Category Archives: Storytelling

Jane Austen Readings for Readers Theater

By Carol Child

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” This is probably the most famous of all the lines Jane Austen wrote. It’s from her novel Pride and Prejudice, the scene where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth. “Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression,” writes Jane Austen. “She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent.  This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed.”

Jane Austen died on 18 July 1817. To commemorate the bicentennial of the author’s death, I wrote a Jane Austen Readings script and it was performed on the stage of the historic Smyrna Opera House in Smyrna, Delaware, on the afternoon of June 3, 2017. Naturally, I included this scene — disappointingly, minus the appearance of Colin Firth in the role. Nonetheless, the audience, who came to luncheon, warmly received the performance and I have published the script.

My Jane Austen Readings for Readers Theater is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle ebook format. You can click on the links below to look inside. Meanwhile, here is a delightful one-act play written by a young Jane Austen, that I did NOT include in my script, because I didn’t know about it then. It’s titled The Mystery.

Act the First, Scene the 2d

A Parlour in Humbug’s House.

Mrs Humbug and Fanny, discovered at work.

MRS HUM. You understand me, my Love?
FANNY. Perfectly ma’m. Pray continue your narration.
MRS. HUM. Alas! it is nearly concluded, for I have nothing more to say on the Subject.
FANNY. Ah! here’s Daphne.

(Enter Daphne)

DAPHNE. My dear Mrs Humbug how d’ye do? Oh! Fanny ’tis all over.
FANNY: Is it indeed!
MRS. HUM. I’m very sorry to hear it.
FANNY. Then ‘twas to no purpose that I….
DAPHNE. None upon Earth.
MRS. HUM. And what is to become of? …
DAPHNE. Oh! that’s all settled.

(whispers Mrs. Humbug)

FANNY. And how is it determined?
DAPHNE. I’ll tell you.

(whispers Fanny)

MRS HUM. And is he to? …
DAPHNE. I’ll tell you all I know of the matter.

(whispers Mrs Humbug and Fanny)

FANNY. Well! now I know everything about it, I’ll go away.
MRS HUM. AND DAPHNE. And so will I.

(Exeunt)

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Jane Austen

Jane Austen died 200 years ago, in 1817, on July 18. She was 41.

Jane Austen lived and wrote during the Regency era; she was not a Victorian, as some suppose. The Regency era was brief. It began in 1811 when the emerging madness of Britain’s King George III deemed him unfit to rule – though American Patriots had declared him unfit years earlier – and his son George IV became Prince Regent. The Regency era ended in 1820 when George III died and George IV acceded to the throne. Some stretch the era to include the reigns of George III, George IV and his brother William IV, extending from 1795 until 1837 when Victoria, granddaughter of George III, became queen.

While all this was going on, Jane Austen was writing. She wrote, most often by a window for the light, on four-by-seven inch paper, on her writing box. Inside the box she kept her paper, inkwell and quills.

She edited her work by sentence first, blotting and crossing out, and then went back and edited the piece as a whole. She did not trouble herself with perfecting grammar or punctuation, these later corrected by her editor, yet she was an experimental and innovative writer, employing a sharp wit in writing dialogue and conversation. She wrote with delightful economy and precise narration. Jane Austen is considered one of the greatest English novelists. Her genius in attention to form has been compared to that of James Joyce. Her form can be related to that of rubato in music whereby the tempo retards and then accelerates and catches up within a defined few measures, without losing the overall pace. By these means, she guided her reader through the story with clarity.

Jane Austen loved music. “Without music,” she wrote in Emma, “life would be a blank to me.” She played piano and practiced daily before breakfast so as not to interrupt her family’s daily routines. Among her extensive sheet music collection, her favorites were songs that told a story. Accordingly, she features pianos and singing in her stories, and many of her characters are musicians.

In her lifetime, 1775-1817, Jane Austen completed six novels, among her other writings, two of which, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously. Initially, she published all of her works anonymously. In the 1817 publication of these last two novels, her brother Henry wrote a eulogy identifying Jane Austen as the author.

