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Archive for June, 2007

It’s the end of June. ybonesy and I will be traveling over the next two weeks. Different times and separate destinations. Expect slight delays, possible blasts of summer rain, seeds of a sunset poppy, the beat of a gyrfalcon.

Tonight I feel like poetry. Away from home, there is ground in the simple. A blinding light pours through the picture window. And I am not alone.


Fourth Moon (June)
by Li Ho

Cool dawns and dusks
lots of shade
a thousand emerald mountains
rising toward the clouds

a fragrant rain
patters through green foliage
thick leaves and blossoms
shine behind gates
water in the pools
quivers with green ripples

in heavy summer
blossoms expect to fall
fading red flowers
glowing in light and shade.


…every day he would go out riding on a donkey….with a tapestry bag. As he wandered through the countryside, he would compose poems and toss them into the bag. At home in the evening, he would dump out his day’s work and finish the poems, allegedly provoking his mother’s comment: “My son will not stop until he has vomited out his heart.”

-from 12 Poems on the Months by Li Ho (791-817)
Five Tang Poets, Translated and introduced by David Young
Oberlin College Press, 1990

-related to these two posts:  

Among Ruins – Li Ho (791-817)
Tu Mu on Li Ho, 15 years after his death

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

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Just Sitting, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Just Sitting, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I’ve been in a daze since I got back from the trip. Tired, unfocused, full. Obsessed with flashes of detail, and snippets of conversation. I’m getting closer to laying down my stories.

I want to write memoir. And the recent trip to the South, researching history, family, and roots, ignited a fire in me. The coals are still glowing. They infuse and invigorate my desire to write.

But it’s one thing to dig up details and memories, and write them down in practice. And another to risk the exposure of mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, fathers, lovers – and me. Every detail I write reveals more about me.

Detail, truth, and honesty – how are they related to writing and art? Every time I post a piece on red Ravine, or write a draft of a story I want to publish, I’m faced with exposing my truth.

Who might it harm? How will they take it? What if my truth isn’t their truth? Will the photograph or drawing I post be offensive? Will I alienate my friends, my family, my writing or art communities?

All good questions. And some need to be quietly and ethically considered in an immediate and public venue like the Internet. And in regard to the space where we work to uphold red Ravine’s mission and vision to foster community.

But in my personal and creative writing, the work I plan to pitch to the publisher, what is okay? And what’s not? If I go for the jugular, what do I have to lose? And what part of my dignity will I sacrifice if I don’t?

The teachers I have studied with, in both writing and art, have told me that it’s okay to go for the jugular, to ask the hard questions. But don’t worry about the answers. Not until I’m ready to publish. It will squash my creativity.

Rainer Maria Rilke addressed the same questions in 1934, in Letters to a Young Poet:

…be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.

Live the questions now. Part of the living is asking. While at the same time, being willing to get your hands dirty: pulling up waterlogged, granite rocks, exposing wriggling bits of ant egg, smelling ancient, earthworm underbellies.

I try to listen for the answers, ragged, tenacious blades of grass that poke through cracked cement to reclaim the ground around them. Skeletal fragments of dead frogs, dried up into compost.

I see by the conversations and comments on recent posts (this post, and this post) that writers are at different stages of coming to terms with telling their truth. It’s a process I, too, must go through if I want my work to be public and published.

After travelling and interviews and meeting with long lost family in the South, I have all this memoir material I didn’t have a month ago. I know more than I did before. How do I be authentic and credible, while maintaining personal integrity?

I have a responsibility to tell the truth as I understand it; and an equal responsibility to take time to reflect on the questions. To live the questions.

In the meantime, I keep writing. And practicing. And reading other writers. What do those who have walked before me have to say about truth?

I pulled out Anne Lamott. And I’ll end with this excerpt from Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Part Five: The Last Class:

Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.

If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act – truth is always subversive.

Friday, June 29th, 2007

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red Ravine as Blog of the Day on Fuel My BlogHey, for the past day-and-a-half, red Ravine has been featured as “Blog of the Day” on FuelMyBlog, a fairly new directory of blogs.

FuelMyBlog is one of our favorite blogging social sites, and not just because they gave us some free press. The blogs registered there are from all over the world, many newcomers to the blogosphere. So far, there are no so-called “A-list blogs” like there are on other blog directories, such as Technorati.

FuelMyBlog has a fresh feel to it; if blog directories had a zen-ness to them, FuelMyBlog would be “beginner’s mind.” (In a good way. A very good way.)

So, if you are so inclined, we’d much appreciate if you would go out to FuelMyBlog and fuel our blog. You’ll need an account, which is EASY to get. There’s a form to fill out, but you only need to input the account name, password, and your email address. Everything else is optional. You can vote once a day for our blog.

While you’re there, check out and vote for other blogs, too. There are A LOT of good ones, many in the Art/Design category, as well as Literature and Photography. Keep going back; new blogs are added daily. And by all means, if you have a blog, register it! And then let us know so we can fuel your blog, too.

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A black Lucent telephone
with three lines.
It sits mute on the desk.
No one ever calls anymore.
They send IMs instead.

A color photograph
14 by 10
of 20 or so people in China
the Chinese all wearing black rain coats and with black straight hair
the U.S. people are squinting in the sun
gray, blond, bald, brown heads
thinking, Look at me now.

