Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Windows to the soul




While the immortal William Shakespeare may have written, "The eyes are the window to your soul," I beg to differ. For while we can hide within even the most direct of glances, the voice doesn't lie. This is something that I have been thinking about in recent conversations with my friend Vickie, who is dipping into the realm of author's reading their work (her book is coming out on June 1, so more of that anon). 

Where does your voice live in your body? Is it something that you give much thought to? As a former theatre actress, I most certainly have in my day, for it is the most expressive tool in our art. And yet, my voice has changed enormously since moving to France. It took me a few years to realize it, actually. I would only drop back into that deep alto on visits home to the States. The rest of the time my pitch was nearly an octave higher as I questioningly tested words and verb tenses. Gone was that reassuring flow. And it stayed that way for many years as I learned and struggled and stumbled with a very difficult language. And today? Well, I suppose that my voice has settled with time and the confidence that comes with age into somewhere in-between. It seems like there is a lot of the in-between in my life these days and that too I have to assume, to be more sure (for when are we ever 100% certain of anything) and listen keenly to another voice, my inner one.


All the better to see you with, my dear.


As for artistic voices? To live a creative life is fascinating and challenging with many colors that blend seamlessly into one another. It takes enormous courage to put yourself out there over and over again, sometimes only to be repeatedly dealt the brutal blow of rejection. But such a life is not chosen, it chooses you. This is why I have such enormous respect for those who endure. I was incredibly inspired by an article on Flavorwire featuring "10 creative women over 80 you should know." I thought that you might be too. 


These women are not bogged down by the cult of personality and none of them are afraid of their vision, their voice. The windows to their souls are dazzlingly clear.

43 comments:

  1. When I see my friends who are artists - they are certainly busier, more stressed and yet in short spurts much more fulfilled than those who work in the city. I must say that almost more than creativity it seems one needs strength. I have come to realize that artists are the real warriors - none of that wolf of wall street business hype for me!

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    1. Hooray, N! I love this! Oh my goodness. "Artists are the real warriors." Thank you for that. It certainly feels like it. Most of us have so little certainty in our lives too. We are fighting fuelled on hope alone...

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  2. Hmm - methinks all of my voices are a little muddled at the moment! Lately when I'm speaking on the phone I feel a little choked and scratchy; had to end a conversation early last night because of it. And my inner voice? I notoriously can't distinguish which voice is true when I am angry - the voice telling me that everything is hopeless is pretty convincing! And not sure of my artistic voice these days; I guess creativity comes out in my teaching, but no songs are being written or necklaces made. Sorry to be Debbie Downer - I love this idea of voice being a window to the soul and I think this troubled time for me is showing up in my cloudy window!

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    1. Beautiful Sister, I know that cloudy window all to well but - speaking of fighting - you have fought so hard to get where you are today and be true to yourself. I have so much admiration for that and for you! Because you are trying to distinguish between those inner voices and wow am I not capable of that when I am angry. And I hear you about your speaking voice - I know that in tough times for me mine always gets rough too. It is our body trying to tell us something!

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  3. Darling Heather,

    What an interesting question you pose here.

    We do agree that the voice can be a giveaway as to general well being. Indeed on the happiest of days we are prone to singing out loud (usually hymns ancient and modern) regardless of the fact that the pitch and tone may be rather distressing to those of a nervous (or musical) disposition!

    The eighty somethings are treasures to be cherished. How. We wish that they were all our friends! What delicious conversations and debates we could have. As one woman of advanced years (her name completely escapes us) was recently quoted as saying "more is more and less us a bore"...... a woman after our own hearts.

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    1. Ah yes, that is most certainly a Hattattesquian stance if ever there was one!

      My goodness, it is hard to imagine being friends with all of those incredible women...I think that I would be happy just to unite them all at a dinner party and sit silently in the corner.

      How much do I love the image of joyful song floating through the Budapest or Brighton rooms? It makes me smile just to think on it.

