Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Fostering Creative Connections

This is a picture of Gabriel Deerman, my son's art instructor here in Qatar. Elias has autism, but Mr. Deerman still saw immense potential in him, rather than limitations. Peter, his brother, who has helped him with art projects at home.
What happens when people gather or team up to create? I believe there are wondrous transformations that burst open when we support one another's creativity. Words, inspirations, like fireflies ricocheting around on a dark night, give flickers of not only encouragement, but more conceptions to shape and define. Sometimes new ideas can even become lightening bolts that shift us in new directions. Yes, bonding in creativity can be that powerful.

Video of Mr Gabriel's Art Studio with Artist Elias Shumway
By Megan J. Hansen at meganjhansen.blogspot.com

Certainly, the lone writer shack or art studio is a place where ideas can only emerge in solitude. Yet, undoubtedly part of the creative process in any artist, whether it be in an art studio, kitchen, laboratory, or concert hall, is connected with a community--a band of people who spark new fires of creativity. What would have occurred within the burgeoning Impressionist movement if Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Pizzaro, and others would not have gathered to meet in a Paris cafe for several years? With their collaboration of creativity in the early days of their careers, they fielded off their own self depreciating judgements and critics of the day. Those connections and friendships made all the difference to what would become the artistic movement of Impressionism.

This last year has been one of increased creative collaboration in our home, as we welcomed two teenage girls who asked to live with us so they could further their own beginning careers. And with them, others came too. We have been a group of musicians, artists, videographers, and writers. The result has been remarkable in the shaping of all of us--not only the enhancement of our own creativity, but how others can go to new levels around us. I have noticed, with new awareness, how my own words and encouragement can dramatically affect those at my elbow. Others lift my own sense of what I can do or be. There is no hint of competition, all the debris of the world roll away. The genuine desire to see other's creativity awaken is just as important as your own progress.

Although I could be a mother to all of them, we have worked together to form a creative community from India, Ukraine, the US, and France. All of us have not only tried to heighten our own creative paths, but to ignite support for one another's ideas. Also, each of them has helped me to navigate with my son who has autism, and launch him in new artistic directions. Although creative endeavors obviously require the rigor of solo work, I believe creativity also needs the humanistic glaze, so to speak, to finish it off. Others enliven our work. They elevate us to places we could not rise to without them.

Creative bonding is infectious and exhilarating. To see people who want to bring others along who are straggling, maybe even languishing, such as my son with autism, has moved me deeply. With that sense of enthusiasm for all things creative, you begin to see the potential of others' gifts too--people with seeming limitations. As we all teamed up to talk and brainstorm about my son's art work, ideas flooded the room on how to help him improve and develop as an artist. As a mom, I felt that I was not the lone voice to advocate for him, but there were others to lean on. We all became excited to launch him and his efforts. Now we have been asked to help create a special art barn this summer where we can celebrate creativity. The ideas just keep flowing....

A year ago when Elias had his artwork exhibited here in Doha at the Arab Museum of Modern Art.
Blogpost of Our Picasso's Art Exhibition
One of my favorite books that I used with my own children when they were growing up was Doing Art Together: Discovering the joys of appreciating and creating art as taught at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's famous parent-child workshop.  Storfer and Jones, the authors, catch these ideas that I cherish: "We come together as a group of strangers, and through working together, we become a family of friends. I have seen how people from very diverse backgrounds come to identify with a common pursuit, no matter what their differences are." The bonding of family relationships with creative pursuits is real, as our connectedness is increased. Our soul are more linked, and we see hidden possibilities to excavate together.

Creativity, whether it be individually or in a group, requires forgoing some time off the screen or away from other concerns. But it also means entering into another place of nirvana and epiphanies where ideas are shaped--on the canvas, in a musical composition, or in a poem. In our fast paced, multi-tasked society, creative pursuits are often times neglected or postponed. There is room for all of us to cultivate our creative souls a little more. And with some collaboration of others, the joy can be unimaginable. It can change a life, even a young man with autism.

