Thursday, December 27, 2012

In Massage Limbo Exercise is Desk Jockey's Friend

Ever since our favorite massage therapists moved, one out of state, another to the north end of town while we moved to the south side, another all the way to Olympia, we've been in massage limbo. I've tried licensed massage therapists near our present home, but so far I haven't found anyone who comes close to the way Lori, Teddy or Marla made our limps, muscles, mind, i.e. our whole being feel better.

Everybody can use a good massage, but writers and musicians, people who sit in one position while at work, really need to be kneaded some times, not to get into trouble.

Once in a while I take advantage of a Groupon, Living Social or Amazon deals that involve manual therapy, and each time we've been in for a surprise. Be it the location, the massage itself, or the practitioner. We've found ourselves in an undecorated office complex in the industrial part of town, and in a musty basement. A female former carpenter worked miracles on one shoulder only, making me leave lopsided. On the other hand, a gruff male who called me into his studio, while I had expected a woman, helped me breathe and move easier, and reminded me to do exercises that should help my poor writer's fingers, wrists and shoulders.

No massage in the stars? Exercise is good for anybody, especially bodies that sit behind a computer, typing a lot. 

Mr. Gruff asked if I stretched enough. He told me to stand in a doorway, my hands on the jamb, and to lean in, squeezing my shoulders together, thus widening or opening my chest. Sam below shows exercises writers ought to practice every ten minutes. And if that's too often, because you're going with The Flow, do it at least once every hour.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Not at Loss for Words

is pink and orange and yellow THIS SADNESS is dressed up with bows and ribbons THIS SADNESS is satiny and smooth skinned and curly haired THIS SADNESS is dancing and jumping rope and being licked in the face by grown-up dogs THIS SADNESS is bare legs and little sneakers THIS SADNESS is knit sweaters and wet sheets and Mickey Mouse comforter covers THIS SADNESS is rosy cheeks and scarves and mittens and learning how to read THIS SADNESS is stringing beads and cutting lampoons out of colored paper and trimming the tree THIS SADNESS is carrots in a clog and sugar candy in return THIS SADNESS is Sinterklaas and awkward poems and surprise packages of gifts hidden in detergent cartons THIS SADNESS is lighting tiny Hanukkah candles in little girl's favorite colors THIS SADNESS is sticky and sweet and dark brown of chocolate covered cheeks and wet smelly kisses that leave their mark THIS SADNESS is warm and snugly with candy cane stockings and leather soled socks THIS SADNESS is high pitched screams and whispered secrets in my ear THIS SADNESS is rubbing noses and telling stories seated on the dining room floor THIS SADNESS is watching the squirrels and being ticklish and loving to sing THIS SADNESS is riding horsy on daddy's shoulders and drumming his hat with both hands THIS SADNESS is talking to strangers and thanking the bus-driver and skipping rope THIS SADNESS is saying no to sprouts and yes to potatoes and possibly olives THIS SADNESS is making no a powerful tool THIS SADNESS is cookie cutters and flour on the floor and spaghetti on the wall THIS SADNESS is too much laundry and sleepless nights THIS SADNESS is blowing out candles THIS SADNESS is one more year added THIS SADNESS is never ending

Judith van Praag
December 1996

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Power of Basketball, Poetry and Preservation of Mohave Language

A few weeks back Elliott Bay Books' chief book buyer Rick Simonson (who was a ball boy for the Sonics at 14) and author Sherman Alexie were shooting hoops with the poet (and former professional basket ball player) Natalie Diaz, authors Shann Ray and Jess Walter. Alexie had chosen this playful setting to present his latest novel "Blasphemy". 

Four on the Floor, a literary sparring game hosted by Seattle University, Elliott Bay Books and the Seattle Public Library called for volunteer runners, and I was game; a rare opportunity to wear basketball shoes or at least sneakers as an SPL volunteer. 

The sound on this unusual stage leaves a lot to be desired, the timbre of Alexie's voice made it hard for me to hear what he said, especially when he sat on a chair in the far corner of the North Court, but once the writers took position behind the microphone center stage, all voices came through loud and clear. 

This was the first time I heard Natalie Diaz read.  A Mohave, she seeks ways to preserve her People's native language and stories. She left the Reservation to attend Old Dominion University in Virginia, where she started to write poetry. With her book "When My Brother was an Aztec", she delivers harsh truth as myth, reinventing images.

Diaz has returned home to help preserve the Mohave language, recording stories and songs, hosting workshops with elders and tribe members of all ages. In a PBS interview On a Mission for Preservation Diaz explains how in Mohave everything comes through to people in dreams. And maybe the dreams are coming to the kids in Mohave, and they don't understand what they should be doing, because they don't understand the language. An important reason to keep the language alive and pass it on. 