Jane Austen lived her life in the shadow of war, from the American Revolution through the War of 1812. The relationship between war and society permeates all her novels but Emma. Here is a bit of gossip about amusing goings on paralleling Jane Austen’s lifetime: In 1812, she was writing Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, she published her first four novels during the War of 1812, and in three of those stories “they could talk of nothing but officers” in their red coats (Pride and Prejudice). Her brothers Francis and Charles were home from sea that year. In 1815, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo, two years before Jane Austen died. Ludwig von Beethoven was composing in his middle period then. Franz Schubert had written many lieder (songs) and published his first, Erlafsee – as a free insert in an art and nature lovers almanac –, and in the summer of 1817 composed his first six piano sonatas, all published after his death in 1828. In the summer of 1816, Mary Godwin and her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley were up on Lake Geneva visiting Lord Byron. Mind you, Lord Byron had by now quit his 1812 affair with the future Queen Victoria’s Lord Melbourne’s wife, Lady Caroline Lamb. The summer proved wet and dreary and Byron proposed they each write a ghost story. It is where Mary Shelley conceived of Frankenstein. The following May, 1817, Mary Shelley finished writing Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The novel was published on January 1, 1818. Jane Austen wrote her novel Northanger Abbey as a parody of the Gothic novels popular in her time, three in particular: The Monk: A Romance, by Matthew Gregory Lewis, published in 1796; and two by Mrs. Ann Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, 1791, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794. These books remain in print today. Ann Radcliffe is considered the founder of the Gothic literature genre. A movie, The Monk, was released in 2013, based on Matthew Lewis’s Gothic thriller. During the years 1794-1799, Jane Austen was drafting her novels, Lady Susan; Elinor and Marianne, an early version of Sense and Sensibility, written in epistolary form; First Impressions, the original version of Pride and Prejudice; and Northanger Abbey. She was at work on Sanditon in 1817 when she died.

While Jane Austen was in the country writing her early works, Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello cooking. He specified, in a recipe surviving in his own hand, an ingredient for his macaroni as “2 wine glasses of milk.” English ladies in Jefferson’s day wouldn’t eat macaroni for lunch. Until the Regency era, English ladies did not eat lunch. They ate a light fare of bread and cheese and maybe a salad. Salads did not contain tomatoes, because back then the English did not eat tomatoes raw. Salads commonly contained cucumbers and nasturtium flowers, lettuces, often fowl, such as pigeon, as well as anchovies and eggs. Luncheon was introduced during the Regency era, but for ladies only, and then usually with friends. At our Jane Austen Readings and Luncheon at the Smyrna Opera House, we chose not to serve pigeon – mainly because the Opera House Guild volunteers declined to go out and shoot them – but certainly we serve croissants, because, well, why not indulge…? The English didn’t eat croissants in those days yet groused upon their return from France about the bland English breads and rolls. The English consumed a lot of butter. It is said that croissants originated in Turkey and Austria and Marie Antoinette brought them to France when she married Louis XVI. It may be, then, that Marie Antoinette was misquoted about the cake, but rather she proclaimed, “Let them eat croissants!” We imagine that given a choice, Jane Austen would have preferred eating a croissant to a bland roll.

Jane Austen Published Novels

  • Sense and Sensibility (1811)
  • Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • Mansfield Park (1814)
  • Emma (1815)
  • Northanger Abbey (1818, posthumous)
  • Persuasion (1818, posthumous)

–By Carol Child

 

3 Ways of Being Creative Like van Gogh

By
Susanne van Doorn

(Ed. note: Run you mouse over the photos to see IDs and credits.)

Mindfunda was invited by Cultura to give a presentation about dreams and art. Cultura is the municipal art gallery and theatre in the Dutch town of Ede.

To remember the death of one of the most famous artists in the Netherlands, Vincent van Gogh, who died July 29th, 125 years ago, all over Europe, art galleries are organizing expositions around this memorial so Mindfunda was honoured to be given an opportunity to shine a light on how dreams are a gateway into creativity.