There’s a mirror on the wall
across from where I sit.
It reminds me of my vanity
moreso because the engraving on it
tells me how good I am.

My desk has a life of its own
If it were a landscape
it would be the badlands
yellow stickies that I seem to not want to kill
survivors they are
persisting day to day.

Arch in my right foot
lifts from the leather sole of my sandal.
I see a shadow there.

Army green backpack
a large hole at the base
where the back of the backpack
rubs against my back.
A different kind of backrub
this backpack goes begging for.

A co-worker hunched down in his chair
the palms of his hands
resting on the keyboard
his fingers tapping lightly.
He learned to type the right way;
Mrs. O’Malley would scold his posture.

A quiet spot near the window
I hear the air conditioner
a person shuffling paper in the cube next door
and the sound of graphite on notepad.

A cloud that looks like the lion on Wizard of Oz.
Puffy cheeks, nose in the air,
curly mane on the day before he meets the wizard.
The cloud, too, is on
an important mission to somewhere.

Artificial Christmas tree
7 feet tall.
Red bead garland
laced along the branches.
Tree is stuck in the corner
next to the file cabinet
waiting for Christmas.


-From Topic post, Gesture.

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WIND
roar, still, ebb, flow
herbicide, hamburger
swaying limbs, pine needles
swift, clouds
exhaust, chemical lawns
i wish i was a mountain


LOAFER
cracked leather, brass penny
gray stitches & socks
worn sole, aged & ancient
keds, flat-footed
rolling rubber, unfettered, grounded


BUTTERFLY
spots like eyes, no eyelashes
knobby ears, no ears
sticky mouth, no mouth
nibbling on a daisy, no tongue
understanding me, the moment, the afterglow
in flight, landed, no feet


HUBCAP
ram, dodge, uterus, flows into aries head
subjugated, relegated, to low status, low rider
rimmed by a rubber tire, spoked corroded metal
rubber meets road, i’d rather be home
standing to the side, sitting on the curb
i am at the same level, butt on the ground


CURB
rust in the pocket
pocked & dipped
i smell cement & car metal & rubber
cracks & the edge of a blade of grass
pokes its head out of hard manmade
crumbles, crumbs, chirps of a cricket
lunch is over, i rise


WATER BOTTLE
milliliter after milliliter
ounce after ounce, thirst, hunger
hungry for what? mark line, fault line
boundary between air and water
glass half empty, glass half full
refraction – florescent amber
blonde desktop water saves
me from cubed ice and pods
the size of a manhole
underground refreshment
heavy the weight of water


LABELS
dots, dots, dots
green dots, yellow dots
bright avery triangulated red
lines like paper cups & beige
with the thumbprint over the logo
logo – type – typewriter
who uses a typewriter?
Dorothy Brett, i have 2
and these old dotted labels
begging to stick


CALENDAR
rhododendrons, mt. hiijidake
scarlet pink, hovering clouds
6, the number 6, for months
Giant 6 -
Red sundays on 3, 10, 17, 24
nishitetsu
japanese, i wish i spoke japanese
elegant characters
calligraphic boundaries
days of the week, months of the year
all start with sunday


BOX
container, containers, marion woodman
containers archetypes vessels
square, rectangle, cardboard
corrugated, no lid, missing lid
destroy date, obscured
contents – drawback
exp – holes for handles
oh wait, lid is not missing
it’s stuck to the bottom
snug – safe – tight


MUG
coffee stains, jitters, duluth
superior, travel in stainless steel
black plastic, dips and holes
thumb holder handle
skinny bottom, wide top, reflects
myself back to me
and in between, liquid gold


 Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

-from Topic post, Gesture

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Curve, 1993, woodblock print, from private art collection of student work, artist unknown, photo alteration © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Curve, 1993, woodcut, from private art collection of student work, artist unknown, photo alteration © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


While perusing the health and vigor of our categories last night, I had a realization: writers rarely write about sex. Our Sex category has a measly 5 posts, which leads me to wonder, why bother to have a sex category at all?

I thought about my favorite literature writers and tried to remember what they had written about sex. I did come up with a chapter in Stoner, a book assigned to us in a Natalie Goldberg Taos Intensive last year. It’s a favorite on my bookshelf now, and contains one of the most subtly erotic accounts I’ve ever read about making love.

(If you don’t know about Stoner or John Williams, read the dynamic interview, John Williams: Plain Writer by Dan Wakefield in the 10th Anniversary issue of Ploughshares.)

Some see making love and sex as two different things. And now that I think about it, so do I. But different how? I’m not sure I can answer that in an on-the-fly blog post.

I remembered last night, that about 4 years ago, I wrote a tasteful erotic piece called Lean Into The Curves, about the virtues of making love as compared to learning to ride my Honda Rebel. There is something sensual about motorcycle riding; and the instructor who wore scarlet Harley boots with flames shooting off the sides, only added fuel to the fire.

I stood up at a microphone (dressed in a crisp, white, open-collared blouse, dangling silver earrings, black Levi’s, cherry lipstick, and a black, short-cut blazer) and read the piece at a venue in Minneapolis (no longer in existence) called hotBed. The audience was full of 150 women who all laughed at the right places and cheered at the end, wildly clapping when Ella Fitzgerald’s At Last echoed through the room as I read the final lines.

The sound woman was right on cue.

It’s hard to imagine standing up and reading that same piece today. Have I lost my edge? Or are there too few places to submit that kind of work.

