Why Haikus?

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of haikus.

I’ve always enjoyed them–I like the simplicity of the form, the way you can let this small piece of poetry that packs a punch just digest for a moment.  I love books of haikus and other short poetry, where you get some blank space to frame that little morsel so that your brain can feast without distraction.  A few of my favorite sources for short poetry:

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And then there’s writing them.  I love the puzzle of trying to express something within the haiku’s parameters, deciding on words, line breaks, and images, without stepping outside the bounds of 5-7-5…unless I really decide that I should.

Since my little one came along, I’ve been writing more haikus (or poetry using haiku stanzas) than ever before.  Why?  It’s easier to compose haikus than longer works while the baby sleeps in my arms.  I type with one hand so that I can avoid moving so much that she wakes up and cries.  This is a huge advantage of the haiku.  Expect to see more!

A Moment for Writing (with Baby)

About five weeks ago, our first child, a little girl, was born.  Between the end of the pregnancy when I was trying to wrap things up at work and then getting to know the little one, I’ve been MIA from writing and a lot of other things.  I’m trying to ease myself back into a routine that allows for some writing.  Life has changed a lot, and I’m sure my writing will help me wrap my head around those changes.  Right now, I’m writing with a baby asleep on my chest and my husband asleep on the couch next to me.

I’m glad that I have my wonderful writer’s group to return to–they inspire me always!

I spent some time this morning working on a short story in progress, and now, a little poem:

 

A Moment for Writing

She is a warm weight

on my chest, her little arm

outstretched, fingers curled.

*

With my laptop propped

on a pillow, I write, and

bring my old world in

to meet my new one.

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A Time of Firsts: My First Pregnancy and My First Novel-Writing Class

So I’ve puzzled a bit over whether or not to share this information on my blog, mostly because, though I’ve been open about my reading and writing, I haven’t shared much about my personal life here.  BUT…this is something that will affect every aspect of my life, including my writing, and I’ve been working on some poems around this topic, and if they evolve enough, I’ll likely include them here.  I’m about five months into my first pregnancy.  So far, so good.  A lot to think and feel, and moments that have been a bit overwhelming, but I’m on the road forward and looking ahead to a new family member this winter.

In other news, I thought I would try a novel-writing class this summer.  I took one poetry class and a few short story classes as an undergraduate.  As an English major, I did a concentration in creative writing and wrote a novella as my honors thesis.  So while I have taken creative writing classes before, I had never taken a class designed around a novel.  I’ve been to a couple of conferences and attended lectures and workshops on novel-writing, but haven’t done anything more long-term or intensive.

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I signed up for an online class called “Novel Builder” through the Grub Street organization.  A few friends of mine in my weekly writers’ group had taken Grub Street classes before and recommended them (despite the fact that they are a bit costly!).  I decided to go for it.  I have a draft of one novel complete, but have shelved that for future thought while I’m working on another novel, women’s fiction with paranormal elements.

Salesses

The course was taught by Matthew Salesses, who has several credentials in fiction and nonfiction writing, including a forthcoming novel, The Hundred-Year Flood.  (By the way, The Hundred-Year Flood is available for early reading through Kindle First, free for Prime readers.  I read it and really enjoyed it! – official release date 9/1/15.  Here’s the link to my brief, spoiler-free Goodreads review)

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Without giving away the content I’m sure Matt Salesses worked hard to put together, I definitely want to say that the course was worthwhile.  Based on the idea that many successful contemporary novels are comprised of twelve major scenes, the goal of the course was to write and receive feedback on six scenes.  Over the course of six weeks, we watched craft talk videos given by Salesses, read the novel excerpts he’d prepared, commented on our classmates’ scenes from previous weeks, and then posted our own scenes based on weekly prompts.

I found it was immensely helpful to consider the structure of a novel at length and from the angle that Salesses presented.  I was able to see my protagonist’s arc more clearly.  I was also able to more clearly see how I could make the plot accomplish what I wanted it to accomplish in order to get my characters where they needed to be.  I enjoyed my classmates’ writing very much, and benefited from their thoughtful feedback, as well as the feedback provided by Salesses.  We are all working on very different projects, but I found each story fascinating, and hope that I’ll be able to keep in touch with my classmates and read these novels in full when they’re ready.

