Profile in Scribbles–“All About Me”

I will be reviewing some movies from the upcoming Napa Valley Film Festival in the next few weeks.  But in the meantime, I am posting a recent interview  profiling my background  writing “scribbles” in the newsletter by the same name distributed by my writers’ group, Central Coast Writers.  Some of you have been asking for more information about my future writing plans.  Here it is–“All about me”.

MEMBER PROFILE in the October issue of Scribbles, the newsletter for Central Coast Writers

 From semiconductors to Buddhism, Diana Paul’s writing subjects reflect a diversity that is evident in her employment history.  With a B.A. in psychology, an M.A. in philosophy and a Ph.D. in world religion (Buddhism), it’s no surprise that Diana would write three academic books on Buddhism— books she wrote while a professor at Stanford University (1974 to 1985). Likewise, when she was CEO of OCL Technology Center, “a think-tank US-Japan trading corporation backed by Japanese banks and high-tech companies,” Diana also wrote guest columns for the San Jose Mercury News, the San Jose Business Journal and the Christian Science Monitor “during the ‘semiconductor wars’ era in Silicon Valley (1988-1994) when trade relations were tense,” Diana says.

Though her foray into fiction writing spans only the past three years or so, Diana, also an artist and printmaker, has big plans for her writing future. She hopes to find an agent by the end of 2011, publish Unhealed Wound, a tale about three siblings growing up in the Midwest during the 1960s, in 2012, and have her novel optioned for a movie.

“The worldview of Buddhism has subtly permeated my novel with underlying themes of karma and recovery from injury,” Diana says. “The narrator/main character is a married woman who wishes her mother would die, while reflecting on her family, their past and their wounds. All have injured and scarred each other. The parenting effects they endured are now moving on to their own children’s lives.”

Excerpts from Unhealed Wound have already been published as two short stories, testimony to Diana’s ambition and dedication to her writing pursuits. As one who practices what she preaches, Diana says it’s important to “read and write every day and as much as possible. I also think movies are a great way to refine one’s storytelling skills. . . . And don’t be a harsh critic of your own work. Leave that to others. Just get the story down on paper and polish it afterwards.”

Though she declares herself a night owl, Diana says her best writing time is in the afternoon. “Since I get up around 10:30 a.m., that means I eat my first meal of the day around 11:00 and don’t start writing until around 1:00.”

An avid blogger known for her storytelling ability and movie plot revisions, Diana was inspired by the abundance of talent in CCW’s membership and enrolled in last year’s blog workshop, which changed her life, she says. Posts to her website (http://unhealeadwound.com) include movie reviews as well as commentaries on food, wine and art, “all the discoveries that make life worth living!”

 

[This article was written by Michelle Smith, who publishes for a wide variety of magazines.  Her website is: http://theebonyquill.com.]

 

 

“The Mayor of Casterbridge”–A Victorian Drama for Today

Victorian values seem remote — the language is obtuse, the character development Shakespearean in complexity.  However, I adore Thomas Hardy.  As the master of labyrinthine plots, Hardy surprises when the viewer least expects it.  And the BBC/A & E mini-series, “The Mayor of Casterbridge” (2003),  capitalizes on every deviant turn with brilliant acting, cinematography, and contemporary sensibility.

Hardy’s novel is immensely captivating in cinematic form.  “The Mayor of Casterbridge” is an astringent tale. The dark and mordant Michael Henchard, mayor of Casterbridge, (masterfully played by the underrated Ciaran Hinds) is deeply unlikable, a cruel, selfish drunkard who brutally humiliates his young wife and small child. But Thomas Hardy does not paint his characters in broad strokes of black and white.  His good and evil are much more complicated than that.  Personal failings morph into redemption and insight but devolve again into self-destruction and betrayal.  The pure-of-heart–Henchard’s wife Susan and her daughter Elizabeth Jane (Jodhi May)–can forgive the unforgiveable and love unconditionally. Lucette, Henchard’s mistress (the excellent Polly Walker) has a more guarded affection. Donald Farfrae (the superb James Purefoy), a young ambitious Scotsman, arrives in Casterbridge and soon is taken into Henchard’s confidence.   Wanting to achieve what Henchard has, through cooperation not competition, Farfrae introduces a revolutionary technological invention for mechanizing wheat cultivation, further enhancing Henchard’s reputation as a shrewd and successful businessman. Soon Farfrae is a more compassionate and effective manager than his employer.   When Farfrae wishes to court Elizabeth-Jane Newson, who at the time is living as Henchard’s stepdaughter, the relationship with Henchard begins to unravel, and Farfrae’s own ambitions cast a shadow over his relationship with Elizabeth Jane and Lucette.

