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Lincoln’s Birthday, Indie bookstore window photographed with Canon Powershot & edited with PhotoShop Elements, Wayzata, Minnesota, February 16th, 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few years ago, Liz and I went to see Ronald C. White, Jr. at the Bookcase of Wayzata, an independent bookstore on Lake Minnetonka. He was there to discuss his new book, A. Lincoln: A Biography. I had heard him interviewed earlier in the morning on MPR; Liz and I decided to be spontaneous and go hear him speak. The little Indie bookstore was packed.

White talked about how Lincoln loved words. And because of that, his words were like poetry. White wrote his book for those who might be reading a Lincoln biography for the first time, or to introduce Lincoln to a younger generation. He also spoke about how Obama started to shine a light on Lincoln, and how he (White) was booked for speaking engagements in Mississippi and Alabama, and also in Europe where many think Abe Lincoln personifies the American Dream.

More than 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. Yet not all of his story has been told. At the end of the Civil War, between March and April 1865, Lincoln went to Northern Virginia to meet with his generals. He shook hands with thousands of Union soldiers and visited the former Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia. But little is known about the last week of his life before his assassination on April 14, 1865.

Historian Noah Andre Trudeau thinks that in their rush to get to Ford’s Theater, historians have overlooked this important part of Lincoln’s life. After the Civil War, the President of the United States met Generals Grant and Sherman in Virginia to talk about the surrender of the South and its impact on our country. Lincoln visited Richmond, then considered enemy territory, as an observer. He was looking for ways a torn nation could begin to heal.

Having spent my childhood in the South, and most of my adult years in the North, I am compelled to follow literature about the Civil War. One of my ancestors was a courier for Robert E. Lee. When we moved to the North, one of the first places we visited was the Gettysburg battlefield. I am fascinated by the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan who took this photo, one half of a stereo view of Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper’s Weekly, while he sketched on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July of 1863. (See links below for the rest of the Atlantic series on photographs of the Civil War.)

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Trudeau is known for uncovering its secrets. His previous books, Bloody Roads South and Gettysburg, have unveiled information about General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea in 1864, and the legacy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Now, in preparation for the book about a largely unexamined period of President Abraham Lincoln’s life, Trudeau is in search of witnesses.

He is seeking diary entries, letters or stories of people who encountered Lincoln at the time. During the NPR story, I was surprised to hear several people call in with leads to family scrapbooks and letters relating to Lincoln. (To share information, contact him at lincoln65@earthlink.net.) About his quest for truth, Trudeau states: “My one nightmare is that I’m going to do a very good job of discrediting all the good stories.” I think it’s quite the contrary. The more stories revealed, the closer we are to weaving together the textured layers of the past, and unraveling the sometimes painful chapters in American history.


Resources:

Historian Seeks Artifacts From Lincoln’s Last Days : NPR Talk Of The Nation (LINK)

A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr. at his Official Website (LINK)

Abraham Lincoln and Slavery | Minnesota Public Radio News (LINK) – historian Eric Foner examines Abraham Lincoln’s complex ideas about slavery and African Americans, casting fresh light on an American icon.

The Civil War, Part 1: The Places, the Atlantic – February 8th, 2012 (LINK) – First installment of amazing b&w photographs of important places in the Civil War. (Some images in the three Series are graphic.)

The Civil War, Part 2: The People, the Atlantic – February 9th, 2012 (LINK) – Second installment of b&w photographs of the Civil War. Includes a photo portrait of Abraham Lincoln taken by photographer Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865.

Traditionally called “last photograph of Lincoln from life”, this final photo in Lincoln’s last photo session was long thought to have been made on April 10, 1865, but more recent research has indicated the earlier date in February. The crack comes from the original negative, which was broken and discarded back in 1865. The entirety of the American Civil War took place while Lincoln was in office, starting a month after he was elected, and ending just days before his assassination in April of 1865.

The Civil War, Part 3: The Stereographs, the Atlantic – February 10th, 2012 (LINK) – Third installment of the Stereographs of the Civil War with the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 12th, 2012, birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Related to posts: Abraham Lincoln & Nikki Giovanni (On Poets & Presidents), Presidential Poetics — Elizabeth Alexander, President Barack Obama, Book Talk — Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Centipede Dreams, scar from a benign tumor taken out when I was 12 (37 years ago), September 2010, photo © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





Most people no longer ask about the large blemish I have in the center of my throat, down where my larynx meets my chest. It’s a tracheotomy scar that must be getting lighter the longer I have it. When I was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for perfect strangers to approach me in public places and ask, “What happened there?”

I had the tracheotomy at age 18 months after a croup turned to pneumonia. It was an emergency operation, part of my childhood mythology, the small Mexican doctor with wild hair who stabbed open a hole in my trachea so I could breathe. She had a frantic look in her eye, her hair loose and Bride-of-Frankenstein-like, and she held the sharp instrument up in the air before bringing it down to pierce my throat.

That’s the image I hold of her anyway, an image formed out of the seemingly hundreds of times I heard my parents tell the story. It was the kind of improbable drama — the dying child whose life is saved by a small doctor who is both Mexican and a woman — with a happy ending that held friends and relatives rapt year after year. I loved the attention, standing near my parents, Mom nudging me to lift my chin so everyone could see the scar. A few gentle strokes of her fingers on the chamois-soft skin, rubbing as if to say, “See, it’s permanent.”

In each telling I embellished the imagery. When my parents described the moment they decided to rush me to the hospital, how my lips had turned blue and I’d stopped breathing, my mind’s eye pictured the veins and blood from my body shimmering purple through translucent skin. Or when Mom and Dad said that my hair went from straight to curly “just like that” as I lay in the oxygen tent in ICU, I saw it happening as if in time lapse photography. Like the stockinged feet of the Wicked Witch of the West curling after Dorothy removes the ruby slippers, so went my hair, forming into tiny ringlets all over my head.

It must be natural, I think, for a young kid to turn her childhood stories into morbid scenes, but what strikes me is how much staying power those scenes have. I don’t replace them with more reasonable pictures — a modest Mexican woman with hair pulled back in a bun, a ride on the gurney into a stark emergency room at the hospital. No, my scenes involve my parents bursting through a set of double doors, my limp blue body draped across Dad’s arms, them watching in horror as the doctor plunges a knife — or better, a pair of sharp scissors — into my throat. Or my parents watching in awe as my hair springs up in a bouquet of curl all around my head, like an angel’s.

I don’t have such vivid imagery when it comes to the scar on my knee, although being that I got it at the impressionable age of 12, I did manage to fabricate a mythology around that one, too. I developed a crush on the orthopedic surgeon who did the procedure — my parents said he looked like a hippie, which made him all the more intriguing. In my mind, his golden hair flows out from under a light blue surgeon’s cap and he dons a small silver hoop in his ear. I clearly recall him coming to visit me after the operation, carrying the kind of Bell jar used for canning fruit. Inside is my white globular tumor floating in a yellowish brine. I’m surprised it isn’t perfectly round, like a golf ball.

The scar from that procedure resembles a centipede on the inside of my right knee, and once after a real centipede crawled across my leg while I played hide-and-seek in the coat closet, I decided to tell any kid who asked me how I got the scar that it was left there by a centipede that seared itself into my skin. “That’s how centipedes bite,” I told them, “they burn themselves right into you.”

Kids looked at me with respect after that, but my story fell apart once they began asking all the questions that come with the idea of centipede-as-branding-iron. “What happened to the centipede?” “Well, it dried up and fell off,” I said one time, and then another time, “It dissolved right into the skin, see?, you can still see parts of it here.” Soon I became tired of the technicality of it all, I couldn’t keep the story straight and over time I left behind the centipede saga and kept only the image of my long-haired doctor.

My latest epic scar involves two puncture wounds on the outer bridge of my nose, close to my eyes, that our rooster Lindo gave me when he tried blinding me with his spurs. Lindo and I shared a mutual animosity, he was a beautiful cocky bird who had such an intense hatred that the moment he spied me coming out the door he would strut my way with the intent to fight. I took to carrying a bundle of dried bamboo stalks, which I used to whack him as I made my way to whatever part of the yard I needed to go. He’d come after me again and again until my stalks splintered into pieces, at which point I took off at a full out run.

Ultimately he got the better of me, one evening when I let down my guard. I had gone armed only with a bowl of compost into the bird pen. I bent down to throw a piece of lettuce to the bunny who lived there with the roosters, turkeys, and ducks, and Lindo saw his opening. He flew up at my face, spurs aimed at my eyes. He almost got them, too, and I’m not embellishing when I say that I traumatized my youngest daughter when I stood up screaming, blood streaming like tears down my cheeks.

The strange thing is that no one notices the scars unless I point them out. One time, at a luncheon in China, I sat next to a German man who had the exact same two puncture wound scars near his eyes. All through lunch, I wanted to ask if he, too, had been attacked by a rooster. But I barely knew the man. I tried to imagine every other possible reason he might have carried scars identical to mine. Maybe he’d suffered terrible acne that resulted in two pimples near his eyes. Or perhaps as a teen he wore black leather and sported a purple Mohawk and a piece of bone pierced through the bridge of his nose.

