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The Bliss Blog

Les Misérables Poster

 

On Friday night, I joined likely millions of people world wide, watching musical-made-into-movie Les Miserable’ on the big screen. Having seen the Broadway version, I was eager to get a sense of how it would match up. Hearing raves and a few downer reviews about Russell Crowe’s less than stellar vocal range, I walked into the theater with my friend Barb with whom I had seen the show, and an open mind, but alas, no tisssues. I told her as we applauded at the end and wiped our eyes, that it would be a great idea for them to be available at the box office. Les Misérables is now the world’s longest-running musical, seen by over 60 million people in 42 countries. Add to it the numbers who have streamed into the theaters and the legend continues. I can imagine more than a few little statues coming home with the stars and film-makers of this epic portrayal of love, uprising, slavery, grace and forgiveness.

For those who may not know the story line, Victor Hugo’s classic and in some people’s opinion, one of the most important novels in human history, centers around the hero Jean Valjean who at the start of the movie, exhibits super human strength physically and mentally after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. His nemesis is Javert who even after he is paroled, persues him doggedly. Once he leaves the galley of the ship on which he was forced to serve, he travels on foot, begging for food, shelter and honest work. He finds little of those things and after being taken in by a cleric, he steals silver which he plans to sell to survive. Caught by police, he is brought back to the house at which the Monseignor pretends that he had given the precious items to Valjean and gives him two candlesticks as well, saying he had forgotten to take them in his haste to leave. Awed by the grace exhibited by this man, he dedicates himself to God and to becoming a force for good. He dis-associates himself from his criminal past, going so far as to tear up his ID papers; thus breaking parole and taking on a new persona, that of  Monsieur Madeleine, mayor of  Montreuil sur Mer and a wealthy factory owner.  As he is walking through town, he sees that a man is pinned beneath a wagon and goes over to assist. He lifts the wagon off the man and is observed by Javert, the newly appointed constable who has seen only one other person in his life exhibit that degree of strength, so he has his suspicions of who this man  really is.

On an auspicous day, one of his workers named Fantine who is the single mother of a young girl named Cossette is outsted from her job and forced to live on the streets, sell her hair, two teeth and her body. Her daughter is in the dubious care of two unscrupulous innkeepers who extort her for money. One night,  Valjean/Madeleine witnesses her being harrassed by a potential customer, as she lashes back  and scratches the man’s face. About to be hauled off to jail by Javert; he intervenes and takes her to a hospital. There, as she lay dying, she tells him about her daughter who he then vows to care for since he had not spoken up when she was unjustly dismissed from his factory, because she would not acede to the lustful desires of a foreman. He goes to collect the girl who fantasizes about a different life than the one of abuse and deprivation at the hands of the innkeepers. There is another child in the house as well, named Eponine who is their daughter; treated like a princess.  When Valjean arrives, he gives the couple more money than they deserve but enough to whisk Cossette to a semblance of safety. Because of his past, he is still hyper-vigilant and wary of staying out of Javert’s sight. As karma would have it, they were taken in by the man Valjean had rescued from under the wagon years earlier.

On a broader scale, the country is now in revolution since poverty has become the norm and one of the revolutionaries is a young man named Marius who falls in love with the now young woman Cossette. Eponine, who is also grown sees Marius as an unrequited love interest. Cossette is now wealthy and Eponine is forced to beg on the streets. She too joins the revolution and although her heart is breaking, becomes the go-between for the two lovers.  Tensions are heating up and the students erect a barricade that also becomes their place of death.

More of the plot involves an opportunity for Valjean to show mercy to Javert, for Marius and Cossette to marry and for forgiveness to take place. What has moved me about the story is its emphasis on the idea that love in and of itself is a redemptive force that overcomes fear, anger, revenge and even the word of law. While Javert viewed his role as keeper of the peace and enforcer of the the law, it was the ‘petty’ criminal Valjean who lived the more exemplary life in terms of his ability to care for those who could at the moment, not be seen as doing him any particular good. His unveiling of his ‘wrong-doings’ to Cossette and Marius are overshadowed by the fact that he saved several lives, including that of Marius who was the only one who survived the barricades.

I love symbolism. From the candlesticks given to Valjean that to me, represented illumination in the darkness, to the eye  painted on the wall, watching over the barricade, to the structure itself which seems to be a partition between this world and the next, this movie was fraught with it.