The viewer does not expect the ending that unfolds, hoping instead for redemption, forgiveness, self-knowledge. Hardy’s study of human nature and all its failings is soul-piercing and unflinching. In spite of being loved, can the tormented soul be rescued from drowning in self-loathing? The mood of “The Mayor of Casterbridge” is wounded, ambiguous, and unforgettable.

 

Social Networking–A Mixed Bag of Tricks

I received so many public and private comments from readers about my last post on Internet usage (see “The Current Digital Divide”–Instant Gratification Anyone?), that I started to think some more about how social networks have transformed our lives.  People (yours truly included) are spending more and more time on the computer. I set a timer so I don’t spend all day in one never-ending time-suck glued to the computer either web-surfing or social networking.  For discipline’s sake, I look at Facebook only once every other day or so.

I do agree with social network supporters that Facebook, LinkedIn, and a host of more specialized websites not only promote increased communication with friends and family but open new information resources– lesser-known websites, highly specialized associations, and political forums.  Besides the oft-mentioned dangers of exposing the vulnerable to predators and other criminals, or bemoaning the loss of literacy or longer attention spans, there are benefits to using the social networking tools we have available.

One of the most surprising articles I read this summer (Wall Street Journal, “Could Those Hours Online Be Making Kids Nicer?”, August 16, 2011) is a case in point.   Researchers have found that those who have difficulty communicating in person, especially teenagers, are more comfortable interacting via the Internet.  They are not using digital communication to reach out primarily to strangers, but to interact more frequently with those they already know but may feel shy around in face-to-face situations.

The WSJ article implies that empathy and likability increase among young social networkers, even towards those less self-confident and with low self-esteem.  Perhaps more significantly, Internet users are retaining their offline friendships, not replacing them.  Among social outliers, the Internet can increase a  sense of community and belonging.

This made me reflect on how I personally use social networking and email.  I can communicate at off-times–meaning late at night–since I am a night-owl.  That way the early birds can read my email or Facebook while I am still dreaming.  I can send an announcement–for example, a new blog post–to friends and acquaintances with one message, not hundreds. Digital communication also saves me time –a telephone conversation is more fun, video-chatting even more of a blast–but both take much, much longer.  If I am just too frazzled, an email or Facebook message is “better than nothing” and that is fundamentally the motivation behind the less personal means of saying something I really want to say.  Just like snail-mail, before the invention of email, the telephone call has now graduated way up the “food-chain” to having major impact on the receiver of the call as a very personal effort to talk.

However, what if I had trouble expressing myself in person or on the phone?  Would chatting in a chat room be more relaxing, more of my true feelings and opinions, than face-to-face?

Although social networking sites were created to make money, not to improve peoples’ lives, they have changed the landscape of how people relate to each other and there is no going back. Future political and social movements will undoubtedly use these tools to a significant degree difficult to imagine now.  These powerful new technologies are changing  the way we live, but not always in ways that everyone likes.

I am by nature an optimist, believing that the disadvantages of social networking will be filtered out over time and benefits will emerge for users who apply these tools with common sense. But in the early stages of any new technology, the buyer must beware. World-tilting technologies (think automobile, airplanes, telephone, television, computer) do not have predictable and absolute positive or negative effects. Social networking is just such a mixed bag of tricks.

 

Picasso–Multiple Images of the Master

Opening on June 11 and closing on October 9, the deYoung Museum in San Francisco continues to host an exhibition of more than 100 masterpieces of  Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) from Paris’s world-renowned Musée National Picasso. The Bay Area exhibition is made possible only because of the Musée’s temporary closing for extensive remodeling.  I have seen the collection in Paris, of which there are more than 5000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and collages, an almost overwhelming experience.   About two percent of that collection is now on view at the deYoung, demonstrating some but not all of the wide range of artistic styles and forms that Picasso mastered.  Missing are some of my personal favorites:  linocuts, woodcuts, and ceramics.  But the exhibit has much to offer.

