Sunday, February 27, 2011


LIBYA. I sit next to women from your cities who have come to study English at Georgia Tech. They are keeping daily vigils in our Language Institute hallways with their laptop computers flashing live news of your protests. Their computers are emitting steady streams of shouting and gunfire.

Today, I sit next to two LIBYAN women. One LIBYAN student, who I have only gotten to know in the last week because of LIBYA’s civilian uprising and her persistent vigil, looks at me. “My whole body is sore,” she says. “It hurts if you touch it.” She takes one hand and touches her arm. She shakes her body trying to free it from the horrors of the killing going on in her country. She generously accepts my concern and scoops me into the experience of her pain. There seems to be strength in unanimously acknowledging the inhumanity of Gadhafi’s response to the LIBYAN people’s protests.

I am familiar with the other student sitting next to her. She is taking my intermediate writing class. She nestles close to the woman with the computer, saying nothing only leaning into the face of the computer. “Right now, Gadhafi’s army is attacking her city,” explains the other woman. “Mine was attacked three days ago.” We pause. The noise and confusion continue to blare from the computer. And we just sit there with nothing to say. My writing student, an obstetrician with four children, peers into the computer. Her silky brown hijab and long black coat seem to engulf her. There is too much suffering. Too much worry. Too much unknown. Too much shooting. We cannot make eye contact. Then it is time for all of us to go to class. We disperse.

“How was your day,” my Chiboogamoo greets me in the evening. I cannot shake away the hallway vigils of my LIBYAN students. I cannot forget their sense of helplessness. “I feel lost,” I tell my patient husband, “What are we supposed to do in the face of evil?”  Earlier in the day, the LIBYAN woman had quietly said to me, “In my religion, we are told that we can only do our small part. We cannot change the large picture.”

After failing to get CNN’s attention here in Atlanta, some of our Language Institute LIBYAN students left for Washington, DC. I haven’t heard or seen if these LIBYANS succeeded in capturing US media attention.
Hallelujah asks for what is right and true to triumph. LIBYA listen to your citizens. My country, the UNITED STATES of AMERICA listen to LIBYA’s cry for help. WORLD assist the LIBYANS who are asking for change. Let change occur peacefully without mothers sacrificing themselves as explained to me: “Mothers are going out with their sons,” one LIBYAN student told me. “ ’If you are going to die, we are going to die with you,’ these mothers tell their sons.” 

Sunday, February 20, 2011


The Great Mystery!
I am Hallelujah Truth, member of the ALCHEMIST TRIBE, affectionate lover and gasper of the GREAT MYSTERY, and I believe in the power of CREATIVITY to TRANSFORM! Imagination enlivens, lifting us from the “status quo” which our daily lives insistently press upon us. Even more importantly, CREATIVITY transports us to the selves we are meant to BE!

My Conpanion
Last night, my Chiboogamoo and I danced in the parking lot under the full moon, our 16-year-old cat held between us. The moon, a white paper globed lantern, hung overhead, illuminating our laughter as we spun in a circle one way and then the other. I had returned from an ARTIST CONFERENCE MEETING, and my love was upstairs editing his forthcoming book, “LIFE TRACES OF THE GEORGIA COAST.” We were both tired after long days of teaching. The Georgia winter weather has been spectacularly spring like the past few days, healing and nurturing everyone’s soul—and then PILGRIMS—the February full moon! Why not invite my husband outside from the downward focus of his editing gaze and lift him and our feline to the GREAT MYSTERY above? As our bodies spun, our spirits soared beyond the bare oak-branched alcove. We were no longer touching the parking lot pavement--our feet zoomed skyward. 

Burka Blue...My Mother Wears a Burka

Earlier that morning, long before dancing in my condo parking lot, I had also experienced the power of CREATIVITY to TRANSFORM. Riding MARTA, Atlanta’s rapid public transit, is some times challenging (ho ho ha ha ha). Frequent delays often result in full trains accepting more and more passengers cramming in until the aisles are filled, bodies pressing against one another, knees to hip, elbows to ear, and armpit to breast. And we sit.  On that morning, those of us who had gotten on a 7:30 am train found ourselves sitting at the Five Points Station. Sitting.