Though I expect things to get very busy in the coming months, with my return to teaching and this pregnancy and whatever it brings, I hope to take another online class through Grub Street.  Feel free to write in about your own experiences or with any questions.  Based on my experience, I would definitely recommend taking a novel-writing class to move your novel forward, and in particular, I’d recommend this one; I can see online that it will run again through Grub Street, starting in October.  I’m hoping to keep putting in as much time as I can on my own novel and I feel a renewed confidence in my ability to finish it (and maybe before our future child is able to read) after taking the course.  Next steps: write the climax, figure out what the ending is for my secondary villain….

In other news, watch out for an anthology on the way from Three Line Thursdaymore news to come!

A Walk in the Woods (of Maine): Reflection and a Poem

Copyright Emily Livingstone -  2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

First of all, exciting news!  Available tomorrow, 6/21/15, the new FlashDogs Solstice Anthology!  As posted on the FlashDogs website, “2 books.  143 stories.  48 writers.”  I’ve only read my own and one by Brian S. Creek (which was wonderful).  Can’t wait to read the others!  All stories are flash fiction inspired by photos which are either light or dark.

FlashDogs Solstice Anthology, available tomorrow, 6/21/15!

FlashDogs Solstice Anthology, available tomorrow, 6/21/15!

So the photo–this is where I’m lucky enough to spend the weekend.  My husband and I are up in a rented house in Maine on the water.  The school year is nearly over (just a few more days!), and the time here is giving me a taste of the deep, cleansing breaths to come.  It’s been a busy month, as I’ve been working on keeping up with end-of-the-year schoolwork and some personal obligations.  The end of the school year is always a tense time for the students and for me, as I have those final conversations with parents I’ve been talking to at various points throughout the year, and sometimes have to deliver tough news.  We’ve also had a tense environment at work due to budget constraints, and it’s been very hard saying goodbye to some close coworkers.

After the drive up here and listening to the beginning of Stephen King’s Duma Key (thanks for the recommendation, Lisa Pais), we’ve been in for some quality family time and relaxation with some beautiful scenery.  I woke up to my wonderful brother cooking breakfast for everyone.  We chatted for awhile and walked the beach.  My husband and I skipped rocks.  He’s much better at it, but I got a few!  Then, we headed out to poke around in some galleries and get lunch.  This afternoon, we took a walk to check out the wooded scenery at a more leisurely pace.

Copyright Emily Livingstone - 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

The house where we’re staying has sentimental significance to my family.  My aunt and mother, who are up here all week, used to come here as children.

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Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone - 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

I know that I have been less than consistent with my blog in the last few months, but with the school year ending, I plan to do much better.

Copyright Emily Livingstone - 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

For now, a poem, written as I sit with my family on the screened-in porch, enjoying the remains of the sunset.

Dusk on the Porch

Sitting in a green rocker,

wool blanket tucked under my chin,

I am surrounded by family,

and we are wrapped in layers,

not giving into the deepening chill

now that the sun has set.

*

We hear the cries of sea gulls

and the melodic, repetitive gong

sounding on some buoy,

out where we cannot see.

There is also the occasional

cry of a loon.

To this, we add our own

natural noises:

quick, excited speech,

low, reflective murmurs,

bursts of laughter

that may make other wildlife

turn their heads

or take a step away.

*

The last sound

that I pick out,

like one string

in a tangled weave,

is the water lapping quietly

against the rocks.

That one is last

because it is at the

subtle heart of the others.

Copyright Emily Livingstone - 2015

Copyright Emily Livingstone – 2015

What’s been going on? I’ve been writing–I promise!

So, I’ve been negligent with regard to my blog lately!  I’ve been feeling guilty about that, but I have been writing!  It’s also been a busy time grading work and making sure my senior students have their ducks in a row for graduation (or at least doing as much as I can in the teacher role and trying not to feel too nervous about a few of them!).  It’s also been a busy time for my family…more to come on that later.

My main writing focus in the midst of the chaos has been three stories for the upcoming FlashDogs Solstice Anthology (coming soon!).  I won the opportunity to write for the anthology through participating in Three Line Thursday.  I’ve been getting wonderful feedback from Brian S. Creek and my writer’s group, and I feel pretty good about two out of three of the stories I’ve been preparing, but that third one still needs some work.

