Sunday, January 30, 2011


Hallelujah for COURAGE! After completing just 2 weeks of teaching creative writing to my international class at the Language Institute at Georgia Tech, I am resurrecting the respect I have for the BRAVERY that it takes to SPEAK one’s HEART (see an early blog titled, I Speak Heart).

A loose theme for my course is “Identity and Sense of Place.” WHO ARE YOU?, I ask my students? Are you the same person in American culture and using English as you are in your culture and using your native language? Does the place where you live change who you are? Do you think differently when expressing your ideas in another language?

Right now, to develop my own ideas about “who I am”, I’m reading Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  Brown proposes that COURAGE (see her blog), compassion, and connection are three basic components of “embracing who you are.”  She defines the word COURAGE, first by looking at its Latin roots: COR=HEARTCOURAGE, she explains, initially meant “speaking one’s mind by telling all of one’s HEART.” Less about being heroic!

Most of my class has demonstrated this COURAGE! They have pleased me with their willingness to EXPLORE their HEARTS using English. They have started their “public" blogs with imaginative names discovered while doing free writing exercises (Natalie Goldberg-style) in their “private” journals. Take a look at the glorious beginnings of some of these blogs: THE FOOTPRINT OF WATER, BUTTERFLYING TO INFINITY, BLUEBERRY CELLOPHANE, and THE WEALTHY GUARDIAN.

“You learn COURAGE, by COURAGING,” Brene Brown quotes theologian Mary Daly. How simple, and yet, how daunting! As an ESL teacher for 20 years, I have urged my students to learn to SPEAK English, by SPEAKING it, and subsequently observed their lack of COURAGE to do so! It is much easier to become grammar experts doing rote exercises and writing repetitive academic papers then to SAY SOMETHING MEANINGFUL in this “other” language!

In my creative writing class, I am asking my students to connect their heads—and HEARTS—to English by using it COURAGEOUSLY and imaginatively. To gain COURAGE, by COURAGING!

As a visual artist, I move forward in drawing and painting, by accessing my COURAGE. Yet, I have simplified the process. I start with the familiar. I open my hand to the ordinary in my life and psyche. I become ACTION in MOTION. I draw by drawing and paint by painting. Not good. Not bad. Just is.

The painting I am posting on my blog today borrows images primarily from two previous images (see 2011: Say Yes and 1st Anniversary of Coffee with Hallelujah). What shall I call it? Let me try on some possibilities:

Saying Yes to the Great Mystery
Welcoming Myself
Active Beautiful Mind
Hallelujah Couraging Everyday
Celebrating Companionship
Speaking Heart Today

PILGRIMS! We have endless opportunities to create! Each moment offers the sparkling and amazing chance to think a new thought, to speak in a different way, to draw something unique, to move your body in a refreshing way…! SOUL BLOG with Hallelujah what you are COURAGING today. SPEAK HEART across the INTERNET

Monday, January 24, 2011

SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM INTERVIEW #1: CECELIA KANE--Conceptual Visual Artist—Searching for Meaning in the Face of Death

Hallelujah for the JOURNEY and for the PILGRIMS we meet along the way! Each month in 2011, I will be HONORING a different SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM, one who has shared her HEART and SOUL with me through the miraculous medium of ART! I invite you to join me in my EXPLORATIONS of the OTHER, for it is through investigations of how we are similar and different from ANOTHER that we truly come to know ourselves! Hallelujah!

The first SOUL in my “Spiritual Art Pilgrim Interviews,” is my Decatur, Georgia, neighbor Cecelia Kane. CeCe, as friends are apt to call her, is an artist of note. (See her website to discover the broad expanse of her creative endeavors.)
In the HALLELUJAH INTERVIEWS, however, the goal is to dramatize specifically the relationship between ART and SPIRITUALITY. An artist like CeCe (I prefer to think of her as SEE SEE) is challenging to write about since most of her immense body of work is spiritually based! Let’s get started and see what can be “currently” illuminated about her SPIRTUAL ART SOJOURN!

HALLELUJAH: What is the connection between the ART you make and your SPIRITUALITY?

SEE SEE: First, to answer this question, I had to look up “spirituality.” The dictionary was no help. The definition of SPIRIT is more like it--the GROUND SOURCE of BEING, the ESSENCE of BEING and EXISTENCE. Then we can define "spirituality" as the search for this ESSENCE.


SEE SEE: ART is a tool. ART is a language. Kind of like the way math is a language for physicists. Math helps concretize something that we can’t wrap our heads around. We can’t understand dark matter without the language of math.