The ripples of our efforts to create and help others will only cause swelling waves--in the big ocean we all live in.                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Sunday, May 15, 2016

D-Day: Normandy, France

My son, Peter, last year at age 18, remembering his grandfather and the others who helped to liberate the village of Le Tronquay in Normandy, France.

The plaque that Peter laid the flowers on in Le Tronquay, France. Blog of a French Village Celebration

On June 5, 2015 at Utah Beach, Peter sending a lantern off in memory of his grandpa. Blog about Omaha Beach, 2015   Blog about Utah Beach
On June 6 the Normandy coast in France will be awash with ceremonies, 1940 dances with jitterbug and swing music, banquets, hikes, and paratroopers falling from the sky to remember D-Day. It is a time reserved and set apart to honor the Allied forces that came to liberate the villages and towns that were under German occupation for five years. Nobody is sunbathing on the beaches that week. Thousands will gather to celebrate those soldiers who stepped on the shores or fell from the skies on those fateful days 72 years ago. Not many of the veterans are still alive, but there will be a few being pushed in wheel chairs or even a few walking slowing around the cemeteries and towns. For a week in Normandy, strangers become instantaneous friends. Tears flow freely, and there is a still reverence as you walk on the beaches or cliffs that needs no exchange of words to explain. Whether you are speaking with Germans, French, British, Americans, or Canadians, solidarity and unity exists. Peace reigns. Here is the schedule for the 72nd anniversary of D-Day for 2016

My father-in-law, H. Smith Shumway, at age 22, landed on Omaha Beach on that decisive day with over 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes, and 150,000 servicemen. He was blinded six weeks later in the march to Paris. Blog of "I might not have sight, but I have insight" He lived the remaining 67 years in darkness, living with the scars of a war, but never succumbing to defeat and despair. As a family, we have trekked across the Atlantic Ocean  several times to Normandy to honor him and his comrades. Last year was the first time he was not there with us. However, we felt him as the waves crashed on the shores and the wind blew on the cliffs. As I looked into the people's faces who are descendants of the two villages he liberated, the reverberations of his actions live on in this village. I knew as my son placed the flowers on the plaque that bears his grandfather's name that he could not be too far away.

In the famous U.S. Civil War love letter that is written by Sullivan Bullou at the beginning of the Bull Run Battle, he expresses his love for his wife, perhaps feeling inspired that he would not live to see her again. "But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night--amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours--always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath' or the cool fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again." Normandy, France is that kind of place--holy grounds where young men, both German, French, American, Canadian, and British were laid to rest.

This year we will bring another son, now 22, the same age that his grandpa was when he was blinded and landed on D-Day. Last night as we talked about it, Jonathan was silent for a few moments, taking pause to think about the weight of his grandfather's suffering at his same age 72 years ago. As his mother, I don't know how I could send my handsome, intelligent son off to war. But my husband's grandmother bade farewell--and many millions of others did too. My husband's grandfather did also, even with the memories of World War I and Flanders heavy on his mind. Smith Shumway promised his parents that he would come back from war, "swinging both his legs and arms"--never anticipating the loss of his sight. How could he? But he refused to bend and crumble. Within his darkness, he radiated a light that was undeniable the rest of his life--showing thousands of people that he would live victorious--even with his battle scar. He lived by his own quote, "I might not have sight, but I have insight."

Peter, my son last year in La Vacquerie, one of the two towns Grandpa is remembered for liberating. In the middle is Mitch Quiles, who made the video below, and Bernard Marie, who was 13 years old when the Allies came to Normandy. Mitch made this video to also show the efforts of several people (instigated by my brother-in-law, John Bennion) who have tried to find the body of a man who has been missing for 72 years now named Harry Brown. Their efforts show that there is no cost that is enough to bring back people or bodies from war.
Here is a video by Mitch Quiles that has been in one of the museums in Normandy. It shows my father-in--law being remembered at the cemeteries and village ceremonies. Each time I go to Normandy, there is a major take away: that war is senseless and horrendous, but there is a choice afterwards to make the past bring peace or endless misery. It is through remembering, and teaching each succeeding generation the horror of war.