Creativity Transforms
Two women in front of me started laughing—an alchemical creative act in the face of our deflating situation. We were indeed sows’ ears being turned into silk purses! Anything one of them said, the other laughed. Pretty soon, the passengers forming the perimeter around the laughing women were mesmerized. When one took her turn to laugh, someone else in the perimeter started laughing, including me. At intervals during the train delay, there were waves of laughter. Ten minutes passed. Then the MARTA train proceeded to Peachtree Station. We were on our way! Then it STOPPED--another delay at Civic Center station. The two women started their laughter again. Even though the tension was building as people glanced at their watches, more people joined in laughing. Everything seemed funny. After five minutes, the train proceeded to North Avenue, my departure point! Everyone surrounding the laughing women cheered the passengers as we left. The man in front of me, thanked the two laughing women for lifting his spirits. This is an example of CREATIVITY to TRANSFORM. (Watch this video by Christine Rabette to see a remarkable video of someone laughing on a train. For an entirely new way of viewing laughter see the Laughter Yoga Website.)

Mother is Watching
I am now in the sixth week of teaching international students creative writing in English at Georgia Tech, and I have seen my class TRANSFORMED by the power of their own CREATIVITY. One student in figuring out a name for his blog went through the following mental processes: “LOST in the BLUR,” to  “PAST PRESENT and MISSING,” to the one he decided to use, “KEEPER of THE BURIED THOUGHTS.” Words matter. The words we choose to represent our current state of being need to speak our truth. This particular student got the importance of  “creating” a specific phrase to describe “who” or “where” he was emotionally and intellectually. The creative act “changed” him in a dramatically meaningful way. Instead of being “lost” or “missing”, he became the possessor of what was unknown or buried within him. That is magic. That is alchemical. That is CREATIVITY!

Another creative writing student who named his blog, PITCH MY GUTS is also in the process of “owning” what is deep within him. I experience sheer joy when I hear this student from Korea say he has been “surprising” himself by what he is writing for his blog.

Hallelujah Truth

For all my creative writing students, as their blog guide, I feel privileged to witness their awakening to themselves! I am so excited about the way creativity is serving my Turkish student who is getting married in the upcoming months. She is experiencing chaotic emotions as she plans a wedding, studies English, and finds an MBA program. How does creativity serve her? Well! We JUMPED right in to the CHAOS!

My Mother Wears a Burka
“Begin with where you are,” I told her, trusting the creative process. “That is good enough!” She has excelled at taking my advice. Calling her blog, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I WANT,” she has gained a voice, speaking about her place of confusion. She is defining it, feeling it, and honoring it by writing litanies, cinquains, and three-lined poems. Writing creatively in this second language, English, is transformative, a departure into the known from the unknown!

My Sister Wears a Burka
As my students write creatively, I see them gaining heft. Volume. They are becoming anchored in themselves and in English through their imaginations. Perhaps they are getting to know themselves in a new way that their language or culture did not or could not provide. I hope they will take this newfound skill with them when they leave my course  and the Language Institute because I believe in the power of CREATIVITY to TRANSFORM.

PILGRIMS, that is Coffee with Hallelujah! Thank you for joining me. SOUL BLOG with me about your belief and experiences in the power of creativity to transform.

I Wear a Burka Too
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I thank Georgia Tech for inviting its students and employees to participate in submitting their essays to “This I Believe.”  It has been fun engaging my students in the challenge to find and write about their core beliefs. I will continue to write and paint about my beliefs. I thank Lesly Fredman, my creativity coach, who has centered me in my own creative process. I acknowledge my supportive and loving husband, Chiboogamoo, who is brilliant and creative in the life we share together.

After watching a Youtube video of  Burka Blue, 3 Afghan women making music in their Burkas in Kabul, I had to paint them in order to explore my fascination with them. You can see me (Hallelujah Truth)in this painting at their feet. Wandjina is powerfully overhead.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Hallelujah for LOVE. Hallelujah for TRYING new things on, STRETCHING CREATIVELY, and BEING inspired by other ARTISTS! I have fallen in LOVE with KATHERINE DUNN—red-pigtailed woman, dancing, drawing, painting, loving animals. KATHERINE DUNN, caretaker of aging donkeys, friend of sheep, keeper of cats. KATHERINE DUNN, dweller of Apifera Farms!

