Friday, April 17, 2009

Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing by Frederick Franck

Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing by Frederick Franck is more inspirational than practical. Full of examples from Franck’s own drawings, the author shares his experience with a personal artistic epiphany, an epiphany that changed his experience with drawing and leading drawing workshops forever. Except for one brief section in one of the nine chapters in which he shares the experience of a workshop with the reader, the rest of the book is about his travels, about Zen Buddhism, and how Franck uses drawing as a form of meditation. It is this final point that elevates this book from merely memoir into a spiritual inspiration. The reader, with openness, will come to recognize that meditation is not only experienced while sitting in silence but can be experienced in action as well. While not unique to Franck, as evidenced by the frequent quotes sprinkled throughout the text, it is one of those simple truths that is too often forgotten. For those who are seeking practical advice, a book full of drawing exercises, this book will probably be unsatisfying. However, for anyone who is curious about how to integrate meditation with creativity, this book may prove to be provocative and a great place to start exploring the possibilities. I loved the drawings throughout the book, how perfectly they complemented the text, not very different from traditional Japanese scrolls. A lovely read, a lovely experience, and one that reinforces what I already believe about meditation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Poetry and Therapy by Nicholas Mazza

Poetry and Therapy: Interface of the Arts and Psychology by Nicholas Mazza is an academic exploration of the use of poetry in counseling. Presenting the theoretical reasoning behind using poetry in treatment alongside examples of how literature can be used, it is not a book neither written for nor meant to be read by the layman. In other words, if you are not a professional counselor or therapist you probably won’t find this book particularly inspiring or helpful. There is a small collection of poetry towards the end of the book and some writing prompts as well but these are not likely going to inspire much from the average reader. Because the book is more theoretical than practical, it really isn’t mean to be read by someone outside the profession. I collected a list of books I would like to read, names a recognize and some new ones as well, and I am not a professional. I just happen to be very interested in this field of healing research. For those who find academic reading uninspiring and tedious, I would recommend either of John Fox’s books: Finding What You Didn’t Lose and/or Poetic Medicine. Both are excellent and far more accessible. However, Mazza’s book is less about writing one’s own poetry than about how to use already published writings in a counseling practice. Mazza doesn’t limit the literature to only poems; short stories and song lyrics are also used in treatment and how they are used is addressed. I don’t find this the least bit surprising. I am sure that anyone can think of a song with lyrics that stirred something resonant, an emotional echo of what the listener has experienced. This is what poetry therapy is designed to do—find poems that echo the patient’s emotional experience, add more poems that move beyond that one emotion towards healing, and invite the patient to also put into their own words the experience as part of the healing process. In the end, this is an excellent resource but not one that I could easily recommended for just anyone. Here is a website that offers a list of literary resources, including film, for those who are interested in working through their healing:
Surprisingly, they do not have Wit listed. Maybe someday soon they will add this brilliant drama to their database. In the meantime, I still think this is an excellent resource.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunnyside by Glen David Gold

Sunnyside by Glen David Gold is one of those rare novels that dares to be different and succeeds in being brilliant. The unifying thread is Charlie Chaplin, whose presence throughout the novel is felt on practically every page. There is a broad list of characters including the historical famous to those completely rooted in Gold’s vivid imagination. Spanning the time preceding and immediately following World War I, the effects of the war are experienced mainly through the eyes of Chaplin, Leland Wheeler, and Hugo Black. During the first few parts of the novel, characters are introduced in a haphazard manner and seeing how Gold manipulates and maneuvers the characters so that the disparate threads eventually, inevitably, weave together. No character is presented without a reason and, given the large number of characters, this is remarkable. Chaplin, as defined by Gold’s vision, is both brilliant and insecure. His womanizing is not downplayed nor is his arrogance. What’s more, Gold manages to convey Chaplin’s humor through a media not usually associated with Chaplin: the written word. The dialogue is crisp when necessary, poignant, and even occasionally profound. The other two main characters are equally realized and establish different tones. Both men end up fighting in Europe, ironic in that they are Americans fighting a war that never touches their homeland while Chaplin remains in Hollywood to produce more movies. How much of the novel is fact and how much is mere fiction is mostly relevant only to die hard movie fanatics. And even a reader who can anticipate certain inevitable events, the reader who recognizes characters immediately upon their introduction (such as future business partners or wives) will still find the way Gold moves the narrative along wonderful. Even when he boldly states what is going to happen, the reader wants to know how the character is going to get there from where they are now and is compelled to read on. Altogether, a surprisingly well written novel. I am eager to read more of Gold’s writing.