Sunday, September 7, 2014

Usha Shukla Art




Title: Preternatural
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 11x14

My name is Usha Shukla. I am an artist and live in the San Francisco Bay area with my husband and two boys. Originally born and brought up in the Northern part of India, I moved to the United States 18 years ago. My early education included a graduate degree in Literature and a Diploma in Fashion design.  Though always inspired by art from my early childhood, my formal art education started a few years ago at Las Positas College in Livermore, CA where I started taking art classes. Currently, I am enrolled at The Academy of Art University In San Francisco pursuing my Master’s degree in Fine Art with a concentration on painting.

I primarily work in oils but also like to experiment with non-conventional mediums and techniques. My abstract paintings are analogous to my nature hikes and are full of colors and textures found in nature.  I always start with a goal in my mind but the best part is that I never know what I will find on the way. I may stumble upon a pleasant surprise of a beautiful bloom or be frustrated by an unpleasant cloud burst or bad weather. I keep working at it and at the end, the emotional roller coaster and the turmoil is all worth it when I see the final painting.



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Caroline Leavitt - Is This Tomorrow







 Is This Tomorrow is a New York Times bestselling novel about being different, being an outsider, being an outcast. Set in the Cold-War 1950s, it follows the mysterious vanishing of a young boy in a closed neighborhood, and the fate of the Jewish divorced mother who's somehow suspect.





1. You have successfully written your tenth novel, what keeps your writing fruitful?
I wish I knew the answer to that. I think it is that I'm an obsessive personality. I'm always haunted by one thing or another and I worry about it, and can't let it go unless I somehow figure it out by writing about it.  I always think that I am writing about something that has nothing to do with me whatsoever, and then, around the 9th rewrite, I realize it's an issue that has been totally haunting me. Is This Tomorrow was a lot about how I felt growing up as an outcast in a working class town. The book I'm just finishing up now is about a girl I knew casually in high school who was murdered by her older boyfriend.

2. In Is This Tomorrow, why did you choose 1950's Boston as a setting?
I grew up in Waltham, which is right outside of Boston, and like Ava Lark and her son Lewis, my family was the only Jewish family in a working class Christian block. (It was the 60s, not the 50s, but I set it back a decade because the whole Cold War "us against them" mentality was so much more pervasive.) I learned early on that kids were not allowed to play with me because "I killed Christ." In grade school, I was given a test where the questions were things like, "What did Jesus say to Mary at the well? I had no idea, so I wrote, "Do you want a glass of water?" The teacher failed me! But I remember out much I yearned to be a part of something, and how painful that time was for me. I was mocked, ignored, and threatened to be beaten up in high school all the time! 

I thought I could make so much more of this by setting Is This Tomorrow in the 50s, because there was such paranoia around anyone who might be different. If you read too much? You were a Communist.  Did you use multi-syllabic words? Communist! The suburbs in the 50s were supposed to be safe, so why better place to have a child suddenly vanish? 


3. Ava and her son are powerful characters, how much of you is evident in their personalities?
I love Ava. LOVE Ava. I wish she was my neighbor--but the only thing we share is that we both wanted to belong and were both shut out. I am more like Lewis in that I worry about everything; I make lists of things to worry about (really! Isn't that pathetic?)  and in school, like Lewis, my teacher yelled at my mother for teaching me to read before everyone else knew how to read. Unlike Lewis, I was not directionless.  I knew early on that I was going to fight my way out of that neighborhood and be a writer, no matter what anyone said.

4. Why is it important that Ava is Jewish?
I wanted Ava to be a triple threat. Not only is she divorced at a time when no one got divorced, not even celebrities, but she works. No woman worked unless she was looking for a husband at a job, and to actually like your job or want to try to be something more was suspect. Being Jewish in a Christian neighborhood was even worse. I used a lot of my own upbringing for that! 


5. Was the plot inspired by real events?
Only as far as how I felt like an outsider growing up. The rest I totally made up!


