Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sophie Masson launches a new children's picture book publishing house.

Sophie Masson is one of Australia's most enterprising literary entrepreneurs
Followers of our Universal Heart Club might remember Sophie Masson's guest post some months ago about producing her own e-book titles under the 'imprint' of e-publisher, Sixteen Press. Now Sophie writes below about another independent publishing adventure. We are delighted to support it! And you will be fascinated by the determination Sophie and her friends have shown to bring this beautiful first book from their new press into the world.
Also see below an invitation to their Sydney launch on 9 October 2013.

Sophie writes: This adventure is rather different from my earlier e-publishing because not only is it in the print world but also I'm working in partnership with two other creator friends, illustrator David Allan and author/artist/designer/dollmaker Fiona McDonald.

With them, I've founded Australia's newest children's picture book publishing house, Christmas Press, which is not a self-publishing enterprise as such, though our first title, Two Trickster Tales from Russia, features my words, David's illustrations and Fiona's design. Though this first book features us, we’re interested in more than publishing our work. We want to take in the talents of many gifted creators and are already in negotiations with two well-known authors for our next two titles to be produced next year.

Christmas Press is a small press, which will specialize in picture books for children which feature traditional stories from many lands, retold by well-known authors and stunningly illustrated in a classic style, beautifully designed, and printed in Australia. Why Christmas Press as a name? Well, we wanted to have the feeling of our books being special, like a gift you'd get under the Christmas tree. But our motto, 'Picture books to cherish every day', also tells you that these books aren't just for special occasions!

Two Trickster Tales from Russia includes the lively Russian folktales, Masha and the Bear and The Rooster with the Golden Crest, which I've retold.  It is the first book for new illustrator David Allan, and his gorgeous pictures are inspired by classic Russian illustration. Future titles will feature illustrations in styles reminiscent of the countries the stories come from.

We'd actually toyed with the idea of Christmas Press for some time, wanting to work on illustrated book projects together. But we didn't act on it it until a project we'd presented to several publishers - my retelling of Masha and the Bear, with David's gorgeous pictures —was knocked back for the third time with a regretful note along the lines of, "Really love this, but it's too classic—not commercial enough in Australia, can't make the figures work." That was the spur.

We knew there was a market for classic beauty, rich colours, traditional tales. Why just take the rejection and slink sadly away, or go against instinct by trying to turn our book into something it wasn't? We could do it ourselves, and have a lot more fun too! We decided to add another story I'd retold, The Rooster with the Golden Crest (which had already been published in The School Magazine). We also decided at this point on the focus for our list: retold traditional stories from many lands, each book featuring two gloriously-illustrated stories. It's an approach that seems to be working!

Though the book was a lot of work—especially for David, the illustrator—it was surprisingly easy to work through the process, first of concept, then layout, then design, over many fun working meetings (we all live in the same town). Using the In Design program took a little bit of learning but was soon mastered by Fiona and David, and the printers, Heaneys Performers in Print on the Gold Coast, couldn't have been more helpful. The printing costs were also partly funded by a crowdfunding campaign, which received fantastic support. And that enthusiastic response continues, with support from other creators, booksellers, librarians, and readers, both kids and adults. People love the book, just as much as we do! Quite serendipitously, too, our commercial timing seems good, because Australia's new English curriculum highlights traditional tales from around the world, and teachers are buying copies of our book for their classes.

We're handling distribution ourselves at present: direct-selling into bookshops, libraries, schools and to individuals, both from face to face contact and from our website. The book is widely stocked by  bookshops and more are expected to join the list. The first print run is already selling briskly—we've already had international orders! We are also selling gorgeous limited edition prints of the illustrations, plus a variety of merchandise such as postcards, bookmarks etc. And in more exciting news, an audiobook edition, which will include music and sound effects, will be released in time for Christmas, through another brand-new enterprise, Sounds Like Books, this time the brainchild of my two sons, video producer Xavier and music producer Bevis Masson-Leach.

