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Archive for March, 2007

Monkey Mind - Don’t Feed the Monkey, photo by QuoinMonkey, March 2007, all rights reserved                                                                                                                                                                       -Monkey Mind, Don’t Feed the Monkey, March 10th, 2007

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Time to get to the heart of the beast. Silent predator. Guardian. Of what? The intangible tangerine. I miss the silence. The scheduled flights West. I will be going East, end of May, beginning of June. Geography. The Monkey may follow me. To the heart of the South. Breeding some nameless representation of gangly limbs and chirping mouths, receding gums. Wreeereeereereeree. My allergies are acting up. Doubts creep in. At the center is a thing that is less than me.

Everyone seems so confident on TV. What happened to Mister Ed? Airplane glue? Remember those models you used to put together? Cars. They were model cars. A 57 Chevy. Ford Model T. A 63 Volkswagen. But me, I put together models of Frankenstein’s wife. I read Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe. The Fly. Tom Sawyer, too. I could never get into books about Victorian women in crinoline dresses. I wanted to. But I couldn’t.

Wait, I don’t have allergies? I am allergic to work. I’m tired. I need rest. I’m heading to Duluth, to sit by the Mother Lake, the womb of the earth, half Canadian, half American, and skim stones across the surface. It’s the tension that holds them up, the rocks, I mean. The draw bridge will rise. The snow will be gone. The wind will blow. On Park Point Beach the gulls will be flying. You will run in the rain like last time. There were dying butterflies out of season. Come to think of it, there were beetles running along the sand.

Skittering.

One summer I went with a friend and sat on the beach. I didn’t know her well. We laughed so much. And had a picnic in the sand. I got so burnt, I had to have a friend bring aloe vera and Solarcaine over the next day. I couldn’t move. I think it was the last thing we ever did together, the last time I saw her. I never think of her anymore. Except, look, there she is on the page.

That’s what happens. People come and they go. But when you are linked by blood, someone usually remembers what happened. Is that what they mean when they say blood is thicker than water?

Don’t feed the Monkey. Or as least if you do, make him tell you the time.

Friday, March 30th, 2007  

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memoir

1567, from Anglo-Fr. memorie “note, memorandum, something written to be kept in mind” (1427), from L. memoria (see memory). Meaning “person’s written account of his life” is from 1673. The pl. form memoirs “personal record of events,” first recorded 1659. 
                                             – from the Online Etymology Dictionary

 ______________________


I’ve been thinking about memoir, the word, the difficulty people have pronouncing it. If you write creative nonfiction, chances are you read memoir. I am reading Bone Black, the bell hooks memoir about growing up in the South. Reading other writers jogs the memory.

My thoughts are pulled to the South because my step-mother in South Carolina passed away a few days ago. I wasn’t close to her, and had not seen her in a few years. Yet when I heard the news, I was flooded with memories of the time I spent with her.

That is the power of memoir.

I have a great sadness at her passing, though our relationship wasn’t as much about the present, as it was the past. Memoir is about the past. It revives and documents the history of living. History is full of contradiction.

Some of the sadness I feel is for my step-dad, who I was very close to as a child. In honoring his loss, I am sad, too. But the grief for me is deeper.

The most vivid memories of my step-mother are from the mid-sixties, my preteen years, a tumultuous time when my younger sister, two brothers, and I were uprooted and moved to the North. It was a difficult transition, and painful to be distanced from my family in the South – the only family I had ever known.

Looking back, it turned out for the best. I was exposed to a whole new culture in the North, different ways of thinking, talking, and living. I met my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Juarez, who made me read Dickens, believed in me, and inspired me to write. My experiences grew richer. All of them have led me here.

It has been 4 years since I’ve seen my step-mother; it was the year I quit my job and started writing. My last memories of her are leaning back in her rocker recliner, laughing and joking with us kids. We were all grown, well into middle age, attending a short reunion a few miles south of the border river that flows between Georgia and South Carolina – the Savannah.

