difference between a rosebush and raspberries, admittedly. But there are some things I do know.

DSCF1086

I know rain at an outdoor celebration staved off by kindness.
I know the universal joy of sharing a meal with the blurred line of friends and family.

I may not know why Pi can do what it does, or why ferns speak fractals and they, in turn, speak chaos.

But I know the blissful tears of the father and the harmonious tears of the mother. I know that the tenuous strands of young love spin and weave, creating the strength of an unbreakable union.

With the multitude of horrible things in this world—things I do not want to know—I am indebted to the goddess of perspective for allowing me to also see the first hummingbird of the season, and to hear the “wild rumpus” of worshipped children.

And if there is a secular word for “blessed” then please, someone tell me. Because I am.

I know pain, but also gracious healing. I know fear, but also comfort. I know the darker side of turmoil and the gentle light of peace. And right now, in this moment, I am alive with all I know.

DSCF1082

Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

May 1, 2016

One of Those Days

by lisa st john

Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s my internal work clock (quarter four has begun). Maybe I really, honestly, thought I would get my sabbatical. Strike that last one. That would mean I no longer expect the worst in order to appreciate what I actually get. That hasn’t changed. Has it?IMG_4422

I could have gone to a writer’s retreat this weekend but I was beyond tired. I am glad I stayed home to rest but at the same time I am angry for not pushing myself.

Pushy Me versus Tired Me: A Conversation

“How are you going to be a writer AND a teacher if you can’t muster up the energy to drive four hours to Boston?”
“My hematocrit was 33! They wouldn’t let me donate blood. I must be anemic again.”
“Blah, blah, blah… .”
“I just got back from a long weekend in Cincitucky
           “Did you get any writing done?”
“No, but it was such a beautiful time—it felt so good to hang out with my son and see him thriving in his adult world and—
“Travel is good. Travel is fodder for writing.”
“Gee, thanks. I am going to Isla Mujeres the day after graduation, and to Provincetown in July, and to San Miguel de Allende in August and LBI after that and–
“What the fuck are you running from?”
“I am not running from. I’m running towards.”

Anaïs Nin said that we write to “taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Maybe Iraintulip2’m not ready. Maybe I’m too ready. Maybe Stephen King was correct about writing and teaching (not compatible). We’ll just have to see.

Until then, I live off the crumbs of what I can muster. A blog here, a poetry reading there, the Chronogram Word Café series, The Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking, you know. Here and there.

  1. POETRY READING Friday, May 6, 6 pm in the Reference Room of Stone Ridge Library. Join us as Tina Barry, Patricia Carlin and Lisa St. John read from their latest works. A reception will follow the readings!
  2. TRAVEL, write, rinse, repeat… .

p.s. (Was SO PROUD to be a part of Chronogram’s Poetry Roundup. Thank you Ninraintulipa Shengold, for your fab review. My favorite line: “Ponderings debuts a nonpareil poetic voice, lithe, quirky, and fanged.” I’ve always wanted fangs.)

Snippet from a poem that doesn’t quite exist yet:

I will buy the $110.00 bra without a coupon—without even checking with Ebates. Feel the power? The dollars I

give

away don’t count somehow. This much to the students in Isla Mujeres whose mother is homeless; this much to GOFUNDME so Mrs. ___ can stay home with her husband while he dies; this much to Amanda Palmer’s latest Kickstarter because without art what’s the fucking point?

This phase is supposed to be over. Hospice therapist said so.

Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

September 15, 2015

Two for the Price of One

by lisa st john

 

Two for the price of one. What if I only want one?

kidstattoos

Life or death; prosperity or poverty; winter or summer; light or dark—no. We get both, not either or. As King Lear says, “I have taken too little care of this.” Tom o’ Bedlam may not be my problem to “take care” of, but my mindset sure is. Leave it to Shakespeare to create a “semi-apocalyptic” world hundreds of years ago. My own chaos is never black and/or white. Whose is? The glass isn’t half empty OR half full; it’s both. Paradox or no, it’s both. Maybe there are two of Schrödinger’s cats, but that’s a question for another blog post.

When I Google “two” I get “Two player games.” By the way, Google (the noun) doesn’t want us using Google (the transitive verb) unless we really mean we are using their search engine. I think that’s hilarious. As if I would stop saying, “I need to Xerox that handout,” or “Please get me a Kleenex.” Humph. Who do they think they are trying to control language? Good luck. Not going to happen. The word “too” gets me to ToonTown, and “to” is, of course, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (Not “How to Kill a Mockingbird” unless, maybe you are one of Schrödinger’s cats.)

But if it’s about “and” instead of “or” why are questions like the following still coming up? Can we be both a mother and an artist? (Why don’t men have to ask this question?) Follow that last link to Amanda Palmer’s awesome open letter. Can’t mouse back over there? Try here. It’s worth a read. Kimya Dawson knows. Virginia Woolf knew (before she put stones in her pocket anyway). I guess we all know it’s possible We could get all existential (slash absurdist) over it and realize that, “What is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying,” but Camus wasn’t a Goddess. What the fuck did he know about “and?” Women know “and” inside and out. lilygoddess

“Would you like to feed your child or get some sleep?”
Uhm…and.
“Would you like to have a job or stay home with your kid?”
Again…and.
“Are you depressed or joyful?”
Uh…yes.

I want to look both in and out of my windows. It’s not easy being human.

missy looking out

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can still buy my poetry book Ponderings, HERE.

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