For the new year, I’m taking inspiration from Lauren Redniss, author of the recent

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout.  The book is an illustrated biography of Marie and Pierre Curie, and Redniss made her images through a process called cyanotype. It involves exposing chemically-treated paper to sunlight, which turns the backgrounds a fantastic blue.  Redniss also designed a book cover that glows in the dark (“I had it written into my contract”), paying homage to the Curies’ discovery, radioactivity.


She designed a font for the typeface, too: a curvy intellectual type that she named Eusapia LR, “for the croquet-playing, sexually ravenous Italian Spiritualist medium whose séances the Curies attended. Yup,” she says on her homepage.


Her typed lines of narrative curl around her pictures and often come in anapests, chunks of meter that skip until landing heavier on their third foot.  Lines that use anapest sound grave with a sense of direction: ba ba BUM.  In the line below, I’d stress “home,” “learn,” “hus,” and “dead.”  Then, the first syllables of “flowers,” “picked,” “country,” “fresh,” and “table.”


“Marie returned home to learn that her husband was dead.  The flowers he had picked in the country remained fresh on the table.  His grey watch, recovered from the scene of the accident, still ticked away the time.”


You land heavy on the last word, “time,” with a sense of having arrived.  We’re in the hands of a lyrical narrator who knows history.  Here’s the image she made for those lines:




Redniss often embeds touching details in commas (in the line above: “recovered from the scene of the accident”).  These embedded phrases save details that would otherwise get lost in a rush of wordier history.  “They took their honeymoon on bicycles, riding along the coast of Brittany and into the French countryside, her handlebars festooned with flowers.”  Redniss saves the dangling flowers even while submerging them in a naturally half-forgotten phrase, in commas.


I’m inspired by Redniss’s sense of the way danger relates to beauty.  She reports that as Marie Curie became obsessed with work, Curie started sleeping with a jar of glowing radium by her pillow. “Radioactivity had made the Curies immortal.  Now it was killing them.”  That jar by the bed is that artistic passion that moves you as it hurts you, that feels nauseatingly hard to produce but is the way to express your talents.


Redniss herself works with detail in a difficult way, with a rough originality in her images and words.


I see radioactivity too—an affair between beauty and ugliness—in the cupcakes that Redniss makes, shown on her website:



I see her eye for the beauty in ugliness in the photos she takes “for fun,” here:



As the New Year comes, I'm taking some cues from Redniss and her hero, Curie.  Embrace what's hurting me if it's also expressing me.  Allow myself to make ugly cupcakes.  Try for surprise in my work (too often I'm strung to the logical).  Continue to marry images and words.


What are your resolutions?


Ilana Simons is a therapist, literature professor, and author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Visit her website here.

by on ‎01-01-2011 12:44 AM

I commend you, to marriage

my resolutions? 

to stay away 

it's been a ride, and a half

happy new year

by on ‎01-02-2011 12:51 PM

Hi Ilana,


The word 'contradiction' comes to mind, once again.  How do we find those contradictions, as in myself, or others, or things in nature?  Accept them?  Express them?


I can't make resolutions, because I contradict them.  I am who I am today, and who am I tomorrow?  I would like to think I can exercise more, or lose some of that weight I put on this summer, or write more, or have at least a regime to stick to....but I can't seem to settle down, or more bluntly, pin myself down to something  I can stick to.  My resolution was to stay away from this blog....the days I think I write to much on it.


Spontaneity, regimen

beauty, ugly

logical, illogical

hot, cold

hurt, soothe


pain = punishment, penalty, discomfort = throbbing, aching = one that irks or annoys, etc., etc., etc., I a pain in the ass for being on this blog so often, expounding anything and everything that comes to my mind?  One day I beat myself up for it.... the next day, it doesn't matter so much.


Emotional, unemotional

free, strangled

joyous, tearful

to please, rejected

and this is where the tears meld into each other.  To laugh so hard, the tears flow.


Last week I got an injection into my wrist.  To say this was painful, would be an understatement.  I didn't cry.  Physical pain can't seem to penetrate that hard exterior I have, but show me a pile of rejected Christmas trees along side the road, and it makes me cry!  This is what I saw, and felt, this week, and this is what I write about.


I wonder, at these breaking point;  I wonder just how close we have to come before we can recognize that this ugliness, this pain, these feelings, whatever they are we see in ourselves, becomes the beauty that has been lying dormant for so many years?  Is it the test of time that brings them to the surface, before we recognize who we are?  Is it wrong that I'm moved by these subjects in these blogs?   If I've been a pain in the ass, I'm sorry, but that seems to be who I am.  Take me, or leave me.....No excuses, no resolutions.




by on ‎01-02-2011 02:57 PM

Psychology is the biggest contradiction of all, I've found, especially when it's held within the mind of an artist.  We're continual taking things apart...not just looking at the object, or person, from the objective outside, but going into, as if you have to become one with the subject to fully believe what you see, or hold within your mind.


Making physical art, as in painting, or sculpting, etc., is a contradiction to writing. 


Psychology demands you to look at words, and the more you know about words, the more you're forced to see. Of course, that incorporates body language as well.  Physical art, you can step away from, view, see, and, not the amount of thinking is words produced in that realm of psychology.


Love - Hate - Relationships - These are the strongest feelings, inside of me, that contradicts, which pushes me to writing, or creating. A force field in the mind.  I saw those Christmas trees....they once meant joy....then an overwhelming sadness took place.


And the contradictions: The biggest joy I find, is when I've created a set of bookends for an author (my interpretations/pictures of that novel) ones in which only the author, and myself, know what they say.  No words are written on them, or near them.  No words are said...none are's felt.  Sharing a creative space with someone, in like mind, has a feeling like no other I've found


Other than for illustrations, I can't mix these two mediums, writing and pictures.  Two very contradictory subject matter.  I'm not that exceptional, that I can marry them with equal balance.  That's why I commend anyone who can.


Creativity vs Psychology....are they at odds?  When trying to find out what each means, do we find these contradictions?.....We don't always like what we we find this love-hate relationship?  Within ourselves?  


by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎01-03-2011 05:41 PM

Ah, this looks like a great book. I keep discovering more wonderful books; I need to discover wonderful places to pass them on to others, as books and cats proliferate in my place. Cliche but true.


Love this post: I appreciate the way you've pointed out how syntax--sentence construction--can carry emotion. When you show how Redniss embeds details in phrases, hung from sentences by commas, that most delicate and useful of punctuation, you reveal that grammar and style are tools, not rules. Thanks for a great piece!

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎01-04-2011 08:00 AM

Thanks Kathy and Ellen for the helpful posts.

Ellen, I am on board with you that syntax is the writer's tool, the way to build a little house.

by on ‎01-04-2011 11:24 AM

No, thank you, Ilana. I sometimes feel like I'm the chaff, mixed with the grain; you have to thresh me to maybe, if you're lucky, find a kernel.


I punched in the word, Muse, in my handy-dandy Franklin, and found a word I'd never heard:  Cerebrate.  It sounds like Celebrate, to me!  So, on this day, I deem thee and thy blog, thy Muse and thy Bucket,,,,,to catch a falling kernel.


Muse v, to think about in some depth.












mull over

think over

take thought

chew over

dwell on


turn it over in one's mind

***** to indulge in reverie



***** be lost in thought

by on ‎01-06-2011 09:21 AM

I can't get this subject out of my head.  It's been keeping me awake at night, and making me rise too early.


The cliche, beauty is only skin deep, runs in a circle, around and around in my mind.... I wrote a little story, short to be exact, and it was called, The Little Pumpkin.  I wrote it just after Halloween.  This conversation on ugliness, and beauty, and finding what's inside, is in this story, in this little pumpkin, once eyes are cut on his "thin skin"  you see what is inside of him.


I also attempted to eat a cupcake this week. And thought of this subject.  This cupcake was beautiful to look at, but as soon as I touched it, it fell apart, it crumbled in my hands, and fell into my lap.  It was dry, and tasteless.


So, Ilana, what do you see, and what do you feel?  I asked you this, a long time ago, when you paint your portraits....if viewing what is ugly in yourself, and embracing it is what is necessary, then I think that's the beauty you will find, paint and write.


I viewed all of these pictures by Lauren Redniss, and saw something in them.  She embraces her pictures, with her words.  She colors them, moves them, taking her readers with her.  Flow is what I saw.


I just now started reading The Hours, and finding it difficult going.  I'm trying to embrace Cunningham.  His sadness haunts me.  He is a master of translation, but he is no Virginia.  For all the commas, and semicolons, he pauses, and moves you through words, but he's still no Virginia.   But, I'll accept what he writes, because he has done a masterful job of putting words down on paper.

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎01-06-2011 04:51 PM


Thanks for the thoughtful note.  I agree with you about Cunningham.  He's got so much Virginia in him, but he aint Virginia.  You're right about those commas aching to ressurect Virginia.


I ran into Cunningham in the coffee shop the other day and made him snap a photo with me.  my hair is too gell-ed.


Thanks for the thought that if I follow what I got, I might find flow or beauty.  This has been hard to believe lately, because, as I told you, I've been curating an art show with some incredible artists, and I included myself in the show, and so now my work is hanging next to indelible beauties.  Embarrassing.  But it's also been so interesting: a lesson in "here are the things I am good at" and "here are the things I haven't found success in" and "how can I value what I do in my own way?"

by on ‎01-06-2011 07:44 PM

Thanks for the pics, curly locks.....Okay, you're still real, and smiling.  I believe in Never-Neverland.  I hope you told Cunningham how much we love him?


I think it's great that you included yourself in this show.  I also think you do have flow, and you do have beauty...your portraits are my you wrote in your just have to believe.  If you don't mind my asking, what are you exhibiting in the show?


Don't be embarrassed, these people, whomever they are, are not you.  And you are the most unique person I've had the pleasure of knowing.  It's all a learning curve, of balancing shapes and colors.... trying things on to see if they fit...what's new and different, changing it up to make it your own...sometimes the process is just plain ol hard work, and it takes time to get it the way you want it. 


The insecurities of the artist run rampant....Value has to come from inside.  You taught me that....  Confidence.  I think we all meet this value differently, though, depending on who we are, and the medium.  I can lose my confidence over night.


I see you as a meeting it head on kind of person, then stepping back to sort through it.  I may be wrong.  I tend to sort things through, mull it over a bunch, which can be my downfall at times  - Take classes -  Before I step into the big pit of gooey tar, I have to make sure there are no dinosaurs lurking about!  Spontaneity is a good thing, as long as you know what you're doing, first...Ha!  Have fun, right?  Don't make art...unfun.

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