For some time the idea of writing creative nonfiction shorts as a way of looking back at my life has been niggling at me. A recyclable phrase for a title, one my readers would remember and hopefully flock to, took a while to conjure up. But I finally heard it the other day, and I introduce you to a randomized series of creative nonfiction shorts called A Day in the Life.
An unexpected package arrived in the mail. A rather small, nondescript box addressed to me from my cousin in Tampa, Florida. As usual, I grabbed the mail, pulled further up the drive, and ran into the house to begin dinner.
The package kept calling to me. Once our evening meal was started, I unwrapped the box to see what surprises it held.
Under the exterior wrapping, I found a note. My cousin explained the box held some items she had recently found when going through her mother’s personal effects.
Nothing could prepare me for what I saw when I removed a layer of white tissue paper.
I am honored today to have as my guest, Daisy Hickman, author of Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place (read my review here). Daisy and I share a love of great art, both in painted and written form. Today Daisy writes about one of our favorite artists, Claude Monet, as she offers the history of a print she recently acquired as well as some of Monet’s own words with us.And now I give you Daisy and her beautiful post.
A Certain Certainty
Last year via the Art Institute of Chicago’s online information, I stumbled across a winter landscape that I loved immediately. I should have known it was a Monet. Drawn to Claude’s magnetic work for as long as I recall—Monet and the other great impressionists—I’m pretty sure I must have been around during this era of controversial artistic endeavor. In a former lifetime, you know!
“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” ~ Monet
Long story short, I bought the inexpensive print, had it framed, and find myself drawn to it a great deal. Never tiring of it, but always calmed and inspired by its quiet eloquence.
The original 1895 oil on canvas painting is in the Art Institute of Chicago – a gift of Bruce Borland – and though I’ve never seen it, I’m content to imagine its comforting presence.
But how did this wonderful painting come to be? What was Claude thinking as he created it?
Monet traveled to Norway in 1895: a trip that evolved into a difficult two-month campaign because of the harsh, winter conditions. Nonetheless, the ambitious painter captured 29 Norwegian scenes during this brief period. Reportedly, there were at least six views of Sandvika, a village whose iron bridge may have reminded Monet of the Japanese bridge at his home in Giverny.
One of these views—inscribed, lower left: Claude Monet 95—is simply called Sandvika, Norway, 1895.
Stunning in its simplicity, the eye is immediately drawn to the touch of red – the various shades of blue, lavender, and charcoal. Clearly, it is a quiet winter day, yet, the distinguished artist managed to capture something more. This “something more” is what I ponder and explore when I gaze at this print – often before falling asleep at night.
Here is what I have to so far: the bridge is key, don’t you think? Who will cross it next, and why? Almost as if it’s waiting for someone to emerge from a warm house, maybe not until spring, maybe before. And the trees, bare and somewhat lifeless, yet also patiently in waiting. I should point out, though most of you already know, that Monet painted outside. This painting was no exception.
From the Art Institute of Chicago website: “Although he was somewhat perturbed by the interest taken in him by local painters, he probably added to his celebrity by stubbornly insisting on working outdoors in the poorest of conditions. He wrote to a friend in Paris: ‘You would have laughed if you could have seen me completely white, with icicles hanging from my beard like stalactites.’”
“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” – Monet
I agree with him here: We must dig and delve unceasingly. So this painting, as an inspiring focal point, will continue to be a welcome source of observation and reflection for me. There is a certain certainty about it, don’t you think? The unspoken promise of days to come. Warmer days, that is. But there is an air—an impression—of quiet contentment, as well. Remembering to value each breath, despite external conditions, comes to mind. Though winter, the painting is still bursting with life.
I’ve always felt that, as a writer, I am also an Impressionist. This is where I am most at home – when I’m capturing something more than black and white facts. In looking for that hidden, but enduring pattern, for an insightful observation that would be easily overlooked, for me, this gets us closer to the reality of our brief lives than the swirling sea of details that are entirely fleeting.
But, finally, we also can see in this painting the uncertain nature of life. Hidden lives under each white roof. Beginnings and endings alike. A sky that reveals little.