The pieces, arranged chronologically, are presented in nine galleries covering every period of his career. Celestina (1904), from the artist’s Blue Period, is perhaps his most somber (certainly his most depressing) work:  a portrait of a one-eyed prostitute modeled after an actual madam in Barcelona.  The missing eye looks more like a dense cataract and the gender of the figure is ambiguous.  Other more familiar paintings and sculptures are displayed:  Portrait of Dora Maar (1937), six Surrealist bronze heads of the artist’s mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter; the bronze Goat (1950); the six life-size bronze Bathers (1956); and the late self-portrait The Matador (1970).   One painting that fascinated me the most, however, is less known:  Massacre in Korea (1951), inspired by Goya, is a painting protesting the US involvement in the Korean War.  It reminded me of Jose Orozco’s furious murals depicting the Spanish invasion of Mexico.  US military personnel are shown in Darth Vader-like helmets with the Korean people reminiscent in style and emotion of Orozco’s Mexican villagers.  His bronze sculptures of individual men and women standing in rows are haunting.  The famous “Head of a Bull”, a minimalist sculpture of a bicycle seat with handlebars, has been made a focal point in Gallery 7.

Not to be missed is the complimentary guide for the show.   Co-written by the Seattle Art Museum and the deYoung,  this brilliant analysis of the painted feelings of Picasso is a study of his  infatuation with each of his lovers.  We learn how each of Picasso’s lovers transformed his artful composition of the woman’s figure. His early Cubist years were with mistress Fernande Olivier, his surrealist period with lover Marie-Therese Walter, his political transformation during the Spanish Civil War inspired by Dora Maar and his last two decades of playful experimentation and ceramics were with Jacqueline Roque.

Each of his artistic periods shifted dramatically in accordance with the lover muse with whom he was enthralled.  I can now imagine the rejuvenation of his art–from periods of seriousness (Blue), voluptuousness (Rose, Expressionist, Cubist), political courage (Surrealism), and playfulness through the eyes of Picasso as lover.  Picasso always claimed his erotic life was the stimulus for his creativity and expressiveness.  “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary”, is famously quoted but looking at Picasso’s portraits of his lovers tells all.

Go to http://deyoung.famsf.org/deyoung/exhibitions/picasso-masterpieces-mus-e-national-picasso-paris for more information.  Three other San Francisco exhibits are also Picasso-related–“Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stores” at the Contemoporary Jewish Museum (closing September 6) www.thecjm.org,  “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant Garde” at the San Francisco MOMA (closing September 6) www.sfmoma.org, “Picasso’s Ceramics” at the Legion of Honor in the Bowles Porcelain Gallery (closing December 1), www.legionofhonor.org.

 

 

 

“Blue Valentine” –Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

This critically acclaimed Sundance 2010 darling features Michelle Williams (in an Oscar-nominated performance) and Ryan Gosling in a Generation X’s portrait of a marriage from hell reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’ classic, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence”.

Blue Valentine’s story is simple and straightforward. A young nurse, Cindy Heller (Williams) lives with an abusive father, an adrift mother, and cares for her ailing grandmother. She has endured a violent relationship with a high school boyfriend and has given up her dream to become a doctor. She meets Dean (Gosling) at her grandmother’s assisted living center and they end up rushing into marriage, knowing next to nothing about each other. They are both excruciatingly wounded and searching for an escape. Soon after her young daughter, Frankie, is born, they begin to lose their way.

From the opening scene in which Dean plays with spilled oatmeal, licking it off the kitchen table with his five-year old daughter, we are acutely aware that he is stunted…not quite an adult, but a playmate that his daughter adores. Tellingly, he is siding with his child at the expense of the mother who has wearily thrown together a breakfast for them. With flashbacks between the romantic years and the desperate ones, “Blue Valentine” takes us on a journey of their rapidly accelerating heartbreak.

Not altogether a misfit, Dean is a young high school dropout, working for a New York City moving company and later as a house painter. He is a kind, keen observer, especially toward the elderly and the beloved family dog. Dean’s also a drunk. He tries to make a living, but mostly enjoys being with Cindy and their daughter, his only meaningful goals in life. But he gets it so wrong!

