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In teaching literature, I often tell my students that literature reflects the times.  Look at the date of publication, I tell them, and consider the events of that time.  This is a barometer of sorts to measure the social atmosphere. 

The third Tiny Book of Tiny Stories was just published by IT Books (an imprint of Harper Collins), and I think illustrates my point. Many of these tiny, two-page stories are clever and tender, but there are sections of the tiny book that leave me wondering about the mental and emotional state of our nation as a whole.  There are stories of dejection and loneliness, and some that have a mood I can’t quite make out.  There is dark and light humor, but a feeling of isolation as well.  

But there is something about art that has the power to rise above the dejection, something that goes beyond our human condition and elevates us just enough.  If we didn’t have books or art or film, it would be so much easier to descend into whatever gloom might await us.  Art and poetry give us something to live for.  Something to work towards.  And in this case, something to work on together. 

I think the collaborative efforts from folks who wouldn’t ever get a chance to work together otherwise make this ongoing project just that much more intriguing and successful. If you’d like to contribute to the Tiny Books or just collaborate with some great artists and writers, go visit http://www.hitrecord.org/.

 

This past Friday, my friend Marjorie and I took in our first animated film together at the Nashville Independent Film Festival.  We saw “Sita Sings the Blues,” an animated film by Nina Paley.  I cannot lie, I loved this film.

The trailer on youtube begins with this line:  “The greatest break-up story ever told. ”  This isn’t hyperbole, either.   There are actually two break-ups going on:  one being a modern-day couple (Nina’s own story) and the other being that of Sita and Rama.  The animation, the music, the use of various cartoon styles all make this a striking yet fun film.

What struck me most, however, was the image of the modern-day broken-hearted Nina, reading alone in her Brooklyn apartment after the break-up.  She was reading the Ramayana, the story that she later developed into this fantastic film.  Nina accomplished something both difficult and wonderful here:  she turned her strife into art.

Strife into art is something I’m familiar with.  Transforming any kind of pain or grief is a process that is both enlightening and therapeutic.  I once heard John Updike speak about the role of writing in transforming memories:  he said that when you take a memory and change it into something else, such as a story, the act of writing that story down and making it into something new replaces the old memory.  Instead of remembering you’re 5th birthday party, you remember the story of that party instead.  It’s a way of self-editing, culling the important stuff from a memory or event.

I find that while writing is good for the soul in general, writing about significant or painful events in  my life helps me to sort my feelings about those events, and put things in perspective.  Writing forces me to focus on the very heart of that event:  it forces me to be concise, choose the exact words, be relentlessly honest.  In the wake of my recent break-up, I have found that I’ve really wanted to write, which I feel is a good sign.  Yes, my heart has been broken; yes, I’ve cried (almost) every day for oh, about three months now; yes, I know I’ll survive.  But oh, I’d so rather have a rush of words than a rush of tears.

Anyway, a big thanks to Nina Paley.  Check out her other work here, on her blog:

http://blog.ninapaley.com/

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