6. How did you conduct your research and how long did you do it?
Research was the most fun. I hired two high school research assistants and I had a wonderful librarian I hired, but some of the most interesting things I found were when I just went on FB and asked, "Are there any male nurses from the 1950s? Any cops? Any pie bakers?" I got a huge response and I got to talk on the phone with these fascinating people. The cop was brilliant--he told me that in the 1950s, kids didn't vanish. They ran around to abandoned buildings and into the woods and no one worried. No one locked their doors. When a kid didn't come home, the cops treated it the way they would an adult vanishing--you wait. But with a kid, that's too late! I talked to a male nurse who was fascinating. He told me that not only did doctors smoke in the 50s while they were examining patients, but they also encouraged their patients to smoke, because it would relax them!

I found vintage pamphlets about Communism (How you can tell if your neighbor is a Commie! Does he laugh at jokes you don't quite get? That's because it's in code! He's a Communist!) and about how to survive the nuclear war that they knew was coming. (Wipe your feet before you go inside the house to get off the pesky radiation!) 

I also found fabulous vintage cookbooks. In the 50s, you were supposed to boil vegetables for about 45 minutes! And the most popular dish was a meat loaf train!  You shaped the meatloaf to look like a train and made windows out of celery and passengers out of peas!

7. Why did you choose this voice to tell your story?
When I write, I like to get inside everyone's head, everyone's point of view. I just want the experience to be raw, intimate and real.


8. What is your writing protocol and process?
I try to write every day, usually about 4-5 hours and then I'm exhausted. Plus I have a son and a husband, and I also teach writing online at Stanford, UCLA, the University of Toronto, and I have private clients (CarolineLeavittConsults.com). And I review for People and the San Francisco Chronicle. I am a big believer in structure, so I always map out my novels before I start to write, which takes me about six months, and then I have a 30 page synopsis,  which I continually rewrite and throw out right up to the 9th revision. (And yes, there are always 9 to 20 revisions!) 


9. Explain this quote by unknown: "Everyone has a story; telling it well is the key."
I think part of telling a story well has to do with making it alive and intimate, and making the reader feel as if he or she is living that particular story. To do that well, I think you need to know where to start, how to build tension, how to up the stakes, and how to end with what I call the never-ending story--which means that you don't want to tie things up neatly at the end. You want the reader to close the book and still be wondering about the lives of your characters!


10. What are you future projects and current muses?
My new novel, Cruel Beautiful World is due to Algonquin this March, so I am really working to finish. I don't believe in the muse. But I do believe in inspiration and craft. I always mention John Irving because he writes what I consider moral fiction--he isn't just telling a wonderful story about wonderful characters, he's making points about how to live better or differently in the world, or simply, how to deal with a crazy world.

Next up, I'm starting a new novel. It's too new to say anything about it without it sounding silly and ridiculous. I have to clasp it to my heart and hope for the best!


Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow, plus ten other novels. Pictures of You was on the Best of 2011 Lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, the Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and was one of the Top Five Books on the Family and Love from Kirkus Reviews. She is a book critic for People Magazine and the Boston Globe. She teaches novel writing at UCLA Writer's Program online and mentors writers privately. She lives with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and their son Max, in Hoboken, NJ. She can be reached at www.carolineleavitt.com.



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Art & Poetry






                               
                                 Image: "The Ghosts of Under Milk Wood"  - Dan Llywelyn Hall, Artist


Dancing with Sylvia

Your words sink to the asphalt,

evaporate.

And would they ever,

the things you say,

Harden and congeal?

 In promises?

In secret pacts?



Surely, such abstract signs and sounds

Leave your tongue bereft of meaning



puddled lamplit

hush of your intention—shadows, shadows.



I could tell you,

Their flesh bears no substance.

Dark curves of letter, the lengthening vowel

haunting constant,

dark shadow on canvas.



The stars

Have such a gap to fill.



Such emptiness, blackness.