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  4. It would be interesting to listen to your audio edition of your blog. Is that a dimension you consider? How about Ben and Kipling barking as an opener or your camera clicking away?

    I keep telling myself I will do that on my poetry blog when I figure out well enough how to use the computer's recorder. Hearing my own voice is a weird experience. I don't think I sound like me. What would readers turned listeners think. There are so many aspects to consider.

    I hope you'll consider an audio version to some posts on your blog.

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    1. Wow. I had honestly never, ever thought of that! I will consider it, especially if it seems right for the post.
      Thank you, I am flattered that you suggested this...

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  5. Gorgeous and amazing photos, Heather and such good questions! After writing for others for so many years and trying to live their voices, it's been a joy to be able to explore my own voice on my blog - and in paint!

    Agree that an audio version of your blog would be fantastic.

    Here's to being creative well past our 80s. I wonder what our voices will sound like then!

    XOXO

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    1. Oooh, what a thought! But if I could have an ounce of the melifluous Toni Morrison's voice I would be one happy lady indeed...

      And I thought of you while publishing this...because you are probably the only person that I know who actually DID choose a creative life!

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  6. I do it because I have to do it....these words speak from an inner attitude and I can hear her absolutely confident voice . Voice, eyes, body language all these shows our real feelings and you can nobody mislead with words, no matter what great story you tell. Each influence have an impact of our voice and body language as well.Let's say we are an open book for somebody who can read it?

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    1. Absolutely! And I am certainly not great at hiding my thoughts and feeling either. I love to observe people. It was obviously really informative when I was an actress but then when I moved to France, I couldn't speak a word of French and so would spend entire evenings just watching people at dinner parties. I could often see things that were far more telling than the words. And so even now, at times if I have a doubt about someone, I will consciously "turn off the volume" and just look or hear the tone of their voice instead of the words.

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  7. 'But such a life is not chosen, it chooses you.'

    I was on the verge of tears, throat salted and tight, as I read your words, H. Then I got to that sentence and surrendered.

    I love you. (Can you imagine what sounds like?)

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    1. I can. And I love you too. I will keep saying how grateful I am to have you in my life until the day that I can say it in person!
      Glad this did...what it was supposed to?

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  8. I think life is a process of finding your voice, again and again and again.

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    1. Ain't that the truth, Mr. L. All while trying to keep that inner flame protected so it doesn't go out.

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  9. "Creative woman over 80!" What a great article! A rare focus in our society. I saw Angès Varda in... was it 2010 when she presented her film "The beaches of Agnès" á l' Institut Francais á Cologne où j'ai appris le Francais at the time.
    I tell you, she was the only relaxed and focused person in the audience. Everybody including the director of the Institute was going crazy. In fact she held a long speach and somehow you could see that it was just only her work that mattered and everything else was blanked out. You could see her trouble with age because she was walking with crutches. She did not show her troubles and her view was focused.
    I was impressed and I thought, here is a role model!

    And of course Faith Ringold, mother of Michelle Wallace, author of "Invisibility Blues". Faith Ringolds Story Quilts are amazing. What a life, what a story!

    This is how I want to become old. But there is still a lot of work to do...
    Thank you for the interesting link and of course for your fotos and wonderful thoughts!

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    1. Oooh, je pense que tu as beaucoup, beacoup du temps encore, Silke! ;) And yes, so much to do...I love the La Varda story--I can just see it...

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  10. As your "visitor from Concord, MA" you'll see me returning again and again to this post. There is so much here to think about. I do love "Coulda Woulda Shoulda's" comment that artists are true warriors. I have certainly seen that in a close friend who is a fine artist and in my son, a musician. And than, Maywyn Studio's suggestion is excellent. I have been trying to think of something new and different to do with my blog and her idea that you include voice recordings is an excellent one for you. I have always been impressed when I've heard your alto on the little videos. And agree that, yes, blogging is a great way to find one's voice. How I wish I'd had access to this about 20 years ago when I was going through a real life-changing experience and wrote several essays that never saw the light of day and if they still exist are hidden in a drawer somewhere.