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Friday, November 23, 2012

What is Story but Making Sense

"... Trying to make sense of the things that you think (of)." ~ Nick Hornsby

I like that line a lot, as a writer I'm always trying to make sense of the things that I think of. More often than not I have a notion, but no idea, ha, ha. No idea what that notion will lead to, and I only find out by writing.

Sometimes I start writing about my day, or about last night's turkey, or the cherry pie. The cherry pie in particular, because it's so easy to make. You just dump the contents of a can of cherry pie filling in a Graham crackers crust and put it in the oven for a bit. That's what my friend's mom told me. Often simple things are the best.

Sometimes simple things get lost in translation, sometimes even in a conversation with people who assume they speak the same language. One person's turkey day is another person's bane. Oi vey.

For some a "story" is personal, for others story equals premise, while for "stringers" it's how many meaningful words they're allowed to fit in a newspaper column. And that's only the beginning. We all interpret the meaning of "story" in a different way. Unless or until we're taking a creative writing class and the teacher hammers on using the same vernacular.

The Art of Spotting - Judith van Praag
Countless the times that someone told me, someone I respected, someone whose opinion was of value to me even, "Now there's a story." And I would say, "What, where?" I knew I had just related an experience, performed if you will the dialogue, but I knew just that was not enough to make a story.
Knowing the story, or even more importantly why a story would be of interest to readers, and what the justification to try and have those words of published is way more difficult than writing a hundred thousand words. Seeing the forest for the trees is an accomplishment, so is noticing the gem among the pebbles, or better yet the pebble that speaks to you.

Anna Elliott's post "Commitment" on the blog Writer Unbound triggered the above musings. IN her post Elliott disagreed with a phrase attributed to TV series Castle's title role character Richard Castle: “I already have the story. That’s the hardest part.”

Do I believe that Castle has the "story" before writing anything at all? No, I don't. But neither do I believe Castle, the (fictional) author is a newbie. In my mind Castle has put in his 10,000+ hours to perfect his craft already. He's got a file cabinet filled with newspaper clips dating back to his college years, he's got transcripts of court cases, folders within folders with words he's written already, character sketches, scenes and situations, and shelves of Who Donits in his leer.

That's why I believe him when he says "I already have the story." Because knowing what it is you want to say is the hardest.

Write on, write on writer, and the story may come to you.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Sunday, November 18, 2012

SEO Blog Posts are Islands of Content in The Flow

Transformational ecologically minded artist/ thinker/ writer Deborah Barnes asked me to take a look at her latest blog post WaterRIP, The Flow.
Deborah's blogger profile says:
"... former owner of Zootsuit Custom Apparel, now the creative director of fashionRIP an eco-politico fiber, multi-media, collaborative arts series which is a part of the FashonRip Project -a sustainable economic experiment of integrated services and products, a transitions model."
Good job! This blogger has (com)passion a product/ creative output, and I daresay enough content in this one blog post for two.

This is what I remind myself of when writing: Whenever The Flow takes you from the initial post in a different direction, or introduces another project entity, consider rounding off the first. You can suggest to your readers to follow you to the next post.In this case I suggest the blogger cuts the text in half, ending with reference to collaboration. Make sure you add hyperlinks to all important elements. In this case the articles Deborah refers to plus her colleague and friend Beverly Naidus. In the second post, which will be dedicated to Beverly's installation, Deborah can refer to today's post, and hyperlink WaterRIP, The Flow

In order to have readers land on your blog, you'll need to use SEO (search engine optimization) tags. Regarding this particular post, those who happen to be browsing the web for The Flow may be searching for a more contemporary form of DADAIST automatic handwriting or to Nathalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones, and yet thanks to Deborah's "labeling" (another word for tagging) they'll land at FashionRIP re-visioned fashion".

Headlines of blogs are as important if not more so than those of newspaper articles. Don't be too creative/ abstract, be more to the point, if you want to hit the target, call an ace an ace. Using good SEO + extra tags will drive more readers to your blog, and they can make a post go viral.

I bet Deborah's blog will get a lot of visible followers when she adds the "Follow" gadget to the sidebar. And while her blog has a share gadget in the same sidebar, adding "share" widgets to the bottom of each post allows readers to share that particular post, not just a blog as a whole.

Deborah ended her post with the hyperlinked names of the articles that triggered her post. I'd like to see those in the opening paragraph. Don't worry about people surfing away from your blog prematurely, they'll return.

And last but not least, make sure you have a link to the place that you want to draw them to in real life, in this case Kerf Gallery. Oops, I couldn't help myself.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Right Side of Brain Creative and Left Side Editor? Give One or the Other a Break

Image by Bernard Goldbach
Creatives work with the right side of their brain and the more analytical minded just with the left?
The illustration created by Bernard Goldbach suggests the left side is merely dull, the right blasting with colors and creative force. But how clear cut is the difference between the right and left hemisphere really, and can we make do without one side or the other?

