Posts Tagged With: human rights

Book Review: The Muralist

muralistI read B. A. Shapiro’s bestseller The Art Forger when it came out and enjoyed it immensely. When art is the backdrop against a true-life story, and I can learn something along the way, I’m automatically drawn. So when I stumbled upon her next novel, it was a shoo-in that did not disappoint. Plus, I became aware of shameful things in US history that certainly have been downplayed, but absolutely relevant today. A horrendous part of French history is also enlarged upon beyond what I’d known. These two areas are largely why I’m reviewing this historical novel here.

The storyline is introduced in present-day when art historian Danielle Abrams, working for Christie’s auction house, received boxes of paintings to research and authenticate. Knowledge and gut feeling told her they were likely Abstract Expressionist pieces, potentially pre-WWII. She felt the stirrings of excitement, a possibility arising. Could they be early works of renowned Abstract Expressionists? With that, her thoughts turned toward her great-aunt Alizée Benoit, the family legend and mystery surrounding her. In the first stirrings of WWII, Alizée had moved to New York for the sake of her art, leaving her Jewish family in France. Family stories had it that she somehow became connected with Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and others, little known at the time, and played a significant influence on these giants in the Abstract Expressionism movement and their styles.  But suddenly in 1940 she disappeared. No one knew where or why. Attempts led nowhere and there were whispers of mental illness. Only two of her paintings remained, given to her US family by a patron.

An unexpected find that she believes was somehow connected to her missing great-aunt causes Danielle to undertake her own search to resolve the mystery. We are ushered back to the late 1930s, a couple of years after Alizée’s arrival in New York, as she is making her way in a country critically affected by the Depression. By this time, she is working for Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Program (FAP) on murals, destined for public sites like government buildings, train stations and the like. She rubs elbows with serious artists of the time, and becomes part of the close-knit group that include those mentioned. The narrative follows Alizée as they work and practically live on top of each other, arguing about art and loving in the midst of uncertain times.

In the meantime, the threat of Hitler becomes more and more real. Alizée’s close and extended Jewish family in Europe enlist her to help them apply for US visas to escape the tyranny as it becomes increasingly dangerous and communications diminish. The one bright point in her life is art and the unforeseen patronage of Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the FAP.

Alizée bumps up against block after bureaucratic block in rescuing her family. She learns that Breckinridge Long, the Assistant Secretary of State in President Roosevelt’s administration and an anti-Semite, was actively withholding granting of visas to Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany, stating they may be criminals and spies. President Roosevelt, for his part, turned his head away from this matter as too politically sensitive.

Rumors of the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Gestapo, police raids in Paris, where her family lived, and transfers to a “holding camp” an hour away by train trickled through. Becoming more and more desperate, Alizée found no recourse but to join a dissident group and take drastic measures.

Danielle’s painstaking search for the fate of Alizée Benoit uncovers answers, piece by perturbing piece, that bring resolution from the past to the present.

B.A. Shapiro was faithful to documentation of the bohemian and sometimes tragic lives of the Abstract Expressionists, WPA/FAP and Eleanor Roosevelt’s support of the arts, which I found quite interesting. More so, she built a poignant story against the terrible landscape of politics, war and genocide of those times…some of which sound all too familiar today.

Here are the facts.

Ultimately, the effect of the immigration policies set by Long’s department was that, during American involvement in the war, ninety percent of the quota places available to immigrants from countries under German and Italian control were never filled. If they had been, an additional 190,000 people could have escaped the atrocities being committed by the Nazis.

Source: Wikipedia.

The Drancy camp was designed to hold 700 people, but at its peak held more than 7,000. There is documented evidence and testimony recounting the brutality of the French guards in Drancy and the harsh conditions imposed on the inmates…upon their arrival, small children were immediately separated from their parents for deportation to the death camps…

Of the 75,000 Jews whom French and German authorities deported from France, more than 67,000 were sent directly from Drancy to Auschwitz… As the Allies were approaching Paris in August 1944, the German officers fled, and the camp was liberated on 17 August when control of the camp was given over to the French Resistance and Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling…

Source: Wikipedia.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s son James told historian Doris Kearns Goodwin that the greatest regret of his mother’s life was her failure to convince her husband to admit more European refugees to the United States before World War II. Her lament is a warning to all of us.