In the end, I couldn’t think of a way to broach the subject without embarrassing us both or drawing attention from the six other European men at the table. However, in my mind, I am certain that the very thing that happened to me also happened to him. Anything is possible.


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Postscript: This essay is based on a 15-minute Writing Practice in response to WRITING TOPIC – SCARS. The details that emerged from my Writing Practice were similar to other times when I’ve done timed writing that led to stories about my tracheotomy (specifically here and here) so I figured it was time to polish the narrative. Plus, since it contains important elements of my life story, especially my earliest years, I wanted to go with the energy, hoping it might turn into something I can weave later into memoir.

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Most people no longer recognize the patch I have in the center of my throat, down where my larynx meets my chest. It is a tracheotomy scar that must be getting lighter the longer I have it. When I was a kid, it was not uncommon for a perfect stranger would approach me in some store where I was buying sunflower seeds or Jolly Rancher apple sticks and ask, What happened there?

I had the tracheotomy at age 18 months after a respiratory virus turned to pneumonia. It was an emergency operation, part of my childhood mythology, the small Mexican doctor with wild hair who stabbed open the hole in my trachea so I wouldn’t die. She had a frantic look in her eye, her hair loose and Bride-of-Frankenstein-like, and she held the sharp instrument up in the air before bringing it down to pierce my throat.

That is the image that came out of those many times I heard my parents tell the story, it was the kind of story they would repeat to relatives and friends, even after we’d heard it for years, and in each telling I would embellish the imagery. Just like when they said that in the oxygen tent in the ICU, where I stayed for days afterward, my hair went from straight to curly, just like that and I can see it happening, in time lapse photography. Like the stocking feet of the Wicked Witch of the West curling and shrinking away under the house after Dorothy removes the ruby slippers, so goes my hair, forming into tiny ringlets all over my head.

It must be natural, I think, for a young kid to turn their childhood stories into morbid scenes, but what strikes me is how much those scenes have stuck with me through the years. I don’t replace them with more reasonable pictures, a modest Mexican woman with hair pulled back in a bun, a ride on the gurney into a stark but clean emergency room at the hospital. No, my scenes involve my parents watching on in horror as they see the doctor plunge the knife into my throat, or watching in awe as my hair springs up in a bouquet of curl all around my head, like an angel’s.

The scar on my knee came at an impressionable age, around 12 years old, and I fabricated a mythology around that one, too. I developed a huge crush on the orthopedic surgeon who did the procedure, my folks said he looked like a hippie, which made him all the more intriguing. Even though this seems unlikely, I clearly recall him coming to visit me after the operation, carrying the kind of Bell jar used for canning fruit, and inside was my white globular tumor floating in a yellowish liquid.

The scar from that procedure resembles a centipede crawling on the inside of my right knee, and once after a real centipede zipped across my leg while I was playing hide-and-seek in the coat closet, I decided to tell any kid who asked me how I got the scar on my knee that it was left there by a centipede that burned itself into my skin. That’s how centipedes bite, I told them, they sear themselves right into you.

Kids looked at me with respect after that, but my story fell apart once they began to ask all the questions that came with the idea of centipede-as-branding-iron. What happened to the centipede itself? It dried up and fell off, I said one time, and then another time, It dissolved right into the skin, see, you can still see parts of it here. Soon I became tired of the technicality of it all, I couldn’t keep the story going and over time I left behind the centipede and kept only the image of my long-haired doctor.

I have two puncture wounds on the outer bridge of my nose, close to my eyes, that our rooster Lindo gave me when he tried blinding me with his spurs. One time, at a luncheon in China, I sat next to a German man who had the exact same two puncture wounds near his eyes. All through lunch, I kept wanting to ask him if he, too, had been attacked by a rooster, but I couldn’t think of a way to broach the subject without coming off sounding like a whacked out American.

Now, in my mind, I am certain that the same thing that happened to me happened to him. Anything is possible.




-Related to Topic post WRITING TOPIC – SCARS and Guest practice, PRACTICE – SCARS – 15min by Louis Robertson

NOTE: Scars is a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Guest writer Louis Robertson was inspired to join QuoinMonkey and ybonesy in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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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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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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A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experience meaning, the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience that meaning more fully.

~Flannery O’Connor, from “Writing Short Stories”


I’ve always been a fan of short stories. I subscribe to The New Yorker just to get a new one each week to read.

Short stories are magical. So compact and full of emotion. The good ones draw you in immediately without you realizing it. They’re a mystery, really. I’ve wondered what it takes to make a good short story work ever since the first time I tried writing one, over 20 years ago.

I can still remember the ancient-seeming Sabine Ulíbarri, one of my favorite Literature professors in college, raising a crooked forefinger into the air and saying that the short story began when something extraordinary happened in an otherwise ordinary life. Professor Ulíbarri’s seminar was held in a dim room—he didn’t like florescent lights—where a dozen or so students sat around a conference table and were so rapt by this physically small yet intellectually giant man’s charms that we endured his chain smoking.

He took his shaky hand and drew on the chalkboard an X in the straight-line trajectory of the life of a typical protagonist. Then he drew a bolt of lightening coming from the heavens above and hitting the X. “This,” he said in his booming voice, “is where the story begins.”


∞ ∞




Loving to read short stories and figuring out how to write them are two different things. The short story is a masterful art form, one that Alice Sebold in her stint as editor of The Best American Short Stories 2009 said provides

…endless access into another world, brought forth by an infinite number of gifted minds. A story about grief can comfort; a story about arrogance can shock and yet confirm; a story populated largely by landscape, whether lush or industrial, can expand the realm that we as individuals inhabit.

The dilemma for someone like me, who would love to comfort, shock, confirm, or expand a reader’s realm, is how to make my stories do exactly that. I don’t have an answer. I haven’t succeeded yet, although, if the truth be known I haven’t tried to hard enough either. However, all that is about to change.



If at First You Don’t Succeed…


I just refused to die as a person who had 30 pages of a novel in her drawer.

~Elizabeth Gilbert, answering a question during an Albuquerque appearance



The rest of this post is targeted to people like me who write and write and write yet rarely venture to send our works out into the world where those who’ve succeeded in the literary arena might judge them. I can understand the resistance. Writing is hard enough. Getting our work published is a whole ‘nother matter. But if like me you want to accept yourself as a writer, you may want to consider seriously pursuing getting your writing published in literary magazines.

Right now I’m focused on the short story, but editors of literary magazines care about all kinds of writing. Literary magazines contain fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry, and some even publish haiku, photography, the graphic narrative, and other art.

Why should we try to get our writing published in literary magazines? According to Poets & Writers, “most writers get the attention of editors, agents, and other writers by publishing first in literary magazines.” Not to mention, many of these venues offer great motivation in the form of cash awards. In fact, this is one of the best times of year to compete in writing contests—the stakes can be anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to one or two or four thousand.

I just spent a large chunk of this past three-day weekend submitting a short story to several contests. I wrote the story a few years ago and even though I wasn’t happy with it then, I sent it out back then to a half dozen literary magazines for consideration. Not surprisingly, it didn’t get picked up, so I stuck it into a drawer where it sat for a few years.

Well, as often happens when you step back and stop thinking about a piece for a while (be it art or writing), I could see the weaknesses in the story when I looked at it anew. I spent several hours rewriting and editing until finally I had a piece I could be proud of. The next step was to send it out in to the world.



…Try, Try Again


I take writing and competition very seriously. I believe that all writers should compete—even if I now know this to be a quixotic quests—on a level playing field.

~Alice Sebold, Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2009


The Poets & Writers website is an amazing place, well laid out and chock full of excellent information for figuring out where to send your work. The site has a “Tools for Writers” tab that shows deadlines for Writing Contests, Grants & Awards in both a Submission Calendar format and in a searchable database where you can filter by genre, entry fee, and timing. There’s also the Contest Blog, with frequently posted gems, including interviews with authors who have won contests in the past.

NewPages.com—a website that touts the goodness of independent bookstores—also carries a list of Writing Contests categorized by monthly deadline. It has a list of hundreds of literary magazines—aptly named “Big List of Literary Magazines”—so that you can get a feel for those that fit your writing style and vice versa.

A source I didn’t find in either Poets & Writers nor NewPages.com is A Room of Her Own (AROHO) Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps women achieve their artistic goals by providing prize and grants, including a $50,000 biennial grant “to an American woman writer of merit working under financial hardship.”

It should be said, contests are not the be-all end-all of writing. Most important is getting your work published, which these sources provide just as much information about as they do contests and awards. But in the event you need that extra boost, now is an excellent time to vie for prizes.



Your Countrymen (and Women) Need You


It’s tough for writers to write (and editors to edit) when faced with a shrinking audience. Once, in the days of the old Saturday Evening Post, short fiction was a stadium act; now it can barely fill a coffeehouse and often performs in the company of nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ.