In her post "Our Storytelling Minds: Do We Ever Really Know What's Going On Inside?" Maria Konnikova introduces us to severance of corpus collosum —not the feared lobotomy— and the effects on the functioning of the human brain. Amazing stuff, check it out.

I haven't suffered brain damage, but Konnikova's post made me think of my personal experiences with left and right brain functioning. In 2001 my right arm froze, from the tips of my fingers to my shoulder. This was a painful affair, in many ways. I had just finished stretching four large canvases, and started the under painting on  a trio of vertical panels, and a singular nearly square one, when my right arm and hand went on strike.

Imagine an artist carrying her arm around supported by a pillow in a sling, muttering thanks for so many years of faithful surface, crying out her regrets.

"Overextended," was my physical therapist's verdict. Between stretching canvases, writing by hand, pruning fruit trees, gardening, driving, riding a bicycle, and doing household chores, I had worn out my dominant arm. That summer I gardened holding a banana in my right hand, just so I wouldn't answer immediately to the urge to dig out dandelion roots and pull weeds.

Initially I balked at finishing my paintings with my left hand, I had no control over gestures, my left hand didn't know anything about brush strokes, fine nor broad.

My dominant hand and arm were frozen.

Maria Konnikova writes: "... when Gazzaniga asked W.J. to point to the stimulus instead of speaking, he became able to complete the task. In other words, his hand knew what his head and mouth did not."

While I don't have the same or even similar experience, what happened to me, a visual artist and writer, unable to use her dominant right hand and arm, is comparable. And in a strange way I felt liberated, the routine lacking left hand's action was propelled by the creative right side of my brain.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Add Facebook Fan Pages to Interest Lists Or You Won't See Updates of Your Favorites on Your News Feed

Facebook Friends with Fan Pages are disgruntled. You may have seen this message appear on your News Feed: 
Changed how? You wonder? 
If you "Liked" Fan or Community Pages before, you would see  community posts in your News Feed. But that's no longer the case. Some suggest it's a ploy for Facebook to generate more sponsored ads, i.e. have holders of Fan Pages pay to have specific posts promoted, so they will show up in the margin of your window.
Would that be so bad? Fan and/or Community Pages are nothing more or less than Free Websites.
You can ensure that you continue to see the free updates in your News Feed.
Once you have Pages listed by interest, you can look up everything in one smooth dedicated stream. How cool is that?

 1. You already liked a Fan Page, now go back, click on "Liked" and hold the cursor, the drop down menu will appear. Mark "Show in News Feed". Then Click on "Add to Interest Lists..."

What you see next is the old set-up with boxed items. Your special list heading doesn't show yet? Click on next in the lower right hand corner and then you get a window that lets you create your own list name, see below. I created Music/ Musicians/ Bands. Next click "done" in the lower right hand corner.

In the drop down menu below you can see how I created another list namely Dutch Publications/ Publishers. Believe it or not, the Weekly Worst means Weekly Sausage. That's Double Dutch for you.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Akira Kasai at On the Boards in Seattle - 2004

The living and the dead join together, a post by Judy Shintani made me think of a performance I saw years ago in Seattle. Not requested to write a review, I filed my notes for future reference. I suggest you click on this link while reading. Although unrelated the soundtrack fits the text below.

Akira Kasai’s performance at On the Boards starts in darkness, minimal lighting for a small figure in traditional Japanese dress and wig. Sound reminiscent of revving airplane engines, ready to leave, or changing from airborne to touch down. Japanese vocals, monotonous and accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments, drums and flute.

    The dancer’s feet in toe socks remind me of Merce Cunningham’s arthritic toes, my memory of the oldest living Don of Modern Dance a clash with Kabuki —pop ulist theater, artists in drag. Fluttering around, knees bent, Akira is an old courtesan and as the drums tremble, a pissed of geisha, an oxymoron.

    My patience is tested. I want the dancer to shed his costume, show me the movements without the layered kimonos, without the carefully held sleeves, without the headdress, or perhaps that could stay, that and the white make-up reminders of tradition. I want to see muscles move, the dancer’s physical translation of inner motivation.

    A change takes place, again the revving of airplane engines, the Kabuki character’s hands claw at the air, the face suffers distortions, the body convolu ted.  gobo creates an indistinct shadow on the white backdrop, a tree, a hill top, an amoeba maybe, then the stage is lit brightly as before and the dancer appears rejuvenated, though still imprisoned by traditional dress. Again the Japanese vocals, flute, drums, followed by airplane engines, clawing hands, rejuvenation. Repetition.