Source: Salon.com.

The Muralist is available in print, audio and ebook through Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Neither Wolf Nor Dog…Or When a Calling Comes

This is less of a review and more of a story about how I came to learn of the book Neither Wolf Nor Dog, and then my process through attempts to understand its full, often uncomfortable meaning.

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About this time a year ago I received an invitation, really it was delivered as a demand, from a Lakota elder that I come to South Dakota to receive teachings. It came at a time I was continually traveling, barely home but longing to be. When I thanked him and attempted to arrange a time that made it easier for me, he became insistent. We finally settled on a time. For me, it meant giving up the only travel-free week I’d had in some time. I wasn’t sure what this was all about, and didn’t know the elder. The prior contact we’d had was relatively brief, a long phone call. I finally decided it was something I was being called to do.

I would like to say it was a meaningful journey and a great sharing passed between us. Instead, our time ended abruptly. I left with even more confusion than I’d periodically felt over those days and a high level of frustration, angry at myself that I’d been talked into coming. Clearly, there was much he kept tightly wrapped. Although, it sometimes emerged in ways I wasn’t used to dealing with, much less how to respond adequately. But I was going directly to another commitment, one that mattered a lot to me. So I tucked the strong emotions away and chalked the whole thing up to a mystery of the Universe.

Before I made that trip to South Dakota, I’d mentioned it to a friend. She said there was a book she thought would be good for me to read. I dutifully ordered Neither Wolf Nor Dog but didn’t have time to read it before I left. It found its place on my bookshelf where it languished. I hadn’t known it was made into a movie. Some months later it was being shown where I live, and I followed the strong urge to see it.

The film hadn’t progressed very far when I began to get the eerie feeling of dejá vu. An author from Minnesota, Kent Nerburn, received a cryptic phone call out of the blue from a woman saying her Lakota grandfather wanted to see him. No reason given but delivered with a sense of urgency. Some months later, Nerburn—as he came to be called—finally was able to free up some time to make the long trip to the isolated place the elder Dan called home.  There were few explanations given to Nerburn, punctuated with a lot of silences. Quickly, Dan’s younger Lakota friend Grover was introduced into the story, a caustic individual with barely contained anger frequently directed toward Nerburn in clipped tones and looks. Frankly, I wondered why Nerburn stayed around. I think he did, too. He wrestled with his own responses and ultimately decided to let things play out. Plus, he had the nice guy syndrome going.

I experienced repeated slaps in the face watching all this. It was visceral. When Dan and Grover threw Nerburn in the car and took off on a little explained, exhaustive trip across the Dakotas, my forearms puckered into chicken skin that didn’t go away until the film ended. There were just too many parallels. The places they went, the flavor of the discourse. Showing rather than telling. When Dan broke silences to hold forth on what he wanted Nerburn to learn of the Lakota people…what he wanted Nerburn to put out there in writing… Well, I don’t have words for what I felt.

Clearly, I was not going to be allowed to tuck away my still strong emotions and bewilderment about the journey I took to the Dakotas. I can only believe unseen forces were taking me by the hand to engage with all of it.

So I started to read the book. It was not easy going for me. I could only read a few pages at a time. Then I’d have to digest the contents. Most of the things covered in Neither Wolf Nor Dog I knew about in some form: the atrocities done to Native peoples by whites, cultural differences in beliefs and values…and then there’s appropriation of Native traditions by white people searching to find spiritual grounding…or those who seek to do good but hold a hidden agenda. But I hadn’t found anything to the depth or in the frame presented by Dan, and even Grover, in this writing. The book naturally goes much deeper than the movie ever could.

