Thursday, September 20, 2007

Notes to Myself

Back in college, we were told to be "active readers." We underlined special phrases, check marked certain paragraphs while we read. When we discussed the work, we still remained active readers. We jotted notes in margins "Empowerment" "Fidelity" "societal ideal" " Oppressive marriage" Once I deflowered a book by reading it, it becomes a special possession.

One such book is "When I am an Old Woman" anthology. I bought this book when I was just out of college and loved the poetry, prose and photography. This book is expressions by women regarding the experience of aging, enduring life events such as death of a spouse or parent or just living on a fixed income. It's beautifully written, though it is not the most uplifting book. The publishers had issued additional anthologies by Sandra Martz, which I have ("I Am Becoming the Woman I've Wanted", "If I Had My Life to Live over I Would Pick More Daisies and "If I Had a Hammer: Women's Work in Poetry, Fiction, and Photographs.") I found the first one to be definitely the best one.

I was organizing my bookshelf a few weeks ago and I flipped through this book. I was really surprised reading the sections I had asterisked and checked.

In a way, it was the 30-something me was looking at a note from 20-something me. Poetry is so personal and it grabs one at the right moment. Seeing the notes confirms that I had felt some connection or recognition when I read it.

Looking over the notations on selected works, I sense her uncertainty and her skepticism about relationships, but she's still a romantic. I'm pleased to see her confidence and acceptance of an aging body, and the appreciation of the wisdom of elders.

There's a poem by Michele Wolf called "For my Mother" and it begins "I sharpen more and more to your likeness every year, your mirror.."

There are no marks on the page. More than likely, 20-something me never read it. No..she read the whole book. There's an obvious denial of any resemblance to my mother. Actually, that resistance is still there. However, if she had read it all the way through, she would've seen the graceful shift in the poem where she fights it and wants to turn it around, to avoid repeating the same history. And, she wants to help her mother change both of their fates. That's the major difference between me then and now. Today, I realize my mother has a point of view, especially as I am a mother and I have a definitive point of view.

I like these little notes that fall out of books. It shows me how much I've changed, and how much I haven't.

*The above image is called Young Woman Writing a Letter (detail), Encre Marquet, 1892. Image courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Frida Kahlo

"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best."
- Frida Kahlo (1907-1954 )

I watched a 2005 documentary on Frida Kahlo the other night and like always, I'm inspired by her spirit and in awe of her art. Because Kahlo is such a personal painter, knowing the backstory helps one understand and appreciate the complexities she's expressed through her art.

She's become part of pop-culture, which is a double-edged sword. She becomes the "that lady with the unibrow" to some. Then, hopefully she piques the curiosity of other. So rather than being forgotten, her story and her art lives on (albeit on a mug).

I was introduced to her years ago in my "Third World Artists" class in college.
(Note: It was the oddest class I ever took because the professor complained westerners did not appreciate third-world artists and recognized the European Renaissance as the only artistic renaissance that ever existed. Yet, all he did was show art documentaries and leave. We didn't even discuss anything! All the students congregated in the hallways afterwards to discuss what we saw.)

The documentary spurred my interest in her and I'm sharing two paintings I found online.

The Love-Embrace of the Universe, (1949) This is intriguing because she's infantilized her husband, Diego Rivera. It's ironic because they had a significant age difference and she married him in her early 20's. He called her his "child." Along the way, her maturation and growth surpassed his. I like how she recognizes her place in the universe, knowing that there are higher beings and ancestors who have cradled and nurtured before. She nestles herself and Diego into this lap, showing the balance of moon and the sun. This is also a tribute to her Latin American heritage, which acknowledges the power of a female deity in nature. I know Latin American cultures have strong images of fertility goddesses in their artwork. (Note: my final project for my Third World Artists class was the comparison of ancient Mexican fertility art forms to a modern Israeli artist who depicted childbirth in metal sculptures).

Thinking of Death (1943) is a self-portrait and its significance is quite apparent with such a title. Kahlo suffered greatly in a bus accident in her 20's and spent years hospitalized for reconstructive surgeries. Also, she was hospitalized for lost pregnancies though childbirth would have resulted in her death. In this picture, she paints herself among the lush greenery, while death is always on her mind.

I think one thing misleading about her paintings is the serious look she has. After seeing Salma Hayek in Julie Taymor's "Frida," I felt her true personality was revealed. She was an artist, a charismatic and alluring woman who enjoyed life. She loved her country and her people. Her relationship with Diego was tough due to his infidelity. However, she had affairs with men and women, which indicates a separation from the traditional role of a Mexican wife. Even as an artist, she tried to mimic her husband's style and ambitions, but she couldn't. She had to be true to her own creative leanings.

