Zen Travel (Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing: Meditation in Action by Frederick Franck)

A true drawing is a very private dialogue between the artist-within and some facet of the world around him or her.

Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing came to my attention in 2013, already a 20-year-old book. Since then I’ve read it a few times and it continues to speak to me. I recommend it to you, especially the travellers and writers among us.

Like Franck, I cannot sit and meditate. I fail to clear my mind of the dribble that pushes its way into any space and silence. Yet, when I sit to sketch, everything disappears except the object of my attention. I slip into Zen-state where an hour or two passes as if it was a moment. Franck explains this magic as he walks readers along the path from his early days of gallery shows to his gradual movement into drawing and eventually to the transcendent moment of the unification between seeing-drawing and the experience of oneness. But I am more writer than sketcher – more years of practice – so besides the sketching advice, I’m taken with the writing advice he offers.

Bashō, the father of haiku, warned his students: “Jot down your haiku before the heat of perception cools!”

And this is the way Franck suggests we draw. See the object, enter it through the pen, and experience oneness with it. He compares this experience with the fleeting, but timeless, haiku:

An authentic haiku must, in one breath, grasp the joy as it flies, the tear as it trickles down the cheek. In its seventeen syllables a haiku must catch the unsayable, the mystery of being and non-being: timeless mini-satori in fleeting time:

This dewdrop universe
Just a dewdrop
And yet,
And yet …
            Issa

This is what the sketcher strives to achieve: the quick rendering and the immediacy of becoming other; the Zen moment (whether it passes in mere seconds or whether it stays with you minutes or more).

A final thought on haiku and drawing: “Haiku transmit neither an idea nor a philosophy; they transmit pure experience into a minimum of words that grasp a moment of grace, be it joyous or heartrending.” When I facilitate writing workshops, this finding the essence of experience is what participants are encouraged to discover through their stories.

One of the reasons I’m back at sketching after a bit of a hiatus is to really see what’s before me when I travel. Like Franck,

… I entrust my bones again and again to flying contraptions to circle the globe. I can’t help belonging to this generation of the restless, the globetrotters, the astronauts, obsessed with seeking, pursuing salvation elsewhere, as if the black-eyed Susans in Provence were more black-eyed than the ones in my backyard.

He ventures at some length to explain why taking photographs is less apt to allow us into a culture, for example (and can actually be intrusive and alienating) than drawing. In addition, with photography, the Zen experience is more elusive and, if it is present at all, passes within the nanosecond release of the shutter and, with rare exception, fails to capture the essential essence of the subject/experience. Nevertheless, I’ll continue to photograph my travels, but I’ll add to those images the pleasure of sitting in parks, standing in doorways or on a rock by the ocean with pen, blank journal page, and a box of watercolours. To give you two representative examples, recently in both Morocco and in Mexico, people shied away from the camera but when I got the sketchbook out, people came over to peek and to talk about the process.

Discovering the essence of the object, its authenticity, and its oneness in a Zen sense, is what painters and sketchers seek. It is what I seek in my humble, clumsy and beginner’s way. It enhances travel experiences and the memories that follow.

 

 

32 Zen Seeing-Zen Drawing

Available through your local bookstore or online: Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing

Existential Travel (Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel)

“…we thrive or wither depending on how nourishing our environment is.”

The environment of Beatrice and Virgil is anything but nourishing. The landscape is bleak. For the most part, two characters hover around a tree in barren space.

Panned by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times, I found Yann Martel’s story haunting. It slips into waking moments and has entered my dreams, which is a bit unnerving but says volumes about the power of the story.

Reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: there’s neither plot nor action to speak of. But unlike Beckett, Martel’s characters are animals, not tramps – the donkey Beatrice and the howler monkey Virgil. Martel also alludes to Animal Farm among other literary references. Perhaps, too, he’s evoking the dark side of his very successful Life of Pi. Yet another aspect toward understanding Beatrice and Virgil is the obvious allusion to Dante’s Inferno wherein Virgil guides Dante through hell and Beatrice accompanies him through Paradise. However, in this story Paradise is absent. Yet, there’s still one more curve: he’s explicit about the Holocaust, making this story an allegory.