    What are the voices saying, what is the story, what propels the dancer? Are we, is the audience being mocked? I want to know. Apart from the dramatic changes, the anguish shown in face and hands, the repetition in movement, I don’t have a clue what’s going on. My wish to know hinders my understanding.

     Butoh —result of a post W.W.II incorporation of Noh (more serious, musical art form), Kabuki (popular entertainment) and Bunraku (puppets and storytelling)— a new movement language, “the dance of darkness” shocked and aggravated its & first audiences. No wonder, since one of the guerilla art pioneers, Tatsumi Hijikata’s interpretation of author Yokio Mishima’s “Kinjiki” (Forbidden Colors) involved the dancer’s (faux) intercourse with a chicken, leaving the fowl’s neck broken.

    The time warp continues, sweeping sounds of a snare instrument surface, the dancer births himself from the Kabuki performer, a whirling dervish swirling across the stage. A pin, a ribbon, parts of the headdress come undone, fall to the ground, then with a swing of the dancer’s head, the wig flies off. Lights dim and three dressers appear. Akira huffs and puffs loudly, expelling all air, breathing in without sound. In silhouette he’s undressed, layer after layer, dressers working in unison, part of the performance. The dancer, nude in silhouette, svelte å, sculpted; Adonis slides into pants, a shirt. He grabs a mirror, checks his make-up, the remaining dresser hand-combs the wig matted hair.

    Piano keyboard resonance. A shaft of light divides the backdrop and stage floor in half, the dancer contracts, releases, contracts, releases his muscles, his masculine body unrestrained by traditional costume. Another shaft of light appears on the diagonal, then another perpendicular to the first. Again the drone of airplane engines. Akira, center stage, where shafts of light intersect, suddenly in bright light, struggles. Submission, or defeat? Unclear. Again the time warp, no way out, or…

    Electronic mus ic, flight, light, expression. Bloop, bloop, sounds of heart throb, energetic movements, no more Japanese vocals. The dancer’s vocabulary expends, light footed, open, large and looser movements. Wake up, nothing minimal, but yes repetition, repetition, 1970’s wild pop/ rock dance.

    Eurythmics, harmonious rhythm, the art of visible music, initially created by Rudolf Steiner as a new movement art, neither mime nor dance. Specific sound gestures chosen and practiced in sequence, intensified and repeated to stimulate specific organic functions. A healthful workout. Akira’s secret?

    Drone of airplane engine, mime, a suggestion of break dance without the mind boggling, spine breaking, spinning and sliding of youth. The music slows down, keyboard, rhythm, again the clawing hands, movements more edgy, square, linear.

    In my mind I juxtapose the new movements on earlier Kabuki style, a doubling of images, my private video screening. Combinations show energy and command of body, muscles, movement. I’m overwhelmed by motion, no moment of rest, of peace, of contemplation. None of the poised silence Butoh is known for. Akira creates his own language.

    The dancer all but disappears from the well lit white dance floor into the wings, than jumps back making eye contact with audience. Piano and electronic music orchestral, lights bright. The dancer mimes, poses, gestures of a lunatic. Madonna’s “Vogue,” “Strike a pose, strike a pose” comes to mind.

    Then silence and back to earlier Kabuki movements, bent knees… Someone in the audience sneezes. The dancer arches an imaginary bow, shoots an arrow at the culprit, receiving the arrow in his own head. Success, people laugh, an other arrow, and another one, comic relieve. Is the shooting a reference to Yokio Mishima’s posing as Saint Sebastian shot dead with arrows and did I imagine hearing the dancer say, “see your blood ”?   

    Sliding outside the borders of the white dance floor the dancer strips again. Off the shirt, off the pants, replaced by egg shell trousers and a jacket that doesn’t match the hue. Much toe work, matching musical notes on moon lit stage. Again a near exit, then a dived return to front stage.

    The dancer, amazing ball of energy, loose and quiet for a moment, less than a moment. Talks to audience, appears wasted, no music, laughter, crazy, facial silent screams, lunacy. Jabbers Japanese, overhead music and vocals loud. American Hip Hop. The dancer runs on empty, a tired modern dancer, high on wari ´ness, fatigue. White confetti turns pink on the way from top to floor, he thanks the audience, accepts applause. Exits, returns. Elvis croons “Love me tender”, the dancer hugs flowers, tosses them around on the stage. The audience gives standing ovation, the dancer loves his audience, loves himself.

    Standing ovation for Butoh an oxymoron; Akira Kansai practices an art form in flux, ever changing, a new, his own language.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nobel Peace Prize for Architects of European Union

Something in me —the Dutchess raised in Post WWII Holland— says: Yes, people at the center of the European Union have been working very hard to unite and organize countries that for centuries were at war with each other; crossing borders, infiltrating, occupying, stealing and murdering.