Even in this biography,they showed a film clip of her tucking flowers in her hair, making that famous band of flowers across her head. I just loved that image of her, being herself and creating herself.

In a way, for all the pain her body and heart had sustained, she was fortunate to have the a creative outlet. She had the passion to express her emotions and thoughts, most of which did not make sense to her or others. But,it did what it was supposed to do.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Books, Books, Books

So, I don't normally post these "meme" type things on my blog. There's enough about me on here anyway. So, Sir RibbonFarms publicly tagged me and I have to do the honorable thing and respond.

~ Book that changed your lifeGandhi An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth (yes, as corny as it may sound, it helped lead me onto the road of vegetarianism).

~ Book you've read more than onceJane Eyre I have read it and watched the films at different points in my life and have found myself relating to different aspects of it each time. Also, listened to "Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now" by Maya Angelou. My father had commented that the life lessons in this book were more inspiring than listening to lectures by some religious leaders.

~ Book you'd take to a deserted island - I'm going to steal Toni Morrison's response to this question. When asked this question, she replied she would want paper to write her own book. I feel the same way. I'd have to create my own book. And, if I were on a deserted island then I would have the peace and quiet that I so need in my life to net all those stories in my head onto paper!!

~ Book that made you laughDavid Sedaris "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim". I sat in the waiting room at ballet with my mouth covered because I wanted to laugh out loud, especially about the Christmas traditions in Holland.

~ Book that made you cry"A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry, "Nectar in a Sieve" by Kamala Markandaya and "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan (the mama leaving the twins behind on the side of the road so she wouldn't curse them with her dead body.. oh my god..just thinking about it is overwhelming!)

~ Book you wish you had written – "The Namesake" or "Interpreter of Maladies" because they ain't all that. (Let me know if anyone can give me a lift to that deserted island)

~ Book you wish had never been written – This is a tough question for me because I believe every book that exists should have been written. The only one that comes to mind is that OJ Simpson tell-all book.

~ Book(s) you're currently reading – Just finished "The Brick" journal, which had various short stories and interviews. I was especially taken by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

~ Book you've been meaning to read – 3 Salman Rushdie, 2 Amitav Ghosh and 1 Kiran Desai books on my bookshelf.

~ Book you've been meaning to finish – "Fury" by Rushdie, "The Fellowship of the Rings" by Tolkien. Both books have such intense language and meaning, and require focus.

So, now I will tag bloggers Zen-Denizen, TAAMommy, Appletina, Phoenix, Jane, and Disha to continue their list!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Movie Review: The Blue Umbrella

We watched this film by Vishal Bharadwaj, which was based on a children's short story by Ruskin Bond.

While this film is dubbed a children's film, it's really made for adults. There is a lot of singing and dancing by kids in the beginning, and then the story takes a slower pace. I'm not sure if today's children can sit through the slower scenes. Even the grown up children in the room wanted it to move a little bit more. But, the topic and story is ideal for a patient and reflective child.

It's a simple and uncomplicated story, set in a small village in Himachal Pradesh. A little girl chances upon a blue umbrella and makes a valuable trade for it. She receives lots of attention from the villagers. Actor Pankaj Kapur plays a stodgy storeowner who sets about to procure it and receive the same accolades and attention.

The messages in the story are important. We saw the umbrella as just an umbrella. The villagers saw this as something more - so it's challenging for us to change perspective and try to empathize with the characters.

There's also the grander message about ego and pride, and the risks involved when ethics are abandoned to attain fame. I would add that this movie showed the power of one little girl, which illustrates how critically woven lives are.

The movie is visually appealing with backdrop of beautiful mountains and the snow. Now that I think about it, the pace of the movie is reflective of the life of the characters. Things move slowly. Seasons move quickly, but people's attitudes and customs do not change.

This film relies on lots of quiet scenes and cute snapshots, as if the viewer were tourists in this village. For filmmakers, I don't know if it's more challenging creatively to adapt a large novel (e.g., Harry Potter V-VII) or to take a short story ("Brokeback Mountain" "Cat in the Hat") and pull it into a full feature length film.

It does have a happy ending, a moral and peaceful resolution - promoting the abandonment of material and embracing humans.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Parenting Articles

Here are quick links to parenting articles that I've published on the South Asian e-zine I don't feel the concerns of my generation of Indian-Americans in the role of parents has been addressed anywhere. Not only are we balancing homes, family, career, but traditions and culture. Also, we have to balance the expectations from our family, our friends and ourselves. It's not easy, is it?