Grandkids and great-grandkids were running, dancing, and jumping across the dark brick family room between rounds of lazy adult chatter and a noisy TV. I used to watch The Trooper Terry Show in that room, on a black and white with rabbit ears. It was the same 202 address, with the same aluminum mailbox, that received my letters to my step-dad in back slanted 6th grade handwriting.

The letters would soon drop off in 7th grade, a direct correlation to the rising teenage anger that welled up inside me. I attended New Cumberland Junior High in Pennsylvania and was teased mercilessly for my Southern accent. It wasn’t easy to change the way I talked. They might as well have asked me to cut off my right index finger. Yet, eventually, I did lose the accent. And ties to my Southern roots became confusing and disjointed.

It would take me a number of years to integrate and appreciate my past. That’s what memoir’s for. And in a few months, I’ll be travelling with my Mother to the South to begin researching my book.

Old endings. New beginnings.

I have done a lot of work since the sixties. A lot of letting go. On one of the last visits with my step-mother and step-dad, they told me how different I was from that dark, brooding teenager that sat in the corner rocker and never spoke. Those were their last memories of me.

When you don’t see distant relatives much, you tend to freeze them in place, lock them into distance and time. They are who they were the last time you visited them. But it works both ways. I am frozen, too – a still-frame snapshot in their memories.

Letting go is a great gift. It allows me to make room for all the good stuff. My memories may only be trinkets, shards of 40 year old bone, unearthed from iron-rich banks of Georgia clay that used to muddy my corduroys as a kid.

But my memories are mine. I choose to remember my step-mother for all the good things she gave the world, for what I loved about her:


  • Southern manners, the way she turned a phrase, the lawdy mercies! and come here, shugah’s, and my pet name for Liz, Shug
  • her warm smile, the way she laughed, a loud cackle that could fill a room
  • Southern cooking, buttery mashed potatoes with thick gravy, piping hot cornbread that melts in your mouth, spinach greens with just the right touch of vinegar and salt, fresh turkey and cornbread dressing, sweet iced tea, and a huge vat of homemade banana pudding. That girl could cook!
  • sipping 7up through a straw with me that time I was sick and laid up on the couch
  • she liked to go bare foot, paint her toenails bright red, and always wore flip-flops
  • she loved Granny and Pop the way I loved Granny and Pop
  • she loved the youngin’s, the babies, and hugged them every chance she got
  • she loved my step-dad, who I love, too


I live in the Midwest now. I walked the labyrinth on Monday and thought about how swiftly a little girl can shoot from 11 to 50, with barely a sneeze in between. My step-mother’s passing marks another fading link to my Southern childhood, roots whose stories die with the people who planted them.

I don’t remember the last time I openly grieved. We live in a youth-driven culture that does not emotionally or financially support taking quiet time to honor loss. But writing is a constant process of letting go.

It’s important to live well. Each time someone close to me passes on, it reminds me that this one life is precious. And the threat of death makes you want to live just a little bit harder.

In memory of my step-mother, Betty, who travelled into Spirit, Wednesday, March 28th, 2007, and is being laid to rest as I post this.

For all that has passed, and all that has been forgiven.


Friday, March 30th, 2007

-related to post, Labyrinth Walker

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I am a simple person. I like that I can walk the labyrinth, read bell hooks, and love Stephen King, all in the same week.

I love mysteries, used to devour them. And his books were the ones I packed into heavy cardboard boxes, lugged down two flights of stairs, and schlepped up another one when I moved out of my apartment of 14 years last December.

When I was checking out creative writing blogs, I ran into a 1988 Stephen King article on del.icio.us. A lot of rivers have been sucked dry since 1988. But you can still find a pool to swim in on his list.

There is more at the link – click and roll down to the bottom of the page for his lively explanations, banterish backup, and the story of how Stephen King learned to write. This is bare bones.

Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes
by Stephen King

1.    Be talented

2.    Be neat

3.    Be self-critical

4.    Remove every extraneous word

5.    Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft

6.    Know the markets

7.    Write to entertain

8.    Ask yourself frequently, “Am I having fun?”

9.    How to evaluate criticism

10.  Observe all rules for proper submission

11.  An agent? Forget it. For now

12.  If it’s bad, kill it

(reprinted in Sylvia K. Burack, ed. The Writer’s Handbook. Boston, MA: Writer, Inc., 1988: 3-9, copyright Stephen King, 1988)

del.icio.us

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

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i come here often
to ponder higher learning
ice like busted glass


crinkly brown leaves glow
first bare feet of the season
away from center


cool black mud follows
the ripple of blowing hair
under secret feet


out of season wind
shadowboxing the bare elm
blending crabapple


winding in and out
green spouts under black pant cuff
gnat, a rising star


twisted shadow branch
you can walk any season
while going nowhere


juicy green center
the perimeter is dry
sweat between my legs


grubby spring tadpole
dark undertones on the lake
snap to attention


winter is over
from crumbling insanity
springs eternal life


humbled by the saints
who walked tight curves before me
moon high in the sky


talking to Louis
in lotus blossom petals
Chartres calls me home


sun hot on white face
naked feet to unthawed ground
mosquito flits by


near the end of March
how bad i need a haircut
stepping in the door


wavy grass petals
undefined by crooked lines
spikes from a spiral


tennis ball popping
off a catgut racket head
damp earth underfoot


rings of blanket ice
i miss the snowy season
the itch in my nose


lone fly buzzes by
a leaf between pasty toes
yells, “March 25th!”


I stopped at Porky’s
remembered the fire pig year
grass grows as I walk


on the edge again
a stubborn leaf pricked my sole
out came a reindeer


a woman walks near
fire red pants & orange striped top
she wants what i have


drive peace & spread love
dare it to follow you here
chasing a faux tale


part of my practice
mixes raw heat with cold fire
a mother’s last wish


-haiku from labyrinth walk, March 26th, 2007

-related to post, Spring Walk and Labyrinth Walker

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Labyrinth - March 26th, 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved                  

spring walk, March 26th, 2007, entrance to labyrinth, St. Paul, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-related to post, labyrinth walker

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I walked the labyrinth yesterday. It was 83 degrees in the Twin Cities on a March 26th. Shirts were off, motorcycles tuned, potholes exposed. The temperature threw me. Three weeks ago, we were knee deep in the worst blizzard in 25 years.

I took off my Land’s End quilted moccasins, stripped off my wool socks, rolled up my pant cuffs, and started walking. The cool mud under my feet grounded me. Twenty minutes to the center. Fifteen minutes out.

The journey out is always faster. I don’t know why.

I sat at the center of 6 lotus drops with undefined edges. Growing blades of grass mark the petals in other seasons. But we are only a few days on this side of Spring.

I wrote haiku into a Supergirl pocket tablet with the new Space Pen Liz gave me last week. And then I plopped on my back, legs straight out, and stared at the sky. The moon was backlit against a crisp New Mexico blue. I snapped a few photographs from my position on the ground. I had a thought of David Bowie – planet earth to moon, planet earth to moon.

I was thinking about my step-mother in South Carolina as I walked. She’s been sick, bedridden for some time. My brother called from Pennsylvania on Sunday to tell me that my step-dad wanted me to know – her time may be short. I prayed for her as I walked. But if it is her time to let go, I prayed for the strength it would take to surrender.

With the cool earth at my back, in the center of 41 feet of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet labyrinth, my brother called on the cell. I had forgotten to turn it off. I debated whether or not to answer it. But I knew what he was calling about. So I flipped open the phone.

I told him where I was. He smiled; I could hear it in his voice. We talked for only a few minutes. But the connection felt true.

I sat a few minutes longer, observing a twisted shadow in the distance across the lawn. The walk out moved quickly. I stepped. I wrote. I swerved out of the lines to let a woman pass on the rutted path. She nodded and whispered, “Thank you.”

Each toe dropped to the earth in tune. I can’t tell you how good it felt to have bare feet on earth. In the space between winter and spring, I had both feet firmly planted on the ground. It was the first time in weeks.


Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

-related to post, Labyrinth

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