Cindy is trying to keep their family on more firm ground financially. She’s still attractive to other men and Dean can’t contain his jealousy. In the hope of rekindling their sexual life, Dean brings Cindy to a motel with a kitschy, pseudo-sci-fi decor, but there is no intimacy. Their marriage has collapsed in on itself and the sting in their relationship is visceral.

A previous scene, in which Gosling sings “You Always Hurt the One You Love” and Williams dances, foreshadows the wrenching pain to come. Bravely, they both struggle to keep their relationship together in spite of their own best interests. While Dean desperately desires to hold on to his family, his only keystone, he doesn’t know how and neither does Cindy.

Marriages are difficult, precarious, and stressful, and each has its own rhythms and secrets. Not even a deep knowledge of each other can guarantee a long and happy marriage. “Blue Valentine” sometimes succeeds in taking us to this far more honest – and less comfortable – place. One partner’s “best” may simply not be “good enough”.

The wounded and defensive natures of both main characters are powerfully portrayed: Gosling, when his anger is unleashed,–the self-protecting male fighting for what is “his”,–and Williams for the abandonment of her dreams. But these performances do not save this film. Even though their relationship feels real, the story needed to be more specific.

“Blue Valentine” ultimately misses the mark for not revealing both Cindy and Dean’s background. What happened to them in their pre-adulthood years? Why does neither of them have a safety net? These are two young people, tattered and torn, lunging for love as if they were gasping for air. I wanted to know why.

Bridal Shower Anyone?–Do you know what a “laminated list” is?

We hosted a bridal shower last weekend for our daughter Maya and 20 of her young friends. Bridal showers aren’t what they used to be…dreary events with most of your mother’s friends, not yours. They might not be the equivalent of a bachelorette party for wildness, but I learned new vocabulary, which I am not likely to forget!

On a beautifully warm but overcast day, for a mid-afternoon lunch on the deck, we prepared a whole salmon two different ways: one with a spicy paprika rub, one half grilled with cucumber slices. Grilled squid with a spicy sriracha-laced dipping sauce and sardines with horseradish sauce were two of many appetizers. A recipe theme for the shower centered on the seven deadly sins (for those of you who don’t know–they are gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, lust, pride and wrath–but the last has no place on such a happy occasion.) Each of Maya’s friends received a cookbook of the recipes, “Sinfully Delicious Recipes” to take home as a party favor.

After present-opening, playing the usual games of “how well do you know your fiancé” complete with accompanying video of the fiancé answering the same questions, the question rose about the “laminated list”. We went around the room: “How many are on your laminated list?” I can play along too. When it came to my turn, I smiled: “One hundred”.

Maya’s face fell, shocked, utterly disgusted. “Ew, how gross”, she sighed as she walked away to get another cupcake on the cupcake tower one of her bridesmaids had brought. All her friends had said “four” or “five”. I was thinking of “The One Hundred Foods You Should Eat at SF Restaurants Before You Die”, a list I swore I saw on our daughter’s refrigerator door, neatly attached with a sushi magnet. Boy, was I wrong!

This is what I found out about the meaning of “Laminated List”. I learned that a laminated list, sometimes called a freebie list, is a short list –usually no more than five–of celebrities (actors, athletes, definitely NOT friends) who are so attractive that your fiancé, partner, or significant other would give you a “hall pass” if the opportunity arose to have sex with them. The origin for the concept appeared on the hugely popular TV series “Friends”, which we all watched religiously back in the day…but I had completely forgotten about Ross, Rachel, and Chandler’s conversation about their lists. For those of you curious to watch the episode from Netflix, I googled and found out it is in season 3, “The One with Frank Jr.” Ross decides to laminate his list so it is unchangeable and then attaches it to his refrigerator door. (At least I got that part right!) Hmm, how many would I put on my list?

The Current Digital Divide–Instant Gratification Anyone?

When a link to my daughter’s online wedding registry was sent to some aunts and uncles, it created some confusion. They had never seen an online registry before and couldn’t figure out how to find the gift list or how to purchase something online. This made me start wondering–what is the digital divide between the young “worker bees” and their parents who have to become tech-savvy on the Internet?