Most people have sex at least once in their lifetime. And it’s alive and well on family TV and in G-rated films. So why don’t writers write about sex? Or the erotic? Or making love?

I don’t have any answers. Only to say that, thank goodness, some do.

Here is a poem from Galway Kinnell called, simply – Sex. Exquisite. I heard him read it at the Fitzgerald Theater earlier this year. I’m heading to the writing table right now. Maybe I’ll get inspired.


Sex
by Galway Kinnell

On my hands are the odors
of the knockout ether
either of above the sky
where the bluebirds get blued
on their upper surfaces
or of down under the earth
where the immaculate nightcrawlers
take in tubes of red earth
and polish their insides.

-from Strong Is Your Hold, Poems, Houghton Mifflin, 2006

posted on red Ravine Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

-related to post, Forget Vonnegut – Jane Kenyon Lives On 

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Got Your Back, Taos, New Mexico, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Got Your Back, Taos, New Mexico, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Monday, June 25th, 2007

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I find beauty in red, deep red the color almost of blood, blood running and deep inside, but dry blood, that turns light as if the oxygen has infused light. I find beauty in wide faces, clear skin, open expressions, the smile of my daughter. How she hasn’t yet grown in incisors and how when she smiles wide I see gaps on either end of her smile. How that makes her smile look deep like a laugh.

Beauty is something I find in odd little corners. I remember a labyrinth of streets in The Albaicín in Granada, stumbling across a vine-covered restaurant, how it seemed to grow into a wall, hidden and white, the cobblestone streets, the color of lavendar. I find beauty in the seeds of the pomegranate, that means “granada,” and I like that the shell of the fruit resembles a treasure chest, the seeds are gems glinting in sunlight.

Today, warm now and slower, slowing down, I find beauty in nothing, and I don’t mean that I find no beauty but rather *nothing* can be lovely. Nothing pressing, nothing pushing, just being. Beauty.

I find beauty in the mole above Mom’s lip. She had it taken off years ago, but always it was the mark I recognized, like a penguin who knows its child by its sound, I knew Mom by her beauty mark, her hair up in rollers and a bandana covering it, a cigarette hanging from her lip reminding me that she is tough, and those thin lips trembling with anger or love. Beauty.


-Writing practice from my notebook, June 2006.

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The responsibility of the writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.
                                                                 ~James A. Baldwin

From A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973).

You can see more excerpts from their conversation in this post, and you can see other quotes from Baldwin here and here.

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Inside, Outside, view from Ansel Adams room, April 2007, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Inside, Outside, view from Ansel Adams room, April 2007, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

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I noticed that one of the last comments in The Devil Came Down To Austin contained the phrase waiting with bated breath. It struck me as poetic Old English and I wanted to find out more.

The Word Detective has this to say about bated breath:

The word “bated” is an aphetic, or clipped, form of the word “abated,” and means “lessened or restrained.” In other words, to “wait with bated breath” is to hold your breath while waiting for something to happen. Although “abate” is a fairly common word, virtually the only place you’ll find “bated” these days is in the phrase “with bated breath.”

The word bated is often misspelled as baited. And, I have to confess, when I saw comment #18 in The Devil Came Down To Austin, I had to stop and think twice about the correct way to spell bate (the only current word usage we have of the word bate is bait).

I found an excellent word resource from Michael Quinion called World Wide Words  that credits Shakespeare as the first to use bated breath (in 1596), with Mark Twain a close second:

Shakespeare is the first writer known to use it, in The Merchant of Venice: “Shall I bend low and, in a bondman’s key, / With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness, / Say this …”. Nearly three centuries later, Mark Twain employed it in Tom Sawyer: “Every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale”.

Quinion also addresses why the word bate is often misspelled:

It’s easy to mock, but there’s a real problem here. Bated and baited sound the same and we no longer use bated (let alone the verb to bate), outside this one set phrase [waiting with bated breath], which has become an idiom. Confusion is almost inevitable. Bated here is a contraction of abated through loss of the unstressed first vowel (a process called aphesis); it has the meaning “reduced, lessened, lowered in force”. So bated breath refers to a state in which you almost stop breathing through terror, awe, extreme anticipation, or anxiety.

So when I’m waiting with bated breath, am I holding on to my breath for dear life? Or have I stopped breathing altogether, clinched in the jaws of terror and awe?

I’ll leave that up to Mark Twain, Shakespeare, the word gods, and you.

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

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Reflection of Llorona, drawing © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
-Reflection of La Llorona, ink and watercolor © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


-From Topic post, Water Wings.

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By Carolyn Flynn

I keep telling my father to go away. But here he is in Austin, Texas, on the sign at the construction site one block from my hotel. FLYNN it says in all caps, Flynn Construction, and it’s red, white and blue like the logo for my father’s home building company. Just like it, except not, because here I am in Austin for the Agents & Editors Conference to pitch my book, and it’s Father’s Day 2007. He’s been dead for 12 years. He’s not supposed to be here.

I am staying in a hotel that is four blocks away from the conference hotel. I feel away, very away, though it is just two ups and downs on the pebblestone sidewalks. I feel exiled from this group of Texas writers. They are writing books about rodeo queens and trailer park murders. I am writing a memoir I call All: The Too-Blessed-to-Be-Stressed Life of a Single Mother of Twins, a title that strikes me as capturing the Zen (before the colon) and the frenzy (after the colon) of 21st century parenting life, which is in fact what the book is about.