It took me over two months to read Neither Wolf Nor Dog. I stepped back numerous times to examine the level of my own assumptions and awareness, as well as my motivations behind the work I’ve devoted twenty years of my life. It was a necessary, intensive process. I can’t say it’s over. Instead, it’s all percolating some place inside. I don’t know what will finally emerge.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog is book one of a trilogy that recounts the story of an Indian elder, the surrounding Lakota community, and the white man who somehow has been called to be part of the Truth-naming. The Wolf at Twilight is about Dan’s search for his long-lost sister Yellow Bird who, kidnapped from her home some eighty years before, never returned from the Indian boarding school. The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo brings back the things many have forgotten: the meaning of dreams, the abilities to engage with nature and speak with animals. Sadly, it uncovers the existence of a secret asylum and events that took place there.

Kent Nerburn says these books are fictional accounts of actual events. The truths are in each sentence and have global application. This isn’t merely history. It’s today.

The books are available on Amazon or elsewhere. The movie may still be making the rounds in theaters. Hopefully, it will be offered streaming soon.

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With many thanks to Karen Marchetti who turned me on to Neither Wolf Nor Dog. Without this guidebook I may never integrate the odyssey I was strangely called to undertake.

Categories: Book Review, Film, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lineage and Tradition: Holding Strong for All That Matters

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Ceiba: Tree of Life. ©2018 Carla Woody.

I’ve been considering lineage. First coming from Latin as linea, evolving to Old French lignage and English line to finally form lineage, meaning lineal descent, ancestry and parentage. It has to do with roots from the seed. What is the seed? Where are your roots planted, and how deep do they go? That’s underground. What is drawn up through those roots to make its way above ground? Heritage is a living entity. What does the bloodline produce?

I like this on lineage from biology: a sequence of cells in the body that developed from a common ancestral cell. I think about origins, and all the stories that are passed along a family line ⎯ said and unsaid ⎯ and those told over and over that bind a collective to each other. Influences. There are those stories best to learn from and let go. But that’s another piece of writing.

Here I want to focus on tradition as it speaks to lineage.

When we are rootless…when we don’t know where we come from and don’t hear the stories…we long for knowledge of the line that could give us spiritual grounding, heritage in the highest sense. If we never know…if we’re disconnected…then we’re left to take the solo journey toward creating a solid identity. Or, not at all and remain ungrounded. Some are fortunate to find community that sustains them. Floundering is often the norm until some semblance of foundation forms. Whatever traditions come of this quest are deeply personal and create stability through time. They give expression and instill what it means to be human.

There are multitudes across the world who can trace their lineage back hundreds to thousands of years. Most of these are tribal peoples. They are grounded in the very lands where they or their ancestors were born. Their stories are centuries old, some never written down, and endure. They know who they are at a deeply unconscious level, made visible through their traditions. Rituals ⎯ how a baby receives its name, crops are planted, dreams advise ⎯ provide the framework that guide lives. They are not alone. Ancestors are actively present. So is the community. The richness of lineage is told through dance, songs, music and art.

I say these are the sacred threads that hold the world together because it’s true. These timeless elements produce spiritual grounding and strength beyond anything material. Yet to the present-day mainstream majority these threads are unseen or valued least with little to no thought or understanding.

There are so many examples of detractors acting against the stability that we all seek at a core level. On the world stage, most of us (who would be reading these words) can name those most grievous actions and their perpetrators right off the top of our heads. The source is rootlessness, the disconnect of those who have chosen to stay ungrounded. I have to believe this because I can’t imagine that anyone who has pledged commitment to all that encompasses spiritual identity could even consider, much less act on, what tears the world apart.

The question becomes how do those of us who hold value for the planet and all beings, not only survive but thrive and stand up to what acts against all we hold dear. I don’t believe we do it by force. I don’t believe we do it by cutting ourselves off from what is going on in the world. By virtue of holding anything at arm’s length, tension is created by focusing on what we want to avoid…thereby naturally drawing it to attention.

I don’t believe we do it by allowing ourselves to be assaulted. I say this in particular because I felt that way for months in this last year when I’d learn day by day of yet another thing that went against my deeply held spiritual values. This wasn’t just an attack on my mind. I felt the attack viscerally. But going numb isn’t the answer either.

