The Art of Love: Celebrating Wuthering Heights for National Book Month

Day 2

My Street Japan. DAY 2. Tammy T. Stone

 

The Art of Love: Celebrating Wuthering Heights for National Book Month

I am a writer. This means that I am also – by nature, inclination and disposition, with everything in me – a devoted reader. Since the time I was a young girl sneak-reading under my blue-and-white checkered Mickey Mouse and Pluto covers with a flashlight, devouring everything from Archie Comics and “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, to the “Sweet Valley High” and “Flowers in the Attic” series, books have been my co-conspirators in life. They have been, at times, companions, friends, heated debate partners, gentle witnesses and yes, also very much like lovers.

I don’t mean to imply that books gave me something their human counterparts did not, or that I irretrievably escaped into them (though I have at times), but that the responses they evoke speak to the ability of the written word to generate the unfurling passions that also infuse and can inspire our interpersonal relationships.

Increasingly, I’ve come to believe that this is the greatest power of books, and of all the arts: to ignite our emotional selves by seeping into the deepest, most generative parts of us. We’re starting to understand, in contemporary science, that emotions drive the way we think and reason; our thinking minds are very much guided by our emotions, as elusive, fleeting, seemingly irrational and enigmatic as they might be.

I was raised, and I believe many of us are, to value my logical and pragmatic sides, and to keep my emotions “in check” in both personal and professional dealings. Looking back on any given year of my life, though, what do I remember more, the reasons behind the day-to-day decisions I made, big and small, or how I was feeling when I made them? Do I remember what I ate for lunch when I was in high school, or how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin sitting in the cafeteria? Do I remember the content of my university essays and business reports, or how satisfied I was with my work, or the feeling of obsession I developed for the subject matter?

I often think in images. When our nature as humans comes to mind, I see beings of light, and within this vision of us, I see tiny, particle-sized bubbles filled with emotions and memories. The memories have a sort of substance – there are images and sounds, for instance – but these too, are laden with emotional content, which I see as colours. What’s inside these emotion-memory bubbles is potent: it makes and remakes us daily, and forms the basis of everything we put into the world. The world, then, is a kaleidoscope of our enmeshed memories and emotions in action.

Where do these come from? When we start to examine our habit patterns, our tendencies to get sad, or angry, or feel rejected or abandoned, we ultimately realize that some of our core emotions are very deeply ingrained. It might feel like they are thousands of years old, and they might bring us at least as far back as childhood, when we were pure and magical emotional beings, pre-cognitive, that is, before reason could grab its hold on us. Uncovering and then observing and letting go of our largest and most impactful emotions is a life’s work, and I would argue that this kind of work is the very life blood of the artist.

There is artistry, too, in the active participation required to take in an artwork, be it a painting, piece of music, or a book. At our most engaged, we are entering into true dialogue with the artist or with the artwork itself, meeting in a shared space where emotions can commingle, limits can be tested, and there can be explosive eruptions of meaning. Many argue that this is the place where art truly originates, is born, along with the person experiencing it.

Through this active dialogue we are forming and are being formed; we learn so much about ourselves in the mirrors and teachers the most glorious artworks can be.

This is why, in choosing from the vast selection of books I’ve read over the years, up to and including my recent preoccupation with the Buddhist teachings of Pema Chödrön and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I’d have to say that Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” stands out as a beacon. I read it ages ago, when I was an awkward-banged, braces-encumbered teenager reading stomach-down on my bed in a room whose dusty rose walls I hated (though I chose the colour), flanked by posters of the Beatles, Tom Cruise in “Top Gun” and Dylan Thomas quotes (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”), pausing constantly to obsess over my first crush to the strains of Air Supply’s “Making love Out of Nothing at All.”

I don’t remember more than the most basic plot lines of the book, any more than I remember the movie version I saw years later as a film student. I do remember my hand fluttering to my chest as I became swept away in the tempestuous love unleashing itself madly against a backdrop of moody moors, a combining of inner and outer storms I’d recently learned in English class was called “pathetic fallacy.”

I couldn’t tell you any of the characters’ names other than Heathcliff and Catherine, but I can hear, still reverberating in the chambers of my heart, the words,

“Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you – haunt me, then!! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!”