Essentially the character in that post-colonic string is, well, me. Pitching a book about yourself is a challenge, not because people won’t read it or buy it – most of the people here are pitching memoirs. That is the literary fashion, the fastest-growing market, according to Lee Gutkind, founder of Creative Nonfiction magazine, professor at the University of Pittsburgh and godfather of the genre. The agents and editors gathered here want memoirs. In just two days, I have learned the sorting out words. They are “prescriptive” or “practical.” Prescriptive is the new “how-to,” and it’s the kiss of death. Apparently, and I would agree, there are already a lot of books telling us how — how to do anything from being a sex goddess to creatively visualizing your life. I have published six of them. No, the challenge of pitching a book about yourself is that, well, people might not like it.

Every morning, or really just the past two, I have walked the four blocks down the hill and up the hill to the Sheraton, which stands like an obelisk of Kenyan soapstone against the sky. It’s raining this morning, and on the radio cheerful people were expressing relief, because it hasn’t for two months and that’s not normal, like it is in Albuquerque, where I live. Every day I have walked down this hill, but on this day, what’s rolling around in my brain like a very Southern thundercloud is the NPR interview with a woman who wrote a memoir about her father, who was haunted by his time in the Vietnam War. Her father would take her along to the bar, where he would tell vivid stories, trying to purge the memories.

On my trail up the hill to sell my book, these are the cairns that keep me true to the path: the purple triangle flowers, the brilliant orange Mexican bird of paradise, hedge-thick clusters of spearmint, the limestone antebellum building that could easily be a courthouse on the square of any little town in Kentucky, which is where I grew up and where I like to keep my father. I’ve tucked him away in the memories of growing up there and not here, in a city to which he’s never been. But here my father is, his name on a sign on a chain-link fence, right at the doorstep of my hotel, reminding me: Time to write.

It’s annoying he would find me here. I told him I needed to do this alone. He has been hovering over my heart, echoing around in that atrial chamber that didn’t sound right on the EKG. They heard turbulence there.

For nearly 40 years, he tells me to write write write. I am driven, driven to the point of obsession. This past week I was up at 4:15, the witching hour, every morning to complete the book proposal. Let me just say I am not a morning person. I know why they call it the witching hour. In those pre-dawn moments, my twins’ new puppy, Snowflake, sat on my lap, occasionally popping her paws up on my keyboard to get a look at my screen. One of the last photos I have of my father is of him typing on his laptop with my sister’s cat Savannah stretched over his forearms. I am just like him. I don’t want to become like him. With each passing year, I am increasingly desperate not to be him.



TAKING YOUR MUSE ON A SPEED DATE

It’s intense to be in a room with 350 hopeful writers and 25 picky, snobby agents who don’t want to like what you’re pitching because they’ve heard it before and they’ll hear it again. Each of us signed up for a 10-minute moment with an agent to make a pitch. It’s like taking your muse on a speed date.

Only just one problem, my muse doesn’t date. If my muse were to be on match.com, it would definitely check off “quiet dinner at home” or “sunset walk on the beach” as ideal dates. Contrast that with the Agents & Editors Conference: “raucous whitewater rafting misadventure” or “three days in the Amazon jungle wrestling with boa constrictors.” Pitching your book to an agent is an extreme sport.

Speaking of dating, the first night mingle yields a few new contacts, including a single man who reminds me of my twins’ pediatrician (ybonesy knows who this is!). I had a wicked crush on him when I was a new mother and I didn’t get out much. That is, unless my twins had a sinus infection. So dressing to the nines for my children’s doctor appointment became a ritual, an event that required actually putting on makeup in front of a mirror as opposed to in the car. This continued until I realized I was in danger of becoming a pathetic post-divorce cliché. I’m guessing the twins’ pediatrician had seen this sort of thing before. Was I really that transparent?

So with the single guy at the Agents & Editors Conference, it occurs to me to respond the way I normally would upon meeting a creative, attractive single man — that being to flirt. I think about all the usual tried-and-true ways, and I just feel tired-but-true. It’s time to be true to myself. Do I really want to put my brain through the cat-and-mouse chase-and-retreat game – or do I really just want to ask him interesting questions, then move on? I’m here to find an agent, not another boyfriend. I have plenty of those, currently two, fortunately in different states, though July could get dicey when one heads to a zip code near me. But this is June, July’s a long way off and I need to put on my war paint for the battle at hand: selling my book. I switch my brain over to longtime SAGE contributor Miriam Sagan’s definition of flirting: Flirting is attention without intention. This definition allows her to enjoy flirting as an extreme sport. The way she puts it is this: “I have an unlimited interest in people.” I get back on track: I mingle.



GREETINGS FROM SOUTH AMERICA

My father has been here the past few days, in secret, the same way he comes back in my dreams, looking very swank (my first clue that it’s not real), trim (my second clue) and not bald (the confirming clue). He announces he has been living in South America because he had been working as a spy and he really couldn’t tell us that, he just had to go into hiding. He hasn’t really been dead all this time. Today I rather suspect he’s been being a spy again, even though I have sent him away, only this time he was pretty stealthy, hiding in that sign. It took me three days to notice.

