creativity Posts

“The Lost Daughter” by Elena Ferrante

The Lost Daughter by Italian writer Elena Ferrante is about forty-eight-year-old Leda, an English Literature teacher, who is on holiday in southern Italy. ( It has been translated by Ann Goldstein and published by Europa Editions.) While at the beach, she meets a Neopolitan family that eerily reminds her of her own childhood. Large group, multi-generational, raucous, talking nonstop, and unforgettable. They exist. They manage to be noticed. A couple of the women, Nina and Rosaria, befriend Leda. The novella revolves around the disappearance of Nina’s daughter Elena’s doll and the unusually large proportions it assumes in the story — for propelling the plot forward and the significance it assumes for Leda. The doll vanishes at the same time as Elena had also disappeared from the beach and a manhunt had been organised for her. Fortunately, Leda spotted the child crying by herself, in the midst of a crowd where no one seemed to be perturbed by the little girl’s anxiety. She returns the little girl to her relieved mother.

The Lost Daughter as a title is a true reflection of the story’s contents. At the same time, it becomes a metaphor at multiple levels for the daughters that Leda left with their father, her complicated relationship with her own mother, the doll that Elena would look after as if she were her own child, and of course as a figure of speech for the many, many women who are left stranded, lonely, without anyone caring for them and scrubbing the women of all identity — making them just one more nameless person in a crowd, part of one’s background.

What had I done that was so terrible, in the end. Years earlier, I had been a girl who felt lost, this was true. All the hopes of youth seemed to have been destroyed, I seemed to be falling backward towards my mother, my grandmother, the chain of mute or angry women I came from. Missed opportunities….I was frustrated.
This is particularly true for many women when they enter motherhood and are expected to be the good, fulfilling mother from the moment the “creature” inside them begins to develop. It is a “shattering” experience that leaves the women in “turmoil”. It is an exhausting process that leaves the mother/individual little time for herself as she has to fend for the babies.

I hadn’t been able to open a book for months; I was exhausted and angry; there was never enough money, I barely slept.

Physical tiredness is a magnifying glass….Love requires energy, I had none left.

The incidents in the story become a trigger for Leda to reflect upon her past, her relationships especially those with her daughters and years later, trying to fathom why she left them at the ages of four and six years old. She abandoned Bianca and Marta and had nothing to do with them for three years. She had been persuaded by her professor to attend an international conference in London on E.M.Forster. There, amongst her peers, she realised she was being recognised as an upcoming young scholar whose works were already being cited by other specialists.

I was overwhelmed by myself. I, I, I: I am this, I can do this, I must do this.
Sometimes you have to escape in order not to die.

Reading, writing have always been my way of soothing myself.

“I loved them too much and it seemed to me that love for them would keep me from becoming myself.”…
“And how did you feel without them?”
“Good. It was as if my whole life had crumbled, and the pieces were falling freely in all directions with a sense of contentment.”
“You didn’t feel sad?”
“No, I was too taken up by own life. But I had a weight right here, as if I had a stomachache. And my heart skipped a beat whenever I heard a child call Mama.”

Then Leda returned to her family for a few years.
..I realized that I wasn’t capable of creating anything of my own that could truly equal them.

“So you returned for love of your daughters.”
“No, I returned for the same reason I left: for love of myself.”

At the moment, this book, has got a new lease of life as it has been adapted to the screen and is available on Netflix. It has Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman playing the lead role. The film is actress Maggie Gyllenhal’s debut as a film director and she has already won awards for it. The film adaptation is true to the book in representing many of the incidents, otherwise it takes many liberties. For instance, the family on the beach in the film are not Neopolitan as is stressed in the book and is the fundamental reason for triggering many memories for Leda. Even Olivia Coleman comes across as a much older woman than the forty-eight-year-old character in the book. The maturity levels of the two women — the character in the book and that played on screen — impact the storytelling. But there is no doubt that the film is a brilliant artistic interpretation by very strong, thinking, women professionals on how these characters need to be played. No more. Reading the book and watching the film are two very independent acts and witnessing of two very distinct creative performances, two works of art.

Many of the reviews of the film are applauding it and very rightly so. But by not including the book in their articles, critics are doing a disservice to the book and to women’s literature. It is stories like The Lost Daughter that make the ideas and principles of various women’s movements accessible to the ordinary reader. Leda is a possible role model by articulating clearly the reasons for her choices. The complexity of these decisions is evident in the last few lines of the story when Leda’s daughters, now based in Toronto with their father, call their mother, shouting gaily into her ear:

“Mama, what are you doing, why haven’t you called? Won’t you at least let us know if you’re alive or dead?”
Deeply moved, I murmured:
“I’m dead, but I’m fine.”

Read The Lost Daughter.

6 Feb 2022

“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s bestselling The Artists Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity ( first published 1991) is celebrating its 30th anniversary. To commemorate it, the publishers, Hachette India, have released a special edition. It helps that the book has sold more than 5 million copies and been translated into more than 40 languages.