(I didn’t Google this; capped words may be my interpretation.)

I remember being on the phone with my friend Jasmine, who was also reading the book, standing on my bed and swooning as I yelled these lines to her, placing emphasis on different words until we were satisfied that we found the perfect expression for the glorious torment and suffering that was sure to kill us, because who could survive in a grey, moor-less world after knowing (about) his kind of devastating romance and passion?

More than twenty years after reading it, I remember Heathcliff’s words the way I do the lyrics of all my favorite songs. I remember them because they were the progenitors of my capacity to feel, and also the perfect manifestation of this as yet hidden power. They turned me into a fledgling superhero battling to the death in the name of Love. They simultaneously sublimated my desires and unlocked a need in me to seek the life of passion and possibility they represented, a passion that begins with love and spreads, as love does, to everything else under the sun.

The older I get, and the more I realize that life is nothing without connection, empathy and compassion, the more I feel I’m indebted to the mysterious forces which led me to a love for words and artistic expression in the first place, and to those pivotal works of art around which I have, inadvertently or not, built my life.

A single phrase, musical note, dance move or textured, sculptural curve can make a beeline directly into our most formative consciousness, interacting with those tiny bubbles of memory-emotions we harbor, thereby creating new ones. How lucky we are to have art in the world, and to be such incredible, gifted and magical beings capable of living in the light of art that awakens, heals and transform us every time we engage with it. How lucky we are that we are art’s mirrors, works of art ourselves, lighting the world with our passion and love.

 

 

 

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This Anonymous Letter to Humanity is a Wake Up Call. Please read!

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

“Tragedy always seems so distant and is beautiful in the reactions it causes. briefly, we are forced to care, we are connected and we pray and promise and hope for change. but the words are quickly lost and our minds quickly w[a]nder to other things even when the problems persist[s] with as much power and vigor than before.”

“our manic-depressive switching from compassion to apathy just results in each feeling negating the other. it’s easy to disregard what we can’t see. emotions are generally distorted reflections. over exaggeration and under exaggeration are common, but usually they are just faked completely. what matters isn’t the initial feeling, but the feelings they evoke in others.” – anonymous

 

I took both of these images years ago, when I was still living in Toronto, and obsessed with the vibrant graffiti and street art culture thriving there (I’m still obsessed, but from a distance!). I eventually compiled the photos into a book that I was thrilled to sell at the amazing, and sadly now-closed, Pages Books & Magazines, on eclectic and hip Queen Street West, not far from much of the city’s best street art.

I became deeply immersed in the city through two lenses – that of the street artists themselves, and of my own, through photographing their work. It was a human connection through several layers, but a surprisingly intimate one. There are so many beautiful ways to commune with others, to receive, and give back.

The photo I took, below, has stayed with me – haunted me, really – ever since. I stumbled on these two small strips of paper, written in a regular-sized font on a simple strips of paper, glued to a piece of wood in an urban back alley. It wouldn’t be the first thing you saw walking along, but I’d been wandering around this neighbourhood for months, and one day these faded, stained pieces of paper caught my eye.

The author will remain forever unidentified (though I would love to meet him or her, and have a conversation, and know of the experiences that led to the writing of this letter to the city).

In a big city, which to my mind is increasingly a metaphor for the larger, global world we live in, being human often translates into feeling tiny, lost, insignificant. The writer of this plea to the city makes some very prescient comments, alluding to the tendency for our empathy and compassion to come and go as quickly as we’ve now come to experience the updates on our social media newsfeeds in the years since.

Of course, this isn’t empathy at all, or compassion, because when we have learned to cultivate these qualities, they cease to be fleeting, and we become more able to generate a sustained desire to change the world (and ourselves) for the better. To connect, deeply, gently and kindly.

“It’s easy to disregard what we can’t see.” Let’s make a world where it’s not desirable to avoid seeing. Let’s remove the veils behind which apathy and blind eyes flourish.

Speaking out from a small slip of paper, this anonymous writer reminds us that it only takes a moment to put something negative in the world, but a lot longer for the effects of this negativity to fade away. We should remember, in reading his or her beautiful, cautionary words, that behind the facades we use through which to communicate with the world (be it art or social media), we are real beings, reaching out to other human beings, who want to love and be loved as much as the next person.