Martel is a philosopher and a writer. As he did with Life of Pi, Martel frames his story, creating a story-within-a-story. In the beginning, his protagonist philosophizes: “A work of art works because it is true, not because it is real.” This fictional author proposes two stories to his publisher, each with a front cover, a “flip book.” One side would feature an imaginative novel about the Holocaust, while the other side would provide a factual essay. Readers would have “a choice…when dealing with upsetting matters.” Hold the book one way: creativity; the other: historical fact. Given the subject, the publisher wants only nonfiction. Henry makes a ploy for including the creative story:

Fiction, being closer to the full experience of life, should take precedence over nonfiction. Stories—individual stories, family stories, national stories—are what stitch together the disparate elements of human existence into a coherent whole. We are story animals.

Henry continues to argue for the flip book idea: “But behind serious nonfiction lies the same fact and preoccupation as behind fiction—of being human and what it means—so why should the essay be slotted as an afterword?” He wants two perspectives and two front covers. He loses the argument and slips into writer’s block. Then we get into the longer middle story—the creative interpretation.

An amateur playwright (also called Henry) becomes the antagonist; the setting is his taxidermy shop where he practices his craft and displays dead animals, many in diorama, including the donkey Beatrice and the howler monkey Virgil. Taxidermist Henry has asked author Henry for his help in writing a play and the writer Henry visits and listens to excerpts read by the tall, gruesome taxidermist. It is not a happy experience, yet he’s drawn to the man, his shop, and the “conversation” between Beatrice and Virgil as excerpts from the script are read to him. Their situation is stark and as gruesome as their creator. Near the novel’s end, the author Henry reflects: “Once you’ve been struck by violence, you acquire companions that never leave you entirely: Suspicion, Fear, Anxiety, Despair, Joylessness.”

After more horror and some healing, author Henry muses about the donkey and the monkey and what his lingering memories mean: “All that remained now was their story, that incomplete story of waiting and fearing and hoping and talking. A love story, Henry concluded.”

A bleak love story, but should we ever be faced with the dystopian reality of Beatrice and Virgil, we could hope for the kind of love they shared.

Beatrice and Virgil is not a story for everyone, but for those who like puzzles and allegories and the “theatre of the absurd,” I recommend Martel’s book to you.

21 Beatrice & Virgil

Available through your local bookstore or online: Beatrice and Virgil

Reading/Presentation/Workshop Descriptions

Kathryn is available for readings of her poetry and fiction, welcoming opportunities to meet with readers and writers at all levels. She facilitates workshops and especially enjoys meeting with writing groups.

Journal-Pen image LR-1

Participatory presentations and workshops include topics such as:

  • Writing Your Passion: Writing Place (Part 1); Writing Character (Part 2)
    • These two workshops are each facilitated over four Monday evening this fall (Part 1 begins September 11, 2017; Part II begins October 16) at the Belleville Public Library. Check out previous posts on “Workshops and Events” (scroll down) for details.
  • Telling Our Stories: Offered as a two-hour presentation, or a weekend-long writing workshop. Participants are provided a handout or workbook of ideas, strategies, and encouragement that lead to inspiration or, for workshop people, a short creative memoir and a skill-set to carry forward. Besides group work and sharing, writers receive individual feedback to guide and direct.
  • Writing Foreign: in this travel writing workshop – a brief two-hour overview to a weekend of trying your hand, to a 10-day travel experience – participants will explore such topics as:

o Finding Your Voice
o Capturing Place
o Writing People and Culture
o Nitty Gritty (from research to the literary toolbox)
o Movement (from the known world into the unknown and back again)

Relevant here is the work Kathryn did in a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)-Queen’s University program in development education (1986-1992).

  • Kathryn offers schools and groups two-to-four hour participatory workshop/presentations with “Talking Fantasy Literature” topics such as:

o Fantasy in our Lives
o Portals we Cross
o Through the Unknown
o Magic of Change

This could be followed by a Tapping Your Fantasy writing workshop.

Kathryn taught 14-week-long fantasy literature for credit (through Loyalist College and Ontario Learn online, 15 years). She has also taught fantasy writing at the college level.

Kathryn enjoys traveling, sailing, hiking, photography, and sketching. Born in Southwestern Ontario, Kathryn has lived in Ottawa, Winnipeg, and rural Eastern Ontario. Her home is now in Belleville on the Bay of Quinte. Kathryn holds a B.A. from the University of Windsor and an MPA from Queen’s University, Kingston.

For information about these topics and to discuss others, please contact Kathryn…

email: whiteoakstudio21@gmail.com

Writing Character: Overview

This is Part 2 of the “Writing Your Passion” workshops offered this fall (2017) at the Belleville Public Library. Writing Character follows Writing Place — each workshop facilitated over four weeks (scroll down for dates and prices). During both workshops our focus is on the important connection between place-character-action.