The current trend in wedding planning is creating a website–a sort of mini-Facebook page dedicated to posting photos, registering gifts, mentioning the “Save the Date” and wedding reception site plans, as well as giving “updates”. This is how the betrothed communicates in more detail than merely the conventional wedding announcement by snail-mail (still in vogue), telephone calls and face-to-face communication. Now there is constant digital communication with everyone, provided everyone opts to go online to navigate the website.

Much has been said about social networking as an instant but impersonal connection to friends, associates, and strangers. In other words, being endlessly available but seldom really present. There is even a website –Grubwithus–which lets the Internet user browse through lists of dinners in cities, buy a ticket for a particular night, post a few personal facts, and then join strangers at a restaurant for dinner–all in the hope of meeting someone new. It’s “digital barhopping meets personal dining”. The concept fascinates me–picturing small groups of people drinking, eating around the table, all on smart cell phones tethered to the palm of their hands. Does this avoid striking up a conversation in person–a truly scary situation for the shy, and also the not so shy? Does a pre-arranged dinner date with strangers help force the socially awkward to the ultimate goal– face-to-face interaction, so precious and rare? Or does social networking really decrease opportunities for friendship by reducing everyone on your “friends list” to reading the same “updates” that strangers and mere acquaintances also see online?

Those who stubbornly refuse to play are increasingly isolated, the same way that someone without an answering machine or voice mail is (arrogantly?) announcing “stay away” if you can’t take the time to give me a call until you reach me. A new digital divide has been created– between a generation of Internet users and those who still want to go from store to store to buy their wedding presents, appreciate the teller’s smile at the local bank branch, and like the feel of turning the pages of a “real book”.

The upside of digital communications is that the response and the gratification are instantaneous. Our family and friends can know a lot about our daughter’s wedding, even those who cannot attend or were not invited. This lets them know we want to share our excitement. The downside is we are not sharing this information in a more personal way, but can we really do that except with only a very few? Hurt feelings perhaps are diminished with more electronic messages at the same time that a de-personalization of parts of our lives also is happening. An equilibrium still awaits.

Celebrate Beer!–Awaken Your Senses!

Last weekend my husband and I went to a class in the Artisan Series  at Montrio Bistro in Monterey.  We found it particularly interesting because, although we love beer and have visited microbreweries, we had not been to a seminar on the art and craft of making beer and studying the different types of brews.

There were two different presentations on beer and its production and distribution.  The first speaker represented English Ales Brewery in Marina, and gave a presentation while we tasted eight different beers they made, each placed on a chart in front of us, so we wouldn’t forget which beer we were drinking.  This was a nice touch, since the beers were quite different.  We  learned about the difference between ale and porter,  two types of yeast cultivation (top-fermenting aerobic ale and bottom-fermenting lager), and a rich vocabulary for describing beer–something we had not been exposed to before.  Now we can say that a beer is “hoppy” (has a bite) or ” malty” (roasted, smoky) , “nutty”, “peppery”, “salty”, and “bitter”.  We also got a chance to touch and smell samples of hops and barley, the hops a lovely dried flower and the barley a nice nutty snack in its own right.

After the English Ales Brewery presentation, a husband-wife team from BeerGeek.com talked about the regional differences in breweries they visited throughout Europe with a planned trip to Asia later to study their beer production processes as well as distribution.  This was an entertaining travelogue which demonstrated that one can plan a trip around visiting breweries and having tastings just as easily and with just as much fun as wine tasting.  A great idea for our next trip!

And finally, we had lunch–an appetizer of Wicked Lizard sausage with a mustard tinged with beer and a small cup of cheddar soup spiked with one of the local beers we tasted (Dragon Slayer IPA).  We then had a wonderful green salad with nuts, cherry tomatoes,  and pickled purple onions.  Our main course was an outstanding lamb shank in a delectable mushroom reduction, on top of a very creamy polenta with tidbits of corn.  For desert there were tiny minced meat pies!   The price is $45 per person and includes lunch.  Feel good about what you eat!

Seattle: A Blast from the Past

On a recent trip to  Seattle, in lightly falling snow, I took a  guided walking tour of the city’s mid-19th century “underground” origins: its musty subterranean passageways of abandoned toilets, pipes,  cast-off furniture and windows that once were the main first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle.  Like layers of fossils built one sedimentary deposit over another, the city’s hidden foundations are revealed. Approximately 25 square blocks of wooden buildings were either burned to the ground or flooded during the Great Seattle Fire of 1896.  What were once the first floors of thriving businesses are now 25-to-35-feet high tunnels below street level. Pioneer Square, the city’s birthplace, lies virtually forgotten except for this tour. It was very entertaining!