I’ve also been editing and submitting a short story with elements of dark fantasy, “What We Bring Home.”  I’m hoping I can find it a good home.  Though I’m working on a novel with paranormal elements, I’ve only submitted one paranormal story for publication before (“Not Safe” in Black Petals issue 70), so it has been an adventure doing research and figuring out where to submit.  I’ve been shooting high so far (Why not, right?  What is there to lose?) and have been rejected from Clarke’s WorldNightmare, and Apex.  I’ll let you know if I make some progress on this front!

I’ve also fallen behind on weekly prompts, but plan to get back in the habit!

Musings on the Past Few Weeks…and a Poem

I feel like my schedule’s been getting away from me the past few weeks.  I haven’t found as much writing time as I usually do. Why?  We had the end of term 1 of school (all that grading and extra help and contacting home!) and the beginning of a new one, fun family things, yard work, some meetups with friends, some excursions with my husband…  Good things, really.  Even the yard work.  My husband and I are still very much in the glow of having our first house and first yard.  I’m loving being outside and taking care of the property.  We filled a lot of leaf bags this weekend, and got to spend time outside together with the dog.  Oh, and we washed the dog, and his bed.  He will smell really good for a few days…or maybe one…  Today, I’m writing right before I transition to doing a little more prep for this next (short!) week.  I’m hoping that with this holiday week, I’ll find some extra time.  I’m missing my quiet, intense hours.

It’s not that I haven’t written at all.  There have been a few snatched, furtive moments, but not those long, satisfying stretches of repeated clicking and clacking of the keys until I truly can’t write any longer…sigh.

Ha ha–well, I have been reading, which has been good.  I’m grateful to the “Text to Speech” feature of my Kindle that reads books to me for free while I’m getting ready in the mornings and on my commute.  I couldn’t read nearly as much without it.  My husband thinks the voice sounds awfully mechanical, and, hey, it’s not an actor, but I’ve gotten used to it.  I don’t mind it.  Thank you, authors and publishers who have enabled “Text to Speech.”

Here are my writing resolutions for the not-to-distant future:

-Polish my current short story, a deviation from my typical short stories, involving ghosts

-Return to writing my second novel (I’m midway through!  I’m leaving the first one on the figurative shelf for now)

-Write another installment for this blog of “Shows I Liked that Got Cancelled”

-Write a post for this blog with my thoughts on some of my recent reads

And, for now, a haiku:

Haiku for Missing My Writing

Well, I have opened

the document.  That counts, right?

I miss you.  Sorry.

Research into the Paranormal

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Lately, one of the ideas kicking around in my brain is about the existence of ghosts, spirits, past lives, and some of the many things that may come with these.  I’ve done some reading, which has fed both my writing and my curiosity–a lot of Michelle Belanger, to start.  I read Paranormal State‘s Ryan Buell’s book, Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown.  I read most of the way through Sylvia Browne’s Psychic: My Life in Two Worlds.  In my fiction writing, I’m interested in exploring how traumas can shape people for better and worse.  The way that people deal with their pasts–with a haunting, either literal or figurative–is a big draw for me.

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I’ve had my tarot cards read as a walk-in in a few different stores over the last ten years, and those readings didn’t make much of an impression.  My husband went with me when I wanted to go to a local bookstore to hear Mark Anthony, Psychic Lawyer.  Last year, I had a phone reading with a psychic I knew more about, and that experience made a big impression on me.  I spent some time in few graveyards, photographing old headstones and reading the inscriptions.  My husband laughs at me when we drive by graveyards now and mocks me (lovingly), “What graveyard is that?”

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I’m following up on my interest whenever I can.  I’ve found this to be a successful way for me to stay inspired as a writer.  I remember my college writing professor urging us to give ourselves up to our influences so that we could learn what we needed to learn.  I’m doing it, to the best of my ability.  I’ve watched every episode of Paranormal State and Animal Planet’s The Haunted that I could access on Amazon Prime.  I’ve watched a fair number of Ghost Adventures episodes, and my husband always greets the sound of Zak Bagan’s voice with a joking impression: “What the f*** was that?”  I am impressed by Lorraine Warren, and researched Ed Warren, after seeing Lorraine on Paranormal State.  I learned the word “demonologist,” how dangerous it is to play with Ouji boards or conduct endless EVP sessions, that house blessings and Benedictine medals can be helpful ghost deterrents, that negative spirits feed on negative energy, and that filling one’s life with positive things can, among other things, help with a haunting.

