Thursday, May 31, 2012

Faded

B.J. loves to sit in the sun. Rather than tan like most, he fades. How do you like the new look? (He seems unfazed.)

Faded (May 25, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: May 25, 2012)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sight

For last week's Illustration Friday word, "sight," all I could think about was Stevie Wonder. Maybe it's because he came up during a conversation at work, and then I saw him perform during the Billboard Music Awards. It got me thinking that, while he may not be able to see physically, his beautiful spirit seems to see things much clearer than some people....

I couldn't get this memory out of my head: When I was a kid, one of my absolute favorite songs was "Ebony and Ivory," a duet by two of my absolute favorite people, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. Imagine how ridiculously excited I was when they performed it in 2010 during a concert for President Obama at the White House, which was televised on PBS.

© PBS

It was just as exciting as the time I came home to find The Mother Kitty and Simon playing the song in our living room on Dad's piano. Of all The Kitties, Simon does the best Stevie Wonder impression.

Sight (May 27, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: May 18, 2011)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Creativity abound!

Hi everyone,

In February, I mentioned joining a 7-part workshop that aimed to help me restore and nurture my creative path. During the 3-month series, offered by my yoga studio, Tranquil SpaceI met with 10 other ladies on the same journey. To accomplish our goal, we were asked to read The Artist's Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice by Julia Cameron along with two complimentary books, 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women by Gail McMeekin and Hip Tranquil Chick by Tranquil Space founder/workshop leader Kimberly Wilson. Together, we read and discussed these books, completed homework related to each chapter. We also had fun, participated in creative projects, such as art journaling, creating collages and vision boards, and even painting flower pots. From February 22 to May 9, we met every other Wednesday until we completed our work. 

I had planned to give updates on my progress here on my blog, but by mid-session, I hadn't really figured out what--if anything--was happening. So, I just kept going until I was done. 

The books served as wonderful manuals, covering similar stages to finding your creative self and helping to remove whatever may be blocking your way. More than just exploring your creative side, they put you on a journey of complete self-discovery, evoking childhood memories, finding roots to age-old issues, and uncovering what you really love. 

The Artist's Way provided two tools to accomplish this: 
  • Morning Pages. First thing every morning, we were required to write 3 pages of whatever is on our mind at the moment. (While the author was very specific about using regular-sized paper, our workshop guide, Kimberly, was more relaxed about it: "Just don't pick the tiniest journal you have." While it only took me 20 minutes or so to blather on about whatever each morning, I found writing Morning Pages a challenge that I eventually gave up on toward the end. Horrible, I know! Taking a 3-day trip to New York for fun threw me off my routine, and keeping my own personal journal--however sporadically I write in it--hindered my desire to write more each and every day. But I tried, and do think there is something to writing first thing in the morning, before you are quite awake and your nightly dreams are still flickering. By the end of the workshop, I discovered that my morning pages had revealed recurring themes and a list of action steps, festering ongoing topics I could now address or eliminate from my life and a To Do list I could work on checking off for good.
  • Artist Dates. Artist Dates are not dates with artists (which would be fun!). They are dates with your artist--time set aside for you to spend alone. These dates force you to break out of your habitual work-life/home-life routine and instead focus on yourself and what you love to do. Basically, it gives you permission to do something--anything--fun for at least an hour (but more if you can spare it). Go see a movie, take a walk, visit a museum, get a massage or facial, go shopping, cook a new recipe, draw, write, create, get out of the house! The only rule is to go alone. One of the common themes throughout all of our books was that spending time with yourself is the only way you'll learn who you are and grow as a person. I had absolutely no problem scheduling artist dates! (Note New York trip mentioned above.) In fact, it turns out that I have Artist Dates practically every day! (What does that mean?!) 

I liked The Artist's Way and recommend it as a really helpful tool for someone who feels they aren't creative. You'll soon discover that you are! Everyone is, no matter what you think! Even if you think you already are creative and don't need to read this book, you are bound to get something new and exciting out of it. It can be that kind of life-changing if you let it. 

Our supplementary books, 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women and Hip Tranquil Chick were equally beneficial guides. In a way, I almost like them more. There's no doubt that The Artist's Way is an amazing piece of work that provides tools to break people out of their hard shells. But, it's also clear that the author was trying to rediscover herself and clear her creativity path from a very dark, difficult place. Some of the girls in the workshop related to her better than others, like me, who found it too overwhelming at times.  