I instantly fell in love with KATHERINE DUNN of Apifera Farms when I opened the cover of her 2010 book, Creative Illustration Workshop and saw the crudely drawn map she had made of her home in Yamhill, Oregon, on the inside cover.  In a few brief sienna strokes, ARTIST DUNN had rendered her hen house, the bird and rodent cemetery, the field of bees and lavender, goat escape route and more.  How wondrous to see her BEINGNESS contained by and connected to a SENSE of PLACE!

Like the gravitational pull of the EARTH to the SUN, I turned page after page of Creative Illustration Workshop, studying each painting of her colorful birds, cats, plants, and people. In doing so, I came to SEE MYSELF and MY ART more clearly. While she and I both LOVE and paint the natural world intensely and viscerally, her work SPEAKS in a dramatic simplicity I adore.

As readers of my blog, Coffee with Hallelujah, know, I use multiple layers of watercolor pencil and micron pens when birthing images expressing my PILGRIMAGE and connection to the GREAT MYSTERY. As an illuminator of a sacred text might work, I hunch over my work for hours creating my images in exacting detail. ARTIST DUNN’s art, unlike mine, is loose and bold. Black lines bleed and smear. Cut pieces of patterned paper are affixed to sky to indicate stars or a random border. Her work is spontaneous yet practiced. I am in LOVE.

One evening during the winter holidays, my Chiboogamoo (Happy Valentine’s Day dear love of my romantic and household heart!) and I had gone to our MEME STUDIO at Sycamore Gallery Place to work on our collaborative Darwin related pieces, and all I could think about was KATHERINE DUNN of Apifera Farms.  So! I opened a page of her book, like one might open to a random page of the BIBLE, centered my HEART and turning my VISION inward, I stared with my physical eyes at one of her images of a woman (page 35 if you have a copy of Creative Illustration Workshop). I asked myself, “How can I use my worldview and perception to create in “her language” free-er and looser lines?”

Oh PILGRIMS! I had so much fun! I went for the “jugular” (Natalie Goldberg’s instructive words in Writing Down the Bones regarding free writing practice). I used a black watercolor pencil making big heavy black lines to depict facial features. Then I scrawled blocks of red, orange, and yellow! I employed fat watercolor crayons. Finally, it was time for water! Intensity!—intense color bubbled up from the paper! I liked the way the black smeared into the red, and I pulled it in on the nose, cheeks and under the eyes for shading.

How JOYOUS and FUN to loosen up into another artists’ universe while maintaining my own INNER VISION! The images posted on today’s Valentine blog resulted from three consecutive days of using this “heavy handed” technique! How odd to SEE MYSELF in these images…and to see something NEW! Thank you MUSE KATHERINE DUNN.

This third image here was a source of generative LAUGHTER for me! Why the “circular orb” in the middle of my chest, I queried. Then slowly remembering the movie I had watched the previous night with my Chiboogamoo, I beginning laughing deeply: Ha Ha Ho Ho Ho! We had watched the second movie about the superhero, Iron Man. In this sequel, the main character, Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.), is dying because the “circular orb” located in the center of his chest that makes him “Iron Man,” is poisoning him to death. He must find a substitute to the element palladium contained in the orb to empower himself or die. Then the AMAZING part of the movie occurs! 

Suddenly, after much suffering and ready to bear farewell to the world, Iron Man has an epiphany! He discovers that he has the RESOURCES WITHIN HIMSELF to create a new element that will replace the old poisoning one! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah! In addition to painting in a looser free-er style of KATHERINE DUNN, I reaffirmed something all of us know! That WE HAVE ALL WE NEED, RIGHT NOW. “The power” is within oneself! I had embedded this powerful message to myself in my third KATHERINE DUNN inspired drawing! Pilgrims! We have the answers within ourselves (like Iron Man)—and without (when we listen to our MUSES like KATHERINE DUNN).