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    1. Isn't that true, Judith? But then, I had journal writing. :) I loved these awesome women warriors too.
      And so you noticed the live feed? I get the biggest kick out of that!

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  11. The colour in the first two photos just took my breath away. It takes courage to be an artist and put yourself out there time and time again. I wish I had that type of courage

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    1. But you do!! Loree, you do. What is your writing? It is beautiful, that is what it is.

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  12. Not this group of sensitive souls, but on the eve of turning 74, might I draw your attention to the huge number of people and institutions who honor the great women in their 70s, 90s and so but have so little thought for or patience with us in the flesh and blood. I returned yesterday from an event in our honor, that had a 1/2 hour registration process/period, then a one hour drinks reception where middle age and a few younger chatted among them selves, in a very noisy hall, generally leaving honorees to make it to bar, be heard, get own drink and stand around, knowing nobody. Only after an hour and a half on our feet were we brought to the head table to be seated, later to be honored, making conversation w whomever beside us at long table, if we could be heard in a room full of chattering conversations and happy hoots at round tables in the hall. See also impatience with us when we need to use the bannister at the theatre to deal with the stairs, asking middle aged to break their hanging out on the bannister chat group, getting a "why don't you just stay home" look. I'm getting tired of being honored and would just like to be visible and accepted. Please spread the word and be on the lookout for similar habits and help me break them. Thanks so very much.

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    1. Oh, Joan.....I hear you. Still?....your comment prompted me to recall a scene from Bruce Chatwin's novel "On the Black Hill" that takes places around 1916 (the entire novel spans 1890-to-1970 or so). In that scene, the local, rural, Welsh authorities organize an enormous, outdoor GALA (!!!!)....the star fixture of which is the last surviving veteran of the Crimean War or some similarly gruesome conflict. They roll him out in his wheelchair. hang medals around his neck, and make speeches about him (he's unable to speak, himself) while several of the village's prettiest and most-sought-after girls drape garlands around his neck and wheelchair.

      Then?....the party starts in earnest, and everyone loses him/herself in the gay abandon of dancing and drinking and generally having a Very Good Time.....until a violent thunderstorm suddenly blows in. Everyone scrambles for cover in tents and outbuildings. Eventually, everyone just gives up and goes home.

      It's not until the next morning that a few people begin asking a few other people if anyone remembered to pick up "The Veteran" whom they'd been "honoring". Turns out that, in the melee over rain-ruined frocks and sodden buffet-tents, NObody had thought to retrieve him from the speakers' platform.

      He's found dead, still in his wheelchair and on the damned platform (and still covered with garlands and medals) that morning.

      It's one of the most grimly amusing scenarios in all of gossip-y Chatwin's writings. It's also based on a true (unfortunately) incident following the armistice.

      Thanks for your insightful and genuinely instructive comment.

      ----david terry
      www.davidterryart.com

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    2. Yes, still. Thanks so much for understanding and replying. Joan, ironically sometimes "honored" for work with Red Cross in Viet Nam, 66-67. And still alive!

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    3. Joan, I have to admit that my immediate reaction was the same as David's. And oh, how sorry I am to hear that we have no come farther in our regards to ageism, certainly in the States. I do see here in France that those of "un certain age" are treated as the individuals that they are and not just folks to shuffle off to a retirement facility at the first possible moment. And even in visiting such facilities this past autumn, I was impressed by the importance of families being present and for the residents remaining as active as possible, including in the Alzheimer units. That too strikes me as quite different. Then there are the many countries - the majority! - that you and I have both seen on our travels where the elderly are treated with the utmost respect...I could go on as to why I think that the US is different but will not...

      It makes me very angry to think of such a wonderful woman as yourself (not to mention someone that committed their career to serve their country) as being treated in any way other than kindly. I think it also speaks of the general lack of consideration that many (thankfully not all) have for fellow mankind these days...

      Well, I certainly hold you in my highest esteem, Joan.

