In addition to Wednesday’s post about storing memories I decided to write this. It’s a story about a story told by my grandfather. So I ask: what is our history without our stories? What are we without stories?
10 years ago I accompanied my grandparents on a trip to my grandfather’s hometown in Italy. We stayed in their little house at the top of a hill, which overlooked rolling hills, houses and farms. Although I had never been there before, this tiny house on a hill felt like home away from home. When we arrived we climbed the steep stairs which were crumbling beneath our feet. With our heavy luggage in our hands and the wind knocked out of us from all the climbing, we finally reached the rather tall wooden front door. My grandfather reached into his tiny pocket and pulled out a key, and as he pushed open the door a display of old world charm erected in front of me. I was eager to explore my unfamiliar surroundings and I couldn’t wait to get acquainted with the house which would be my home for the next two months. The house was charming, rustic and cozy. So much of my grandfather’s life and his family’s history resonated within those four walls. I remember being astonished and it feeling surreal. I couldn’t believe I was standing in the house my grandfather grew up in. I dropped my luggage in the foyer and began floating around each room, touching the walls, running my fingers across the furniture and window sills until I was interrupted by a rather large photo on the wall. It was a photo which had a strong presence in the room. It was a black and white photograph of a man in a suit and tie who strongly resembled my father. I stood there and observed the man of mystery in the photograph. Who was he and why was his photograph the only one which hung in the house?
Two years ago I enrolled in a course for school on the immigration of Italians to North America. I took this course because there was so much I didn’t know about my heritage and I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more. We had to complete an important assignment, which required us to interview someone who had immigrated to Canada. I decided that the perfect candidate would be my grandfather. I drove to my grandparents’ home in Toronto with my tape recorder and my notebook. I was excited to hear my grandfather’s immigration story from beginning to end.
I entered their home and sat down at the kitchen table with my grandmother and grandfather. They shuffled about in their seats and smiled from ear to ear. I could tell that they were excited and honored to share their immigration story. I still get emotional when I think about that day. I placed my tape recorder on the table and opened the box of photographs I had found in their home. Those photographs, which I displayed before my grandparents, were a great way to begin my grandfather’s storytelling process. I pressed the record button and began the interview.
My grandfather explained the struggles of working and living in Toronto without much money or any knowledge of the English language. He explained the hardships and the prejudice he experienced as an Italian man trying to grow accustomed to a foreign land. He told me about his difficult childhood, he shared what life was like working in the coalmines in Belgium and the different people he met along the way. He shared a story about his experience on the ship, which brought him to Canada, and how hard it was for him to leave his family behind. I was very proud to sit across the table from a man who had sacrificed so much for his family, his future children and grandchildren. As we sorted through more photos in the box we came across the same photo which hung on the wall in the home in Italy. I handed the photograph to my grandfather and watched him as he studied it with his eyes and fingers. I told him that I recognized the same photo from Italy and asked him who the unknown man in the photograph was. This is where his story about his estranged father began…
I was just a small boy, the youngest of three. Times were getting tough and there were rumors that there were better job opportunities in Argentina. The economy was starting to pick up there so my father took all of our money, kissed my mother, me and my two sisters goodbye and told us that as soon as he made enough money he would send for us to go live in Argentina or he would return to Italy. Weeks, months, and years went by. We never heard from him or saw him again. Times got tough and we were poor. At the age of six I had to quit school and start working. I became the sole provider for my family. I really liked school and was at the top of my class so I was sad when I had to say goodbye to my teacher and my school mates. Years passed and I continued to work and provide for my family. After working labor jobs in Italy and working in the coal mines in Belgium I decided to make the move to Canada. I came to Toronto to work so I could help my mother and my two sisters. We were poor and they needed the money. After years of working in Toronto I met a man named Antonio who had gone to Chicago to work. He told me that he had worked for a man with same last name as ours. Because our last name is very rare I was sure it had to be my father. I told Antonio that I had always wondered where my father had gone. I often wondered where he was living, what kind of life he had, if he had a wife or any kids. I sometimes wondered if he ever thought of me and often wondered why he never came back to me. I decided to buy a plane ticket to Chicago and meet this man with the same last name. I needed to know once and for all if he was my father. Antonio accompanied me on my journey to find him. We arrived in Chicago