Normandy, France has chosen to create the first week of June that is sobering, but yet celebratory, humbling, but yet healing. The French people have transformed a scar of history that has assuaged much pain and suffering: through remembering those who gave their lives, the ultimate cost. We must not only remember, but we must strive for peace at all costs--reflecting on the young men, many who had not reached the age of 20, whose dreams were cut short. And for the parents and loved ones, who unlike myself, gave up the aspirations of their son, husband, brother, or friend.

In one German cemetery, La Cambe, in Normandy, there is a poignant reminder to all who enter on a monument that reads: "Gott has das wort" (God has the last word). As I quietly walked around the cemeteries in France, these words were the resounding lesson: "Got has das wort" or "God has the last word." In those four simple words, the German monument begs reflection. There is no judgment or blame, but only reconciliation with the past and hope for the future. As the monument states, God only knows, and He has the last word for all--whether they were our allis or enemies in this life.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Family: Reframing the Roof (A Tribute to my parents)

Although it was not always convenient, my own children learned to expand the walls early in their lives. Their blind grandpa lived with us for almost seven years--blessing us all in boundless ways. Unlike myself at their age, they were a few notches higher on the "love ladder" than me. They seemed to inherently understand that families can reconstruct homes to allow others in who may need some shelter. And when they needed some sheltering themselves, others were there to buoy them up too. We are all so much better when we provide refuge for one anther.
The great Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals wisely said, "The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should we stop at the border?" I would add that the love for one's child (or children) is supremely marvelous, but why not widen and expand the roof for others whose shelter is different, lost or faraway?

When I was in my mid-20's, my parents received an assignment in our church to work with young people for three years in a distant city. I will never forget the conversation I had with my father as they prepared to leave. In a reflective moment he quietly commented to me, "I want to treat them as my own children. (I thought to myself, I am the oldest of nine children, wasn't that enough to pass the love around?) And I want to love them as my own." I remember flinching, feeling a twinge of jealousy that others would receive my father's love as I had known it. My own life experience, until that point, was obviously not enough to understand my father's generous disclosure. I had not climbed the "love ladder" high enough yet.

A picture of my parents,Keith and Paula Myres, and a wooden frame they were given, a star from each child. Thanks Mom and Dad for teaching us to reach out and up a little further. I am trying....
As a young child, my father's home was often in tempestuous disarray so he always had a boundlessly compassionate heart for those who were emotionally and physically homeless. For this reason, he had empathy to those who knew his pain--living in homes of upheaval. My dad owned a small moving company in San Diego, California, many times employing those who needed a second chance on life. They were people of many cultures, and even men in their 70's who still wanted/needed to work. Sometimes he would hire people who were physically or mentally disabled--if he thought they could reasonably do the job. As his kids, we got the best life education of working elbow to elbow with people from many countries and persuasions. Some of them spoke broken English, and we practiced our elementary Spanish with them (if that was their language). One summer at lunch breaks, I taught a middle aged black man how to read.

Our home was no different. Dad would bring home Greek or Italian fisherman who were briefly in San Diego, away from their homes. Families from Tonga and Samoa would often come with huge plates of food, and then serenade us with song. Since we lived so close to Mexico, we would visit his friends there. Often our home was full of people who spoke Spanish. We were encouraged to learn languages, and Dad would correct our Spanish pronunciation. Mom would always somehow have enough food for anyone that came through the door. Whether they knew it or not, my parents were developing not only a curiosity or acceptance of other people, but a genuine love for those who were different than ourselves. Everyone was welcome. Somehow the walls could always expand to include a few more people who needed a meal and a listening ear.

