Monday, November 29, 2010

Blog Rerun: Shaun Tan, The Arrival

I'm taking a few days off from my blog to enjoy a little Thanksgiving break with family. In the meantime, here's a blog rerun of Shaun Tan's breathtaking graphic novel. The Arrival was my choice for this month's Songwriting for Kids Book Club, so I thought it would be a good rerun. Hope you enjoy!

Shaun Tan: The Arrival (originally posted November 26, 2007)

First: Robert's Snow Auction #2 begins today! Check the sidebar to the right for a list of Auction #2 illustrators and links to their snowflake features.

Now, enough Robert's Snow illustrators mentioned Shaun Tan in their interviews that I finally picked up a copy of his new graphic novel The Arrival. And I have to say, hands down, it is *worth* all the buzz.

The Arrival is a story about immigration, and belonging, and finding a new home. The main character leaves his family, and takes a long journey to a strange land in the hopes of finding a better life for his family. This is a story we all know. In America, at least, there have been countless re-tellings of Ellis Island and other immigration stories in movies, books, plays, songs...the list goes on and on. Immigration is a huge part of our American history and mythology. But I've never seen the story told quite like this.

Shaun Tan grew up in Perth, Australia, and is half-Chinese. His father came to Australia from Malaysia to study architecture. Themes of immigration and belonging and home have been a part of his consciousness as long as he can remember. When he began The Arrival, he intended it to be a short picture book for children. Instead, it became a graphic novel that took five years to create, and it speaks to people of all ages, all nationalities, all walks of life.

The Arrival is completely wordless. The pictures tell the story, in a frame-by-frame style that is more reminiscent of film than of comic books. And because there are no words, we are brought in to the story in a much more personal way. The strange land that he travels to would be strange to is a land of Shaun Tan's invention with tadpole-like creatures that emerge from pots and strange birds that unfold and fly vertically in the sky. Modes of transportation, food, even the buildings are all so odd that the reader feels just as disoriented as the traveler.

This is the genius of this book. When you are reading it, you can't help but begin to understand what it might be like to leave everything behind and start new. The excitement, the fear, the hope. It's all there. Here's an excerpt from an article Shaun Tan wrote about the book:

One of the great powers of storytelling is that it invites us to walk in other people’s shoes for a while, but perhaps even more importantly, it invites us to contemplate our own shoes also. We might do well to think of ourselves as possible strangers in our own strange land. What conclusions we draw from this are unlikely to be easily summarised, all the more reason to think further on the connections between people and places, and what we might mean when we talk about ‘belonging’.

Here is a page from Shaun Tan's website (scroll down to see many images from the book, and scroll down even further for Shaun Tan's comments about the book).

Here is a terrific interview with Shaun Tan from Fuse #8 (most likely the first place I read about the book when it came out in February).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I hope you had a great day with lots of good food and family, and plenty to be thankful for. I'm particularly thankful for all the support and encouragement I've received from each and every one of you over the years. It's amazing how many perfectly wonderful people there are in the world. Thank you (more than I can say).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Beatles: Free 1964 Concert

My friend John posted this up on Facebook the other day, and of course I have to pass it on. I haven't watched it yet. I'm saving it for Thanksgiving break so I can watch it in a turkey/mashed potatoes/pumpkin pie haze. *bliss*

"Until the end of the year, you can watch, for free on iTunes, the most amazing complete Beatles show you’ve ever seen. A show that was literally their first American concert, shot just two days after their Ed Sullivan TV debut, at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964." more info...

The Beatles at the Washington Collesium, February 11, 1964. (Click on the link or go to the iTunes store and click on "Watch the Concert.")

Friday, November 19, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Give Water. Get Music.

This holiday season, I'm on a mission for clean water. My goal is to raise $2000, enough to provide clean water to 100 people for 20 years.

Will you help me? If you do, I'll be so grateful, I'll send you free music!

Here's what you can do:

1. Watch the video I made, and pass it on to your friends. (Press the play button more than once to navigate.)
2. Donate at my charity:water page. Please be generous. (100% of your donation goes to direct well-building project costs.)
3. Contact me with your mailing address so I can send you CDs. (Enjoy the music!)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Wrote a Hit Song! Winner: Hannah, age 10

I'm happy to announce the I Wrote a Hit Song! Contest winner...and in an exciting twist, it's the very first instrumental song ever to win the contest!

Hannah, age 10, sent me a beautiful piano song she wrote. She says playing the song helps her believe. Please stop by the I Wrote a Hit Song! site to listen to Hannah's song "Believe," then leave a comment to let the world (and Hannah) know what you like about her song.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Agee & Lopez On Writing

Here are a couple quotes I found scribbled in one of my notebooks today. Interesting food for thought on a gray Monday afternoon while I'm working on my novel and struggling with all these literal, clunky words. (Sorry, I don't know what books I found these in. Maybe Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Arctic Dreams, respectively?)

James Agee:

Words cannot embody; they can only describe. But a certain kind of artist, whom we will distinguish from others as a poet rather than a prose writer, despises this fact about words or his medium, and continually brings words as near as he can to an illusion of embodiment.

