Saturday, March 18, 2017


the solid presence of
the undeniable truth of
the heavy power of
the ontological history of
the metaphysical magic of

I have always collected stones, even as a child, recognizing some unusual, unnamed treasure in small ordinary pieces of earth, pieces that could be held tightly in hand, giving strength, granting a wish, advancing a prayer, blessing the one whose fingers warmed the surface ...and closed into a fist around the life and story that was contained therein.  (Read my related poem, Stones in Our Pockets here.)

I have always collected stones--- as stories-- I was here, I was in this place, and this small piece of this place can now go with me, be with me, always

Stones that glitter, found as I walked the labyrinth at Proctor (the conference/retreat center for the Diocese of Southern Ohio)

Larimar, that I got in the Cayman Islands-- pale blue stones, the color of the Carribean Sea, the only place in which it is found.

The stone etched with a crooked cross after laying for eons on the bottom of the ocean before I found it one Easter morning on a beach in St. Thomas.

And the strings of stones-- the rosaries and prayer beads, I collect as I travel.

Stones have the power to hold our stories, to tell our stories,

We dream and hope and hold on to the little pieces of the earth to anchor us to the most important paragraphs of our own stories and to imagine the sentences that construct the stories of others.

Stones and I have a history.

So it was with surprise and delight that I discovered two books that honor the power of stones and their connection to our human stories.

We have all seen lovely editions of the Grimms' Tales. We may even own several.

But in The Singing Bones, Shaun Tan offers a uniquely beautiful and haunting edition, forcing us to see these timeless tales with new eyes, to consider their power to evoke our individual and collective lives in symbol and archetype and trope.

In the Forward, Neil Gaiman reminds us

People need stories.  It's one of the things that make us who we are.  We crave stories, because they make us more than ourselves, they give us escape and they give us knowledge. They entertain us and they change us, as they have changed and entertained us for thousands of years.

Tan has created stone-like sculptures to illustrate each story... or what he calls " the hard bones" of each story.  Each full-page illustration is preceded by just a paragraph, a short abstract, representing "what matters".  In the Annotated Index there are brief summaries of each tale for those who want to know more.  In the Afterword, he explains how as an adult he "came to appreciate these tales for their complexity, ambiguity, and endurance."

Of his sculptures, Tan says
What matters above all else are the hard bones of the story, and I wanted many of these objects to appear as if they've emerged from an imaginary archaeological dig, and then been sparingly illuminated as so many museum objects are,  as if a flashlight beam has passed momentarily over some odd objects resting in the dark galleries of our collective subconscious.  Like the tales themselves, they might brighten in our imagination without surrendering any of their original enigma.
 In his work, Tan has consistently exhibited the power to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.

My first encounter with his work was his near novel-length picture book, The Arrival, which wordlessly illuminates the journey of a man leaving his home country and his family, then arriving and surviving in a new and strange land. This was one of my students' favorites, and still remains one of mine.

To see more works by Shaun Tan click here.

While Tan created stone-like sculptures to illustrate his book, in Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey by Margriet Ruurs, Nizar Ali Badr created illustrations with found stones or pebbles of varying sizes as his medium.

The author, Margriet Ruurs, says of his work in the Foreword:
Nizar's work spoke to me strongly.  In his art I saw people changing--from happy, carefree children into people burdened and fleeing.  There was hurt and sorrow. But ultimately there was also love and caring. and amazingly, all of this told with stones.  
She describes being inspired to create a story that could be illustrated by this amazing artist.

Their timely and unique collaboration is written in both Arabic and English. Her poetic prose illuminates the stone pictures and tells a story of freedom and loss, war and fleeing, fears and hopes, and finally arrival, after much walking, to a new nation, a new home.

My favorite illustration, very similar to the cover image, is accompanied by these words:

A river of strangers in search of a place
to be free, to live and laugh, to love again.
In search of a place where bombs did not fall,
where people did not die on their way to market.
A river of people in search of peace
 To see more amazing pebble art by Nizar Ali Badr click here. or simple search his name in Google images.

At a time when our government has made a journey such as the ones described in Stepping Stones or The Arrival an impossibility for many, the very stones cry out as witnesses for those dreaming, wanting, needing to make the journey... and those same stones sing in celebration with those who have already come to new homes.

the solid presence of
the undeniable truth of
the heavy power of
the ontological history of
the metaphysical magic of

 Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Shaun Tan and Nizar Ali Badr both represented stories in a unique way-- with stone-like sculptures and pebble art.

What story in your life can you tell using only objects? Can you use stones--- or perhaps another medium-- like sticks, buttons, leaves,.. the possibilities are endless?

Write about how rendering your story through a tangible medium changes your perspective.

Write a poem or essay to illuminate your illustration.