Tiger is loose

 

I know. I know. I am not great at blogging.

Time just flies by. That does not mean that things are not happening. Of my several projects, the one I call Distant Thunder (see this website) is going a little slowly. But that is because I am trying to refine some artistic technique — and bashing my head up against how to incorporate dreams into a narrative. But more on that some other time.

Other things are happening. Tiger (that is, the tiger from my book Did Tiger Take the Rain?) got loose. She just decided to take off into the big, wide world. In reality. I regained the rights, and Tiger and the book are on their way into the open source world of Creative Commons.

There is a lot of information out there on what open source is. Just see Wikipedia (which is itself “open source”). It started out in computer software. In the bigger world that most of us inhabit, like music, education, medicine, science — children’s books — the concept of “open source” is what lies behind the Creative Commons movement.

According to the study Made with Creative Commons:

“The commons is not just about shared resources…A resource is a noun, but to common—to put the resource into the commons—is a verb. [It is a] … social practice of commoning, managing resources in a collective manner with a community of users…Special regard is given to equitable access, use, and sustainability” (Made with Creative Commons, Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchliff Pearson, Cntrl+Alt+Delete Books, Copenhagen, Creative Commons 2017; https://creativecommons.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/made-with-cc.pdf).

A major criteria of the Creative Commons strategy is to bypass the controlling, profit-based capitalist market — to restore the balance in environmental sustainability, personal relations, etc., Their case studies show that the main focus is a “social mission”: “to make the world a better place” through involving the commons — i.e. the public at large. Reaching out to the “commons” can decentralize distribution, ensure access for all, maximize constructive participation, have a global reach, etc..

So how did Tiger get involved with this? A copyright lawyer contacted me to ask if I would be interested in being part of an effort she is spearheading that works to bring regularly published children’s books into the hands of children who would not otherwise be able to afford them. She notes that most of the world is experiencing a virtual a “book hunger” (see Lea Bishop-Shaver (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2694318). If I went along with the idea, putting my book out there under Creative Commons means that the book can be made available to children around the world who would otherwise not be able to afford it. It will be downloaded, copied, printed, distributed and even changed by anyone, virtually the whole world.

Tiger will not directly bring in money through sales. But it never did anyway. So here is the rationale. It is possible that up to one billion children worldwide do not have regular access to books simply because they cannot afford them. Through a Creative Commons license, Tiger has the potential of becoming accessible to thousands of children worldwide.

Can you think of any payback more wonderful than that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to the wind. It tells no lies.

I grew up in the woods of northern Pennsylvania. I was blessed with a feeling of oneness with Nature. That was enhanced by a fascination with the lives of Native Americans whom I could count as my neighbors (Seneca) and who played a role for me through great leaders, in my Boy Scout career (Eagle Scout, Order of the Arrow). Out of this developed a feeling of how it is possible to live in Nature by closely working with it, by not destroying it. I think it was Nature’s destruction that early made me a skeptic. How can “Man” think he is so superior that it is his own ego that he puts on display? And when his own ego is put on display, is it any wonder “truth” is abandoned?

I recently spent almost a month at my family cabin in the woods of northern Pennsylvania. There I focused on the structure of my children’s book Thunder Basin.

After my stay at the cabin, I walked along what is known as the “mall” at Penn State University. As I walked there, I remember being a young skeptic student walking that same route in 1967 — 50 years ago. As a 21-year old, I wanted to find places where I could gain deep knowledge. I still have an essay I wrote back then, parts of which I want to share with you. It reads as follows:

“Suppose that we have approached a thoughtful, erudite young scholar, and have asked him as to why he patterns his educational life such as he does. He may answer that his aim is to learn of the secrets that the earth possesses. His goal in seeking knowledge is to become versed in the affairs of the world, and to pursue the ‘truth’ that lies hidden therein …

[asking about society] But in history, as in the wider realm of which our truth is sought, the logic of the events lies beyond the compiled elements [we recognize]. The locus of truth may lie, for example, in an understanding of the events between those of which we study [. It may lie]  in the behavior of those who created the events … [composing our knowledge. It may lie] in the environment in which the events are staged, in the framework of the society … [which made our] history, perhaps in the direction the events are taking or their predestination, or in a consolidation of all these matters…

Beyond the pine ridge, below the “chin” of Mount Mansfield, is Thunder Basin.