Van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother Theo: “The sight of the stars makes me dream”. It is commonly accepted that dreams are creative so the fact that van Gogh got his inspiration by looking at the pictures of his dreams makes common sense. But in 2009 there was scientific proof (Mednick et al) that dreaming induces creativity.  In a research people had to do a creative test: they had to couple three words with a fourth that matched. For instance: the words heart, sixteen and cookie had to be matched with the word sweet. In the research only the group that had enjoyed REM sleep improved their scores on the creativity test.

Pianist, writer and painter David Dubal talks about how he uses his dreams as inspiration. He uses dreams to solve problems and to get inspiration. He even had an exhibition from paintings that had been inspired by dreams. In this film you can hear him talk about the importance of dreams for creativity.

There is one very important thing David Dubal says in the YouTube film. One thing that defines creativity. “Sitting in the subway, I break the unwritten rules by looking at people”. Breaking the rules. Looking at things from a whole different perspective. Let’s explore the life of Vincent van Gogh to see how many times he broke the rules….

  • He started working for the art company of his uncle. His uncle washed his hands of Vincent after seven years. Van Gogh did get the chance to visit London and Paris (this is why his brother Theo was able to live in Paris: he kept on working for this uncle).
  • Van Gogh worked in a bookstore to earn money for the government examination for a study in Theology. Like his father he wanted to become a preacher. He stopped because he was not able to pass for Latin.
  • He went to Missionary school were he was sent to Borinage. This is one of the poorest areas in Belgium. He got his inspiration for his famous painting “The Potato Eaters”. He used to cry himself to sleep each night because he could not bear the suffering he was surrounded with.
  • Van Gogh went to art school in Antwerp, convinced that he was meant to be a painter. Unfortunately he was ridiculed by his professors. Humiliated, he dropped out of school.
  • He started painting on the streets of Antwerp, selling his sketches to the tourists. Living a life of poverty, bad health and debts he fled to Paris.
  • The “famous” ear incident happened when Gauguin and van Gogh lived together. Van Gogh cut off a part of his own ear. A very interesting vision is given by researchers Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans. They wrote a book: Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence. After analysing the letters of van Gogh they assume that Gauguin got a sword and injured van Gogh. Van Gogh agreed to keep this a secret so Gauguin was kept out of jail.
  • Vincent van Gogh had himself admitted to the mental hospital Saint-Paul Asylum, in Saint-Rémy.

Well, we can all agree that Vincent van Gogh broke a lot of rules. His creativity was key in finding new ways to explore when things fell apart.

In one of his letters to his brother Theo he wrote: “I dream my paintings, and then I paint my dreams”. Given that research has indicated that REM sleep enhances creativity, let’s interpret van Gogh’s “Starry Night” as a dream; also read my Mindfunda about “Starry Night”.

Since the seventies of last century we are used to seeing a dream as a representation of one’s own mind. It is perfectly reasonable how that assumption came into being. A new generation wanted to get rid of the bearded professors telling people what their dreams meant. They successfully seized power: a dream is about you and only you. I disagree with that because I think human beings are social people who are custom-made to live in tribes. So dreaming about another tribe member is natural (also see my experiment in mutual dreaming described in my e-book). But if this painting is a dream of van Gogh, what does it tell us about van Gogh?

What is the first thing that stands out in this picture? The nebula that seems to divide the painting in two. If you look at your dream, first look at its day residue so you are able to explore pure symbolic things more in depth. Things you do during the day get into your dreams.

Looking at this painting, the brilliant piece of Albert Boime gives a hand at distinguishing the real facts from the symbolism in the painting. Albert Boime carefully researched the sky and found out it was an almost accurate representation of the night sky in Saint-Rémy. Except for two things. Two things we can interpret symbolically. One is the spiral nebula that divides the painting in two parts. Vincent had not seen this in 1889. In 1880 this picture, taken by Henry Draper of the Orion Nebula was published and caused quite a sensation. Astronomers at that time assumed that a star was born in the middle of the nebula.