When characters come alive on the page, magic happens – characters become people brought to life by writers’ skills and their art. In “Writing Character,” participants will explore the link between place-character-action. With the help of literary techniques, participants will create characters that “fit” naturally into their stories’ settings. Whether you are a beginning writer or advanced, interested in memoir, fiction or another genre, this workshop will provide skills that will lift your stories – and the people who inhabit them – to the next level.

The overview:

Writing Character -Overview

 

If you’d like to get more out of the places of your stories. Think about joining me at the Belleville Public Library. Time is short: sign up now ((613-968-6731 Ext #2239) or drop in at 254 Pinnacle Street, Belleville, Ontario K8N 3B1.

Travel & Other Passions: A Room & A Reading Chair

Lucky me! I have a studio room, an atelier, a room of my own. It sits in the front of the house with tall north-facing windows and good light. Once it was the dining room, but rarely used. Now the dining table sits at the rear overlooking the small city backyard. It’s closer to the kitchen with an even better view. Why not?

With the dining table gone – replaced by a smaller more practical one in a place more convenient – the empty space quickly filled with a row of bookcases, a small collection of indigenous baskets, red-tailed hawk feathers (and others) from the fields, favourite photographs and paintings, a drop-leaf worktable, an old secretary topped with a computer (and more bookshelves), and a claw-footed piano stool for the desk. All this came together quite readily as I scrounged through the house and visited Funk & Gruven – all except for an oversize, elusive wing-back chair.

After weeks of peeking into antique and used-furniture stores, I was returning home from a workshop with a fellow writer in a neighbouring town. There, in an old church-cum-shop, stood my chair. It is big; I can curl up in it and be hidden by its high back and broad wings. It is plaid and in my favourite colours – rosy and green hues. It is the perfect chair. In it, I’ve been rereading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, again. Much has changed since c.1928, but travel, life experiences beyond the immediate family and social circle, and a room of one’s own – Woolf’s prerequisites for a literary life – remain paramount. They are more accessible, c.2017, than in Woolf’s day, but still….

I have now spent hours in the chair, lost in virtual travels through distant places and inside others’ lives (hence the book reviews), and I have sketched the chair (but that’s another passion for another day).

Reading Chair Sketch LR-1

 

Workshop: Writing Your Passion

 

A workshop in two parts

Journal-Pen image LR-1

Part One: Writing Place

Part Two: Writing Character

 

In this workshop, facilitated by author Kathryn MacDonald, you will discover your place – the one outside that stirs the one inside – the place to set your story.

  • Explore ways of bringing readers inside your cityscape-landscape-seascape so they enter it;
  • Explore strategies that reveal the interconnectedness of people and place, creating “fit.”

Writing Place provides more than simple context for our stories. It provides an entry or portal for readers to engage in the world of each story’s action. Far more than adding simple colour, place adds depth to characters. Open the writers’ toolbox with Kathryn and discover strategies that will boost your skills – from literary techniques to structuring stories to learning to read as a writer in order to enhance self-editing. Gain the benefits of a fully-participatory workshop with individual feedback.

When: September 11, 18, 25, and October 2 (5-8 p.m.)

Where: Belleville Public Library (Ontario) Register by calling 613-968-6731 x2240

Writing Character opens the door to creating characters that come to life on the page. Participants will hone techniques and talents in specific areas in the development of their stories, including voice, tone, and mood, along with the creation of movement, structure, and tension. Modeled as Writing Place, these four weeks offer a fully participatory experience with individual feedback.

When: October 16, 23, 30, November 6 (5-8 p.m.)

Where: Belleville Public Library (Ontario) Register by calling 613-968-6731 x2240

Price: $140 per workshop or $250 for both

 

Cienfuegos Week 2 095

 

Need inspiration? Join Kathryn MacDonald for eight evenings this fall (2017) for a hands-on writing experience that will get you over the blank-page hurdle. (Participants are invited to bring a photo or painting of a place and/or character – along with imagination – as a jumping-off-into-words strategy.)

 

 

Your facilitator has published three books and has a fourth manuscript seeking a publisher. She taught writing through Loyalist College (16 years) and has been on the editorial staff of Harrowsmith, Equinox, and Key to Kingston magazines. Check out her WUC and QAC profiles (for links, please click on the “Welcome” page).

For more details, please complete and submit the comment form with your questions and/or request for a workshop outline.