Would that your meanings erupt

Wet and molten

dorsal bone

Jutting, broken



Breaking through the scaly skin of language—

Fire-crested.



Woe to me,

who am instead

witness to

These dead, these sacrificed

Rising up like bile, like black tidewater.



Elizabeth Johnston



About the Poet: 
Elizabeth Johnston teaches writing, literature, and gender studies at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. Her scholarly work centers on representations of female sexuality in literature, television, and film and has been published in a number of academic journals and edited collections, most recently in Disjointed Perspectives on Motherhood (Lexington Books, 2013). Slated for publication are three additional essays in Mythology and Modern Women Poets: Analysis, Reflection & Teaching (MacFarland, 2014), The Eternal Internal Gender Wars of Our Sisters (KH Publishing, 2014), and SLI: Studies in the Literary Imagination 47.2 (Spring 2015). Likewise, her fascination with representations of gender infuses her creative work; since 2011, her poetry has appeared in a variety of print and online journals and edited collections, most recently New Verse News (April 2014) and Mom Egg Review (April 2014). New poems written by Elizabeth will be featured in forthcoming issues of NonBinary Review, The Luminary, and Rose Red Review, and in the print anthology, Veils, Halos, and Shackles: An Anthology of International Poetry (Eds. Charles Fishman and Smita Sahay). She is a founding member of the Rochester-based writer’s group, Straw Mat and facilitates writing workshops at the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester. She lives in North Chili, on the west side of Rochester, with her partner, Brian, two daughters, Ava and Christina, and a menagerie of animals.

About the Artist: 
'Deaths and Entrances' An exhibition of paintings and prints by Dan Llywelyn Hall

6th - 13th September 2014
Coningsby Gallery
30 Tottenham Street
London, W1T 4RJ
Open 9am - 6.00pm daily
Free entry
The Dylan Thomas centenary exhibition of paintings and prints inspired by the writer's poetry and short stories.   

Website: http://deathandentrances.com/shop.htm

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Confessions of an Anti-Helicopter Parent


It's an honor this week to introduce a guest post by my old friend, Carol Ciliberti. This wise lady shares her Carol ideology on her own amazing blog: http://maximusred.wordpress.com/ Thank you, Carol, for offering your perspectives on parenting to the blog.





Confessions of an Anti-Helicopter Parent

As you can guess by the title, I am not a helicopter parent. I do not hover. Even though society says I should.

I was born into a large Irish-Italian family, the 5th of 6 kids. My parents were born at the tail end of the Greatest Generation, during the Depression and instilled a strong work ethic. It was not an easy life. My siblings span through the Baby Boom into Generation X (I’m an X-er). The socio-cultural impact of when each of us were born, combined with the influence of our own parent’s authoritarian style of childrearing heavily influenced how each of us parent today.

According to today’s social standards, I’m expected to be authoritative in the way I parent my 11 year old son. I’m supposed to run my house as a democracy since the research tells me this is the best way to protect my son from the pitfalls of life; drug and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, as well as low self-esteem. My son should feel special because he is Max. He should avoid being held responsible for his own actions because, let’s face it, the world is a scary place. I should shield him from disappointment and heartache. I should agree with him when he tells me that his teacher is mean, his friends are bullies and that life is unfair. I should edit his homework, have a home cooked meal on the table every night and insert myself into all aspects of his life. And I should feel guilty when I fail to do these things. Because, if I fail to follow the rules, I could ruin him for the rest of his life. (I’m here to tell you, that outside of the fact that my son is special because he is Max, I pretty much fail at all of these things).

I am a 43 year old single mother who struggles with this guilt every day.  A few weeks ago, early one morning, while sitting alone, a thought popped in my head. “You are a terrible mother”, it screamed at me. It was such a profound moment because it came out of nowhere. Nothing had happened. My ever smiling, ever laughing, straight A, introspective, thoughtful, happy go lucky son was the same child he had always been. And yet, in that moment, I was a failure.