and waited for my father to leave the job site. I had this very photo in my hands and a picture of my mother and I (he flagged the 5×7 photo in his hand and waved it at me). Antonio pointed him out and when I was ready to get out of the taxi cab he had already crossed the street to get to his car. So I got back in the taxi and told the driver to follow the car my father was driving. We followed it all the way to his house. My heart was pounding as I watched him get out of his car and walk into his house. Antonio motioned me to get out of the car. I thought: it’s now or never, so I got out of the car and walked to the front door. I rang the doorbell and waited. A lady opened the door (I assumed she was his wife). I asked if I could speak to Giovanni. She told me that he was busy and couldn’t come to the door. As she was about to close the door I put my hand out to stop it from shutting. I explained that I was his son and held a picture up of my father. I told her that I needed to see him and talk to him. I needed to. She became very angry with me and told me to leave. I refused. I told her that I needed to speak to Giovanni and that I wouldn’t leave until I talked to him. Just as I finished that sentence I saw the man at the window. I saw my father, the man who had left me so many years ago. All that separated us now was a glass window. I waved at him and pleaded for him to come outside. Just as I stood there with my photos in my hand begging for the man who had disowned me, to come outside so I could meet him, a police car rolled up. They arrested me for trespassing and before I knew it I was on a plane back to Toronto.
(This story has been edited to for reading purposes)
I was astonished by my grandfather’s act of bravery and persistence. All my grandfather ever wanted in life was to meet his father. He never stopped missing him and was determined to find him one day. He had come so close to meeting him, to touching him, to seeing him face to face. It broke his heart that even after all those years his father had no desire to meet the son he had abandoned almost 40 years ago. My grandfather had endured so much as an abandoned child, adolescent and adult. He undoubtedly had a hard life. It’s a shame his father wasn’t around to be proud of everything my grandfather accomplished.
Storytelling connects you to your history and to the people who are a part of your family’s history. My grandfather has always been a great storyteller and although they’re stories I’ve heard more than once, they will always hold a special place in my heart. Although he’s 87, his memory is as sharp as a thumb tack. I often have to lean in to hear what he’s saying but it’s worth the neck pain and every earful. After the interview had finished and my grandfather had finished telling me a story he thanked me and told me how proud he was of me. I hugged him and said “No Nonno, thank you. Thank you for sacrificing everything to give me a better life. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me and for everyone. I’m proud of you. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for you.” He looked up at me and smiled. His eyes welled up with tears and he said, “No one has ever said that to me.” My grandfather had gone through so much to get to where he is today, not for himself but for his family, my dad and his brothers and sister and for me. I have never seen him frown about the past. I’ve only seen him smile. I’ll never get to repay him or thank him enough for making the move to Toronto 63 years ago. All I can do is share my blessings, make the most out of my ambition and make him proud.
When I was a kid I always savored the moment no matter how big or how small it was. If it was a moment that meant something to me I would often collect and keep something from where I was. I was never the type of kid to write in a diary regularly. I was the type of kid who kept a piece of something, which meant everything. I used to store birthday cards, letters, wristbands from concerts and trips, concert tickets, rocks (the list goes on) in a small drawer and when that small drawer became too full to close I decided that it might be a good idea to store those tangible memories in a box. So that’s what I did. I’ve accumulated so many things that I now have two shoe boxes stuffed with a bunch of things that most would consider crap. But it’s not crap to me and I’m by no means a hoarder. I’m what you would call a memory hoarder whose memories are safely locked away in shoe boxes. Those shoe boxes are filled with the greatest and most meaningful things, which spark some of the most wonderful memories of once upon a time.
I often wonder where the years have gone. When did I finish school? When did I turn 24? Sometimes it feels like everything that happened before today went by so fast that it’s become a blur. So when the past seems a little hazy and life is a little boring I turn to my memory box, I open it up and I revisit those moments. It’s nice to touch, feel, and have your memories at your fingertips. It triggers a warm feeling from within which often takes away from the stress of living in the now. I’ll have to admit that nostalgia is my weakness. It has the power to wrap its arms around me and give me comfort. I suppose this is why nostalgia and the importance of memories have become a recurring theme in the book I’m writing. The moments we keep as memories and the things we keep from those moments play an important role in story-telling. My shoe box of memories is a time capsule of moments and tiny little stories for what feels like a century ago. It’s important to bridge the gap between the past and present. It definitely makes you a more sentimental writer.
When my mother witnessed me on a chair reaching for the back corner of my closet she asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was looking for my memory box and that re-visiting my past would be a great way to spark some inspiration for writing. She asked me to get down from the chair and to follow her to her room. I waited outside her closet doors while she moved things around and when she was done she emerged from her closet with a box in her hands. “This is my memory box,” she said. She opened up the box and took out little bits and pieces of her past and shared what they meant. Each letter, card, ticket and trinket had a story attached to it. Those three hours became the greatest learning experience for me. I think I learned more about my mother in those three hours than I ever have in my 24 years of knowing her. I learned that she’s a memory hoarder like me and sentimental. I also saw a different side of her I didn’t know existed. There was a time where she was madly in love and although she never fell out of it she had sort of lost the ability to show my father that she’s still that person. She was a deep thinker who loved to write poetry and a lover of music and movies. The stories she shared with me revealed a side I had never seen before and I’m glad I stayed to listen. I suppose all it took was taking a trip down her memory lane to learn some new things about her. She told me that she had forgotten a lot of these moments and didn’t remember that she could write with such passion and depth. These memories which were tucked away in a box helped her rediscover herself by opening up her past. It made me smile to see her smile. With her permission I asked if it would be okay if I could post one of her letters or poems. Here is a poem she wrote for my dad when they were dating.
So you have a vision and you want to share it with the world but some networking limitations have made it hard for you to do so. You have a talent for producing music, designing, creating fashionable and unique pieces and a story you’d like to share with the world but haven’t got the place to market your creations. You breathe, dream and bleed art. You’d rather paint instead of eat; you’d rather sew before you sleep; you’d rather write than wrought away your ideas. It’s your passion; it’s your life and all you’ve ever hoped for is an avenue without a dead end. Ahh so you’re a struggling artist, a struggling writer? Well what if I was to tell you that there is a network so innovative and groundbreaking that it could possibly change all of the above. They’re called ArtRebels and are giving artists and writers and people like you and me the opportunity to engage in the creative artist’s world on a global scale. This site is so clever, eye-catching, lucrative and yes, very fun to browse on. You can be a part of this community here: www.artrebels.com. It’s a place I may want to submit my first novel. It might also be one of the first places you do too if you’re interested in self-publishing.
Pretty cool huh? ArtRebels is a business based on creativity and their website is a place where artists and writers can network, share and sell their work. They are revolutionizing the idea of how artists can profit and how the art community can connect and thrive. ArtRebels, a creative portal filled with all walks of art from fashion and visual art, to music and literature have created a new definition for the expression out with the old and in with new, dispelling the myth of the starving artist and promoting the growing artist as enterprising.
ArtRebels sends the interpreter, innovator and art lover on a colourful journey to find meaning and gain ownership over the various different works the website offers. The challenges the artist faced before have now been replaced with opportunities, giving the artist access to patrons and patrons access to art. What has begun to take shape is this thriving connection demonstrating that the independent artist’s art is not only of visual value but can be of monetary value too. It’s also a liberating platform for creativity and gives innovators and artists a chance to compete in the corporate world because it disables networking constraints among the creative community. ArtRebels is an intentional break from conventional ways of sharing art because it creates a new place for people to share and collect what they love, creating a new perspective on the artist. They are also giving the autonomous author, artist and designer a wonderful balance between independence and unity. ArtRebels’ website has become the artist’s gallery and the writer’s library.
So, what are the positives?
-Everyone has the chance to join their network. This site is floored with opportunity, allowing anybody (from writers to artists) the CHANCE to be a part of their movement.
-Changing the accessibility of art, ArtRebels is thinning the line between the failed artist and success, allowing the artist to get closer to people and closer to their dream.
-They’re changing how we look at the artist and the business world by providing more opportunities (jobs) for the artist to add their creative touch to a bland way of making money- could ArtRebels be the answer to boosting the economy?
-ArtRebels may be the first to fire off a movement that will push others to think outside the box and to look at art as a lucrative business, rather than a practice that is only used for entertainment.
-They’re creating a positive change by creating projects for the youth, social change and charities.