What haunts me is that last image of him alive, typing with the cat sleeping on his arms. I know what he was doing there. He was writing his mystery novel. And he was dying. He didn’t know he was going to die a week later. His heart gave out. I wonder now if it was the atrial chamber. I wonder now if anyone heard the turbulence.

I say I wonder if he knew a sudden death was near — because he typed so feverishly. I have been typing feverishly ever since. For 38 years, it seems, I have typed feverishly, from the moment I knew I was going to be a writer and he told me he believed in me, when he bought me a Brother typewriter and a collection of Hemingway short stories. In the 12 years since he died, I have typed, I think, because that’s how I know I’m alive and he’s not. It’s an important distinction.



THE DEVIL

Last night the agent from San Francisco gave me a kick in the pants. The agent said, “go write it. What are you doing here? Go back to your room. Write it!” I protested that I already had six published books, that I had most of this written and I was knocking on the door of refinement. I have one more essay (“Have a Plan: Nitro and Baby Aspirin Wasn’t It”) yet to write, maybe two. But he smoked out what no other writer, agent or editor had: I had yet to write what I really cared about. Even six published books can’t protect me from the turbulence. If 480,000 words won’t do it, what’s the cure?

“Write it,” he said. He wouldn’t let me protest.

“You’re flustered,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Why are you divorced?” he said.

“That’s not what the book is about,” I said.

“You have to be willing to lay yourself bare,” he said.

“But …” I said.

“Write it.”

Lately I’ve been reading Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage, about the author’s spiritual journey on the Road to Santiago through France and Spain. At the beginning of the journey, one of the first people he confronts is a person disguised as his guide. He assumed that the man under the tree at the dusty edge of the southern French village was his guide. When the real guide shows up, Coelho learns the first man was his devil. Coelho had momentarily forgotten to confirm the identity of his true guide with the password. The true guide shows up, speaking the password. “It is good that you have met him early,” says the true guide. “Some people don’t encounter their devil until they are midway or later on the path.”

I greeted my devil early on at this conference. Coelho says in The Pilgrimage to name your devil so you will know him. Three weeks ago I named mine. I recognize him all the time now. (You never share the name of your devil.) The devil brings you to the brink; he is free and rebellious. He is the messenger, the main link between us and the world. He has much to teach us. Coelho says when we let him loose, he disperses himself. If we exorcise him, we lose all the good things he has to teach us. So the trick is not to banish him, but to hear the message. You have to live with him.

You thank your devil, but you always dictate the rules of the game, not your devil. It’s how you win the good fight.

I am typing now, typing feverishly as Boarding Group A clusters at the gate. That’s plenty of time to write this blog post; I’m in Boarding Group B. Natalie Goldberg says, “Write until the atom bomb goes off. And when it goes off, write until the radiation gets you.”



TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL

I had “an Elaine moment” when I pitched my book. An Elaine moment refers to Seinfeld when they were always getting themselves into awkward social situations – remember Jerry screaming “Delores” out the window when his girlfriend challenged him to remember her name, hinting that it rhymed with female genitalia? By then it was too late. Jerry and Elaine were always too late. Past the point of apology.

The morning of my pitch, I met my angel. It was Irish Goddess (Celtic knot tattoo on her ankle) from Wide-Spot-in-the-Road, Texas, and she needed business cards as much as I needed business cards, so we decided to join forces to get the job done at Quik Print, which turned out to be a few blocks away near the Capitol and the only place open on a Saturday. My angel let me rehearse my pitch as we sat at a café table outside Starbucks. From the corner of my eye, I saw a young woman sitting across the corridor from us, and I wondered if she was an agent. Because my agent was not pictured on the conference board, I thought briefly, “I wonder if that’s my agent.” Truth: I thought neurotically, “I wonder if I’m really blowing this because that could be my agent over there.”

My angel liked my pitch, but moments later in the waiting area before pitching, I asked the timekeeper to point out which agent in the room was mine. It was the young woman who sat across the corridor. Well, no matter, you make the best of it. Time to go Zen. No attachment to outcome, full mindfulness of effort. When I greeted her, I confessed my neurotic moment. It was a great opening line. I was lucky: She hadn’t heard the rehearsed pitch. I was even luckier: She liked the pitch and asked me to send a proposal.

“Send me a proposal” is like getting a third date when it comes to the Agents & Editors Conference. It was cause for high-fives all around.

One note: I got my first “send me a proposal” on the first mingle night, right after I cut myself off from flirting with intention. Like I say, I know my devil.



RIP IT UP, START OVER

“I’m still speaking to you,” I say to the San Francisco agent the next morning, though I really don’t want to see him again so soon. I am still raw. I have every reason in the world not to speak to him. At one point the night before he said, “Am I being an asshole?” I was too Southern to answer the question.

Last night I left the hotel feeling the ground shaking beneath me. In the cab, the driver was listening to sad Latin music, full of yearning. My eyes watered up. I bit my lip to hold myself down. I rested my brow on my interlaced fingers. The windows were open. I felt the breeze, felt it in my hair. The Latin song rose, unfettered, through the night. I was in tatters, white pulpy scraps of paper.

Natalie Goldberg says, “Don’t get tossed away.” Earlier in the day I had said, to encourage Fort Worth Dan, who did his pitch just before me. “It’s just a matching game,” I said. “You have to believe that. And don’t let yourself get tossed away.”

I almost got tossed away last night.