Monet lived from 1840-1926, yet, his endearing spirit is here with us now, and perhaps that is all we can really know about life. Everything changes, yet, nothing changes. Finding peace within paradox must be why I love this painting. Looking closely, I see that it’s all there. Life in subtle shades; life in constant flux; life being transformed moment by moment. Unseen, yet, felt.
Bravo, Monet. You captured my heart. ~
Thank you, Sherrey, for this lovely opportunity to share these thoughts on your inspiring blog. You are such a warm and generous friend. In the spirit of Monet, merci!
More about Daisy Hickman
D.A. (Daisy) Hickman is a poet, an author, and the 2010 founder of SunnyRoomStudio–a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits. Hickman holds a master’s degree in sociology from Iowa State University, and earned her bachelor’s degree at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. A member of the Academy of American Poets and the South Dakota State Poetry Society, Hickman is at work on her first poetry collection and on a memoir.
Where the Heart Resides: Timeless Wisdom of the American Prairie was published in 1999 by William Morrow (Eagle Brook imprint. In 2014, Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place, the second edition of Where the Heart Resides, a 15th Anniversary Edition, was published by Capture Morning Press.
And then the dream breaks into a million tiny pieces. The dream dies. Which leaves you with a choice: you can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream. ~ Nora Ephron
A house and marriage “violently” disintegrate. Left alone to raise an infant in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina while her husband lives it up in Miami Beach, Julie is surrounded by the rubble of her life – “stripped bare by love and loss.”
What happens when you lose everything?
This story is about choices, strength, divorce, Hurricane Katrina, alcoholism, a mother’s dream, life changing bridges, flawed diamonds, rebuilding, and a baby girl named Genoa.
Julie shares a remarkable story with humor and tenderness. The strength and resilience of the Gulf Coast shines through as does the love and purity Julie finds in this memoir. Experience the vulnerability, hurt, love, loss, anger, intimate reflections, authenticity, and ultimately the freedom as Julie’s shocking story unfolds.
From page one, I am hooked and Julie continuously draws me deeper and deeper into her story. Using flashbacks and emotional imagery, Julie shares the depth to which she loves her husband and how her life with him and their daughter has grown based on dreams held since their courtship. Hurricane Katrina becomes the perfect metaphor for the demise of their marriage.
Her family had only recently moved to New Orléans when reports of the potential for a hurricane begin over the news. Friends help Julie prepare not only for her survival but that of her still toddling daughter. In the midst of preparing to flee ahead of the hurricane, Julie receives an email from her husband requesting a divorce.
However, Julie’s strength and reserves muster themselves to the front and the preparations move forward. Julie’s focus is her daughter and all precautions are taken to ensure Genoa’s safety and good health.
Despite all that accosts her in a short period, Julie Freed amasses endurance, grit, and spunk to defeat everything attempting to tear her down. Her family is loving and supportive throughout but to clean up the rubble and assess the state of her affairs, Julie must leave her daughter behind at her parents’ home. A difficult decision in an already difficult time.
For anyone experiencing loss of any kind, Julie Freed’s memoir is an encouraging read. Julie’s own return to peace at the end of the storm and massive cleanup is a guidepost for others.
I rarely rate books on this blog. And when I’m forced to give a star rating on Amazon, Goodreads, or other book sites, I rarely give a 5-star review. The book must be exceptional to garner five stars.
Today I’m pleased to give Julie Freed’s book, Naked: Stripped by a Man and Hurricane Katrina, an exceptional work, a 5-star rating.
Dr. Julie Freed was raised in New England. She kept moving south with each degree, married and ended up on the serene Gulf Coast of Mississippi. With degrees in the sciences and a doctorate in mathematics, research and learners of all ages are her passion.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 she rebuilt life and home on a stronger foundation. Julie lives with her husband who is terribly comfortable in his skin, two strong willed daughters, a slippery frog, a feisty dog, three kayaks, a boat, and endless dreams of doing more and helping people.
I received a copy of Naked from the author in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are solely mine.