Because I am trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I quickly went into damage control mode and made a mental list as to why I am not a terrible mother.

  1. Max is one of the happiest people I have ever met.
  2. Max is one of the most sensitive, introspective, thoughtful people I know.
  3. Max is one of the most well adjusted kids I have ever met despite his father and I splitting up 6 years ago, and enduring having to watch me lose both my brother and mother in a 1 ½ year span. Not to mention, he experienced those losses also.
  4. Max excels both socially and academically. His teachers love him and his friends want to be around him.
  5. Max confides in me. He still believes I’m the safe place to fall.
  6. Max puts up with my shit.

So, why given all of this evidence to the contrary, did a voice deep inside of me tell me I am a terrible mother? Outside of the internal psychological processes that go on individually inside all of us, we cannot deny we live in a world that judges every little thing we do when it comes to our children. And that world didn’t exist when we were being raised. The general social attitude towards parenting prior to 1980 was one that placed a certain level of responsibility on the children themselves to make good decisions, be independent, learn that life isn’t fair and that if you want to succeed, you will need to work hard for everything you get. Your parents didn’t show up unannounced at the school to demand to talk to the teacher if you got a bad grade. They asked you what you did to deserve that grade. They didn’t get mad at the coach when you didn’t make the team. They told you there were better kids that tried out. And they loved you anyway. They didn’t call your friend’s parents when you had a fight. They told you to go back out there and work it out. Someone, anyone, tell me…..what is wrong with that?

It’s hard not to be a helicopter parent in a world that tells you that you are failing to protect your child. I see it as quite the opposite. I have learned that the only way to get what you want is through hard work and perseverance. Of course, I have looked to others for support, but at the end of the day, every decision was my own.  It was a hard lesson. It still is a hard lesson. But I believe that my anti-hovering position will create a more self-reliant, appreciative human being. It already has. And for that I am thankful.

 






Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Guest Post: Fourth Grade



I am thrilled to introduce a guest post by Britt Lee. An brilliant woman who shares her unique perspectives on life with her blog: http://eastmeetsbreast.wordpress.com/
I was lucky to meet her about 28 years ago at a little spot called Unionville High School.




by Britt Lee

It’s possible my kid doesn’t entirely loathe school. It’s the wondering that’s nibbling at my peace and hollowing an area for dread and doubt in my belly. I distract myself with all of reasons he should love school—why isn’t he skipping to the bus stop with his backpack full of right answers? Doesn’t he know that with only a dozen days remaining, he can relax into the final moments of a grade he won’t remember in 30 years time? Is he truly excited about summer fun and different friends, or just anxious to put these last, tortured school days in the rearview? Is it really that bad?

Search me. He can’t seem to put it into words… only teary shoulder shrugs… the kind that let you feel the full weight of your parental shortcomings.

Fourth grade was a bit miserable for me, too. My teacher was weirdly formal and strict and everyone hated him. I was the new kid in school, and because I was very shy and way ahead of the class in writing and math, I was his fast favorite. The New Kid/Teacher’s Pet combo wasn’t ideal for making friends. This was also the year that a handful of girls decided boys weren’t gross and those odd, approximated couplings with them were in fashion. Yuck! Boys were loud and naughty and mean. Boys aimed for your face during dodge ball and called you names they learned from older siblings and threw worms at you. The only boy I was interested in was Ryan, because maybe he’d teach me how to do those cool three-dimensional drawings. But even he was, you know… gross.

I wanted to cry many days in fourth grade. I wasn’t bullied or harmed. I didn’t feel unsafe or unloved. I was just… unhappy. Was it really that bad? Well, if I remember it this clearly 30 years later, maybe so.

I’ve done my parental due diligence, making certain my little guy isn’t being bullied or harmed, and that he feels safe and loved. But even so, sometimes school—like a job or a relationship or the course Life is taking-- is just shitty. It’s difficult enough for grown folk in therapy to construct a thesis about Why Things Suck, and nearly impossible when you’re 10 years old. But how can I convince my child that salad days are ahead?

