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Archive for May, 2008

Red, Black, Blue, Calder Sculpture, Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Art Lives Here, Red, Black, Blue, Calder Sculpture, Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.      

Art Lives Here, Red, Black, Blue, Calder
Sculpture, Milwaukee Art Museum
,
Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008
by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.







art lives in the flesh
holds riddles, true colors show
Calder painted planes







-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, May 31st, 2008

-related to posts, spinner haiku, haiku (one-a-day)

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Letting Go, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Letting Go, funeral pyre on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




It’s one of those gray days in Minneapolis. A storm kicked up her heels last night, a gale force blowing through my dreams. Mr. StripeyPants is draped over a soft brown blanket next to me on the couch. I grabbed my small red greenroom eco notebook of haiku. There they were — the scratched syllables of a day on Lake Michigan.

I looked at the photographs from the writing retreat a few weekends ago. The funeral pyre popped out at me. After we arrived at the little cabins in Wisconsin, we learned that the matriarch of the family-owned business had passed away earlier in the week. She was in her 90′s.

The family gathered to pay their respects. And when we walked on the beach that morning, we passed a tall wooden spire, a testament to her memory. At lunch, an adolescent boy in a black suit paced the pine needles next to our cabin, crumpled paper in hand. He glanced down to the page, out over the blooming tulips, then, lips moving, back to the page.

After dinner, and a day of silence and writing, we looked out the picture window to see the funeral pyre burning. Moths to the flame, we could not help but step out to the porch. We talked quietly among ourselves, but mostly, we stood still and watched. Bearing witness.

It was humbling. In a few minutes, it started to rain. At the same time, a gust of wind burst through the skirts of the white pines and blew out to sea.

Then, complete stillness.

Later in the evening, we were chatting by the fire, and what sounded like gunshots echoed across the beach grass. Fireworks. That’s the way I want to go out. A gangly fire on the beach. Wind blowing my ashes out to sea. Rain to quench my thirst. Giant starbursts in a Full Moon sky.

That Saturday, I wrote these haiku. And to the matriarch — though I did not know you, I know The Grandmothers. And for a few days, I knew the place you called home. Rest in peace.




standing in the sun
waves crashing all around me
pale face, flushed and hot


puffy cirrus clouds
spread cream cheese over the land
gulls dive for crayfish


summer’s in the wind
the moon fell into the lake
jack-in-the-pulpit


waves gently roll back
in a giant concave bowl
anchor beach grasses


sun’s reflection glares
afraid of my own dark thoughts
dead fish rolls to shore


monkey mind is fierce
I don’t know what I’m doing
morning turns and breaks


funeral pyre burns
wind gusting across the lake
all eyes were watching


no understanding
of that kind of letting go
not for me to know 




On The Beach, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.                         

  To The Wind, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Phoenix, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  

On The Beach, To The Wind, Phoenix, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 30th, 2008

-related to posts: PRACTICE – Blossom Moon – 15min & haiku (one-a-day)

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By Teri Blair


Five months ago I started a poetry and meditation group in my home. And I’ll tell you straight up: if I can start a poetry group, anyone can start a poetry group.

I am not well read when it comes to poets. Before doing this, if called upon to name poets I would have only been able to tick off the most obvious choices: Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson. For most of my life I’ve felt intimidated by poetry. When I’d hear a poem read, I’d usually feel like I didn’t get it. I considered the door to poetry locked and bolted, entered by only a heady few.

But at the beginning of 2008, I began to get an itch to do something to make the world a better place. I know, I know, such a cliché. But I was tired of feeling depressed by the sort of people and events that grab headlines. I was frustrated, feeling like my country was being taken over by things I didn’t like or believe in. I was worried that people weren’t reading like they used to. I wanted to do something to steer the world in the direction I wanted it to go.

The idea for the group dawned on me one day, and I recognized it immediately as something I could pull off. I could invite people over to my house; we’d sit together for an hour, hear good poetry, and be still. And that’s pretty much what we do. It’s not a complicated event.

Each month I pick out a poet. To do this, I browse in a bookstore or library, or go to an online poetry site. I like choosing poets from around the country and from varied backgrounds, but for the first meeting of the group, I picked a Nebraskan poet, just so we could get used to hearing poetry from a Midwestern voice. Since then, we’ve been to Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, and Virginia.

I select poets whose words and voices are accessible. I live in a city with a sensational library system, so I get all the poet’s books with my public library card. I sit on my living room floor with books scattered around me, and slowly page through them. Certain poems jump out at me, and these are the ones I put a bookmark next to.

The people in my poetry group have the option of helping me read, so I email them poems I’ve selected. This gives them the chance to practice reading the poems out loud before we meet. I do a little research on the poets so I can share a bit about their lives and what brought them to writing. I keep this short. I don’t think anyone wants an endless historic lecture.

When we gather, I have candles lit. We get quiet, and I tell everyone what I’ve learned about the poet whose work we’ll hear. I don’t memorize this; I have it written on a piece of paper. I play a song to begin to slow us down, and then we listen to poetry. About one poem every five minutes with silence in-between. Sometimes I can find sound recordings at the library of the authors reading their own works. So at the end, we’ll listen to the writer reading a few of his or her own poems.

So far, our poets have all been living. So we sign a card thanking them and telling them the titles of the poems we heard. I find mailing addresses online and mail the card the next day. Then we drink tea, eat snacks (I ask for a volunteer to bring treats), and hang around. That’s it.



This is what I know so far:

  1. I feel a lot better adding something of decency and substance to the world.
  2. I am getting to know poets, and I am thrilled. If you say the name Maya Angelou to me, I’m tracking with you. If Rita Dove comes to town to read, I’ll be all over her work.
  3. Everyone who comes knows that for at least one hour every month they will get to be still in a busy world.
  4. After the Mary Oliver night, a 26-year-old from our group went and bought all her books. Three people purchased tickets to hear her speak when she came to Minneapolis last March. I’m pretty sure these things wouldn’t have happened if not for the exposure to her work.
  5. We got to participate in National Poem in Your Pocket Day in April. We wouldn’t have known about it had I not been searching poetry websites.
  6. Ted Kooser wrote to our group. I’m here to say I have a postcard from a two-time Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner hanging on my bulletin board. Not bad.
  7. The people who come range in age from 26-55. It feels healthy to be in a cross-age group.
  8. Hosting these evenings is part of my writing practice. It is a tangible way to move my life in the direction I want it to go.
  9. The people who come seem genuinely happy to participate. Someone told me this morning that it feeds her soul.
  10. On Gary Soto night, a young group member (a Spanish major) read her poem twice, first in Spanish and then in English. It was deeply touching to hear another language spoken; it brought tears to our eyes. I don’t know why it did, but it was good. Gary sent us a postcard, too. Part of it is written in Spanish. That Gary.
  11. After deciding that July would feature the poetry of Louise Erdrich, my friend and I saw her a few rows back on the same airplane when we were returning from a writing retreat. It was almost too much synchronicity to grasp. The sort of serendipity that makes your head feel dizzy and your stomach full of butterflies.
  12. When Robert Bly was named Minnesota’s first Poet Laureate, we swelled with pride. Poetry mattered to us.

