Books

Empty Books and the Art of Speaking Without Words

TheWayITalk2

“The Way I Talk” by Michele Bledsoe

Local poet and writer, Manuel Paul Arenas and Half-Price Books generously donated an assorted collection of blank journals to give to the children at the center where I volunteer.

I handed out many journals this summer, and this is the story of one of them.

During class, I looked up and saw a little girl hovering in the doorway. She was hesitant, extremely shy and awkward. With encouraging words, I somehow managed to coax her into the room.

She stared at me intently, but said nothing.

I asked her if she kept a diary.. if she knew what a journal was for.

She remained silent, but her stare intensified.

I could tell she was listening to every word I said.

So, I went on – explaining how a journal was a book where you can write down your dreams. You could fill it with stories, pictures and poetry. A place where you could say anything and express yourself completely without saying a word.

Then I handed one of those beautiful, little books to this silent child and told her, “This is your journal.”

Her eyes opened wide as she stared at the book in her hands, and sat down in the nearest chair. I watched as she examined her new journal.. turning it over and over in her hands. Then she grabbed a pencil, put her head down and began to write and write and write.

Throughout the day, groups of kids came and left. But despite the chaos in the room, that little girl remained sitting at a table by herself, head down and furiously writing.

Eventually, she came up for air.. and spoke briefly. Just a random comment, but I suddenly understood the reason for her silence. My heart went out to her – this beautiful child had a pronounced speech impediment.

As artists, we understand how life changing it is to be able to express yourself creatively. These children come from difficult circumstances.. and the simple gift of an empty book may be all it takes to change a life.

Thank you, Manny. And thank you, Half-Price Books for your wonderful gift.

So much more than just an assortment of blank books – your generous and loving donation gave a silent child a very powerful voice.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Lost Books and the Selfless Motivation of Art

DSCF9511    DSCF9510

The ONCE-UPON-A-TIME Storybook is the best-loved book of my childhood.

Never heard of it?

Well, you’re not alone.

Unlike the works of Dr. Suess, Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein, this storybook has slipped away into oblivion. Just another lost book that could not withstand the test of time..

but not really.

I loved this book so deeply and completely as a child, but as I grew older.. I started to forget.

I forgot the title. I forgot the stories. I forgot the name of the author..

but I never forgot the illustrations.

Those pictures haunted me.

So, I began a search that would last for 20 years.

I prowled endlessly through the children’s section of every used book store I could find. I had no information on what I was looking for other than the memory of the wondrous images that were burned into my heart.  When eBay came along, I spent thousands of hours searching in the middle of the night.. desperately plugging in keywords in an attempt to describe the pictures I cherished. A pine tree with golden leaves. A dragon and a monkey.

It seemed impossible… but I refused to give up.

To make a long story short, I found the book.

Nowadays, it seems that practically everyone on earth has written a children’s book. In the era of self-publishing and user-friendly illustration programs.. there are authors out there churning out children’s books by the dozens. But, the difference in quality is obvious. I think most people (and children) instinctively know when someone is just “phoning it in”. Nevertheless, by working the system, these savvy authors have helped their books find their way to the top of Amazon’s best-seller lists.

I suppose I could do this too.

But, unlike those masters of marketing and self-promotion, I am not motivated by money.

The ONCE-UPON-A-TIME Storybook was originally published in 1958, and the author and the illustrator of this beloved book are probably long gone.

Maybe they never achieved fame and fortune. Maybe they never realized that their book could create such a lasting impression.

And maybe they never knew that they inspired a child to become an artist.

This is my hope for The Secret Kingdom, and for any other books I plan to create while I still live and breathe.

Every time I see my book in the hands of a child, I am reminded again and again that this is not about me..

and success is not measured in dollar signs.

baby

 

 

Picture Books and the Shelf Life of a Faraway Aunt

secret angelina3     secret angelina1    secret angelina2

I am fortunate to have 2 of my sisters living just a few miles from my house..

but, my third sister lives over 2,000 miles away.

So we stay in touch with phone calls and video chats

and I watch my nieces and nephew grow up through pictures posted on Facebook.

I click “Like” and “Like” and “Like” – but, it’s just not the same as being there.

Recently, my sister posted pictures of my niece, Angelina.

Angelina had taken The Secret Kingdom off the bookshelf by herself and started looking at the pictures..

She said, “Night night!” to each one.