I am an affiliate of some of the book retailers listed above. As such, if you buy from one of them, I may receive a small percentage of the sale. This distribution in no way impacts the price you pay for the book.
No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. ~ C.S. Lewis
When Nina Bingham lost her fifteen-year old daughter to suicide, she thought her own world would end. But what she learned about love and forgiveness changed her life forever. It will change yours, too.
… Raw and honest, she shares her painful past: an abusive alcoholic father, a failed marriage, the rejection she suffered after she came out as a lesbian, and her own brush with suicide. What could have been a story mired in self-pity and misery, ultimately is a story of hope. Nina’s compelling life journey shows how pain and loss can be transformed into strength and purpose. This book is not only for survivors but for anyone facing depression with suicidal tendencies. …
Once The Storm Is Over unapologetically rips apart the façade of coping to show the devastating aftermath of a child’s suicide and how a mother, flawed but courageous, learns to live again. Described as brave, insightful and inspiring, this book is sure to make its mark in the literature of suicide recovery, and be remembered for its profound and healing message.
Soon our email exchanges grew into talk of a guest post, perhaps an interview, whatever might help. Check here for my recent interview with Nina.
And then I opened the advance reader copy Nina had provided. I could not put it down.
From the beginning with her quote from Haruki Murakami, I knew this mother, woman, and counselor had a life story to share:
And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.
The above synopsis more than adequately summarizes this memoir. I struggle finding words to explain more about what Nina Bingham brings to the page.
But what I know is she is a heartbroken mother ravaged by fear and questions over her daughter’s suicide. She can help others but can she help herself? Many families struggle with these same fears, questions, and doubts following such tragic loss.
Nina is not ashamed to write her truth, and she does so with raw anger, sorrow, grief, and at times a hopelessness that brought tears to my eyes. But her story is so well told there is no doubt it will help others.
I highly recommend visiting Once the Storm Is Over, the book site, between now and late February 2015 when the book launches to gain greater insight into the story and other reviews. Links to connect with Nina are below.
Nina’s memoir is a book you want to read if you have experienced the grief and hopelessness of suicidal loss, or if you have someone in your life who seems suicidal and/or depressed, or if you are a professional working with support groups for such people.
Nina’s story is unabashedly truthful and real. It is believable, and Nina herself is accessible for interviews, talks, and more.
The prairie landscape invites contemplation and reflection, quietly urging us to look within for universal truths. As Hickman points out: only an inner wisdom can help us connect a world of incessant surface activity with a deeper awareness. But no matter where you live, the ideas here will help you discover your place within–returning to it time and time again. We need frequent, meaningful reminders that we are much more than current events, sensational headlines, drama, controversy and conflict, and interminable, often distracting, news bulletins.
On a spiritual level, we are the open space of the prairies, the artistic stretch of silvery blues overhead–in many ways, we are even the curious dance of time.
Our spirits, our hearts, point to a timeless wisdom. Always Returning is an insightful and essential guide.
When D.A. Hickman published Where the Heart Resides: Timeless Wisdom of the American Prairie in 1999,she likely did not expect another edition or similar book.
However, as Hickman writes on Goodreads, much had happened when she returned to South Dakota and the prairie in 2008. This return to roots, to culture and lifestyle on the prairie, evidently sparked a hunger to not only revisit her own inner wisdom but to invite and carry her readers along with her.
With this 15th Anniversary Edition, a new title, and a new preface, I decided to join Hickman and never looked back after the first page.
My copy of Hickman’s Always Returning had just arrived when a trip to the ER with my husband was necessary. I hadn’t started the book then and snatched it up as we went out the door. As I waited to learn what was wrong with my dear husband, I began reading. I cannot explain the sense of peace and comfort that washed over me. The writing style is lyrical and provides a seemingly endless look at the prairie, a place no doubt representative to even us city girls when we think of a simpler life.
The view of the prairie is for any reader–city dweller, in the Dakotas, Georgia, New York, New England, or Colorado. Perhaps in a foreign land, military installations, senior or retired living facilities. Or maybe you still live at home with your folks. Perhaps you are among our country’s homeless or unemployed and someone has handed you a copy. Hickman’s book is for all of you.