Not for what we say or do, not only for right now, under these circumstances and not only to get a “like”, but unconditionally. Equally.

This is the beginning and end of what we deserve as we make our way, sometimes fumbling and yes, also dancing our way through the world. In case I never meet this author of these words, I send out a heart full of gratitude for taking the time to formulate these observations and attach them to the urban outdoors, so that we may be duly reminded.

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

Make Your Rose-Tinted Glasses Work For You!

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

Most of us pass through typical milestones or rites of passage as we grow older, designed to propel us into a new stage of being.

These include going through puberty, getting our driver’s license, landing our first “real” job, getting married, having kids and so on.

All the world’s cultures have their own variations of rituals associated with the various (and varying) stages of life, from birth and coming-of-age to unions and ultimately death; we have much to learn and gain by studying how the peoples of the world celebrate growth, time, nature and transition.

If we’re lucky, and really attending to these moments, we can recognize all the subtle shifts at play—in our bodies, minds and psyches—as we morph from one phase of life to another.

On the other hand, we risk creating an imbalance between these big rites of passage and the rest of our “ordinary,” day-to-day lives, masking some truths about time and experience that can help us move beyond a life of delusion and toward peace and satisfaction.

Time doesn’t stop between Great Big Events, and life has an abundance of fascinating things on offer in these in-between spaces.

Maybe we’ve gone through those highs leading up to a wedding, or even New Year’s, imagining that some mysterious forces are going to transplant us right into the life we crave. The lows that come afterward remind us that the best thing we can do for ourselves is create a situation where we don’t attach to big dates, and thrive every day.

One of the core meanings behind rites of passage and even the change of seasons is to gently coax us into deepening our connection with the universe, and with ourselves as a harmonious part of it.

What better way to do this than to honour the very magic of existence by learning to celebrate the inevitable fact of change, and beauty of where we find ourselves each day?

“There is nothing you can see that is not a flower. There is nothing you can think that is not the moon.”

~ Matsuo Basho

We are in constant interplay with the world. We are changing, growing and evolving right alongside it. There is no keeping up, or reaching some fixed, pre-established goal. We are the life, we are Basho’s moon and flower, we are the goal.

In practical terms, we want to step out of our listless daydreams (though daydreams certainly have their place), and generate awe—an “aha” that serves to remind us why it is ridiculously amazing that we are here.

We don’t need to organize a huge event to do this, or spend a cent. All we need to do is find a way to flip a switch.

Sometimes this happens spontaneously, like when we find ourselves in nature and are suddenly overwhelmed by the serenity and beauty around us. Guards drop, thoughts slip away and only the present remains. Some consider these moments to be enlightenment.

We can’t always put ourselves directly in inspiration’s way, though, and these are the times when it’s helpful to have some tools up our sleeve.

One of my favourites is what I call: The Rose-Tinted Glasses Experiment.

I was inspired to do this when I was studying cinema years ago, awestruck by how the greatest filmmakers took full advantage of the knowledge that worlds, film and otherwise, aren’t passively received—they are made—and that directors have to actively create what they want audiences to experience. Films like The Wizard of Oz and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I wanted dozens of times each, utterly captivated me with their unique and highly expressive views of the world.

The Rose-Tinted Glasses Experiment is so easy it almost feels like a trick, but it’s amazing how a very simple intention can so thoroughly change the way you see things.

All you have to do is go outside and take a walk—you can also do this on a bike in your car, but it’s best if you can be as distraction-free as possible.

Now pick a colour.

With this colour in mind, just hang out and do your thing, and consciously put your proverbial rose-tinted glasses on, except the glasses are in your mind, and you can choose any colour you want (rose is not everyone’s cup of tea).

Now, with your chosen colour, tune into your environment and become aware of items of this colour around you, and awaken yourself to a world filled with this colour.

The first time I did this, I chose yellow. I figured there really weren’t that many yellow things around, and I was curious what would happen.

A new world opened up before me. A part of a billboard here, someone’s umbrella there, a shirt in a display window, another ad…the world was teeming with yellow!

Then I picked red, and the same thing happened.