If truth is so elusive in our example of history, then what can be said of the search for the more profound truth?…[T]he whims of men many times are themselves opposed to the aim after which they seek. Many vain attempts by men to grasp truth are hindered by ridiculous adherence to traditional ‘virtues.’ Man seeks condolence, and in his blind adherence to his own petty standards which he originally set up as the absolute morality, finds ease in the solitude of tradition when confronted by facts of truth.”

Where am I some 50 years later? I set out to find “knowledge” and ended up writing a children’s book and working on another. I have tried to belay my skepticism in thinking that the mind of a child can still be the locus of that kind of perception in which the world is seen as a highly connected wonder. In Did Tiger Take the Rain? the girls realize:

“We all live under the same sky…When the sun shines, it shines down on humans and tigers together. When it rains, we share the same rain… We feel the same wind. We breathe the same air…” (p 27).

In Thunder Basin, we are still at that stage in a child’s life when she can rediscover her curiosity, before being throttled into “normality.” Although the obstacle is not so much that of my esoteric 1967 essay, that of “man’s blind adherence to his own petty standards which he originally set up as the absolute morality,” Thunder Basin tries to expose blind adherence to the dictates of a smartphone. It is still no less than adherence of the “whims” of society. For Native Americans, the quintessential character that upsets this complacency is Coyote, the trickster.

Page sketch for Thunder Basin

In my book, the heroine loses her cell phone in the woods and she is suddenly forced to look around her. The objective is to at least provide an alternative world to what she is forced to see on the LCD screen — a world beyond, which she intuitively knows and trickster helps her find: Nature with all its briers and mosquitoes. But also Nature with its unending wonder and beauty.

Snippets of a transition

TB111413Me in Thunder Basin, 2013

First snow fuses together into fluffy big flakes. A snowfall is a real fall, a myriad small flakes like a waterfall; you are immersed in a cold shower that nibbles at your ears and nose.

Vermont. The Green Mountain State. Beautiful, progressive, and friendly.

JuneberryViewJuneberries, from my window, Bellows Falls, Vermont.

I have been filled with two loves. One, is my beloved Vermont. I have lived here for thirteen years.

Vermont, March: The wind picks up in the afternoon and can get stiff towards evening. I heard it while sleeping in my tent, snuggled down into my sleeping bag. And now again, while leaning against a rock at lake’s edge, it brings a chill. It has a voice, like old man of winter of Scandinavian lore, a message brought from some other place, maybe near, maybe far, some message you need to answer. What hint does the wind bring when it says “I do not come alone?”

CHtrail

Vermont, October: A woodpecker picks at a tree nearby. A nuthatch makes its whirling sound. A chipmunk scurries through the leaves. Suddenly, the sun hits the treetops, turning the dull yellow of shadow into a ceiling of gold. It is like turning on a hidden light and the leaves come to life and exude their color. The leaves turned from a strong yellow to a transparent bright yellow. A gentle breeze hushed through the trees. Leaves floated through the air, carried by the wind, lifted gently from the branches where they had lived their lives, and gently placed on the ground on a carpet of color. There, in time, their purpose fulfilled, they would melt into the forest floor.

My second love is the forest of Pennsylvania. My life has changed. I am going there soon. I will be at my cabin to work on my graphic novel. Beyond that is a visit to my daughter in Sweden. Beyond that?

011The porch at my cabin in the Pennsylvania hills.

It is quiet, and it is getting late. Under the trees, the forest is getting dark but the tops are still lit up by a setting sun. In the distance an opening under the hemlocks the sun creates a spot of light and you look that way. You expect to see something move there. Suspense, combining the silence around you, the fading daylight, and the spot of light. A rustling in the leaves sends a chill up your spine. A bird calls. Silence again and you watch that sunlit spot. Evening rolls along and the spot is gone, carried away with the declining sun. It has merged with the darkness of the forest.

What is our attachment to place? How has that formed us?

Early Spring, Pennsylvania 1994

The tops of some trees are turning red
with sweet Spring buds;
On the forest floor, there are patches
of green pushing its delicious color
past the dry amber of last year’s fallen leaves.
The deep blue sky and the sparkling water
in the little streamlets seem to be
manifestations of each other.
As the sun warms away the morning chill,
wafts of sweet leafy odors splash
my face with little puffs of wind.
I am happy I stayed long enough to
be part of this beautiful symphony.