~Stephen King, “What Ails the Short Story,” in The New York Times, 9/30/2007



When he was editor of The Best American Short Stories 2007, Stephen King declared that short stories were alive but not well. Literary magazines have over time been relegated to the bottom shelves of magazine sections in most big bookstores, and even there only a few titles can be found.

So do your part. Read, write, edit, and submit. Then do it again and again.



Hints & Tips



Poets & Writers offers these common sense tips for submitting to literary journals and/or vying for writing contests:

  • Do research to determine which publications are right for you. In other words, know your market.
  • Each literary magazine has “a unique editorial voice, tone, viewpoint, mission.” Make sure that you read any literary magazine before you submit your work to it. (Many literary magazines have websites with archives where you can read past winning stories or other published pieces.)
  • Read about the contributors to compare their backgrounds and interests to yours.
  • Make sure to read the Submission Guidelines for each magazine. They differ. Some will accept only online; others only accept hard copies sent by mail. Some want 12pt. font with one-inch margins. One might have a word count, another a page count.
  • Specifically look for guidance on simultaneous submissions, meaning submissions of a single work to more than one journal or contest at a time. Most of the literary journals that I submitted to allowed for simultaneous submissions but asked to be informed immediately if the submission gets picked up by or wins somewhere else.
  • Some literary journals request cover letters and others do not. Some contests are done as a “blind review,” meaning that any identifying information about the author is stripped off during the actual reading/review. Poets & Writers suggested that where a cover letter is requested, try not to “discuss the merits or themes of the work you are submitting” but use the cover letter instead to provide a short bio and any past publication accomplishments.

Finally, beware of Writing Contest scams. My advice, and mind you this is only my advice, is to use a source that you trust (the way I trust, for example, Poets & Writers) to identify true literary journals and the contests they run. Others may be designed to simply get your dollars for a submission or reading fee.



Special Bonus: Sabine Ulíbarri


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Again Calls The Owl Sketch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

Margaret Craven worked as a journalist and didn’t publish her first novel until her late 60′s (something I find strangely hopeful). Born in Helena, Montana in 1901, she grew up in Puget Sound, Washington of meager means, worked hard to be one of the first women to attend Stanford, and graduated in 1924 with honors.

Craven’s novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name was first published in Canada in 1967. Picked up by an American publisher in 1973, the book was on the 1970′s bestseller list. It was made into a film in 1973 and shown as part of the CBS television network’s “GE Theater” series.

Near the end of her life, Craven wrote Again Calls the Owl, an autobiography in response to readers’ questions about how she came to write I Heard the Owl Call My Name. On a recent visit, Liz’s mother bought an old copy of Again Calls the Owl to read on her plane ride from Wyoming to Minnesota. She passed it on to me.

As opposed to memoir, the book is sparsely written in the autobiographical style of laying down significant chronological events that shaped the author’s life. A highpoint was Craven’s unexpected rendezvous with writer Gertrude Stein. A friend of Margaret’s had grown up in San Francisco with Alice B. Toklas and arranged a meeting when Stein came to town for a hospital visit at Mark Hopkins.

Alice B. Toklas walked Margaret into Gertrude’s room where she sat on her bed writing letters in a red velvet robe (an image not hard to imagine). Stein welcomed the young writer and they had a long chat about writing that ended with Stein’s sadness at her friend Ernest Hemingway and “the change that had come with The Sun Also Rises,” something she termed “the beginning of his egomania.” 

Again Calls the Owl is a short read, about 120 pages, and includes Craven’s pencil drawings interspersed throughout the book. I wanted to share Stein’s writing advice to Margaret during their three hour visit. She wrote down what Stein had told her on the cable car ride home:


_________________________________________________________________

 

“Every writer must have common sense. He must be sensitive and serious. But he must not grow solemn. He must not listen to himself. If he does, he might as well be under a tombstone. When he takes himself solemnly, he has no more to say. Yet he must despise nothing, not even solemn people. They are part of life and it’s his job to write about life.”

 

“Be direct. Indirectness ruins good writing. There is inner confusion in the world today and because of it people are turning back to old standards like children to their mothers. This makes indirect writing.”

 

“A writer must preserve a balance between sensitivity and vitality. Highbrow writers are sensitive but not vital. Commercial writers are vital but not sensitive. Trying to keep this balance is always hard. It is the whole job of living.”

 

“When one writes a thing — when you discover and then put it down, which is the essence of discovering it — one is done with it. What people get out of it is none of the writer’s business.”

 

“Every writer is self-conscious. It’s one reason he is a writer. And he is lonely. If you know three writers in a lifetime, that is a great many.”

 

“You do not have to write what the editors want. You can write what you want and if you develop sufficient craftsmanship, you can sell it, too. I want you to write for the Saturday Evening Post. It demands the best craftsmanship.”

 

  -Gertrude Stein from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

 

_________________________________________________________________

Though Gertrude asked Margaret to stay in touch, she never contacted Stein again. I recently learned from Bo’s blog Seeded Earth that there is a statue of Gertrude Stein in New York City’s Bryant Park. Much to my amazement, it was the first public statue of an American woman placed in the whole of New York City — it was installed in 1992. (Here’s the link to view Bo’s photograph of Gertrude at Seeded Earth and read more about the sculpture.)

I see Craven’s euphoria about her visit with Stein much the way I feel when I go and hear Nikki Giovanni, Ann Patchett, Patricia Smith, Steve Almond, or Mary Oliver talk about their work and have a chance to shake their hands when they sign my books. Or when our Poetry and Meditation Group receives a card from Billy Collins, Gary Soto, or Robert Bly.

It is the same joy I feel from the privilege of having studied with Natalie Goldberg. The things she has taught me about the practice of writing are immeasurable. There is much to be learned from the wisdom and knowledge of published writers who have already paid their dues.

At the end of Again Calls the Owl, Craven reflects on Walk Gently This Good Earth, her novel about growing up in the Cascades and her father’s life in Montana. One last quote from Craven urges writers to take heed:

A professional writer must be careful what he writes now about the past which could be used to hurt innocent people unmercifully.

I think it’s time my country does what the Indians of Kingcome are doing. We must return to our roots, our own safety and integrity, and I think this is beginning to occur. Our lives depend upon it.

-from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

_________________________________________________________________
 
Resources:

 

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 10th, 2009 with gratitude to oliverowl

-related to post: Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Coffee (Get Your  Motor Runnin), Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Coffee (Get Your Motor Runnin’), outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, a great place to write, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

It’s a rainy morning and I’m slowly waking up. It’s been a strange week. Many irons in the fire, not enough focus, distracted. I have felt like a Duncan yo-yo spinning and “sleeping” at the end of its string. Since most yo-yo tricks are based on learning to “sleep,” it’s important to master the art of spinning. What was it going to take to snap back to the wrist and safely into the palm? Back to basics: practice, structure, community.

Amid continued job hunting, gardening and yard work with Liz, meetings with ybonesy around red Ravine, I’m researching and doing the ground work for a new mandala on canvas, progress on a series that’s been in my head for a while. And after Art-a-Whirl, I was reenergized for the writers’ photo series I’m working on. But I also have a commitment to honor from the last Kansas City writing retreat, a goal to focus on writing memoir essays for print submission — half day, 3x a week, mornings.

Where do I spend my time? It’s a matter of prioritizing the structure of each day. And staying grounded. Do other writers and artists struggle in this way? Is it a block or simply fear. Is there too much on the plate? Or do I just need to settle down and get back on track.

I carry creative projects in the belly a long time. Then they spew out all at once and nearly whole. It is the way I have always worked. I hold my work close to the vest, only talking to a few trusted people. It often takes a deadline to push me to completion. This is good to know.

Another thing that grounds me is looking to writers and artists who have gone before; their sage advice is hard earned and welcome. Recently, I perused paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, the infrared photographs of Minor White, and a book of Judy Chicago’s stunning clay work in The Dinner Party. I’m inspired by the work of others; it wakes me up.

 
 

Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

I also pulled Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft off the shelf. I read it years ago, before I called myself a writer. It’s on my list of classic books on writing — books I go back to when I need to feel that it’s okay to be struggling. I’ve always been fond of the way he dealt with rejection slips early in his career. I have never forgotten it:

 

I had a desk beneath the room’s other eave, my old Royal typewriter, and a hundred or so paperback books, mostly science fiction, which I lined up along the baseboard. On my bureau was a Bible won for memorizing verses in Methodist Youth Fellowship and a Webcor phonograph with an automatic changer and a turntable covered in soft green velvet. On it I played my records, mostly 45s by Elvis, Chuck Berry, Freddy Cannon, and Fats Domino. I liked Fats; he knew how to rock, and you could tell he was having fun.

When I got the rejection slip from AHMM, I pounded a nail into the wall above the Webcor, wrote “Happy Stamps” on the rejection slip, and poked it onto a nail. Then I sat on my bed and listened to Fats sing “I’m Ready.” I felt pretty good, actually. When you’re still too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.

By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail on my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.