So yes, leaders and representatives of countries who make this happen are entitled to kudos. On the other hand, that the Nobel Peace Prize would go to an organization of countries is a new and alien thought, some argue that the prize and the attached money should go to an individual, not to a union of countries.

We should however not confuse the history of Europe with all of her autonomic nations, with the history of the United States, which was comprised of colonies, not autonomic countries, with clear national identities. Perhaps the architects of the European Union should have been awarded the Nobel Prize instead of the umbrella the European Union is.

Thoughts anyone?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Thursday, October 04, 2012

WM's Think Green Triggers Idea for Xacuabš Public Art

A South East Seattle neighborhood won a big prize this year, not for having the most beautiful gateway, but for being the best at waste management. Yep, members of the Rainier Beach Community Club rallied for better recycling and more composting, which naturally resulted in less garbage, and in being rewarded for their efforts.

follow link "composting kitchen scraps" for step by step system
Readers of this blog know I sing praise to black gold, aka compost, hey, at my home we make composting kitchen scraps an art form. Long before we even knew of RBCC's drive our aim was to bring down the amount of garbage we generate, for instance by scooping our organically grown brown rice in bags at PCC rather than buying prepackaged brand. We're proud users of the one but smallest garbage bin, and we only fill that every other week. Still, it wasn't until some time this summer that we found out we're part of a neighborhood movement!

As the Rainier Valley Post reported on June 6, 2012, the Rainier Beach neighborhood was the winner of Seattle's Waste Management's Think Green Recycling Challenge. This is without a doubt thanks to the inspired efforts of the Rainier Beach Community Club leadership and members. The prize? $50,000 for a Main Street Makeover.

Truth be told, we had been unaware of the challenge, perhaps because we already Think Green.

Until this summer we didn't know much about the Rainier Beach Community Club other than that it was a social club, more focused on positive action than complaining about problems. Last fall we accompanied friends to RBCC's After Thanksgiving Party (great way to revamp and share leftovers y'all!). The old Rainier Beach Club House was rocking with live music and animated banter of adults and children. Nice!

The reason for attending a membership meeting this summer was to introduce the Social Network Nextdoor. Two days prior to the meeting I had almost inadvertently created a Nextdoor website. How? By drawing a circle around the houses of people we know in our immediate neighborhood after reading an article about Nextdoor in the New York Times.

At the meeting RBCC president Sue Harambe announced that our neighborhood had won the Main Street Makeover prize. Hooray! $50,000 for beautification of the crosswalks, bike racks, flower baskets, park benches, maybe a kiosk, and possibly banners that tie the larger business section of the neighborhood together. 

Inspired by a request from a committee member a few days before the RBCC August meeting to bring in my ideas (even though the membership had already discussed the possibilities), I strapped Mocha on her leash and moseyed down the hill to get a feel for the Gateway project. We crisscrossed the intersection and looked out across Lake Washington. I mused about the history of this area, and a vision developed in my mind.

At the meeting I proposed the germ of a Storytelling Public Art idea. A project that points at the  the Xacuabš, the indigenous people who lived along the shores of S.E. Lake Washington. Visual storytelling will tie their history to the present Rainier Beach and Be'er Sheva Park. Not something that would be made possible by the WM Award as became clear. Still, the more developed idea for that project will fit 4Culture's Heritage Special Projects program.

As a storyteller, whose history do you bring to live?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Spicy Tidbits on Proper Curry, Hives and Frienship

Turmeric, cumin, cardamom, cayenne in colorful heaps 
Spices, aromas and the sensation of cool, pudding-like coconut flesh on my tongue come to mind thanks to Sezin Koehler posting a recipe for proper Sri Lankan curry on her blog. With each step of the recipe's instructions I was nodding my head, yes, yes, to all those tidbits of knowledge you need to make a dish succeed.

Some 20 years ago I spent just one month in India, yet the memories are vivid today. Traveling from Bombay via Goa to Bangalore, I fell in love with that part of the country. I was mesmerized by the unfamiliar landscape —nothing I recognized from TV or movies; the way people walked —slower and more sensual than Western Europeans, and how most everyone wiggled their heads in response to a question, as if not wanting to disappoint with a straightforward no.
After some practice I learned to push a dimple in the smallest piece of nan, so I as well could scope up sauce and rice, or pick a piece of chicken from khali trays without having sauce run the length of my arm into my armpit. I enjoyed the heat of the climate and of the seasoning of dishes and chai.

Spicier is fine, I used to say.

One fateful day in Goa, I went on an outing with Nelson, the son of my host and some of his friends. We drove for a long time along the coast. By the time we arrived at what wasn't much more than a shack on the beach, I was shocked to learn that the only available item on the menu was grilled shrimp. Since I suffered from low blood sugar and we were hours away from a store or other restaurant, I had to eat the non kosher food. Not long after, the skin on my face, arms, rump and legs rose, and started itching like crazy.