 

Henry Draper’s 1880 photograph of the Orion Nebula, the first ever taken.

(Wikipedia)

 

A star being born…. It is not a surprise that Vincent van Gogh got his first exposition nine months after this painting. The time it takes for the star being born to mature. And one month later he got his second exposition in Antwerp. That is where he sold the only painting he ever was going to sell while he was alive.

But there has got to be a better way to use the creativity in your dreams. We don’t want to break the rules the way van Gogh did. And we don’t need to. Salvador Dali was very successful while alive using his dreams in a completely different way.  Let me tell you how he did it.

Dali’s method involved a chair that was not too hard, but not too comfortable either. (It had to be a Spanish chair, of course). A plate, a key, and olive oil. Dali rubbed his wrists with olive oil. He held a large key in his left hand, between his thumb and his forefinger. He relaxed, closed his eyes and when the key hit the plate he was awake. Using this method he made the most extraordinary paintings.

Once a month he took out a whole afternoon to get inspired by dreams and he had a special menu. He ate 3 dozen sea urchins that had to be selected two days before the moon was full. He drank a glass of young white wine, and did not leave his room until he had an inspiring dream.

You can see the chair he used for his daily dream routine in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. In this film he got the opportunity to demonstrate how important dreams can be as a tool for creative problem solution.

There is yet a third way to use dreams to enhance creativity. Where van Gogh used ways to explore other options and Salvador Dali used dreams as a way to guide him through his career path, artist Brenda Ferrimani uses dreams in a third way. She dives into the confrontation van Gogh walked away from. She used dreams to dive right into the conflict (Read a Mindfunda blog by Brenda Ferrimani here).


I compiled all the above information in a vivid Prezi to show the audience the coherence of it all in an attractive way. The organisation had a nice touch to their thank-you-bouquet:  Sunflowers of course, like van Gogh!

Susanne van Doorn, PhD (The Netherlands) is a Dutch therapist, author and dream expert working for Therapeut van Binnenuit and blogging for Mindfunda. On Mindfunda she reviews new books about dreaming, spirituality and mythology and interviews authors and is a teacher in several online courses.

Author of A Dreamers’ Guide through the land of the deceased; Mutual Dreaming: A Psiber Experiment with co-author Maria Cernuto published in Dreamtime spring 2014; translator of A Theory of Dreams by Vasily Kasatkin (2014).

Educated in Psychology at the University of Tilburg in 1994, Education in Dreamwork at the Jungian Institute in Nijmegen 2009, Education in Medicine in 2010, Graduated with honors at the education of Orthomoluculair Therapy in 2010.

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Run the Symphony Backwards

By
Deborah Gregory

When I am ninety-two
they take me from my bed.
Dressed in my floral nightie,
I am more than ready to return.
Somewhere in the distance
I hear a blast of music,
as the song gathers itself.
It’s been on repeat this past week.

All silver and shining,
I wake to put pen to paper.
Still writing down dreams,
loving these croning years.
At 70 years of age
I give up work on my birthday,
to hold my partners hand
and dance around supermarkets.

At fifty I write a poem,
then another and another,
until a book lands on my lap.
Before I know it another!
Fourteen inches of blonde hair
fall to my hairdresser’s floor.
Eye prescription doubles,
my jeans rise another size.

Oh how my heart feasts
at forty on Planet Blue,
mind, body and soul.
Happiness is my melody
as I marry the Goddess,
taking the mountain path before me.
Singing of a love so true,
here under the honey-full moon.

In my twenties I embrace
each daughter in my arms.
O blessed Mother, O blessed Life,
I will love them forever.
Divorce is such a dirty word,
how will I find the courage
to be me,
to escape living this lie?

The light, the light!
Finally I am free,
free to be everyone but me.
My husband waits outside
where the dark night of the soul
blackens Plato’s cave.
I wake here every day,
I would leave tomorrow if I could.

I don’t want to go to school,
don’t leave me here mother,
on heartless ground.
I am a flower of Aphrodite.
I remember in dreams
all watching me.
On my fifth birthday I cry
“No don’t hurt me, I love you.”

