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Lately I have begun to measure time by the way I savor or squander it. Yesterday, I had the day to myself. I spent many hours reading in silence. When I find my writing languishing, it is good to read the words of those willing to share the places they have stumbled and succeeded. “The Getaway Car” has traveled both paved and potholed roads.



Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.




Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is the key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, April 19th, 2014

-related to posts: The Ant & The Grasshopper – Ann Patchett & Lucy Grealy, Which Came First, The Grasshopper Or The Egg?, Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl”

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Cattail Bog - 2-10-12 - 2

Cattail Bog, Sony NEX Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2012, photo © 2013 by Liz Anne Schultz. All rights reserved.


When you live in a land of lakes, you tend to develop an intimate relationship with wetland geography. Liz passes Theodore Wirth Park on her journey to and from work and sometimes stops to take photographs of one of its hidden gems—the Quaking Bog. The park’s Quaking Bog is a five-acre acid bog where nearly 200 mature tamaracks shade the understory sphagnum moss. Bogs (also known as mires, quagmires, muskegs, and fens) are remnants of the last glacial age. They each develop differently, depending on climate and typography, and often occur when the water at the ground surface is acidic and low in nutrients.

Bogs are often classified based on their location in the landscape and source of water. There are valley bogs, raised bogs, blanket bogs, quaking bogs, and cataract bogs. Quaking bogs develop over a lake or pond, with bog mats (thick layers of vegetation) about three feet thick on top. Quaking bogs bounce when people or animals walk on them, giving them their name. My most vivid memory of walking a bog was a side trip we took on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters. Here are the impressions of two writers from one of my favorite books on topography, Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape:


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QuoinBog Path, Sony NEX Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2012, photo © 2013 by Liz Anne Schultz. All rights reserved.



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bog

The low-lying area saturated with water creates a hollow of decomposed vegetation in wet, spongy ground. This strange land is called a bog, a word that’s been used since about 1450 to refer to such places. The ground sinks underfoot—-collapses, sucks under. It is a netherworld dimly lit, and a rank smell hangs in the air. Yet a bog is far from dead. It supports plant life; as an ecological system, it can be described as a plant community. Cattails, rushes, sedges, and bulrushes are plants that initially creep into a lake and begin to transition that body of water into a bog. The term most often applies to wetlands that have little inflow of water through streams and are fed, instead, mainly by precipitation. What happens is that the plant material growing in the lake dies off and eventually becomes peat. When the dead and dying vegetation rises to the water level of the lake, this accumulation of peat forms a dome, which prohibits any new plants from growing. Without the inflow and outflow of water, a black skin forms, an oily and idle mire locked in a world of its own contrivance. A foot stepping in goes beneath the surface, fast like a thief. Bogs can be found throughout the United States—Web’s Mill Bog, New Jersey, for instance, and Hanging Bog near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The term bog is also often used in literature to represent the cessation of growth, or a human’s stuck place. In The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane uses a bog to express the conditions of the Civil War. “He is obliged to walk upon bog tufts and watch his feet to keep from the oily mire….The youth went again into the deep thickets. The brushed branches made a noise that drowned the sounds of the cannon. He walked on, going from obscurity into promises of a greater obscurity.”

-Elizabeth Cox from her home ground, Chattanooga, Tennessee



quaking bog

The quaking bog is one of the most novel features of forests of the northern United States, especially those in New England and Wisconsin. It’s an area of sphagnum moss, rushes, sedges, and decaying vegetation, the whole mass of which is floating on a pool of water. The surface appears solid and stable, until trusted with the weight of a step. What seems to be firm ground then shivers, sinks, and rises, like a natural trampoline or waterbed. If the first shimmy of this rich root mass underfoot is not heeded, one might easily break through the entangled mat into water and loose mud below, as if one had stepped into quicksand. The quaking bog suggests in perceptible human time the larger ripple, rise and fall, and shifting of the Earth’s surface in geologic time.

-Robert Morgan from his home ground, the Southern Appalachians of western North Carolina, though he has lived in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York for thirty-five years, and in many ways that seems like home also


Quaking Bog Tree - 2-10-12 - 2

Quaking Bog Tree, Sony NEX Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2012, photo © 2013 by Liz Anne Schultz. All rights reserved.




RESOURCES:

National Geographic Education – Encyclopedic Entry – Bog

Video – What Is A Quaking Bog?

Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape


-related to posts:  Standing Your Ground —-Arroyo, Gulch, Gully & Wash, Midwest Poets & Writers — When Can You Call A Place Home?

-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 6th, 2013


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By Teri Blair



The Poets, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 2011, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On June 11, 2011, four people will stand on a stage in rural America to debate one question: Does poetry matter?


19 years ago, a man named John Davis started an amateur philosophy contest called the Great American Think-Off. He wanted to give ordinary people a chance to voice their opinions on serious issues. Each year a question is announced in January. People have three months to submit a 750-word essay speaking in favor or opposition to the topic. Four finalists are selected to debate their views before a live audience, an audience who determines the winner. Each of the four receive a $500 cash prize, travel expenses, a medal, and the winner is declared “America’s Greatest Thinker.” John’s two-decade-old idea has flourished. In 2010 (Do the rich have an obligation to the poor?) there were hundreds of entries representing nearly every state.


I was barely awake on January 1st when MPR’s Cathy Wurzer announced this year’s question. I was listening to my bedside clock radio when I heard her say Does poetry matter? My eyes opened in a shot.

I’ve spent a lot of time since that day thinking about the question. Before I started a poetry group, poems didn’t matter that much to me. I admired poets, was in awe of poetry, but it wasn’t until I started reading poetry in earnest that it began to penetrate my life in any meaningful way.

Emily Dickinson, April 2011, photo © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.

Now I see poetry everywhere: imprinted on the sidewalks of St. Paul, recited in films like Invictus, and incorporated into presidential inaugurations. Poetry distills events of our common human experience into a few words. I’m informed, assured I’m not alone, and given direction. I’ve read Bill Holm’s “Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back” dozens of times since my dad died. It gives me permission to set down the pressure to do something about death. I’ve committed May Sarton’s “Now I Become Myself” to memory, saying it over and over as I swim laps at the YWCA, continually calling myself to authenticity.

I knew the day I heard the question that I’d enter the contest. Not to win, but to document what happened in our poetry group. The words fell onto the page, and I felt closure for the group that had been so hard to disband the previous year.

On May 1st I’ll find out if I’m one of the four finalists. I hope I’m chosen, and I really hope I’m not. I want to share what my poetry group discovered, and can’t stand the thought of standing on a stage trying to think on my feet. I wasn’t on the high school debate team for good reason.


I want to hear from you: Does poetry matter? If it doesn’t, were you subjected to obscure passages in high school English class that left you with a bad taste in your mouth? Does poetry seem a lofty and inaccessible pursuit for snobs?

If poetry does matter to you, how come? Do you have a favorite poet?

Whether I’m nervous on the stage (or at ease in the audience), I plan to be at the Think-Off on June 11th. Maybe I’ll see you there.


To read more about the Great American Think-Off: www.think-off.org.



Ted Kooser’s Studio, Dwight, Nebraska (pop. 259), January 2010,
all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


________________________________


About Teri: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey has fondly and frequently written. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the last post on the group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri’s first red Ravine guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and published a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time . In March 2010, she wrote Discovering The Big Read , a piece about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri spent February 2011 with visiting writers and artists at the Vermont Studio Center, walking, writing, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains. Her last piece for red Ravine, Emily’s Freedom, is a photo essay about what she learned on a writing pilgrimage to Amherst, Massachusetts to visit the home of poet Emily Dickinson.

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Happy 4th Birthday red Ravine!


In Gratitude for another year of red Ravine, with much appreciation to our readers and guests. You keep the community going strong and inspire me every day with your courage, grace, and humor. red Ravine was conceived in Taos, New Mexico, born on November 3rd, 2006, and launched as an Aries, April 7th, 2007. It seems important to mark the passing of time, to reflect and remember how far we have come.

On the first anniversary in 2008, we were living dangerously. The second year, we celebrated poetry with a Postcard From Billy Collins — Kicking Off National Poetry Month. Year three explored the range of horoscopes of our readers. Here we are at the end of year four. I saw my first butterfly this afternoon signaling the birth of Spring. It held all the promise of a passionate year five. Thank you for all you have given!


-posted on red Ravine, in celebration of her 4th Birthday & Blogiversary, Thursday, April 7th, 2011

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by Teri Blair



Home of Emily Dickinson, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On October 30th, 2010, I stood in a room I had wanted to be in for years. It had a bed, a desk, a dresser, a lantern, a basket, and huge windows. From this second story perch Emily Dickinson composed her wonderful, strange, profound poetry.

IMG_0656 window

Emily was born in the same house where she died. And with the exception of a few trips and a little schooling, she never ventured from her hometown. Ever. She lived for 55 years, becoming increasingly reclusive the older she got. She published seven poems under pseudonyms while she was alive, poetry that went practically unnoticed. It wasn’t until she died that the big discovery was made. Emily’s sister was cleaning out her bedroom dresser and found nearly 1800 poems in the bottom drawer. They were written in handmade booklets and on scraps of paper.

Four years after her death, Emily’s first volume of poetry came out and she was famous. Now, 124 years later, she is considered one of the most influential American poets; her work has never been out of print.


IMG_0658 ANNA

I drove to Amherst, Massachusetts with my niece, Anna. We pulled up to Emily’s house on Main Street, an impressive yellow brick surrounded on two sides by massive gardens. The moment we stepped onto this National Historic Site, I was looking for clues of how Emily did it. Was she simply brilliant, or was there some evidence of influence? Our tour guide told us that as soon as Emily’s first book came out, speculation about her largely private life began, speculation that has never stopped.

They honor Emily by sticking with the facts, only the things that are authenticated. I am compelled to do the same, simply observing some habits that made up part of her writing life.





A Period of Woolgathering


When Emily was 10, her family moved temporarily to a different house in Amherst. Her bedroom faced the town graveyard, and during those next impressionable years, she watched hundreds of horse-drawn funeral processions.

When she was 19, her father gave her a puppy she named Carlo. For the sixteen years of her dog’s life, they explored the woods and fields of Amherst together. Emily made extensive collections from what she found outside on these long hikes.

Contemplating death and observations of nature run heavily through Emily’s poetry.


IMG_0651 porch


Writing Practices


Emily was a voracious reader. Her family received daily newspapers and several magazines, all of which Emily read cover-to-cover. She read poets; Keats and Browning were two of her favorites.

She wrote at night by lamplight. Moonlight walkers consistently saw a light burning in Emily’s window. They didn’t know what she was doing. Though there were virtually no external rewards for her work, she kept writing. An internal force propelled her.


Simplicity


Emily’s life was very simple; there were few distractions.

She had only a handful of family and friends, and kept in touch with most of them through letter writing.

She baked. She read. She wandered through her gardens. She lowered baskets of gingerbread to her nephews and niece from her window. And at night…she wrote in her bedroom by lamplight.


♦     ♦     ♦


After the 90-minute tour, we were allowed to wander through the house alone at our own pace. Anna and I both gravitated back to Emily’s room. We sat on the floor, stood by the windows; we looked at each other across the room.

Can you believe we’re standing here, I asked Anna. She smiled and shook her head no. We kept looking at each other, smiling and shaking our heads because we knew. There was nothing more to say; and we could both feel the pulse of what had happened within those four walls.


IMG_0654 From The Garden Large

View of Emily’s From The Garden, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When Emily died, the funeral was held in the library of her house. At her request, six Irish immigrants carried her casket from the house to her grave. She asked her sister to burn the thousands of letters she had amassed.

But she didn’t say a word about the poems in the bottom drawer.

Emily’s brother and his family lived in the house on the far edge of her garden. One time Emily’s niece, Martha, came into her room with her, and Emily pretended to lock the door so no one could get in.  She looked around the room—at the writing desk, lamp, and paper. “Martha,” she said, “this is freedom.”



“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of Me.


-Emily Dickinson c. 1861 from The Pocket Emily Dickinson,
Edited by Brenda Hillman, Shambhala Publications, 2009.



IMG_0670 in memoriam



About Teri: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey has fondly and frequently written. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the last post on the group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

 

Teri’s first red Ravine guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and wrote a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Her last piece for red Ravine, Discovering The Big Read, is about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri will be spending the month of February at the Vermont Studio Center, writing, walking, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains.

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The Mirado Black Warrior - 3/52

The Mirado Black Warrior – 3/52, Week 3/BlackBerry 52, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I was at the Casket Arts Studio last night (Liz and I finally completed, scanned, and mailed our sketchbooks to New York) and saw this still life on the art desk. The Mirado Black Warrior is one of my favorite pencils. I bought about ten of them years ago when I read that author Thad Beaumont, the main character in Stephen King’s The Dark Half, wrote his books with Black Warriors. By association, I made the leap that the Black Warrior was also Stephen’s pencil of choice. (I just knew that if I used them to write, his uncanny ability to weave a story together would rub off on me.)

I am fascinated by the way ordinary objects impact our daily lives and have read about the history of pencils. Liz included the pencil on the cover of her sketchbook for The Sketchbook Project because pencils changed the world (her theme was Things That Changed Other Things). I learned at Pencil Revolution that part of what makes the Mirado Black Warrior so enticing is that it is rounded (rather than octagonal), smells like heaven because of its cedar construction, flows smoothly on the page due to the waxed-ceramic and graphite core, and has a semi-soft Pink Pearl eraser that will not burn holes through your pages.

Did you know Henry David Thoreau’s family owned and managed a pencil factory in Concord, Massachusetts? According to The Thoreau Society, “Thoreau family pencils, produced behind the family house on Main Street, were generally recognized as America’s best pencils, largely because of Henry’s research into German pencil-making techniques.” (For more on Thoreau and pencils, check out Henry Petroski’s classic account The Pencil; the thick, tall book is on my bookshelf.)

The Dark Half tops my list of books by Stephen King, along with his nonfiction work, On Writing (see 10 Tips From Stephen King On The Craft Of Writing). I even went to see him at the Fitzgerald Theater in November 2009. So when I saw the Mirado Black Warrior on the desk last night, I knew it would be Week 3’s Jump-Off in the BlackBerry 52 collaboration with Lotus. Feel free to join us if you wish (learn about the project’s beginnings at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration).


-related to posts: icicle tumbleweed (haiga) – 2/52, Best Of BlackBerry 365 — First Quarter SlideShow, BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, WRITING TOPIC — TOOLS OF THE TRADE

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The Master Butcher (Revisited) - 255/365

The Master Butcher (Louis Erdrich) – 255/365, BlackBerry 365, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


To celebrate the World Premiere stage adaptation of The Master Butchers Singing Club at the Guthrie, Liz and I have started reading the novel aloud to each other. I savor each moment. This will be second time I have followed Fidelis from Germany with his pristine set of knives and suitcase full of sausages, walked the streets of Argus, North Dakota with Delphine and Cyprian, and sat at the clean and ordered table of Eva Waldvogel.

The first time was at least five years ago when my relationship with Liz was just getting started. We quickly discovered that we both loved art, music, writers, and books — lots of books. Liz grew up in North Dakota and Louise Erdrich was one of her favorite authors (she had gone to see her speak in the 80’s at Moorhead State). To help win me over, and in a courtship ritual I didn’t find the least bit bizarre, she checked out two library copies of The Master Butchers Singing Club on CD, handed one to me and said, “I thought we could listen to them separately in our cars and compare notes. What do you think?”

Seven years and some odd months later….we learned that Master Butchers was coming to the Guthrie and vowed to pick up tickets. A few weeks ago when we attended The Scottsboro Boys, we stopped by the ticket window and sealed the deal. Then Birchbark Books (the independent bookstore owned by Louise) announced on Facebook that it had a few signed, First Edition copies of The Masters Butchers Singing Club for sale. I returned home that evening to find the book gleaming off the coffee table. And there on the cover, in a photograph taken June 8th, 1912, in Pforzheim, Germany, was the Master Butcher himself, Louise’s grandfather, Louis Erdrich.


Can you imagine having your novel adapted for the stage in such a prestigious venue as the Guthrie Theater? If the Guthrie’s photograph of Louise and her daughter on set before the preview opening on September 11th is any indication, it is a feeling of elation and pure joy.

We’ll be attending the play in October (with several friends) and will come back and check in later this Fall. According to Minnesota Monthly, director Francesca Zambello didn’t know Louise when she frequented Kenwood Café and picked up a copy of Master Butchers at Birchbark next store. But over time, “With Erdrich’s blessing (and advice), Zambello and Pulitzer-winning playwright Marsha Norman began condensing the sprawling family saga, set in the fictional town of Argus, North Dakota, between the world wars. There’s more singing and less butchering now. And that’s fine with Erdrich…”

In my humble opinion, The Master Butchers Singing Club is one of her finest. I can only imagine that Louise’s grandfather would agree. It is a book about the importance of place and culture, a universal story. There is a way that Louise’s books honor those who came before her, generations of ancestry in perfect imperfection. As above, so below. So may it be.


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The Erdrich Sisters, Heid, Lise, Louise, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Additional Resources:

MPR Midmorning: From the page to the stage - The Master Butchers Singing Club. Kerri Miller’s interview this morning with Louise Erdrich and Francesca Zambello.

Minnesota Monthly Profiles Author Louise Erdrich, September 2010 – Staging Erdrich by Michael Tortorello including 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Louise.

Play Guide, Interviews, and Ticket Info on The Master Butchers Singing Club at the Guthrie Theater.

Louise’s bookstore, Birchbark Books where you can get your own First edition, first printing, hardcover of The Master Butchers Singing Club signed by Louise Erdrich, or the newly re-issued Fishing for Myth from Heid Erdrich.

Bill Moyers interview with Louise Erdrich on Bill Moyers Journal, April 9th, 2010

Louise Erdrich on Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates Jr.


-related to posts: The Company Of Strangers (On Louise Erdrich & Flying), Book Talk — Do You Let Yourself Read?


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red Ravine At The MN State Fair — Minding Our P’s & Q’s, September 2010, photo © 2010 by Liz Schultz. All rights reserved.


We spent hours at the Minnesota State Fair yesterday. Fall made her official debut with a cloudy, blustery 68 degrees. I bundled up in my Lily and Hope North American Bear Center sweatshirt and made the rounds with Liz and two friends we go to the Fair with every year (it’s a Fall ritual!). We also met our friend Teri for the few minutes she could steal away from her duties at the Fair. We had a fabulous time.

This year’s annual Minnesota State Fair post (along with a list of 71 foods-on-a-stick) focuses on writers, and our day at the Fair did not disappoint. Author Peter Smith did a book signing at the MPR booth for his new book, A Porch Sofa Almanac. You can hear an interview with him sharing his favorite Minnesota State Fair memory at MPR. We also attended a book signing by this year’s Minnesota State Fair Foundation Author-In-Residence, Debra Frasier. We met the author at the J.V. Bailey House and bought her new book, A Fabulous Fair Alphabet.

After chatting with Debra about the Alphabet Forest, we decided to stop by her little log cabin at Baldwin Park, across from the 4-H building. Kids and adults alike love it here. You can spell out your name in Fair alphabet letters and your banner will be posted on her website the next day. I spelled red Ravine (the last “e” in Ravine is from the Cheese Curds stand) and Liz took the photograph for me. The Alphabet Forest is one of the most peaceful stops at the Fair! There are benches and lots of activities for kids.

We came home last night with a bucket of warm Sweet Martha’s cookies, a new pair of cornflower blue Brasko shoes for Liz (bought from a man from Kansas with a Swedish accent), and both of the author’s books. They were all out of Camel on-a-stick but other food highlights included Peaches & Cream, and Deep-Fried Bacon Cheddar Mashed Potatoes on-a-stick with the best honey mustard I’ve ever tasted. Yes, I think we have to buy those again on Monday. We’ll be there for a ride on Ye Old Mill and the last concert at the Grandstand, Dukes of September Rhythm Review (featuring Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen, and Michael McDonald). See you there!


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, September 4th, 2010

-related to these posts with tons of history about the MN State Fair: MN State Fair On-A-Stick, MN State Fair On-A-Stick (Happy B’Day MN!), On-The-Go List Of Must-Haves (MN State Fair), Nightshot – Carousel, MN State Fair On-A-Stick II – Video & Stats, food on-a-stick haiku, Peach Glazed Pig Cheeks On-A-Stick, the fine art of Princess Kay of the Milky Way (and the Butter Queens), Minnesota State Fair poster artists, the history of Fairborne and Fairchild, and the tradition of Tom Thumb Donuts.

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MN State Fair -- Fairchild & Fairborne

MN State Fair — Fairborne & Fairchild, MN State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota, August 2010, all photos © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


The Minnesota State Fair kicked off this week and it’s time for our annual State Fair post on red Ravine. We’ve covered a lot of history over the years, including the debut of Peach Glazed Pig Cheeks On-A-Stick, the fine art of Princess Kay of the Milky Way (and the Butter Queens), Minnesota State Fair poster artists, the history of Fairborne and Fairchild, and the tradition of Tom Thumb Donuts.

This year we honor the work of two writers who have written about the Minnesota State Fair. In 1928, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his classic short story “A Night at the Fair.” And this year, Debra Frasier, author of On the Day You Were Born and the Minnesota State Fair Foundation’s current Author-in-Residence, has written and illustrated A Fabulous Fair Alphabet.



Debra Frasier — A Fabulous Fair Alphabet


What started as a collection of photographs taken by Minneapolis author Debra Frasier on daily visits to the Minnesota State Fair, has turned into a work of book art. A Fabulous Fair Alphabet is Frasier’s tribute to the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” and the impetus for the State Fair Alphabet Project, a labor of love for hundreds of Minnesotans who are passionate about early learning. The book has also gained national acclaim, with the New York Times noting,  “Frasier brings to life a jaunty Ferris wheel, a sunburst-yellow pitcher of lemonade and a swirling roller coaster.”

The book is interactive and there is a wonderful article about Frasier’s process in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. She intentionally left the front-piece page blank in hopes that families will use the page to personalize their copies of the book as a keepsake, a place to store their own Fair memories, images, and words:

Going to the State Fair together is a ritual for many families. Grandparents have passed along their favorite Fair traditions to their grandchildren. The book is a place for all generations to record their experiences together. Imagine if we had a list of favorite words from our relatives’ 1901 trip to the Fair, or 1945, or 2010 for fairgoers of 2060!

-Debra Frasier

Debra Frasier will be giving book signings from Noon to 2 p.m. daily at the J.V. Bailey House (across from the Space Needle) and I plan to visit her there. You can also visit the Alphabet Forest at Baldwin Park, across from the 4-H building. There are teaching materials based on the book, coloring sheets, instructions on making animals-on-a-stick or a cereal box stage, a bibliography of fair-themed books, display letters, a script that deepens the story and a look at how Frasier created the book at her official website.



F. Scott Fitzgerald — A Night at the Fair


IMG00661-20100723-1957.jpgF. Scott Fitzgerald is a Twin Cities icon who continues to live on through art and author happenings at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. Most Minnesotans know that he penned the short story, “A Night at the Fair,” but after a comment from one of our readers, I started to wonder how many had actually read the story (myself included).

It begins like this:

The two cities were separated only by a thin well-bridged river; their tails curling over the banks met and mingled, and at the juncture, under the jealous eye of each, lay, every fall, the State Fair. Because of this advantageous position, and because of the agricultural eminence of the state, the fair was one of the most magnificent in America. There were immense exhibits of grain, livestock and farming machinery; there were horse races and automobile races and, lately, aeroplanes that really left the ground; there was a tumultuous Midway with Coney Island thrillers to whirl you through space, and a whining, tinkling hoochie-coochie show. As a compromise between the serious and the trivial, a grand exhibition of fireworks, culminating in a representation of the Battle of Gettysburg, took place in the Grand Concourse every night.

–F. Scott Fitzgerald,  A Night at the Fair

If your imagination is captured, you can read all 15 pages at Project Gutenberg. One of my favorite parts is when Scott writes about Ye Old Mill. Fitzgerald - Commodore HotelThe same Ye Old Mill at the Fair today. Located at the southwest corner of Carnes Avenue and Underwood Street, and touted as the “original tunnel of love,” Ye Old Mill is the oldest ride on the fairgrounds and is owned by the same family who first operated it in 1913.

The ride runs on a 40-horse power engine that turns the mill wheel and keeps water running through the 1300-foot channel. When you read Fitzgerald’s descriptions, you can imagine Basil and Riply chugging along on the Fair rides and Midway of the 1920’s. Memories preserved through story.



F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour — St. Paul, Minnesota


I’m a writer who has lived in the Twin Cities for over 20 years. Until this summer, I had never seen the place where F. Scott Fitzgerald was born, walked on the steps of St. Paul Academy where he went to school (with a Fitzgerald IMG00657-20100723-1952.jpgstatue created by Aaron Dysart), or taken a photograph of the sign at the Commodore Hotel where Scott and Zelda lived when their baby girl, Scottie, was born. Those old hotel walls have breathed in tales we can only imagine, real life stories of their drinking and partying at the Commodore bar.

For my birthday this year, our Poetry & Meditation Group walked the 13 stops of a self-guided Fitzgerald tour, from 481 Laurel, where Scott was born, to Mrs. Backus’ Boarding School at 586 Holly, the building where Scott enrolled in dance class. However, the heart of the tour is a four-block radius surrounding the intersection of Kent Street and Summit Avenue, “one of the grandest rows of Victorian Boulevard architecture anywhere in America.” From there, Summit IMG00643-20100723-1938.jpg stretches nearly five miles to the Mississippi River in the country’s longest span of residential, Victorian architecture.

Slip on a comfortable pair of shoes, and walk in the footsteps of the writers who came before us. Francis Scott Fitzgerald (named after Francis Scott Key) has a birthday coming up on September 24th; take the tour to celebrate his birth, brushing oaks along streets his parents walked in 1896. At the time he lived in St. Paul, F. Scott visited with writers like Sinclair Lewis and Donald Ogden Stewart. Here’s a link to every stop on the F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour.



_________________________________________________________________

Spaghetti & Meatball Dinner On-A-Stick, Fried Fruit On-A-Stick, Macaroni & Cheese On-A-Stick, Bull Bites, Deep Fried Tater Tots On-A-Stick, Grilled Shrimp On-A-Stick, Vintage Kids & Fair Food!, Leprechaun Legs, MN State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota, August 2008, all photos © 2008-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



MN State Fair – Foods On-A-Stick


Our Minnesota State Fair post wouldn’t be complete without the annual foods on-a-stick list. Here’s the lineup for 2010. If you are looking for the location of specific foods at the Fair, here’s a link to their FoodFinder with a map of the Fair. The Minnesota State Fair runs through Monday, September 6th. From the 20,000 gallons of milk served by the the American Dairy Association, to the 338,000 dozen mini-donuts consumed, and the 22,000 rolls of toilet paper used at the Minnesota State Fair, there is nothing else to do but ENJOY!

  1. Alligator Sausage on-a-stick
  2. Baby Potatoes on-a-stick
  3. Bacon (Fried) on-a-stick
  4. Bananas (chocolate covered) on-a-stick
  5. Beef Kabobs on-a-stick
  6. Bologna (deep-fried) on-a-stick
  7. Bomb Pops on-a-stick
  8. Butterscotch Cake on-a-stick
  9. Camel on-a-stick
  10. Candy Apples on-a-stick
  11. Candy Bars (deep fried) on-a-stick
  12. Caramel Apples on-a-stick
  13. Caramel Apple Puppies on-a-stick
  14. Catfish on-a-stick
  15. Cheese on-a-stick
  16. Cheesecake (chocolate covered) on-a-stick
  17. Chicken on-a-stick
  18. Chicken Bites on-a-stick
  19. Chocolate Tornado on-a-stick
  20. Coffee (frozen) on-a-stick
  21. Corndogs on-a-stick
  22. Cotton Candy on-a-stick
  23. Dessert Pizza on-a-stick
  24. Dixie Wings on-a-stick
  25. Espresso (frozen) on-a-stick
  26. Fruit (fresh) on-a-stick
  27. Fruit (fried) on-a-stick
  28. Fry Dog on-a-stick
  29. Fudge Puppies on-a-stick
  30. Hot Dago on-a-stick
  31. Hot Dish on-a-stick
  32. Hot Dogs (wrap) on-a-stick
  33. Jerk Chicken on-a-stick
  34. Key Lime Pie Dipped in Chocolate (frozen) on-a-stick
  35. Kufta Kabob on-a-stick
  36. Lamb (leg of) on-a-stick
  37. Macaroni & Cheese on-a-stick
  38. Marshmallows (Chocolate-dipped) on-a-stick
  39. Mashed Potatoes (deep-fried) on-a-stick
  40. Meatballs (porcupine wild rice & ground pork) on-a-stick
  41. Meatballs (Scotch) on-a-stick
  42. Meat Kabobs on-a-stick
  43. Nut Roll (chocolate-dipped) on-a-stick
  44. Pickles on-a-stick
  45. Pizza on-a-stick
  46. Poncho Dogs on-a-stick
  47. Pork Chops on-a-stick
  48. Pronto Pups on-a-stick
  49. Sausage on-a-stick
  50. Sausage and cheese stuffed jalapeno poppers on-a-stick
  51. Scotch Eggs on-a-stick
  52. Shrimp on-a-stick
  53. Shrimp (grilled) on-a-stick
  54. S’mores on-a-stick
  55. S’mores (deep-fried) on-a-stick
  56. Spaghetti & Meatballs on-a-stick
  57. Spudsters on-a-stick
  58. Steak on-a-stick
  59. Taffy Pops on-a-stick
  60. Tater Tots (deep-fried) on-a-stick
  61. Texas Steak Dinner on-a-stick
  62. Texas Tater Dog on-a-stick
  63. Tornado Potato on-a-stick
  64. Turkey Tenderloin (bacon-wrapped) on-a-stick
  65. Turtle Puppies on-a-stick
  66. Vegie Fries on-a-stick
  67. Vegetable Kabobs on-a-stick
  68. Waffle (Belgian) on-a-stick
  69. Walleye on-a-stick
  70. Wild Rice Corndog on-a-stick
  71. Wonder Bar (chocolate-dipped ice cream) on-a-stick


Total Number of Foods-On-A-Stick: 71*


New Minnesota State Fair Foods In 2010
(including *2 new foods on-a-stick not on list above)

    Caramel Apple Puppies (a Fudge Puppy with baked apple and covered with caramel)
    @Fudge Puppies, located on the outside west wall of the Food Building
    Cheese Pizza Served With Corn Dogs (a cheese pizza topped with corn dogs sliced the long way)
    @Pizza Shoppe, located inside the Food Building
    Chicken Fried Bacon (thick cut bacon, battered, breaded and fried, and served in a boat covered with gravy)
    @Giggles’ Campfire Grill, located on Cooper Street and Lee Avenue
    Chocolate Tornado (spiral-cut Tornado Potato dipped in chocolate)
    @Sonny’s Spiral Spud, located inside the Food Building
    Cincinnati Chili (spaghetti noodles smothered with chili and topped with shredded cheddar, beans, and diced onions)
    @Sabino’s, located inside the Warner Coliseum
    Danny Boy Burger (burger made with corned beef and covered with kraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing)
    @O’Gara’s, located on the corner of Dan Patch Avenue and Cosgrove Street
    Deep-Fried Avocado (avocado pieces batter-dipped, deep-fried, and served with Ranch dressing)
    @Tejas, located in The Garden
    Deep-Fried Bacon Cheddar Mashed Potatoes On-A-Stick
    @Potato Man and Sweetie, located on Liggett Street, south of Carnes Avenue
    Deep-Fried Bologna On-A-Stick
    @Netterfield’s Food Court, located on Cooper Street, north of Dan Patch Avenue
    • Deep-Fried Breakfast Wrap (scrambled eggs and bacon in a soft shell wrap, deep-fried and smothered in cheese)
    @Axel’s, located outside on the southeast corner of the Food Building
    •Deep-Fried Shortcake (shortcake batter deep-fried and covered with strawberries and ice cream)
    @Granny’s Cheesecake and More, located on Dan Patch Avenue at Underwood Street
    Fresh Fruit Salsa and Chips (salsa made on-site with fresh fruit and covered with tortilla chips)
    @Fried Fruit, located in Carousel Park on the east side of the Grandstand Ramp
    Fried Pig Ears (thinly sliced pigs ears dusted in seasoned flour, fried until crispy, and served with lime chipotle glaze)
    @Famous Dave’s, located on the corner of Dan Patch Avenue and Liggett Street
    Ghost Wings (chicken wings covered in a habanero pepper sauce)
    @Wings and Things, located inside the Warner Coliseum
    Grilled Marshmallow Chocolate and Banana Sandwich
    @Moe and Joe’s, located on Judson Avenue by the CHS Miracle of Birth Center
    Korean Moon BBQ (Korean “street vendor” style tacos with beef short ribs, spicy/sweet pork or chicken)
    @Blue Moon Dine-In Theater, located on the corner of Carnes Avenue and Chambers Street
    Sausage and cheese-stuffed jalapeno poppers
    @Sausage Sister & Me, located inside the Food Building
    Sloppy Joe served over spiral-cut potato chips
    @Sunny’s Spiral Spuds, located inside the Food Building
    Turtle Puppies (Fudge Puppy covered in caramel and nuts)
    @Fudge Puppies, located against the outside west wall of the Food Building


State Fair photos on Flickr.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 29th, 2010

-related to posts: MN State Fair On-A-Stick (Happy B’Day MN!), On-The-Go List Of Must-Haves (MN State Fair), Nightshot – Carousel, MN State Fair On-A-Stick II – Video & Stats, food on-a-stick haiku, F. Scott Fitzgerald: On Money & Mess, Runes, Oracles, & Alphabets

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In 1997, Toltec nagual (shaman) don Miguel Ruiz published a small book called The Four Agreements. The book laid out in practical terms four agreements one can make with oneself, a code of conduct to live by to transform one’s life. The idea is that these four agreements would replace or at least augment the many agreements we’ve carried with us since we were children—many harmful to our well-being—about our self-worth, our abilities, and life in general.

I learned about the book in 2000, after a particularly difficult year. I was on the brink of leaving my career. I was struggling in my marriage and with being a mother. I was unhappy and didn’t know what to do about it. My boss at the time, with whom my relationship was all but broken, gave me the book. She had just returned from a short sabbatical from work. She seemed transformed and credited the change to the wisdom of Ruiz. She handed out copies of the book to members of her staff, and then within a matter of a few weeks or months, she retired.

I remember when she gave me the book, at first I saw it as an olive branch. I had at one point before my boss left on her sabbatical become so enraged at her over matters at work that I let loose with a verbal assault that surprised even me. In my younger days I had the mouth of a sailor, but I rarely let my emotions get out of hand. Not so that year. I dropped the F-bomb on my boss like it was going out of style. In hindsight, it was amazing that she didn’t fire me for insubordination. That she could give me any gift at all seemed hugely generous.

Later, when I opened the book and saw what it contained, I took the gift as an insult. A category tag on the back of the book identified it as Personal Growth / Self-Help. I felt my former boss was trying to tell me that that I needed help; I was immature enough then to believe that I was perfectly fine and that she was the one who needed help. Reluctantly I read the book.


Fast forward to 2010. I think about my former boss now and again. I know now that not only did I in fact need help those many years ago, The Four Agreements was exactly the right kind of help. Had I been living them at the time, I would not have made the assumption that my former boss was giving me the book as way of trying to tell me something.

Recently I had the opportunity, thanks to the generosity of my good friend Patty, to see don Miguel Ruiz in Albuquerque and hear him and his son, don Jose Ruiz, talk about a new book they jointly wrote called The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery. This was the first time I’d seen either Ruiz in person. I didn’t take notes during the packed talk. I sat in the back of the Unitarian church where they spoke. I listened with an open heart. After the talk, the elder Ruiz left (we learned he had only partial heart functioning after a near-fatal heart attack in 2002) while the younger stayed in the church and signed books.


don jose ruiz and pattydon jose ruiz and roma

light and love, photos of Patty (left) and Roma with don Jose Ruiz, emanating light and love, May 19, 2010, Albuquerque, photos © 2010, all rights reserved.




Don Miguel Ruiz came from a family of healers. His mother was a curandera and his grandfather a nagual. From the book jacket of The Four Agreements, “The family anticipated that Miguel would embrace their centuries-old legacy of healing and teaching, and carry forward the esoteric Toltec knowledge. Instead, distracted by modern life, Miguel chose to attend medical school and become a surgeon.”

After nearly losing his life in a car accident, Ruiz devoted himself to becoming a nagual. He has passed on the knowledge to his son, Jose Luis, and together they are promoting The Fifth Agreement. I am reading The Fifth Agreement now, and already it has hit home for me the wisdom and power of that original small book.

I have in small but perceptible ways been transformed by Ruiz’s four agreements. They’re not easy to live by. Some are harder than others. Some I recall daily. Here they are, with a short excerpt about each:



be impeccable with your word


Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.



don’t take anything personally


Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.



don’t make assumptions


Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.



always do your best


Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.





Perhaps you are familiar with don Miguel Ruiz and his books of wisdom, or maybe this is the first time you’ve heard of any of this. In either case, reflect on the four agreements and think about what they mean to you. Write each agreement at the top of your notebook and then do a 10- or 15-minute Writing Practice on each one. If this is your first exposure to this Toltec wisdom, buy the books or check them out from your local library and take the time to learn more about them and their author. Let us know if your writings about the agreements resonate with the writings in the books.

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By Teri Blair



The Big Read, all photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





Have you heard of The Big Read?


I found out about it completely by accident. I was perusing the CDs at my library, and saw one entitled The Big Read: An Introduction to My Antonia by Willa Cather. I took it home, and was enraptured by the 25-minute program. Ted Kooser talked about the significance of Cather to Nebraska, Garrison Keillor read excerpts from her book, and Colin Powell talked about the immigrant experience. What was this? The Big Read?


The Big Read began in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts, and is the largest reading program in American history. Their mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture. Communities all over the country can apply for grants to explore one of the 31 Big Read titles. In addition to reading the book, related events are planned to last approximately one month.







When I plugged my zip code into The Big Read’s website, I was happy to find there was an event within an hour of where I live. On a Saturday in February my friends and I jumped in my Subaru and headed east to the small river town of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. As Thornton Wilder was from the Badger State, this community had chosen Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey. We walked into a packed house at the Scenic Riverway Park building. The local organizers of the program spoke, a representative from the National Endowment talked about what is happening with The Big Read across the country, and we heard from Wisconsin author David Rhodes. He read excerpts from his book Driftless, talked about Thornton Wilder’s writing, and led a group discussion about what Wilder accomplished in his work. At the end of the program, we were all given two new books, a CD audio guide (just like the one I had found at the library), bookmarks, and a reader’s guide.


We were invited to join book discussion groups, and to come back for follow-up events. Wisconsin Public Radio will be performing a reader’s theater, and the local community playhouse will present Our Town.


I love to read, but like most readers, I get worried about the future of books and people to enjoy them. A faster and faster world makes a luxurious afternoon with a good book harder to claim. I am happy to support a program that is doing something tangible…something to bring reading back to the people.


To find out more about The Big Read (and to plug in your own zip code) go to:

http://www.neabigread.org.


Thornton Wilder, David Rhodes, From The Big Read Series, all photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.




About Teri Blair: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey fondly and frequently writes. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the latest post on that group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri has written many posts on red Ravine. Her first guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb early this year and wrote a follow-up piece published on red Ravine in March, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time.

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In honor of Women’s History Month, the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM, in partnership with local arts organizations, artists, writers, and businesses has organized a month-long celebration: Women & Creativity 2010. All over the city, you can attend workshops, exhibits, panels, and many other fun activities. Case in point:




creativity + the artist

Seeds: The Spirit of Women Writers



6 p.m. March 11 at National Hispanic Cultural Center
1701 Fourth St. SW, Salon Ortega

A featured event in the Women & Creativity series





Join us for an invigorating evening of readings from women writers featuring poet Kathleen Driskell, whose collection of poems, Seed Across Snow, was on the Poetry Foundation’s best seller list twice in 2009; Lisa Lenard-Cook, author of Dissonance and Coyote Morning, as well as The Mind of Your Story; Carolyn Flynn, award-winning literary fiction and creative nonfiction writer, as well as author of numerous books and editor of the Albuquerque Journal’s SAGE magazine; and yours truly (aka ybonesy, Roma Arellano), writer, artist and co-founder of this wonderful writing and art community blog.

Santa Fe poet laureate and organizer of Women & Creativity, Valerie Martinez, will kick off the evening with an introduction and reading.

The theme of the panel will be the interrelatedness of the arts — other forms of art as inspiration for writing. Admission is free.


If you are in Albuquerque or the surrounding area, please join us!

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By Teri Blair



Clutter Memorial Monument, photo © 2010 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





The town of Holcomb has been on my front burner for years. It began when I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, built momentum when I read In Cold Blood, and culminated with a road trip to Kansas to see the spot on the map that writer Truman Capote made famous. I was pulled into the 1959 story with everyone else—the lonely farmhouse, the two ex-cons who drove through the night to a place they’d never been, the murdered family. Truman’s stellar writing made me want to see it all—the Clutter Farm, the courthouse where the death sentence was pronounced, and the hotel where Truman stayed while he wrote.

The first time I drove the 850 miles I was a just a sightseer, a tourist. It was a one-time thing. I couldn’t have predicted the story would keep going, that months later I would find some long-lost relatives in Holcomb who had known the Clutters, that I would interview some of the same people Capote had, that I would make the long trip through the relentless wind several times.



Windmills of Kansas, grain elevator towering over Garden City
(seven miles from Holcomb and the site of the trial), Chinese elms
leading to the Clutter farmhouse, and the Clutter farmhouse.
Photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





Fifty years ago Perry Smith and Richard Hickock drove across Kansas on a false tip that there was a rich farmer who had thousands of dollars hidden in a safe. Their botched robbery turned into carnage. The two were captured six weeks later, tried, convicted, and hung at a federal penitentiary. The crime was horrific, but everyone agrees, the story would have faded in time—if not for Capote. Though life would have been forever altered in Finney County, it would have returned to normal.

But it didn’t work that way. Truman wrote his book, it became a best seller, and he was catapulted to the top of the literary world. Then Hollywood got on board with a string of successful movies based on the book. Because of one author, there has been a constant, unending stream of people like me in Holcomb. Curious. Prying. Asking. Looking. Bringing it up. Over and over and over. When I interviewed Duane West a few years ago (the local lawyer who got the murderers convicted), he asked why people like me don’t think of something else to do. He’s been pestered for so many interviews since 1959 that he won’t talk to anyone unless they make a donation to the Boy Scouts of Finney County.




         

                             

Finney County Courthouse and stairs Capote climbed during the trial to
the courtroom. Photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





In September, Holcomb dedicated a monument to the Clutters. It’s intent is to honor the four people who died: Herb, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon. They were upstanding, involved members of their community. That’s what the monument focuses on, not what garnished the attention: their brutal deaths described in the book In Cold Blood. It was a solid community step to take the Clutters back from Truman and Hollywood and bring them home to their people.

The last time I was in Kansas, I went to the annual Ground Hog Supper held at the Methodist Church. It was the Clutters’ church, the one where the four-family funeral was held in 1959. I sat in the same Fellowship Hall where the mourners would have eaten their post-burial lunch. The room was packed. Just like in 1959. And the people were the same as then—farmers, insurance salesmen, clerks. I liked them. They reminded me of people I grew up around. And I didn’t want them to be bothered with gawkers like me any longer.



Park sign leading to Clutter Memorial Monument,
photo © 2010 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





Was Truman right or wrong to tell their story? I loved the book and what it did for American writing. But was it worth the price Holcomb had to pay? Though I won’t pass judgment, one thing is clear: a good writer’s work leaves results. When Capote left New York to set up shop in Kansas, he pulled us in. The pull has lasted five decades. His book kept a wound open. And Truman suffered, too. Researching and publishing In Cold Blood punctuated his dramatic descent into alcoholism.

So for me, for this one writer, I’ve decided to set it down. If I go back to Holcomb someday to visit my cousins, I’ll enjoy the Arkansas River that flows through the town, and I’ll buy a Cherry Limeade because I can’t get them where I live. But that’s it. No more questions.

I’ll just let the people be. It’s time.



Wheatlands Hotel, where Truman Capote stayed,
photo © 2010 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.






About Teri Blair: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey fondly and frequently writes. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the latest post on that group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri has written many posts on red Ravine, but this current piece is a follow-up and closure of sorts to her first guest post here, Continue Under All Circumstances, which she wrote on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas.

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[February 3, 2010, UNM Sub Ballroom]


By Carolyn Flynn





Elizabeth Gilbert in Albuquerque, February 3,
2010, in the UNM Sub Ballroom, photo © 2010
by ybonesy. All rights reserved.






From The “You Can’t Hurry Love” Department:


The age at which people marry is the greatest predictor of a failed marriage, so marry late and lower your expectations.

“You almost can’t wait long enough,” says author Elizabeth Gilbert to an audience of about 720 book lovers that gathered in the University of New Mexico SUB ballroom in Albuquerque this month to hear her read from her newest book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.

“The expectation thing is huge,” Gilbert goes on to say. “We have overloaded this institution.”

American marriage is supposed to be the safe harbor for soul gratification, life partner, wealth building, child rearing and everyday companion.

“I don’t want to become the goddess of lower your expectations,” Gilbert says, “but manage them.”

In an interview before the event, Gilbert says more about that: “People who marry at heat of infatuation. The only one way to go from there is to speed down. People who marry from place of love and friendship find that over the years they find their love just deepens.”

Gilbert didn’t set out to be an expert on romance and marriage. Rather, the author of the mega-best-selling Eat, Pray, Love set out to be the “bride of writing,” as she proclaims on her Web site, elizabethgilbert.com.

“I married it,” she tells the audience, which, judging by the questions, has more concerns about what she will write next and how she writes it than fixing up their love lives. “This is what I’m for. This is my purpose.”


The “unidentical twin”


Gilbert set out on a career in writing with this simple goal: “I just wanted to see something published before I died. And people in my family live a long time.”

She also set out to travel, to do yoga and to recover her heart after a brutal divorce and an even-more brutal breakup in a rebound relationship. That led to Eat, Pray, Love, which took readers from Italy to India to Indonesia, where she met the man she loves and shares her life with, the Brazilian gem importer she calls Felipe in her books.

What she didn’t plan on was that her journey would lead her to Committed, released in January 2010.

That book opens with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announcing to Gilbert and her sweetie that their 90-day chunks of commitment — which resembled marriage in every way but weren’t marriage — weren’t going to pass muster. Felipe, an Australian citizen, was in the U.S. on a limited visa that allowed him to stay with Gilbert in their non-wedded state of bliss in Philadelphia about three months at a time. Then, he would have to depart to parts elsewhere, sometimes with Gilbert, only to return. This activity appeared suspicious in the post-9/11 world. Homeland Security announced they would deport him… though a friendly official known only in the book as “Officer Tom” gently advised them that they could solve this problem with the M-word — marriage.

“What we determined, quite swiftly there in the bowels of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport was that it would be hugely to our benefit to do this,” says Gilbert.

Thus, another journey began — and another book.

The route to writing a follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love, was, shall we say, a learning experience.

“The notion that we (as writers) are supposed to be defeating ourselves strikes me as cannibalistic and a little scary,” Gilbert says.

The author considered that Eat, Pray, Love, was her last book “and maybe she would be selling scented candles.”

But she also reminded herself that writers have long careers, and she planned to be writing at least until she was 80. Now 40, she realized that she had 40 more years of writing ahead of her, of which Eat, Pray, Love, would be a small part.

The struggle that she believes every writer has is that the final product is often the “unidentical twin of what you had in mind.”

It took 500 pages and some time off to shed the mantle of expectations for what her next book would be. She freely admits she rejected the first 500 pages, making the painful decision that she could not turn it in to her publisher, which was expecting a manuscript.

She had to take six months off and do something completely different until it became clearer how to approach the next book. That meant a lot of gardening. “Your hands are in the dirt, it’s restorative, and every so often you get a cherry tomato,” she says.

One day in the fall, the first line of Committed came to her. It was in a different voice.

“The problem with the early draft was trying to write in an imitation of my Eat, Pray, Love voice,” she says.


Lessons about love


That version of the draft was a completely different way to tell the same story she tells in Committed, which gets us back to what Gilbert has learned about marriage.

At the Albuquerque event, Gilbert read from the opening of the book, in which she and her sweetie, whom she calls Felipe in both books, were averse to marriage, though there was no absence of love. Both were survivors of nasty divorces. Gilbert had borne witness to what she referred to in Committed to the fact that every relationship has buried within it the “ever-coiled makings of a catastrophe.”

In an interview before the event, Gilbert says her yearlong search to define marriage for herself, she came to understand what had doomed her first marriage was not going to doom her second. “What doomed our marriage — pretty simply, (is we were) young stupid, selfish and immature.

“You take those traits and apply them day-to-day and watch them get eroded.”

But Gilbert also had to make her peace with how much of her marriage was public – owned by the government and the community – and how much was private. “It’s not just your own story,” she says.

Yes, two people who are in love write their own code, governing the graceful balance of give and take.

But their relationship also belongs to the community. And to the U.S. government, as she learned. And to history. “And some would say it belongs to God,” she says in the interview.


‘Waiting to be born’


Gilbert worked through the tremendous expectations not only about marriage, but about her next book. She admits to big time writer’s block. In a 2008 TED lecture on creativity, she wonders why writers put this on themselves. Her father, a chemical engineer, never had chemical engineering block.

Gilbert tells the audience in Albuquerque that what saves her is her work ethic. “I’m a little bit sloppy.”

The newspaper columnist Russell Banks admitted to being lazy and a perfectionist.

This is a difficult aspect in a writer, Gilbert says. “You need to be the opposite.”

“I just refused to die as a person who had 30 pages of a novel in her drawer,” she says.

The biggest thing that kept her going through Committed, is she wants to get to the next project, which she says will be fiction. There are “those things lining up waiting to be born.”





Carolyn Flynn, an MFA candidate in fiction and creative nonfiction at Spalding University, has seen her literary short stories published in Ellipsis and The Crescent Review, as well as the German anthology Wilde Frauen. She is the winner of the Renwick-Sumerwell and SouthWest Writers fiction prizes and has been short-listed for the Tom Howard Prose Prize in creative nonfiction and the Danahy Prize in fiction. For the past ten years, she has been editor of SAGE magazine, published monthly in the Albuquerque Journal. The author of seven nonfiction books on body-mind-spirit topics, she lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her 10-year-old twins.

Carolyn also wrote red Ravine posts An Evening With Elizabeth Gilbert & Anne Lamott after seeing the two writers together in 2008 on the UCLA campus and The Devil Came Down To Austin about seeing ghosts of her father while attending the 2007 Agents & Editors Conference. You can find out more about Carolyn at carolynflynn.com.

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I discovered my passion very early. I just love doing it. My mother claims that I was writing when I was crawling — with a twig in the sand, or on the margins of books. But I think just growing up in the South and having a somewhat difficult time, you know, really helped me to look to creativity as a way to cope, really, with life.

Art requires us to really see, to look at things with understanding. And I think because things were difficult —  for instance, you had one pair of shoes that had to last the entire year. So if you sort of wore them out, what were you going to do? Well, you had to really think hard about how people managed to clothe you, and how they managed to feed you.

The advice I would give to anyone, but especially to the young — find some quiet space around yourself and maintain it. And don’t fill your outer space or your interior space with other people’s anything. Keep a space for you. Because it’s the only way you can grow into being who you were meant to be.

–Alice Walker speaking this morning on We Have a Dream: Inspirational and Motivational Black Americans on 5 KSTP




-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

-related to post on practice, mentors, and Alice Walker on labyrinths: Labyrinth

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RUNES, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Yesterday we went to a book signing at Common Good Books. Jeff Hertzberg and Zöe Francois recently released their second book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The bread was delicious, the authors serious about their work, down-to-earth, engaging and fun. In casual conversation, it came out that Zöe knows Latin. I remembered that I had taken two years of Latin in junior high, a curriculum requirement in the 1960’s. That got me to thinking about language and alphabets.

After the signing, Liz and I did a little Christmas shopping and later went to the studio. I was looking at this set of Runes I made from clay a number of years ago. For a period of time in my life, I consulted with different oracles on a daily basis: the I Ching, the Runes, Tarot, Medicine Cards. I have a passion for learning about symbols in different systems of mysticism.

Symbols are used to create structure within a system, to help us understand complicated ideas with a simple visual. Over time, color has been organized into systems like Goethe’s Triangle and subsequent Colour Wheel, while chakras are symbolized by certain colors. Logos and brands (like red Ravine or ybonesy’s new logo) take their lead from symbols of yore. Graphic designers are always trying to create  innovative new fonts with which to drape old symbols in more imaginative cloaks. (Yet people still like an old standby because Helvetica remains one of the most widely used fonts around.)

I couldn’t find my Runes book last night or I would have drawn the Runes. But I did find an odd book I’d snapped up at a sale, an old Readers Digest Book of Facts. According to the Languages section of the book, all the alphabets around the world can be traced to a North Semitic alphabet that emerged around 1700 B.C. at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. From the Semitic alphabet developed Hebrew, Arabic, and Phoenician. Then Phoenician alphabet was adopted and adapted by the Greeks who in 1000 B.C. introduced a modified form into Europe.

The Greeks standardized the reading of written lines from left to right, added symbols for vowels, and gave rise to the Roman alphabet (used for modern Western languages) and the Cyrillic alphabet (named after Saint Cyril and used in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union). The North Semitic alphabet spawned the Aramaic alphabet which eventually developed into Asian alphabets, such as Hindi.

The earliest forms of writing are picture writings found on clay tablets in parts of the Middle East and southeastern Europe. Some of the oldest found in Iraq and Iran recorded land sales and business deals.

Where do the Runes fit into all this? They are a mystery. The Runic alphabet is one of the oldest in northern Europe with early examples dating to the 3rd century A.D. They have been found in 4000 inscriptions in Britain, Scandinavia, and Iceland but nobody knows for sure where they originated.

For some reason, the Runes remind me of the ancient celebration of Winter Solstice. Some scholars believe the Runes were derived from the Etruscan alphabet of southern Europe and brought north by the Goths after their invasion of the Roman Empire. To me, they are an oracle of mystery. And that’s what draws me to them.


Post Script: The bread baked by Jeff Hertzberg and Zöe Francois was delicious. Their new book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day looks like a winner with many whole wheat and gluten-free recipes. There’s a recipe for their whole wheat Christmas Stollen Bread in the post of their video interview at KARE 11. Or you can visit their website Artisan Bread In Five with fabulous photographs of mouthwatering baked goods. You will come away hungry for more!


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, December 13th, 2009

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Continuity, BlackBerry Shots, pool near Clarks Hill Lake, Georgia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






streaks of Southern light
splash across concrete pool deck
sink to the bottom


wading through memoir
old gravestones crack and crumble
worn secrets revealed


John Cheever lives on
fine art of the short story
distant memories


pool to pool to pool
we have all been The Swimmer
fighting for our lives






When I travel to Georgia with Mom, we stay at my Uncle Bill’s place on Clarks Hill Lake. Mom likes the wicker room on the first floor with a view of the lake and grounds. This year I stayed in the only upstairs bedroom in the wing of the house dedicated to recreation, exercise, and watching movies. In the past, I thought it a little strange to be the only person sleeping on the whole second floor. But this year, I grew to love the room. It’s quiet. No widescreen TV on the wall, no noise. And it looks out over a sea of Georgia pines on the shore of Clarks Hill Lake.

The dividing line between Georgia and South Carolina runs right through Clarks Hill Lake. I stay on the Georgia side with my uncle; my paternal aunts, Annette and Brenda, live not far from my uncle on the South Carolina side. I reconnected with my blood father’s sisters a few years ago after nearly 50 years. They had not seen me or my mother since I was 2 years old. Small world.

One morning I awoke and saw these streaks of light pulsing through the pool below me. It struck me how they hit the concrete first, then jumped into the water and immediately sank to the bottom. One thing I like about outdoor pools is the way the sunlight plays through the water during the day. Another thing about swimming — you get really good at holding your breath.

My grandfather had a pool when I was growing up. It wasn’t far from the bomb shelter he built outside his new home; it was the 1950’s. Among the things I remember clearly are the few sultry evenings when we swam at night. I also associate pools with John Cheever’s short story, The Swimmer. Ever since Natalie Goldberg had us read it for one of her Taos workshops, I’ve never forgotten it. Neither has writer Michael Chabon. In Salon, he calls The Swimmer “a masterpiece of mystery, language and sorrow.”

Who is your favorite short story writer? Have you ever written or published a short story? What do you associate with swimming pools? Exercise, relaxation, water polo, relief from the heat, family fun? Do a Writing Practice on Swimming Pools….10 Minutes, Go!


Lifeline, Lightbending (3), BlackBerry Shots
of pool near Clarks Hill Lake, Georgia, October
2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All
rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, November 14th, 2009, with gratitude to Natalie for all the writers she has introduced us to and made us read in spite of our resistance!

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), PRACTICE — Holding My Breath – 10min, The Vitality Of Place — Preserving The Legacy Of “Home”

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