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Clare Tyrrell Morin — a writer and editor — shared how we met and how Ya Ji East/West Cultural Gathering came into existence in her blog. Clare and I keep inspiring each other on creativity, community building and spiritual growth. I love the ending of her blog: "We need each other, don't we? We can't work in isolation. We need community, we need muses in the form of our fellow artists and thinkers. We're just like those Song Dynasty folk."
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Frank O Smith Stories published an article about my creative background called "Lotus Stories". I feel very touched, humbled and inspired...
"May we be like a lotus, at home in the muddy water. Thus we bow to life as it is." - my favorite Zen chant says it all...
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Mei Selvage is a captivating artist, bringing her whole history and heritage to her art as a painter, a poet in colors. Born in China, matriculated in Montana, she turned to painting to embrace her Chinese-ness in the face of ridicule, in part, for speaking with an accent in her adopted home in the U.S.
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Frank O Smith and I met only recently when we were both speakers at the same evening of PechaKucha (PK) Portland in October 2014, but we seem to have known each other for years. I attended his official book launch for his novel Dream Singer at Longfellow Books a week following the PK night, and his reading revealed a parallel universe between us.
Dream Singer interweaves the voices of Native Americans, the wild West, and Taoist philosophy. Frank began by describing the flashback structure of his novel: one main narrative and another parallel narrative on a different time sequence. I was stunned by this structure because my paintings often adopt a similar structure: objects in the front reflect my current perspective, and the background reflects a bigger perspective—in cosmic or historical views.
Moving onto reading the first chapter, Frank lyrically described Glacier Park at Western Montana—almost like a vivid painting! I couldn't help but to sigh deeply. Montana was my first home here in the United States, and the Rocky Mountains remind me of the majestic Himalaya Mountains near where I grew up. I arrived in Missoula, Montana, in 1997 and finished my bachelor’s degree at the University of Montana in 2000. I met my husband there, and my in-laws still live in a remote cabin in Montana Rocky Mountains.
And then there’s the Native American connection. Frank’s encounter with a great Native American storyteller planted the seed for this magnificent novel 30 years later.
When I lived in Pocatello, Idaho, I volunteered at a Native American elementary school. I taught kids yoga and reading. In kindergarten and grade one and two, kids bonded with me instantly because of my black hair and eyes. They were fascinated by China and Kung Fu Panda. On days when I visited the school, they just wanted to drop whatever they were doing and hanging around me, which occasionally disturbed the school schedule.
Besides yoga and reading, we mostly hugged, laughed, and played. Many of the kids lived with grandparents or foster families because their parents were in jail or not able to take care of them. Having had a childhood full of misery myself, I could feel their sorrows. When I held these kids in my arms, we just breathed together and healed together. Honestly, I don’t know who got more out of my visits—me or the kids.
When Frank mentioned his first chapter is called “The Way,” I almost fell out of my chair. My first solo art show was called “The Way-Seeker.” Frank ended his first chapter with, “The way will be difficult.” Yes, the Way will be difficult, but Way-seekers are not afraid of difficulties. It took Frank three decades to complete his book. What is the source that sustains his long journey? What does it mean to be a white writer who gives voices to Native Americans? What would Native Americans think of Frank? Would they consider him one of their tribe?
In the end, are all these connections fate or coincidence? Could it be each of us born with a mission to tell certain stories? Is it possible that we all have been incarnated to different tribes, lived their lives, sung their songs, and thus feel deeply about their joys and sorrows?
Kindly, Frank signed my copy of Dream Singer: “It’s a joy that our paths have crossed—in the Way.”
The parallel universe between Frank and myself perhaps exist for all of us; you and I have lived each other’s lives. When you and I meet each other in the Way, no words are needed. We just hug, and breathe together.
(Portland, ME) Inspired by the historic “elegant gatherings” (雅集) of the Song Dynasty, where artists, poets, sages and scholars would come together to drink tea and contemplate art and life, Ya Ji is a modern day salon focusing on the new waves of Chinese and Asian contemporary art and culture as they intersect with New England.
Ya Ji East/West Cultural Gatherings brings China to Portland, Maine Hosted by Portland-based Fox Intercultural Consulting, this first Ya Ji gathering includes an exhibition and a talk, Journey to the East, by Portland artist, Mei Selvage. The title of the exhibition refers to a famous Chinese novel, “Journey to the West” (西游记), published in the 16th century. The novel describes a monk and his three mythical students who went on an odyssey-like pilgrimage to the Western Pure Land where they obtained sacred texts and fulfilled their life missions. Ms. Selvage used this story as an analogy for her own inner journey, searching for her artistic and spiritual home.
“My art is my way to tell stories and compose visual poetry,” explains Ms. Selvage. “I love to use words, colors and images to reveal the interplay of hidden and perceived realities. To engage and tell meaningful stories, I continuously integrate diverse techniques and materials from the East and West, both ancient and contemporary.”