Saturday, December 26, 2009

On inspiration and feeling inspired

When writing on the challenges I see ahead as a Bead Journal participant, I began wondering about the concept of inspiration. It all started with a Dutch magazine I subscribed to recently, called Happinez. All issues adress a theme, and the issue before last one was centered on... Inspiration. In one of the interviews  The artist way by Julia Cameron was mentioned and I remembered Robin Atkins posting about it once. In the interview it is mentioned that inspiration is not a thing you either get or don't. It is a flow that you can step into, if you open yourself up to it. A very compelling thought, so please tell me where to find my stream? OK, it isn't that simple...

Next thing I knew while strolling the www, I ended up at Angela Players blog. She turned out to be a BJP participant last year and facing the upcoming 2010 edition of the Bead Journal Project she decided on blogging about... Inspiration. Guess I am not the only one with the same idea, would that be part of the flow? Could inspiration be some morphogenetic field like the ones suggested by Rupert Sheldrake? Interesting! This would mean that the more inspired we get, the easier it is to get or stay inspired! Tune in to INSPIRE101.FM now.

Then I picked up the newspaper and found an article on Herta Müller who apparently won the Nobelprize for literature this year. I have never heard of her, nor of her writings but was so touched by the abbreviated version of her acceptance speech that I truely felt... Inspired. I immediately thought that I would at one end maybe... No, I am not getting ahead of myself. Some inspiration I want to keep to myself for the time being.

That made me wonder what inspires me... Well for the obvious part: classical music and eyecandy. I truly love the word eyecandy, there is no Dutch equivalent for it. I do know though that I can get lost in beaded cyberspace just by looking at all the beautifull things that are made, like this collar by Linda Vann Rettich.

On a more subconcious level, I am inspired by life itself. I treasure memories, I ponder about happenings, I linger on experiences just all to find what they make of me. Sometimes it feels like my head is spinning with ideas, not a flow but a mere waterfall! It can get quite intimidating and scary to "just" hop into. Still, that is what I have set myself as a goal for next years Bead Journal Project. No cold feet, just jump right into the water and maybe it may not be as scary as I thought it would be. The first steps have been taken, I have posted for the first time on the BJP blog so my big toe is in. I now just will have to keep on walking.

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Spanish painter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I dare

A few months ago I posted on visualization based upon music. I promissed to share my images later, so here I am to try an give you a peak into my visual mind.

Those who have been with me so far know that I have a great love for music, especially classical music. One of my favorites being Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an exhibition". I embedded video's of several variotions of one movement out of this bigger piece. On the right you see the facsimile of the drawing "The Hut of Baba Yaga on Hen’s Legs" by Viktor Hartmann depicting a clock in the Russian style. This is the sketch that inspired Modest Mussorgsky to compose the movement.
To be honest, this clock does not by far do justice to what I saw when I first heard the movement and understood de background of the Baba Yaga figure! To me, this is just an old fashioned cuckoo clock. Not scary at all, while Baba Yaga is a very, terrifying figure indeed. To me from the very start she was the kind of witch you were afraid of as a kid. The witch in European folklore that is featured in the Grimm-brother's story Hans & Grietje (Hansel und Gretl) with her house build out of cake and candy, who wants to eat little childeren ...

In fact, the Baba Yaga stories are very similar to the folklore thats was gathered by the Grimm brothers. The main Baba Yaga story is Vasilisa the beautifull and tells of a beautifull young maiden that gets sent into the woods by her evil stepmother to find the hut on chickens legs. The scene is very eary, cold and fearsome. When she finds the hut and Baba Yage, she has to fullfill some assignments before she can go home with the light she was sent for. So Baba Yaga is the personification of all fears that we have to conquer before we can become enlightened of be set free.

I feel these enourmous, yet utterly human fear when the movement that Mussorgsky composed starts. It's low, dark tones that approach rappidly out of nowhere, dissonant chords and a harmony that makes you feel out of balance. But then suddenly, the dark subsides a little, seems to become ligher... Then, the dark returns and masters the light that was shimmering through. After the victory of the dark, the movement seamlessly goes into the next one: the great gates of Kiev. Free, free at last! While listening I can let go with a great sigh, the dark has been overcome as I faced my fears and step through the gate into the light.

It is easy to see how the story fits into the music. It is also easy to see how many folklore and modern lore work around this same theme. Even in  my last post Challenges Ahead I referred to my inner critic as a trickster. But if I can face her and maybe even befriend her, I can take advantage of  her wisdom. In most fairytales witches are not pure evil. Often they present the hero or heroine with some unrealistic accomplishments they have to establish before they will have what they need to fullfill their quest. This mostly means they somehow have to conquer their utmost fear(s). Even the frightening Baba Yaga is sometimes said to offer guidance to lost soles.

Below I have embedded a video of yet another composition that was inspired upon the figure of Baba Yaga by Anatoly Liadov. As is the case with Mussorgsky's movement, I find this one equally disturbing and yet beautifull. I hope you will enjoy it and have some (new) visions of your own.

Because I don't want to leave you with disturbance, and have said that facing your fears can also bring good to ones life, I also want to share another video. It is sweet and lacks all the disquieting qualities that usually accompany Baba Yaga. Above all, it shows that your Baba Yaga can be found anywhere and sometimes had to overcome a little fear herself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Challenges ahead

As the end of the year comes closer, the start of the Bead Journal Project 2010 comes nearer. I am getting a little anxious truly. Can I really do this? Wasn't I too bold to subscribe? She's back again: my inner critic. Some of my doubts and fears come from very unrealistic thoughts. The thing is, I got this wonderfull book on Pakjesavond: "The art of bead embroidery" by Heidi Kummli and Sherry Serafini. When I see a beautifull piece like this one (by Heidi Kummli), I can't help myself but wonder if I would ever be able to make such an outstanding work of art?