Your angel is your armor; your devil is your sword, Coelho says. You can use your sword, or it can fall to the ground and be used against you. But this morning the kick-in-the-pants agent reminds me that everybody here wants to publish good writing. He’s speaking softer now. “I just want you to write it,” he says.



WALKING POINT

Here’s why I sent my father away. I came to Austin because I wanted to get to the next level. I’m not making enough money writing books, and I’m not writing the books that are about what’s closest to my heart. I don’t have time to write that book because my clients come first. I have to feed a family. After eight intense hours in the Top Gun cockpit of a daily newspaper, my multitasked brain is too fried to remember the title of my book, much less keep writing it.

I’ve been doing what my father did in his 40s, running on fumes, taking financial risks — some shrewd, some scary — letting myself die inside because I’m not pursuing my dream. My life as a single mother of twins has become an extreme sport. I have vowed I wasn’t going to let my dreams die like his – cut short. He died at 62. I was 34. For most of my life, since I was 14, my father’s tragic life has motivated me to do the impossible. I’m unsinkable; I don’t know what impossible means.

It was feeling too heavy to believe “I have to do this because my father didn’t.” I could say I was doing it for me, but I have always been doing it to prove something about his life, to create a restoration of sorts, the happy reunion in my dream that there’s another outcome that doesn’t involve an alter-identity in South America.

Two months ago, I told my father I was going to take this from here. “You are making this too hard,” I said. My heart was turbulent. He had a hook in it. His ghost was haunting that atrial chamber. A clot could be forming. I told him I was going to go it alone. “This is my deal,” I said. “Not yours.”



ALTER-IDENTITIES

Alisa’s here! Can it be? The godmother of chica lit, who got a half mil advance for her first novel? Upstairs, waiting to talk to an agent is a woman who must surely be Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, best-selling author of The Dirty Girls Social Club and three others. But Alisa lives in the North Valley, is moving to Scottsdale to get her son in a gifted education program and was the keynote speaker at the SAGE Making a Difference luncheon. Alisa got a $500,000 advance — did I mention this? – for her first novel and doesn’t need to be waiting outside to meet an agent. But this woman has Alisa’s sleek hair. She’s stylishly dressed in a robins’-egg-blue A-line coat dress. I almost say, “Alisa,” but something stops me. I notice, for starters, that she’s with a woman who looks like Sara Ford, who moderated the panel on which I spoke at New Mexico Press Women. Then the two of them are whisked in to meet Agent-Who-Will-Later-Kick-Me-in-the-Pants.

I’m sure this can’t be Alisa, whose book is being made into a movie (and did I mention she got a half mil advance?) yet I’m stunned at the resemblance. I go down to the registration desk to ask if they have anyone by that name registered. Yes, they do. Are you sure? Yes, she’s a volunteer, they tell me. How many double-named people can there be? I want to say, “Well, lots.” But I think she just heard “big long Hispanic surname” and she figured it was a match.

These alter-identities are coming up everywhere. Alisa, Sara, the twins’ pediatrician … who knows where my father has been hiding, though.

It’s time to write. At breakfast, I skip the sessions on publicists and query letters and I find the table next to the power outlet so I can charge up the laptop. A woman I met on the first day invites me over, but I say, “No, I need to write a blog post.” I have an assignment. It’s to keep the pen moving. My friend ybonesy and one of her Natalie Goldberg intensive friends have started red Ravine. I have a deadline. This is comfortable.

As I am writing, I feel the sudden stretching of time, a bliss wave. It is 8:52 for an hour. Diners come and go. My friendly, forgiving agent of the Elaine moment goes by. The godfather of creative nonfiction slips in with his son. I don’t even notice. When I look up, a woman is standing before me, asking me how I did. I tell her something that makes her sit down, and her proposal is a nonfiction book about motherhood. She writes for Austin Monthly and other magazines. We talk for 45 minutes. We’re speaking the same language. We see the same issues. I’m good now. I’ve reconstituted myself. Here’s another someone like me.



SWEET SUBTEXTS

It is Father’s Day. Of course that’s why he’s back. That hits me on my way upstairs for the last mingle. Fort Worth Dan walks up as I’m texting the firefighter I’m dating to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. I’m telling the firefighter that it’s been rough.

He texts back, “Are you OK?”

I text, “It’s all material.”

He texts, “It will all be OK when you are back.”

The room is emptying out. My shuttle has arrived. This all has a tinge of sweetness to it. On the way back down and up the hill, past the FLYNN construction sign, I break off a sprig of spearmint. I crack the stem to release the scent. I notice the building my father is working on is a buff-colored brick. Brick by brick, I think. The shuttle driver is waiting.



GREETINGS TO MY INNER CHILD

In the security checkpoint line, the woman behind me is reading Paulo Coelho, only it’s El Diablo y Senorita Prim (The Devil and Miss Prym). The devil again. She tells me she lives in Panama City, but she’ll be spending the night in Atlanta tonight because her plane is delayed. Panama City is a great city for international living, she says, clean and beautiful. “I love Paulo Coehlo,” I say. She got started reading Paulo Coehlo with The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream. Hmmm… I had forgotten that was the subtitle. The devil is my messenger.

