Monday, 20 July 2015

Sunshadows and ghost pianos: 20 more small happy things.

What in your life is calling you,
when all the noise is silenced,
the meetings adjourned,
the lists laid aside,
and the wild iris blooms by itself
in the dark forest,
what still pulls on your soul?

We are so much bigger on the inside.
~ Amanda Palmer

I've now written two blog posts in which I listed things that made me happy - small, cheering things that have brightened me or made me smile or glow a little. When I have low days, they're brilliant to read back on - to remind myself of the tiny beauties of my world. 
So here's another. I think I'll keep compiling them.

In no particular order, here's some things that have made me happy recently......

1.  Checking on the progress of a sea-coloured patchwork blanket that I'm (very very slowly) knitting. Am rather pleased so far.

2. Having the enormous pleasure of attending my friend Dave's book launch at the Bluecoat Arts Centre, as part of the Writing on the Wall Festival.
The launch was for his new novel Brunt Boggart
'Let me tell you...
A tapestry of folktales, myths and storytelling.  The connecting thread follows Greychild, abandoned in the woods by his mother.
Mistaken for a wolf, he is taken to Brunt Boggart, a village of primal energies where people live close to the land - but sets off along the Pedlar Man's Track to the city of Arleccra. The harbour fills with ships of fire, stars spin and wheel - and he is back in Brunt Boggart again, out under the season's moon.  His mother is not there, but Greychild finally discovers the identity of his father.
Brunt Boggart is a beautifully written lyrical novel by a master of language. Rich in imagery and poetic in style, it captivates from the first haunting words and never lets go its hold until the last magical lines.
Let me tell you, this is a book once read, never forgotten.'

I was delighted to be asked to design the cover artwork and small chapter header artwork for this enchanting  book - and some early concept art (see below).

It's a fantastic read, and I'd highly recommend it.  

3.  Getting totally and completely gripped by the magical world of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - first through the BBC television adaption, and then beginning to explore the novel itself. 
There's so very much to love about the fabulous adaption - the mesmerising twirly dancers in their endless fairy ball... Marc Warren's hypnotic stare and vertical high hair... the Mozart-and-Salieri-like push-pull of the Norrell-and-Strange student-teacher relationship... stampeding horses conjured from sand dunes... crabby crotchety living statues.... the eerie-yet-pitiable ressurected soldiers... 
And the mysterious and sardonic John Childermass, who melts into shadows along with his battered tarot deck
What's more, Enzo Cilenti's accent made me reminisce and remember many happy days lived in Yorkshire and Bradford.

4.   Enjoying the loveliness of a surprise gift of a Lush Brightside Bubble Bar... 

 (Behold the clouds of foamy tangerine-scented goodness.)

5. Watching a splendid production of The Hudsucker Proxy with my extended family at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool - which was really, really marvellous and enormously fun and clever, and actually outshone the original film.
I also had the pleasure of meeting cast member Rob Castell, who came into our bookshop for a browse - and who had a chat about obscure titles and the production and the warm Liverpool audiences. He was (as were the entire cast) incredibly funny and skilled and inventive. 
(And he made an excellent antelope (or possibly an ibex) in the dream sequence.)

6. Warm summer light casting blue sunshadows in my kitchen.

   7. Discovering the loveliness of Dionne the Tea Priestess' amazingcolourful and extremely cheering hats.

8. Finishing two new illustrations. 

(Click here for full story)
(Click here for full story)

9. Jim Jarmusch's hair.
(And, of course, his gorgeous, intelligent, intriguing, quirky, thought-provoking films.)
But.... his hair

10. Receiving a surprise early birthday gift of my very own heat-up-able Wheatie bag (to relieve aching and weary muscles), which has been personalised for me with the immortal phrase 'TAPIOCA!!!' 
(This is in honour of Colin Mochrie, and the spontaneous moment at the start of this compilation, when he makes Ryan Stiles dissolve.)
11. This beautiful new music video from Peruvian band Kanaku Y el Tigre - which features children supported by the Peruvian NGO Alto PerĂº.
 And, like the marvellous Skateistan, Alto PerĂº is pretty darn wonderful in its own right. 
The project takes its name from the Alto Peru area, which lies 'in the foothills of the morro solar, in Chorrillos'. They are a non-profit organisation, and run workshops on muay thai, surfing, batucada, breakdance, photography, art - and more - for the local children: 
'...So far we have worked with more than 150 boys and girls... We believe that there is a universe of possibilities in childhood to discover in every child, and consider essential to creating healthy spaces where children of Alto Peru to deploy all his skills, recognize their skills and explore their potential. In this way, we seek to promote creativity, openness to new experiences and new challenges.'

