Just as I sat down to write this message about my book, I opened up some new proofreading work: an essay about how much money Europeans spend on books per year. I love synchronicity!
What with Thanksgiving passing by, and the winter holidays around the corner, and colder weather seeping in, along with it, the desire to cuddle up and get cozy with a cup of tea or coffee or anything pumpkin or cinnamon spiced … isn’t it a great time to treat yourself to a book to curl up with, and some poems to awaken a few dreams and memories, and spark the imagination? There are so many brilliant wordsmiths out there I’m so grateful to be able to know and read, and I’m more honoured than I can express to be among them. As I hunker down to work on several new projects (poetry, fiction), I sit here with gratitude that my book, LAND, has found its way into the world, and been so warmly received. A holiday gift for you and yours!
PS: the essay I proofread determined that Europeans are spending MORE on books than they have in recent years. YAY! I truly believe that reading is not a hobby, or optional, really. Reading is like breathing. It gives you the world and then makes it bigger. It is life.
I’m proud and honoured to announce that I’ve been selected as ARTIST OF THE WEEK at Be You Media Group, an outlet dedicated to art,wellness and expression that has shone a spotlight on many other beautiful and inspiring artists! It’s taken me a long time – in fact, it’s really an ongoing process – to come to be able to to consider myself an artist, and really own the artistry within, to think, “Why can’t I be and claim what I spend the vast majority of my heart-time doing?” I’m so grateful to editor Brandie Smith for her wise and attentive work, and for gently nurturing this piece into being!
You can find the article here. I’m also including the piece below, though it’s more fun to read it with the accompanying photos of my artwork!
This week we had the honor of learning more about the brilliant writer, artist and photographer, Tammy T. Stone.
BYMG: How did you get started with your artistic endeavors?
TS: Since I was a little girl, I’ve always sought ways to express the rich, vibrant and confusing things happening inside me, and to give shape to the breathtaking experience of being in the world with its infinite, inherent creativity.
My most natural instinct was to write. I’d fill pages and pages of diaries, notebooks and journals, the content always shifting, from who my best friends were, to teen crushes (they always felt like more than crushes!) and angst over feeling alone and misunderstood, to thoughts, observations and feelings that could be quite violent, and also soft, filled with wonder.
Articles, essays (both academic and personal), short stories, novels, screenplays, poems—my existence revolves around so many forms of writing.
But there are times when the words disappear and my desire to communicate takes different forms. I turn to photography to see or frame the world both at home and during my long travels abroad when I’m not writing to reflect on my experiences.
Painting, and also art journaling, are more visceral experiences for me, ones I engage with when I need to pull the lens closer in, so to speak, to hover over a piece of paper or canvas in an attempt to formulate emotions on the brink of spilling over. Sometimes they want to stay hidden, and I let the creative process guide me inward to find them.
There’s an idea percolating out there that we can only be great at one thing, and that exploring our other passions is somehow whimsical or indulgent. If we are writers, we can’t also be accomplished painters, or photographers, or singers. It’s okay to have hobbies, we’re taught, but at some point we have to get “serious” and “focus on something.”
I’ve always had trouble with this idea! It’s potentially limiting for those of us who feel deeply committed to creative exploration.
BYMG: Who or what influences your work?
TS: My absolute sense of awe for the natural world we inhabit, and the beings that inhabit it inspire me at every turn.
I rarely leave home without my camera, and I always have my journal or a sketchbook on hand. I also owe a lot to my dad, a prize-winning amateur photographer, for putting my first camera into my hands and giving me a new way to see the world; and to his mother, my grandmother, who had a great gift in this area—there was nothing she couldn’t sew, crochet or knit, though I don’t remember her ever making “art for art’s sake.” She did pass along her love for crafting things with her hands to me, and in the years after her death, both my love and need for weaving this part of my heritage into my artistic practice has grown stronger.
My parents often took my sister and I to art museums when I was growing up, and my mom always let me “secretly” read under the covers after bedtime. These were great gifts! They helped surround me with art and cultivate my passion for creativity and imagining multiple possible worlds.
BYMG: Do you have a particular time of day that feels the best for you to create? A specific space? Or do you just get to it when and where the mood strikes?
TS: I try to create something everyday. I find it really helps me to ground, to return to myself and tune in to how I’m doing at a given moment. When I’m not feeling terribly motivated, I’ll just jot a few words down, maybe dream fragments or a line or two for a poem, or do a rough sketch.
When I’m working on a larger writing project, I usually return to it many times throughout the day, and try not to stop when I’m feeling stuck. It’s great to get through that sticky moment and look forward to the next writing session.
