Painting on the Canvas of Your Life

21 10 2014

I’ve been reading Panache Desai’s Discovering Your Soul Signature and wanted to share one of the meditations from the book:

Imagine that your life can be portrayed on a canvas….When you look at this canvas, you’ll see see everything that’s been placed there. And most of it doesn’t originate from you…. As you’ve moved on through life, external labels have been superimposed on the canvas…. People have told us who we are, and this fills the canvas too.

Now start pulling off those labels…. Peel away those limitations. Remove all of those different words that are getting in the way of being a blank canvas…. As you do this, experience the freedom (or perhaps the terror) of the blank canvas.

When an artist approaches a blank canvas, all that is possible is a single brushstroke at a time….
What splashes, splatters, or messes did you erase?

Now what will YOU choose to paint?
soul signature

(excerpt taken from p. 179-180, 182)





Peace on Earth

3 12 2013

CANDLELet your light shine, bringing peace to the world. Click on individual links:

  India

  Indonesia

  Taiwan

  South Africa

  Germany

  Virginia

  Maryland

Puerto Rico





Remembering Birmingham, 1963

15 09 2013

Birmingham16thStBaptistChurch This week in September reminds us of sadness and tragedy. Earlier in the week, we recalled 9/11. Today marks the 50th anniversary of another bombing in our country – the Birmingham church bombing in 1963. Both incidents have taught us that, through this pain and devastation, we as a nation need to pull together because we are all one.

BirminghamBookCoverSo as we think back on September 15, 1963, I wanted to host Carole Boston Weatherford today. Carole has written many books that deal with civil rights, and her picture book Birmingham, 1963 is a must-read. Hauntingly and beautifully, she retells the story through the eyes of a ten-year-old child.

Paired with Carole’s poignant free verse, the illustrations and photographs from that era tell the heartrending story of how hatred and cruelty destroys lives. Four young girls lost their lives that day. Their deaths shocked the world and shone a light on the injustices ripping society apart. The Birmingham explosion, which occurred less than a month after Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, became a catalyst for change and turned the tide in the struggle for equality.BirminghamPoliceBrutality

Although we still have many hurdles to overcome to make this a true land of equality for everyone, I have faith, as MLK did, that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

So today, I’ve invited Carole Boston Weatherford to share her creative process with us. She has also generously provided many resources for teachers, and her publisher Boyd’s Mills Press has given us a copy of one of Carole’s books, Becoming Billie Holliday, as a giveaway. Anyone who comments on the blog or on Facebook, will have a chance to win this beautiful book. And this fall, Carole is also offering free Skype visits to any schools that read Birmingham, 1963.

Birmingham Childrens March Because today is my birthday and this story is told from by a girl celebrating her 10th birthday, I chose this as my first question for Carole:

Why did you set the tragedy on the narrator’s birthday?

In the eyes of children, turning ten is a big deal, a childhood milestone bordering on a rite of passage. The bombing actually occurred on the church’s Youth Day. To compound the irony and up the emotional ante, I made the bombing coincide with the narrator’s tenth birthday. The main character is looking forward to singing a solo during worship service and to celebrating her birthday. Instead, she survives a church bombing and mourns four older girls. That setting dramatically juxtaposes birthday candles and the bundle of dynamite which sparked the explosion. The milestone resonates like a mantra, beginning as The year I turned ten and building to The day I turned ten.

Do you have a favorite passage from the poem?

The last stanza is my favorite.

Birmingham Birthday Candles

Why did you choose historical fiction and create an anonymous narrator?

The historical events are true, but the first-person narrator is fictional. I use historical fiction to give young readers a character with whom to identify. In so doing, young readers grapple with social justice issues. I did not want names of fictional characters to stick in readers’ minds or to take the focus off the real victims. Also, the narrator’s anonymity draws readers even closer to the action. In this scene, she struggles to get out of the church after the blast.

Smoke clogged my throat, stung my eyes.
As I crawled past crumbled plaster, broken glass,
Shredded Bibles and wrecked chairs—
Yelling Mama! Daddy!—scared church folk
Ran every which way to get out.

The flow of your free verse is beautiful. Can you tell us why you chose it to tell this particular story?

From the start, I used poetry to tell the story. My early drafts in third person, however, lacked immediacy. So I decided on historical fiction and created a fictional first-person narrator. To layer the plot a bit, I set the action on the anonymous narrator’s tenth birthday. For rhythm and resonance, I employed repetition: “The year I turned ten…”; and “The day I turned ten….” What would have been a childhood milestone, she remembers instead for violence.

Birmingham, 1963 is an elegy. But it is also a narrative poem of historical fiction. Poetry allows me to conjure images and distill emotions that make the story powerful.

Did you see yourself in the four girls? How much of you is in the anonymous narrator?