 

All that. And all I had was desire and a library card.




All The Best From Nebraska, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

All The Best From Nebraska, postcard (back), March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




 Golden Rule, postcard of a painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24  Golden Rule, postcard of a painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24  Golden Rule, postcard of a painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24  Golden Rule, postcard of a painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24

Golden Rule, postcard (front), painting by Ted Kooser, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 24″, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis. She is currently writing a profile series on teachers who taught in one-room rural schools before, during, and after WW II. They appear monthly in Senior Perspective.



 

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What should we name the store?

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this. How about …  “VALLEY SUPERMARKET”?

SUPERmarket?? It’s not a supermarket. Smith’s in Taos is a supermarket. Albertsons in Santa Fe is a supermarket.

No, no, no, wait a second. This is big, man, this is huge. Our store is gonna be the biggest one this town has seen. It’s a supermarket, man.

Dude, truth in advertising. We can’t call it something it’s not!

Oh, and what do you think it is…  a mini-mart??

Exactly! “Valley Mini-Mart.”

Give me a break! We’re gonna stock, what?, six brands of bread! Circle K doesn’t stock six brands of bread…7/11 probably carries two.

Well, I’m not gonna call it a supermarket. Just ain’t gonna happen.

Well, it ain’t no mini-mart, that’s for sure.

OK, wait, we can make this work. Come on, we’ve gotten this far, haven’t we? Surely we can come up with something that satisfies both of us.

Yeah, you’re right. We’ll figure it out. We always do. Come on, man, I’ll buy you a Coke at the Gas-A-Mat and we can think about it some more.




            
Super-ettes and other Oxymorons, grocery store sign in Española, NM, photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


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Who, Me?, Sony the Pug on Friday, the day before she got sick. Photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



The Vet called about an hour ago to ask if we were missing a pecan.

It turns out that 12-month-old Sony had one lodged in her intestine, which the Vet (my new heroine) found when she went in and opened up our little pug’s stomach this afternoon. The pecan, it seems, blocked food and liquid from passing through her stomach, causing it to swell up like a balloon.

She’s not out of the woods yet, although my-heroine-the-Vet said that Sony was awake and alert right after the operation. Medical folk will be at the animal hospital around the clock tonight, and tomorrow evening they’ll try to feed her something. If all goes well, we’ll pick her up on Tuesday.

Whew. What a relief.

I was worried they’d cut her open and find nothing. At least now we know what caused Sony to get gradually sick over these past two weeks until she finally reached the point this morning of not being able to keep anything down. Poor baby. We decided to take her in when we noticed her stomach had expanded so much that her left leg was starting to stick out and she could hardly lie down.

We’ve tried to “Sony-proof” our house, with mixed results. Every now and then I catch her trying to swallow a rubber band or eat the stuffing out of a toy. About two or so weeks ago I caught her outside with a pecan in her mouth. I got it away from her, and if my memory serves me correctly, threw it way out of reach — or so I thought! Little did I know.

From here on out, we’re going to be way more vigilent when Sony is outside. This isn’t the first time she’s had to be rushed to the Vet because she ate something discovered while snorting around under the old trees. She’s just not an outdoor dog. Which is too bad, because she love-love-loves being outside with her big bros.

If you get a chance, please send her some positive vibes. And if all goes well, she’ll be safe and sound at home — indoors! — in two days.



                                       



***UPDATE*** — Sony is safely esconced at home, currently lying in her snuggly fleece bed. Her face is thin, her eyes alarmingly protruding. But she is good ol’ silly-sly-huggable-lovable-snuffaloffagus-nutty Sony.

Look what the vet sent home with us. After taking this shot, for posterity, I placed the menacing nut into the bottom of the trash bin. Good riddance!




-Related to posts A Girl With A Curl & Her Pug, In Spring, and Ten Things About Sony The Pug.

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Blossom Moon, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Blossom Moon, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



The May Blossom Moon rose quietly over Lake Michigan. Saturday night, she dodged high cirrus clouds and streaks of intermittent rain. Sunday she was more sure of herself, dressed in pale yellow with a silvery sheen on glacial tides. Does the Moon pull the tides across the Great Lakes? I think she does.

The Chippewa and Ojibway called May’s moon, Blossom Moon. The Eastern Cherokee, the Planting Moon. The Farmers’ Almanac blends into Flower Moon. In some climates, blossoms are slower to the surface than others. Spring arrives in southern New Mexico or east central Georgia much quicker than it does to parts of the Midwest or Minnesota.

There are moon references to shedding horses from the Sioux and the Northern Arapaho –   When the Ponies Shed Their Shaggy Hair. That reminds me of a horsehair carriage blanket I inherited from my Aunt Cassie. I had it hanging on the wall for a time in Missoula. The horsehair served as a lapwarmer.

I was surprised at how stiff and coarse the blanket was. How did they weave it together? With white-knuckled fingers, long needles, and bleeding fingertips? Two artists in the Casket Arts Building are working with horsehair in their art. One has incorporated it into an oil painting. The other, as hair sprouting from a clay-fired face.

Yesterday, I walked in our small gardens. The bleeding heart bells are in full white regalia. The day lily greens rose a foot over the weekend I was in Wisconsin. Four of the rosebushes we transplanted late last year show signs of life. We lost three of them. Not bad odds.

We lost the bush clover. The deer ate it last year when we transplanted it down by the lilac bush. So Liz dug it up and nursed it back to life in a planter on the deck. At the end of the season, we transplanted it again and put a wire cage around it from the Garden Lady across the street. We were sad when it didn’t make it. Why? Too little water or rain? Or was it the clay-like earth in the spot where we planted it.

The strawberries we moved to the sunny rock garden hill are wild and flowering. I couldn’t see the moon last night. I think we are into the New Moon phase now. Blossom Moon was full last Monday. Sunday night, we all walked down to the beach to take a closer look at her full moon skin. You could hear the lake tide lapping the shore. The remains of Maurine’s funeral pyre rested on the sand. There was a light wind.

I took a few shots without a tripod. I never know if they will come out. Handheld night shots are risky. But I wanted to capture the energy — the Full Blossom Moon sinking into the lake. She floats on top for a time, mesmerizing me, making me want to dive into the light. But the Mermaids know better. Never fall headfirst into the Siren’s call.


Moon Over Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Moon Over Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


posted on red Ravine, Sunday, May 25th, 2008

-related to posts: winter haiku trilogy, PRACTICE – Wolf Moon – 10min, PRACTICE – Snow Moon (Total Lunar Eclipse) — 20min, and PRACTICE – Wind Moon – 20min, PRACTICE — Pink Frog Moon — 15min

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Olive and other Weird Food, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.








blood sausage scrambled
brains, head cheese, menudo, spam
olives ain’t so bad









-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – OLIVES

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Olives, I prefer the ones with pits. Not California, but the real ones, the ones that haven’t been sanitized for an American audience.