  -from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, ©2000

 
His perseverance, what Natalie teaches as Continue Under All Circumstances, Don’t Be Tossed Away, has always stuck with me. Do you have books you turn to when you feel ungrounded or like your head is going to fly off the top of your spine? If you do, pull them off the shelf again when you get stuck. They will turn you around.

Below are a few tips plucked from paragraphs in On Writing. They were easy to find; they jumped out from the page in fluorescent yellow, the highlighter I used 9 years ago. Ah…..I feel better already.

 
 

10 Tips On Writing From Stephen King

     

  1. If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut….Every book has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.
  2.  

  3. There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level…there’s stuff in there that will change your life.
  4.  

  5. Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do….What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story. The latter is good. The former is not.
  6.  

  7. Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot…You can only learn by doing. For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else. In most cases, these details will be the first ones that come to mind.
  8.  

  9. I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence is the basic unit of writing—the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words. If the moment of quickening is to come, it comes at the level of the paragraph. It is a marvelous and flexible instrument that can be a single word long or run on for pages…You must learn to use it well if you are to write well. What this means is lots of practice; you have to learn the beat.
  10.  

  11. Writing is seduction. Good talk is part of seduction. If not so, why do so many couples who start the evening at dinner wind up in bed?
  12.  

  13. A series of grammatically proper sentences can stiffen that line, make it less pliable. Purists hate to hear that and will deny it to their dying breath, but it’s true. Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes…
  14.  

  15. I predict you will succeed swimmingly…if, that is, you are honest about how your characters speak and behave. Honesty in storytelling makes up for a great many stylistic faults…but lying is the unrepairable fault.
  16.  

  17. Before beginning to write, I’ll take a moment to call up an image of the place, drawing from my memory and filling in my mind’s eye, an eye whose vision grows sharper the more it is used. I call it a mental eye because that’s the phrase with which we’re all familiar but what I actually want to do is open all my senses.
  18.  

  19. As with all other aspects of narrative art, you will improve with practice, but practice will never make you perfect. Why should it? What fun would that be? And the harder you try to be clear and simple, the more you will learn about the complexity of our American dialect. It be slippery, precious; aye, it be very slippery indeed. Practice the art, always reminding yourself that your job is to say what you see, and then to get on with your story.

 
 

Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Grounding, vintage lamp inside the vault at Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Post Script — On Spinning: I wrote this a week ago Sunday and have since gotten back on track with my projects. It’s good to have resources to turn to when I feel like I’m spinning. And to believe that the tide will turn, even when I am rejecting my own process. Writing is the art of rebellion — then snapping back into place. Replace the nail with a spike, and keep on writing. One day at a time; it’s not a race. Eventually, my work will be finished.

 
Footnote — A Little About Yo-yos:  One more historical tidbit I stumbled upon while adding the links on this post. Yo-yos and Slinkys (listen to the Slinky song here!) were popular toys when I was growing up. Did you know that the slip string that lets the yo-yo “sleep” at the bottom was a Filipino innovation? And that “Reach for the Moon,” “Loop the Loop,” and many more tricks in the familiar repertoire of yo-yo virtuosos were created by a group of professional demonstrators, mostly Filipino, hired by the Duncan Yo-Yo Company during the U.S. Great Depression?

The Duncan Yo-Yo Company started in 1929 when entrepreneur Donald F. Duncan Sr. purchased the Flores Yo-Yo Company from Filipino immigrant Pedro Flores. Check out the film of 77-year-old Nemo Concepcion, one of the first yo-yo demonstrators and originator of many yo-yo tricks. The film Yoyo Man was made in 1978 by filmmaker John Melville Bishop. Here’s a link to the film guide for Yoyo Man from Documentary Educational Resources.

 
 
-posted on red Ravine, Monday, June 15th, 2009

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Bursting, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Bursting, purple coneflowers in the summer garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




It’s hard to believe, but the years are ticking by on red Ravine. We are well into 2009. If you missed any of the writers and artists who published with us in 2008, links to each of their pieces are below. Please feel free to revisit their work. Or if you are reading for the first time, new comments are welcome; let them know what you think.

ybonesy and I extend our gratitude to our dedicated readers, to our haiku poets, and to all who have published with us on red Ravine. It is our honor and pleasure to have gotten to know you better through your work. We look forward to future submissions.

Thank you!



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January 2008


My Totem Animal by Sharon Sperry Bloom

CIRCLES – A Free Write by Carolee



February 2008


A 10-Minute Free-Writing Practice by Christine Swint

Hair – 15min by Robin



March 2008


A 40-Year Love Affair by Teri Blair

Hands by Bob Chrisman



April 2008


An Evening With Elizabeth Gilbert & Anne Lamott by Carolyn Flynn

Interview With Author and Artist Natalie Goldberg



May 2008


Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group
by Teri Blair

Growing Older by Bob Chrisman

Growing Old by Bo



June 2008


The Face You Wore Before You Were Born by Linda Weissinger Lupowitz

“Goat Ranch” by Bob Chrisman



July 2008


The Art of My Self-Publishing by Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager



August 2008


Rollin’ Easy by Marylin (aka oliverowl)

A Lesson By Example by Bo Mackison



September 2008


Stephenie Bit Me, Too! by Bob Chrisman

Crisis Changed My Life by Robin

The Shamanic Series by Carol Tombers



October 2008


The Law Of Threes by Bob Chrisman

Why I Vote by Teresa Valle

Ink Illuminations by Katherine Repka*



November 2008


Mystery E.R. by Judith Ford

In Memoriam by Bob Chrisman



December 2008


haiku (one-a-day)– a year of collaborative haiku practice from our visiting poets 



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-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

-related to posts: Piglet Bearing Gifts (red Ravine’s 2007 Guests) and haiku (one-a-day)

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Isabel Allende, a portion of the book cover from Allende’s memoir Paula, (colors manipulated), photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




Yesterday all day I thought about author Isabel Allende. In 2008 I read two memoirs from the large collection of fiction and creative non-fiction that she’s written: The Sum of Our Days—published last year—and Paula (1995). I hadn’t read any of her works in the almost twenty years since I devoured and loved her first novel, The House of the Spirits (1985).

The reason Allende was on my mind yesterday, January 8, was because that is the date each year that she starts a new book. That was the date back in 1981 when she received a phone call from someone in her native Chile saying that her grandfather, Tata, was dying. She was living in exile in Venezuela—her uncle and Chilean president Salvador Allende had been assassinated years earlier—and she summoned the ghost of her grandmother to help her beloved Tata.

I decided to write him one last time, to tell him he could go in peace because I would never forget him and planned to bequeath his memory to my children and my children’s children. To prove it, I began the letter with an anecdote about my great-aunt Rosa, my grandfather’s first sweetheart, a young girl of almost supernatural beauty who had died in mysterious circumstances shortly before they were to marry, poisoned either by error or malice, and whose soft sepia-tone photograph always sat on the piano in Tata’s house, smiling with unalterable beauty.

~Isabel Allende, from Part Two of her book Paula

That letter became an obsession for Allende, who was 40 years old at the time, married and with two children. After a 12-hour shift at her day job, she returned home at dark, ate dinner with the family, and then sat in front of a portable typewriter and wrote until overcome by exhaustion. The writing came effortlessly, “because my clairvoyant grandmother was dictating to me.”

The letter to her grandfather had become a novel, although Allende could not bring herself to admit it. She had spent her career up to then working as a journalist, writing screenplays and short stories—

…on the periphery of literature…without daring to confess my true calling. I would have to publish three novels translated into several languages before I put down ‘writer’ as my profession when I filled out a form.

She carried the papers with her in a canvas bag, and when the bag became heavy and she had 500 pages “whited out so many times with correction fluid that some were stiff as cardboard,” she knew she was almost finished. In two days, after several earlier tries, she wrote the ten pages of epilogue.

That first novel became an international sensation, a dense epic about the Trueba family, written in the genre of magical realism that characterized the works of so many Latin American novelists—think Gabriel García Márquez and the Buendía family of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was living in Spain when The House of the Spirits came out but didn’t read it until I returned to the U.S. and began studying about Latin America in a Masters degree program. The writing was fluid and floral, the sentences long and paragraphs thick. There were so many details and people and places that it was like making my way through a labyrinth, but I read it day in and day out, perhaps over two or three weeks, often re-reading sections I felt I hadn’t absorbed fully the first time.

Why it took me all these years to pick up another Allende book, I can only say that there was so much literary terrain to make up that I was overwhelmed to the point of paralysis as to who to read next. Allende wrote sixteen books after her debut novel, and each time I saw a review or otherwise heard news of a new title being published, it would register that I should take up with her again.



         




When an exuberant neighbor kept me in the parking lot of the post office for almost an hour this past summer gushing about Allende’s new memoir, The Sum of Our Days, which he’d checked out of the local library, I had no recourse but to take it on as my next book to read. In fact, he said he would place it on hold in my name the moment he returned it to the library, so soon the calls started coming that my book was waiting for me.