The line that moves me beyond any other in this play is “To love another person, is to see the face of God.”  Would that we see God in the face of the homeless begger, the one who sacrifices her well being for her child, the one who steals to feed his family and yes, even the by-the-book-seeker-after-pseudo justice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX3fwpINq4o Finale Les Miserable’

 

 

Ron Chelsvig | Livin' In A World

Living in two seemingly disparate worlds, Philly local musician Ron Chelsvig is both a physical therapist and singer songwriter. Each provide benefit to the people he  serves.  His musical gifts are evident in the 2005 release Livin’ In A World. The Universe had a sense of humor, since the man who originally hails from Story City, Iowa indeed tells stories with his music. They are about love, loss and loneliness, hope and redemption and take the listener on a journey through various genres and stylings.

The title song  with an alt-country feel which opens the recording, at first bemoans the trials and tribulations of this human existence and then celebrates the beauty inherent in it. ‘Livin’ in a world where too many people sit alone and cry. Living in a world where peace and love are in small supply.” transmutes to “Livin’ in a world where beautiful souls are everywhere. Livin’ in a world where so many people seem to care.”

Would You Look My Way has a  harder rocking Who infusion, embellished by the electric violin of another talented regional performer, Caryn Lin. In it, Chelsvig dares to bare his soul.

What’s Going On has Chelsvig channeling Bob Dylan as he walks away from a relationship that is no longer a good fit. “Three years runnin’ and I gotta go. I go fishin! You go crazy, dont’cha babe?”

Dreaming carries a  lazy  drifty Caribbean feel, so much so that it is easy to imagine lying in a seaside hammock as you listen effortlessly.

Rocket Man has the most complicated story line and I wondered if this was about someone who had his own ‘dark side of the moon’ experience. Written by Tom Rapp, it offers the sad lyrics “My father was a rocket man. He loved the world beyond the world. The sky beyond the sky. And on my mother’s face. As lonely as the world in space.  I could read the silent cry.” The wailing of Chelsvig’s trumpet echo those tears.

“With the wave of hand, Dada. I created all of this.” brings the listener into a chant  called Dada that winds its way and reassures “I’m a part of everything. And you’re a part of me.”

One More Day gives hope to this who feel, “I am alone now. All alone. I hate this feeling deep inside. I want to run away. I want to hide. But I’ll try one more day.”

Two Lonely People feels like an ideal follow-up as it has the characters offering their hearts, their love and their bodies to each other, if only for one night.

This Time invites throwing caution to the wind with the lyrics “This time. This time. Run away with me.” as Chelsvig’s voice mellows and caresses the listener’s ear.

A  reggae reprise of Livin’ In A World closes this potpourri of peace and presence.

http://MySpace.com/RonChelsvig

                                                                               

 

Artist, writer and creative soul Ilanna Sharon Mandel finds in each day an opportunity to use her gifts and talents for the betterment of the planet. Whether it is photographing  nature,  writing about the concept of tikkun olam (the repair of the world), or the pain of  her father’s passing,  her work draws the observer or reader in and offers them a view into scenes that may otherwise have ‘gone unseen’. She lives by the quote from Rabbi Hillel “If I am not for me then who will be for me, But if I am only for myself then who am I; and if not now, when? “

How do you live your Bliss?

The way I live my Bliss is by connecting with others – people I care about and new people I love to meet and by following my creative heart.  When I’m being creative I’m in bliss. And when I connect with people I truly care about I’m in bliss.

 

Although it may be difficult to label, how do you define your artistry?

Writing, photography, singing and using it to raise awareness around issues of social justice.

Had you been creative as a child, or did this come to you later in life?

As a child I was very involved with music and theatre.

As a photographer, how do you see beyond the physical image to the essence behind it and then translate it to the viewer?

When I’m taking a photograph I’m generally very involved with the subject and not thinking about translating it to the viewer.  That comes later when I look at the photographs, and then I try to see what others might see or experience in the photograph.

What in particular about nature draws you to it?

I can only say this – it feels like home.

How did you develop your social conscience?

I owe a lot of that to my late father’s influence and my early work in the disability rights field.  In that field I met many wonderful people with whom I still call friends today.  They have taught me much about social justice, equality and human rights.

Although anyone who looks at your work will have their own perception, is there something you would like them to feel?

My hope is that they find something in each photograph that touches them in their own way.

Every artist I know has a dream about what their work can do out in the world. What is yours?