I also usually have a larger sewing project in the works, so if I’m tired and need a break from thinking, I can happily pick up the needle and cloth, and get to it. This is a very meditative part of my day.
BYMG: What is your process like? Do you typically finish a piece in one day, or take breaks and come back to it?
TS: It depends. If I’m working on a drawing or painting, I usually feel an obsessive need to finish it in one sitting. Even if it starts going in a direction I don’t like or didn’t anticipate, I work through it until I’m satisfied (enough!).
I’m constantly taking photographs, but I usually wait until I have time to work on them and group them into various themes and ideas for projects. When it comes to sewing and especially writing, I multitask. I usually have at least three or four writing projects going, if not more, though if things are going really well with one of them, I’ll start to focus on it more exclusively.
Going back and forth between various media really invigorates me.
YMG: What is the big message you want readers to take away from your work?
TS: Our battles against and striving for a greater kind of love, the wonders of nature, our capacity and desire to awaken and to feel and connect as part of the daunting human experience—these are some of the things that drive me, and that I hope I can reflect and share with my words and images.
With each mode of expression, we just might discover, together, new ways of seeing the world, and ourselves. There is so much joy and freedom in that!
So if I could inspire anyone with even the tiniest tickle inside to create, than it’s worth giving it a go—picking up a paintbrush, or pen, or camera, or sewing needle or music
sheets—I’d be thrilled and awash in gratitude!
BYMG: Favorite creation so far this year?
TS: I don’t think I can answer that!
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to try to write a novel loosely based on and following the order of actual dreams I’d been writing down for about a year. It was hard! I had no idea where it was going, and I let the project slide.
A few months back, I felt compelled to bring it back to life, and finally finished it! I haven’t read it over yet—there might be something there, or it might just be a time capsule for me to enjoy someday.
BYMG: Where can our readers connect with you?
TS: Thanks for asking! Readers can see some of my photos here. I also have a blog called “There’s No War in World,” and my Writer’s Page is here. You can also check out my book of poems here.
Thank you, Tammy, for sharing your insight and pieces of your beautiful, creative soul.
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.
Jack Kerouac was many things – writer, philosopher, artist, wanderer … and I’d like to add mystic to this list. In “How to Meditate”, he brings his unique literary voice to a process that, in the end, defies linguistic expression. Sometimes, though, a stunning rendering of words can be as meditative as the act of sitting on the cushion seeking peace. Meditation is not just something that happens on a cushion.
Whenever we can step back from our traditional way of looking at the world – from our busy minds, our many conditionings – and become present within our bodies and surroundings … this is meditation. From this space of presence and mindfulness, we can go deeper with our contemplations, and find that an opening has been provided, so that we can experience a vastness of experience typically unavailable to us.
We can access this state while on a long walk, surrounded by trees and and mountains and rivers, by staring into someone’s eyes with real presence and compassion, and also by reading the inspired words of others. May these words fuel calm and happiness for you!
HOW TO MEDITATE
— lights out —
fall, hands a-clasped, into instantaneous
ecstasy like a shot of heroin or morphine,
the gland inside of my brain discharging
the good glad fluid (Holy Fluid) as
I hap-down and hold all my body parts
down to a deadstop trance — Healing
all my sicknesses — erasing all — not
even the shred of a “I-hope-you” or a
Loony Balloon left in it, but the mind
blank, serene, thoughtless. When a thought
comes a-springing from afar with its held-
forth figure of image, you spoof it out,
you spuff it out, you fake it, and
it fades, and thought never comes — and
with joy you realize for the first time
“Thinking’s just like not thinking —
So I don’t have to think
The ‘Read Every Book on your Shelf’ Project! The REBOYS Project?
Well, for one, it’s terribly daunting. I mean, who’s ever actually read all the books on their bookshelves? Or the night table by your bed, where many of them tend to migrate?
I can buy chocolate and have no problem devouring it, but when I buy a book, unless I consume it voraciously, right away, it becomes decoration and kind of ceases to exist the way it’s meant to be in this world: to be read and loved, just like it deserves to be. Like I do with so many of its friends, newly bought or borrowed.
But I also realized, as much as I love reading and DO read, how have I managed to escape reading all the books I actually own, over and over in my life, no matter how many times I’ve purged and started over?
Habits are hard to break.
I love love love love books. In addition to actually reading them, I love holding them, flipping through the pages, smelling them, arranging them by aesthetic appeal, taking in the magic of typology and design. Give me a bookstore through Door A and any other store through Door B, and I’ll choose Door A every time (there are probably some exceptions, but I can’t think of them right now.)