I can see nothing,
nothing is all around me.
I listen to the music,
the symphony of the soul of love.
I wonder what will happen?
The sky falls and falls,
I must not forget,
I am the music.

Deborah works in the field of Psychology and has been writing poetry since her mid-teens. Deeply interested in Archetypal Dreamwork, Jung and journeying towards Soul Evolution, she loves to write poems about ancient mythology from cultures around the world. A nature lover who enjoys rambling all over the beautiful English countryside.

A Liberated Sheep in a Post Shepherd World is Deborah’s first poetry collection. She is currently working on her debut novel “The Bad Shepherd” alongside, “The Poetry of the Tarot” a collection of Major Arcana poems. “The Liberated Sheep” is her website.

 

Only Kindness Makes Sense

 

Only Kindness Makes Sense

By
Elaine Mansfield

A few days before our fortieth wedding anniversary, I drive my husband Vic to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY where he’s being treated for incurable lymphoma. The long drive is familiar after two years. Spring-green hillsides shout May vitality and hope, while Vic chokes and gasps in the passenger seat next to me. He’s exhausted from years of cancer treatment and months of coughing. He lives on prednisone by day and a few hours of fitful Ambien-induced sleep at night. My heart breaks for him and for myself. I’m exhausted, too, and I know my husband is dying.

After Vic is admitted to the hospital, his oncologist arranges for the pulmonary department to drain the fluid surrounding Vic’s lungs. I can’t imagine another invasive procedure, but Vic’s will to live remains unbroken. Although he hasn’t eaten or slept for days, he longs to take a deep breath.

That evening, an impatient white-coated pulmonologist and his students surround Vic’s bed.

“You sit on the side of the bed and lean forward on that tray table so we can work on your back,” the pulmonologist orders Vic.

“You stand in front of him. Push your body against the table and let him lean into you from the opposite side so nothing moves,” he orders me. Unlike most of the doctors we’ve met, he offers no gentle smiles of encouragement, no reassurance. I do what he says.

Someone added this procedure to the end of this man’s long day. He doesn’t hide his unhappiness about it. His students are tense and cautious as they follow his brusque directions, sterilize Vic’s back, and insert a needle into the fluid-filled space around Vic’s lungs. Unable to speed the suctioning process, the doctor paces around Vic’s bed, his resentment simmering under the surface. Vic looks up at me with exhausted sad eyes. I want to vaporize this doctor.

“Will you read the poem about kindness?” Vic asks in a whisper.

“Now?” I ask.

“Yes, now. Please.” I think he’s lost his mind but ask one of the students to hold Vic steady for a moment. I get Vic’s recently published book Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics from his briefcase and resume my position across the tray table. Despite the strange sucking sounds, a smell of fetid salt water, a horrifying amount of cloudy fluid dripping into plastic containers, and my embarrassment, I read the poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that ends Vic’s book:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.[i]

My voice chokes with tears. The pulmonologist’s jaw loosens and his hard voice softens. The students sigh and reach out toward Vic’s back with tenderness. My belly relaxes and Vic takes a deep breath. Twilight dissolves the hard stainless edges of the equipment and a humming grace descends over the room.


[i] Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness,” Words under the Words (Portland, Oregon: Eight Mountain Press, 1995), 42-43. (With permission from author)

This piece is an edited version of a section from my book Leaning Into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (Larson Publications, Oct. 7, 2014). This piece was published in The Healing Muse, May 8, 2014.


Elaine Mansfield’s book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (Larson Publications) won the 2015 Gold Medal IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Award) for Aging, Death, and Dying. Her TEDx talk is Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss. Elaine writes about bereavement, family, ritual, mythology, dreams, and the environment. She facilitates bereavement workshops, gives presentations, and volunteers at Hospice in Ithaca, NY. Elaine has been a student of nature, philosophy, Jungian psychology, mythology, and meditation for forty years and writes a weekly blog about life and loss. You can read more about Elaine and her work at her website.

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