 

Hi again. During the month of April and May 2017 I have some of my art in a display case at the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, Vermont. The theme is how I wrote my book Did Tiger Take the Rain?. Here are some of the things I talk about.

Reading to my daughter long ago from books illustrated by the likes of John Bauer, she and I shared a sense of how text and image interplayed. The wonder of how a child thinks through illustrated books and the belief that I could go there with my art and love of reading background pulled me away from my academic career in anthropology. Bmic career in anthropology, but it was not before the 1990s that I was able to consume as much as I could of the interface between art and writing as in classic texts illustrated by the likes of N. C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Kay Nielsen, Arthur Rackham, John Tenniel, and Charles Robinson. I set out in pursuit to fine tune my own skills in figurative art and watercolor, the foundation of my approach based on the classic masters. It was not until 2011 that I was able to make a trip to Nepal to experience what I used to create my book.

How do you go from an idea, a trip, 1000 photos of children, villages, story tellers, and people working, to create a story?

Since I wanted to be both a writer and illustrator, I needed to be able to both write and draw. The secret: practice and study and practice. Like this:

Practice, practice, study, practice.

Don’t give up.

Boil down what you heard and saw to find a combination of ideas and images that can begin to coalesce into a train of events that make up a story line. For example, during my visit to Nepal, Tharu story tellers told tales that included a tiger, monkeys and jackals. People talked about when the river flooded or dried up, of how the forest had been cut back over many years. One person, Bhadai Tharu, was attacked by a tiger. His face was deeply scarred. But he went on to become one of the best know conservationists in the Bardia Reserve area. His message is that it is not the tiger’s fault. As we cut the forest, we enter the tiger’s domain. We need to protect and replenish the forest.

A story begins to take form. Follow the leads and work, for example, on building up a visual setting with strong characters. Some of this you learn from visiting the site. Other you conjure up in your own mind. For example, the magic of a children’s book allows for talking monkeys. Hidden in the tiger book is also the role played by Jackal, like his cousin Coyote, the proverbial trickster of Native American tradition. He will help you cross the threshold to another world – and help kids fly. Also, for example, Usha, like other Nepali kids, does not do things alone. She needed Anjali. With these two, I was able to let them be the main characters who set out to solve a problem through their own communication and meeting with the other characters in the setting around their village and in the neighboring forest.

How do you develop the story? What were Usha and Anjali supposed to be doing? What problem did they set out to solve? What is the “plot”? Why should I write this book?

Deforestation leading to climate change is the theme.

With the given characters and setting, what is the lived experience that a child could relate to around this theme and still provide both scientific and social knowledge for children as well as incentive for them to get engaged and learn and do more?

Why did it stop raining? Where did the rain go when it was supposed to be there? How will the five main characters living in and around a jungle in Nepal figure that out?

The rain stopped. Tiger wandered away from her home in the forest, crossed the river and approached the village. Something was not right. Did Tiger take the Rain? If not, where did it go?

Let’s find a way to get the question answered. How do you do that? You sit around in cafes, walk streets in a daze, poke at your dinner with a fork, forget to shave, have Usha and her pals follow you around bugging you to move ahead. You get feedback from others.  Don’t give up.

Once you and your characters have come up with what appears to be a logical sequence of conversations and movement around some kind of believable plot, you begin to visualize this in the format of a children’s picture book. That means you need to find a way to combine text with illustration and you need to find optimality in word choice, text length, and coordination with illustrations. That means simplify. It means “show, don’t tell,” to create a story.

Start plotting all of these images and words out in the picture book format of about 32 pages. Make a story board. The one below is a small version of such a thing and is only one of many iterations.

I edited the story board to optimize the final images and to double check that the book as a whole seems well balanced, the images show variety, they follow (if not complement) the story – and to be sure that the children are dressed the same through the story, Anjali has one blue and one yellow hairband and has anklets, both girls have bracelets, and so on. You edit text, refine illustrations, refine the story board, and in time you arrive at something you think is ready.

For me, in the end, I needed to find a method to go from sketch to trial to new illustration. Here is my final image for pages 22 and 23. It started as a drawing to the exact size for the final watercolor. The drawing was traced over to watercolor paper, and finished. The final watercolor was reproduced digitally for publication.