Wisdom, however, isn’t a surficial phenomenon it must be discovered within–always on a deeper and deeper level. (Preface)
The writer makes it clear that your prairie is found deep within your being by means of becoming deeply aware of our surroundings and all that is ours to behold and experience.
The more pages I turned the more pages I wanted to explore. What I most enjoyed is Hickman’s contrasting of the slower nature of the prairie with our tumultuous culture of social media, get it done faster, be everywhere pace in the 21st century.
… [P]rairie wisdom is about learning to look, really look, at life in a way that spotlights the inconsequential, peers under and below the shiny, glittery surface of things, delves into the dusty corners and invisible crevices in an effort to understand the truth of the matter, indeed, the heart of the matter. (At page 15)
Not once does Hickman imply that the prairie is preferable over any other place; she simply points to its differences. And in so doing, she highlights the inner wisdom and beauty of finding our place and within it our wisdom.
In the chapter titled “Borrow It, Don’t Buy It,” Hickman brings us to a crucial need in all our lives–mutual respect within community. Today we are a have it all, have it now society. Buy, buy, buy is shouted from every media source in the land. Hickman suggests a refocusing on a new direction toward the time once again when “less is more.”
Either way, borrowing, because it seems convenient, friendly, and fun, or borrowing out of necessity, can keep our need for material possessions in perspective. Regardless of where you reside, of where you have come to know the wisdom of place, develop close friendships that allow for a healthy give-and-take. The mutual respect, the warm feelings of cooperation that develop, will ensure a happier tomorrow for us all. (At page 187)
As I turned the last page, I experienced a mix of emotions–well-being, sadness, hope, and yes, my own place of wisdom. Always Returning is a book I will always keep close by to return to again and again.
Always Returning is truly a book providing a map to the heart, a map GoogleMaps, Bing Maps, and Mapquest cannot offer. Hickman shows us where to plant our hearts and nurture them so their growth extends beyond us on to others. If there is hope for peace on this earth, that hope may just be found in prairie wisdom.
This is a book for the enjoyment of readers of all ages (young adult and up), of all faiths and spiritualities, of all lifestyles, of all cultures. I highly recommend it as a gift book whose recipient will be blessed over and over again.
I rarely rate books on this blog. And when I’m forced to give a star rating on Amazon, Goodreads, or other book sites, I rarely give a 5-star review. The book must be exceptional to garner five stars.
Today I’m pleased to give D.A. Hickman’s book, Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place, a stellar work, a 5-star rating.
DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. The opinions expressed are solely my own.
Meet D.A. (Daisy) Hickman:
I’m an author, a poet, and the 2010 founder of SunnyRoomStudio, a sunny, creative space for kindred spirits. If you visit my online writing studio, you’ll discover intriguing posts from my Studio Guests and my author blog, as well. Just go to SunnyRoomStudio.com. I’m also a spiritual thinker who believes in the journey itself. When we explore new terrain with each life experience, the adventure is profound.
From the cover of Always Returning: “Insights we call wisdom must be learned repeatedly: each time, at a deeper, more profound, level.” Some book details … the 15th Anniversary Edition of “Heart Resides” (William Morrow) was published as ALWAYS RETURNING: The Wisdom of Place in 2014. The second edition includes a new preface and other relevant updates, but by and large, the material in this book is increasingly relevant. I greatly enjoyed writing Where the Heart Resides: Timeless Wisdom of the American Prairie. I have always been a student of society. There is so much to be learned by simply being aware of our surroundings, our lifestyles, and our assumptions.
The wisdom in my book originated on the American prairie, specifically when I stepped back to look at the place and its people at the turn of the century from a sociological and spiritual perspective. Indeed, an organic and lasting wisdom has evolved over the ages in a place known for hardship, but great beauty, as well.
Some of the links contained in this blog are affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase from the affiliate. I only recommend products and services that I know or trust to be of high quality, whether an affiliate relationship is in place or not.