I’m writing of this because it’s been so much on my mind. It’s probably been on yours. As I have been attempting to grapple, accept, rise above…I can’t say I have answers. But in the midst of all this, something did present itself. I’ve been drawn to return to reading passages in spiritual literature, adding this practice in to my daily meditation as I did many years ago when going through difficult times. I do feel strengthened.

We find our true identity in lineage and tradition, the sacred threads that hold the world together, woven tightly and held lightly.  I do believe this is what we’re called to do in these times, upleveling the breakthrough that must be on the horizon.

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Drops and Ripples. ©2018 Carla Woody.

Synchronicity being what it is, as I was finishing up this piece, I received the weekly newsletter with an article from Yes! Magazine entitled Don’t Just Resist. Return to Who You Are by Taiaiake Alfred. I zeroed in on these words scattered through a paragraph.

Reclaim.

Rename.

Reoccupy.

Restore.

That seems to say it all.

 

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: A Chosen Exile

ChosenExileThere have been any number of books that exposed the horrors of slavery in America. But few have focused on a particular segment of slaves and descendants of slaves: those whose race is mixed to the degree it’s largely undetermined. In slavery times, these were the children produced from union by a black mother, usually not consensual, and a white slaveholder father. This is a history on racial “passing” into white society, how it was accomplished, the weight of that choice and any relevance today.

A Chosen Exile is full of examples of those who made the transition to living as white in white (usually urban) communities, those who were discovered and returned to slavery, and those who were mistaken as white but openly identified as black ⎯ and made a point of correction.  Importantly, it goes into the emotional sacrifice of turning away from a part of yourself and disconnecting from family. That’s the payment extracted in the hopes of gaining a leg up, to live with dignity, to feed a family, to do more than just survive. The choice didn’t stop with the end of slavery but continued well into the 20th century.

One story detailed the escape of slaves Ellen Craft and her husband William. William said he came up with the complex plan.

It occurred to me that, as my wife was nearly white, I might get her to disguise herself as an invalid, and assume to be my master, while I could attend as his slave, and that in this manner we might effect our escape.

But it was Ellen who made her transformation so successfully to white southern gentleman. It worked to the point that, on the way to Philadelphia, young southern women fell all over Ellen saying what a “most respectable looking gentleman.” News of their method soon trickled southward, became legend and was replicated to varying degrees.

The term “racial ambiguity” is frequently used in the book. First to identify those of mixed race, but finally pointing to a larger meaning: when “passing” is no longer even relevant.

Highly recommend this book. It goes into great depth on the meaning of race, identity, loss and the need to thrive. Even though political backlash and racial tragedies are the consistent news of this day, through the details presented in A Chosen Exile, still I witness our slow march to freedom for all people.

I found my copy at the public library. Otherwise available on Amazon and elsewhere books are sold.

 

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Calling to Truth

Any semblance of moisture we received in Northern Arizona has been long gone for months. It’s so hot that airplanes can’t fly two hours to the south. My eyes burn with the dryness, and I squint sharply against the sun. The winds have been so strong the gale seems to penetrate my very being, leaving only the core essentials as it exits. We await reprieve.

In my 2004 book Standing Stark, I wrote of monsoons to frame the spiritual process I would relay.

We have heavy rains in Arizona. They normally start in July and go through August. We call the rains monsoons, which may be hard to imagine for those who have not yet experienced the rhythms of the high desert. Sometimes, though, we have a drought year and the rains start later. The tall pines become over-thirsty, beyond being parched. In those times, all of us develop expectancy—trees, plants, animals and humans alike. We are all in it together after all.

But invariably the monsoons come, often with violent storms. Jagged lightning dazzles the sky and thunder cracks so loudly it can bring us up sharply if we’re not attuned. In a primal way, we are all more susceptible during periods of scarcity.

A threat to collective Spirit is in effect. The tragic loss of lives, the reigning political untruths and senseless decisions that throw working people and the environment under the bus. Those who stand for Truth⎯in all its manifestations⎯can’t help but be affected. What can be done?

A few years ago, an acquaintance told me he respected my activism, and I was startled. I didn’t consider myself so. I actually wanted to flee. To me, activism meant center stage, labeled a radical, fighting the continual fight. It would mean a huge sacrifice on my part. I’m an introvert and can be left exhausted by such engagements if it goes on long enough. But I’ve shifted my perspective.

