Soul Food Cafe
The Arches, which lay on the Dargo Road, approximately eight kilometers outside Briagolong, in East Gippsland, Victoria was the enchanted world that I was privileged to regularly visit with my parents, brothers and sister during the 1950's.
We headed off from Maffra, in the Austin, stopping briefly at the General Store at Briagolong to buy Mrs Hair an ice-cream. The Arches had no running water or electricity and my mother recalls that Edna loved ice-cream. It was a challenge to keep the ice-cream cool until we had navigated the winding eight kilometer stretch to reach the Arches, but it was a small gift compared to the gift of wonderment and enchantment that surrounded us during those regular monthly visits.
The Arches were the home of Archie and Edna Hair, an elderly couple with a rare spirit of generosity.
Archie had a wooden box, the contents of which were a source of fascination. He called it his box of wonderment and in it he kept things that he had collected from the bush. He called the bits and pieces of debris that he gathered wonders.
And wondrous they were! Archie held us captivated as he regaled a story that was associated with a rock, tiny fragments of pebbles, a prized birds nest.
This box of wonders, a collection of the writing exercises that I have used with people ranging in age from eight to eight, is a tribute to Archie and Edna who filled me with wonder and whose magic is continuing to be woven over forty years later.
You have heard of shoe-string budgeting? Well now there is shoe-string publishing! That is when you publish in an appealing way, for minimal costs.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding things for me this year (2004) has been seeing the altered books that the Grade 3, through to Year 12, students have made in each of the schools I have been working in.
I took along a bag of altered books and showed them what students of mine had done. The challenge was to guess what each book had been in another lifetime. Even I had not realized that the gold sprayed book, that looked like a glamorous album, had once been a standard desk diary. The book that the kids really loved was made by Angeli - one of my Year 7 students. She had taken a business directory and meticulously covered every page as only an artist could. The pages were seamless. She had glued pages, in six page lots, together and then covered them with pages from glossy magazines. It blew everyone's mind away when they saw what she had done and the teachers and children were fascinated with the transformative element of the project.
Upon my return children screamed with delight and tripped over one another in the rush to show me how they were transforming books that would have gone to the paper recycle place. I was gob-smacked as I looked at how enthusiastically the kids had taken up my suggestion. These books will be treasured instead of being discarded. These books will be treasured instead of being discarded. They are being filled with responses to exercises that I have presented, personal photographs, incredibly moving pieces of writing, symbols, images of their favorite things, dreams and hopes. That warmed my soul. It felt like a sauna embrace.
I call this Shoe String Publishing because you can literally publish at little or no expense, 'publish on a shoe string'. At the end of the year we will be wrapping these books up in Christmas wrapping. I cannot think of a better gift.
Have a peek at what these students are doing. Be inspired and make albums by using recycled magazines, directories or old books, to store your art and writing in. Remember that the Visual Journal Lounge has lots of tempting links to support this addictive art form.
From the Box of Wonderment
"I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried in my heart" - Anne Frank
Seek Berried Treasure and discover the magical realm of your inner world.
Working with Fragments.
Vi Jones, a patron at Soul Food recently talked about how the research she did in order to insert a small piece about Sacred Wells in to one of her books. Her words sent me off on a pathway to do a spot of my own research and I ended up completely revamping my page about the creative properties of the water of Castalia.
I love teaching my students how to weave stories using fragments and I always encourage them to be like Vi and make use of all sorts of bits and bobs to help develop their story lines and make them authentic.
Skilled embroidery specialists turn to their box of threads to perform magic. I always stress that few writers pull ideas from thin air, that they need to be ever vigilant in the search for useful fragments and that it is essential to use each of the senses in order to transform caterpillars into beautiful butterflies.
The process of transformation captivates young minds. I was delighted, in a recent session at Keon Park Primary School to see a student draw once more upon the Hope Diamond, a fragment I shared with them when we were developing our own versions of Edgar Allen Poe's famous, The Masque of the Red Death. We discussed how unaccounted for shards of this cursed diamond might have been used in the hilt of a sacred sword.
