Steps in the Journey: “Strangers on the Earth” at the Cleveland International Film Festival

A film review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

Life is onward.

As I drove from my home in rural Lucas, Ohio, to the Cleveland International Film Festival to see Strangers on the Earth, Tuesday, April 4th, I received a text that I had just become an uncle (well, actually, great-uncle) again. My niece Michelle, the closest thing this crusty bachelor will ever have to a daughter, had just given birth to her first baby, a son named Javier. A new life beginning a journey.

On the return trip a few hours later, I received another message: My beloved friend Kimberly Orsborn had passed away in hospice care. She steered me to the newspaper job that gave me a port in the storm in 2007 when I was transitioning out of the corporate world and into the creative world. In 2009, Kim left that small-town rag and began life as a free-lance writer. That same year, she was diagnosed with a malignant, fast-moving breast cancer. The doctors gave her months. She made it eight years.

Kim beat the odds to live many more seasons because she kept moving, kept doing, kept finding ways around the fog of “chemo-brain.” Before she was done, she said that cancer had ended up being one of the great gifts of her life, something that made her stop and relish every moment of her existence, before continuing on, more aware of her surroundings than before. It deepened her journey.

SOTE the way

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrimage path featured in the documentary “Strangers on the Earth,” presented this month at the Cleveland International Film Festival. (Photos by Kayla Arend courtesy of Fisterra Productions.)

So, a film about a journey is a good forum for savoring the life in us and around us. But how many feet can walk a road before it becomes a stampede? Strangers on the Earth is a film by Tristan Cook about the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of northern Spain. Dedicated to the Christian Saint James (who is said to be buried in Compostela), the way actually co-opted an older Celtic sacred pathway and Roman trading route running from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
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Does God Work in Mysterious Ways? Hell, Yes.

A review by Mark Sebastian Jordan of the Renaissance Theater’s production “Sister Act.”

It’s not my business here to outrage anyone of a traditional religious bent (though I probably will), but I have devoted my life to finding the places where the truly sacred happens, beatnik beattitudes instead of by-the-rote platitudes. And, truth is, I found my God on Sunday. In a rowdy theater.

I’m not much of a musical comedy person, despite my years in theater. I have performed a grand total of one (1) singing role in a musical, and it may surprise no one to hear that I was drawn to do the part of Benjamin Franklin in 1776, as he’s my hero. But acting, directing, and writing plays has taught me to recognize the infusion of spirit when I see it, and I saw it Sunday in the Renaissance Theater’s performance of Sister Act. Continue reading

The Southern Yankee Visits Mansfield

dan-newlandDan Newland was born and raised in Wapakoneta, Ohio, but has lived and worked in South America since 1973 as a journalist, editor, and freelance writer. While on a recent return visit to the states, he ventured over to Mansfield in the company of his friends (and former high school classmates) Jim Bowsher and Joerdie Fisher, who asked me to help give Dan a whirlwind tour of Mansfield and Malabar Farm. Dan has published a three-part series, full of astute observations and interesting pictures, on his blog, The Southern Yankee, detailing his reflections on the vitality he saw persisting and springing up anew in Mansfield.

Part One: http://southernyankeewriter.blogspot.com.ar/2016/12/mansfield-trip-on-joerdies-magic-carpet.html

Part Two: http://southernyankeewriter.blogspot.com.ar/2016/12/mansfield-part-2-rust-belt-icon.html

Part Three: http://southernyankeewriter.blogspot.com.ar/2017/01/mansfield-part-3-allure-of-malabar-farm.html

A Voice of Survival and Regeneration: A Review of “40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses”

40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses by Chico’s Brother

                    A review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

You wanna hear America right now?

It ain’t some chest-thumping, dumbed-down recycled-classic-rock with a yella-dog-in-a-pickup-truck-with-a-red-hatted-good-ol-bubba making Merica meth again. It ain’t the scratchy skirl of a Scottish fiddle playing a weathered tune, it ain’t the trip-skittle of hard bop, not the altered states of a Mahler mind-field, not The Beatles, no Nirvana, and it sure as fuck ain’t the latest auto-tuned non-entity sliding across the charts of lucre.

You wanna hear America right now? This is it. Folk ‘n’ urban, sweet as candy, and ready to cut you. Chico’s Brother, harmonious and alienating, narrative and nonsense, avant-ghetto, is the expression of Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, resident of Mansfield, Ohio, and elsewhere. He’s a stew of ethnic and cultural storms, rich in voice, startlingly open and maddeningly elusive, like everything and like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

street-scene

Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz is Chico’s Brother, the prince of Midwestern avant-ghetto. (Photo courtesy of Michael Pfahler.)

 

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Jackboots and Sinful Fishes

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Jackboots and Sinful Fishes: The Prophecies of Mahler’s Resurrection.

I love all music, but I’m a classical music nut. I’m also a bit like a vegan mentioning eating habits: if the subject comes up, people soon find my favorite composer is Gustav Mahler. I first heard his music when I was twelve and exploring the classics via a stack of old vinyl records my mom picked up for me at Goodwill.

I was hooked on the classics by my elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Lumadue, who one day played Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in our weekly class. The dark rich colors, pulsing rhythms, and delicious tang of that music perked up my attention so much, I came in after class and asked to listen to it again. Before long, I was exploring her record collection instead of going out to recess, looking up the composers of this strange and wonderful music in encyclopedias. This wildly varying, unpredictable art form immediately struck me as being more like life, more like nature than anything playing on the radio I was forced to endure on the school bus every day. I found a better world. And I found who I was with that music. Many things create a person, but I could not have been the person I am without classical music.

But the big bomb didn’t drop until I was working my way through my stack of records and found a piece of music by some guy I’d never heard of. Gustav Mahler, born 1860, died 1911. It was an excerpt from his Symphony No. 1 on a sampler of recordings by the great German conductor Bruno Walter. I loved the record’s other contents, Beethoven, Brahms, Johann Strauss and such, but who was this Mahler guy? Mrs. Lumadue never mentioned him. Continue reading

Purposing in the Heart of the Borderland

I was shaken today when I went up to the northern Ohio town of L_____ to do some research for a history talk I have coming up next month. So often people complain about Mansfield, but today I saw a town tottering on its last legs. Imagine the worst blocks in Mansfield going on for entire neighborhoods, to the vanishing point. Street after street of abandoned, falling-down houses, mold-filled forgotten churches, a homeless shelter shutting down because the building is eroding around them.

It’s stark out there, my friends.

What we have already done down here to bring life to this little town on the hill is vibrant and nothing short of astonishing. I don’t know if it is enough to cut through the rising red-hatted dark tide, I don’t know if it can spark the dead eyes like those I saw strewn around L_____ today, but I want to try. I want to do something. Maybe I’m not much more than some joker that spews pretty words. Or maybe it is more. Maybe I do things & we all do things with words and images and sound that heal wounded people. It’s what I have to give, and this blog is another way to give it. I’m grateful for the chance to make somebody’s—anybody’s— life a little less dark.

Mark Sebastian Jordan

December 12, 2016

Pronouncement: An Invocation for the Standing Rock Benefit Concert, Mansfield, Ohio, December 9, 2016

Pronouncement

 

who speaks

who speaks

 

who speaks

who speaks

 

who speaks

who speaks

 

the hollow-cheeked mother of winter

is pulling her gray cloak across the sky

is pulling her white blanket across the ground

 

who speaks

who speaks

 

memories of the dead, the ones

who shaped families and lives

and hunted and farmed and worked

still linger in the still air

 

who speaks

who speaks

 

coyotes on a distant hill

snarl for scraps of power

until their masters in tall towers

blaze their shock collars

 

who speaks

who speaks

 

all the sad madmen rumble their trucks

hulking on the horizon—drill baby drill—

star-n-barring it from the land of kingdom went

to the door of the bulging bank

 

who speaks

who speaks

who speaks

 

We speak.

 

 

By Mark Sebastian Jordan