Next I walked to the historic Panama Hotel, located in Old Japantown,  part of the International District which also includes Chinatown. Built in 1910 by a Japanese-American architect, the Panama Hotel  served as a community gathering place and bathhouse for generations of Japanese immigrants and Alaskan fishermen.  I could see rows of lockers where Japanese Americans stored their belongings before being forced into concentration camps.  Standing on a glass window on the floor of the hotel’s beautifully renovated teahouse, I peered down into the bathhouse, which was not open to the public the day I visited
 Jamie Ford, author of the best seller, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, (whose setting is the Panama Hotel)   stayed here while writing part of this novel.

My third and final stop for the day was the little-known Wing Luke Museum. Wing Luke, the museum’s visionary founder, had dreamt of a place where the healing power of creativity and art embraced by  Asian American communities would flourish in the Pacific Northwest. As not only the first Asian American to hold elected office in the Pacific Northwest but as a supporter of the arts, Wing Luke established this museum to tell a story for all of us.  Dedicated to the Asian Pacific and Native American experiences the museum collection share their stories of survival, success, struggle, conflict, compassion and hope. A Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum is in a beautifully designed new building in which the cultural and artistic legacies of people who are either Asian American,  Native American or both come together for the first time in an exhibit called “Cultural Confluence.”  Heroic art by well-known artists as well as school children is presented, sometimes side-by-side, in original and colorful displays to celebrate life and its unfinished business.

“Departures”–“Between Life and Death”

For a guest lecture I am preparing for a  course, “Philosophy through the Movies”, I decided to select the Academy Award® Winner for Best Foreign Language Film of 2009,  “Departures”,  (Japanese title: “Okuribito”, lit. “a person sent out or dispatched”), a  look into the in-between of life and death.  What the Tibetan Buddhists would call “bardo”.

Loosely based on Aoki Shinmon’s autobiographical book Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician (納棺夫日記 Nōkanfu Nikki), the movie opens with the main character,  Daigo Kobayashi, preparing a young woman’s body for “sending off” or being dispatched to the next world. After the unexpected happens while tenderly and respectfully cleansing and dressing  the corpse, there is a flashback to Daigo as a cellist in a symphony orchestra in Tokyo.  The orchestra has to disband, for lack of funding, and Daigo finds himself suddenly unemployed.  With his good-natured wife Mika, he moves back to his deceased mother’s house in his hometown in the hinterlands of Yamagata.  (Daigo’s mother had been abandoned by her husband when her son was only four years old and had operated a teahouse or coffee shop in her home to support the two of them.)

Spotting a job listing featuring the word “tabi” (or “trip”) from NK Trading, Daigo applies for the position, thinking he is going to start a new career in the travel industry.  Instead, he is stunned to learn that he will be the Buddhist equivalent of a mortician as well as an embalmer who washes, dresses, and applies makeup to the corpse in front of the bereaved.

Buddhism is  the religion most closely associated with death in Japan. But death is also a taboo or “unclean” subject as it is in the majority of cultures.  This universal fear of death and coming to terms with the death of a loved one are made even more fascinating by the ritualistic preparation of the body in front of the grieving family and friends. Understandably, given the nature of the job, Daigo keeps his new profession secret.  His wife and friends think he is a travel agent.

The theme of karma, the sacred nature of all sentient life, and ritual purification are subtly interwoven.   Death, in all its ambiguity, both a sacred and a profane “departure”, is viewed through Daigo’s eyes as he slowly awakens to the necessity and normalcy of his profession.  “Death is normal”, the movie states, and “Everyone dies”, while the scenes of eating in the office reiterate that “The living eat the dead.”

The themes embedded in every scene of “Departures”–forgiveness, compassion, letting go, and sending off–are about the healing of unhealed wounds.  In the case of Daigo, it is a reconciliation through the stone-letter with his absent father; for his wife, it is the misunderstanding of what death means for the living; and for the NK Trading employer it is the full circle of succession and passing on his experience to the next generation.