Sounds Like Books produces both book trailers and audio books for authors, and welcomes commissions—see www.soundslikebooks.wordpress.com  We're handling publicity and promotion in-house too, with Fiona's daughter, writer, editor and events manager, Beattie Alvarez, creating a popular Facebook page as well as getting the word out generally. It's such a pleasure to be working with friends and family who are also fellow creators—and to feel that our labour of love is striking so many echoes in the hearts of other people.

PS: Sydney readers are invited to join Sophie and friends in celebrating the release of their book, at an event on October 9. See here: https://asauthors.org/event/11133/book-launch-two-trickster-tales-from-russia:
Essential links:
Like them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChristmasPress
Follow them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChristmasPress

Walter Mason on inner peace

What a treat! Here is your Universal Heart Book Club co-host, Walter Mason,
speaking so honestly and with such typical good humour about that most vital issue: peace in our hearts and lives. Do share your thoughts and comments below.

Walter writes: I was always rather keen on peace. I remember spending hours at a peace rally and then an extra 20 minutes at the end having a screaming argument with a man who’d parked us in. And blissing out at a candlelight vigil only to spend the bus ride home running through an angry and stinging argument in my head – and argument, incidentally, that never actually occurred. It’s just that I was furious with the person and wanted to get some burning put downs and one liners out in my own personal mental space.

I was a member of Amnesty and I’d roll my eyes and sigh audibly in frustration at the person in front of me taking too long to extract money at the ATM. I could argue peace for hours, and I often did, but my mind and heart were far from peaceful. And one day it occurred to me that perhaps the outer expressions of a desire for peace might also find some kind of more personal expression. I think it was shortly after I punched a laptop computer because the disc drive wouldn’t open quickly enough.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that: “As we cultivate peace and happiness in ourselves, we also nourish peace and happiness in those we love.” As a grumpy, impatient, judgemental and unforgiving person I was not contributing my own personal quotient of peace to the world; far from it. I expected others to behave peacefully in grand circumstances but, when faced with small things, I figured it was ok to let off a little steam occasionally. Except it wasn’t occasionally. It was a way of life, an habitual response that defined who I was and how others saw me.

Thich Nhat Hanh
So I decided to change. And of course, it was Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings that helped me to make this change, principally his moast-loved book Peace is Every Step. I remember reading while touring the Buddhist ruins of Sukhothai in Thailand, a beautifully peaceful spot. I would sit down at the feet of  a vast standing Buddha and be shaken to the core by Thich Nhat Hanh's simplicity and profound truth.

I must make the effort to be peace: to nourish peace and happiness in myself so that I may be a source of those qualities for others. You might be sad to hear that I have yet to approach perfection with this. Only yesterday I found myself bickering and finding fault with someone I loved, choosing to create a huge fuss over, wait for it...an esky that  hadn’t been cleaned properly. Have you noticed that it’s always the big things that cause these blow ups? I chose to make two people miserable over something that didn’t matter at all.

The academic and popular exponent of meditation Herbert Benson urges people to stop trying so hard when it comes to cultivating inner peace. Sometimes the strain of trying to be peaceful can get us all hot and bothered, even angry. Instead, Benson says we simply need to sit with the word: "Peace...one...peace....two......”  and see where it takes us. We have to make room for peace in our lives – it has to be allowed in. We cannot force it. Benson's book The Break-Out Principle is another that has had a profound effect on me, encouraging me to believe that I can change my mental patterns through meditation to reflect a more peaceful state of being.

Some people say that by making the decision to create a peaceful life at the most basic, small, level you are abrogating responsibility. I think that, on the contrary, acknowledging your role in being a peaceful person is essential to the creation of a peaceful society. It is, in fact, the complete acceptance of responsibility. If we are to love one another, it had better start with me.

That is why it is good, sometimes, to come out of the closet as someone who is to be held to higher standards of personal peacefulness. If you are hanging that peace sign on your rear view mirror you’d better expect to be scolded if you start screaming at the person who cut you off in constant traffic. Spiritual cultivation must take place in public as well as in private. We prove the measure of our peacefulness in the way we communicate with others, the way we treat those closest to us as well as those furthest away from us in the geographic or ideological divide.