I honestly don’t have too many weaknesses when it comes to buying things, but books are utterly in a world of their own, in my “books” (ugh).
Before I upped and left my home in Canada for years of travel that have not yet ended, I gave away most of my furniture, kitchen stuff, shoes and clothes … you name it. But I couldn’t part with my books. Into box after box they went, and I currently fantastize about them in my parents’ basement. (thanks, Mom and Dad!)
I spent years and years cultivating and fine-tuning those bookshelves! They made my living room, and eventually a wall in the kitchen of my fairly small apartment what they were. They breathed life and living into my space.
No, I never quite read all of them. But I really meant to. And those I did read, some over and over, were alive with our joint history. I scribbled notes in them, had one-sided debates and love affairs with the authors, and simply had a long and full relationship with them.
How does one part with that?
Yet I did (de)part, first for Southeast Asia and India, and then for Japan, with my newly-minted Japanese husband (who doesn’t quite share my fixation with books).
We spent years shuttling back and forth between Thailand, Laos and India, and I managed what I thought would be impossible – to keep my “shelf” of books down to the two or three I was currently reading, which I would trade in for new books when I needed to. It pained me to let go of the books, some of which I came to hold dear, which happens all too often. Sometimes I’m afraid to read a book, which I think consider to become a part of my skin, and who parts with their skin?
I’ll admit I kept a few I deemed absolutely essential (like a book on Tibetan dreaming), and I eventually sent a few of these essentials “home) (thanks Mom and Dad, and in-laws!). I mean, there was no way I was going to be in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram bookstore and not buy a few treasures.
As I mentioned, I’m in Japan now, and not in Tokyo, where my beloved Kinokuniya bookstore (which I ‘met’ in Bangkok) resides. I have very little access to English-language books, and I’m trying to avoid collecting – for now. So, my bookshelf consists of the books we managed to amass in our last weeks in India (slightly more than a few), along with some books we sent to my husband’s parents over the years, and ones I Amazon-ordered before a trip to see family in the U.S. last year – oh, and my parents gave me a few from their collection while I was there. And oh – I have managed to find a few here, as it turns out …
My photo. Not my books. I can’t understand these, and even that’s barely keeping me from wanting to own them.
Yes, it’s a pretty meager shelf of books – and I’ve successfully persisted in my habit of not reading most of them. I skim, I read chapters, but my Internet-addled brain (and Internet-based job, which I do from home) have left my head swimming with half-read articles, stories and the like.
Though I far precede the era of reading on phones, tablets, Kindles and whatever, my brain is slowly starting to move in a direction away from delicious full-book reading, and more into snippet consumption.
I don’t like it. I want to read my books, slowly, savoring them like fine wine, without a care in the world, with full capacity to lose myself in the moment.
And that’s why I’m starting this project. I will read every book on my shelf, start to finish. It may take a while. I hope it doesn’t take that long. And of course, since I’m a writer and I like sharing, I’ll write about it. I would love to see people all over the world embracing this project, and forming a community where we can reclaim our power to read-read – and to remember how delightful it is.
My photo and my shelf. I made Lucy to motivate me. She has great eyes for reading.
And what an accomplishment it would be, to actually self-educate and entertain with a collection of books we ourselves have curated for this very purpose!
We have created our own inbuilt entertainment unit, and cast it aside like yesterday’s news! And then we claim we’re bored!
How great would it be to re-visit our years-long curation project, and remember bits and piece of who we were then, who we are now, what we like and don’t like, and how we’ve changed?
How great to have a reminder of what we’d like to keep reading and what we are no longer interested in?
Let’s not waste years of book-collecting, or the actual books themselves. If we really don’t like them, we can give them away, so this is effectively a book-cleanse as well as an enriching, even enlightening experience!
I’m excited now. And I’d love for you to join me, and Read Every Book on your Bookshelf!
Here are the rules:
1) Walk over to your bookshelf.
2) Remove dust if necessary.
3) Take a book off the shelf.
4) Read it!
Am I saying, don’t buy any new books until these are done? Hmm. I’m saying try. At least be very aware and mindful of the fact that you still have a lot of other books you will joyfully be getting through, and wonder to yourself (out loud, if need be), if yet another book is necessary at this point.
Am I saying, stop reading anything online? Nope! Just make time, ideally each day, to sit down, maybe with a nice cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy the book from your shelf!
Am I saying, stop reading what you’ve got on Kindle? Well, no … but let’s start with the library that came first!
Any questions/comments? I’d love to hear from you!
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ~ C. S. Lewis
Lately, my newsfeed has been brimming with articles about how scientific research has proven that reading is good for you, how readers are smarter/better/sexier, on why readers of fiction are more empathetic people—things like this.