Olives, of the twisted-gnarly-tree variety, and I love olive trees, too, they can live to well over a thousand years. I saw the olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, and who knows whose hands have touched that trunk. Trunk upon trunk, so thick, so multilayered, it recalls patterns. Rows of headstones, rings of water from a drop. A cumulus cloud tucked inside another inside another.

Mom is picky, Dad eats anything. Where did they get their sensibilities when it comes to food, and did I get mine from them?

Texture is my main care. Don’t like most shellfish, don’t like the thought of calamari. I like the taste, and I’ve had good calamari, good shrimp, but the thought of what I’m eating, tentacles, and that string of shrimp vein you have to take out before you cook it. That thought lodges in the back of my left lobe, and it’s as if it’s in my throat, that thought.

I used to hate steak, and even now I can’t look at my meat as I cut it. I can’t stare down a chicken wing, veins and corpuscles bother me.

My girls love chile, and I have to think that if you don’t make a big deal out of certain foods, kids won’t either. “Your girls eat chile?!” people tell me, and I don’t mean a spoonful, they love burritos smothered in red.

Olives. I love the color, olive green. I love the texture of an olive, how it’s like a meat, but the kind of meat I wish real meat could be.

Have you ever seen people who mix all their foods on their plates? I once saw a woman who wouldn’t let her mashed potatoes touch her salad greens. She was not into gravy.

Last night I ate a salad to die for, mixed greens tossed in a lemon-anchovy dressing, grated Parmesan and grilled asparagus on top.

Good food, food prepared well, is a blessing, a rainbow, a mist, sunlight after dark clouds, a primrose at evening. Good food, food prepared with a present mind, loving intention, none of it tastes bad, and I can put aside my food eccentricities for a well-cooked meal.

My favorite foods are strong, not bland. Thai anything, spicy tuna rolls, good red chile, pickled-with-vinegar. I wonder what my cravings say about my yin and yang. Surely one of them is out of whack.

 

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – OLIVES

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I’m not a big fan of olives. The historical and biblical references to the olive are more engaging to me than the food itself. I don’t like stinky cheese either. And what about pickle juice? I don’t drink it. But it’s the secret ingredient in my potato salad. I make it the Southern way: lots of mayo (in my case Miracle Whip), celery, eggs, pickles, salt, pepper, oregano, sage, and whatever other spices I grab from the rack. And then, that ½ cup (give or take a little) of sweet pickle juice.

I’ve noticed that sweet is a basic theme in Southern cooking. At least the Southern cooking I grew up on. I had barbecue ribs from Missouri last weekend at a writing retreat. They were delicious. But the one thing I noticed is that they weren’t as sweet as the tangy-sweet sauce I find on the ribs when I go Down South. And in the South, pork is the other white meat. Pork barbecue is a staple.

I wonder what it is about sweet and the South? Why are the foods and drinks laced with sugar? I’m a sugar fan, even though it’s not supposed to be that good for you. When I am eating healthier, I don’t consume as much sugar. But I always allow for it in my diet, lest I feel deprived. The sugar in sweet pickle juice is what makes potato salad sing.

I don’t like the raw onions in German potato salad. Or the way the taste is dull and lifeless to the palate. I like a little zing. One writer last weekend said she used to eat raw onions, just like eating an apple. I can’t stand them. They give me indigestion. I do like them cooked in spaghetti sauce, or any kind of red sauce. I don’t like mushrooms. Too rubbery. Maybe it’s texture that drives food likes and dislikes.

Back to olives. I have strayed. I only remember them edging our plates at Holiday meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were not staples of our diet growing up. At the Holidays there was always a relish tray filled with celery, sweet pickles, deviled eggs (which I love and have on occasion added a bit of pickle juice to the filling), sliced carrots, pickled beets, and radishes. The variety added color and spice to the family feast.

I wish I could say I ate a lot of vegetables but they seem seasonal to me. I crave vegetables in the Spring and Summer. Fall I like baked squash. Winters, I go for hot and heavy stews.

We had a discussion last weekend about peanut butter. It came later in the night (when the silence was lifted), after we had done a 10 minute morning write on Everything I Know About Peanut Butter. I think I was the one that threw the Writing Topic into the bowl. We all scribbled down Topics on ripped strips of paper, folded them, and dropped them into the bowl. At the end of the retreat, we were reminiscing about all the Topics we didn’t get to write about.

Peanut butter, I like the Skippy Super Crunch, Lowfat, with lots of chunks of nuts. Others preferred health food peanut butter or only smooth. I was amazed at the different tastes people had when it came to peanut butter varieties. We used to have peanut butter and banana and mayo sandwiches as kids. I liked them. But my younger brothers liked them more. It seems like a strange combination. But try it sometime. The vinegar in the mayo mixes just right with the sweetness of banana. And then the peanut butter glues the whole thing together.

I don’t like any of the foods on the strange list in this Topic. No fake banana. No prune juice. No black licorice. No SPAM. People are shocked when I say I don’t like guacamole. It seems like everyone likes guacamole. What’s so special about the meat of a dense, lime green, tasteless tropical fruit like the pear-shaped avocado, mashed up into a dip with raw onions? The texture and taste do not appeal to my sensibilities. I’m never going to get it.



-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 23rd, 2008

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – OLIVES

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Somewhere Over Milwaukee, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Somewhere Over Milwaukee, flying home from a writing retreat, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.





Blurred Boundaries, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. From The Air, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Somewhere Over Milwaukee, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Winding, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




“That looks like Louise Erdrich?” I said, shuffling toward the boarding area of the DC-9 parked on the runway. Northwest Flight 792 out of Milwaukee was about to depart. Three days earlier on our flight from Minneapolis, Teri was stopped in security by a stern, expressionless woman with black, straight hair running down her back.

“What’s going on?” I had asked, sliding my laptop into a slingpack and leaning down to slip on my Lands’ End moccasins. Teri turned to me with a blank look. “It’s the soup,” she said. “The soup?” I laughed.

She had been stopped for carrying a blue ice pack in a small rectangular thermos, housing packages of Minnesota wild rice soup. Bob was bringing ribs from Missouri. We chuckled, wondering if they’d made it through the luggage scan.

“Come with me,” the security guard said to Teri. You need to go back through security.” I blindly followed. One step past the yellow striped police line, I realized my mistake. “Wait, can’t I wait here?” I asked the guard. “Too late,” she said.

I followed Teri, we checked our bags, and looped back through security, twice. Then we sprinted to Gate C3, pausing only long enough to realize we were supposed to be at Gate C7. We were two of the last to board the plane.

By comparison, the Milwaukee check-in had been effortless. No wild rice soup incidents. No blue ice packs filled with dangerous liquids. But Teri did have her backpack searched again. This time it was toothpaste. Finally we were shuffling toward the packed plane bound for Minneapolis.

“Yeah, isn’t that Louise Erdrich?” I asked again.

“What? Where…” Teri said, turning her head in the direction I was staring. “That is Louise Erdrich.”