I believe there is a place within us of pure peace. No matter how tormented our lives are, no matter how violent or adverse our conditions, there is a place of refuge always available to us, and it is in our hearts. In theistic traditions this is soul consciousness: awareness of the divine within. In Mahayana Buddhism it is called Buddha Nature, and Ram Dass writes that spiritual people greet one another they "honor the place of love, of light, of truth, of peace." Ram Dass is himself a great exemplar of honest peacefulness in teaching and being, and my late-life dicovery of him and his writing has been a true delight. For peacemakers I can particularly recommend one of his more recent books, Be Love Now

Choosing the spiritual life and the spiritual approach to peace is not solipsism and it is not resignation. That great Catholic convert and monk Thomas Merton referred to the spiritual life as “a matter of keeping awake.” The cultivation of personal peace makes us more alert to life’s injustices, not less. We realise that we can no longer abandon things or leave them to chance – we recognise our own important place in the scheme of things and we embrace it with enthusiasm and joy. To learn more about how Buddhism, and encounters with Buddhist monks, changed Thomas Merton's outlook, I would recommend a fascinating book called Merton & Buddhism, part of the Fons Vitae Merton Series.

As for me? I seek to be truly awake, not just to the faults of others but to my own contribution to discord. Better still, and far more truthfully, I seek to be truly awake to myself: a being and evolving instrument of harmony, happiness and peace.

Walter Mason's newest book is Destination Cambodia. You can enjoy seeing Walter give this talk which was recorded at the monthly interfaith, spiritually inclusive services held each month at Pitt Street (264) Uniting Church, Sydney. These are led by Dr Stephanie Dowrick and everyone is welcome. Third Sundays, 3pm.  To purchase any of the books Walter mentions, or any others, please consider using our bookstore links. And your comments are always welcome.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Claire Scobie on writing a diary, reading books about travel and why she prefers historical fiction

Claire Scobie celebrates her beautiful first novel

Walter Mason writes: Claire Scobie has long been one of my literary heroes. Her travel book Last Seen in Lhasa is by now a classic of the genre, and people are always telling me it is one of their favourites. This year Claire has released her first novel, an exquisite piece of historical fiction set in India and dealing with the lives of the Devadasi, the scared temple dancers. I asked Claire a few questions about the book, and about reading and writing in general:

1.    Who was your imagined reader for The Pagoda Tree?

I didn’t have an imagined reader. I know for some writers it helps thinking of their audience and who they are writing for. I’ve never done that. The relationship I am trying to cultivate is between me and the story, me and the characters. Then I just pray that the book will resonate with readers.

2.    How did you stumble upon the story of the devadasi?

I read a newspaper article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the last courtesans who lived in a small town in southern India. The story introduced nineteen-year-old Durga and her mother, Kumari, who described how women like them were once ‘heroines, stars’. Without the patronage they once knew, this family had to turn to prostitution to make a living and Durga, the last of her generation, suffered from HIV AIDS. As soon as I read this, I wanted to discover why and how these women – once esteemed artists, dancers and scholars – now face a life of apparent abjection.

I then went to Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. On the walls of the eleventh-century ‘Big Temple’ the names and addresses of 400 devadasis is inscribed in Tamil. For me as a writer that was exciting. I wanted to find out where and how these women lived. Through my research I began to piece together their lives, retracing the steps that my fictional character Maya would have walked through the dusty streets. At their height to be a patron of one of these artists was like being the lover of a big star, like being the lover of Audrey Hepburn or Madonna. I deliberately chose to set my novel in this earlier period when the devadasi was an empowered and alluring figure.

3.    How has your spiritual life informed the writing of The Pagoda Tree?

Undoubtedly my numerous trips to India over the past 15 years provided the spiritual cradle of my novel. It’s well known that the sub-continent is a place of contradictions – particularly in the way women are treated in society. Despite having the longest tradition of goddess worship in the world, Indian women face daily harassment, abuse and, as we’ve seen recently, horrendous violence. While I’ve experienced intimidation there, I’ve also witnessed first-hand the strength of Indian women. I’ll never forget being invited by a group of female pilgrims to pray at a goddess temple in southern India. Here, the men had to wait and the women entered the innermost shrine first, chanting praises to the goddess Parvati. One woman took my hand and led me forward. As we walked past the busty stone statues of goddesses, she rubbed the red tikka powder gathering between the protruding breasts and rubbed it between her own. She motioned that I do the same. In that single gesture I sensed that this barefoot worshipper saw herself reflected back in the statue of the goddess. Afterwards, as the pilgrims gathered around me and offered food, I felt embraced by their practical spirituality and their earthy womanliness.