12. This moment in my bookshop one Saturday afternoon, a few months ago.
(I jotted the details afterwards, so not to forget it):
We've just had a mini version of Hermione Granger discover the shop. She was almost exploding with delight.
The little Hermione was passing us outside, hand-in-hand with her family. I could hear their happy chatter, and looked up to see the little girl, and how she slowed and dragged her heels as they passed the shop, craning her neck to see inside. 
When she saw the books, she was incredibly, unbelievably thrilled, and high-pitched with excitement (even though she initially misunderstood what the shop was):
'A LIBRARY!! You didn't tell me there was a LIBRARY! Or..... a BOOKSHOP!!'
Unfortunately she was then pulled away by her hurrying parents. But she apparently escaped them moments later, as she appeared at the door, and made it halfway into the shop for a brief happy explore before they tracked her down and removed her again.

13. And following on from that.....
Hearing about the history of the building I work in, from Dennis the amateur historian: 
It turns out that our building was once home to Dreaper's Pianoforte Warehouse and Showroom. 
This explains why the face of Minerva - goddess of music - adorns the building front about halfway up.

We love the thought of the ghosts of pianos that may have left their mark behind. 
So we've started listening out for tenuous snatches of melodies that may still linger in the stairwells and corridors.

14.  Amanda Palmer saying goodbye to her best friend.
i crept into the living room and anthony was still there, looking peaceful and so, so motionless in the hazy dawn light. it had rained.
 i kept expecting to see his chest rise, his feet to shift, his head to raise and wink at me and say “just kidding…!”
but just stillness, the stillest stillness.
~ Amanda Palmer
This is an odd one to include, really, as it didn't make me happy, as such. 
But I did find it deeply moving and comforting - specially as I'd lost a very dear friend earlier this year, and have been struggling to work out how to deal with his sudden absence.
Anthony Martignetti was Amanda Palmer's closest friend, mentor, guide and teacher. After a protracted illness, he very sadly died about a month ago. Amanda - who is pregnant with her first child - was at his side when he slipped away, and wrote this reflection in a blog post the day after. 
It's one of the most beautiful things I've read in a long, long time. Life and death and life returning again, and the whole exquisite ever-spiralling cycle of it all.

My feet will want to march to where you are sleeping but 
I shall stay alive. 
~ Pablo Neruda

15. Buster Keaton looking very happy indeed, while playing catch on set, with Joe E. Brown.
(Photo found over at the Buster Keaton Society Facebook page)

16. These portraits by Alfred Eisenstaedt - of absorbed readers losing themselves in tomes at the New York Public Library, in 1944.

17. The Ripper Street boys trying very hard to look solemn and heroic and serious – and trying not to corpse. 
And failing marvellously, in a very endearing fashion. 

18. Sitting at Otterspool prom after work one night with a very dear friend. 
We perched on a mossy bank and watched the sun set over the river and waved to the Welsh mountains (hallo, Wales), and watched the clouds turn, and talked about life and love and change and the complexities of  people, and their frustrating, marvelous craziness. 
And while I was somewhat muffled by hayfever, it was mellow and peaceful and hugely affirming.

19. Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you've finished,
 just to stay near to it.
~ Markus Zusak
Doing just this after finishing reading The History of Love - not wanting to let it go, dipping back into it and thumbing through pages... before finally (and reluctantly) relinquishing it to the library.
I like the comfort of carrying a book. I found myself without one in my bag the other day, and felt strangely vulnerable, a little lost. I was bookless, as Raymond Babbitt would have it. There's a comfort in  the solid weight of it, in the protection of a story. A cape or blanket of words.

20. Finding this, and on a day when I really needed it too.

Monday, 13 July 2015

On crafting and craftivism.

'We believe craft can be a tool for gentle activism. 