In 1963 I was seven years old and had already written my first poem. I grew up in Baltimore and did not experience the degree of discrimination that they did in Birmingham. But In many ways, I was those girls.

BirminghamInMemorianCaroleRobertson

CaroleRobertson

Like Addie Mae Collins, I drew portraits, played hopscotch and wore my hair pressed and curled.

Like Cynthia Wesley, I was a mere wisp of a girl who sometimes wore dresses that my mother sewed. I sang soul music and sipped sodas with friends.

Like Denise McNair, I liked dolls, made mud pies, and had a childhood crush. I was a Brownie, had tea parties, and hosted a neighborhood carnival for muscular dystrophy. People probably thought I’d be a real go-getter.

Like Carole Robertson, I loved books, earned straight A’s and took music and dance lessons. I joined the Girl Scouts and was a member of Jack and Jill of America. I too hoped to make my mark. We are both Caroles with an “e.”

As an author/illustrator myself, I’m fascinated by the cover and page design, particularly the red marks on the page and the juxtaposition of photos and paintings. Can you tell us more about that?

So many children ask me whether racial injustices really happened. Children just can’t believe that grownups allowed such wrongs. Documentary photographs confirm for young readers that this history is indeed true. Just as childhood innocence confronted racial hatred that Birmingham Sunday, stark news photos contrast with snapshots of girly toys and trinkets in Birmingham, 1963. Powerful pictures speak to me. I hope that the images will affect young readers as well.

The designer, Helen Robinson, asked for a list of everyday items that the anonymous narrator might own. I thought back to my childhood in the Sixties. Armed by my list, Robinson had the text on verso pages overprint such props as barrettes, bracelets, Barbie doll clothes, birthday candles, 45 records, jacks, an eraser, embroidered white gloves, lace-trimmed socks, pencils, and a puffed heart locket. The commonplace items symbolize youthful innocence and serve as historical touchstones.

Birmingham Commonplace BarrettesBirmngham Commonplace Gloves

The red marks are also Helen’s conception. On their meaning, she is mum, but she allowed me this interpretation. The random red marks evoke broken glass, the shattering of innocence, and the shedding of blood.

It seems fitting that this anniversary falls on a Sunday because the bombings happened in a church so many years ago. Birmingham, 1963 is set in a church. Is it religious?

The tragedy occurred at a church, so prayer, psalms, and religious songs go with the territory. That said, the freedom struggle is a battle of good versus evil. My grandfather was an activist preacher, and I wonder if I’m channeling him when my writing wades into spiritual waters. Though not overtly religious, Birmingham, 1963 would nevertheless be at home in a Sunday School lesson.

I wanted to close with one final image that I thought was the most powerful. You said that the stained glass window of Jesus almost survived the blast intact.

10:22 a.m. The clock stopped, and Jesus’ face
Was blown out of the only stained glass window
Left standing—the one where He stands at the door.

It is ironic that Jesus was left faceless—as if He couldn’t bear to witness the violence. Here’s a photo.

Is the bombing still relevant more than 50 years later?

Nowadays, racism is usually more subtle and less definitive. Even hate crimes are more difficult to pinpoint and to prove….As long as racism persists and this nation exists, stories from the African-American freedom struggle will remain relevant.

So as we move beyond the tragedies of the past, what lessons can we learn and teach our children? In the words of MLK, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” So love is what we must pass on the the next generation, and that can only be taught through actions.

What lessons are you teaching through your life?

Here are some resources for anyone who wants to learn more about the church bombing:

Dr. King delivered the eulogy. He called the girls “martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.” Read the entire eulogy here.

Four days after the Birmingham church bombing, the president met with civil rights leaders at the White House. Among them was the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who warned, “Birmingham has reached a state of total disorder.” Hear the White House tape.

Links to Classroom Resources

Free Film Kits (from Teaching Tolerance Magazine) – Mighty Times: The Children’s March and America’s Civil Rights Movement: A Time for Justice

Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections – Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Collection

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The King Center
The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow (PBS) – For Teachers

Eyes on the Prize (PBS) – For Teachers

Teachers Guide Primary Source Set – Jim Crow in America

Songs of the Civil Rights Movement (NPR)

Photographs of Signs Enforcing Discrimination (Library of Congress)

Win a FREE Book:

To win a free copy of Carole Boston Weatherford’s touching biography, Becoming Billie Holliday, leave a comment below or on Facebook to be entered in the drawing any time until September 30, 2013. A winner will be announced on October 1, 2013.





Have a Little Faith

3 06 2013

When you venture into the unknown, trust yourself and believe that there’s great blessing heading your way:

~ by Jonathan Fields





Are You Living Your Purpose?