Topsy-Turvy, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Edges, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Curves, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Tip To Toe, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Blurred Boundaries, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. From The Air, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Somewhere Over Milwaukee, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Winding, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




We played it cool. But could barely contain our excitement. A second before, we had been embroiled in a conversation about writers. And we had talked about Louise among the four of us Saturday night, during a weekend writing retreat at a cabin on Lake Michigan.

Jude mentioned that Louise was coming to Wisconsin to talk about her new book, The Plague of Doves. That spawned a conversation about a night last winter, when Teri, Liz, and I went to see Louise Erdrich and her two sisters, Heid and Lise, at the Minneapolis Central Library. They were appearing together for a local program on writers, Talk of the Stacks.

All three Erdrich sisters are writers. After the Friends of the Library book discussion, we had them sign our books, and Liz took a few photographs, including family shots that she agreed to email to Heid.

That was February. Now it was May — two days earlier, we had talked in casual conversation about our favorite Louise Erdrich books. And just like that, Poof! — she was sitting 15 feet from us at the airport in Milwaukee. Most people did not recognize her.

“Should we say something?” Teri asked.

“Hmmm, I don’t know. Maybe she wants to be anonymous,” I said, throwing another glance toward Louise. She wore frameless glasses, a long brown skirt, and a print blazer. When you run into a well-known writer in public, how do you know the respectful thing to do? Would the writer want you to acknowledge her work, or respect her privacy. What would my published writing friends want. What would I want?

We scanned our boarding passes and headed to our seats. We thought she’d fly First Class. But then, we didn’t even know if she was on the same plane. We were quietly surprised a few minutes later when Louise elegantly walked down the aisle with her leather briefcase. She stopped while a young man in the row across from us almost knocked her over while slinging his carry-on luggage up to the top rack.

After one more look over our shoulders, we buckled our seat belts and settled in. Louise sat down in the opposite aisle, three rows from the back of the plane. It was inspiring be in the company of a famous writer known for her craft. It felt auspicious that she was on the same flight.

“Well, at least if we go down, it will be with one of Minnesota’s most famous writers,” I quipped. “And after a great writing retreat in Wisconsin.” In some twisted way, a moment of spontaneous, dark humor made sense to me. I never board a plane without saying my prayers.




Topsy-Turvy, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Edges, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Curves, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Tip To Toe, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Blurred Boundaries, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. From The Air, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Somewhere Over Milwaukee, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Winding, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Tired from the weekend, I stared out the window. The curves of Lake Michigan receded into the distance. I thought about Maurine’s funeral pyre on the beach Sunday night. I thought about how the wet sand stuck to my feet the morning I wrote haiku on the beach. I thought about literature, about writing. I thought about Louise Erdrich. She was carrying a CBS bag. Was she on book tour? Had she been in Chicago? New York?

How do you stay grounded, traveling all over the country promoting a new book. I remembered something Ann Patchett said when I saw her speak last year at the Fitzgerald – when you go on book tour, prepare to talk about the last book you wrote. It’s the one people have most likely read.

Teri struck up a conversation with the law student in the seat beside her. He was from Washington, D.C. They exchanged stories throughout the flight. He talked about his travels; she told him about the writing retreat, and that Louise Erdrich was on the same plane. Smiling, I looked down at Lake Michigan and the skyline of Milwaukee.

We rose to cruising altitude, the wings swooped, the plane tipped. We were heading for a bank of clouds with an open slice of light. I quickly unstrapped the Canon from my backpack under the seat, and clicked off a few shots.

The law student dropped his cell phone under his seat. It slid back toward me, resting under my pack. Camera in hand, I pushed it up under Teri’s seat with my right foot. “It’s under your seat now,” I laughed. “Can you reach it?”

She leaned down to pick it up. The glacial lake faded into darkening rain clouds. I focused on the rays of light between them. And wrote a haiku.





Openings, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

                Openings, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, all photos © 2008
                by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






at the city’s feet
Lake Michigan from the air
changing perspectives






Topsy-Turvy, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Edges, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Curves, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Tip To Toe, May 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Post Script:   Teri and I bumped into Louise Erdrich again at the MSP baggage carousel. She was engaged in conversation with a woman she seemed happy to see.  We wanted to mention how much we enjoyed her talk with Heid and Lise. But the timing wasn’t right.

Liz met us at the curb with a big smile on her face. I hugged her, threw my luggage into the backseat, and mentioned that Louise Erdrich was standing at the baggage claim. “Really?” she said, peering through the sliding doors. Teri hopped inside the Saturn and we headed to Hiawatha Joe’s for debriefing and iced tea.

I decided it’s enough to send good thoughts. Though I know her books, Louise Erdrich is a stranger to me. Perhaps the greatest gift was to leave her to a peaceful trip in relative anonymity.



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

-related to posts: Flying With Strangers & Other Anomalies, Louise Erdrich – No Love for “Fighting Sioux”

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Rescued Hummer, freeing the bird that was stuck in the
shed, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



This weekend Jim rescued a hummingbird that got stuck in our potting shed. It flew into an open door then couldn’t find its way out. Just as it seemed to be on the verge of exhaustion from flitting this way and that, bumping windows and ceiling, Jim caught the bird and set it free. Jim has a way with hummingbirds.

Up until starting this blog, I never realized how big a role animals play in our daily lives. We’re not the kind of people who I think of when I think about the term “animal lovers” — horse people or dog rescuers — yet we constantly interact with all manner of critters.

Now that we’re outdoors almost every day, we come across crawdads and fish in the ditches, mating mallards that frolick in the irrigated fields (we call one couple “The Ortegas”), and box turtles lumbering about.



    
Box Turtle, nameless turtle found making its way toward the
orchard, photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




I used to love animals as a child. I remember one time walking around the yard with my eyes trained on the grass, looking for any living creature. I came across a dead bird, featherless and scrawny, that had tumbled out of its nest in the sycamore tree. I picked up the bird, cried while I dug a little grave, cried while I lay the little body into the hole, cried as I piled the dirt back over it.

I can see that same, almost unbearable animal love inside my daughters. The way they cry at the cruelty that invariably crops up in nature programs on TV, or how when they’re outside playing they’ll stop in their tracks if they see a dead lizard. They crouch around the body, gently prod to see if they can revive the poor lifeless thing, then get to the work of burying.


     
Dooley Details, waiting with Dooley and Dee at the horse show,
photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Horses are tricky. They’re so big, and the relationship we humans have with them is really special. That point hit me on Sunday during a community horse show in which Dee and her horse participated.

Dooley is about the most gentle, “unflusterable” one-ton creature you can find. He even makes the hippophobic klutz (i.e., me) look good. Something about his sad eyes or the way he patiently lets Dee flop all over him — you can’t help but fall for him head over heels. 

I watched his graceful giant body lope with my daughter poised just as gracefully atop his back. I truly hold these two, and especially Dee, in awe. A part of me wishes I could move like that, trust like that, have had that kind of mastery over something when I was that young.



 
Good Luck, what Em found the first time she went out to look for four-leaf clovers this spring, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved



One last tidbit from the weekend. On Saturday my parents had a garage sale. It’s an annual event where the whole neighborhood participates. Throngs of buyers come and walk from house to house looking for deals.