For me, the other books had lighter, more approachable tones. 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women was my favorite of the three because it offered myriad stories, advice, and perspectives from all kinds of women artists--from writers to actresses to business women. Like the other books, it offered homework questions that help you digest each chapter's main points and how they apply to your own life. Hearing so many other women artists tell their own stories, their struggles, and successes was an inspiration! 

Hip Tranquil Chick is another helpful guide, but entirely fun and fabulous, just as its author Kimberly Wilson! If you ever met Kimberly or visited her yoga studio, Tranquil Space, you'd know this book exudes her style. It's a guide to living life to the fullest, using yoga as a catalyst for becoming a wonderful, well-rounded girl on-the-go. Don't let the hot pink girlieness fool you: This book has fantastic tips and tricks everyone can use to achieve a driven yet tranquil, fulfilling life.

So, now I'm decompressing. I've just finished compiling and organizing all the work I had done. Who knew I'd get another book out of it, with 50+ pages of insight?!

To sum it all up, these books are great, and reading them as a group was really helpful to keep us moving and motivated. The workshops were wonderful, and the lovely women I met--including our fantastic guide, Kimberly--made the whole experience well worth it! Thanks, ladies! 

Here we are during our last meeting with our newly-painted flower pots.
Funnily, I was still adding details to mine over breakfast the next morning. 

May the journey continue....


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kernel

There is a kernel of truth to Dad's and my theory that Simon plays for the Boston Celtics under the alias "Rajon Rondo." In a recent playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics led 92 to 91 with 3.4 seconds to go. Reconvening after a time out, Paul Pierce threw the ball in to Rajon, who then outran his guard, Evan Turner, by making a u-turn and wide circle into the back-court until time ran out.

That is a classic Simon move.

Kernel (May 11, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: May 11, 2012)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hitched

Norman was abandoned in a park when he was a kitten. When he saw my sister riding her bike down one of the trails, he hitched a ride home with her. (At least, that's how he tells the story.)

Hitched (May 15, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: May 4, 2012)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Jump

I eat lots of apples picked fresh from a tall tree. Each morning Simon jumps up to pick one, The Mother Kitty is disappointed that he comes back down to deliver it.

Jump (May 10, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: April 27, 2012)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #20--Chocolat (2000)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

"Chocolat is my favorite because it's beloved by everyone who sees it. I've never had that experience: I've never had a movie where people come up to you and say, 'Thank you.'" 
-- Producer David Brown


Mmmmm....
Chocolat is sweet! In it, mysterious strangers, Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), wander into a quiet French village and set up a chocolate shop. For these villagers, such a change to the status quo--in the middle of Lent, no less--sparks endless speculation and gossip. While the town mayor, Comte De Reynaud (Alfred Molina), is determined to evict these newcomers from his town, the villagers are more receptive to Vianne's magical concoctions and unique views. Affecting everyone's lives, Vianne not only tips the town's status quo but also finds herself changed for the better. "I think what's wonderful about the story is that by Vianne selling small dreams and little comforts through chocolates, she's going to bit-by-bit transform people's lives." Juliette Binoche said. "That's always frightening when you have an outsider because things can change."

Based on the best-selling novel by Joanne Harris, Chocolat reunited Johnny Depp with What's Eating Gilbert Grape? director Lasse Hollstrom. I was very excited about that! I was also thrilled with the rest of the cast. Aside from Chocolat's star, Juliette Binoche, it includes Alfred Molina (who worked with Johnny in Dead Man), Lena Olin (Lasse Hollstrom's wife, who costarred with Johnny in The Ninth Gate), Carrie-Anne Moss (the lady from The Matrix), and Judy Dench. (They don't call her Dame for nothing.) Although she has a small part, most exciting to me was that Leslie Caron was also in this movie. Yeah, Leslie Caron of An American in Paris (Gene Kelly's Oscar-winning musical, which I've seen a zillion times)! Johnny gets to work with the coolest people.

Who doesn't want some Chocolat?
With an international cast, French subject, and Swedish director, Chocolat was a surprise hit around the world. From Kansas City to Berlin, producer David Brown noted, "The audience reaction is almost identical. It's remarkable how universal this story is." I can attest to this, as I saw Chocolat in Akron, Ohio, with my parents and a visiting Japanese business associate: We all really enjoyed it.