The writing in that memoir was so powerful, so magnetic, that it didn’t take me long to finish the book. The Sum of Our Days picks up with Allende’s life after the tragic death of her daughter, Paula. It tells the story of her “tribe”—her son and his wife who leaves him to be with a woman, her mother and step-father, her new husband who gives her a reason to finally let down her guard and allow herself to be cared for and loved.

The book gave me reason to immediately want to read the memoir Paula, which told the story of Allende’s daughter and the mysterious illness that took her young life (she was about 30 years old when she died). But it also tells the story of Allende’s own intriguing life, her family in Chile and the coup that forced her out, her first marriage and several careers. Allende’s pain was evident in that book, as was the strength it must have taken to be alive to her daughter’s death.

Allende is a writer’s writer, the kind of powerful force who inspires other writers. The two memoirs I read taught me as much about writing as any workshop or books about writing ever have. I want to go back and read everything else she’s written.

I want to know what emerges from January 8, 2009; I can be certain she has started a new story, a new book, just as I can be certain that the sun rose and set yesterday.

I began Of Love and Shadows on January 8, 1983, because that day had brought me luck with The House of the Spirits, thus initiating a tradition I honor to this day and don’t dare change; I always write the first line of my books on that date. When the time comes, I try to be alone and silent for several hours; I need a lot of time to rid my mind of the noise outside and to cleanse my memory of life’s confusion. I light candles to summon the muses and guardian spirits, I place flowers on my desk to intimidate tedium and the complete works of Pablo Neruda beneath the computer with the hope they will inspire me by osmosis—if computers can be infected with a virus, there’s no reason they should be refreshed by a breath of poetry. In secret ceremony, I prepare my mind and soul to receive the first sentence in a trance, so the door may open slightly and allow me to peer through the hazy outlines of the story waiting for me. 

~Isabel Allende, from Part Two of her book Paula




A Few Resources


-Isabel Allende at the Lensic Theater, Santa Fe, NM, September 24, 2008 (Lannan Foundation podcast)
-Isabel Allende Tells Tales of Passion (TED.com video)
-Questions & Answers from Isabel Allende (author’s website)



isabel-allende-lori-barra-2008

Isabel Allende press photo © 2008 by Lori Barra.





-Related to post Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read

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By Bob Chrisman



Mom, October 1927 (age 12), all rights reserved

Mom (1927), author Bob Chrisman’s mother in October 1927 at age 12, all images (unless otherwise noted) © 2008 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.





On November 30, 2008 my mother would have observed the 93rd anniversary of her birth. In her life she witnessed many things. Sometimes we lose ourselves in the muddle and mire of our everyday lives. We rarely step back to see the sweep of history that has unfolded during our lifetimes. Here are some of the things my mother experienced.



Mom, circa 1919, all rights reservedMy mother came into the world in a little rented house in rural northwestern Missouri. Most women didn’t have babies in hospitals. Her family lived in a three-room house heated by a coal stove. They had no indoor plumbing. The outhouse sat out back. The water pump stood in the side yard. They heated water for baths and bathed in a washtub placed next to the stove. In the fall, they dug a hole in the backyard, lined it with hay, and stored vegetables and fruits. They lived off that storehouse during the winter.

Mom, 1944, all rights reservedShe and my father bought and paid for a house in the 1940s, only four rooms, but they owned it and it had indoor plumbing. She kept the refrigerator-freezer packed with food bought at grocers, then markets, then supermarkets, and finally at SUPER marts.

She rode a horse to the one-room school house. She quit school in the 8th grade to work at the local switchboard with her sister, Faye. Her parents needed help. She made sure that both of her children attended high school and college.

The wall-mounted box phones of the 1920s turned into heavy black things, like the one she had for 57 years. She never liked portable phones or cell phones. They belonged in science fiction movies or the Dick Tracy cartoon strip. Not everyone owned a phone. When more people did, they had party lines, not private ones. She had the last party line in St. Joseph.

Her first radio sat in a huge cabinet filled with tubes. Only one person could listen to it through a headset. Radios shrank to portables and then transformed into transistor radios until they virtually disappeared into matchbox-sized squares.

Mom, 1954, all rights reservedShe bought a black-and white TV in 1957 “for the kids.” The colors on the first color television hurt her eyes so she didn’t buy one until the late 1970s.

Music progressed from popular music, played by ear by her youngest sister, to records shared by friends. Records changed from brittle 78 rpm platters played on hand-cranked machines to thin, plastic 45s and LPs played on systems. She listened in high fidelity and then stereo. Records became 8-track tapes, then cassette tapes, and finally compact discs.

She used a wringer washer, which was a great improvement over the washboard and wash tub. She never owned an automatic washing machine. When a wringer broke in the early 1990s she tried to buy a new machine. “Bob, they told me they stopped making those about 20 years ago.” She never bought another washing machine. She discovered the laundry mat.

Mom, mid-1960s, all rights reservedShe line-dried clothes, outside in nice weather and inside in the kitchen during inclement weather. She bought a clothes dryer in 1969 when the amount of laundry generated by my invalid father required quickly dried clothes.

She went from Lou Levin’s “Happy Days Are Here Again” to Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” She endured “Scotch and Soda” by the Kingston Trio, a favorite of my sister, to Aretha Franklin screaming “Think,” my favorite. She never stopped loving Bing Crosby and Big Band music.

The first time she saw a car and an airplane, she thought how odd they looked. She never learned to drive. She flew for the first time in the early 1960s. She watched animals go into space, followed by humans, and then Americans who landed and walked on the Moon.


Mom, Christmas 1973, all rights reservedShe lived through the numerous conflicts in which America engaged: World Wars I & II, Korea, and Vietnam. Her life ended with the nation at war in Afghanistan and Iraq (the sequel). She saw enemy nations become friends and then enemies and sometimes friends again.

She didn’t worry about who became president. She survived the administrations of 16 presidents: Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR (three times), Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. She never missed an election. Besides, she couldn’t complain if she hadn’t voted.

Women won the right to vote during her early years, but she never saw the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Despite her lack of equality, she ran the household. She joined other women who ran their households, churches, and school and civic organizations. She knew that women ruled the world. She lived to see women lead nations and corporations and go to Congress.

Mom, early 1980s, all rights reservedShe saw Blacks fight for their rights as citizens and she supported them. She believed that ALL Americans were created equal and should be treated equally by the law. She supported the equal rights of homosexuals. During “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” she wrote letters to her Congressional representatives. “I told them that ho-ma-sex-yalls and lespians should be able to serve their country. If we had more of them in the service, we wouldn’t have all those illegitimate children running around overseas.” An argument I have never heard expressed by anyone else.

She survived the flu epidemic of 1918 that killed millions of Americans. She protected her children from polio during the 1950s. She watched advances in medicine that eliminated so many diseases, yet never cured cancer or AIDS.


momapril2002-200She made it through the Great Depression, the Red Scare, and the anti-war movement. She saw the assassinations of JFK, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy.

Hemlines rose and fell, the same with empires, nations, religious leaders, and the stock market. She outlived her parents, her sisters, her cousins, and some of their children. She experienced a lot of life in those 92, going on 93, years.



Take some time and reflect on your life. What have you seen change in your lifetime? For 10 minutes, go.





Mom, 1999, taken by the author's friend, photographer Sandra McGuire, photo © 1999-2008 by Sandra McGuire, all rights reserved

Mom (1999), taken by the author’s friend, Sandra McGuire,
photo © 1999-2008 by Sandra McGuire. All rights reserved.






Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother and his childhood. The first piece he published on red Ravine, Hands, talked about his mother’s final days and her death.

His other red Ravine posts include Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, and The Law Of Threes.

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by Judith Ford


actor-jude-suffering

Actor “Jude” Suffering, dramatization of author Judith Ford in Discovery Health Channel series Mystery ER, photos © 2008 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.




Last April, when Discovery Health Channel contacted me, I’d been working on my book, Fever of Unknown Origin, for over 15 years. I never intended it to be what it turned out to be—a 600-page manuscript with multiple plotlines and themes. It started out as a way to come to terms with a serious illness that put me in the hospital for most of the summer of 1990.

But while I wrote, my life kept happening. My parents got sick and died; their stories seeped into the book. What I thought and felt about my illness, about illness in general and about death, changed. I did countless rewrites. In 2003, I launched a website, www.judithford.com, expecting I’d be ready to market the manuscript within a year. That didn’t happen. I got discouraged and quit writing more than once, each time returning weeks later with renewed vision, scrapping whole chapters, restructuring and polishing what remained. Fever and I had been alone together too long; I’d lost momentum.

And then I received the Discovery Health Channel email. Bill, a “finder” for the network, found my website. He was looking for stories for a new TV series called Mystery ER. “Yours would be a great story for us,” he told me, “and free publicity for you.”

I didn’t jump at the offer. I’d watched Discovery Health Channel once or twice and knew that it aired stories of real people dealing with dramatic medical issues. I wasn’t sure participating would be good for me or for Fever. I told Bill I’d think it over. He sent me a CD with samples of Mystery ER.

The first opened with a woman having energetic convulsions on an ER gurney. The second involved an orthodox Jewish boy who’d contracted trichinosis, somehow, without ever having eaten pork. He collapsed in an ER doorway. While the stories were presented with respect for the patients and what looked like medical accuracy, I didn’t see how my book would fit. It contained no scenes of me passing out or seizing.



more-silly-yoga-poseMy illness had developed in slow motion, starting in 1979 with bone-numbing fatigue, low fevers, and an odd prickly rash. I went to doctors who theorized hypoglycemia, spider bites, allergies, chronic mono. None had treatment suggestions, so after two years of feeling like hell, I created my own plan. It included lots of sleep, no refined sugar or white flour, daily lap swimming, dance classes, yoga, and meditation.

Gradually, I got well and stayed well until 1990, when all the symptoms returned, this time with higher fevers. I also developed anemia, systemic inflammation, and eventually, ulcerative colitis. All dramatic enough to compel me to write but not, I thought, material for a TV show. How could Mystery ER dramatize a fever of 106, an itchy rash, abnormal liver function, and an enlarged spleen? And how in the world could they condense what had become a story about my life into thirty minutes?

“Not to worry,” Nora, the producer, told me. “We’ll just deal with your illness, not the rest of the book, and we’ll write it in a way that’s compelling and authentic.” She offered to come to Milwaukee to interview on camera me, my husband, Chris, and one of my doctors. The show would include clips of our interviews interspersed with dramatizations, played by actors. “And,” said Nora, “we’ll let you mention your book on camera.” It was the promise of book publicity that made me say “Yes.”



chris-ford-and-a-producerThe morning of the filming, the lighting and sound guys took over my friend Judy’s downtown Milwaukee condo. They banished her, her four-year-old granddaughter, and three dogs to the master bedroom. The TV crew moved furniture, set up shades to block the floor-to-ceiling windows, and demanded absolute silence. Each interview was two-and-a-half hours long, including breaks to deal with shifting light, the phone ringing, and the grandchild slinking out to lean adorably—but distractingly—against the wall to watch us.

At first, I enjoyed being asked detailed questions about my illness. What was my life like when it began? Busy, way, way busy. Had I believed my first recovery, in 1981, had happened as a result of meditation and dietary changes? Yes, I thought I’d been mentally and physically amazing. But as we got more deeply into the summer of 1990, my energy flagged. Frankly, having written in so many ways and in such detail about my suffering, I was bored by it.




                                                                chris-ford-anxiously-waiting-for-his-interview
                ruby-and-bear-less-than-amused




I perked up when we got to the part about my friend and former teacher, Dick, coming to the hospital to do a healing hypnosis two days before I was scheduled to have my colon removed. The night after the hypnosis I slept well for the first time in months. The colon symptoms abated and the colonectomy was cancelled. I went home five days later.

Nora perked up, too. “So when the medical people had given up on you, this other form of healing cured you?” Um. No. The medical people had far from given up; they were pumping me full of IV Prednisone and Demerol. They drew my blood many times a day. They’d hooked me up to a chest tube through which I was getting all my nutrition. My turn-for-the-better was sudden and wonderful, but it wasn’t magic, nor was it complete. It took two more months before I could go back to work. I had a serious relapse in 1997.

I explained this to Nora but her fascination made me worry that she was going to spin my story in a direction I didn’t want it to go.

“Did you feel that this was divine intervention?”

“Not really,” I said.




actual-jude-being-interviewed





The questions about what causes and cures disease are big and wide and controversial. My exploration of those questions is central to Fever and impossible to capture in sound-bites. Before I got sick in 1990, I would have told Nora that health was a decision, that most people could make themselves well with a combination of focus, relaxation, right thinking, and right eating. My 1990 relapse, eventually diagnosed as Adult Onset Stills Disease, blew all that certainty and bravado to bits. The only thing I knew for sure afterwards was that life is unpredictable, uncontrollable, precious, and brief.

At the end of my interview, Nora asked me what message I’d like to send to other people struggling with mysterious illnesses. I laughed out loud. “I spent 15 years and 600 pages on that,” I told her. “Give it a try,” she said.

I responded with something generic, like, “Every person who gets sick has to come up with their own sense of meaning.” Later, I wished I’d talked instead about how the illness changed me. How it humbled me. How it taught me to let go.

My doctor, Dr. M, was interviewed last. Just before her session, she whispered to me, “I don’t think I should be here. I don’t think what you had was Stills Disease.” She thought my diagnosis was ulcerative colitis, despite the fact that three other doctors had suggested the Stills label, conjecturing that the colitis had been caused by a drug reaction. I hadn’t had a colon symptom in 18 years. I reminded Dr. M. that even the gastroenterologist had rejected the colitis theory. “No,” she said, “I’m certain.”

Great, I thought. The whole show revolved around the Stills diagnosis. Would there be any show without it? Did I even want there to be a show?

While Dr. M was being interviewed in another room, I sat and worried over everything I had and hadn’t said. I wondered if I was doing my book a disservice, allowing it to be reduced to the one thin, unexamined plotline of my disease.

Nora took a break from Dr. M’s session to tell me, “Your doctor is driving me nuts. She’s giving me paragraphs of medical facts; none of our viewers will know what she’s talking about.”

“And,” Nora added, “she doesn’t think you ever had Stills disease.”

“Can we still do the show?” I asked, suddenly sure I did, in fact, want the show to go on.

“Oh yeah, we can edit out whatever doesn’t fit. It’s just annoying.”

And edit they did. The interview segments that took all day to film amounted to ten minutes of on-screen time.




actor-jude-looking-worrieda-doctor-actoractor-playing-jude-in-the-eractor-jude-throwing-out-junk-foodactor-mom-in-black-shawl-dyingactor-mom-saying-im-dying




“Inflamed,” my Mystery ER story, debuted on September 1. I expected the worst. What if they’d included my inane closing statement about “Everyone has their own meaning blah blah blah”? What if I looked old and dumpy? What if the editors made it sound like I’d cured myself with my mind? What if my story was no longer mine? I felt comfortable enough surrendering to the TV people at the time I signed release forms, yet as the Mystery ER logo lit up the TV screen I wanted to snatch my story back and protect it like the vulnerable newborn it suddenly seemed to be.

But really, the show was okay. More than okay. There were the requisite overly-dramatic bits – like a shot of my hypochondriac mother in a black shawl murmuring “I’m going to die,” and me in the kitchen frantically throwing out all the junk food when I was diagnosed as hypoglycemic. And the silly shot of me sitting in a yoga pose.

The interview sections, though, were fine. I looked okay and sounded smart enough to not embarrass myself. And, thank you very much, “everyone has to find their own meaning” ended up on the cutting room floor. As did all mention of my book. So much for the “free publicity.”

Now, two months later, I don’t mind losing the publicity. Much unexpected good has come of “Inflamed.” The friends who watched the show with me have gotten a lot of mileage out of doing imitations of my moaning mother. My sister-in-law has threatened to give me a black shawl for Christmas. Chris enjoyed seeing himself played by a handsome young actor with great pecs. My life-long running practice, an important theme in the book, made it into the script, and I loved seeing my actor-self running with better form than my own.

In the weeks since the show aired, all kinds of people—neighbors, former clients, the UPS man—have told me how much they liked the show, how impressed they were by the interview segments, and to ask if I’m well now. I am.

But here’s the really great part: Mystery ER lit a fire under me. It gave Fever more definition, more weight. It made me want to finish the book. It matters a great deal to me that a TV channel was interested in my story and that people who saw the show were touched by it.

This past summer, I went to a “How to sell your book” workshop at The Loft in Minneapolis and learned that a memoir doesn’t have to be completed before you market it. I hired a consultant to help me write the book proposal. She told me that mentioning Mystery ER in my cover letter would make busy editors and agents pay more attention. The proposal packets took most of August to write and assemble. Last week I sent out the first batch to eleven literary agents.

I’m doing the rest of the revisions with new enthusiasm, working every day. Fever and I aren’t alone together any more; I can feel my audience now, out there, waiting.




the-silly-yoga-pose

The “Silly” Yoga Pose, author Judith Ford in Mystery ER show
“Inflamed,” photo © 2008 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.





Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with her 25 Reasons I Write post. Reason #14: “I write to finish this damn book and it isn’t done yet.” (Remember that one, Jude? J)

You can eventually see the show, “Inflamed,” about Judith’s illness, as Discovery Health Channel re-runs all the episodes of Mystery ER. Check your local listings.

Oh, and all Mystery ER names have been changed.

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By Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager



Swimming with Chaos, monotype 1/1 etching ink on Arches archival paper,
print © 1990-2008 by Paul Fitzpatrick-Nager. All rights reserved.




I received a handwritten rejection letter in the mail. It was signed in a feminine, soft green script. “No,” the agent said. “No market right now for your book. There’s a cancer glut, too many books about being afraid of death, looking for hope. Like short stories, memoir doesn’t fly anymore. I love your writing though. Have you tried a novel? Good luck. J.”