“Departures” is a beautifully crafted film, which opened this viewer’s eyes to the essential services that funeral directors, morticians, autopsy doctors and all who handle the dead provide for all of us.  This movie not only demystifies the process of closure, which ritual provides, but also the skillful grace, compassion, and respect for “sending off” the deceased, in order for the living to move on. This cinematic gem is, above all, a profoundly empathetic portrayal of people trying to make peace with the finality of death.

BLOOD LOTUS: Discovering New Voices in Literature and Art

I discovered the online journal, Blood Lotus, while doing a Google search for submitting my short stories to small boutique journals.  While spending hours looking for  an appropriate fit for my edgy short stories about growing up with wounds, both healed and unhealed, I discovered this literary and quarterly gem.  Blood Lotus, established in 2006, with the belief everything has not already been written, has a mission to promote not only distinctive writing but also unusual art. Two poets, Stacia Fleegal and Teneice Durrang Delgado, are its co-founders.

Stacia M. Fleegal (co-founder, managing editor, poetry co-editor) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2009 and 2010. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Fourth River, The Louisville Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Pemmican, Blue Collar Review, and The Kerf. She is also co-founder and co-editor of Imaginary Friend Press. The other co-founder and co-editor, Teneice (Durrant) Delgado is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Flame Above Flame (Finishing Line Press 2006) and The Goldilocks Complex (RockSaw Press 2009).

Each issue is predominantly poetry, reflecting the founders’ own interests but, I think, also the need for high-quality poetry journals since poetry is more difficult to get published than non-fiction, and secondarily, fiction, especially by unknown authors.

I particularly liked issue #17, both the art and the literary articles.  The art is a series of woodcuts by Peter L. Scacco, quite abstract and rich in composition.  The fiction and poetry are not mainstream, in the sense that the unexpected happens in offbeat ways.  I particularly liked “Underwater” by Trevor Houser and “Greater than Y” by Cherri Randall.  Check them out!

The theme for the next issue (#19) is the outsider or outlier, one who walks the fine membrane between mainstream and trespasser/interloper.  While my short stories did not fit this theme, the art I submitted fit Blood Lotus‘s “outsider” theme for inclusion in the forthcoming issue.  I hope you check out the issues on line at:  www.bloodlotusjournal.com for new voices, both in literature  and fine art.  The experimental vision of this journal should not be missed!


Eleven Tips for Women’s Memoirs on 1/11/11

Thousands of us love reading of all kinds:  fiction, history, memoir.  Sometimes all three are combined into one glorious book. We all know someone who is writing:  a novel, a blog, a series of poems, a mystery, children’s book, cookbook, screenplay and more.  And everyone knows someone in a readers’ or writers’ group.  Now there is one website which can fulfill the function of writers’ group, readers’ group, and how to get published in one URL.   The website womensmemoirs.com is for everyone who is a writer and/or a reader!

Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler, the authors of the award-winning collective memoir called Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story, have gathered all the information needed for how to write, edit, promote and publish all in one place! Tools and online support are provided. They have essays, excerpts from ongoing manuscripts, book and movie reviews.

I personally am intrigued by memoir, which necessarily has to deal with “coming of age”:  writing down and publishing one’s deepest personal experiences without camouflage or embellishment. Why not write memoir as fiction? What has changed since, say, the 90’s to make people expose themselves, their wounds, their banal thoughts, for perfect strangers to enjoy? Why the hunger, perhaps obsession, to hear about a woman’s terminal cancer, or a youngster’s frightening abusive parents?  There is social networking which touches upon too much information, but there is also the brutal honesty of memoir.

The process of writing is an arcane one, capturing a story that is compelling, pulling the reader in to care about what is being retold.  The same can be said about a great movie, or a play, or even an entrepreneurial idea for the next Facebook. For some, writing is a  process of healing and recovery. For others it is also a work of art, not dissimilar from a painting or sculpture.  All sorts of skills are required to put words onto paper, and www.womensmemoirs.com provides all the tips to getting you where you want to go.  Check out this website today:  for the eleventh of eleven writing tips for the first eleven days of the New Year.  They are wonderful to read!  Check out “Eleven Memoir Predictions for 2011” published on January 1 but read (or re-read) today, 1/11/11!