Search me. Instead I shared my own tales of Fourth Grade Nothingness--that I had the wrong jeans and few friends, how I made that weird teacher start hating me to right my reputation with the class mob, and why dodge ball is evil. I didn’t promise inevitable salad days for my gorgeous, smart little guy. In the moment, I don’t think that helps. For him, fifth grade is one million years away and he’s stuck in a purgatory between bells. I told him that it’s normal for school to be occasionally weird and awful and upsetting and boring because, for me, that’s how it was.

“So it’s… OK? I’m right to not like it?”

“You betcha, kiddo. Totally OK. Some people are jerks, some days just suck, and lacrosse is a huge pain the ass… but don’t use those words, or tell anyone I did.”

And then… the only utterance that could lift the weight of parental shortcomings: a giggle.


Today, my little guy dismounted the bus without any signs of dismay. There’s a new Avengers comic book waiting for him, there’s very little homework, and the only bad news to report was a forgotten jacket. The smell of lilacs is in the air, an always cozy home awaits, and a solemn promise has been issued: fourth grade will end. Maybe in 30 years time he won’t remember fourth grade, but I hope he remembers our shared complaints about it, showing him an alternate approach to the endurance of un-pleasantries that won’t shame him into false enjoyment or gloomy forbearance. No one can stop the clock! And with great luck, there will always be a kindred spirit who wants to commiserate… with a bit of humor and a few whispered, naughty words.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Abstracted Flower by Colleen Gianatiempo




                                 Abstracted Flower 30"x 30"                      Colleen Gianatiempo
                                 For Sale

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Glitter and Glue: Kelly Corrigan





     In the new memoir, Glitter and Glue, Kelly Corrigan uses her famous wit and candor to explore her relationship with her mother against the backdrop of a stint as a nanny to a motherless family in Australia. Kelly is becoming the resonant voice of Generation X women who grew up in the 1980’s.  Her 2009 book, The Middle Place, was a New York Times bestseller and her realistic and authentic first person voice detailed an experience with breast cancer as well as the amazing relationship she shares with her exceptional father, Greenie Corrigan. In Glitter and Glue, she explores a sometimes intense life with her mother, and comes to understand their complicated love as she cares for the Tanner family, who has lost a mother to cancer. After college, Kelly is on a youthful mission to explore the world and create her own insights on life, much to her practical mother’s chagrin. As a caretaker to young Martin and Amelia Tanner and companion to their older half-brother, Evan, Kelly gains some introspection regarding her mother who is the “glue” to Greenie’s glitter. In the vein of Michael Lewis, Corrigan is able to create her own narrative beside another tale of her travels in Australia. The style is conversational, sometimes sarcastic, and beautifully permeated by metaphor that feels authentic to the reader.  In difficulties with the willful and grieving young daughter Amelia Tanner, Kelly recalls,“The Guess Jeans Fight of 1984,” which will leave readers who grew up in the 1980’s chuckling. (Excerpt: https://medium.com/thoughts-for-thinking-women/e68bcbef1fc1). There is a rhythm and poignancy to her words and the book is one that will most likely be read in one sitting as it was for me.

     Author Ernest Gaines once said that he started writing of his childhood in rural Louisiana because he wished for books about his people. I feel as if Kelly is writing for my people because like me, she was raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, summered in Avalon (a lovely part of the Jersey shore), and moved 3,000 miles away to the San Francisco Bay area where she became a mother. Not since I was a youngster reading the books of Judy Blume has a writer captured my feelings and thoughts on so many levels. I was so sad to put down this book that I reread The Middle Place which was even better the second time around. As a reviewer, I see a long writing career for Kelly Corrigan and hope her books will be adapted to film. Glitter and Glue is a special book on parenthood, coming of age, love, and loss which is written in a rich and realistic tone. Thank you Kelly for another jewel of a book and I hope you will keep them coming.