Recently, I discovered The Haunting of… with Kim Russo.  And is anyone else watching the new Lifetime show, Ghost inside My Child?  There was a new idea for me.  I hadn’t spent much time thinking about past lives.  The young children on this show (if we have faith in the way the show presents information to us) seem to have real memories of past lives, down to specific and obscure details which match other places, times, and people–details which seem impossible for them to have known.  My husband and I are fascinated by this show (though we were disappointed they changed their hilarious creepy child singing three notes of music intro to a less hilarious piano intro).  A girl who remembers all the symbols of an ancient culture’s alphabet?  A boy who knows which Civil War regiment he served in and the little-known battle in which he died?  There’s a new parenting challenge: helping your child to make peace with her or his past life.  (At least, if we have kids, I’ll have an awareness of this, if it comes up!)

Is anyone else following some of these shows?  Any thoughts?  My research has definitely fueled my writing, though I do suffer occasionally from nighttime nervousness.  For about a week and a half in August, I woke up at either 1am or 3am (which I know, from ghost investigation shows, seems to be a paranormal time!) and felt like something was there, while at the same time feeling that it was all very likely a symptom of watching too many ghost shows.  I did try to wake my husband up one of the times, but he has the enviable gift of being able to sleep through anything….so, on the night I woke up at 3am and needed to go to the bathroom, I woke up my sleeping dog and got him to come down the hall with me, thinking: in the shows, the animals always know if the ghost is there, so I’m good.

While I’m fascinated with all of this, most of what I write I wouldn’t put in the “paranormal” box, though I don’t like strict categories for literature anyway.  I’m interested, above all, in how humans work, and for me, that’s a focus on trauma, memory, choice, and rituals.  Ghosts in literature work well as metaphors, but they can also be characters in their own right.  Only one of my short stories has a ghost.  My first novel has one.  My current novel has more.  We’ll see what happens in the future and where this will take me.  I’m still working on my beliefs.  I’ve met a lot of people who have had paranormal experiences.  It’s an interesting lens to bring to different events.  I definitely believe there are things that we don’t understand about the world around us.  I believe that sometimes, there are connections and events that seem to rely on an explanation beyond what we commonly accept as real or possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these topics.  Do you believe in ghosts or spirits?  Do you believe in past lives?  Have you had a paranormal experience?

(All photos are mine, taken in the last few years in some of the cemeteries I’ve visited)

Surveys: Are you for or against? This will only take five minutes of your time…

I just participated in a phone survey.  My cell phone caller ID didn’t know who it was.  I’m waiting to hear back from a tree pruning company about cabling an old silver maple in our yard in need of help, so I answered.  I usually wait for the voicemail, but I didn’t this time.  Lo and behold, it was a political survey about Massachusetts casino gambling and my feelings on how I might vote in the upcoming election on this issue.  Political surveys intrigue me, so I decided to take it, only I wanted to ask how long it would take.  I thought the caller said fifteen minutes, and then she assured me “five–I don’t want to talk for fifteen minutes, no offense.”  I almost hung up there.  I get annoyed when the caller gets too edgy with me–you called me, right?  On a Sunday afternoon?  The last survey I took was on a Friday afternoon.  I didn’t make it all the way through that one; I actually ended up writing to the organization (of which I am a member) because I felt the caller was so rude.

I find it interesting to guess what the slant of the survey is and its purpose.  It can be interesting.  However, I think I’m often not the ideal person to be surveyed.  I don’t like picking “yes” or “no” on complicated issues.  My personality and my background as an English major always push me to look to the gray areas, to point out the qualifiers and the counterexamples.

Online surveys?  You’re shopping online and they ask you if you’d like to take a brief survey.  No, no I wouldn’t.  If they offer me a coupon or a chance to win something, then sometimes I will.  It’s just that easy, websites out there!