Staring at those photographs, I must admit I choked up a little..

Not because I was sad, but because it was a revelation.

Although I am far away, I am still there with them.

I have become a part of their childhood in the form of a well-loved book.

 

The Enemy Within and the Art of Fighting for Your Life

like clockwork 2

“Like Clockwork” by Michele Bledsoe

 

A couple of years ago, I experienced a home invasion.

I was alone when a man kicked in the back door and entered our house.

To make a long story short..

As we confronted each other in the middle of my living room

I did not feel fear – I felt anger.

And in that moment of fight or flight.. I chose to fight.

Eventually, we ended up in the laundry room where I tried to chop his face off with a pair of branch loppers.

He managed to stumble outside, shouted “Sorry, wrong house!” and ran for his life.

When I started working on The Secret Kingdom, I faced an even greater enemy…

Myself.

Not a physical fight, but an intensely psychological one.

This enemy had powerful weapons: Self-doubt. Procrastination. An arsenal of laziness, distraction and fear.

What was at stake was not the death of my physical body, but the death of fulfilling my life’s work. The loss of my creative life.

Every day I worked on my book was a fight to the death.

The day The Secret Kingdom was published, I realized that I had won… for now.

Truthfully, the fight never ends.

In The War of Art Steven Pressfield writes: “Fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

This is so true.

Now I am fighting for the life of my second book.

Having lost before, it seems the enemy within has stepped up her game.

I am ready.

Giant Lincoln and The Art of Conquering Fear

VA21

Just got back from The Secret Kingdom book signing event in the beautiful state of Virginia.

Being that we were so close to Washington, D.C., we hopped on a train and spent the day sight-seeing, visiting the museums and walking around our nation’s capital surrounded by cherry trees in bloom.

I must admit I was a little anxious, because I knew at some point I would encounter the dreaded Lincoln Memorial.

Yes, dreaded.

It is a little known fact that I have a bizarre and somewhat embarrassing fear of unnaturally large things.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, my husband Richard told me that the giant Lincoln comes alive at night and eats tourists. Although that mental image actually made me shudder, I figured we’d be okay as long as we got out of there before nightfall.

Standing at the base of the stairs leading up to giant Lincoln.. my heart was pounding, my legs felt weak and I broke out in a cold sweat.

In this picture, I seem to be leaning slightly to the right.

Actually, I was cowering in fear at the terrible sight of enormous Lincoln.

It is always good to conquer your fears and do something that scares you..

But I swear I saw his finger twitch.

When You Can’t Make Up Your Mind… Paint With Your Heart

dear franklin

“Dear Franklin…” by Michele Bledsoe

When I was invited to participate in the upcoming exhibit, BOOKED: Contemporary Literary Art, I got a really late start on my painting. The exhibit is a group show which embraces the art of the story teller, and pays tribute to beloved authors whose works have moved us, inspired us, and enriched our lives.

The problem was – I couldn’t make up my mind.

I love to read, and have so many favorite books. The deadline was approaching, but I just couldn’t decide which one to choose.

It occurred to me that I was thinking too much.

So I stopped using my head and painted with my heart.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver is a brutal book. Horrific, yet beautifully written. It took me by surprise.. and left me wandering around stunned for days after I finished it.

This is where my art wanted to take me..

and when I let go

it stopped being the painting I thought I should do

and became the painting I was meant to do.

Big difference.

And Then You Blink..

AndThenYouBlink

I believe that every painting is a self-portrait of the artist who created it… and this one is no exception. It is a portrait of me and my husband, Richard. Apart from being filled with private symbolism and deep personal meaning, the painting is named after one of the weird inside jokes we share. It is titled “And Then You Blink”. I seriously considered using this painting as the cover image for The Secret Kingdom. Instead, it became the inspiration for the author photo on the back of the book. As you can see, it shows the two of us subtly mimicking that pose.

back cover

The Weird Inside Joke:

Richard is a blogger. Years ago, when he discovered that you could insert a “mood” into posts, he selected one called “BUSY”.  Sure enough, the word “busy” showed at the top of the post… accompanied by a frantic looking emoticon. It’s mouth was opening and closing as if it were talking really fast… and then it would blink. For some reason, I found this incredibly funny.

So, Richard would imitate the emoticon for me, moving his mouth really fast, he would say: “talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk…”

And I would add, “And then you blink.”

 

Michele Bledsoe 07/19/2014