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  13. Dear Heather,

    First?.....you can rid your questing mind of any lingering doubts as to whether Shakespeare wrote that "The eyes are the window to the/your soul".

    He didn't. Definitely, in fact, didn't. (trust me on this one; my M. Litt and second Masters degrees were in in 17th century literature).

    The earliest permutation of the epigram is in Cicero's "Tusculan Disputations"....although there are any number of 19th century, shoddily-identified references to the line's being written by Shakespeare. It's one of those lines which have been so chronically misquoted or mis-attributed that there's no hope, at this late date, of ever squashing it....anymore than there's any use, finally, in wearily informing folks (particularly Americans) that "quote" is a verb, not a noun.

    As for inspiring tales of Ye Olde Ladies?......

    My longtime friend (I've known her since 1989, when she was a skeptical customer and I was her cynical waiter at what we both recognized as an enterprisingly bad Italian restaurant), Elizabeth Spencer just turned 92. She became famous in the late 50's with the publication of her novella "Light in the Piazza" (which was later made into a very popular movie and, more recently, a successful Broadway musical). She's always been beloved and admired by her peers and critics, but everyone sort of assumed that "The Southern Woman" (published in 1992, I think) would be her last book (she was, after all, 82 at the time).

    Well, she called up her publisher this past Fall and chipperly announced that, surprise-of-surprises, she had a brand-spanky-new, freshly-minted collection of stories she hadn't really told anyone about. "Starting Over" came out recently (once again, to great acclaim.....google the glowing, reverential reviews in the New York Times, etcetera).

    She's coming here (driving herself from Chapel Hill, thank you) for lunch with ten other folks in two weeks. All of them are friends who can be relied upon NOT to pester her to sign books while she's trying to eat her timbale.

    As for old age?.....Elizabeth told me (in her very pronounced, even after decades of her living in Italy and/or Canada, Mississippi accent), a few months ago when I learned of the upcoming book, "OH.....I just stopped THINKING about how old I was when I turned 80. There's nuthin' to be done about it, and I have uh'thuh things to DO."

    As Frances Mayes (no writing-slouch, herself, and a neighbor....which is the only reason I know her personally) wrote to me yesterday: "Elizabeth is an inspiration to us all".

    Google "Elizabeth Spencer". She is, indeed, an inspiration (also, I should add, wickedly funny in that sotto-voce, ironic, "butter wouldn't melt in her mouth" way old-fashioned and Very Intelligent Southern Women often have).

    Thanks for the lovely posting,

    David Terry
    www.davidterryart.com

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    1. Oh now, I came so close to putting a little asterisk on that "quote" because I wasn't one hundred percent sure and a search on the net gave me conflicting results ....so thank you, Uncle David. If I can figure out to reword it without not being overly verbose (already not my strong point), I will.

      You know the most amazing people. But then again, they are fortunate to have your acquaintance as well. I have always meant to read "Light in the Piazza" and will now. Thank you times two.

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    2. Oh, you have to read "Light in the Piazza", Heather. It's wonderful. As I recall, the American family is from Winston-Salem (about 1.5 hours west of here). I was once at a dinner party at which someone asked what it was "about".....and someone (not me, for once) appallingly replied "Oh, a retarded girl with a rich, bossy mother falls in love with an Italian boy who barely speaks English?".

      Everyone fell more than sorta-silent. Someone else at the table (a longtime friend of mine....a former member of the Yale Drama Faculty whom you might have known during your days there) said "Oh, yeah.....and 'Macbeth' is ABOUT the dangers of letting your wife boss you around too much. What a DUMB-ass comment".

      My longtime friend doesn't pull punches with fools.

      Do read "Light in the Piazza". It's really lovely and subtle.

      ----david terry

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    3. David, I forgot to respond to this but two things: your friend was there before my time but he did sit in on a few of Earle Gister's classes during my first year as an observer. And I have stopped ordering things from Amazon as we are having a true crisis with our mail delivery. But I have put her works on my wish list for after the move...

