COVID, Friendship, Writing, and Books: We’re better

It’s official — as of yesterday, I can smell the cinnamon in my oatmeal and taste hot chocolate — hurrah! Smelling flowers is uplifting — but no longer worrying that I could be snuffed out by toxic air or spoiled food? — mega-hallelujah!

Senses, mwah and mwah! Please don’t ever leave me again! Here’s to hoping that a benefit of COVID will be more research spent to help all who have limited abilities to smell or taste…

Illness is dreadful, but now that I’m securely on the other end of it, I see it provided me some upsides. For one thing, it’s reminded me how beyond-lottery-winner-fortunate I’ve always been in regards to wonderful friends — and that includes you, dear reader. Most strangers are merely people we haven’t yet had the opportunity to become friends with, no?

Besides appreciating the kindness of pals and soon-pals, I wish I could say I completed extensive writing on my “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat” novels, but my writing energy was nowhere to be found.

However, sitting and lying about  enabled me to do some reading. Without revealing plot points, here are my reviews of four books I’ve just finished. When I review books I appreciate, I notify the authors. Occasionally they email me back 🙂

Cover of "Earthlings" by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings: A Novel by Sayaka Murata

Pardon the gray matter, but my brain just exploded. This book is like nothing I’ve ever read before — and I read a lot of books and genres.

Picture Sayaka Murata’s earlier book, “Convenience Store Woman,” as a string of firecrackers that cleverly illuminates how soul-sucking capitalism can be. “Earthlings” is akin to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when 80,000 people vanished in the blink of an eye and 200,000 mostly civilians perished.

Equal parts sci-fi, reality, magical realism, comedy, horror, satire, and gore, she says this is her other-worldly response to a Japanese health minister’s announcement. In 2007, he said, “The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head … although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”

Granted, there are beaucoup reasons “Earthlings” isn’t for everyone — but I have no time for those who’re simply offended that the story isn’t as cutesy as the iconically Japanese cover. The same goes for reviewers who lament the dearth of “likable” characters. For Murata, no one is all-good or all-bad, and no gender or age has it easy. Surely when Murata named an essential character “Yuu,” she knew the meaning of “you” in English.

Cover of "Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends" by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

This is a wise and chatty culmination of what the authors learned as co-hosts of their “Friendshipping” podcast. Their mantra: “Friendship is a skill.” Indeed, it’s one that merits continual honing, for which they offer great suggestions.

Cover of "The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention" by Julia Cameron

The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s 12-week manual, “The Artist’s Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” is ultra groundbreaking to creatives of any ilk. Each non-fiction book Cameron has published since then reiterates much of her original teachings — but for me, the repetition often works. This newest text is a 6-week DIY course that emphasizes the value of listening to each other, our environment, and ourselves.

Cover of "The 90-Day Novel" by Alan Watt

The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt

Good chance Julia Cameron fans will enjoy this, given that there are a few similarities. If Cameron doesn’t resonate, you still may find this bread-crumbs/inside-to-out writing approach useful.

Are you reading or writing lately?

Books forever! Guest Blog Post: Book Art w Video by Cecilia Levy

What do books mean to you? For me, the very sight of pages bound together conjures adventure, romance, joy. A book suggests an imagined memory of what a heaven-on-earth it would be to occupy the hugest reading room ever! In such a place,  librarians are sure to work at a great library that houses fiction (like my soon-to-be-published “Flamenco and the Sitting Cat” novel) and non-fiction, both revered as sculptures as well as media for knowledge. The magic of books is such that, once published, every book should continue to live endlessly.

Artist Cecilia Levy resides in the small Swedish village of Sigtuna, between Stockholm and the university town of Uppsala. Her art ensures that printed pages are neither discarded nor forgotten. In her hands, they are reincarnated, given three-dimensional lives as exciting as their first ones!…

Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.
Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.

“Paper Art” by Cecilia Levy

Cecilia Levy creates sculptural objects in paper, using old book pages, wheat starch paste, and papier maché technique.

Her work is exhibited internationally and is included in private and permanent collections, including the Swedish National Museum.

In 2017, her public art commission, “In Fusion – Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance to Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS, twenty plinths displaying over twenty-five of her unique paper sculptures.

Her home in Sigtuna, her studio at Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, she’s a member of Konsthantverkarna in Stockholm, where her pieces are sold.

"Companion," teacup and strainer, 2018.
“Companion,” teacup and strainer, 2018.

I have a background in graphic design and bookbinding, and paper has always been my medium. I make sculptural objects in paper, using book pages. I only use old books, up until the 1960s. They have the paper quality, layout, and typography that I appreciate.

"Longing," mocha set, 2020.
“Longing,” mocha set, 2020.

Old book paper is a fragile and delicate material. It carries several narratives at the same time, both in content and regarding the passage of time. My works reflect this, the fragility of life. The pieces reflect my personal stories and memories. This is a mocha set called “Longing.” It’s a replica of a set given as an engagement gift from my grandfather to my grandmother.

"Chapter One," thistle, 2015.
“Chapter One,” thistle, 2015.

Visible traces from the passage of time, marks from previous owners and readers, paper quality, color and typography, holes in the binding, wrinkles and dog ears, olden expressions and spelling, and the (sometimes) odd content. All of these are all characteristics I value and are what determine my choice of working material. Every single piece of paper is chosen with care.

"Hobo – Homeward Bound," boots, 2012.
“Hobo – Homeward Bound,” boots, 2012.

My different pieces represent different sides of me. I often use everyday objects, those found at home, or in thrift shops. These Hobo Boots are special to me. They are appealing to the eye. They were fun and pleasing to make, yet they also have a serious underlying message about homelessness and poverty.

"Coltsfoot and Artichoke," medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.
“Coltsfoot and Artichoke,” medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.

My 2017 public art commission, “In Fusion – Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance of Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS. In all, twenty plinths held over twenty-five unique paper sculptures. I was inspired by folk medicine, especially plants and herbs that can be used for infusions, in other words, herbal teas.

The title of the commission is a play on words that indicates a fusion between art and folk medicine. “Contemplation” is used, in a sense, to look at/be aware of/be exposed to. It’s an essential term within philosophy and theology. People coming to a hospital are often anxious and worried. My hope is for visitors to halt for a while, and to let their minds wander.

Here’s a video of Cecilia at work.

Reach her at +46 706 54 39 65 – or at her site here – or at her Instagram here – or at her Facebook here – or here.

What do books mean to you?…