Making the Most of Summer, July 2006
Television's Impact on Our Children, Aug 2006
ABC's of Being a Class Parent, Sept 2006
It's About Time (Management), Oct 2006
Making Time for Yourself, Nov 2006
Celebrating Holidays, Dec 2006
Indulge Me!, Jan 2007
It's Your Birthday! We're Gonna Party! Mar 2007
Exploring Preschools, April 2007
Advice to a New Mother, May 2007
Summertime Fun and Vacation with Kids, June 2007
Accommodating Food Allergies, July 2007
Parenting Q&A on Behaviors, Aug 2007

Due to the e-zine format, I wasn't able to generate dialogs or receive comments from readers. I hope you'll share your thoughts here!

Chihuly at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

We've been fans of Dale Chihuly's works for a number of years. We've admired his chandeliers at casinos and other random places. We've seen small pieces at various art shows and shops. The innate need to possess beauty and grace grips us, and we vow we will buy one. Yes, what the heck! Let's do it! Then we notice the price tag and we just step away..very..very..carefully.. (don't break it or we'll have to buy it!).

Addendum: Check out's section on Dale Chihuly's work and find the next shows.

I watched a documentary on his work in Venice once and was amazed by the effort involved. He has a team of artisans and glassblowers, working with fire and tools. They use the simple time-tested tools, but the styles definitely beckon a new age. The program noted that it takes two glassblowers to make each of the elongated glass "reeds" with one person holding while the other stretches and shapes. I couldn't even begin to count how many of these dotted the exhibition.

We went to Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh where a Chihuly exhibit was integrated into the botanical gardens. Walking into every room was a delight -- there was a flash of color, vibrancy and life that went beyond the natural beauty, but at the same time it seemed part of it.

I mentioned to our friends that the artwork is making this a delightful tour because you never know what you'd find in the next room. One of my friend felt the opposite - more affinity toward the plants and trees. I decided I probably felt more excitement for the art because I have been to Longwood Gardens in PA a few times and found it more impressive.

Check out this "lotus" chandelier and the glass flowers blooming in the pond.

This was stunning -- a canoe filled with glass balls. The positioning of this under the skylight was breathtaking. The glass balls appear to float.

This is called the Fiori Sun and was set in the butterfly room. The line leading up to this piece was long and slow. We thought people were watching the butterflies, and then we saw this after the bend. After this piece, the line just disappeared! This design is what most of his chandeliers look like - wild flames of light.

This was in the Thailand Room, and I loved it for the integration of glass into the natural decor. Why shouldn't there be cobalt blue plants?

We had walked through a Desert, a Japanese Garden and an English Room. Then I walked into the East Room, I felt wonderful. I felt as if I could just sit here and relax. The colors were soothing.. the water was trickling to its own gentle rhythm.. the sunlight was hitting everything just perfectly. I don't know what it is, but I was quite surprised.

These are just a few of the pictures we took, but check out the main website for Phipps Exhibit to see more crazy sculptures.

Basking in Masking

I think each of us possess three personas.
1. The person we truly are.
2. The person we’d like others to see us as.
3. The person others see.

I always find it fascinating when someone describes himself with “I’m really such an easy going person” as he spends five minutes telling a waiter how his order should be prepared, practically rewriting the menu. And, the person who claims “I really have simple tastes” as she doles out her platinum credit card for a D&G handbag.

How often do we tell other people things so we believe it ourselves? Do we repeat it hoping to convince ourselves of the truth?

Sometimes repeating the wrong thing can be powerful. For example, someone believes they can’t do something or don’t have it in them to do something, the repetition only drives it in further. “I’m not good enough to make it.” If you repeat it enough, you do believe it and become it.

Watching a talented person put himself or herself down is just as frustrating as watching the ‘simple’ D&G girl prattle. So, who really sees or knows the real person?

Maybe the skeptic in us pries through the layers to find the core persona. The woman who is bitter and bitchy all the time is really alone and the hardness only protects her. We look to our personas as a survival mechanism. These bright faces are put on in the morning so we can protect and leave the soft wrinkled one behind.

That's why the best photographs of people are when they are caught off guard. They drop their plastic smiles and for an instant, the camera captures a person -- the real person, whose face and expressions may be unrecognizable to the owner.

This topic has been on my mind with recent interactions. I wish some people close to me could see themselves the way I see them. It would probably be revitalizing to drop the facades.

Then again, they probably wish the same of me.