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  14. Dear Heather:

    I found your blog via Sara in La Petit Village and I really enjoy reading and finding that calming effect in your writings accompanied by your beautiful pictures. Right now I am 54 years old and laid off my last job in 2010. Since then, my husband has retired from his job, we made the decision to move from our big city life to a country one in July, and I am still asking what-am-I-going-to-do-now-that-I-am-grown-up? I feel these past fours years of being unemployed have been my "a-ha" moment to get on with that artistic career I've always wanted and to start it now, this minute (especially since most of the packing is now completed!) Thanks for the wonderful article (I printed it and have it on my inspiration board),encouragement and keep up with the great work you do. Sincerely, Mrs. Lamar Mendiola

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    1. Hello Mrs. Mendiola and thank you so much for your very heartfelt response. These are trying times for so many of us and what a challenge it must be for you to not be able to find work. But I do agree with you that it could also be your opportunity! Wishing you all the Best as you embark on your country living,
      Heather

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  15. What wonderful company, and those women over 80... Elizabeth Spencer, THE Elizabeth Spencer has a website: http://www.elizabethspencerwriter.com/index.htm
    Wow.
    xox, V

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    1. Yes, Elizabeth has a website.....a develpoment which tickled her to no end a few years back. It was set up, with her permission of course, by (as I recall) two graduate students in literature at Chapel Hill. At the time, I and several others considered that The World could probably limp on just fine without two more masters theses on Flannery O'Connor, but it suddenly seemed a much nicer place when two gradstudents did such a nice, genuinely helpful thing for an old lady writer.

      ----david terry

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    2. I consumed, chewed up, dived in, immersed myself in her books when I was young, and now guess what's next on my list? Thanks for the tip on "Starting Over". You will be dining with legends, timbale and all. Cheers and mighty fine artwork sir — you have a site, too ;-)

      vickielester.com

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    3. Well, Vicki....just email me privately at: dterrydraw@aol.com

      I'll give you Elizabeth's actual address (I just telephoned her to ask if that's okay), and you can send a fan-letter to her. No one at any age minds getting more of those lovely things.

      By the way?....this little town is CHOCK-A-BLOCK with "Southern" writers.......Allan Gurganus, Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Frances Mayes......the list goes on and on before you even start digging into Chapel Hill (which is only twelve miles away).

      Someone who knew of the town's reputation, but had only recently (as in, ten minutes previously?) met me, recently asked "OH!!! So, are you a writer, too?". I told her "Ummmm...no, I just type a lot".

      That seemed, to me, a sufficiently honest reply.

      -----david terry
      www.davidterryart,com

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  16. The stories of your voice changes are fascinating. My voice has changed every time I have moved country. It's very unreliable. Fabulous, inspirational women.

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    1. I have heard your voice and it is very, very lovely!

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  17. Hello Heather,
    I listened to the artists Carmen Herrera, Ann Madden,Yayoi Kusama, Toni Morrison and Yoko Ono.I was impressed by their voices, diversity, and approach to their art. Your voice and deep thoughts, certainly change “with time and the confidence that comes with age into somewhere in-between.” It’s wonderful to realize and observe that you are listening more to the inner one.

    We had more rain.

    Keep warm.
    Edgar

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    1. Oh good. Rain is good! But yes, it is relatively chilly for us but I will never complain as my family is in Michigan (as you know) and...brrrrr....

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  18. Great post - I couldn't agree more, it is so hard to find your voice and keep it once you start on the creative journey. I'm working on that daily. As always, beautiful photos!

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    1. And what an amazing, unique voice you have. I will buy anything that you publish!!! Keep going!!!!

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  19. Love this post, Heather! As an actor myself I know exactly what you mean. I remember when I first started performing on stage I had this quiet, timid little voice but I tell you what, I worked so hard on it with vocal coaches and the like to find my booming voice I now have that can carry across a huge outdoor audience! It's much deeper now too & has given me so much more confidence.

    I truly believe you are correct, you don't choose the life of an actor, it chooses you :-)

    Clare x

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