To introduce a new thread I told each of my groups how I happened upon discarded fantasy magazines in a charity shop and showed them a series of images depicting animal henchmen. Inspired they delighted in drawing and writing about fabulous creatures who possessed special powers. We turned to nature books for ideas, adding bat wings to creatures like dolphins and tigers, gave our creatures names and decided who they were guarding. Mimir, I told them, was the name of an ancient and wise giant who guarded a well and who allowed Odin to drink from it to acquire primordial knowledge. We chatted about how Cerebus guarded the gate to Hades and remembered other famous mythical creatures such as the winged Pegasus.
The class loved some of the headlines in my magazines and one astute lad offered me a dollar for the lot. He will need to add 'bargaining powers' as one of his skills on his resume. But I digress!
Every child loves an adventure and so the mere mention of elves, dwarves and 101 evil schemes was enough to fire their imaginations. 'Sick!' the boys cried enthusiastically when I asked them to design a special weapon with seven powers. We had talked about Excalibur and I related Tennyson's version of King Arthur's death, as told in Morte d'Arthur. Within ten minute Dina Yousif had created her Opal and Cave of Immortality and wiith equal speed Anthony Kovacevic had breathed life into the Sacred Sword of the World , establishing that it had been carved by an ancient Samuri. Dina and Anthony both have something to work with now and have a far greater understanding of the role of character development and setting in the writing process.
Words flowed! Ideas were shared! More words flowed!
It is so much fun working with young minds, with children who are willing to take the ball and run with it.
Try snatching fragments to create your own fantasy adventure.
Speaking of Fragments: Take a journey of exploration.
Even today, when we live in an interconnected world that is reaching out into interplanetary space, it is hard to contemplate dispassionately the achievements of those who, by crossing the oceans five centuries ago in search of other continents, other peoples and other civilizations, gave, in the words of Cameoes in The Lusiads, "new worlds to the world.
What took place in those times can be described either as a discovery or an encounter, depending on the point of view of the observer.
This fragment came from the May 1992 edition of the Unesco Courier marking the voyages of discoveries that took place in the 16th Century. J.A. Seabra, who wrote the article that this fragment is taken from, points out that "there were frequent contacts and migrations between the two regions" and so it is unlikely that virgin civilizatins, totally isolated from the rest of the world, existed, even in times of relative insularity.
As I read this edition of the Unesco Courier my mind began to mull over the need for artists and writers to regularly make the journey within if they are to bring home treasure. The urge towards the unfamiliar underlies the process of discovery. To discover others, fresh elements of self, is ultimately to discover - or rediscover - oneself.
Columbus wrote of this adventure in 1942, "What I want is to see and discover as much as I can..." The great discoveries are perhaps rediscoveries of things hidden in the archives of memory.
When talking to primary school students I tell them that there are things that they know that they do not know that they know and that our challenge is to draw some of these things out onto the page.
In The Sacred Pip Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux one of the rites Black Elk outlines is Crying for a Vision. Given that the rite described here is intricate and Black Elk makes it clear that, if the guidelines are not done correctly, 'something very bad can happen" and "even a serpent can wrap itself around the lamenter", I am not going to suggest that that anyone follow this particular ritual.
However, John Suler designed a Vision Quest exercise for students which I adapted for myself and used recently. I found this exercise to be a wonderful tool to achieve a heightened sense of self. The vision quest I undertook will remain locked in my memory and has enabled me to release a basic fear that has been haunting me.
When I go to the primary schools I take my own personal Excalibur with me. I take a magic wand that has touched the heads of hundreds of children and a small bottle of the water that I smuggled home from the Castalian Spring. I tell the story of the water that has come from the fount of inspiration and theatrically wave the wand around, telling everyone that these forces will induce creativity and ensure that streams of words will appear, like magic, on the pages of their directed writing books.
The children tell me that the wand, the water and the story of the nine muses are very powerful so I don't think I will need to invest in a pair of red shoes.
However, if anyone has a pair lying around gathering dust do let me know.
1. Take a leaf out of this tatoo artist's creative design and design your own personal Excalibur to protect you when you head off on the Vision Quest. What special protective qualities will your Excalibur need?