Barry Lopez:
The mind can imagine beauty and conjure intimacy. It can find solace where literal analysis finds only trees and rocks and grass.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Vaudeville!

For the new book I'm working on, I get to do some research on the American vaudeville circuit. That means I get to read fun books like Trav S D's No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, a history of vaudeville that is relevant, packed with information, and entertaining all at the same time. It's amazing to me how many of our current corporations (Loews Theaters, for instance) and entertainment systems (agents, circuit touring) developed back in the 1800's and in some ways really haven't changed much since then!

Earlier this week, my friend Hannah sent me a link to the University of Virginia's vaudeville website (courtesy of the American Studies program), which is a treasure trove of fascinating information. What I especially love, though, is the movie page. You can play through a number of silent clips and even without sound you can get a feel for that ever-changing vaudeville stage.

I like this strange Frontier Flirtation especially. What an interesting tactic for fighting off pesky suitors!

And of course, who wouldn't pay to see a monkey playing a violin? I like how the horse gets revenge in the end.

Or two dude smacking each other with bags of soot and flour?

I hope you're enjoying this as much as I am! Oh, how I love book research!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Natalie Merchant: Leave Your Sleep

I don't know how this is possible, but yesterday, I just came across the April release of Natalie Merchant's fascinating new project Leave Your Sleep. How could I have missed this? In a two-disc set, Merchant has put together musical settings of 26 American and British Poems from the 19th and 20th centuries. This is right up my alley, no? And to make it even more interesting, the settings draw from folk music all over the world. I'll have more to say when I've had a bit more time to process the album, but in the meantime, here's a great interview about how the project came together, some of the poets involved, and the natural pairing of music and poetry.

Natalie Merchant: Leave Your Sleep Interview

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Blustery Day

After a dark and stormy night, our power is out at home. Which means I'm stealing a brief moment of someone else's power to write a blog post to say there will be no blog post today. See you on Windsday, as the silly old bear would say!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Maracas!

 Since Fair Trade Month got a bit crowded out on this blog by other pressing matters like clean water and the election (sadly, my friend Fred did not win his bid for town representative, but it was close and he ran a great campaign), I'll linger for a little while on the subject of Fair Trade to tell you about the fun package I got in the mail yesterday.

SERRV has long been one of my go-to spots for interesting handmade gifts. Not only are their products beautiful, but the money I spend there goes to artisans around the world who are trying to work their way out of poverty. One of the first Fair Trade organizations, SERRV:

  • Offers prepayments so partners can sustain their business
  • Teaches new skills so they can develop their craft
  • Provides grants so they can expand their resources
  • And of course, pays a fair wage
So, back to my package! I recently got my SERRV catalog in the mail and when I turned to the musical instrument page, I knew instantly what I was going to get all my nieces and nephews for Christmas (I know, I know, it's insanely early to be thinking about this, but when inspiration strikes, I act!) For a mere average of $7 per niece/nephew, I was able to cobble together a Fair Trade family band.

Of course, I had to try out all the instruments as I unpacked them from the box. Not only are they beautiful, with hand stitching and painting, but they are *fun* to play. I like the crazy Sanh Sua Clacker (sounds like loud cricket chirps) best, and right now, it's only $5!

Note: If you're reading this and you happen to be a member of my family, two things. 1) Don't you dare spill the beans. 2) Apologies in advance for the rollicking noise and mayhem you'll be subject to on Christmas morning!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Arcade Fire: We Used to Wait

I finally got around to checking out Arcade Fire's groundbreaking new video, We Used to Wait, and I have to say it is just as cool as everyone says it is. Essentially, Arcade Fire has used the power of Google to create a personal, emotional connection between you and their song. It's fascinating and so very brilliant.

Now, this doesn't work for all addresses (for instance, since I grew up in the boondocks, my childhood address doesn't work very well), and it takes a little bit of set up, but I think it's worth it.

First, you have to download Google Chrome if you don't have it. It only takes a minute.

Then, go to

When it asks for your childhood address, type it in and watch the music video. Only if you're like me and your childhood address doesn't work well, the program will warn you. So try your elementary or high school, or an old college address, or your grandparent's house. It's best if you put in the address for a place you know really well.

Another tip: when you're asked to create something (you'll know what I mean when you see it), be sure to use both the keyboard and the mouse to create it. Both have different, but equally cool effects.

Do you think this is the future of music videos? Or just a one time wow-factor kind of deal?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Emily Dickinson for Halloween: I Heard a Fly Buzz

I hope you all had a fun Halloween! We live in a very Halloween-happy neighborhood and had hundreds of trick or treaters. The strangest costume was probably the ten year old boy dressed as "a kissing booth." Hey, whatever works.

Too bad I didn't see these cool poet costume ideas *before* the holiday. I especially like the "extra credit" add-ons. For instance, as part of the Emily Dickinson costume, they suggest you hand out plastic flies in honor of her poem #465. Or for William Carlos Williams, hand out candy from a red wheelbarrow. Nice.

I heard a fly buzz (465)
by Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portions of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –