art ~ spirit ~ transformation
e*lix*ir

e*lix*ir   #16
Twin Birthdays 2023
Essays
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial

The Art of a Loving Correspondence

The Writing Life

Trust in Poetry by Tami Haaland

Features

The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, A collaborative work by poet Sandra Lynn Hutchison, composer Margaret Henderson, and painter Inger Gregory
Writing Music for The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, by Margaret Henderson

Poetry

Heather Anne Hutchison
Victor Kulkosky
Linette Kuy

Essays

The Art of Losing by Victor Kulkosky
Yearning for Water: The Story of a Traveling Quilt by Bradford Miller

Personal Reflections on Bahá’í Texts

Fire and Paradise by James Andrews

Letters

Dreaming of a Better Iran: A Letter to Our Fellow Citizens by Eight Bahá’í Students

Translations

“I Want to Walk With You” translated by Bashir Sayyah

Comics

Ruhi & Riaz by Eira

Voices of Iran

Keeping the Eternal Garden by Maryam Afzal and Saam Mozafari
Mrs. Mansouri’s Mission by Shahrzad Mohebbi
Nothing but the Sanctity of the Desert by Nazgol Adyani
Five Days by Bahar Rohani

Interviews

Art and the Creative Process: An Interview with Hooper C. Dunbar by Nancy Lee Harper
An Interview with Erfan Hosseini, Santur Player by Mehrsa Mastoori

Arts

Paintings by Hooper C. Dunbar

State of the Art

Books for Children by Allison Grover Khoury

Looking Back on Books

Forty-eight Fragments by Imelda Maguire
The Divine Melody: Song of the Mystic Dove by Lorraine Hétu Manifold
Walking to Martha’s Vineyard by Franz Wright
Soul of the Maine House by Bradford Miller

Films

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in France by Perry Productions


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Ann Sheppard

The Art of Losing

by VICTOR KULKOSKY

It’s a guarantee — the longer you live, the more you lose. Such an assertion may sound banal, until the losses add up and you feel the meaning behind the words: wife, father, dear neighbors, and dearest, irreplaceable friends, all lost.

I have given up many things, lost them. I emptied and sold the house where I’d spent most of my marriage, where I raised our child and made a life. I had one sob session over this, and then it was over. Ultimately, a house is just a building, and all the stuff I gave away or threw out was just that — stuff. The memories are still with me.

I’m losing my health. I have Parkinson’s and atrial fibrillation. I’m losing energy. Bit by bit, I will lose my functioning. Yes, there are promising treatments in the works, but there’s no guarantee any of them will be available in time, or that they’ll work for me. And already, my health has led me to give up, or lose, the job I’d had for twenty years, reporting at a local newspaper.

I felt I could no longer do the job to the standards to which I aspired, so I gave up half the job, the half in which I reported news — government, crime, community events, and so on — but kept reporting local school sports, the part of the job that gave me the most joy. But covering and photographing sports started to wear on me. I was no longer getting turbo-charged by each game. I would be worn out halfway through a game; it started to feel like a chore. School sports was no longer useful to me, and so I quit that too. It was a voluntary loss, let’s say.

Recently, the Peach County Board of Education recognized me for “Outstanding Service to Peach County Schools.” The recognition was for doing more than simply reporting; it was for making a difference — the difference I kept doubting — for “work done in spirit of service to humanity,” as a form of prayer. After I posted a photo of the certificate on Facebook, I got a hundred and eighty reactions and a hundred positive comments, for something I’d just given up.

Those days are behind me, and for all the kudos, I sit day after day alone, counting my losses. After I retired at the end of last year, I planned to dedicate myself to the creative side of life, in writing and in photography. So far, the photography, which is physically challenging, hasn’t gotten off the ground. If push comes to shove, I might decide to sell the gear and get some money out of it, but not yet.

I signed up for a class thinking I’d shift my poetry into high gear. I’ve gone back to writing it for a couple of years. I told myself this was my chance to do what I’d kept denying myself. At first, the course didn’t go as planned. My poetry, written only sporadically over several decades, would need more work than I anticipated to reach a level of quality that would count as ‘literature.’ It might be that prose, which I’ve been writing continuously for forty years, could be the most productive focus, with poetry in second place. For a while, I contemplated dropping out of the course, but to quit at that point would be to continue a pattern of retreating at the first hint of friction, from anything that might be ‘too hard.’

But what’s too hard? What are the criteria for too hard?

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie A League of Their Own, which is based on the true story of a women’s pro baseball league that ran for a few years during World War II, when there was a chance the major leagues might shut down. In this particular scene, Dottie (Geena Davis) has packed her bags and is leaving before the season ends, due to emotional issues. The manager, Jimmy (Tom Hanks), tries to stop her. They’ve bonded during the movie; she helped him sober up. He tells her he knows how much she loves the game and that if she leaves now, she’ll regret it for the rest of her life.

“It just got too hard!” she blurts out.

Then comes one of these glorious little speeches that still occasionally make movies worth watching.

“It’s supposed to be hard! If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

“It’s the hard that makes it great,” or at least makes it worthwhile. It’s the hard that requires sacrificing something: preconceptions, illusions, time and energy that could be spent on other things. Hard choices mean giving up some things to gain other things — loss for gain. Poetry for prose? We can’t only gain; we are destined to lose.

I’m reminded of a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art:”

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster

If you know anything about Bishop’s life, you will immediately notice that this poem seems to trivialize the major losses she suffered. When Bishop was a child, relatives in effect kidnapped her to get her away from her mentally ill mother. Her mother was institutionalized and Bishop never saw her again. As an adult, Bishop lived with a female partner in Brazil for twenty years. They had a falling out and Bishop returned to the U.S. Her partner came to see Bishop in New York, then died by suicide the next day.

I believe the villanelle form of “One Art” helps to contain the powerful emotions from losses that appear to be so casually tossed off in the poem. And I think the poem does acknowledge the fact of loss in its own quirky, dignified way, dignified in the sense of refusing to make a public fuss about something as inevitable as loss. Although, after saying this, I’m afraid I’m right now reacting more with the manic energy of Sylvia Plath. Maybe I’ll forge a third way?

Loss isn’t one way. We must cast off things in order to hear the voice of God. As He tells us in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Get rid of the busyness, the clamor, all of the refuse swirling around in your mind, so you can hear Him. Lose to gain. I think of Joni Mitchell’s song, “Both Sides Now,” but the 2000 version, rather than the 1960’s version, which a snob might dismiss as the faux profundity of a space cadet drawing flowers in her notebook when she should be doing algebra.

In the mature version, Mitchell’s voice is husky with age and cigarettes, the lines come out with languor on top of an almost campy, lush orchestra. The artwork shows her sitting alone at a bar, a drink in front of her, cigarette in hand, the smoke curling away into oblivion. She looks like a jaded barfly, pondering love and loss with regret, and so we can truly believe her when she sings: “Well something’s lost, but something’s gained, in living every day.” But we still have to live.

We have to live now because there is still something we must gain. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said the only things we take with us are our virtues. Whatever I ‘have’ right now, I will lose, or would do well to give up. “O My Servant! Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more.” (Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden words, from the Persian, No. 40.) Whatever I hold on to is the “fetters of this world” and “the prison of self.”

And so, here I am, possibly already in the wilderness, spiritually, the place where it’s easier to hear the voice of God. How much have I ever really had? I’ve always loved the stark beauty of so-called “barren places,” their dead or dormant trees. I’d prefer to visit the Badlands or Death Valley before Yellowstone or Yosemite. But before I go into a real wilderness with Parkinson’s and I fall and disappear until my skeletal remains are found in a year or two, I can start discarding stuff right here in Fort Valley, Georgia. There will be tears, as there are when someone scatters the ashes of a loved one, letting go and releasing, but still mourning. Let me finish with these words by Elizabeth Bishop: “Time to plant tears, says the almanac.” (“Sestina”)



Victor Kulkosky
Bio:   Victor Kulkosky recently retired from a more than twenty-year-long career in community journalism, during which he covered local government, education, crime, culture, and school sports. He made special efforts to cover girls’ sports and less-popular sporting events. In his retirement, he is undertaking a systematic study of the Bahá’í Writings as well as pursuing his interest in creative writing and photography. He is cautiously exploring how to weave the Bahá’í Faith into his creative work. He spent the first half of his life in New York City and now lives in Fort Valley, Georgia. He has journalism degrees from Fort Valley State University and the University of Georgia.