But I do have to correct myself, for both artists have been beading for decades and I just started last year. It is like comparing a toddler that just has started to walk and is making its first, wobbly steps into the big world to a trained walker who is used to walking several miles at an end. Hmm, so who is speaking here? It's not the practical mom, nor the artist I met in my earlier post. It is my inner critic again that is trying once more to scare me off. Let's call her the trickster who tries to make me believe that I would never be capable of such art and that being capable of creating outstanding work from the start is one of the demands of... Wait a minute, of what? Don't the rules on the Bead Journal clearly state that:

there is no BJP enforcement squad ?

So who am I kidding? What is the trickster trying to get me running from? It seems that in the upcoming months I will do some serious soul-searching to find my own voice, or should I say "voices"? Over the past months I have encountered many inner voices, not just while beading. They all are truthfully mine, even though some are louder than others, more eloquent or persuasive, all deserve to be heard. That will be the true challenge: to give way to all that is in me without judging. In other words: to witness myself and put that to my embroidery canvas so I will learn to walk steadily.

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.

Simone Weil (1910-1943) French Philosopher

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Old traditions die hard (part II)

Saturday-afternoon I went shopping with my oldest (a 10 year old girl) for gifts. As I wanted her to really think about the people she was picking out presents for (her grandparents, dad and brother), I didn't tell her what to choose. I just took her to the Wereldwinkel (a fair trade shop, the link is to a Dutch site) and told her to think about these people. It was amazing at how easy she came up with nice, loving gifts for all of them and while she normally is very indecisive she was now done in a sec. This shows my point in part I of this story of how important it is to look for something that is needed and not merely wanted. What my daughter did was pick out things that reminded her of what she knew others loved doing or that she wanted to share her feelings about. (At one point I had to leave the store, because she also wanted to find a gift for me, I cannot wait until I can unwrap this little piece of her love and attention.)

Later the same afternoon we spent some time working on what we call a "surprise". This is not merely a surprise in the litteral sense, you could compare it to a piñata. She has to make one for the celebration at school but it is a tradition mostly among grown-ups as they don´t believe in Sinterklaas anymore. It all starts with drawing a name out of a bowl and buying a present for that person. Then you make a gift-wrap that symbolizes something that has been important for that person over the past year. This can be something funny, something wonderful... Anything will work that can be cast in some form or other. Usually this asks some craftiness of the person, so the making is as much fun as the unwrapping on Sinterklaasavond. To finish up the whole is wrapped in giftpaper and a special poem is made and stuck to the gift. Now what relates this tradition to the Saint we met earlier?

In early human history Europe was home to amongst others the Germanic peoples. There was no monotheistic God in their presence and their beliefs were highly dependent on natural phenomena as lighting and thunder, and on perceptions of for example the sun- and mooncycles. They left behind an oral tradition that shows a very high level of culturalization and has profoundly influenced our lives till today. In a lot of ways the traditions and rituals around Sinterklaas are not only linked back to the Saint, but also to one of the main God's in the Germanic pantheon: Wodan.

Wodan was represented riding an eight-legged horse, wearing a hat and robe, carrying a lance and mostly accompanied by two raven, called Huginn and Muninn  (Old Norse for thought and memory).  These raven travelled between the worlds of gods and men, conveying stories of how mankind was behaving upon which the gods could choose to interfere. In the days of winter, when thunderstorms and lightning, rain and snow made work outside impossible I imagine men, women and children all gathered to tell stories of how their god Wodan was riding the clouds judging men who would be worthy and brave enough to sit beside him in his great hall Walhalla. Furthermore they would probably recite epic poems, one of which tells of how Wodan received the Runes during a rite that lasted nine nights, in which he hung upside down from a tree. During these winternights they would also feast, eat and drink together. They would make a lot of noise to scare the ghosts that roam the dark nights, they would celebrate the turn of the year and the return of light at their Yule festival.

The common components in these historic roots of Western European cultural heritage and that of the Eastern European cult of Saint Nicholas are quite obvious. It is easy to see that after christianity had concurred Western Europe, the bearded God was readily transformed into a Saint with a miter, staff and robe, riding on a horse. The knowledge of all men was transformed in the celebration of Sinterklaas to a book of knowledge in which all doings - right and wrong - over the past year were accounted for. This knowledge being gathered by Sinterklaas and his aid Zwarte Piet (black peter). Because even then the rule "old habits die hard" applied, a lot of age-old customs where woven into the christian version of the festivities. Often, simply to make the people more susceptible to conversion. Even in the late 1800's Dutch city councils tried to ban Sinterklaasfestivities because they were too papistic. They didn't succeed, the traditions are too ingrained in our Calvinistic society to ever loose ground.

So back to making a surprise, because here again it is imperative that you somehow know the person whose ballot you drew. Like I  mentioned earlier, an important event in this persons life over the past year is most likely to be adressed. Like the ravens told Wodan and Zwarte Piet tells Sinterklaas of your whereabouts. This does not mean that it has to be all very serious or reproachful. Even though there are still parents who frighten children with a Sinterklaas that will punish them if they don't behave, it is an occassion par excellence to bring some humour into play! With a rhyming verse to accompany the gift we usually laugh a great deal. It softens harsh reality and deepens a sense of belonging and sharing. That is why our indigenous Sinterklaas is so dear to me and I wouldn't trade it for a 1000 Santa's in the world!

I have only 3 nights left till Sinterklaasavond, so off I am to write my poems and wrap some gifts!


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