the loveART blog

spirits rising

Elaine's Kuan Yin 05

Item 1: In March 2009, 2,250 people stood in line at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for half a day awaiting the privilege of paying $22 to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak. Gilbert is the modest and utterly engaging author of the smash-hit spiritual memoir Eat Pray Love, which has been translated into 13 languages and has 7 million copies in print.

Item 2: Oprah’s been inviting guests like Thich Nhat Hanh, Marianne Williamson, Byron Katie, Elizabeth Lesser and Jon Kabat-Zinn onto her tv and radio shows and Soul Series webcasts. When she launched a virtual “study group” (complete with syllabus and workbook) centered on Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, 450,000 people tuned into the first webcast. By the time the ten-week series wrapped, 20 million people had downloaded the programs.

These little things make the wordARTist‘s heart sing. They confirm my observation that the number of folks hungry for connection with Spirit is on the rise. And as we delve into ourselves to find, explore and deepen that connection, all sorts of good stuff becomes possible. Stuff like, oh, a stronger sense of community. An honoring of the mother earth. The eradication of hunger. Global peace. You know.

As my own small contribution to this heartening trend, I am offering two programs this weekend. Wearing my hat as the curator of the 2009 Summer Writers Series for SOMOS (the Society of the Muse of the Southwest), the preeminent literary organization in northern New Mexico, on the evening of August 21 I will host “Women in Praise of the Sacred,” a program featuring readings by award-winning poet and activist Dora E. McQuaid, chants and poems to Spirit by the short story writer, poet and artist Pat McCabe, and a special surprise guest. (A three-word hint: slam poetry champion.) The program starts at 7:30 pm and is at the new Taos Art Plaza, 223 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, downtown Taos.

And on August 22 and 23, Dora McQuaid and I will teach “The Alchemical Heart: Writing into the Sacred,” an intensive workshop we organized under the auspices of the Creativity and Consciousness Institute of Taos, a new University of New Mexico affiliate dedicated to education in the areas of creative expression and human consciousness. (Dora and I are both members of the CCI Board of Directors.)

Dora and I are excited to teaching “The Alchemical Heart: Writing into the Sacred” at the historic Mabel Dodge Luhan House, a fabulous 100-year old complex abutting Taos Pueblo Indian land, backing up into a sacred Penitente morada and dense with the creative spirits of D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe and other former denizens of Mabel’s infamous salons. Here’s a fun half-hour interview Dora and I did earlier this week with Jim Ball of Taos’ progressive talk radio station, KVOT-FM: Alchemical Heart & Women in Praise of the Sacred. (It starts at 19:48 minutes in.)

While you’re waiting for the (slooowww) audio clip to load, I’ll leave you with a petite writing exercise: What makes your spirit rise? List ten things.

Now go out and do one. Then come back, pour yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger) and enjoy the radio interview.

(Photo credit: Elaine’s Quan Yin, copyright 2006 by Diana Rico.)


in other words

Books in Guatemala (copyright 2007 Diana Rico)

As a writer, the wordARTist never fails to be amazed and heartened by the power of story. In today’s New York Times, an article titled “Read a Book, Get Out of Jail” tells of the program Changing Lives Through Literature, “an alternative sentencing program that allows felons and other offenders to choose between going to jail or joining a book club.” This sounds flip, but one study showed that program participants had half the recidivism rate of a control group. It costs $500/year per head, versus $30,000/year for incarceration. And can we even begin to measure the internal impact that reading and studying the written story might have on the incarcerated?

The probation officer begins by telling participants that “this program isn’t a miracle,” but it works in mysterious ways…. Searching for terms to explain the mechanism by which literature “changes” readers, participants come up with “turning points,” “epiphanies,” even “grace.” “When it’s working,” [program founder and English professor Robert] Waxler says, “this discussion has a kind of magic to it.”

Of course it does. Love is magic, and I believe stories, at their best, are a form of love. “Sometimes a person needs stories more than food to stay alive,” says the character Badger in Crow and WeaselBarry Lopez’s fable inspired by the stories of the North American Plains peoples. “That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.” And the great Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, in his book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, tells this remarkable story about stories:

In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and everyone in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, recalling the good things the person has done in his life. Every experience that can be recalled with detail and accuracy is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully. This ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.

The astonishing power of story. How will you use it today?

(Photo: My and Lily’s Beds in Guatemala, copyright 2007 Diana Rico.)

“journaling” is not a verb form…yet

cover by Cody Hudson (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)

The wordARTist was excited to learn about 1000 Journals, the brainchild of a San Francisco-based graphic designer who modestly calls himself Someguy. Dude leaves blank 220-page journals with stamped instructions inside (draw, paste, cut, rip, fold, burn, write, sew on its pages) in a variety of locations. People who find them follow said instructions and come up with fantastically creative visuals and word-musings, then pass them on by hand or mail or whatever to the next potential artist.

spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)   spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)

Journals have been hidden in a cave, left in a lost and found, abandoned in an airport, and become part of a treasure hunt. They’ve traveled by air, sea and land through 50 states and 40 countries. Sort of like the gnome in the film Le Fabuleaux destin d’Amélie Poulain (come to think of it, another great example of the wordARTist’s Theory of the Power of loveART).

spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)

If you happen to be in San Francisco between now and April 5, 2009, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has an exhibit of the 1000 Journals. But don’t be sad if you can’t get there; Chronicle Books has also published a book condensing some of the most groovy of the journal entries.

spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)

I love these covers by (left to right) Craig Frazier, Gary TaxaliMichael Mabry and  Simone Legno  (they have fabulous websites, too):

cover by Craig Frazier (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) cover by Gary Taxali (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) cover by Michael Mabry (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) cover by Simone Legno (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) 

The wordARTist proposes that we follow the lead of Someguy and keep the spirit of 1000 Journals going. Quick, tell us right now: What would YOU do if you found a blank journal at a gas station or in the frozen foods aisle or in your favorite café, with instructions inside to make it into an objet d’art? Heck, if you feel so moved, go ahead and make something and send the wordARTist .jpgs. I’ll post the best ideas and images. Let’s spread the loveART!

(All images copyright 1000 Journals/courtesy of Someguy. 1000 thanks.)