For years, I felt completely creatively blocked. These days, ideas flow through me faster than I can harness them. Although I’ve continued to quietly work away on my novel, Life By Fire, I’ve also ventured into other works. In August, I started to write a middle-grade chapter book for kids around age 10 called Genevieve’s Worlds. The book has several purposes:
- To speak to kids my eldest daughter’s age.
- To give kids an appreciation of math and physics that I did not learn in school.
- To teach kids how to dream big and set goals.
- To provide me with a short-term project and experience publishing, before I venture into publishing Life By Fire.
Here’s a preview of Genevieve’s Worlds:
“My name is Genevieve Harris. I’m 10 years old and I’m an oddity. At least that’s what my Granny calls me pretty much everyday. Why? Well, lots of reasons really: I’m really smart (although I have trouble focusing). I love numbers (although not really what they do with them in school). And I see things that other people don’t see. I see energy (although I can’t really prove that because nobody else I know can see what I see so I try not to mention it most of the time).”
The year is 2022 and Genevieve’s life is about to change. The mine her father works for is closing. Her family is moving from a tiny satellite town way up north to the busy city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. As Genevieve approaches her 11th birthday on November 11, 2022, her ability to handle life in this new, noisy city reaches a breaking point and she collapses into a coma. What happens after that will change her life, and yours, forever.
December 10, 2082, Stockholm, Sweden
Imagine a world with free energy. Imagine a planet unblemished by mines or oil rigs and even a horizon uninterrupted by wind mills or solar panels. What if an abundant, ever-flowing source of free energy existed? Energy that did not use up the earth’s resources or the galaxy’s? How would that change the world? How would that change your life? Think about it for a moment. Or a few moments. Or maybe even for a few days. I’ve thought about it a lot.
Do you know what a Nobel Prize is? I do. Do you know how I know? I just received a Nobel Prize in Physics—a month and a day after my 72nd birthday. I received the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering and harnessing a new form of energy—free energy. I know it will change the world for the better. Does that make me an amazing person? Maybe. Maybe everyone is an amazing person, in their own unique way.
YOU are an amazing person. You have the potential to do incredible things. Only you can find and fulfill your unique Purpose in this life. Explore new ideas. Search for new truths. Ask for help and the answers will come. They may not come the way they did for me, but they will come. I can’t wait to read your story in the history books.
Here’s my story—the story of my worlds—Genevieve’s Worlds.
Several years ago, after watching a documentary about a child who believed he was a reincarnated monk and returned to monastic life, I wrote a short story called The Littlest Monk. Then I buried it with other neglected files.
Several months ago, I reincarnated the story and edited it fairly extensively with the intention to illustrate and publish it. In line with my experience as a website usability professional, I recognized the need to complete some informal usability testing to assess the success of my story with my intended user group—six-year-olds. So, I arranged with my daughter, Tessa’s, teacher to come into her classroom to read them the story and ask their feedback.
A Little Monk
Since I had not yet completed a worthy illustration, I showed the Grade 1 students a number of images I had “pinned” on Pinterest then proceeded to read them the story. Ahh, the joy of asking six-year-olds for constructive criticism…they have no hesitation giving it freely!
The story was too long. Their squirming toward the end of the story had already told me so. But, I confirmed it by asking them “was it too long or too short or just right” and receiving a chorus of enthusiastic “toooooo looonnnngggg”s in reply.
In reading the story aloud, I also noted a number of unnecessary expletives that needed to go. Upon return home, I immediately weeded the story further, including removing an entire section—a section that my gut had told me needed to go earlier, but which I hadn’t had the heart to chop until seeing it flop with the audience.
At this point, the story awaits worthy illustrations. I can see them perfectly in my mind’s eye. But, I experience acute frustration when I pick up a pencil and realize just how rusty my drawing skills have become. A few people have recommended I don’t even try to illustrate it myself but to find an experienced local illustrator to take on that task for me. But, they don’t know how stubborn I am—slow I may be, but persistent I am. I want to complete my vision myself.
So, I ask for divine assistance—to unleash my creativity…on little monks and other six-year-olds.