Anyway, I highly suspect that any time I spend taking surveys is pretty much wasted time.  Probably, I should avoid them altogether.  The chances are probably pretty low that I’ll be participating in a survey that gathers meaningful, important data.

I did, once, help conduct a phone survey when I volunteered a few hours for a political campaign.  It was interesting to be on the other end.  Mostly, people didn’t answer.  Some people were annoyed.  Some hung up.  A few took the survey.  We had pizza.  I met a few other people my age who seemed to have about the same rate of success.

Do you have any interesting survey opinions or experiences?  Take the poll below to tell me what you think of surveys (we’re getting meta here, buckle your seat belts.).

Great Shows that Got Cancelled, Installment 1: Better Off Ted

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So, sometimes shows I really like get cancelled.  In this post, I wanted to reminisce a little about one of them, Better Off Ted, starring Jay Harrington and Portia de Rossi.  In this comedy, Ted is (or was) a well-meaning single dad trying to do the right thing in a soulless corporation which builds new technological advances and tries every trick out there to maximize profit.

This show had a lot of great deadpan humor and strong writing that created hilarious situations.  Some favorites include the “Racial Sensitivity” episode, “Through Rose Colored Hazmat Suits,” and “Jabberwocky.”  The company often makes funny and devastating mistakes at the expense of its employees, showing its inability to understand people.  The show is broken up at times with commercials such as:

“Doing the Right Thing–it’s important.  What does it mean in business?  We don’t know yet.  We know what wrong is–actually, no we don’t, because we’re a successful company, not some boring ethics professor…Veridian Dynamics.  Right and wrong.  It means something.  We just don’t know what.”

Images from Wikipedia

The company’s perspective is most often embodied by Portia de Rossi’s character, Veronica, who plays Ted’s boss and the supervisor of a section of the company.  After the company works its employees excessively in order to prepare for the upcoming “Relaxxxicon” event, and one employee dies, Ted protests the company’s response: a half day off for a memorial service.  Veronica explains why the company won’t change its policies, saying, “The company feels that if we ease up just because one person dies, it may encourage other people to die.”

In the “Through Rose Colored Hazmat Suits” episode of season 1, Ted brings his daughter, Rose, to work when his nanny is unexpectedly unavailable.  He doesn’t want to leave her at Veridian’s daycare when he discovers that the children in the daycare are being used for custodial work on the company grounds.  Rose has a large effect on Ted’s coworkers, Veronica included, at least once Veronica sees Rose.

Ted: “Did you even notice I have my daughter with me today?”

Veronica: “I look at people’s eyes when I talk to them, Ted, not at their waists.”

When Veronica asks Ted to go to the lab, where he cannot bring his daughter, he’s hesitant to let Veronica watch Rose:

Ted: “I have to watch Rose.”

Veronica: “I can wash Rose.”

Ted: “I said ‘watch her,’ not ‘wash her.'”

Veronica: “Hmm.  Even easier.”

Ted: “The fact that you thought I was going to go wash Rose right now makes me think you makes me think you may not know that much about children.”

Veronica: “I know they need to be cleaned.”

After some initial stumbling, Veronica bonds with Rose when she realizes that Rose is useful in helping her to manipulate her boss and employees.  People are reluctant to yell, cry, or make a scene in front of a child.

Veronica: “You are very effective at getting people to control their emotions.  That is a huge asset.”

Rose: “Um…thank you?”

Veronica: “Yes, thank you is correct.”

Did anyone else watch this when it was on?  For those Amazon Prime users out there, both seasons are available with your subscription through Amazon Prime Instant Video.  I hope you enjoy.  I had fun looking back on favorite lines and characters–this show had fantastic writing!

Unseen Connections: Art Articulating Life

When I first started tweeting (this summer), I underestimated Twitter as a medium for finding out all sorts of information and getting exposed to great art and ideas.  A few days ago, I encountered the work of Shuli Hallak, and I wanted to share it because I thought it was so provocative and current.  Perusing her work today also reminded me of the work of a close friend and fantastic artist, Gayla Martin, who is seemingly at the other end of the spectrum.