-They’re bringing back a sense of community by uniting people at art festivals they have organized for inspiration and for a good cause.
-In so many ways ArtRebels is making life colorful and fun- who could hate that?
Magnetized by what this network has to offer it is so important to see that ArtRebels have created an enriching haven of various art forms which provide the same relative freedom artists and writers have while they are creating. Inevitably they are providing texture to the business world. The artist has the power to evolve as an innovator, allowing art to take on a form of emancipation. The layering of business and creativity can show the world a different way we look at artists and business. Without a doubt the cumulative effect of artists and ArtRebels demonstrates that there can be a definite kinship between art and business. Most importantly, if you have work to contribute go for it. Submit it to ArtRebels.
With music and words intertwined, James Joyce’s “Sirens” of Ulysses is undeniably a virtuous work of art. It portrays an effortless array of music and literature that not only speaks to the reader but also sings to the reader. Among other things, Joyce brings out the inter-connectedness of literature and music with interesting characters, figurative language, and intonation as its central and most important effort in transforming language into a musical composition of words. “Sirens” is intended to challenge one’s perception of language by de-familiarizing the reader with words, syntax, and meaning and is a very musical chapter intended to capture sounds in language. Essentially, Joyce reveals that through the association of language and music, meaning becomes secondary. These two examples below outline how words are intended to allow the reader to hear rather than just see.
“…Follow. Risk it. Go quick. At four. Near now. Out.” (Page 339)
“Horn. Have you the? Horn. Have you the? Haw haw horn.” (Page 347)
Joyce magically transforms language into music and although he is challenging the reader’s perception of language, he has effectively shown that it is possible to create music with words. So in honor of Joyce I thought I’d take a stab at turning words into music. It was harder than I thought. It may be the worst thing I have ever written and Joyce is probably rolling in his grave. I’m apologizing in advance Mr. Joyce.
Coffee Shop Injuries
“Can I. Can I help you? Coffee? Can I help you?” asked the curious lady at the counter.
“Double double on the double. Cup. Coffee. Cream. Cream. Sugar. Sugar. Double double on the double,” the customer replied.
“Coffee comes in cups. Calm calm your coffee nerves. A double double is on the double. Coffee quickly, quickly coming.”
Clink. Cling. Clang. Clang. Cling. Clink. Broom. Bap. Broom.
Clink! “Haha here you go go drink the double double on the double.”
“Sip sap sip. Ahh haha how hot. Drinking double doubles haha hurt my tall tale tongue.”
“See saw see? My, my drinking double doubles on the double double. Trouble trouble. Careful careful,” she replied.
“Thaw, thaw, thank you. I’ll be careful to due dumb duh drink slowly surely. Now my tall tale tongue can’t cooperate casually with content because of the holy hot cup of coffee. I wish I weren’t washing words with wish washy silly sounds. I need to leave leap leave to sew some sentences together. By then I may spa speak no numb normally. See you so so soon.”
I think that’s enough writing with intonation for one day. I think you’d agree.
The character in my book and writer’s block inspired this post- who would have thought that writer’s block would motivate me to write? I thought that a poem would be a perfect way to describe Quinn (the character) and the world she’s living in. I also thought it might prompt me to write more for the chapter. If you’re having a hard time trying to create a scene for your character or you’re finding it difficult to set the tone, try to imagine Morgan Freeman or any other person with a moving voice reading it. That should help you write with a particular style. It works for me. Or write a poem. Tonight, I wrote a poem.
The sporadic rhyming scheme reflects the erratic and contradicting nature of the character. She battles with the one she loves because he is the one she hates. She is also at war with herself and the world around her. She often portrays an image opposite of who she really is, not because she chooses to but because she has to. This life did not choose her. She chose it and with choosing comes a price. Her only way out is to be stolen.
Question for you:
How do you cure your writer’s block?
Listening to music while writing is a simple pleasure, as long as it’s not corny 80’s music or Ke$ha- then it’s dreadful.
You heard her. Writing gets done a lot quicker when there’s coffee involved. When I’m writing on empty everyone knows to steer clear of me. I need coffee. My writing needs coffee.