Fast forward a few decades. I have lived in six countries besides my own, and traveled to many unknown and remote places all over the world. As I look back on my own growing up, I feel an immeasurable gratitude for parents who taught me to look beyond the horizon, the border, and have an inviting open door policy. My husband was raised in an equally welcoming home, with a father who was blinded six weeks after he landed on D-Day. The blind, the deaf, Native Americans from nearby reservations, and many others were dinner guests at their table.

With our own children, we have tried to give them the same rich experience of inviting many people of various cultures, faiths, and socio-economic levels. Now that we are expats in Qatar and my children are older, I see how their own lives have been gifted by the legacy that was started long ago. To reach out to others who are different is really only a gift we give ourselves. Preconceptions flee, and the world becomes a place of not only intrigue, but of uncommon beauty and discovery. As my dear Muslim neighbor told me two years ago when I first met her, "Please do not make any boundaries with me." On that day when I looked into her beautiful eyes with her burqa on her face, I knew she was offering her friendship to me, her willingness to teach me to drive in Doha, to cook some Middle East dishes, and learn some Arabic. I would be foolish if I did not receive her kindness. Since that day, my life has been blessed beyond measure by her friendship, prayers, and love to me and my family.

All of my children are now grown, except for my 14-year-old son with autism who is still at home. This school year was the one I had dreaded for years: everyone else was in college or working. Last fall I summoned some courage, hoping that our new home without his siblings would be sufficient for him. Sure, we had a rough patch or two, but we have had a remarkable year because other people have almost magically stepped in to bridge the gaps. I have learned to expand the roof even more. Two wonderful teenage girls came to live with us for a few months who cushioned our transition, and were like sisters to our son. Other young expats from various countries have become our adopted children--blessing our lives and our son. Sometimes it means that my heart is broken when they leave, but the space I made for them has only enriched my life.

The ripples of love continue to give me pause to marvel in this land far away from my former familiarities. "As Neill F. Marriott says, "Love is making space in your life for someone else." I believe there is always another way to reconfigure new designs--to move walls for others to come in your home and heart. Roofs can be stretched and enlarged; borders can be erased. We can be architects to give new blueprints to our homes--reframing, remodeling them to fit some strangers that can become like family. And those people whom we invite into our "more spacious homes" will bring beauty and strength that we could hardly imagine.

Today as I watch my own children, I know their lives have not been diminished because we widened the roof. People from all over the world have come to intersect with our lives, giving us boundless blessings. Here are just a few:

Ines Duquesne, age 21, from Normandy, France came to visit us a few months ago. I met her last June during the D-Day celebrations in Normandy. My husband's father at almost the same age as she is now helped to liberate her village of Le Tronquay in 1944, after he landed on Omaha Beach. There is a plaque in her village dedicated to him and his men, as they marched to Paris. A few times I looked at her when she was here, with a tear in my eye, knowing that our lives intersected almost 72 years ago, and then again now. I have come to realize those connections that are made generations ago can be sweet reunions. We love and belong to each other.
Our ever growing family this year at an art exhibit in Doha, Qatar. The girls who came to visit us, some for a few months, deposited their love to us. We made a temporary make-shift family, but they will always be in our heart even though we just adopted them for awhile. 
Ashok from Adasarlapadu, India. Blogpost about him: A Chance Encounter can change your life He invited me to his sister's wedding, and I will forever be changed by visiting his village. To watch "my Indian son" take care of my own son a few days ago gave me such pleasure. They had just met one another, and there was already an endless stream of conversation between them.
My own son at the wedding in India in February. I am glad he got some more Indian brothers this year, Dileep and Ashok. His brothers were away at school, and they stepped in to fill the gap.

Megan and Mackenzie, two girls who asked to come and live with us this year. Although I am not their mother, I pine for them now that they have left to be home with their own families. They will forever be in my hearts. I am so grateful that they came into our lives--bringing much creativity, laughter, and learning.
Herman, from Ukraine, who is "my Ukrainian son" here in Doha. He teaches the guitar, piano, and voice during the school year. Since my son is recuperating from a foot surgery, Herman is teaching him some guitar. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Iceland's Magical Geography of Trolls and Elves

Walking hand in hand with the trolls on a street in Reykjavik

Strolling with the trolls in Akureyri, Iceland's second largest city, located in the north of Iceland.

