Manuel Paul Arenas

Empty Books and the Art of Speaking Without Words


“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.





Painting Portraits and the Art of Averting Your Eyes


In my painting, “Return to Innocence” I made the terrible mistake of making the central figure stare directly at me. This is just a section of a much larger painting, and the figure is close to life-sized. Those piercing eyes and blank stare are a little unsettling. I don’t know why, but it gives me the creeps.

Painting a portrait is an incredibly intimate experience. Staring intently at someone’s face for hours on end. Days. Weeks.. sometime months.. is intense. But it seems I’ve learned my lesson. Whenever I paint a portrait – I make the eyes look away from me.

jeff falk2

In my portrait of Jeff Falk, he seems to be looking at a point over my left shoulder.

steve gompf

My portrait of Steve Gompf is also looking somewhere else. Possibly at some invisible dog at my side.


In her portrait, I gave my sister a dreamy, faraway look.


Currently, I am working on a portrait of author and poet, Manuel Paul Arenas. This painting will become the cover of his soon-to-be-released book “Black Hymeneal” – A Collection of Black Light Verse and Gothic Vignettes..

Good to know that he won’t be staring at me while I read it.