By using the quiet, reflective time it gives us to explore global issues and how they affect the world around us, we can create something beautiful, considered, positive and poignant.
Join us, together we can change our world, one stitch at a time…'

~ Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective

I'm a member of the Craftivist Collective. Back in January last year, I hung my very first cross-stitched mini craftivism banner* on the railings in my local park. 
Here it is:

*(for an explanation of what craftivism is, and how - and why - these little banners are made, click here...and here....)

At that point, I'd actually been stitching them for a while - and had used some to create a window display about craft and activism in the bookshop where I work. But I'd been really shy about putting them out into the world. 
I finally got the courage up in January 2014, and hung this one on the railings on my local park. It's a place where many families and children visit, so I hoped it would help inspire them, and remind them that young people have amazing potential, and can make extraordinary change.

Since then, I've got much bolder about hanging them, and have created quite a few more. 

I love the process of creating them. It's meditative and calming, and allows me time to muse patiently on issues that I feel are important - and ways in which change can be made. 
I sit and slowly cross-stitch a message or quote - one that I hope is relevant and encouraging or thoughtful.  
Sometimes I have a spot in mind to place them. Sometimes not - in which case, I'll carry them with me, and wait till I pass somewhere that just looks right.  Usually its somewhere in the city or a park -  a railing or bench arm - somewhere visible, but not intrusive or obstructive. I tie the banner on with ribbon snippets, and then leave it there.
Small bright banners, little scraps of thought and craft and colour, fluttering discreetly in the breeze.
I don't know how long they stay - if they get pulled off by gusts, or cut down or thrown away - or if people simply chose to untie them and keep them. I hope they stay for a time. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter - they're made to be given away, and to be released. 

But I do hope that, before they disappear, they are seen - even if just by one or two people. I hope that they make people think. Or feel encouraged. Or brightened.

Stitching these banners is my own quiet form of activism. But craftivism can take many, many forms. 
As well as quotes that make us think, or instigate discussion, there can also be other ways of inspiring change. Like my Craftivist friend Sarah's inspirational bunting - or Agustina Woodgate, who poetry-bombs thrift store clothes with tiny tags of beautiful words.

As the wonderfully eloquent Betsy Greer puts it

'...You could knit a blanket for soldiers or your sick aunt or homeless dogs or homeless people or refugees or a local family whose house burnt down. You could make a tree cozy for that tree in front of that really ugly abandoned building. You could xstitch a headline or a quote or an image of something that grabbed you and resonated with you about change/changing the world. You could then post it in your bedroom or place it on a park bench or downtown. 
Because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you foment change and/or healing. be an activist is to create change. To be a crafter is (in a fundamental way) to heal/soothe/bring joy/teach others. Whenever you combine those two, you are a craftivist. ...If you’re improving things along the way and including craft in this change, you’re being a craftivist. You’re spreading the good word, in a non-confrontational way, and letting people decide if they want to get on the bandwagon or not. With your enthusiasm, you’re empowering them to make changes and maybe even eventually include their creativity in with those changes.
... You don’t have to call yourself a craftivist even, but do know that with your creations, you’re helping foment change without even opening your mouth. And that, my friend, is a very powerful thing, indeed.'

Earlier this week, I hung some more banners up - this time on city benches.

These were both stitched after I read of the shooting in Charleston, Carolina, and after overhearing yet another furious and deeply misguided 'bloody foreigners, coming over here and taking our jobs...' diatribe. 
And after I was told of a newly formed right-wing fascist group who held a stall in our city centre - and who later came into our bookshop, and (unprompted and unprovoked), furiously verbally abused one of our staff.

So much anger, and hate and prejudice. It astounds me that people can draw such barriers, and feel such rage.  When we are all human, and so very fragile, and so very alike - all trying to live and grow and dream.  

Together, these quotes seemed to sum up what I wished to say. Sometimes its the simplest phrases that are the most eloquent.

(The Amanda Palmer piece was actually merged from quotes from two different blog pieces that she wrote, in different contexts - but I hope she will not mind my taking this small liberty.)