My sister and her friend brought the bulk of items to sell at Mom and Dad’s house. I rummaged through all my stuff and found exactly five things I wanted to get rid of: three pairs of shoes, a black purse, and a lamp. I laid out my five items among my sister’s and her friend’s goods, then set off to see what other neighbors had to offer. Right away I found a mid-century modern chair in chartreuse vinyl, perfect for sitting in a spot of sun and reading. I bought it.

My lamp sold immediately. One woman almost bought one pair of shoes but suddenly ran off to catch her infant son, who was about to walk into a low juniper bush. Three people examined the purse before placing it back with the other items.

At noon, we shut down. We piled everything that didn’t sell back into bags and prepared to haul them off to a neighbor who holds everything for a local charity. Em asked if she could have my black purse.

“Sure,” I told her.

Within minutes of taking possession, Em came running to me with five bills.

“Mom, look!”

In her hand were two $100 American Express travelers cheques and three for $20. Two-hundred sixty dollars worth of travelers cheques that I had misplaced in 2003 after a trip to China and India. Back then I had looked everywhere for the darned things and concluded that they were gone for good. They were the kind that never expire.

Lucky weekend. Lucky, and blessed.




Purple and Green, one recent sunset, photo
© 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



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Last night for dinner I made Pasta Puttanesca.  This is a basic Italian dish with not-so-basic ingredients: garlic, capers, gaetta olives, and anchovies. Yum.

What? Not yum? You don’t like anchovies? No capers? Olives? Not even OLIVES!?!

OK, some people don’t like olives. Or, if they like olives, they only like California pitted olives, the kind you can stick on each finger and eat off, one by one.

Olives are one of my favorite foods, after watermelon and white rice and Greek strained yogurt. Oh, and coffee. But if you don’t like olives, I understand. I don’t like shrimp. The texture is like rubber.





According to this blog, the “top five food items people almost unanimously hate” are:

  1. Black Licorice
  2. Anchovies
  3. Prune Juice
  4. Spam
  5. Anything Banana Flavored Except Bananas

Olives didn’t make the list, although anchovies did. If you’re among the “almost unanimous” food haters, you can make Pasta Puttanesca without the hairy little fish. But don’t leave out the olives.

Apparently, a lot of people like olives. Just ask the marketing folks at Swank Martini. Some people even use olive brine to make martinis. Which is a little like the adult version of what my kids do, which is drink pickle juice.





What about you? Do you like olives? Green or black?

Do you sometimes wonder what to do with pit after you eat an olive? Have you ever dropped one in a potted plant while at a cocktail party? (If you answered “yes” to that question, chances are you’ve stuck a piece of ABC gum under a chair at least once in your life.)

Write about olives. What memories do the bitter little fruits evoke? At family gatherings, was there always a stick of salami, olives, pickled cauliflower, stinky blue cheese, and Saltine crackers? (If so, are you my cousin?)

Pungent foods, and especially those that are also basic and symbolic, often create pungent memories. So if you don’t have much to say about olives, write about some other sharp, zesty food that you’ve eaten through the years. Write about jalapeños. Or write about your least favorite food.

In any case, you know the rules. Fifteen minutes, keep the pen moving, don’t cross out, don’t stop to think. Everything I know about olives…. Everything.




Olive, doodles and scribblings ©
2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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Baby was up and at it the other day. She almost seemed to be posing for me. She’d eaten a rat a few days earlier, and the sluggishness from winter had all but worn off.

Do you ever look at your animals and wonder what’s going on inside their heads? I do, especially with our dogs. Usually I think they’re either blissed-out happy or totally miserable. It’s almost always the former, but every so often, like when they’re covered in mud or have just rolled in something disgusting and it’s damp outside and I won’t let them in — then they’re miserable.

But with a snake, it’s not the same. You don’t look at a snake and say to it in a squeaky voice, “Hi, little Baby, are you happy I gave you that rat?” Most of the times I look at her, I wonder if she’s awake. Sometimes I even touch her skin to make sure she’s alive. On a very rare occasion, she hisses at me. She shakes her tail violently as if she were a rattlesnake, which, apparently, is one of the ways bullsnakes protect themselves.

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t normally anthropomorphize my snake. Remember the turkeys and the post I did where I imagined what they were thinking as they stared at us through the windows? Later I pretended they were The Amazing Turkeys Wallenda, and another time I put words to what they were thinking as they greeted me coming up the drive. I loved making fun of them.

But our pet bullsnake is the one animal I’ve taken at face value. That is, until today.

Today I looked at the photos I took of Baby on that day she was so active, and there it was, calling out to me. Not all of them, but one here, another there:

     Can ya scratch my chin, right there, under my right fang.

     Are you my mom????

     Peekaboo. I see you.


I don’t want to go there. Baby has dignity. Not that turkeys don’t, but Baby’s a special case. She defies being made into a goofball.

I’m not sure what to do about it. The silly side of me wants to break loose. Ah, what will Baby care? She’s a snake. She has no feelings.

The other side, though, stares into those steely eyes and realizes that I’m the only one who will look the fool if I dare try to penetrate her inner snake.

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Natalie Goldberg, image by Mary Fiedt, all rights reserved.     Old Friend from Far Away, image provided by Simon & Schuster, all rights reserved.
Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg, images provided by Simon & Schuster, photo of Goldberg © 2008 by Mary Feidt. All rights reserved.




On Thursday, April 10, QuoinMonkey and ybonesy interviewed Natalie Goldberg, author of the recently released Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. The interview was especially meaningful in that red Ravine originated from a friendship, and vision, developed while QM and ybonesy were in a year-long writing Intensive with Goldberg, in Taos, New Mexico.

Goldberg had just completed a book tour across several Western states when QM and ybonesy spoke with her from her Santa Fe home. They talked about the new book and about Goldberg’s life as a writer and painter, friendships that sustain her, the loneliness of writing, and the most important thing she’s learned from her students.



Interview with Natalie Goldberg, April 10, 2008, red Ravine


red Ravine: There’s a moving passage in Old Friend From Far Away on page 69, which I’m going to read: 

In 1977 on Morada Lane in a small adobe behind a coyote fence I taught the first writing practice group to eight Taos Women. For the last twenty years I have taught these same workshops at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House a few hundred yards farther up on Morada Lane. I joke: I have not gone a very far distance in my life.
     Students come and go. Eventually we all will die. I fear I will have forgotten to die. I’ll be standing in front of the class after everyone I know has long passed.
     “Class, get out your pens.”
     Please help me. If all of you write right now, maybe I can let go and die too. My job will be complete.

Talk about what that passage means, Natalie.

Natalie: Basically, I had this feeling one day that everybody was going to die and I was still going to have to keep teaching Writing Practice; that it was so important and so essential and people weren’t going to let me die. They were just going to keep coming and studying with me and that my books wouldn’t have given enough.

What I didn’t say actually in that chapter is that I hoped to make a book that would be like studying with me. I wanted to make this book – the structure and the rhythm — so that it was the closest to what it’s like to be in the classroom with me. So that someday I, too, can die. I think when we die, finally, we really completely let go. I don’t think I’d be able to completely let go unless I felt there was some record students could follow to learn this wonderful Practice.


red Ravine: Years ago, at the beginning of your adult life when you were in the midst of studying with Katagiri Roshi, you were on a path toward assuming that lineage. What caused you to move away from that path and go with writing instead?

Natalie: That’s a good question. We complain about our lives, but the truth is we usually get what we want. A lot of people say, “I wanted to write and I wanted to do this.” If they really wanted it and it really burned in them, they would do it and they would figure it out. And not everybody has that.

Some people are happy taking classes, milling around with writing, and the truth is they like their lives and they like their jobs. I found that I put in time with writing. When it came down to the wire, my ass was on the line for writing. Even though I showed up all the time for Zen, when you asked me, my drive was for writing.

So it actually happened very naturally. We worry so much, What should we do, what should we do? but life also unfolds. For you (addressing QuoinMonkey), for example, you keep talking about wanting to teach Writing Practice, but we don’t know. And you’ve had some offers, but, finally, you’ll see if it unfolds and if it feels right for you.

You know that’s true with everybody. What we want unfolds. So I think I saw that writing was where I really put my life, my whole life. And even though I deeply, deeply loved Zen, it wasn’t in the same way, deep in the musculature of my body. I didn’t put my life on the line in the same way.

Now that I’m older I realize that I didn’t have to pick. That the two actually came together. But when you’re young you think you have to pick. When you’re young you can drive yourself crazy and think you have to pick. But look, Zen and writing, I can’t separate them. I didn’t choose one over the other. I chose both.


red Ravine: You also chose to be a writer and an artist. How do you balance those passions, and do you ever feel that you are more one than the other?

Natalie: I’m a writer. I know that. And when I’m painting a lot, I’m so in love with it. I think, Oh, I should have been a painter. But I wouldn’t be willing to do (for painting) what I’m willing to do for writing. I’ll go anywhere, face anything for writing.

Painting is my darling pleasure. And because it’s a pleasure, I don’t push myself a lot with it. Like what I said about writing and Zen, if I really look at it (painting), it’s important to me and it feeds my life and I relax with it. I relax and don’t worry about when I do it, if I do it.

For instance, I was in Point Reyes, California for a month in May, and I painted a lot then. Since I came home, I haven’t painted in over 6 months. So part of me thinks, Oh, painting is done. Then about three weeks ago, I realized, No painting’s not done. You’re writing these essays, and these essays use the same energy that painting does.

In a way, an essay is like a square canvas where I try to fit in as much detail as I can. That’s what I do with painting. I realized that I hadn’t been painting because I was painting with my writing. As soon as I realized that, of course, I’ve just done three paintings (laughs). I just went back into the studio.

People want a clear delineation: I write for four hours a day, then I paint for two hours. Life isn’t like that. It unfolds.

For instance, I was burning to learn abstract painting, which I talked about in Living Color. So, 15 years ago, I started to do it; I’d go out on a picnic table in Taos, in Kit Carson Park, and I’d just do abstracts, or what I thought were abstracts. I didn’t think they were that good. Literally, last night, I pulled out those notebooks and they’re some of the best abstracts I’ve ever done. They’re wonderful.

Do you see what I mean? We have the idea that, No, they should be better now because I’ve been doing it for 15 years. But maybe when I was really burning for them was when they really came to me. There’s no linear thing. Basically, you have to have a soft heart and a willingness just to make that first step and step in. And you get wet.

Just like you (addressing ybonesy). You have an important straight job, and then you go to half time for a while so you can do more art. Then you go back to full time. Our life is a spiral. And you also realize, I like this work I do. And I like painting. It doesn’t have to be either/or.


red Ravine: One of the things we want to talk about is loneliness — because writing is lonely. There’s a chapter in Writing Down the Bones called “Engendering Compassion” where you talk about the Black Dog, Loneliness. You say, “When I don’t feel loneliness, I know I’m not in connection with the edge of my life. I look around for that Black Dog, Loneliness, and make sure it’s near me.” After 35 years of writing and teaching, has your relationship with the Black Dog changed? And when you feel lonely or empty, where do you go to refill the well?

Natalie: That’s a really good question. I want to say, “Oh yes, I have a much better relationship with it,” but right now, I’m dealing with (the fact that) my mother died three months ago. So the loneliness is so deep. Whatever engendered it when I was a child is just burning in me now.

Everything I think I know about loneliness has been swept under and I just feel this gnawing emptiness. And it’s painful. The only thing I know is to try to have a little bit of softness toward it and allow it to be, and at the same time not allow it to take over my entire life.

It’s a very tricky thing. But I do want to say that, yes, a writer’s life can be very lonely. That’s why it’s so important to have writing friends. Don’t expect the agent or the editor or the publishing world to be your friend and to be your support. You need writing friends who understand what you’re doing and support you and that you can share this hard and wonderful process with.


red Ravine: Natalie, speaking of friends, do you have a writing friend who has stuck with you through everything?

Natalie: Yeah, Rob Wilder and Eddie Lewis, I’ve been friends with for over 20 years. I’d say also, John Thorndike, though he lives in Ohio now. He used to live in New Mexico and he was a deep writing friend and still is.

But the people who live near are Rob and Eddie and Henry Shukman, too, but he’s English so often he’s in England for long periods. But Eddie and Rob have been consistently there, people I can always rely on. That’s been very important to me.

I know when I have something, I can share with them, I can talk about it. Knowing that I have them, I don’t even call that much. But I know that they’re there. Sometimes just knowing that person’s there is very important.


red Ravine: Can you talk a little bit about what happens to the friendship when you are working on a book?

Natalie: Yeah, sometimes there are periods when I’m working a lot, that Eddie is home a lot, he’s sort of like a housewife, so I’ll call him. Mostly we joke, or I’ll complain about writing. When I’m working on something I don’t talk a lot about it. I’ll just call and complain or ask how to spell something. Or, “Eddie what was that word? I need that word,” or we just joke. But I know he knows I’m writing. And he knows what that is.

And there’s Rob. I asked him and his wife (Lala Carroll) to help me when I read at Collected Works. I said, “Could you be my date?” Rob had a party for me afterwards. Eddie hung out with me and stayed with me at the bookstore. It’s almost mechanical sometimes — “Can you come to the reading with me?” or “Would you read what I wrote and tell me it’s wonderful?” (laughs)


red Ravine: At this moment who are your favorite painters and writers, and what books are you reading right now?

Natalie: I am reading a killer book. I’m almost done with it. I’m going to assign it to my students in the August retreat. It’s called Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. I have 20 pages left, and it’s a magnificent book.

I’m reading that and right before that, Patricia Hampl, who wrote Romantic Education. She has a new memoir called The Florist’s Daughter that just knocked me out. It was a sensational book. No one writes memoir like Patricia Hampl.

I’m teaching at IAIA one night a week with Rob Wilder this Spring semester. (Institute of American Indian Arts is a federally-funded college for Native Americans, who attend from all over the country.) I have to say, my students in that class are some of my most favorite writers who I admire.

These kids have not been incorporated, in some ways, with all the politeness and all the neuroses of white American comfortable society. A lot of these kids come from very broken lives and they don’t have a lot of protection between them and wild mind. So when they write, it brings me back to the original way I learned how to understand Writing Practice. Because I really developed it with Chippewa kids and African American kids in Minneapolis and in Detroit.

They’re some of my favorite writers, these kids that I’m working with now. They’re not kids, they’re adults…They’re college kids, but their writing — they have no explanation. They just put things as they are. And they’re not aware that they’re not supposed to write about these things so they just lay it down on the page. I’m being incredibly inspired by them, remembering the origins of writing. That’s been very, very exciting for me.

In painting, well, I just love painting. Painting is my darling pleasure. When I went on the book tour, people would think I’d go to bookstores a lot. No, that’s my job! When I went into town, I’d go to the art museums and to galleries. That would relax me and give me a whole other outlet.

I love Wolf Kahn, Joan Mitchell. I love to look at local paintings. There’s a painter in Albuquerque who shows in Santa Fe, Tim Craighead. I’m just crazy about him. He shows at the Gerald Peters Gallery.

For the O’Keeffe Museum next week, I’m taking a group (on something) called Walks in the West, and I’m taking them to all the spots where Marsden Hartley painted. He spent a year in Taos. So we’re going to drive up and I’m going to take them for that slow walk to the cross. We’re going to have lunch at Mabel Dodge. It’ll be wonderful.

One more painter I just thought of I want to mention: David Park. I just wrote an essay about him. Helen Bigelow is a friend of mine and an old student who came to study with me at Mabel Dodge. Her father was David Park, and he was a contemporary of Richard Diebenkorn. He’s part of the California Figurative School. I saw an incredible painting of his hanging at the Whitney last year. He made it really big. He died when he was young, at 46.


red Ravine: In Old Friend From Far Away, and also from studying with you, we’ve heard you say that memoir isn’t necessarily about a person’s entire life; it can be about a portion of one’s life. You’ve written Long Quiet Highway about the portion of your life where you studied with Katagiri Roshi, and The Great Failure clarifying the truth you knew about that time in your life. What part of your life, Natalie, do you still want to write about?

Natalie: I’d kind of like to write about my mother. But it’s so complicated for me right now that I don’t see my way clear. Maybe at some point, I’d like to write about my mother.

Except for Banana Rose, I really haven’t written very much about my love life. And I’d kind of like to write about that, but I’m afraid that people who were my lovers will kill me (laughs). So I haven’t done that.

And I think I’d like to write something about what I know about Zen. Though I might have written that already in Old Friend From Far Away. Even though I didn’t mention Zen.


red Ravine: You’ve seen students drop everything in their lives and attempt to become writers. Why doesn’t it always work to get rid of the obstacles and just become a writer?

Natalie: Yeah, it doesn’t work, because suddenly you have all the time in the world and you freeze. It puts too much pressure on writing. Also, we’re social animals and writing is a lonely thing.

In a way, my mistake was to do writing full time. I missed having a job where I could just show up and have to work and have to forget about me and my writing and my life. I don’t think it’s a good idea.

In Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique — which came out, I think, in the 70’s — there was a study where housewives who had all day to clean the house by the end of the day didn’t get any of it cleaned. Those same women, when they got a full-time job, managed in the half hour before they went to work to get all their housework done.

It’s almost that you have more time to feel guilty that you’re not writing. I think that having a bit of a structure and knowing at 1 o’clock I have to go do my other job, it sort of kicks ass. You don’t have so much time to wander around. You have to write — sit down and actually do it.


red Ravine: Describe a typical day in your life. When you’re not promoting a book, what are you doing?

Natalie: I’m running a lot of errands, which I don’t seem to have done in Taos. But in Santa Fe I don’t know why I have so many errands to run (laughs).

I go to yoga classes 3 days a week, from 9:30 to 11. And the yoga class is right near my studio. So if I’m a good girl, I go to yoga and then immediately go to my studio. But then I have my computer at my studio, so I end up doing a lot of business first. And then settling down, either sometimes to write or paint.

But if you really look at my life — at this point, I’ve been writing for 35 years — every book takes a different need, requires different things. For instance, I wrote a lot of Old Friend going on hikes, and at the same time I had broken up an 11-year relationship. My heart was broken. I would go to my studio and I just didn’t want to stay there. I’d go on these long hikes, and I’d bring my backpack, and luckily I brought a little notebook, not planning to write. But as I walked the world would open up for me. I’d sit down on the side of the trail and write whole chapters.

I can’t give you any prescription of my life. If you ask me, my life is kind of chaotic. Like today, after we’re done, I’ll go to this wonderful café near IAIA, which is way south of town, like 25 minutes. But I’ll go there and I’ll do some work for a few hours and then I’m going to go to a lecture at IAIA. I use things in the outside world to structure my inner life of writing.

I’m not a bulldog like I used to be where I pushed everything aside for writing. Writing fits in now and weaves in with the rest of my life. The human life just goes forward. But this is after 35 years where I have enough confidence. Also, I’m tired of making writing the first thing. I don’t need to anymore because I have enough confidence.


red Ravine: How are your creative processes around writing and painting different?

Natalie: When I’m writing it takes all of me. I mean every single cell. When I’m really writing it takes every cell in my body, total concentration, and my whole life is in it. My whole life is on the line.

When I’m painting, I’m whistling, I’m playing music, I’m just happy. The predominant emotion is happiness. With writing there isn’t any predominant emotion. My whole life is distilled into that task. And I give my life over into the tip of that task. I want to say my whole life is distilled into god — if god is everything.


red Ravine: In many respects, because of what you teach and how you teach it, you’ve become a symbol of the notion that anyone can write. Is it true — can anyone write?

Natalie: Absolutely. Yes. They might not become Faulkner. A lot of people don’t want to become Faulkner. But anyone can pick up that pen and express their human life. And if they want to they can get better and better at it. Everyone can write. Everyone should have access to writing. It’s a very human activity. Human beings want to have a place where they can express themselves in language.


red Ravine: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your students.

Natalie: That I love them. I know this sounds odd but when I’m actually teaching, I have to keep a lot of boundaries. You took an Intensive with me, and I had to hold you when you kind of all hated me or didn’t want to come back. I had to hold your resistance and be a still point. That’s hard.

I have a tremendous amount of equilibrium when I teach and not a lot of opinion. But when I went on this book tour where I wasn’t the teacher, and my students showed up, I cannot tell you the overwhelming love I felt for all of you. I just couldn’t believe it.

Because, really, why am I willing to hold that all for you? It’s because I love you. I didn’t ever quite know that before. I would say things like, “because it’s practice, because this, because of that”…but I realize now, it’s because the love –- ‘cause I love you — that I’m willing to do it for all of you.

ybonesy: Wow, that’s really moving. (pause)


red Ravine: Do you ever get tired of teaching?

Natalie: Right now, I’m quite in love with it. There was a period, remember after The Great Failure came out, I took a year off. When I came back I hated teaching. I had never hated teaching. My teaching was really good, I could see everyone loved it, I knew it was good, the students were great — and I hated it. And I didn’t know what to do.

Every time I taught for several months, it was like that. It was actually taking everybody that week, when I took you all to Ghost Ranch, that something happened and it broke. After that I kind of loved it again. Not only kind of loved it; I loved it more than ever. Ever since then I just enjoy every time I teach. I’m so excited to share Writing Practice with everyone. And to share this wonderful thing that I know. I’ll be teaching for the rest of my life.


red Ravine: Natalie, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment in life so far.

Natalie: I guess, developing and recognizing Writing Practice, staying with it, continually giving it to the world.


red Ravine: In your next life, what would you like to be?

Natalie: An opera singer (laughs). Did you ever read The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather about a poor young girl in a small town in Colorado who becomes a great opera singer? I want to be an opera singer.


red Ravine: If it were your last day on earth, how would you spend it?

Natalie: Oh. I think I would be really sad. Because I would be grieving not seeing it anymore. Not seeing the trees, I’m looking out my window..the piñon tree, not seeing the sky, not having hands and feet. I think I would really be very deeply sad. And very still. Full of gratitude and grief.


red Ravine: Natalie, why do you write?

Natalie: Ummmm…because I’m a dope? (everyone laughs). Because…Of everything I do in my life, it feels the most real, the most to the point, and the most honest.


red Ravine: What are you working on next?

Natalie: I’m working on these essays. Some of them I’ve published in Shambhala Sun. I’m hoping to put together a collection of essays. I’m also working on something else which is a secret. None of my writing has ever been a secret before. But this is so different than anything I’ve written, I haven’t told anybody. And I don’t know when — maybe in 8 months or so — I’ll be able to say something.


red Ravine: As a writer and an artist, how do you define success?

Natalie: On one level it’s that I feel good about it and I enjoy it. That’s the real success. But because I’m a human being in the world, I like that I’m able to make a living at it, that I have it as my job, that I have a career with it. I don’t know if that’s success though. It’s pleasurable and I’m proud of it. But I think the real success is that I continue. And that I continually take pleasure in it. And that it’s alive for me.


red Ravine: Natalie, it’s really been a privilege to spend this time with you. We want to thank you. We thought we’d end by having you read us a passage from Old Friend from Far Away.

Natalie: I might read one I know I like. Okay, you ready? It’s called “Vast”:

Vast

We write memoir not to remember, not to cling, but to honor and let go. Wave after wave splashes on the shore and is gone. Your mother once wore an embroidered Mexican peasant shirt, had gleaming teeth and a full head of black hair. She pushed the hammock you lay in, a million oak leaves above your head. You didn’t know yet your first word. You were slow to learn to talk and your first step was as enormous as an elephant’s. Her waist was below her blouse and you could hide in a voluminous maroon skirt. Sharp was the blue sky, the white porch steps.
     Here’s your mother now, frail at one hundred pounds, hearing aids plopped above her lobes, eyes a pale glaze seeing only form and shadow, in her own crooked way heading for another country.
     Let her be as she is. You can’t save her. You can only remember as she dissolves. With one arm you reach all the way back and with your other arm you steady the walker that she grasps before her.
     But don’t fool yourself. However old your mother is, you are always walking into vast rooms full of beginnings and endings, abundant with possibility. Try the empty cubicle of your page. What can you scratch in it before your turn comes to step up to the vast ocean all by yourself? Go. Ten minutes.




Old Friend from Far Away, image provided by Simon & Schuster, all rights reserved.

Natalie: It was wonderful to do an interview with the two of you. I love you both and take good care. And I feel honored and thank you for doing this for red Ravine.


QuoinMonkey: I feel so much gratitude for studying with you. I really appreciate you. Thank you so much.







red Ravine posts about Natalie Goldberg:



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Waiting for Dad, self-portrait of Jim and Em, photo by Jim, all rights reserved.
Waiting for Dad, self-portrait of Jim with Em at school, photo © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.







my best mother’s day:
my mother, my daughter, and
a father who shares








-related to post, haiku (one-a-day)

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Spinner, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, May 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Spinner, 1966, sculpture by Alexander Calder, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden near the Walker Art Center, May 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.







blue Midwestern spring
Calder’s spinner bobs and weaves
dancing with the wind







-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, May 11th, 2008

-related to post, haiku (one-a-day)

 

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By Bob Chrisman


Last fall, determined to catch the color changes in the leaves, I watched them turn from green to yellow, orange, and red. I would sit on the window seat in the front room and write about the colors.

One day…suddenly it seemed…the leaves had all turned. When did it happen? I had been watching everyday.

I sat in the window seat even more determined to watch the leaves fall. Occasionally a leaf would let go of the branch and float to the ground to join other leaves. I didn’t remember all of those leaves on the ground yesterday. Did they fall during the night so no one would realize that winter waited around the corner?

One morning I looked out and found that almost all of the leaves lay in yards and in the street. Again I had missed the time it happened.

Growing older has worked just like that. One day I noticed a gray hair. The next day a whole head of gray hair greeted me as I looked in the bathroom mirror. A single wrinkle on my forehead disappeared among the many lines that developed overnight. My varicose vein on my right thigh became a veritable road map of veins. My waistline doubled in size.

I felt old, but only in my body. Then older crept into my mind.

A few months before I retired, an employee appeared in my office. “Great music. Who is it?”

“Petula Clark.”

“Soooooooo? Is she from your generation?” My generation? I recoiled at the idea that I had joined a generation.

“Don’t you remember ‘Downtown’? ‘The Other Man’s Grass is Always Greener’?” I searched my mind for other titles.

She put her hands on her hips. “No, I don’t know her. And don’t you dare ask me where I was when John Kennedy was assassinated. I wasn’t even born yet.”

Thus I came to the knowledge that many of my cultural references meant nothing to a lot of the people who worked with me. I had grown old.

I never thought I would live past 40, but that birthday came and went. Turning 50 changed the way I viewed myself. No longer young, middle age had overtaken me. I celebrated the 56th anniversary of my birth last Saturday. I may live to see 60.

I am older.

But, you know what? I like it. Despite the aches in my joints when the weather turns damp and cool like today, not feeling like a part of the current culture frees me to do what I want to do without worrying about what other people will think of me. Maybe this “getting older” thing will free me from most of my inhibitions.

The rules have changed. I am old and can do what I want with my life. I don’t have family to account to. My friends won’t be surprised by what I do (well, most of them won’t).

Because I am older, I know now that I have a very short time to live. I must get on with my life’s purpose (whatever that may be), not because I’m desperate, but because I want to do the things I came to do. I want to live each moment regardless of how many I may have left.

Older has become the sand rushing downward through the neck of the hour glass. Older has restored the preciousness of this life. Older is what I am right now.

Older.



Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer whose piece Hands, about his mother’s hands, appeared last month on red Ravine. Growing Older is based on a writing practice that Bob did on WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER.

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