Chocolat has so many unique ingredients--a mix of interesting characters with strong personalities, a sprinkling of  fantasy, a splash of adventure--It's hard not to find something to like about it. Even though it takes place in France, audiences related to this story and its characters, recognizing that the village could just as easily be their hometown. "Chocolat is a fable-like story. There are elements of fantasy in it, but Lasse always keeps it grounded in a kind of emotional reality," scriptwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs said. "Even if there's something magical going on, there's an emotional honesty about the performances and how the scenes are done that I think is one of Lasse's great strengths as a director."

"Hey, Melissa, where's Johnny?"
My dad asked me this, in a loud whisper from a few seats over, midway through Chocolat. While my eyes rolled at the time, it's a fair question: Johnny doesn't show up until the second half of this movie. But he was keen to work with Lasse Hollstrom again, hoping to show that he was in a better mood and easier to work with than he was during the Gilbert Grape shoot 7 years before.

This time, Johnny plays Roux, a traveling Irishman with his gypsy family--more outsiders (or, as Compte De Reynaud describes them, "ruthless, godless drifters"). Johnny was hooked as soon as he read Chocolat's screenplay and connected to the story's theme: "It's okay to break the sort of boundaries of what's normal," he said. "You've got to step outside of that and break the routine and not be so afraid to try new things."Aside from a new accent, Johnny shows off his guitar-playing skills in Chocolat, tackling some blues and Django Reinhardt tunes. (Now, that's exciting!) "He's a terrific musician," Lasse Hollstrom observed. "And he really enjoyed the whole angle of this story, of this character."

Lasse Hollstrom created a relaxed, happy set, even though everyone was sick of eating chocolate--some even physically--by the end of the shoot. (Johnny doesn't even like chocolate!) The director allowed all the actors to contribute ideas on any level. "Lasse is always hypersensitive to not just the emotions of the scene, but the emotions of the actors before going into the scene, the emotions of the crew," Johnny explained. "It allows you the freedom to be comfortable, to just create something on the spot, not just stick exactly to the words, but maybe find something different." As he did on the Gilbert Grape set, Lasse Hollstrom encouraged such improvisation. The collaborative atmosphere garnered positive results: While filming Chocolat, he noted, "I think it will show on the screen that we actually had fun making it."

Chocolat was nominated for a bunch of different awards all over the place, and won a few. Its five Oscar nominations included acting honors for Juliette Binoche and Judi Dench as well as nods for best music, best writing, and best picture.

The Kitties are chocolat-covered.
There are too many great characters in this movie to fit into one scene, so I created my own mixture. On the morning of the chocolate festival, Vianne (Lily) feels defeated, that everyone in town is against her. Having always travelled with the Northern wind, she feels it calling her to her next unknown destination. Just as she and Anouk (Mini) are set to leave, however, Josephine (Lena Olin/Ashes) reminds them of all the lives they've touched and the loving community they've harvested:

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp--Film #20--Chocolat (2000) [February 12, 2012]
  • Armande Voizin (Judi Dench/The Mother Kitty) and her daughter Caroline (Carrie-Ann Moss) are finally on good terms. 
  • Caroline has eased up on worrying so much: Allowing her son Luc (Aurelien Parent Koenig/Simon) to ride his dad's bike around town is a big step! 
  • Guillaume Blerot (John Wood/B.J). and Madame Audel (Leslie Caron) are finally out on a date, taking Charlie (the dog) out for a stroll. 
  • Roux (Gordon) has returned! Maybe it's to check his handy-work on Vianne's front door, or maybe he's realized something more important. 
  • Of course, Pantoufle is there too...for now. (All good stories should include a kangaroo, don't you think?) 
  • And, don't worry--I don't think anyone but Pere Henri (Hugh O'Conor/Comet) has noticed Comte. De Reynaud (Norman), who has passed out after a valiant battle against Vianne's blasphemous window display of chocolates and all that it and she stand for.

When Comte. De Reynaud awakens, will he finally give in to all these changes in his town and accept Vianne with an open heart? Will the townspeople embrace the newfound lightness Vianne has instilled in them? Will Vianne be willing to break her own traditions by staying put, surrounded by a community she helped create? See the movie to find out. (I don't want to tell you everything!) For once, I recommend a chocolate snack instead of popcorn.


Bon Bon, anyone?
Next, Johnny gets dressed up for two cameo roles in Before Night Falls. One is clearly prettier than the other....

(Aside from my illustration, all images © Miramax Films.)