"God punishes immediately," I imagined my long dead father saying.

Braganza Mansion in Chandor, Goa
On the way back to town, Nelson, an M.D., stated that I, being a Westerner, had to be used to drinking. What did he imply?
"Our women would be too sensitive to the medication I'd like to give you."
That he meant I had to have experienced the buzz of alcohol before, became clear soon after we arrived at his girlfriend's parents' house, where I took the pills he fetched at a pharmacy.

High as a kite, incapable to sit up, I lay on a narrow bed, confined to a darkened bedroom, so different from the poster bed in the lofty room at my host's mansion where I was allowed to rest during siestas. Between hallucinations I worried, then again was relieved that my mother did not know I lay dying in a small Portuguese-Catholic town in India.

Needless to say I survived the allergic reaction as well as the remedy. However, from that time on spicy food has continued to give me hives. A hint of black pepper and the top of my cheekbones itch, cayenne does the same to my calves, paprika to my arm pits, and worse, eating a fresh tomato, raw or cooked makes my face resemble one. Eating strawberries turns my eyelids red and itchy. There's much more, I'll spare you the rest.

Still, I picked up spices and a copy of Prashad: Cooking with Indian Masters, and back in Amsterdam, I learned how to toast and mix spices, make my own coconut water and ghee. When another friend from Goa came to Amsterdam, we took a job catering to a film production, and started an Indian catering company, Moghul Durbar just so Vivek would feel more at home. Over the years I've learned what it's like to be in a foreign place where nobody knows where you're coming from. Sharing recipes, cooking, and eating together is a great way to share who you are, allow others to get to know your culture. Food helps people to open up to each other. And sometimes you find out in the kitchen that you have more in common than you realized before.

If I say curry, who do you think of?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Author Junot Díaz Mixes Voices and Personas

"CNN: Is the voice in "This Is How You Lose Her" similar to the way you speak?
Diaz: It's hard to say, because I live in so many different worlds ... the way I talk to my boys, family, work, the way I talk to my students, or the way I talk when I feel scared. The book is a highly wrought object. It's engineered. It may seem casual. It may seem conversational or vernacular, it may lead people to believe that this is my voice but if I read a page, you would begin to realize how artificial the experience is."

Honestly, I wish I had read the CNN interview from which I lifted the above before Junot Díaz's presentation at Town Hall last night. I wish I had read the excerpt provided by his publisher before I heard him address the Dominican, Latino, and African American members of the audience. Truth be told, I felt left out. I didn't feel addressed in any way, I'm not even from New Jersey (yes, he called on them Jersey boys as well). Had I been there in the capacity of a journalist, I would have done my homework, I would have read his books, listened to podcasts, studied previous interviews to get an understanding of the man and his oeuvre, his voice, both on paper and in real life. But, I was there as a library volunteer, greeting patrons.

"So he writes like he speaks, or speaks like he writes." 

Did the man, buying a pre-signed copy of Díaz's "This Is How You Lose Her" at the Elliott Bay Books table in the lobby of Town Hall say one the other, or both? I can't recall, but after catching up on my reading about the author and his oeuvre, I think Díaz has more than one voice.

Junot Díaz was welcomed onto the stage like a rock star, and he delivered, his audience captivated and charmed, cheered him on. It's without doubt that he gave a great presentation. His voice, so close to that of the narrator in his books, spoke to the people he wanted to address most. People, as book monger Karen explained to me, had for generations been told they had nothing to say that mattered, people whose language has been denied a place in the annals of American literature.

After reading an excerpt, but more so after listening to Junot Díaz address his students, after reading up, and doing my homework, I feel humbled by the experience. Last night was a celebration. And the reason I felt left out, was because I had not made the effort to get more informed. Or?

For some crazy reason the ghost of Isaac Bashevis Singer is speaking to me right now.
"What if I addressed a mixed audience in Yiddish? Would those who didn't understand Yiddish feel left out? Or better yet, since they would have read my books in translation, and also to make the comparison work, what if I spoke Jew-ish, a language everyone understand, but that sets us apart from them?"
"I wouldn't care."
"Why not?"
"Because I love the world you (re)create, the characters you bring to life."
"My point exactly."
 "Point taken." 

Books can make us feel at home, or take us to places previously unknown. If I had been able to stand the heat (literally) in the auditorium, I might have heard the author switch voices on stage, the way I did this morning Online. Who's to say? One thing I know for sure, by being better informed I'm more likely to feel at ease.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Still Life With SunflowersFrom #911 to 9/11 and Back Again | Seeds of Hope

Still Life with Sunflowers
11 Years ago
#911 begot a new meaning
9/11 forever stamped on our
collective consciousness
as a day of terror and destruction
innocence lost, watercolors took on new meaning
red white and blue
from sullen background presence
to American flag


Wilted leaves potpourri 
mixed in with seeds on scorched earth
memories of hope

Eleven years have gone by
scars remind, remain
yet sunflowers bloom again

Nature's Eternal Cycle Our Solace 2001-2012

Still Life with Sunflowers

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Next Big Thing - Week 10 | Love & Art in Post WWII Amsterdam

Chihuly Fruits de Mer

Let me start by thanking Zoe Brooks, who tagged me in her blog Zoe Brooks Books and More to take part in The Next Big Thing. Her introduction reminds me of the Dutch version of playing tag "tikkertje" where the one going after the others touches someone and yells, "Tik jij bent 'em!" In this case I'm to answer questions about the book I'm working on, and then I point out five other women writers who will get to do the same, and so on, and so forth. Look for the next five at the bottom of this post.
Happy reading!

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing plus My Answers:

  • What is the working title of your book?


  • Where did the idea come from for the book?
In Forgiveness I tell the backstory of my memoir Painting For Life, the premise of which in turn sprung from the factual biography of a Post WWII visual artist in the Netherlands. Already while filing data for the biography I realized there was so much I didn't know, couldn't know, and would never find out, but could reconstruct with the use of the facts and my imagination.
  • What genre does your book fall under?
Forgiveness could be shelved under Literary Historical Fiction.
  • Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
JAKE - In another era, and if I hadn't taken so long getting around writing this novel, I would have wished for Dustin Hoffman. But while he was made-up to look like a very old Jack Crabb in Little Big Man when he was way younger, it's going to be tough to make him look much younger right now. Too bad. 
So, I'm going back and forth between Adam Sandler, or Ben Stiller They both have the stuff it takes to evoke a mixture of laughter and tears in their audiences. Perhaps Sandler and Stiller can share the role, one the charismatic entrepreneur, the other the PTSD suffering artist with a vision, the wish to start another family after the Holocaust. On the other hand I love Stanley Tucci as Julia Child's husband, we know he's got humor and drama down...

As for Mr. Hoffman, if he would consider playing JAKE in Painting for Life, I'll kiss the ground he walks on, and that of his agent, producers, director and I guess the rests of the cast and crew —I Love L.A. so that's not too hard (I do insist on a handkerchief or something else between my lips and the kissing surface). 

NITA second from right
NITA - Maggie Gyllenhaal, hands down. If I didn't know already, according to her fan page Maggie's the most comfortable playing complicated, flawed women. The actress who portrays NITA has to be tall, an unconventional beauty, smart, and sexy to boot. There you go, Maggie will be the IT Girl of Forgiveness

The rest of the cast includes: 

POLDI (Jake's first ex-wife) - Kathryn Erbe
MARIE (Jake's one surviving sibling) - Fran Drescher
JEANNETTE (Nita's mother) - Kathy Bates
HENDRIK (Nita's father) - Hugh Bonneville
HENRIETTA (Nita's younger sister - she's funny and trips over her own feet ...
SOPHIE (Nita's older sister) Phyllis Logan
HANK  (Nita's youngest brother) - you tell me - Martin Clunes
JOHN (Nita's oldest brother) - you tell me after you read the book 
JAN (John's wife) - help me out after you know what ...
  • What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Sister of Nazi sympathizer falls for 50-year-old Holocaust survivor, she stalls time, not wanting to share her family secret, by insisting that he has to become a professional artist before she'll marry him and give him a child; will they both deliver? 
  • Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Presented by literary agency.
  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
One month. During the Fall of 2010 I was a kind of stuck with my memoir. I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). By the 21st I had written the necessary 50,000 words, and by the 30th I had 80,000 words and a complete novel. 
  • What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Perhaps Sophie's Choice by William Styron comes closest, considering the Post WWII and moral themes, and its love story. I love Esther Freud's novels, all inspired by her rich family history, and I wouldn't mind if someone would compare our source of inspiration, and writing style. 
Considering the scenes that take place in NITA's family though, Downton Abbey comes to mind, which as you know is an original TV series, not created after a book. 
  • Who or What inspired you to write this book?
My parents, their own unlikely love story, my father's determination to become a professional artist at age 50 just so the woman he loved would give him a child. The urge to unveil secrets, in order to prevent repetition, and last but not least the utopian vision the members of the Dutch Government and Resistance workers shared in regards to the welfare of artists in the aftermath of WWII.
  • What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
JAKE and NITA'S interests and endeavors include natural remedies, diamonds, auction houses, dealing in antiques and paintings, breeding Airedale Terriers, and cooking up creative meals. Forgiveness is sought for and from all concerned.

