The Story Behind “A Bridge Crossed”

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Every Sunday for the last few months, I’ve posted a photograph and lines of poetry (or musings) inspired by my  journey to London.  Sundays in London has been a cathartic experience as it has slowly lead me to a deeper understanding of why I was so driven to spend an extended period of time in a place so far from home.  My journal is filled with meandering thoughts fraught with both epiphanies and questions, while my pictures captured every nook and cranny of my surroundings, but nothing fit together for a definitive answer.  The experience as a whole was life-altering, though I could not decipher how and why.  All I knew was something deep inside of me had indelibly changed, (See Finding True North).

The lines I wrote for A Bridge Crossed began in London, but only in small fragments.  At the time, I didn’t have enough understanding to give my disjointed words a voice.  The finished poem is representative of the answer I’ve been seeking for the better part of a year.  After much contemplation and creative wandering, I know why I went to London.

Almost immediately after my return, I kept thinking, “I learned I was a lot stronger than I thought.” The only thing I couldn’t figure out what was why this mattered so much.  I already knew I was a strong person, so I let the idea sit and expand until it chose to tell me more.

Ultimately, the answer hit me in one big swoop, damn near knocking me out of my seat.  I still don’t know what triggered the thought, but I’m not one to question inspiration.  What matters is that I have my answer.  London showed me how strong I have to be to reach my dreams.  Despite being in a place  I loved, I was alone, overwhelmed, disoriented, and completely out of my element.  And there was no one to run to except myself.  I eventually found my groove and embraced every sensation, but this was a hard path to find.

Writing feels much the same way as isolating yourself in a foreign place.  Along with all of the above, there is rejection (and a lot of it), frustration, fear, and doubt.  A list like this puts a serious dent in strength and determination, sometimes to the point of giving up.  Courage doesn’t come free and strength comes at a price.  I have to be willing to endure everything that tries to knock me down.  I must remain standing no matter how difficult or demoralizing it gets.  As London showed me, being stronger than the impediment has an immense payoff for through the heavy fog there is the realization of a dream.

There is a difference between understanding what it means to be strong and knowing from experience what it is to be strong.  I can do anything and I can take a few punches, too.  Some may call me crazy for learning this lesson halfway around the world, but I honestly can think of no better place.  London got under skin from the very first moment I saw it and has never let go.  I hope it never does.

Houses of Parliament, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

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c.b. 2012

A Bridge Crossed

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There it stays
unrealized,
out of use
‘Til luck runs dry
breaking the crutch

Unaided and alone
the power within
hears the call
The unknown rises,
bolsters a will

A new release
fills empty holes
Far less timid
than before
a fortnight

St. Paul’s Cathedral and Millennium Bridge as seen through a window at the Tate Modern, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

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c.b. 2012

Treasure Stones

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More than 20 years have passed, but I can still hear the waves lapping on the shoreline, while a canopy of leaves rustles overhead.  It’s summer in Northern Wisconsin, and I am just a little girl basking in the oblivion of 85 degrees.  Cool lake water swirls around my feet and smooth sand curls around my toes.  Up and down the shore I go, searching the shallow waters for the perfect stone to add to my collection.  The blue and green ones are pretty, but just won’t do.  Red, black, and brown rocks are beautiful, too, but I’m looking for something else. White stones are different from the others and always sparkle when a speck of sun peeks through the trees.  I can’t resist the urge to pick them up and put them in my pocket.

White Stones from my favorite places. Top two: Big Portage Lake, Wisconsin. Bottom Left: Thames shoreline, London. Bottom Right: Vltava River, Prague. c.b.w. 2012

As a child I didn’t understand why I was so drawn to white stones, but after having some time to think, I believe the beauty of white stones wasn’t about how they sparkled, but rather the lessons they had to teach. For a kid who never fit in anywhere and always felt out of place, my treasure stones told me it was okay to be different.  If anything, I should dare to be myself and revel in my individuality.  I don’t match my surroundings and I never will, just like white stones lying in the sand.  Do they wallow in the dirt and wish they were something else?  No.  They always find the bright side and boldly stick out from the rest.

To this day, I keep my stones close and stay true to their wisdom.  As I travel around the world and through life, I still pick up little white rocks.  From London, Prague, Ireland, and wherever I land next, my eye will keep searching for the next treasure stone. I am older and wiser, but I am always listening for the next bit of truth.

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c.b. 2012

Seeds to Ponder

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Sunflower Seeds by Ai Weiwei is a profound work of art in both its simplicity and awe inspiring scope.  At first glance, it looks like a pile of sunflower seed husks, but upon closer inspection the incredible reality of this piece becomes apparent.  Each seed is handcrafted from porcelain and hand-painted.  No two are alike and more than 100 million were created for the initial exhibition that covered the the Turbine Hall at The Tate Modern.

"Sunflower Seeds" by Ai Weiwei, Original Exhibition in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, (Photo Source: Wikipedia Commons)

During the initial run of the exhibition, (October 2009 – May 2010), people were encouraged to interact with the installation by walking through, sitting or even lying down amid the seeds, but that was short lived as soon as health, safety, and preservation concerns caused it to be roped off.  I’m a little jealous of those who were able to tread through the seeds!

In 2011, the Tate put 8 million of the original seeds on display in response to Weiwei’s detainment by the Chinese government and subsequent disappearance¹.  The display, which represents about 1/10 of the original installation, sits in a large pile in an exhibition room on the third floor. While significantly smaller than the original, the intent and deeper meaning of Weiwei’s work has not been lost.

"Sunflower Seeds" by Ai Weiwei, Tate Museum, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

While open to interpretation on many levels, the intent of Sunflower Seeds reaches into a dark chapter of Chinese history and the human spirit.  During the Cultural Revolution, (a particularly brutal era in history where people lost basic human rights and were stripped of cultural traditions), Mao Zedong launched a massive propaganda campaign where in some instances he depicted himself as the sun and the people as sunflowers who turn their heads to follow him.  However, the artist sees sunflower seeds as a traditional food shared among friends in China and is therefore a symbol of friendship and compassion.  This duality of symbolism creates an interesting insight into the human spirit.  Even in times of strife and struggle, kindness and goodwill continue to survive.

In addition,  Weiwei’s installation offers social commentary on today’s society.  The Tate poses several questions to consider while viewing the seeds:

  • What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society?
  • Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together?
  • What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future?

I had the pleasure of spending some time with this installation last summer, but even after an hour of regarding the Weiwei’s work and contemplating these questions I am no closer to answering them.  Though, I am reminded of a favorite quote, which sums up my general impression of the piece:

What happens to people who spend their lives afraid to voice their opinions? They stop thinking, most likely.

– Ivan Klíma

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¹He was released in June 2011, but remains under scrutiny.

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Sources: 

Tate Modern Exhibition Pages

Ai Weiwei on Wikipedia

The Guardian – Detained Artist Weiwei Remembered . . .

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c.b. 2012

The Guardians

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Iron anchors
guard my sight
Thieving mists
loot the light

Strands of beacons
await the call
Flaring to life
when darkness calls

View of Parliament from the South Embankment, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

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c.b. 2012