It’s that golden moment when an ingenious idea pops up in your head and you’re half in the bag. Waking up the next morning with your face on the floor and a ridiculous story saved on your computer may be a sign that you’ve seen better days. Not so clever after all. Don’t drink and write. On second thought, why not? You might have a good laugh and it may be the one thing you don’t regret.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all been maddened by an ice cream craving. There are those that crave ice cream when they’re on a diet and then there are those that crave ice cream when they’re writing. I’ve been both. Writing and ice cream don’t mix. Unless you have a drool guard. I don’t. My paper always ends up soggy.
Looks refreshing doesn’t it? Your lap top doesn’t think so. Neither did mine a year ago. Writing and water don’t mix, especially when you’re clumsy like me.
Blowing bubbles. This one gets me every time. Ever end up with gum stuck to your paper? It’s not fun to peel off. But it’s fun to blow bubbles
No one likes a crier. No one likes witnessing a crier while writing. Shit is weird.
Windy days and writing…two words: stay inside. It only took one time for me to learn my lesson. Let me tell you, it’s not fun to chase your work after it’s taken flight. As you can see, it wasn’t a good day for this guy <-
Seriously? Writing next to a fire? You’re just asking for it. Next.
Riding a bike while writing sounds like fun…until someone gets hurt.
Writing in a moving car = car sickness. It’s a recipe for disaster. No one likes the backseat of their car decorated in your vomit.
She may be smiling but you won’t be. Talking on the phone and writing don’t mix. Take it from me. This one time I tried to do both at once and ended up with bits and pieces of the conversation I just had in an essay I was writing.
Writing near loud talkers is like hearing nails on a chalkboard. Ughh get them away from me!
And of course when all else fails…
Often, the conversations I have with people always seem to spark my curiosity, especially conversations about music. In light of a conversation I had with one of the most enlightening, opinionated people I know and aspiring musician, I decided to write this post. We talked about Kurt Cobain and his drug addiction. We challenged whether Kurt was a much loved icon because people truly loved him for his music or if he had become an icon because of the media’s contagious desire to sensationalize his life and his death. We questioned why people placed a man so heavily dependent on drugs on a pedestal and even went as far as questioning whether Kurt was worth the credit his fans have given him. As we conversed on our ride home, I thought about a lot of what we talked about (and even argued about). I realized that our fascination with the artist and even Kurt Cobain (aside from our morbid fascination) is prompted by our curiosity and desire to get inside the artist’s mind. This is one of the most extraordinary things about people and music- our undying fascination with the artist. I think it goes beyond our obsession with fame. Maybe we’re entranced by the artist’s ability to translate confusion and contempt into something beautiful that gives us all the ability to try to understand the world. Not only that-it also makes us feel, think, and act. The beauty of an artist is the mystery that lies behind their work and even their life. Erase all of the hype, tabloids, negative attention and what do you have? A happy artist who is free from the media that beckons for more- unfortunately that’s not reality.
Music is a lot like writing. It brings us back to the core of humanity and realization. It helps us expose our rawest emotions and it reminds us of what it feels like to be human. It’s what brings people together and it’s something we enjoy. It’s also one of the things we ascribe to. It would be hard to imagine music without the musician. We need to know the face behind the voice. Seeing them on stage, tuning our ears into their lyrics, feeling their music (and sometimes their pain) is a part of this so-called relationship between the romantically involved fan and admired musician.
The musician allows us to reach out and place our hands on their hearts, feeling the tremendous infectious love they have for the art form. It’s more than music with a purpose. It’s music on a mission, conquering all of the fakes, all of the industry-funded leeches, all of the tainted apologies, the list of do’s and don’ts, and the ever so tasty fame that comes with a price. But the question is: are we smart enough to see the artist’s mission or cry for help? Some of us yes, most of us, no. Those who are oblivious of the artist’s motives are left with a complex story mish-mashed in guitar riffs, words and a voice, demonstrating that hearing between the lines is almost impossible. When does it become apparent that the music artist has reached an end? When we see them give into drugs? Or when we see them begin to not give a shit? Is this what the artist rebelling against the industry looks like or is it proof of the industry’s ability to tear the music artist apart? To give a damn or not to give a damn? That is the question.
“Here I am, inspired to write only because I’m pissed off”– Kurt Cobain
There is a lot more to music than meets the ear and a lot more to the world than meets the eye. The in between is the artist who tries to make sense of it all. In between the music and the world was Cobain who confronted his fears, ambitions, the raw truth on pages and pages of his written retreat- his journal. Evidently, the greatest story of all is the one we have written in a journal.