18 02 2012
Photo Credit: antibarbie

Three deaths in the past month has made for a rough start to the year. Two were expected; both family members were older and had health problems, and in some ways it was a blessing. But we still miss them and weren’t ready to see them leave this earth.

The third death was totally unexpected. A neighbor  and friend died of a sudden heart attack. Because she was close to my age, her death affected me the most.

When things like this happen, it makes you re-evaluate your life. If it had been me rather than her, what would I regret leaving undone?

I read recently that most people in nursing homes say they wish they’d taken more risks. It would be sad to get to the end of life and realize that while you were busy with mundane tasks, the important things of life passed you by.

What words or acts have you avoided saying or doing that you might someday regret? What dreams have you been putting off?

What were you put here on earth to do? Make that your first priority.





There I Go Again, Being Rude…

18 12 2011

Shoppers

As we’re hustling and bustling to get the last of the holiday shopping done, it’s so easy to get annoyed with slowpokes who block our speed-walking through  a store on our lunch hours or with rude people who push ahead of us in line. But recently I heard a suggestion that totally revolutionized how I feel when that happens.

Whatever label you’ve just given that person who’s upsetting you–irritating, pushy, nasty, inconsiderate–put it into this sentence: There I go again, being…

There I go again, being pushy.

There I go again, being rude.

Wait a minute, you might say. I wasn’t the one who was doing that. Ah, but if you believe, like I do, that we’re all interconnected and that what you see is a reflection of what’s in your heart, then it’s easy to see that you made the choice to see rudeness or unkindness. And I find when I say that, it reminds me that I’ve done the same thing at times.

Perhaps that’s what’s meant by: There, but for the grace of God, go I…

Although some people use that to make themselves feel superior, if you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize you’re saying that any differences between you and the other person are because of grace. You are the same, but someone is looking at your actions through forgiving eyes. Now it’s your turn to do the same.

But the wonderful thing about this sentence is that you can use it when you see acts of kindness, generosity, and love.

There I go again, being generous and thoughtful.

There I go again, being helpful and considerate.

So while you’re shopping, which “you” will you see. I hope you have the special joy and privilege of seeing “you” through the eyes of a child, with all the magic and wonder that entails.





Why I Don’t Like Dogs–& It’s Not Why You Might Think

16 05 2011

OK, I’m ducking here as all the dog lovers of the world throw rotten fruit and veggies at me. But bear with me. I began my life as a dog-lover. There are pictures of me as an infant cuddled up with our cocker spaniel, Ginger. When I was in grade school, I was a dog magnet. Every stray in the world followed me home. It might have helped that I usually held out a bit of bologna from the sandwiches I hated at lunchtime. But invariably day after day, I’d have dogs literally eating out of my hand.

I petted mangy, flea-infested beasts with the same affection I showed my baby brother (Yes, I adored him. Can’t say the same for my sister, however, although we did become friends after we grew up.) I sneaked food out to them if I could manage to keep them hidden. But my mother was the dog police. You’d think having had a dog, she’d be sympathetic to my obsession. But we’d given our dog away when we moved out of the country. By the time we returned to the U.S., she’d turned anti-dog. So I knew better than to bring them into the house. I hid them behind the shed which had a shaded overhang.

Then I made surreptitious trips to the refrigerator, and all the loose dogs in the neighborhood feasted on pot roast and chicken. Some even broke free of their chains to visit me. I’d fed a stray and get attached. I’d lay beside them with my arms around them as they slept. I groomed them with hairbrushes I sneaked from the house. I borrowed china bowls from the holiday dishes (figuring they’d be missed least) for water. I took good care of the dogs. And they’d repay me by licking my face, greeting me when I returned home from school, howling at night when I went in to bed. Some even followed me to school and lay panting in the schoolyard until I emerged at the end of the day.

But here’s the sad part. They always broke my heart. After a few days (or sometimes weeks if I was lucky), the dog disappeared. I’d come home from school, and my best friend would have taken off for parts unknown. I sobbed into my pillow at night and moped around the house. I thought they didn’t love me any more. I had no idea what I’d done wrong. Why I couldn’t manage to keep a pet. It was years before I discovered the truth.

Every dog I’d brought home ended up at the pound. Then the same neighbor girl who gave me that information also explained that the pound killed the dogs and chopped them up for hamburger meat.* I was devastated. I thought I’d been helping strays. Instead I’d been turning them into meat. I refused to eat hamburgers after that. And it was months before I spoke to my mother after I discovered she was the one who’d dragged of all my pets to the pound.

So now I can’t be around a dog without feeling sad. I don’t want to pet one or let it worm its furry way into my heart. After all, you never know when a dogcatcher might be just around the corner.

* It was many years before I discovered this neighbor girl had a penchant for exaggeration.