Who is to blame if the yard is unkempt or if you are suddenly missing a possession? The elves or trolls, of course! It's always more secure to have a scapegoat when a pail of milk is accidentally spilled, right? Elves and trolls are celebrated in Iceland, the land of stark, stunning landscapes in the northern latitudes. Although most Icelanders do not believe in the little people or hildufolk (meaning small, secretive people) anymore, the supernatural has been a way to explain away nature's misfortunes and disasters for centuries. But the playful happiness of life is also captured with the trolls and elves too. Since there were not many people who inhabited Iceland one thousand years ago, the president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, jokingly explains, "Icelanders are few in number, so in old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies."

Icelandic trolls and elves are written about in the ancient sagas, originating in German paganism and mythology. They were ancient oral poems from mid-Europe and Scandinavia--written in Iceland between the 12th and 14 centuries. J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote the epic novel, Lord of the Rings, studied Old Norse, which is very similar to modern Icelandic. One of Tolkien's favorite sagas was Volsungasaga, a story of a cursed gold ring and a sword that is broken and reforged. Sound familiar? He also learned much about trolls and elves from an Icelandic au-pair his family employed in Oxford, England in the 1930's, as she spun tales of them to his children (he began writing The Hobbit when she was employed by him). With his tremendous reservoir of knowledge and imagination, the Middle Earth of Tolkien was born. Through the study of the old sagas and myths, he produced the beloved and best selling novel: Lord of the Rings.

Although Tolkien never visited Iceland (he said he couldn't afford it), the wind-swept landscapes of geysers, volcanoes, granite-spired cliffs and glaciers were the homes of the elves he wrote about. Apparently, according to the au-pair, he often rummaged through black and white photographs of Iceland--gazing at places where his fairies, elves, and hobbits would live in our imaginations. Sindarin, the elf language in The Lord of the Rings is said to originate from Tolkien's study of Old Norse or Icelandic.

There is a magical geography in Iceland that begs to be seen and explored. The fissures in the rocks, cliffs that resemble "elf castles," open terrains of glaciers, grass, and sand, plus the aurora borealis bespeak an enchanting land. Sometimes the Icelanders feared the mostly invisible creatures who only appeared on special holidays, but they tried to live side by side harmoniously--helping one another in the harsh and unpredictable world they inhabited. Trolls, elves, and fairies were the justification for my ancestor's beliefs that the earth quivered and the geysers spouted. There are not many people in Iceland, and I guess they felt a little more "community," with the notion that the trolls and elves were there. If things got really tough, then they could rely on someone, right? A human neighbor might be geysers away....

Ancient Icelandic folklore states that the origins of the trolls and fairies came even before the Norse myths. It is said that God came to visit Adam and Eve every week or so with their hosts of children. One day God came to Eve and asked her if these were all of her children. Some of them were not properly dressed or washed so she said, "Yes, these are all my children." God, who knew Eve was not telling the truth, then told her that the children she was keeping in the earth would stay hidden forever. This is the explanation for all the children under the earth, many who say resemble humans, and who are the same size as humans. Christmas, Twelfth Night (January 6), New Year's, and Midsummer Night is the supposed time when sightings can occur when people put food out for the hildufolk.

These rich myths intertwined with village stories taught children to keep away from lava fields or not to wander too far away since the trolls and elves were tucked into a hill. The elf and troll folk were ready to play a trick or do a favor--depending on their mood and how you had treated them. There are many stories about how some people are currently trying to protest road construction in Iceland because they don't want to destroy the lava fields they think the trolls and hildufolk live in. (Article about Trolls in Iceland in the The Atlantic) Whatever anyone believes, Iceland is a gloriously beautiful place that needs protection and conservation.

My grandmother, who would often speak of the hildufolk, not believing in them of course, but with a twinkle in her eye would say, "You never know if you leave out the knitting needles on the table with some yarn, it just might be a masterpiece in the morning."