Never mind that my memoir was about much more than where to find a doctor who will listen or a good hair salon while chemotherapy strips you bald. My rejected book proposal contained a real life love story about jumping into the deep end of the pool on my wedding day and treading water through cancer and healing, my own as well as my husband’s. I wrote about standing in quicksand after a recurrence of breast cancer and about all the waves of support we’d continued to receive. About the potting bench my husband built for me last spring so I could stand under pine trees in our yard and pot daisies without getting a sunburn. About our sex life.

And, in more recent chapters, I talked about what it’s like living in the land of remission for a couple of veteran survivors. I also shared this secret – that writing saved a life. Mine.

I threw away the letter and dabbed my eyes with a pile of tissues. I climbed the stairs to my writing desk. My laptop glowed in the morning light. My heart was on the sleeve of every page of my writing. I wasn’t up for more rejection. Surfing cyberspace I came upon a self-publishing house that built books for first-time authors like me. I started humming My Way by Frank Sinatra and crunched the numbers.

The world of self-publishing was unknown to me. I knew it was print-on-demand and that I wouldn’t get the wider distribution channels available to mainstream authors. I knew I’d have to sell my book myself.

That didn’t deter me. I’d survived cancer three times and had landed fully in my own Middle Ages. Surely I could publish a book my way versus letting it perish unread by my as yet unknown fans (the one or two that must be waiting out there…). Why bother with one agent’s opinion? How many zillion books on love are there? Cancer Schmancer. Oops, that title was taken.

Writing for me is like a ladder. Not the quaint, wooden paint speckled kind but the big monster Home Depot model that my husband used to shingle the peak of our cottage. It reaches corners not for the faint of heart. Real writing climbs.

Each day, I clambered up with my pen in hand to gain perspective on living. I climbed past the pile of junk mail on my kitchen counter and the cluttered spice rack, past the pantry stuffed to the gills with bags of cat food and kitty litter and empty cardboard boxes waiting for recycling. I stepped even higher to find out how little control I had over most things in my life. Like the spider webs hanging from the lacy kitchen curtain, or when yet another friend I cherished would meet her death from cancer. I wondered how I’d ever begin to say my goodbyes. Writing helped me face it all one rung at a time.

Self-publishing offered me control of my story. I had a voice in every step of the process — from what publishing house to choose, to the cover design, to the size and color of the pages. I only had to pay for it. There’s sadly no advance with this circuitous route to the bookstore. It helped, however, that my mother gave me the premier-plus literary package as a Christmas present.

Once I signed on, the clock was ticking. It took me five years to write the bulk of the book. Another six months of editing and revising drafts led me to my self-imposed deadline.

I pressed the SEND button on my birthday last year at 5 pm Eastern Standard Time. I had made a deal with myself. If I met my goal, I could have the biggest piece of Oreo cookie ice cream birthday cake I could find. Bribery worked. My polished manuscript flew across the country that evening on internet travel to an unknown but friendly person typing “Thank-you” to me from somewhere in Nebraska ten minutes after I started in on the cake.

Bundled into the top-notch publishing package was an editorial evaluation and a book manager named Michael who saw to it that every step on my checklist took place in a timely fashion. We e-mailed each other daily. Michael helped me through the maze of book editing (more money) to the art department to approval of the final copy. All in all, my book took six months to build from the day I sent off my manuscript.

The day I received my ISBN number in the mail I cried — and ate more cake. Wow, it even looked like a book. I sniffled louder. I flashed on my book being placed in the trim stacks at the Library of Congress. Or Barnes and Noble. Or Oprah’s bookshelf. My mind raced with the possibilities of print-on-demand.

My friend Alicia e-mailed me just before New Year’s. “Your book is on Amazon. I just ordered it!” I cried again and opened my computer. There it was, Swimming on My Wedding Day: My Cancer Journey through the Seasons. I surfed the net and found my new book on other less familiar sellers, too. It was listed among some of the strangest of book fellows, like Biotechbooks.com, Entrepreneurs.com, and Diesel books. I’ve never been an entrepreneur but maybe this was my chance. I was even listed on Weddings.com, sharing an on-line bookshelf with Princess Grace’s wedding day coffee table book.

My hallway is now packed with 500 books fresh from the publisher (more money). I never leave home without my purse and at least two cartons of books packed in the trunk of my Mazda. My calendar, too, is filled with book signings and book talks through the end of the year. If I sell 5,000 books in my first year, I was told by another agent, she’d be interested. What a ride.

Amazon woman hear me roar.






Laura’s Nuts and Bolts of Self-Publishing


Self-publishing websites are everywhere! My choice as a first-time author was iuniverse.com because of their range of services, worldwide distribution, quality of design and alliance with Barnes and Noble booksellers.

  • Publishing packages range from $500 – $1500 (and up) depending on services desired. Additional costs for advanced editorial services like line and copy editing.
  • Minimum number of books required – may be an issue based on publishing house.
  • Approximate cost per book is based on number of pages and industry standards. My book in paperback was priced at $12.95.


Self-publishing packages may include:

  • A legal contract (read it carefully!) with the publisher, which often includes a royalty agreement and initial number of books to be printed
  • One-on-one support, from design to production
  • Editorial evaluation and guidance
  • Editing services (line-editing, copy editing, proofreading, etc.)
  • Custom cover design
  • ISBN assignment
  • Formats, such as hardback, paperback, and ebooks
  • Free paperbacks based on volume for author
  • Worldwide distribution on-line with book retailers worldwide (e.g.: Amazon, Barnes and Noble)
  • Marketing support, from tips to website design and promotional materials

 

The self-published author provides:

  • A manuscript, usually submitted on-line (along with the guts to press the SEND button!)
  • Artwork, photographs (often an additional cost based on number of graphics and whether color or B&W)
  • Format (industry standards apply to size desired)
  • Copyright permissions to use quotes, etc.
  • Marketing and channel distribution support, which is about getting your book into readers’ hands (and you thought writing was hard — I hired a publicist to assist with this part of the book process)



Hope, monotype 1/1 etching ink on Arches archival paper, print ©
1988-2008 by Paul Fitzpatrick-Nager. All rights reserved.




Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager writes, teaches, and celebrates remission on the shoreline of Connecticut. Her newly released book Swimming on My Wedding Day: My Cancer Journey through the Seasons was self-published in January of 2008. Her husband Paul, also a cancer survivor, wrote the Foreword and included four of his prints in the book. (Two of those are featured in this post.)

Here’s what Laura says about writing her book: I began writing my memoir as fast as I could after receiving a third diagnosis of breast cancer in 2001. My husband’s treatment had recently finished and I was starting up again. It was a terrifying time. Having a writing project helped me to cope and heal from the fear of living with so much uncertainty.

I’d been a journal writer since high school and always taken notes on my life. Writing led me to find my own voice through the wilderness of cancer…and find hope along the way.

Self-publishing was another way for me to get my story out there on my own terms. I didn’t want to be side-tracked by searching for an agent. Now that my book is written, I feel such a sense of completion. And there’s so much more to write about.




Throughout our last eight years together, Laura has had cancer, I have had cancer, and Laura has had cancer again. We have been harbor to an emotional storm that rages and ebbs…and each time, we have found something to keep us in the world…something to work at. It was good to have a goal, but it would be the process that would take us away from cancer.

I painted, and with help from family and friends, built our house. Laura went from keeping a journal…to becoming a writer… We were going to build our future no matter what the obstacles were. Cancer would not keep us from living. Cancer would not keep us from being happy. Cancer was going to teach us about life… and about love.

I am so honored to be a part of this story. I’ve watched it progress from inception to completion… in all its phases. I’ve watched Laura grow in her craft, develop confidence in her abilities, and move beyond the trauma.

-Paul Fitzpatrick-Nager (excerpt from the Foreword to Swimming on my Wedding Day)


To read more about Laura’s story, go to the Swimming on my Wedding Day website. (And, from red Ravine editors: We hope you’ll buy the book. These two are special people, their story inspiring.)

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The Ant & The Grasshopper, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


At Sarah Lawrence College, Ann Patchett admired the hugely popular Lucy Grealy from afar, never realizing that the two were destined to become the greatest of friends. Ann wrote short stories that people liked but was not someone they remembered. Lucy was the one everyone knew.

Talented poet, waif who as a child lost part of her jaw to cancer, Lucy ran the Friday night film series back at Sarah Lawrence. Students chanted “LOO-cee, LOO-cee, LOO-cee,” and crowded into the coffee shop to hear her read her poetry. Ann sat in the audience, watching, believing they might have something in common.

Now this. It is August 1985. Ann and Lucy are the only two from their graduation class who’ve been accepted into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Lucy couldn’t afford her own place; hence, the two are roommates, meeting up for the first time since arriving in Iowa City. Ann stands in their empty house, and like a banshee Lucy shoots through the door and throws her ninety-five-pound body on to Ann, locking arms around neck and legs around waist.

Here is Patchett writing in her memoir Truth & Beauty: A Friendship:

I do not remember our love unfolding, that we got to know one another and in time became friends. I only remember that she came through the door and it was there, huge and permanent and first.

And so their friendship began. Instantaneous, complex, epic. It lasted seventeen years, until 2002. Lucy died in December of that year of a drug overdose — ruled accidental — at the age of thirty-nine. 