In The Pagoda Tree, I explore how the figure of the devadasi represents the sensual and the sacred. In the West there is no tradition of allowing these two apparent opposites to co-exist. Yet I’ve long believed that the marriage of sex and spirituality strikes at the heart of who we are – for both women and men. Honouring the body, rather than loathing or diminishing it, affects our entire wellbeing. It’s not just about the sex, it’s about how we treat ourselves, each other and the earth. It’s ultimately about a sense of empowerment. With my novel I wanted to bring to life the little known world of the Indian temple dancer, in all its complexity, sensuality and mystery. The more, I believe, that we can accept life’s so-called contradictions, the more we can fully embody the human experience.

4.    Do you keep a journal? If so, do you follow any method or have any particular rituals surrounding it?

I used to keep a diary religiously. I started aged nine and wrote every night for over a decade. Now I am much more erratic and don’t follow any particular rituals. I always tend to write more when I am travelling. At home, I write in my journal when the yen takes me. However I always carry a small notebook in my handbag and jot ideas down as they come.

5.    Who are the writers who have inspired you along the way? Who are you a fan of?

I tend to go through phases of different writers. Growing up I was drawn to classic travel writers like Alan Moorehead, Bruce Chatwin and the stark prose of Ernest Hemmingway. The South American writers loosely linked by magical realism informed my twenties – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende et al. I’ve had a splurge on Chinese writers and in more recent years, Indian authors. I love going to bookshops in India and usually bring back a stack of new books each time I visit. They all have a particular aromatic smell: dust, earth, woodsmoke – India. I deliberately don’t read the ‘popular book of the moment’. I tend to wait until a book draws me. In general I prefer historical fiction to contemporary fiction. Reading for me is a way to understand another world, another time, another place.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks with Claire about Last Seen in Lhasa
Bio: Claire Scobie is the author of Last Seen in Lhasa, a memoir based on her friendship with a Tibetan nun, which won the Dolman Best Travel Book Award in 2007.
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Mary-Lou Stephens on a book that changed her life

Walter Mason writes: One of my favourite books  this year has been Mary-Lou Stephens' totally unique and beautifully written memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation - you can read my review of it here. I have been asking the very busy Mary-Lou (she is also a much-loved radio host on ABC Sunshine Coast) to write something for us for some time, and she has finally told us about a book that taught her that less is more:
It was my second job in radio. I was head-hunted to start up a new radio station in a major regional market. The program director of the network advised me, as he advised all the staff he was recruiting, to read Thick Face Black Heart by Chin-Ning Chu, an expert in business psyche and success tactics. I dutifully bought a copy but never got around to reading it.

Chin-Ning Chu, inspirational author of Do Less, Achieve More (Secrets of the Rainmaker)
Six months later, completely overwhelmed by the workload I was at breaking point.  After each frantic and exhausting day I would crawl back to my small apartment to cry and eat ice cream. The only thing I was capable of reading was junk mail; not much text, lots of pictures and the promise of happiness. I thought perhaps the reason I wasn’t coping was because I hadn’t read the book. Could Thick Face Black Heart be the key to managing the sixteen-hour days I was regularly putting in? I had a mentor who would often say to me, “You can only do what you can do.” His voice was soothing but his advice was not helpful. I told him that I was finally going to read Thick Face Black Heart.

“Don’t do that,” he said. “Read her next book instead, The Secrets of the Rainmaker. I think you’ll find it more beneficial.”

I ordered a copy and when it arrived tossed the junk mail in the recycling bin and began to read. What I found within its pages changed my life.