Christmas Time with the Trolls:

Here is an awesome video about a children's illustrator, Brian Pilkingon, an English/Icelandic artist. He grew up in Liverpool, but has spent the last 36 years in Iceland. He has written and illustrated 23 books that have been published in 15 languages. His images of trolls are drawn with whimsy and wit. He likes to show their pranks and antics: Brian Pilkington video

At Christmas time, the troll parents, Gryla and Lepakoul await when all their 13 lads will join them in the cave, one by one. The Christmas lads in the twentieth century began to wear red clothes, reminiscent of Father Christmas, Santa Claus, or St. Nicolas. All of the Christmas elves or lads were more mischievous in earlier times, but now they are thought of as more benevolent and fun loving. Children put out their shoes on the window sills every night, and they are either given treats or rotten potatoes in their shoes for their behavior throughout the year. I remember going to Iceland in December years ago when my relative was instructing his grandchildren to be good so they wouldn't get potatoes in their shoes.

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Image result for pictures of brian pilkington
Image result for pictures of brian pilkington
Image result for pictures of brian pilkington

Instead of Santa, there are 13 Yuletide Lads that come give treats or potatoes. I think an Icelandic Christmas sounds so much more interesting. For a child, if you can't please one Santa, you can at least get one of the 13 Yuletide Lads to love you. Ha!
Icelandic NameEnglish translationDescriptionArrivalDeparture
StekkjarstaurSheep-Cote ClodHarasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs.December 12December 25
GiljagaurGully GawkHides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk.December 13December 26
StúfurStubbyAbnormally short. Steals pans to eat the crust left on them.December 14December 27
ÞvörusleikirSpoon-LickerSteals Þvörur (a type of a wooden spoon with a long handle - I. þvara) to lick. Is extremely thin due tomalnutrition.December 15December 28
PottaskefillPot-ScraperSteals leftovers from pots.December 16December 29
AskasleikirBowl-LickerHides under beds waiting for someone to put down their 'askur' (a type of bowl with a lid used instead of dishes), which he then steals.December 17December 30
HurðaskellirDoor-SlammerLikes to slam doors, especially during the night.December 18December 31
SkyrgámurSkyr-GobblerA Yule Lad with an affinity for skyr or yogurt.December 19January 1
BjúgnakrækirSausage-SwiperWould hide in the rafters and snatch sausages that were being smoked.December 20January 2
GluggagægirWindow-PeeperA voyeur who would look through windows in search of things to steal.December 21January 3
GáttaþefurDoorway-SnifferHas an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð.December 22January 4
KetkrókurMeat-HookUses a hook to steal meat.December 23January 5
KertasníkirCandle-StealerFollows children in order to steal their candles (which in those days were made of tallow and thus edible).December 24January 6

My son taking a rest in some large boulders in the river near Althing. It is said the large boulders are trolls who turned to stone, when they didn't get back to the cave in enough time when the sunrise came.

At a geothermal pool where the auroa boralis is supposed to be remarkable on the Golden Ring Road.
A park where The Elf Castles supposedly stand.
Caves that were known to have trolls in olden times....
Fissures, openings in the earth, are places where people thought the trolls lived.
Just trying to look like a Viking....
The sublime beauty of Iceland makes you feel like a child again, ready to bound out for any adventure.
A picture taken at 3 a,m, in the morning. I guess the trolls don't get out much in the summer time because there is so little light. Maybe that is why there are so many boulders. They just didn't make it back to the cave in time....
The beauty is other-worldly, like you are escaping from anything you have ever known. It is marvelous to feel so far away in a place with such majestic beauty.
I guess the trolls accidentally dropped in the ocean because there are boulders jutting everywhere in the ocean.
The pristine beauty of Iceland, so remote and mystical, is a place where imaginations can run wild. It is a shame Tolkien never came to Iceland. I wonder what books he would have written if we would have visited the waterfalls and lava fields of Iceland.