BEING and EXISTENCE is a massive and ephemeral topic. Although a lot of people don’t understand the language of ART, ART is a pathway into another way of seeing.

HALLELUJAH: Tell me about how your project “89 Days, How Am I Feeling Today?” uses the LANGUAGE of ART to explore BEING and EXISTENCE.

SEE SEE: “89 Days” is a study of identity. Am I my thoughts, feelings, body, face, Catholic heritage? Am I my mother’s child? She lived for 89 years. I asked these questions, taking photographs of myself for 89 consecutive days trying to concretize my feeling of the moment. Then I reproduced these 89 photographs again, this time on hankies in a distorted way.

HALLELUJAH: And you also video taped yourself wearing a replica of your Catholic school uniform each day with a different hankie in your your pocket and asking about how you were feeling for another 89 days….

SEE SEE: Yes, but I stopped filming myself after 68 days because I had my answer. I knew I am simply not my thoughts and feelings. I’m wasting my time. Thoughts and feelings are as ephemeral as the body. We are simply dreams….


SEE SEE:  What is real? In “89 Days,” I tried to hang a structure using ART so that I could define reality. Making this structure was like hanging reality on a clothesline daily, step by step. In Catholicism, we pray in small increments of counting like the rosary or saying a novena. (See more about 89 Days.) 
(These photos were taken at the opening of Cecelia's show, "89 Days.")

HALLELUJAH: Where did the completion of this project “89 Days” leave you?

SEE SEE: Still asking two other questions—What is the nature of CONSCIOUSNESS? What is the nature of DEATH?

HALLELUJAH: I know that you have a large body of ARTwork, past and present, exploring these topics of CONSCIOUSNESS and DEATH. Could you tell me about the prominent and persistent symbols occurring in this ART?

SEE SEE: The “eye” is used to represent awareness and consciousness.

The “heart” stands for the life of the body—the thumping, concrete rhythm of life.

The “brain” represents the life of the mind—thoughts and feeling, logic and emotion.

HALLELUJAH: Let’s look at some of the ART you are currently working on. You have three examples.

SEE SEE: (EXAMPLE 1—WINGS) I began by drawing mechanical wings for my mother Hazel because of her fear of dying (Go to SEE SEE’s website to learn more about this image.).  

HALLELUJAH: Then you painted wings for yourself, using the symbols of the EYE, HEART, and BRAIN.

SEE SEE: I painted life-sized wings with realistic aspects, painting straps for my shoulders and hand holds.

HALLELUJAH: I remember these wings. They were quite large—about a ten-foot wingspan. (See an earlier blog entry of Coffee With Hallelujah to see photos of these wings at an early stage.)

SEE SEE: I cut them down to make them more manageable, maneuverable. I gave these wings to Sally Wylde when she was in hospice. She had asked for photos of the wings, but I sent her THE wings.

HALLEUJAH: That was very powerful and meaningful since several of us, including Sally, had “experimented” with these wings a couple of times in our Spiritual Art Pilgrim group. The life-sized aspect of the wings were so inviting to me—even if we were doing imaginary “test flights” into life after death.
(Cecelia taking a journey with her first set of wings, which were started at Hambidge in December 2009.)

SEE SEE: Now, I’m making new wings for myself.

HALLELUJAH: You started these wings around the time of Sally’s death in August. You collected small pieces of sticks on your daily walks with your dog, Etta. They reminded you of bones and provided the structure for this new painting of wings. They have certainly evolved in the last four months. Let’s look at the prominent symbols of EYES, HEARTS, and BRAINS occurring in them.

SEE SEE: The EYES and HEARTS are on the right side, representing BODY and CONSCIOUSNESS. This is the transition period. Life is rising so to speak. There is still green growth. This part of the wing is still attached to the earth. I don’t understand why, but there are green roots. 

(Cecelia's second set of wings, which were started in August 2010.)

The left side of the wings has lost color. There are skulls, which really represent DEATH. The skulls are rising and fading into bright whiteness—to the essence of DEATH. The self is somehow in some other environment. It is so bright we can’t see.

HALLELUJAH: And how is the BRAIN symbolized here? (SEE SEE gestures to the center of the wings that suggests something like a spinal cord.)

SEE SEE: This would be the brain showing the split, the bifurcation.

(Cecelia in her Decatur, Georgia, studio, trying the wings on.)

HALLELUJAH: Let’s look at another example of the way you use the symbols of the BRAIN, HEART, and EYES. You have a series of garments you have made that you call “Safety Wear.” Tell me about your “Consciousness Cape.”

SEE SEE: (EXAMPLE 2—CONSCIOUSNESS CAPE) It has a mink collar and on the tapestry, I’ve embroidered brains and synapses and sewn on hand made clay hearts. This “outside” part of the cape is the glorious, exuberant physical aspect of ourselves that we show to others. Inside the cape is a silk lining with sad suffering eyes, connected by a network of vines and thorns. This “inside” is “essential awareness,” which is hidden. This inner awareness of self is not physical.
Cecelia puts on the Consciousness Cape showing the white embroidered brains and clay hearts. This photo was taken in her cabin at Hambidge in December 2009.

Cecelia is showing the cape reversed, revealing the silk lining with the sad, suffering eyes.

HALLELUJAH: Right now, you are using similar imagery on a painting.

SEE SEE: (EXAMPLE 3: Large Painting Still in Process). This painting, covered in eyes connected by flowers and sprouting leaves has at least four layers: my fleshy pink background, a network of interconnected blue eyes, a layer of flower blueprints, and now the invasion of dark matter with roses in suspension (the dark matter and roses were added after the first interview).

Cecelia in her studio kneeling next to her painting covered in eyes.

HALLELUJAH: What are you saying about the SPIRIT here?

SEE SEE: At the deepest level, God and his retinue of colorful flowers emerge as a sad awareness. Why is that? It is my inability to define God’s and my existence—because I don’t know who I am.

HALLELUJAH: Has SPIRIT always been a part of your ART? Why?

SEE SEE: Yes. It’s like my hands got bigger and extended out when I started doing art. My drawing hand became the tool for the extension of self.
HALLELUJAH: Who do you consider influential in the way you think and make art?

SEE SEE: Well, for one, Natalie Goldberg, who gives writers permission to be writers. When I read her book, Writing Down the Bones, I just plugged in the word artist every time she wrote writer. She uses basic Buddhist ideas, which really resonated with me. 

Then there is Bruce Nauman, an early video artist who did two strong pieces about death. There’s one video of him repeatedly playing four notes on the violin: d  e   a   d. His underground piece involved digging an empty space under a gallery and putting a box like a coffin in it. His video camera projected this underground image on the gallery wall. Death…he was defining death as nothing. That’s scary. It arrested me.

Haruki Murakami’s novel, Wind up Bird Chronicle, uses magical realism. It takes place in a Tokyo suburb, and there is an empty well next to an abandoned house. It is through this well that the character is transported to other realities.

This image relates to a new body of work I want to do--digging a hole underground, creating a “well” and putting a simple chair in it. I want to sit in that chair and ask my mother what it is like to be dead.

HALLELUJAH: Do you think it is harmful to ask about DEATH? Do you think it is morose?

SEE SEE: ART is my way of looking at the feeling of sadness and moroseness surrounding death—and releasing it.

At the end of the interview, Cecelia took a moment to pose with her canine companion, Etta.
HALLELUJAH: SEE SEE, how gracious you were to invite me to your studio and to talk to me about YOUR SPIRIT in ART. I look forward to seeing your work as it evolves. THANK YOU!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


As the 2011 academic year starts at the Georgia Tech Language Institute, I find myself on a JOURNEY with a new set of fellow PILGRIMS—international students—enrolled in my CREATIVE writing/blogging class. How exciting to open worlds of new possibilities to these brilliant and amazing students from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela, UAE, Senegal, Colombia, and Korea!

I am inviting them to use my language—English—in a fresh and different way. We are leaving behind the usual academic rhetorical structures taught at the GT Language Institute and venturing into the unknown—to see what we can IMAGINE and CREATE!

Think how challenging it is to summon forth the UNKNOWN in your first language! Now, ponder expressing your CREATIVE ideas in a different language! What happens in your brain? What happens in your heart? Courage must be employed! SOULFUL COURAGE!

What if you were to CREATE with the JOYFUL EASE of a CAT NAPPING, I ask my students? Today, during a “free” writing exercise, one of my students exclaimed, “I like losing control!” (We are using Natalie Goldberg’s six rules for writing down “first thoughts” from her book, Writing Down the Bones.)

Michele Cassou in her book, Life, Paint, and Passion: Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression, advises, “…go where it is easy. Easy means ripe. Go where you are attracted….While you work on the part that is easy, other parts will mature in you, and they will be ready and waiting. You move step by step, from the easiest to the easiest.”

For me, HALLELUJAH TRUTH, joyful ease of CREATING comes from repetition. As a visual artist, I return to familiar images. I repeat images again and again, as if I am picking apples from low hanging branches of an apple tree. Cassou writes, “Your painting (for my students—WRITING) is like an apple tree. If you want to eat fruit, you look for a ripe one, one that drops in your hand when you touch it….Remember: Every apple will be ripe in its time; do not rush it.”

Most CREATIVE JOURNEYS are like driving on the interstate. Mile after mile, everything looks the same—gas stations, restaurants, and signage. Then, suddenly, when you are ready, you EXIT the familiar interstate and you ENTER a specific place—one with its own peculiarities.

And so it is with the drawing/paintings I have on today’s blog. Both paintings have Hallelujah and Wandjina connected by a green-leafed vine. They are similar in the repetition of imagery but different in execution, color, and overall mood. I CREATED both with the JOYFUL EASE of a CAT NAPPING because the “process” or JOURNEY is more valuable to me than the “product” or DESTINATION. I am a believer in delightful subtle discoveries.

I would like to give my creative writing students the gift of this JOYFUL EASE as they write in English! FELLOW PILGRIMS, I ask you to join us on this CREATIVE JOURNEY for the next 6 weeks! In the words of Michele Cassou, the creative process is “never tedious or tiring because there is no need to force anything. Depth resides more in surrendering to spontaneity than in hardworking struggle.” HALLELUJAH!

(This Hallelujah image was done more than a year ago. The "discovery" in this drawing was the appearance of the green vine, which is significant to me. I feel that I connected with a deep part of myself--in this case--Wandjina. The  Hallelujah image at the top of this blog entry was done within the first two weeks January 2011. I had my coffee with Hallelujah, my allotted morning time to create, and so I repeated this image again and found it very satisfying!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011: SAY YES

Hallelujah for NEW BEGINNINGS. I welcome the START of 2011 with open arms and CURIOSITY. What is possible in the next 12 months? What discoveries will I make on my ARTFUL and SOULFUL PILGRIMAGE? What PILGRIM will I meet who will make that significant difference in my JOURNEY? In what NEW ways will I contribute to the LOVING SOULS in my life?

A FELLOW SOJOURNER and POET, Alice Teeter speaks to me through the poetry in her book, “When it happens to you…”. Today, one particular poem, “Say Yes,” is speaking to me. The first three lines of the poem suggest:

Say Yes

Step off into this unknown

Into this marvelous and terrible Yes

Oh PILGRIM! We know part of the JOY of the GREAT MYSTERY is that it is simultaneously “marvelous” and “terrible”—beckoning and pushing us away at the same time. It takes SOULFUL COURAGE to step into YES!

Alice Teeter creates multiple ways for us to say YES. We can “float,” “carry,” “blow,” and “scatter” YES. We can even “lean” into YES, watching it like a maple seed spiraling down in front of us!

Saying YES is like creating a “seed” that we can plant along our JOURNEY. By saying YES, we send a positive message out into the universe surrounding us.

And just think—it is possible that other PILGRIMS might hear our saying YES. Alice Teeter’s poem concludes:

You are standing on the sweet spot of the stage

Your voice will carry for eons and leagues

In your softest song say Yes to me

I hear you from this thousand miles away

Hallelujah for saying YES! And for being HEARD! I am BEGINNING my 2011 saying YES joyfully to both the marvelous and terrible! And you PILGRIM, what will you say YES to this year? SOUL BLOG with me at Coffee with Hallelujah, so I can HEAR YOU!

For your delight, below is Alice Teeter’s poem, “Say Yes,” in its entirety.

Say Yes

Say Yes

Step off into this unknown

Into this marvelous and terrible Yes

Yes to unknowing, Yes

Fling your arms wide to Yes

Be light and say Yes

Say Yes softly in a whisper

Float on Yes

Carry Yes like a feather you find floating

That the wind will take away

Blow Yes like a dandelion seed

Scatter it to the winds

And me, I say Yes waiting for your Yes

Leaning in and watching for it floating down

A maple seed on the breeze spiraling

Wisps of white floating across my field of vision

My ears are listening for that whisper

You are standing on the sweet spot of the stage

Your voice will carry for eons and leagues

In your softest song say Yes to me

I hear you from this thousand miles away

From When it happens to you…, poems by Alice Teeter