Cameron has devised a 12-week course to unleash a person’s creativity, irrespective of whether it is using words or visual mediums. The chapters in the book are structured to be read and used, one ever week, followed by the exercises. If hard pressed for time during the week to complete the exercises, she suggests that the individual attempt the most exciting and the most dull/challenging exercises. The middle rung can be left for some other time. It is rewarding.

Her book’s premise rests on two fundamental principles — the “morning pages” and the “artist’s date”. She recommends that every morning, it is advisable to write in longhand three pages of anything that comes to one’s mind. There is no need to read it, edit or review it. Just write and close the book. Pick it up the next day. Continue. One fine day, a force within will make its presence felt and you will find it your creative juices working. If you are spiritually inclined, you will identify it as God’s blessing, but if you are not, it will be defined as a life force, a creative energy. Terminology is unimportant as long as the individual recognises their potential, their self-worth and firmly believes in their artistic potential. It is not linked to an “appropriate age”, it is not linked to minting money, it is crucial to first being satisfied for oneself then others. Raymond Chandler didn’t publish until the far side of forty. Grandmother Moses began painting once she had completed three score years and ten. There is always time. Artbis the structuring of time.

Our use of age is a block to creative work interlocks with our toxic finished-produxlct thinking. We have set an appropriate age in certain activities: college graduation, going to med school, writing a first book. This artifical requirement asks us to be done when waht we truly yearn for is to start something.

The second principle of artist’s date is that it is a good idea to keep a little time aside every week to spend on nurturing one’s artistic sensibility. So it could be something as simple as taking time to visit a museum but do it. External stimulation is as important for one’s growth as inner creativity.

It is a book full of common sense. She advocates taking baby steps to achieve a goal. She does not believe that there is a concept of a “blocked artist” or that there is a lack of time. It merely requires overcoming one’s fears, better time management and taking the plunge. It is only by confronting oneself in this manner that progress can be made. It requires humility to start something despite one’s ego’s reservations and the ability to recognise when one is making excuses.

The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. The beginner’s humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishment. All of it begins at the beginning, with the first small and scary step.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron has plenty of sensible advice to offer. It is basically a guide to recalibrate one’s life to achieve a little for oneself rather than be sucked into the monotony of existence. Given that this book was first written in the late 1990s, it does not sound dated except for the fact that there is no mention of digital distractions or the need to digitally detox. So how will those at least less than thirty-five figure out how to manage their lives? Dependency on electronic gizmos and the Internet is part and parcel of their lives. Orienting themselves to a discipline as outlined by Cameron may take more than the stipulated 12 weeks. But anything is possible. In this case, it is well worth spending time with yourself and being constructively productive.

If it helps to know, artists like Martin Scorsese, Elizabeth Gilbert, Russell Brand and Reese Whiterspoon swear by it.

Buy it. Use it. Do the exercises diligently. It works.

18 June 2021

William Fiennes “The Snow Geese” and “The Music Room”

Best selling author William Fiennes The Snow Geese and The Music Room are two incredibly stunning pieces of literature. They are both meditative in quality.  The Snow Geese was written soon after he had been convalescing from a then unnamed disease but in his later book he reveals as Crohn’s Disease. While staying with his parents and taking long walks with his father, an avid birdwatcher, William Fiennes develops this urge to follow the snow geese on their migration to the Tundra. There is a slow, methodical and precise quality to the book which is extremely peaceful and restorative. It is as if the tiredness and exhaustion of this noisy daily existence slowly drains itself from one and is replaced by calmness, peace and quiet.

A similar reflective quality is found in The Music Room except that it is a very personal account of his family particularly of his brother Richard who has epilepsy. Richard is eleven years older to William.  Richard finally succumbs to it at the age of 41 when he is unable to breathe during an epileptic fit at night. William is overseas and receives a short message from his brother Martin to inform him of Richard’s death.  It is a deeply moving book about living with an epileptic patient. Anyone who has lived with an epileptic patient knows how to deal with the episodes of absence attacks and convulsions although Richard’s form of epilepsy was particularly violent and abusive. Despite the strong medication consisting mostly of sedatives Richard managed to be violent. In one instance he physically attacked a nurse at his epilepsy centre and a case had to be filed. When Richard and his mother went to the police station for the interview and was asked for details of the incident, Richard said truthfully he could not remember.  The Music Room is a moving testimony to having an epileptic brother while trying to live together as a family. Constantly the love and caring for the brother is what comes through in the book. Although they live in a medieval castle with plenty of rooms at times the family has to hide from Richard especially when is on a violent spree. Once William recalls he was locked up in a bathroom with his mother while Richard was on the other side of the door. Another time William spotted his father leaning against the wall of the house and when asked what he was doing, the older Fiennes said “seeking strength”.

After the success of these two magnificent books William Fiennes co-founded a charity with Katie Waldegrave — First Story: Changing lives through writing.

The charity runs writing workshops in schools across UK, hoping to encourage that revelatory process of ‘finding one’s own voice.’ Fiennes thinks that we all have our own unique voice, and he quotes Philip Pullman on the importance of discovering it: “Real writing can liberate and strengthen young people’s sense of themselves as almost nothing else can.”

So true!

Both the books have been published by Picador and continue to be available years after their publication.

7 May 2018 

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