The Secrets of the Rainmaker, subtitled 'Success without Stress', is based on a story Carl Jung used to tell. In this story a village has been in drought for many years. The people have tried everything, brought in many experts but the drought remains crippling. Finally they call upon a renowned Rainmaker from afar. The Rainmaker arrives, pitches his tent and disappears inside it for four days. On the fifth day the rain begins to fall. When the villagers ask him how he’d achieved such a miracle he answers that he didn’t do anything. When he arrived he noticed that the village was not in harmony with heaven. He spent four days inside his tent putting himself in harmony with the Divine. Then the rain came.

Chin-Ning Chu extrapolates the Rainmaker’s success into four secrets; creating a harmonious inner environment, putting your mind at ease, finding the resting point within, and letting spirituality energize business. Within these secrets are many more insights including trading what you have for what you want, being willing not to survive, making peace with time and how to respond rather than react.

To say I was surprised by what I read is an understatement. I was expecting a book about getting ahead, cramming more into each day and beating my opponents. Instead I devoured a book about surrender, ease and meditation. It spoke to my weary soul with words like, "When one is excessively busy, his heart is dead." I set about reviving my heart and replenishing my soul. I was already getting up at 4 am but I set my alarm forty minutes earlier to sit in front of a candle on a small table draped in purple silk and meditate. My desperate thoughts would make meditation all but impossible yet I persisted. Day after day in the darkness of early morning, I sat, breathed and gave my heart and mind a place to rest.

The months passed, the workload remained unmanageable, but I kept meditating. I had tried many guided meditations before, in my time, in Twelve Step programs recovering from a gaggle of addictions, but this was the first time I let my mind just be. I didn’t realise it then, but by spending this time in meditation and reflection I was slowing down enough to allow, as Chin-Ning Chu says, the angel of good fortune catch up. It took a lot longer than the Rainmaker’s four days.

The first time I saw the ad I couldn’t believe it. The job I had always wished for at the station I had said should exist, but never thought did, in one of the most beautiful places in Australia. It was my dream job. I put in the effort and then let go. Another secret of the Rainmaker, the balance between energy and ease. Three months later the job was mine. Miracles happen much more often than we are willing to acknowledge, says Chin-Ning.

I had learned in the rooms of AA and NA that I couldn’t change other people, places or things. The only thing I can change is myself. The Secrets of the Rainmaker brought that fact into focus for me. Less than two years later I was to use that insight again when my dream job became a nightmare. I didn’t pitch a tent and disappear into it for four days, instead I went to a meditation retreat and spent ten days meditating in silence. Once again miracles happened, unexpected miracles that remain and continue to unfold to this day. And to this day I continue to meditate. I enjoy allowing the angel of good fortune to catch up as often as possible.

(NB. In the USA Secrets of the Rainmaker is called Do Less, Achieve More. The book is a lot easier to find under the second title.)


Mary-Lou Stephens was born in Tasmania, studied acting at the Victorian College of the Arts and played in bands in Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney before she got a proper job—in radio. She has worked and played all over Australia and now lives on the Sunshine Coast with her husband, their dog and a hive of killer native bees. Her meditation memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, is the true story of how meditation changed her life, saved her job and found her a husband. Find out more at on her website.
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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Stephanie Dowrick is reading about writing

Stephanie Dowrick is the author of 14 books for adults - including Creative Journal Writing and In the Company of Rilke - and is co-host of The Universal Heart Book Club. She has also taught writing for many years, been a successful publisher, and is a life-long constant reader. Here she discusses some of her favourite books on one of her favourite topics: writing.

All my reading is "about" writing in one way or another. How could it not be? Writing is the means by which I "listen" and think most deeply. But sometimes my desire to read about writing becomes particularly explicit.

In less than two months (24 October 2013) I am off with my lovely friend and travel companion, William Suganda, to teach on our gorgeous "Writing in Kyoto" workshop. And that's given me the perfect reason to think about which little trinity of books will stimulate discussions during some of our morning gatherings, and stimulate participants as they think about writing freshly as well as trying out what's new, or what is familiar in new ways.