When I first began craftivism, I wrote a piece for my Facebook page - which I just rediscovered. It seemed very apt, so I'll finish with it here.:
I once read this, in an interview with Jim Henson - creator of The Muppets:
'At some point in my life I decided, rightly or wrongly, that there are many situations in this life that I can't do much about - acts of terrorism, feelings of nationalistic prejudice, cold war, etc.  - so what I should do is concentrate on the situations that my energy can affect. I believe that we can use television and film to be an influence for good; that we can help to shape the thoughts of children and adults in a positive way. As it has turned out, I'm very proud of some of the work we've done, and I think we can do many more good things.
When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here.'
 I think Jim Henson actually made a great difference to the world, and brought incredible joy and brightness and warmth to countless people.
His idea always stayed with me. I'm not a great politician or orator, or someone who can lead revolutions. I'm slow-thinking and reflective and shy and quiet. So I do craftivism instead. It's unhurried and gentle and thought-provoking. It allows me to focus on issues I think are important - and create something that hopefully gets people's attention, that makes them think - or just reminds them that there's others out there who feel the same.
Hanging up a little stitched protest banner isn't going to halt world poverty or the rise of capitalism or climate change - but hopefully it'll make a small difference. It might make somebody think, or smile, or feel reassured. 
Small changes are of great importance too.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

'This is what love is...'

'When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is.'
I've just started reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin – which has been on my tsundoku pile  for some time. I also picked up a cheap copy of the film – which I watched last night, and quite enjoyed it (although Nick Cage feels like he's trying hard and is terribly earnest, but is awkwardly miscast - which puts something of a dampener on the romance).
I do love Penelope Cruz in it, however, and the always-wonderfully-compelling John Hurt. 
Their father-and-daughter exchanges are subtle and thoughtful and gently underplayed, and speak of a long-worn ease and unspoken understanding. I found the explorations of their elder-child/student-teacher relationship more fascinating than the rest of the story – in spite of its arching tale of war and sweeping romance and doomed love. Perhaps because it put me in mind of quiet times I spent in my childhood with my own Dad, with my Taid and with my Uncle Mark – gentle, thoughtful hours of learning or exchanging or creating together.

Sometimes the more quiet, subtle moments – the tiny snapshots of everyday human lives and their modest-yet-profound connections - are more intriguing and truthful than the epic tales in which they inhabit.

I also loved that here's something of a Prospero / Miranda feel to Hurt and Cruz's Dr. Iannis and Pelagia: 
The revered, ageing single father – the learned medic and wise man, marooned on a sumptuous preserved island, with his long-worn regrets and joys etched into his weathered, tanned face. And his intelligent, curious, headstrong daughter – who has come of age, yet is apparently unaware of her striking, almost fey-like beauty. A daughter now grown into woman-hood, torn between the sleepy, familiar protection of the island she was born onto, and the wider, more dangerous, volatile world outside. 
And he looking on - troubled, vigilant - while watching her take her first tentative steps towards intimacy and love. 
All the while, the violent realities of the changing outside world begin to lean in, pushing and straining at the glass roof of their enclosed little snowglobe world, and breaking through their sheltered reverie.

This scene between them was one that I found particularly moving. A world-weary father astutely observing his daughter's first helpless, headlong plummet into the complexities of real love. And the understanding of its beautiful realities.
'Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn't sound very exciting, does it? But it is.'
Yes, yes, how very true.
It'll be interesting to see how the book compares. smile emoticon

Flowers from all the seas of the world.

...Farther down, in the waters of the more recent dead, Mr Herbert stopped. Tobias caught up with him at the instant that a very young woman passed in front of them. She was floating on her side, her eyes open, followed by a current of flowers.
Mr Herbert put his finger to his lip and held it there until the last of the flowers went by.
'She's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in all my life,' he said.
'She's old Jacob's wife,' Tobias said.  'She must be fifty years younger, but that's her. I'm sure of it.'
'She's done a lot of travelling,' Mr Herbert said, 'She's carrying behind her flowers from all the seas of the world.'

~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 
The Sea of Lost Time

(Larger view can be seen here.)
This is just a quick one, really - drawn while I took a brief break from doing some research for my next folk tales picture.

I've had Mr Herbert and Tobias and Jacob's wife (with her train of flowers) in my head since reading his beautifully surreal, strange and haunting little short story The Sea of Lost Time, and wanted to try and capture it....