Following are the names of the authors I'm tagging for The Next Big Thing Week 11 

Visit their blogs, check out what's The Next Big Thing for them, have fun getting to know their work, and leave a comment if you have a moment. Bloggers love knowing what you think!

Message for the tagged authors and interested others:

Rules of The Next Big Thing
***Use this format for your post 
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
What is the working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged. 

Would you like to be included in this blog ring? Share your interest in a comment!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Writing with Sound of Silence

Author Mina Witteman ended her blog post Listening while writing with a question for fellow wordsmiths:

 How does that work for you? 
What sends you into a trance? 
Is it music? Silence? Words?

Witteman shared how listening to a Podcast (found on The New Yorker site) of an author reading an other author's work —while writing— influenced her output in a positive manner. The author, who publishes both in Dutch and English, noted that listening to an English reading helped her writing in the language, it made her feel as though she was in America. As for me, I go through phases.

Mocha dreams
Silence can be your best friend. Sound of Silence? An airplane breaks the sound barrier overhead, the dog sighs in her chair, mine creaks, vertebrae crack; a dry mouth is a music box, its sound amplified in the ears. 

If I listen to music, it's usually over and over to the same piece or collection —while I'm working on a certain section of a manuscript, or piece of art. The familiarity seems to help me spiral deep into the matter, or perhaps my subconscious, the source of creativity.

Sometimes when I find an interview or monologue that inspires me, I'll click on repeat as well. The voice and timbre is of importance, and at some point takes on the value of white noise, blocking out everything else. Every once in a while a word will break through the barrier (or barricades) in my mind and I'll perk up my ears, pause and listen to the content, but more often I just work on.

Many times, especially after I think my work day has come to an end, I start writing while sitting on the couch watching TV. No new episodes, but re-runs of series such as Matlock (RIP Andy Griffith) are among my favorites.

How about you? Do you listen merely to the sounds in your head?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Letters by Fitzgerald and Cheryl "Dear Sugar" Strayed point in the same direction

Cheryl Strayed @Centrum
Some time ago, I came across an intriguing piece of advice Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild offered writers on Jeffrey Yamaguchi's 52 Projects site: Always aspire to greatness, but surrender to mediocrity. 

Surrender to mediocrity? That doesn't appeal to me at all.

Curious nevertheless, I watched the clip and I did get Strayed's point. Being a perfectionist may not get you very far. You may wind up with lots and lots of writing done, but nothing good enough to ever pass your own scrutiny. Ergo, you'll never get your book published. Needless to say, the author had triggered my curiosity, and so I drove to Port Townsend to attend one of the free lectures and readings offered by Centrum during the Writers Conference. 

Thanks to an article in the local paper about Strayed's book  Wild  having been chosen as the first title for Oprah's Book Club 2.0 nearly all seats in the Wheeler Theater were taken. A writer friend I spoke to later said none of the other faculty members had drawn such a crowd.

Strayed started off reading a letter F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in response to a short story Frances Turnbull, daughter of his friends, sent him.
In his P.S. Fitzgerald states:  
I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

Fitzgerald's harsh words made me think of Letters to a Young Poet, published by Franz Kappus, the recipient of Rainer Maria Rilke's letters. How gentle Rilke had been compared to Fitzgerald. But that was really beside the point, what to make of a lecturer who read the letter verbatum instead of quoting part of it, or just the Post Scriptum?

Strayed talked some about her hike from California to Washington State along the Pacific Crest, and the reason for this walkabout, the death of her mother. She may have shared a section of Wild, but I'm not sure. What sticks to my mind is her reading one of the Dear Sugar columns that's published by online magazine The Rumpus.

Riding on the wave of the Wild success Vintage Books saw fit to publish a compilation as Tiny Beautiful Things:Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar.

In her review of the book founder Anna Holmes, states she knows and likes the author, but wonders: 
How, exactly, do I review a book of advice columns? Does the concept of reviewing a book require that I criticize it? What if I like the author but not the book itself? How can I be fair and publicly honor a writer’s hard work while also taking her to task for her book’s shortcomings? What if I botch it? How, exactly, do I do this?
Holmes titled her review, Dear Sugar I Could Really Use Your Help Here. It's funny, and sweet with that bitter undertone of slightly burned caramel.

Strayed at Seattle University book store
Only after reading the tongue in cheek review I understood my confusion a week earlier. Expecting a lecture with original thoughts, I was put off by Strayed reading Fitzgerald's missive to a fan, followed by her own response to a Dear Sugar letter directed at her address. 

What I felt, but not quite got, was that we were attending the presentation of the author's latest book. What I did get, was that I had no business staying at the conference, I had hundreds of  thousands of words waiting to be edited, and I told myself I'd better get with it, keeping Strayed's advice in mind, with a slight adjustment.

Aim, if not for greatness, for perfection. 
Success after all is doing the best you can. 

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License