100 novels as Jane Smiley's reference point, plus 20 years of her own writing!
I am not going to suggest that participants take with them US novelist Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. It's demanding and captivating in equal measure and also so fat that it would need its own suitcase to reach Japan. But for "before" or "after" reading, and especially for those who are writing long or longer fiction, it's a treasure cave. We would need a year of meetings to do this book justice. The chapter persuasively called "A Novel of Your Own (1)" is itself a masterclass. Smiley is of the "forge-ahead" school of novel writing, urging would-be novelists to get that essential first draft down. I admire the energy and adventurousness of that approach even though my own method is quite the opposite. Before I move on I rewrite constantly and painstakingly (neurotically? obsessively?!) and do this whether I am writing fiction, non-fiction or articles. I love returning to an already busy page rather than facing a blank one.  (Children's writing is different for me. That's another story.) Years ago I told myself that this "two steps forward, three back" was because I was an editor and publisher before I was a writer. Editing (rewriting) was familiar to me and felt safer. Now, though, I see one's writing method is as much dictated by temperament as it is by training. Method chooses us, perhaps. However you write, though, you may be encouraged as I was by these Smiley words:

Writing novels [and I would say, writing any creative work that demands a naked self] is an essentially amateur activity. Professional readers and literary types have to be able to dispense with their professional side in order to engage in the amateurism required in the rough draft of a first novel.
       Ignorance, confusion, fear, and shame are the enemies of your novel, Desire and pleasure are its friends - the desire to communicate and the pleasure of contemplation.

The author of Divine Beauty, John O'Donohue

 John O'Donohue's divine book, Divine Beauty, will be coming to Kyoto with us - again. I used it last year...and won over (I believe) every sceptic in the class. One of those former sceptics is returning to our workshop this year and I hesitated whether it was wise to re-use the same book. Would it be stimulating enough, I worried, without the bracing shock of the new that the discovery of such a writer allows. Then, surrendering once more in my own quiet room at home to O'Donohue's marvellous use of language, depth of thinking and writing power, I resolved that I would be doing myself and our entire group a disservice by not taking and using it. 

 "Carried within the flow of time, you are coming to be who you are in every emerging moment. Life is a journey that fills out your identity and yet the true nature of a journey remains largely invisible."

When people leave their familiar territory to come to a writing class far from home they give themselves a brilliant opportunity to see freshly. That is also so much of what authentic writing is about: moving beyond the banal and stale to discover what is emerging onto your page, bridging the no-space between our inner and outer worlds as well as the worlds of the writer and the reader. O'Donohue gets that. Gives that. A master of "deep looking", I am again intending to be his willing disciple and apprentice.

David Whyte's The Heart Aroused is coming with us for the first time. Whyte is, like O'Dononhue, a poet, and what I like best about this book is that he puts corporate America (and it could be corporate almost-anywhere) and poetry alongside one another as powerful equals. He quotes William Carlos Williams:
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

David Whyte, author of The Heart Aroused.
As someone who spent years in the company of a visionary poet, and writing In the Company of Rilke, I respond with such gratitude to Whyte's confidence in the power of words that are sent into the world with soul - and a deep, hard-earned understanding of what that means and also allows. And it is not, either, as if he privileges poetry over "work" - even vast-corporate work. He's too smart for that. Both have their illuminations and varying shadows, he shows. Both have their hungers. And we have our hungers for them. To find our individual and collective place in the world as well as through the world is basic, surely, to our shared humanity.

"Soul," Whyte writes, "has to do with the way a human being belongs to their world, their work, or their human community... It seems to me that human beings are always desperate to belong to something larger than themselves."  It's poetry - and I certainly learned this from Rilke - that can "speak" that longing, liberating us while also affirming the power of that longing and of language. Whyte is also a powerful prose story-teller and his vignettes of memoir, together with his more analytic writing, exhibit within the covers of a single book just how flexible language can be. And how much one can learn about writing through careful, delighted reading.