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) in Bhutan.
Creative Inspiration. A Maxfield Parrish painting.
Last summer, we cleaned out the loft of our barn and found many things, both animate and inanimate (some of the inanimate having been partially eaten by the animate). Our found treasures included a book called Cordelia and the Enchanted Forest, which I had written and illustrated as a project in high school.
My girls, ages 9 and 5, found the book suitably enchanting, leading me to consider resurrecting it. Both the story and the illustrations need work but have potential. I typed the story into my laptop to begin the editing/re-writing process. And, I pondered: how can I enter back into the habit of drawing in preparation for re-illustrating the book?… Enter Zentangle!
A short while later, I received an email from a local couple seeking my website services. They told me about their businesses. Patricia is a Zentangle instructor. What is Zentangle, you ask? Well, it is great fun! Google it and you’ll find lots of examples. As the name suggests, the practice of Zentangle acts as a form of meditation in which one gets lost in the “tangle” of an intricately patterned ink illustration.
Tonight, I attended an introductory Zentangle class! You can see my first official Zentangle square above. But, really, I think I started zentangling before it ever became Zentangle®. I also found the sketch of a bird I completed as a teenager hidden in a sketchbook. Look Zen-like? I have always reveled in fine pen and ink and intricate organic pattern. So, Zentangle just fits.
Since writing a novel and publishing it in progress isn’t quite challenging enough, I’ve added writing and illustrating a children’s book for publication to the works. So, as my Life by Fire continues to burn, expect some enchanted tangles of zen on the side.
The first time I met Giovanna Junqueira de Campos, she was thirty-nine and I was nineteen-years-old. She taught students English in her home and I was living in her small city of Catanduva, Brazil, as an exchange student. She contacted me through the family with whom I was living, asking to meet with me to practice her English.
When I arrived at her home a week later, I discovered that she, like her German-style house, was different from the other Brazilians I had met. An aura of destiny radiated from her brilliant blue eyes, as if she was willed to act by an intuition wiser than her conscious self and that following that will had brought her serenity.
I felt instantly drawn to her and we spent the afternoon talking like old friends. She invited me to spend the next weekend with her and I accepted.
When I arrived on Saturday morning she took me by the hand and led me into the conservative living room saying that she had been anticipating the pleasure of introducing me. To whom, I did not know; she had not mentioned another guest beforehand. But the man who stood and walked toward us, when we entered the room, immediately struck me as significant. She introduced him as her son.
The first thing I thought was “she must have been very young when she conceived him” and the second was “they do not resemble one another in the least”. After that, I stopped thinking, as large, thickly lashed black eyes stared into my own and I absorbed dark suntanned skin and a sensuous smile.
It was love at first sight, or so I thought then, and although I spent much time at Giovanna Junqueira de Campos’ home after that, regrettably, I spent little of it with her. In hindsight, I wish that I had not allowed my ties with Giovanna to remain aloof; perhaps then she would have told me her story herself instead of my hearing it from her son, thirty-four years later as we stood in the cemetery, under the heat of the scorching noon sun.
One day, a woman with wide black eyes and brown, wrinkled skin entered into this cemetery, under the heat of the same scorching sun. She walked through an arch engraved with the words “Fomos o que és – Serás o que somos” (“We were what you are – You shall be what we are”). She went around a maze of ornate statues and placed a wilted bunch of flowers at her husband’s grave. Then she continued to stroll between the markers, absently reading the epitaphs. Her foot slipped, her ankle turned and she slid down through the caked dirt and into an ancient grave that had opened under her weight. She died there, conveniently buried with another forgotten personage, lying close enough to her husband to feel comfortable.
That same day, the fifth day in Giovanna Junqueira de Campos’ eighteenth year, Giovanna left the house of a friend for the bus station just as night was replacing the day. She walked by the cemetery, silent as always, the gate closed now to keep the dead inside its walls. The heat of the afternoon had dissolved into tantalizing clearness, pushed along by a soft breeze scented with eucalyptus.
