Writing Lessons

Beatrice doesn’t like to write. Her reading comprehension and retention are high (my scientific assessment), and she is able to discuss what she has read, but actually putting pen to paper to set down her thoughts is a problem for her. She’s blocked, but my opinion is that once she gets over that brick wall the problem will become a thing of the past.

She had a biographical writing assignment to turn in this week, and chose Austrian wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as her subject. My goal this weekend was to focus all of my attention on addressing her attitudinal difficulty with writing and helping her complete the project.

I delineated several objectives, such as acquiring a dedicated writing notebook for her, teaching her the Catholic concept of Imitatio Dei as a foundation for writing and connecting it with the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, and showing her how to write a simple imagist poem in order to make flesh her impressions on any given situation.

But fundamentally I wanted her to accept that the act of writing need not intimidate. My contention is that God spoke everything into existence, and human writings are a feeble attempt at imitation of that primal act of creation. From this perspective, everything we write, all our of imperfect, childish imitations, then, are sacred. Acknowledgement of that at the outset may guide us in our writings. Furthermore, such imitation in the form of art (e.g. drawing, a form she enjoys already, as well as writing and other forms) is quite pleasurable knowing that.

We still have a way to go with all of this, but here is where this expressive tributary in the river of Beatrice’s life begins.

Artist's Statement for Photography

I wrote the following artist’s statement for my photography, most of which features my children, Beatrice and Ambrose, and my brother Danny. The text is also found at the link below:

https://www.jameswesleynichols.com/sobre-estes-fotos

These photographs represent more or less one year in the life of the three people to whom I am closest: my children Beatrice and Ambrose and my brother Danny. My parents Larry and Rose Nichols are here too, as well as the kids' mama Lily Knights. 

Photography is a way of mapping emotional landscapes, a method of storytelling. It is geography and it is cartography. When selecting these pictures I looked for two things: a person or persons in motion and emotional content. The quiet internal drama of facial expression and body language becomes implied narrative. The moments I'm looking for are not the occasional crises, but the many moments surrounding them in all their emotional complexity. It’s not the flame I seek to capture, but the ember and the wind with which it’s stoked.

Childhood is a time of great mystery and wonder. It is a time of joyous peaks and deep sorrows, a time of exploration and discovery, and it is a time of gain and a time of loss. My daughter Beatrice is on the Autism spectrum, highly functioning. She and her brother Ambrose are close in age, 18 months apart. Their continued growth is fascinating to me.

In 1990 my older brother Danny was injured in a car accident that left him permanently and totally disabled. He suffered a traumatic brain injury which caused him numerous physical impairments, but somehow his character remained intact. His speech and mobility are affected, as well as his short-term memory, and yet his humor is as irreverent as ever. His demeanor is sociable, likable, exuberant. But as would be expected for someone in his condition, he also suffers deep loneliness. From January 2013 to December 2017 I was his full-time attendant caretaker. 

In the future I aim to broaden my subject matter to include other people and places, but for a time, at least, I'm going to stick to picturing the ones I love the most.

Absence

This house is pregnant:

Filled with my children's absence,

About to give birth.

Last week

Summer is soon gone -

sky is now clear of fireflies -

how still the water.

(Possible) future archaeologists discover mysterious, ancient technology...

(Possible) future archaeologists discover mysterious, ancient technology...

Summer vacation is almost gone, and with its end comes the end of Beatrice's and Ambrose's annual summer residency with me in Greenville. With school starting back, they will return to staying with their mama throughout the week and visiting me every other weekend. This house will hardly be a home at all with them not here; it will be filled to the rafters with their absence. 

In other news from the frontiers of loneliness, I set my facebook account for deletion. There is no logical reason for me to have one, as its continued use only serves to cause me anxiety. I still need to use social media for work, so I made another account for that purpose. I won't be accepting any friend requests. 

I'm also trying to lessen my internet usage overall, limiting myself to mostly work purposes. Without facebook, I find that I'm sitting in front a screen less, and that's a good thing. More often do I pick up a guitar, crack a book, set pen to paper, or make a piece of art. 

It's a sobering period, a period of arrangement, of ritualized règlement, of settling into what I see as productive habits. I've got a huge stack of books to read, art to make, music to write, and performances for which to prepare.

North Carolina Tour

On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, Beatrice, James Ambrose and I began a four day tour of North Carolina. The idea for the jaunt was to make a loop around parts of the state with which the children and I were all unfamiliar. I made a list of possible destinations, we packed our things, and set out.

The goals for the trip were:

  • See places we've never or rarely seen

  • See art

  • Swim

  • Walk - cities and parks

Above all, I planned to do some family tuning. In Asheville, we stopped for pizza and then met a friend for a walk. I enjoy Asheville's counterculture vibes but that evening it reawakened the old longing to relocate somewhere, anywhere but wherever I'm living. We spent the night in a motel, then the kids swam in the motel's pool the next morning before we set out for Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern United States. On the way, we stopped at the Folk Art Center, a museum and market featuring artwork and handicrafts from the Appalachians.

Mt. Mitchell was fog-cloaked and rainy. Kids were scared and uncomfortable and protested being there but toughed it out admirably. We had a three hour stretch to Greensboro so we sang a couple of childrens' songs (I Been Workin' on the Railroad, Skip to my Lou) and I rewarded their fortitude with a surprise ice cream - the last thing they expected! They were very serious about those cones.

Greensboro has railroad lines going through its downtown, so it reminds me of a much larger Spartanburg. Elsewhere is a place unlike any other, a museum and a playground and a continually shifting incubator for artists. I had visited there once before, with Lily ca. 2008, and in the intervening decade the space's dedication to lateral-thinking art projects has been maintained beautifully, even as the amorphous organism that is the museum itself changes rapidly.

On Friday, we spent some high-quality time with Justus Knights in the state's capital. Raleigh also is home to the North Carolina Museum of Art, where we saw collections ranging from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to European and American portraiture, pre-Columbian pottery and sculpture as well as Renaissance oils. We saw works by Auguste Rodin, Kihende Wiley and Alberto Giacometti, all of whose human images are as startling as they are arresting.

Beatrice and Ambrose, reflecting (when questioned about what made impressions on them) upon the museum visit, noticed the nudity of much of the work, especially classical Greek sculpture and the large, dark bronze casts of Rodin's powerful figures. They puerily wondered about the dismemberment of the bodies represented, through wear and breakage and otherwise.

 

This short tour was packed with content thanks to its improvisational spirit. It was modeled, structurally, on a reckless and ramshackle tour of six states undertaken in 2015: Western North Carolina, all of Tennessee, crossing the state line in Arkansas and then zipping through Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. The basic idea for that one was to go as far west as possible before I had to turn around and there were no destinations chosen in advance of getting in the car.

Several destinations on the NC tour were not decided beforehand, but a number of them instead were loosely sketched out. Mt. Mitchell was chosen because I had happened to see a road sign on the way to the motel near Asheville on Tuesday evening, and hoped we could do some hiking the next day. It was both relaxing and stimulating to be free of strict routine and free to roam. The most fundamental aim of the trip was getting the family more in line, and we made progress in that.

Dead Hickory

A dead hickory tree fell behind my parents house on Clarendon Avenue, narrowly missing the cottage. Needless to say, Beatrice and Ambrose were impressed when they saw the aftermath.