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Shuli Hallak’s “Servers that Write Text Data” from her photographs of Facebook Servers – used with permission

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A photograph of one of Gayla Martin’s sculptures – used with permission

Fast Company magazine recently featured Shuli Hallak’s work in a piece called “Invisible Networks: One Woman’s Fantastic Quest to Photograph the Living Internet.”  There are all sorts of images in on Hallak’s website.  She’s photographed all sorts of cables, panels, and electronics which look foreign to the eye, like something out of a sci-fi movie.  It is interesting to be able to see the internet, which can feel like a bizarre abstract concept to those who remember life before it began and then became so prevalent.  There is so much involved that we don’t see–wireless networks, data storage–the physical part of what connects us “invisibly” to people all over the world.

In the Fast Company interview, Hallak explains that there is a lot at stake when it comes to understanding the concrete dimension of the internet:

“There are a lot of implications. If we know what this stuff looks like, then we can actually speak about it and think about it. It’s not actually very complicated or difficult. We’re visual thinkers. And we can speak about things when we have a visual concept.”

This is certainly true.  Language has an intimate connection with thought.  This is why expressing ourselves and hearing others’ expressions is so important, for one thing.  Through expression we can learn about ourselves and others, and we can evolve and change.  By understanding more about how the internet works, we can better understand something that many of us use daily without considering how it works and its physical place in our world.  I like that some of Hallak’s photographs show the technology on its own as an alien thing, while some of them integrate technology with people or the environment.  Her work asks that question–is technology now a true part of our world?  Is there a way in which it is still separate?  Can we see it as organic and part of a system which includes humans and the environment?

Deep See Cable Recovery

Shuli Hallak’s “Deep Sea Cable Recovery” – used with permission

Gayla Martin’s work at first seems very different.  She mostly works in thread and fabric, but lately has been making prints and paintings as well.  She has created organic weavings with variations in line, thickness, and light.  She’s created changes in space with large hoops suspended from the ceiling which have a rain of threads (ranging in length from two to ten feet) attached to them.  Martin hand dyes the thread and her work exudes personal energy.  The everyday materials, including a tea strainer (in the image above), remind one of home, and the processes involved in creating these pieces further add to their human feel.

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From Gayla Martin’s “Constructed Impressions” and “Weavings” – used with permission

For me, the common threads (haha–I’m not sorry for the pun, though!) are the way that lines are integral in defining space, as well as making something unseen visible and available for discussion.  With Hallak’s work, I see the straight lines of the data storage area and the curves of the cables and the way that space is defined by cables and rectangles.  There is an intricate apparatus that Hallak is making visible and available to us through her photography.  In Martin’s work, she’s added visual lines to articulate and describe invisible human ties to our surroundings.  Sometimes, her work shows our connection to our environment–places we grew up, or places that hold meaning for us.  Lines and weaving ask us to think about the very nature of connection: how are we tied to what we see and the people around us?  What if these lines are broken?  Are the  lines even?  Is the space around us rigid or fluid?

Both artists’ work, especially seen together, ask us to examine the line between the organic and the artificial.  Martin’s work uses organic, everyday use materials like thread, or even a strainer, to show us something unusual about our lives and make us consider them in a new way.  She often considers light and shadow, and when you see these pieces in an installation, part of the beauty and the experience is viewing them in context.  Hallak’s work shows how artificial objects which are part of advanced technology integrate with organic materials, like the ocean.  Hallak’s photographs, like “Multiple Subsea Cables” (below) can also show how these technological materials can imitate the organic: seeing the cables close up, they look like they could almost be vines, and we can see the fraying threads on them that remind us of weavings like the ones that Martin constructs.  There is a human element, even in very technological objects that we may imagine to be inhuman and abstract.

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Weavings by Gayla Martin – images used with permission

Multiple Subsea Cables

Shuli Hallak’s “Mulitiple Subsea Cables” – used with permission

Both Gayla Martin and Shuli Hallak are exploring important and often abstract aspects of life through their art.  What do you think of their work?  What does it remind you of?

Special thanks to both Shuli Hallak and Gayla Martin for providing the images including here and giving their permission for their use in this blog post.  All images belong to them.  Please check out their websites: ShuliHallak.com and GaylaMartin.com; they have much more work than appears here!

Shuli  Shuli Hallak – You can also follow her on Twitter: @ShuliHallak

cupid3.jpg  Gayla Martin – You can also follow her on Twitter: @moxiegm