On the plane to Albuquerque, I’m in Boarding Group A. I don’t hardly know what to do with myself; I am always a B boarder. But this means I have a choice about who I sit with. Near the front of the plane is a little girl sitting alone by a window wearing a child travel tag. She is so small, smaller than my twins. I whip back one seat to sit in her row. She tells me she’s 7 and going into second grade. She’s got curly red hair and a sprinkling of freckles like my son’s. I call them angel kisses. She’s got a Highlights magazine and a bag of candy. Her name is Faith.

Faith loved first grade, and her favorite subject was math. But they don’t make it hard enough, she says. “I could do math all day.” She has 12 cousins, and there are lots of babies in her family. She has sisters who are twins, but they are older. Her family took her to Paris, where she got to see “the Awful Tower” or the “Eye-full Tower,” she’s not sure. Faith is going to see her father because it’s Father’s Day.

Another mom sits in our row, and we two moms look out for Faith. I can’t imagine letting my child travel alone on a plane. She sparkles with innocence. She radiates pure sweetness. She will come to no harm. Faith has done this before, and she knows what to do. She’s not worried.

“I had curly hair when I was little,” I tell Faith. And I did. Just that color. The other mom asks her the question I always got asked, “Are there others in your family with red hair, or are you the only one?” I was the only one. There is a photo of me with my father, and my hair was still that vibrant auburn, the color no one could bottle. My father is prematurely bald, but young and slim, the way my mother remembers him, the way he comes back from South America in my dreams. We are playing with a toy Model T.

When the plane lands in Albuquerque, the flight attendant leads Faith by the hand down the jetway. She is tiny, a little gummy bear with stick legs and plump hands. She is wearing pink crocs that rattle loose on her stubby feet. When she sees her father, she runs and gives him a jump-up hug. He holds her there like a little X. Her arms are too short to fit around him. Faith asks her father how he’s been. “I’m OK, but I’m really good now that you’re here,” he says.



About Carolyn Flynn:   As a single mother of twins, Carolyn has a big long to-do list. It includes catching snowflakes, flooding the house, saving the soccer world, doing Sufi laundry and pursuing economic independence, for starters. She is editor of the thought-provoking and ground-breaking women’s magazine, SAGE, published monthly in the Albuquerque Journal. She has six published books and is currently working on a memoir, All: The Too-Blessed-to-be-Stressed Life of a Single Mother of Twins. The only way Carolyn has time to write is because she keeps the pen moving, no matter where, even if the atom bomb goes off. Lately, she’s discovered no one will interrupt her at 4:15 in the morning, so that’s when she gets up to write.

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Tickseed After The Storm, June 20th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

-Tickseed After The Storm, June 20th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Summer Solstice is tomorrow. At 8 p.m. tonight, the sky bled tornado green and hail the size of baseballs splattered windshields 12 miles south of our cottage on the hill. I walked around the yard with a navy windbreaker over my Canon, shooting sheets of rain that swept in torrents across the road.

On the deck it was dry.

On June 21st at 1:06 p.m., Summer shakes her frilly skirt and paints the garden green. Then 15 hours and 36 minutes of daylight follow in muted, Midwestern tones. Prairie grass cracks depleted skin. The sun explodes with rain.

I let her in.


 Hardy Lily After The Storm, June 20th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Hardy Lily in the Rain, June 20th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Summer Solstice in Minnesota, Thursday, June 21st, 2007

1:06 p.m., 15 hrs 36 minutes of daylight

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my mother’s gift of thighs, thick
like insulation
for a withering summer



Thighs Bluethighs whiteThighs RedThighs Green


-Inspired by comments in this post.

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Lately, I’ve been feeling the changes that come with age. The bones are a little creakier, the eyes need more light and time to focus, and I don’t have the zip and vigor I did when I was 20.

When I was travelling the last few weeks, I could feel the effects on my mind. I would interview people and 30 minutes later not remember the details of what they said. Over and over, I’d ask my mother to tell me the name of a miniature gardenia or thin-leafed oleander she had pointed out to me just hours before. I could not remember.

Volumes have been written about ways to keep the body in shape when biological breakdown causes us to expend greater effort for less reward. But what about that most delicate of organs, the brain?

There is a June 15th article in Blogcritics Magazine about the effects of aging. In Ten Ways To Bench Press Your Brain, Craig Harper compares the aging body to the aging brain:

People typically slow down mentally as they age. They experience short-term memory loss (where are my keys?), process information more slowly, find it harder to concentrate and focus, are more easily confused, become vague, and tend to be less creative and less adventurous.

The moment we stop using it, we start losing it. The good news is that our brain (like our body) is amazing and can adapt (grow ‘muscle’) at any age. We can (to an extent) undo some, if not most, of the damage. It’s great to be in shape physically but what’s the point of having four percent body-fat, Olympian biceps, and veins on our veins, if we have a mind like a Dalmatian?

Harper, a motivational speaker from Australia, lays out 10 reasonable ways to keep the gray matter in shape.  And what’s #7 on his workout list?

READ!

I’m taking lucky 7 as a good excuse to set everything aside this summer and take action on the one thing most writers (and books on writing) seem to agree on: to be a good writer, you have to read! Read everything you can get your hands on (especially in the genre in which you write).

For other ways to increase brainpower, here is a shortened version of Craig Harper’s tips for exercising the mind. For the full article, head over to BC Magazine Sci/Tech – Ten Ways to Bench Press Your Brain:

1. Set goals.
The moment we stop setting goals is the moment we start going backwards. Without goals we don’t have to think, plan, rationalise, problem solve, or create (as much).