I dream big!  I would like to have my novels and poetry published.  I would like to exhibit my photography around the world.  For me, my writing and my photographs speak volumes and I truly hope people around the world will want to listen.  But, I should be honest.  I dream of being interviewed on television and radio and that these interviews do me and my work justice.  I hope that my work can one day make a positive influence in the world.  I also dream of working in the documentary genre one day.

Photo: more beauty

 

Fathers with Cancer

I stood by as you lied to the doctor about your true weight

Hoping it might mean something other than a death sentence

I shook as you sat with me

You knew this was the end

Still you took my hand

Quietly begged me to never give up on love

Telling me through silver tears that I was the best daughter I could be

Asking me if I would sit by you if your humanity began to slip away

Would I be with you if you chose to end your life

Would I help you take your last breath

Would I stay as you drifted away

Your corporeal body soon to be a shroud for the Kingdom of Heaven

Or would I beg you to stay no matter the consequences

Just to have my father here with me – if only for a few more minutes

www.mandelcreative.ca

Love is a birthing and sustaining Force, the impetus for all creation, the companion on the life path that we all traverse. We are taught that it looks a certain way and reflects particular types of relationships. It is my contention that it is the peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread of existence. Simple, stick to the ribs, nourishing, doesn’t need to be fancy to be appreciated. It has long fascinated me since I was born into a family where it was a given. I never questioned or doubted that I was loved. A small immediate family and large extended family, we swam in ‘ love soup’.  Not that I ever took it for granted, but accepted it as my birthright. Interesting the trajectory my life took, teaching people that it is their birthright too. Sometimes they resist that truth. Sometimes I resist that truth and my cave thoughts (the dark, shadowy ones that echo against damp drippy walls) come roaring out.

Yesterday this train of thought ran riotously down the tracks:

“Grateful for friends who mirror and express what I most need to hear. Coming face to face with gremlins from the past who have been sneaking up on me, making snarly faces, attempting to scare me away from what I most want, telling me that it means sacrificing emotional safety and who I am to be loved  and accepted. Learning that I have created this whole elaborate system of pseudo-protection with the illusion of security, when mostly what it does is keep me separate and holds the relationship I desire at bay. Easier to be on the outside as a therapist who works with couples, a minister who marries people, a writer who pens stuff about relationships and a facilitator of workshops that touch on the subject than immerse in the messy mucky sometimes shadowy stuff that come along with this human experience. Ooooppppsss, I just told on myself.”
Two of my friends called me out about these thoughts and feelings last night and reminded me to be authentic, self compassionate and accepting of all aspects of myself, rather than being judge, jury and jailer. I have been sitting with it all day today, as I watched my son and his girlfriend banter and enjoy each others’ company. I pondered it as I brought to mind the two celebrations of love I witnessed this weekend; one a party for two friends who had gotten married on Maui in
September and the other a wedding I officiated Christmas Eve for a friend I have known almost 12 years who has been with her husband 13 years and they took the leap this year.
During the first one, Patti and Michael re-enacted some of the ceremony and were asked questions about whether they would cause each other pain and push each others’ buttons, driving each other crazy. The answer was yes to each query, and yet would not be done intentionally. In an effort to avoid those inevitable aspects of human relationships, I have remained somewhat blissfully single even as my heart and soul have sent out invitations for the partner with whom I want to share my
 life. How can this person show up if the welcome mat hasn’t fully been out? Those limiting, play it safe thoughts have been keeping it covered with crunchy leaves;  the ones that tell me I can’t have it all….the relationship AND the creative work that nourishes me. A year and some months ago, a psychic told me that my relationship will be with my Muse. My question was whether she meant that this person will also be my creative inspiration or whether the creative force itself will
 be my partner. She never answered it, but thus far, I have sensed it was the latter. When my now 25 year old son Adama was a little boy and was asked to choose between two flavors of ice cream, he said he would have “Both of each.”  I would like that too, please.
My mother used to check in with me daily via phone,  (now she does it on the Spiritual hotline) since she lived in Ft. Lauderdale and I am in the Philly area. She would sometimes ask “How’s your love life?” to which I would respond, “Great!  I love life.”  She would then laugh and say “You know what I mean.” In this year, it is my intention to embrace love in all forms, including that shared with the partner for whom I have been preparing as the One has been preparing for me.
Couldn’t decide which song to choose….so I choose both of each: