Friday, August 22, 2008

The Painter from Shanghai

How many generations does it take before you can officially call something a family tradition? If the answer is two, then we have a family tradition of writing lullabies for our children. My mom used to sing me to sleep, even when I was seven and eight, with a collection of quirky lullabies: Moon River, Your Song, You've Got a Friend, and one I called Baby Bye. It was always my favorite and suited my mom's deep alto well. When I was six or so, as we were walking down the road, I asked her where the song was from, since I had heard the other ones on the radio, but never Baby Bye. So Mom told me that it was my special lullaby, she had written it just for me. It's a simple song, not very long with a chorus, but when I had babies of my own, it was the first song that I sang to them.

I didn't mean to make a family tradition by writing a lullaby for each of my own kids, it just kind of happened. They are completely individual, just like my kids. Doogie's has a line "Everyone else in the world is asleep, except for you my baby sweet," because he never did sleep...ever. I could tell you what was on TV at any given time of the day because I was always awake with him. Molly's starts out "Pretty baby, don't you cry," because she was a pretty baby, and all she ever did was cry. Mia's song is a little different. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I was taking a shower and relishing the feel of the water when I found myself humming a melody I'd never heard before. And the rhythm just happened to fit the nickname we had decided on for the baby. We had picked out the name Amelia Isabelle, but planned on calling her Mia Belle, and the song's opening notes fit perfectly. By the time I got out of the shower, the water was long cold, and I had composed her entire song.

I read somewhere, don't remember where or when, that an African tribe has a tradition of writing a song for each baby, because they believe that each child has their own personal melody. I think it's a beautiful belief, and supports Zephaniah 3:17 that says that God rejoices over each of us with singing. I bet that He has a song for each of us. Mia gets a lullaby every night before bed, and she has two favorites: Mia Belle and the lullaby we share Baby Bye. I hope that when my children sing their own babies to sleep at night they will have three lullabies to share. Mine, theirs, and one created just for their little one.

The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein is the story of famed Chinese artist Pan Yuliang. If the book was fiction (it is a fictionalized biography), it would be impossible to believe that it's true. Yuliang was sold into a brothel at the age of 14 by her opium-addict uncle. The girl initially believed that she was going to do embroidery to support the family. Trained by the brothel's top girl, she shuts down her emotions in order to deal with daily degradations. At seventeen, she meets a Republican official, Pan Zanhua, who quickly makes her his concubine, and eventually second wife. Zanhua supports her interest in art and allows her to enter art school, even when it endangers his position with the government. Yuliang continues to keep her emotions hidden and only allows them to show through her artwork, many of which are self-portrait nudes. Yuliang's story takes place on the sweeping canvas of Chinese civil war and the Japanese invasion. As as her home country tries to determine its new identity (making the book very timely), Yuliang has to determine her own as well. Epstein tackles this amazing story deftly and with compassion, Yuliang suffered much, torn between art and love and was deeply scarred by the sexual abuse she faced for three years. Many artists have faced hunger and poverty, but Yuliang faced so much more, the reader can't help but be awed by the obstacles she faced and overcame, including the destruction of an entire exhibition by anti-Communist forces. The book is well-written and compelling.

The winners of this week's contest were Amanda Rice and Karen Lasater. Congratulations you two! I'm starting another contest next week, so make sure you stop back then! Today's pic is of my pretty baby, Molly, and me from camp.