2. Laugh.
It’s not illegal to laugh, be silly, or have fun as you age. Although some grumpy old farts will take me to task on this, they’re wrong. “Hey Johnnie… pull my finger.” (So juvenile.)

3. Play.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Two of my favourite people in the world are a (nearly) seventy years young couple who ski, ride mountain bikes, run up and down sand dunes, hike, lift weights, travel, help others, play practical jokes, and hang out with ‘silly’ young people.

4. Study.
You don’t have to go back to college and get your PhD, although you might, but maybe explore short courses, workshops, anything to blow out those cerebral cobwebs and get those rusty cogs turning once again.

5. Learn a new language.
Research tells us that people who speak two languages regularly age (mentally) at a slower rate than their unilingual buddies. They stay in shape (mentally) for longer. It even delays the onset of Alzheimer’s. Now, if you spoke three languages…

6. Express yourself creatively.
Write something: a book, some poetry, a business plan, or start your own blog. Paint, draw, or sculpt. My father began to paint at sixty-five, and now is an awesome professional artist. Invent something. A lot of the best inventors are crusty old guys. Come on, you crusty old guys… invent something!

7. Read.
Not just romantic novels. Read stuff that makes you use your brain, challenges you a little. Makes you think, reason, and remember; exercise your brain.

8. Consciously try and remember stuff.

It’s there, you just need to dust it off. Find your old school photos and name all your classmates. Try and remember (and replay in your mind) moments in time. Your first boyfriend’s, next door neighbour’s, brother’s… name (the one you kissed).

9. Do some mental workouts.
Crosswords are fun and great for your brain. Puzzles, problem solving stuff, Su Doku: force yourself to think, reason, and calculate.

10. Have a project.
Something to keep you thinking, communicating, planning, solving problems, and remembering. In general, bench pressing your brain.

Below are a few related posts with comments rich in book talk. One writer who frequents red Ravine is spending the summer reading the classics.

If you feel like adding your summer reading list to our comments section, it might inspire us all toward a few more presses at the bench.

What are you reading this summer?

-Books With A Bang

-Julio Iglesias Does Books

-Writing Topic – 10 Slam Dunks

-The 1950′s – What Was America Reading?

-Dreams Of A Creative Insomniac

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

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Gesture Drawing 2, drawing © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
-Arms Behind Back, drawing © 2007 by
ybonesy. All rights reserved.



If writing practice were art, it would be a gesture drawing.
                                                                        -red Ravine, 2007



I remember doing gesture drawings on a rainy day in winter, sitting in front of my pad of cheap newsprint, thin charcoal stick in my right hand. The room had high ceilings and a gray cement floor. Our nude model was cold; I could tell from the gooseflesh on her arms, from her nipples. Before we began she walked to the small space heater, bent over and pushed it closer to the wooden stage where she was to pose. In spite of the cold, she seemed more comfortable in her skin than I was fully clothed.

Kimon Nicolaides introduced the concept of gesture drawing in 1941 in his book The Natural Way To Draw: A Working Plan For Art Study. Artist Nancy Doyle, in her instruction website, explains the concept this way:

I see the idea of gesture as the essential character of a figure or object, a kind-of eastern philosophy viewpoint. That is, everything has a gesture. As Nicolaides wrote, ‘Everything has a gesture – even a pencil.’ On the physical level, the pencil’s gesture is a ‘shooting’ straight line, very quick. That physical movement has an intangible counterpart – its essence – its movement identity, personality, or essence…That deep green shadow of the leaves – what gesture does it have? What is it doing? Curving diagonally from top to bottom, right to left? What is its energy level? What is the spirit of its movement, its light, its color? Also, I began to see the actual composition of the painting in gestural terms – an idea that the abstract expressionists also espoused. What is the composition doing? It has a certain movement – physical and spiritual. Is it graceful? Sweeping? Tentative? Curved? Angular? Agitated? Serene?


In gesture drawing the artist sketches the model using quick lines. Each gesture drawing is done in anywhere from a thirty seconds to two or three minutes. The idea is to capture in your drawing the movement of the body, the essence of the pose. Gesture drawing reminds the artist that no matter what you are drawing, it has action and life.



Gesture Drawing 3, drawing © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
-Leaning Forward On Right Foot, drawing © 2007 by
ybonesy. All rights reserved.



This week’s topic assignment is to apply the concept of gesture drawing to writing. Find a quiet spot outside or in to sit for three minutes. Then with notebook and pen in hand, walk to an object – a chair, lamp post, shrub, shoe - and quickly capture with words what you see. Write for no more than a minute or two. (If you don’t want to keep time with a watch, use line count instead; one or two lines, not even full sentences.) Keep your hand moving the entire time, and try to keep your eyes on the object as you write. Move to another object and do the same. Do this until you have ten different objects in your notebook.

When you’re done, go to the same quiet spot where you started and read aloud what you’ve written. Share with us in Comments whichever gesture practices you’d like. Also tell us, how did this feel? Was it simply a short timed practice? Or did you get to the essence of whatever it was in front of you more quickly than you normally would in a longer timed write? What was the difference between this and a longer practice?



Gesture Drawing 1, drawing © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
-Arms Outstretched, drawing © 2007 by ybonesy. All
rights reserved.



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