Be sure to “take in” what you want to become. Be sure to delight in the integration of the inner and outer self! That’s it with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me how you are integrating your inner and outer worlds! Who is your MUSE? Who do you LOVE? What INNER RESOURCE are you calling upon?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Hallelujah for abstract thought and ways to make those thoughts concrete through the use of imagery. Hallelujah for my international students speaking my language, English, and for bringing me, their teacher, new ways of thinking about this glorious world! Especially when it comes to writing metaphors in a creative writing class! Hallelujah!
As a way to jump in writing metaphors (a comparison between two seemingly unlike things), I asked my students to “pull” an abstract word like faith, hope, anger, or courage out of an envelope and to compose a 3-lined poem based on the following guidelines (taken from Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft, by Janet Burroway).

  • The first line is an abstract word, plus a verb, plus a place.
  • The second line clothes the abstraction.
  • The third line summarizes the action in the poem.

At first, the oxygen left the room. No one knew what to do, where to go, what to write. After all, this kind of writing is a challenge even in one’s own native language! After a pause and some composing in pursuit of “active” verbs and leaving behind the verb “to be” (Language teachers will understand this quest!), there were some jubilant moments. My students were nailing down their abstract words with meaningful and active images! See some examples in the following blogs: Pitch Your Guts writes about sorrow; The Green Mountain about courage; and Blueberry Cellophane about faith.

In my earnestness to get students excited about metaphor, we watched excerpts from a 1991 Star Trek episode about their encounter with an “enigmatic” race called Tamarians (See the beginning of the episode.). As the episode progresses, the Star Trek crew figures out that the Tamarians are speaking in metaphors, ones that can be understood only if one knows the cultural and geographical references being made (See the excerpt where they figure this out.)!

Success! My brilliant class of diligent students “got it.” For homework, I asked them to bring in metaphors from their language and cultures. These were the results:

I’m sincerely saying it to you with my heart in my hand. (Spanish)

A leaking drop can penetrate a stone. (Chinese)

A pearl in the mud. (Korean)

I never knew that the burka would seduce me. (Arabic)

Yes! Hallelujah! We discussed what each one meant to us. If you are stymied at all by the last metaphor, you are not alone! First, we had to clarify for the entire class what exactly a “burka” is—much to the amusement of the Arabic speaking students in the class. Luckily, a female student from Spain was wearing a large scarf secured around her neck! Thus using her as a model, we were able to show the distinctions between a “hijab” –a scarf covering the hair, ears, and neck— and a “burka” –a scarf concealing everything but the eyes.

After class ended, because I wanted a better understanding of this burka metaphor than our class discussion had offered, I pursued the Arabic speaking student, who had translated this metaphor from a contemporary song (Listen to the mesmerizing music from the Middle East and its Arabic lyrics). Here is my student’s translation of the song into English:

I never thought the burkas would ever seduce me
Until I saw Al Nofood Mountains wearing them.
All mighty God when these eyes looked at me
Charming, sleepy, magical....
In their magic, Saad how they put me to my knees!
My time was wasted in loving those eyes.
If they hurt me and also heal me
I'm sure I'll die soon.
Saad tell those charming mountains
If they want me to live longer,
If they see me,
I am just thinking about their magic
Even when I am asleep
I am still thinking about the burkas…

Translated by Meshari Alabdulkrim (See his blog, Smoking Hookah.)

I am smiling right now because I am remembering the Star Trek episode with the Tamarians and their geographical and cultural references. To better understand this burka metaphor, we have to understand the Saudis’ feeling for Al Nofood Mountains and much, much more.

To be honest, I am far from completely understanding this metaphor, but I like struggling with the image, its meaning, and the complex culture it comes from! I believe this comparison of a burka to a mountain will “haunt” me for some time.

Already, I have spent time in the last week drawing and painting women in headscarves. One woman is wearing a flowered hijab and the other a green burka. I’m intrigued by this cultural difference of  “the headscarf” that my Muslim students bring to my classroom. One might say, “I never thought the burkas would ever seduce me,” but they have!

In my search to SEE and UNDERSTAND and to CREATE, I looked on the Web to find images of women in burkas and found an amazing “girl band” from Afghanistan, the Burka Blues! If you want to increase your experiences of seeing women wear burkas, watch this video! The rhythm of the drums, guitar and kitschy lyrics has been with me all day!

Hallelujah for LIFE and LEARNING and CREATING! SOUL BLOG with me! Let me know your feelings and understanding of the burka metaphor! Share a metaphor with me!