We will be looking closely, too, at least from time to time, at my own Creative Journal Writing, especially at the playful, liberating exercises that build fluency and a love of surprise. I'm cautious when it comes to teaching craft. I much prefer to offer ways to free people from any preconceptions about writing that are holding them back, or the kind of self-consciousness that can take pleasure away or send it into exile. The intrinsic, private pleasures of writing are always much more than half the story. They are also writing's most reliable rewards. Freeing oneself to see more deeply, to free all of one's senses (including a sense of time, place, purpose) and to write more freely are explicit or implicit goals for every writer, however new, however they have been long emerging. The kind of freedom that "journal writing"or "daily pages" bring is key to that.   

Finally, but not least, most of us will have read Richard Morais' recent novel, Buddhaland Brooklyn.  This is a novel "about" Japan by a writer who isn't Japanese…so perhaps better to say it is "about" Eastern and Western cultural assumptions, of interest to all thoughtful writers.  While it is not a grand novel - nor does it need to be - it is a wonderful work of imagination, full of colour and life and it both plays with and evokes a sense of Japan that will be a lovely counterpoint to participants' own experience of Kyoto 2013.

Each of these books inspires and expresses the elusive "energy" of writing: the energy that writing requires; the energy it can bring, for all that it requires levels of commitment as great as any other art.  With energy, and driving it, is inspiration. Of that Jane Smiley writes:
"The word 'inspiration' is, of rooted in the Latin words meaning to breathe in and is closely related to aspire, expire, transpire, and spirit. At the same time that you breathe life into your work, you are breathing in the stimulus that enables you to do so."

Breathing in.
Breathing out.
Breathing Kyoto.

For more information about Kyoto or any other events with Stephanie Dowrick, visit "Events" on stephaniedowrick.com. Stephanie also leads an interfaith service each 3rd Sunday of the month at 3pm at Pitt Street (264) Uniting Church, Sydney.  To leave a comment, please use the comments box below. It will say "no comments" until activated. You will have to wade past the "captcha" ordeal - saving us all from spammers. Two words: space between. use "anonymous" if no google mail address - should be easy. We love to hear from you! Finally, you are most welcome to use our bookshop links - above right. A snail's portion is returned to us on any such sales.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Poet Peggy Marks Wahlhaus on the butterfly's longevity

                             A BUTTERFLY LIVES ONLY
well, it all depends doesn’t it
on when you think life starts.

First of all, even the final perfect stage
is romantically mythed as lasting
only one day. Lepidopterists give it
as a few weeks, depending on predators:
“Some, the  hardiest, can last for months”
(funny to think of butterflies as hardy).
There are, of course, butterflies
and butterflies.

We could cogitate, waste years philosophizing
as to which came first in the scheme of things –
the egg or the butterfly,
and if it was forced out of Eden
and if it fluttered into the Ark?

Let’s rather follow the little egg
which a brief-lived mother lays,
become a greedy and not very charming
grub, a caterpillar, cannibalizing its own eggshell,
eating its heart out on the leaf bed
splitting skin frequently to enclose
its rapidly obese body

become a hard case, a pupa, more charmingly named
chrysalis.  Skin toughens
existing tissue breaks down – part of it dies,
adult structures form;  scarcely perceptible
shadow images of incipient wings appear
shape of things to come,

and then, delight! a birth! this new creature unfolds,
wet like a fresh-born calf, dries with trembling ,
discovers wings, every colour of every flower
of every polished jewel, hovers.
An exquisite new being is born.
Then the day (or days) of joy

of delicate stepping into trumpet flowers
dipping into nectar,  looping
lightly through sunlight
preening its opalescent beauty.

Finally – or is it finally -
let’s wonder if it fell, crept someplace
to lie broken, trampled into the earth,
insignificant insect husk;
whereas the wings, the exquisite wings

would they fly to butterfly paradise
a brief respite
before the dipping into mud earth again
to find another ugly body to light up
into loveliness?

About our poet:

         Peggy Marks Wahlhaus was born in South Africa where she studied and taught speech pathology, specialising in stuttering.  She emigrated to Australia on a Distinguished Talents visa, and has been involved in this work, as well as in teaching communication skills.  Peggy has written a children's book in verse, The Elps of the Airport, about small invisible people who push planes into the air.  She is also a published poet.

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