Past the cemetery, the outside walls of houses met the uneven sidewalk, their pastel-painted faces altered by the glow of the now-visible moon. Through the gap of the still-open metal shutters, Giovanna peered modestly into the private worlds of the families living inside the houses. Through one window, the pock-marked face of a man reflected the flickering light from a television that she could not see. The voices of two Brazilian soap opera stars stirred her senses as she passed the window within touching distance of the man. He pretended not to notice her; she looked in the opposite direction.
She passed a vacant lot, contained on three sides by the walls of other houses. A small wooden cart sat in the middle of the lot, guarded by a decrepit horse. The animal paused from nibbling at the long grass to watch her pass, disregarding the etiquette of ignoring passersby. Giovanna crossed the street.
On the other side, one house stood apart from the others. It was two-storied, German-style with geranium-filled window boxes and a small wooden balcony. Instead of a low wall, the house was separated from the street by a high fence of vertical iron bars with a latched gate. Through the bars, light escaped from an ajar wooden front door intricately carved in an ever-flowing elliptical pattern like bubbles rising to the surface of a stream.
Giovanna slowed her pace to study the house as a tiny boy in white underwear and a stained, sleeveless undershirt appeared from around the impressive door. Wide black eyes peered at her from his brown, somehow wrinkled face. She smiled hesitantly and stopped in front of the gate. A tiny hand materialized from the shadows and beckoned her to come closer. She shook her head but the child’s lips said “come, come inside”. She gingerly tested the gate and it swung open silently.
Inside the big door, the child slipped his hand into her palm and guided her through a staid living room and into a large kitchen that opened onto a covered patio.
“I am with hunger,” the child said.
She went to the refrigerator, opened the door and peered inside. There was a pot of cooked polished rice and one of stewed brown beans and a jar of palm hearts.
While the beans and rice heated on the gas stove, she wandered across the patio into the dark garden in search of ripe fruit and returned with oranges and avocados. She found plates and spoons and set the small Armorite table in the centre of the room with two place settings. The boy sat at the table contentedly. Together, they ate the beans and rice with relish and scooped out halved avocado filled with honey for dessert.
“I am with sleep,” the child said.
Giovanna followed him back through the living room and up an open stone staircase. She ran his bath in a high-clawed tub in the center of a tiled bathroom and searched for a room in which to sleep while he washed. When he was clean, they said their prayers together kneeling in front of his narrow bed. He fell asleep immediately. She bathed and went to bed.
The next morning, Giovanna awoke to the child’s whisper and they descended to get breakfast. The house felt approachable and comfortable in the morning light. She asked the child his name.
He looked up at her seriously and said “Paulinho”—little Paulo—and she smiled again.
“What shall I call you?” he asked.
“My name. Giovanna Junqueira de Campos,” she answered.
“I am without a mother and father,” the child said. “I will call you mãe,”—mother.
Then they walked out into their garden together.
I studied Paulo’s wrinkled face and wide black eyes and asked if he did not think their story exceedingly strange.
“No stranger than everyday existence,” Paulo answered.
We walked through a maze of ornate statues and placed three wilted bunches of flowers at the three graves. Then we continued to wander between the markers, absently reading the epitaphs. We left the cemetery through an arch engraved with the words “We were what you are – You shall be what we are” and strolled home to the shade of our garden.
Situated in the Magic Realism genre, I wrote this short story in 1999. It was inspired by the foreboding inscription over the entrance to a gated cemetery in Catanduva, Brazil, the town in which I lived as an exchange student in 1990-1991.
My busy bee,
My dragon fly,
A campfire spark joining stars in the sky.
My rainbow ark.
My worldly gain.
My beautiful now,
A fragile butterfly on a willow tree bow.
My world shines in your wide brown eyes,
Bright with tears, lips valentined in sighs.
Let me envelop you in my grace,
Tied tightly with ribbons,
Stretched from that place…
In my heart that will always be yours.
Let me pull you back into my womb,
Turn it inside out to become your room.
To surround you and free you at the same time,
Near or far, my darling, you will always be mine.
I wrote this poem for my daughter, Tessa, who was born on July 25, 2009. You can see our experiment with depicting this poem through imagery on my eldest daughter Ella’s website: www.eloquentella.com.