Moments earlier, I was in a yellow world that had now turned red. The world, of course, didn’t change at all, but I was able to use my mind to create a world of my making, because the world is simply too large and grand for our limited brains or minds to take everything in. And so we filter. We normally do this subconsciously and in predictable ways, but with this exercise, we are taking hold of the reins.

This is empowering in itself—and helps overcome feelings of lack of control—but the important part of this exercise is that we can use it to jar ourselves out of boredom and complacency and learn to attend to things all around us that otherwise remain invisible.

We often don’t realize how stuck we’ve become in our conditioned way of seeing things, and this applies to the physical world around us as well as to our responses to things like discomfort and conflict. This “rose-tinted glasses” exercise is a great way to rewire and observe that there are endless perspectives available to us, some of which can be much more helpful and liberating than others, and all of which are a great celebration of change.

Who knows what is awaiting us once we have the heart and mind to see, and make every day an ordinary-magic rite of passage?

 

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Bonus: See how they Think Pink in the classic film, Funny Face, here.

 

*Published under a different title in elephant journal, here.

 

New Drawing! Blossoming

This was inspired by a beautiful encounter with a dear friend today. She is full of joy and passion and wisdom. While I can’t capture her ephemeral “her-ness”, which is nonetheless out there in the universe, I was moved to create this watercolour.

With her help, I remembered a valuable lesson today. When you make time, no matter how busy you think you are, you will have more time, and joy grows infinitely from there.

I hope you enjoy!

 

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No More Teachers … 5 Quotes and Movies to Get the Learning Going

 

 

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

 

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Kids all over are going back to school this week.

For moms and dads, this might mean combined feelings of swelling pride, the excitement and anxiety over how it will all go (and maybe some panic over scheduling), and then some wistfulness for those years when your baby was still too young for school and you could witness the moment-to-moment joys of their development.

For those without kids, there can still be a twang that erupts come Labour Day. It’s partly nostalgia for those awkward and anticipation-filled first days back in the land of lockers and cafs:

What should I wear?

Will my crush be as cute in September as he was last June?

There’s also some dread mixed in, because blissful, vastly expansive summer days are giving way to too-early mornings and endless classes on arcane subjects.

Remember the hypotenuse theorem, anyone? (Okay, I do, but there’s lots of stuff lost in the folds of time.)

As someone who spent long, long years both enduring and revelling in those first days back (I went to school continuously from nursery school to Masters, and then went back to start a Phd after a break), the overriding feeling I get in early September is a renewal of desire to learn and a sense of wonder over what forms learning will take this time around.

It goes without saying that learning happens everywhere, all the time,  in the most fascinating of guises.

Since every moment is an opportunity to learn—about ourselves, others, the world, and these are all one thing, really—I wanted to share “five and five”—five education-themed quotes and five movies to watch.

Let’s get learning, everyone!

5 Quotes:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.” – T. S. Eliot ~ T. S. Eliot

~

“Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?” – Walt Whitman

~

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

~

“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination.

We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system.

Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself —educating your own judgement. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.’” – Doris Lessing

~

“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down.

She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

~ Pema Chodron

5 Movies:

There are so many brilliant films from all over the world dealing directly or indirectly with learning and education. Films have actually been a huge part of my formal and informal education, no matter what the subject, so this list is just a tiny drop in the amazing bucket of cinematic delights, as they came to my heart!

 

1. Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir): A teacher (Robin Williams) teaches students about freedom of belief. Simply a must.

See trailer here.

 

 2. Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz): A quiet, uncannily compelling documentary centred around the beloved (and feared) spelling bee.

See trailer here.

 

3. Project Happiness (John Sorensen): A very inspiring documentary traversing the globe with students, and winding up in India in search of the meaning of lasting happiness.

See trailer here.

 

4. Into the Wild (Sean Penn): A chronicle of a young man eager to live life to the fullest and learn about life from the source: nature’s wild.

See trailer here.

 

5. The Class (Lauren Cantet): A brilliant, quasi-documentary in which a teacher plays himself in his racially diverse Parisian classroom.

See trailer here.

 

Bonus: H. H. The Dalai Lama  on learning and never forgetting the importance of compassion.

View here!

 

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