My first reaction was, um, isn’t this all stating the obvious?
But I keep forgetting that while I grew up without computers (or even video games, despite an attempt at interest in Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros.), let alone the Internet, younger generations are quite literally inhabiting a different world.
I wasn’t huddled under the covers texting after bedtime. I was whipping out my flashlight to read the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Flowers in the Attic and Emily of New Moon under the covers (depending on the week, the year).
I feel fortunate to have been weaned on books and to have fallen in love with them as I have. I am also a huge fan of the possibilities afforded by the digital age, in all its non-linear complexity and expansiveness.
I would love to believe that a perfect human is in some ways a hybrid one, able to have moments of pleasure reading a story on actual paper, from start to finish, while lying on the grass, leaning against a tree, or on a hammock in some far-flung place; and have other moments delving into the universe of meta-literature, where stories, voices, and identities can shapeshift and become anything we’d like them to be.
I would love to see a human with a calm, clear, focused mind able to form and maintain a beautiful, long flow of thoughts and arguments, and have a gorgeous imaginative mind able to process more information than ever before, and generate ever new ideas and worlds.
For me, reading is as organic to my lifestyle as breathing. I read because I write, I write because I read, and a life with books, words, pens, journals and word-images is natural and fundamental to me.
But it’s fun to break it down more, so, in the name of holding onto the old so that the new can be that much stronger, here are my reasons for absolutely loving reading actual books:
They feel good.
It never gets old, the feel of a velvety new book cover, and then the frayed edges of a well-worn favorite. It’s like a baby’s security blanket: the more you use it, and the more tattered it gets, the more it takes on pieces of you (or the love of previous owners), so that it’s very physicality roots you to your own special world.
They look and smell good.
A great album or book cover has multi-generational appeal. We are very visual people, us humans—scientists agree that it is our dominant sense—and a great book cover and book design has the ability to transport, and lets us carry around what amounts to a work of art. And ah, that strange, intoxicating, gluey-inky smell of a new book, and that stunning mustiness of books going way back into dim yellow depths—magic.
They are so much more than the sum of their parts.
They are words on a page. That’s all. How insanely amazing that they can make you laugh, cry, wish, yearn, yell and everything in between.
They are a vehicle for self-expression.
As humans, we are naturally inclined (thank goodness!) to creating, and expressing ourselves, to leaving a stamp or mark on things. Writing your name inside a new book as a student, writing notes in the margins (I have been known to write-shout expletives at authors I disagree with), highlighting portions of a text you love, or just doodling your daydreams on paper—this is the stuff of heaven, a true blending of minds near and far.
They allow you to fall.
If you give yourself the luxury of time to read a book through to the end, you will be rewarded with the feeling of having been swept right into a vortex where strangers dwell, who become so familiar that you never want to leave them behind. That feeling of horrible shock that comes when a great story ends—when it seems like your very own world by now—is worth the price of setting aside time to read.
They expand mindfulness and connectivity.
When you do fall into a great story, especially fiction, what you’re also doing is increasing the number of beings/people/characters you can relate to, and increasing your ability to feel connected to human feelings and situations outside your ordinary sphere. You might just find this affecting your ability to relate to others in the “real” world. Plus, reading = patience = concentration = focus = attention = mindfulness, to be brief.
They are good road companions.
This one is simple. Books don’t require Wifi, which you may well not have when you’re somewhere like a near-deserted island in Laos, or an awesome shack in the mountains or a remote airport with hours to wile away. As long as they don’t accidentally drown or catch fire, books are strong, enduring pieces of magic, information and storytelling, and they’ll always be there for you.
They help me see myself better.
Because books can increase the scope of what we can know, understand and imagine, they let me position and then re-position myself in the world. They help clarify ideas, issues of identity and emotions by opening up worlds and then by being there, stable and sure, any time I want to revisit.
They make me want to live my life more fully.
Every time I “meet” a new character, country, adventure, it inspires me to do more, feel more, live more. This might be the greatest gift a good book brings.
There are so many things you can do with them.
You can balance your tea on it while riding squished on a train—coaster! You can stuff postcards, business cards, great ideas scribbled on napkins and love letters inside them, you can write phone numbers on them in a moment of desperation. You can craft, and make your own cloth or paper covers for them. And best of all, you can share them—giving away your favorite book might be the most rewarding feeling in the world.
They remind me that life is more than a quote.
Life sometimes takes on the air of one giant stream of memes these days. Quotes can be very inspiring, but imagine how much more one can learn by discovering the greater context for these small slices of wisdom. The possibilities are large as the number of minds in the world—and then some.