Wandering in the forest later, we can see the aftermath. In a sea of towering ponderosas, or their kin, there are those who stand apart. Not frequently, but infrequently, there will be those who are now shed of their needles, their skins laid open by the snaking of a lightning strike. Standing stark, they appear to be dead. They aren’t. When I go and put my forehead against their trunks, I feel the elemental filaments that have startled another kind of consciousness within them. Still dwelling in their habitat, they are even more alive than before.

It doesn’t mean taking radical action⎯except to stand against what insults your soul. It doesn’t mean being in the forefront, unless you choose to do so. It does means being actively engaged in what you believe rather than passively going with what you’re given, or assuming you can do nothing to change the tide. Every day there are choices to make. The quality of thoughts you launch into the ether. The words you write and speak. Where you expend your energy. You retain power by educating yourself to spend money only where it supports life-giving, not life-taking. These things do make a difference.

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The fire that discharged their coverings often may move to some of the surrounding brush and trees, those in close proximity. Sometimes it may travel from a tree to ignite nearly the entire forest. But before that could happen it was first necessary for that tree to be burned of its own covering before the fire that began with that One could affect its brethren.

But truly it starts with each of us first to dispense with any untruths, any limiting beliefs, that cling to life within ourselves. Doing the work that must be done to release anything that speaks of “I don’t deserve,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not capable,” “It’s not possible.” Moving into wholeness⎯your birthright⎯lends strength to all of us.

The lightning strike oftentimes comes suddenly, a bolt unexpected. But there may well be a stirring before the charge and those who have grown the tallest stand most ready to receive.

In order to be ready, we do for ourselves what we know to do as best we can. Yet, there must be no striving. The striving of the material world has no place in this transmission. We need only send our willingness up as a prayer and stand waiting. Those souls who hold themselves available are struck.

I’ve decided I actually am an activist … in my own quiet way. It’s a step-by-step evolutionary process that has brought me to where, sometimes unexpectedly, I find myself today.

Truth matters. The planet matters. We matter. I smell the moisture coming that will drench the lands.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Film Review: Clotheslines

ClotheslinesThis 1981 documentary takes us back to the time when women were defined by laundry and, in many parts of the world, still are. As bizarre as it sounds, Director-Producer Roberta Contow shows us this truth—as stated in so many words by the women she filmed.

Some reading this review will not have the faintest memory of clotheslines—the time before dryers were common—and certainly not of washboards. I wasn’t around for the latter. But viewing the film caused me to look back through my early years to remember my mother setting aside Mondays for laundry day. How she’d set up the ironing board in the spare room, sprinkle water on clean clothes and iron for hours—even the sheets if memory serves—and starching my father’s shirts. My mother kept any complaints to herself. But just witnessing this drudgery made laundry an onerous task to me—one I put off until absolutely necessary to this day. And I never learned to fold sheets well, probably on purpose.

For some, the perfect fold brought a sense of pride and artistry. The surprising part to me —albeit presented with humor—was how women judged other women related to this totally irrelevant category, which spoke to how little power they had that they could only unleash any frustrations on their own kind. If the laundry wasn’t organized on the clothesline by color and type, or upon inspection a speck of stain remained…well, it said something was lacking about your neighbor. Heaven forbid if there was nice lingerie on the line. That said she was cheating on her husband.

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I’m quite sure few women of those times recognized how something so trivial automatically became part of their identity by birth. It was just something expected and accepted even if they secretly hated it.

Watching this film caused me to reflect in what other ways any of us—women and men— automatically assumed, without question, stealth mores. Clotheslines is a film to watch especially for these times when—at least in Western culture—each of us has a voice…that we can make heard by our choices. What is onerous is not something to abide.

View Clotheslines online free on Folkstreams. Highly recommend setting aside the 32 minutes it takes. Also available on DVD for purchase directly from Roberta Cantow by emailing rcantow@originaldigital.net.

Categories: Film Review, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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