I was lured by the cover that read: IF YOU READ YOU’LL JUDGE and decided to dust it off. I wanted to read Kurt Cobain Journals and put some of the pressing questions I asked above to rest. I have to admit, I was a little reluctant to read. As anyone knows, a journal is personal and is for the writer’s eyes only. It would take the world for anyone to pry mine out of my hands. It’s the only safe world I have created with words and without walls. So here I was breaking the intimacy between the writer and his journal. I even felt as though reading Kurt’s journal was an invasion of his privacy- yet this didn’t this stop me from opening it up. Was I also guilty of feeding into the sensationalized musician created by the media? Most definitely. But it’s not my fault, I swear! The media made me do it.
Fluttering around in the media machine is an overwhelming amount of theories, opinions, and ideas about who Kurt really was and how he died. Did he really commit suicide or did Courtney Love kill him? Was he confused and sad? Or just wise beyond anyone’s contemplation? It seems as though the media knew Kurt better than Kurt knew himself. To this day, we’re still doing what Kurt hated the most- trying to figure him out (I guess you could say I’m guilty of it too). Left to the words of his biographers, critics, and money-makers, Kurt was reduced to an object constantly pricked, prodded and analyzed by the watchful eyes of the press who suited him up for their next exciting story. Hmm…Just when we thought that creating was the artist’s job.
The journals were a way of getting inside the mind of a man who was too compassionate, understood too much and was torn between enjoying the world and hating it. It reminded me (in an eerie way) of what a human being can be- contradictive. Aren’t we all?
I’m sure Kurt would have never wanted anyone to read any further than the cover’s warning for lurking eyes: If you read, you’ll judge. Naturally, anyone would cringe at the thought of one person reading their innermost thoughts, let alone the world. His journals served a personal purpose. They were a place where he could rant and be opinionated, opposite of the world so callous and judgmental and here people were, revealing the world that Kurt kept a secret and felt safe and sound in. Despite what would appear as exploitation, the published journals exposed a different Kurt outside of the one that the media created.
Was Kurt Cobain really THAT complex or interesting? Or were these hyped up ideas about Kurt Cobain planted in our minds? It’s hard to say. One thing is true, Kurt was a human being- something we all have in common with him…unless you consider yourself extraterrestrial? His journals reveal him as:
-someone who had a vivid imagination
-someone who was sad and melancholic at times
-a person who wanted to be loved
-someone who hated oppression, racism, and everything that was evil
-a man who felt guilty because he couldn’t live up to the expectations people had set for him
-a person who didn’t think much of himself; mostly humble
…like most people. We often assume human beings are simple creatures, easily definable and only having one side. People have many sides and are far from simple. If anything, we’re closer to complex, yet we always seem to scrutinize those in the spotlight like they’re different from us.
Who knows, maybe Kurt had an inkling that someone would read his journals one day. Kurt wasn’t stupid. Maybe his journals, filled with stories, ideas, rants and drawings were in his defense, a portrayal of a sensitive man very aware of the world and everything in it. Perhaps it was his way of throwing a curve ball at those who had an unnerving fascination with his life and at those who would choose to sensationalize his death. Building him up as the tragic artist, replaying his videos, and replaying his songs seem to have always brought on a strange and eerie sense of revival. Sedated by the media, it was hard for anyone to wake up and see what was being created- a music icon. An icon people would make money off of (his published journals being just a fraction of earnings).
A coward? A junkie? Or enlightening and willing to see the world without rose coloured glasses? The tall tale of the tortured artist who found it better to “burn out than to fade away” is a story we’ve heard too many times- the romanticized version, of course. It leaves us feeling sad and at a loss for words. What helps us find them?-whatever you’re reading and whatever you’re watching. Little do we know what lies behind the face we starve to see perform. In the end does it really matter? There is a hidden message that makes us curious about not only who the artist is, but what they think about. I think it’s a mystery that deserves to be untouched and left to the music artist’s crazy way of expressing what most of us can’t. There’s no Rosetta Stone to the artist’s life. Sometimes some things are better left to the imagination. Some things are better left in our journals.