Writing Truth & Beauty, Patchett said, was part of her mourning process: “I wrote a book about us. I wrote it as a way to memorialize her and mourn her, and as a way of keeping her own important memoir, Autobiography of a Face, alive, even as I had not been able to keep her alive. This was a story of a Herculean effort to endure hardship, and to be a friend.”




The Ant & The Grasshopper

Throughout the book, Patchett draws on Aesop’s fable of “The Ant & The Grasshopper” as metaphor for her relationship with Grealy. Ann is the industrious Ant, laboring through summer to have food in winter. Grasshopper Lucy whiles away time, too concerned with the business of living to think about the future.

When winter comes, Grasshopper finds himself dying of hunger, while Ant eats from the stores collected in the summer. But in her version of the fable, Patchett makes this modification:

What the story didn’t tell you is that the ant relented at the eleventh hour and took in the grasshopper when the weather was hard, fed him on his tenderest store of grass all winter…Grasshoppers … find the ants … They need us to survive, but we need them as well. They were the ones who brought the truth and beauty to the party, which Lucy could tell you as she recited her Keats over breakfast, was better than food any day.

And so Patchett tells the whole story of Ant and Grasshopper — their dependencies and differences, the sordid details of their lives.

Ann and Lucy were creative muse to one another, better off together than apart. “We were tender and patient and kind. We were not like the world at all.” They were physically in the same city only for a small portion of their long friendship. Ann eventually settled back home, in Nashville, while Lucy’s home base was the glamour and glitter and grit of New York City.

Apart and together, they shared a deep desire to become real writers. Writing was not only salvation but the one thing that made the two of them interesting. And Lucy, with her celebrity and high drama, made Ann more interesting and more alive:

Even when Lucy was devastated or difficult, she was the person I knew best in the world, the person I was the most comfortable with. Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t even realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.

Even so, for all their soul-deep connection, these two friends grew apart. Lucy became more needy, Ann less patient. Each became her own person.


Year of the Grasshopper

On the back cover of her memoir, Autobiography of a Face, Grealy is quoted: “I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I’ve spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison.”

Autobiography of a Face made Lucy famous. She struck the universal chord — of wanting to belong, to not be different.

The memoir starts with the diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma at age nine. After chemotherapy and radiation, reconstruction began. Lucy’s life was on hold as she waited for surgery after surgery – thirty-eight total — to bring forth normalcy, possibly even beauty.

While she waited, her insecurities deepened, becoming incessant and overwhelming. Do you love me? Do you think I’m pretty? Why doesn’t he love me? Will I ever have sex again? She wanted to be loved, but more than anything, she wanted to give love. She confused sex for love.

Grealy wrote of early drug use in Autobiography of a Face. She got codeine pills for each surgery and root canal, and after a while, even when she wasn’t in pain, she took the pills for the milky high they offered.

No matter how bad I felt about the world, about my position in it, I felt safe and secure and even rather happy thirty or forty minutes after I’d downed a couple of pills.

In spite of securing a book contract on the heels of her memoir, Grealy struggled with writing. The surgeries became more painful and less effective, her loneliness deeper and more despairing. She could hardly swallow food, and the physical pain intensified. She was tormented by self-hatred. Eventually she got hooked on heroin. She lost the book contract, lost the trust of her friends, and eventually lost her life.



Year of the Ant

Ann was a product of twelve years of Catholic school, “where we were not in the business of discovering our individuality.” Her Ant traits included:

  1. Enviable work ethic, writing her novel “as if it were a factory job.”
  2. Balance.
  3. Responsible (she funded her own degree, prepared for classes she taught, and used every writing fellowship to get actual writing done).
  4. A tendency to “blur into other people.”
  5. Tidy (“Unlike Lucy, I could never give myself so completely over to my art that I would not notice the half-eaten plate of spaghetti in the middle of the living room floor.”).
  6. Above all, always going to be fine; “It’s your blessing and your curse,” Lucy once told her.

From the moment Lucy jumped into her arms in their Iowa City rental house, until almost the end of Lucy’s life, Ann carried Lucy. Physically at times, and emotionally. Ann was present during Lucy’s many jaw reconstruction surgeries, holding her head while she puked into a pan or serving as patient advocate with medical staff. More fundamentally, Ann soothed as best she could Lucy’s constant self-doubt and tried to boost her esteem.

It was the single thing I wanted most for Lucy, to have a minute of peace from her relentless desire to understand why she hadn’t found True Love.

Toward the end of Lucy’s life, as her emotional and physical pain spiraled out of Ann’s control, the pragmatist Ant sought tangible ways to help the Grasshopper — sorting and paying bills or furnishing a new kitchen. Ann tried to get Lucy to move from New York to Nashville, to go through a sort of Ant-inspired rehab. Shelter, soft “Lucy food,” love.

But Lucy was never going to live in Nashville. Even if it might have saved her life, it wasn’t the life she wanted.

 




It’s natural to look at your closest friends and wonder how you’re different from them and how you’re the same. Early on, the differences are exotic. Have you ever been attracted to a friend who is so spontaneous – pure in-the-moment grasshopper – that you can’t help but be drawn to their energy? There’s something about how natural Grasshopper is, without filters and boundaries, that makes Ant more natural.

But then your ant nature kicks in. Try as you may, you can’t stop from becoming critical. Ant watches Grasshopper refuse to plan for the future or seem unable to take cues on when to stop talking about herself. Enough already! you want to say. Grow up! It’s not all about you.

The further I got into Truth & Beauty, the more I grew impatient with Lucy. I found that my admiration for her brilliance dulled at certain points, overtaken by my exasperation with her obsessions and insecurities. Yet, when I was done, I admired even more the deep, pure writing that came out of those same obsessions and insecurities.

My face may have closed the door on love and beauty in their fleeting states, but didn’t my face also open me up to perceptions I might otherwise be blind to? At the end of each day, as I lay in the bathtub, I looked at my undeveloped child’s body. I considered the desire to have it develop into a woman’s body a weakness, a straying from my chosen path of truth. And as I lay in bed at night, I considered my powers, my heightened sense of self-awareness, feeling not as if I had chosen this path, but that it had been chosen for me.

I also at times winced at the bald honesty with which Patchett laid her truth on the line. Ann admitting to Lucy her growing revulsion at how Lucy lived her life. Lucy calling Ann on her superiority, her got-it-all-togetherness: “…at least I can make you feel like a saint. That’s what you’ve always wanted.”

I read Grealy’s book first, then Patchett’s, then Grealy’s again, this time looking for clues as to what really caused her addictions and eventual death. Was it the cancer or the shame that came with having part of her face caved in? Or was there something in her core – recklessness, risk-taking – that was apparent early on?

I came to no conclusions. Or rather, I came to the conclusion that writing memoir is the most courageous and risky kind of writing one can undertake.

Not everyone loved Truth & Beauty. At Clemson University in South Carolina, Patchett’s book generated enormous and uninformed criticism for its portrayal of drugs, sex, and women in romantic relationship. Patchett talks about that firestorm in an essay published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 2007 and again in an interview with the same magazine.

Lucy Grealy’s older sister, Suellen Grealy, wrote a heartbreaking essay titled “Hijacked by grief,” in which she lashes out at the “not so gifted” Ann Patchett for “hitching her wagon” to Lucy’s star. These jabs stand out against an almost polite tone of desperation, a genuine longing for privacy and a return to wholeness for a family that has been picked apart.

Ann and Lucy started out believing writing might save their lives. Each walked the long, arduous road to become a writer. But even when a writer is brilliant and talented, and even when a writer possesses equanimity and self-control, writing will not save one’s life.

Writing does, however, demand that you be willing to let go, to let it out, to write the truth as you know it.

 

Must-Read – Must-Hear



Must-See

Charlie Rose interviewed Lucy Grealy on November 16, 1994. She is the last guest on his hour-long program. Her interview starts approximately at 38:20 on the youtube video below. [Note: It's advised that you let the show run its course versus trying to fast-forward to the start of the interview; the latter might cause audio and video to get out of sync.]







-Related to posts Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl” and Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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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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           Minerva, 1889 - 1890, Roman goddess of poetry, music, wisdom, and warriors (Greek, Athena), bronze sculpture by Norwegian American artist, Jakob H. F. Fjelde, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Minerva, 1889 – 1890, Roman goddess of poetry, music, wisdom, and warriors (Greek, Athena), bronze sculpture by Norwegian American artist, Jakob H. F. Fjelde, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

 

The first black hole was discovered in the same decade that Star Wars was released (and not by Columbo, Charlie’s Angels, or Sonny and Cher). It was the 1970′s, and you were probably wearing Halston ultrasuede or cashmere, leisure suits, platform shoes, string bikinis, and hot pants. Or maybe you were more the Birkenstock type, sporting tie-dye jeans, crocheted vests (think orange and lime green), and bouncy, wide bell-bottoms.

In 1977, there was a world shortage of coffee and prices soared from 50¢ a pound to $3.20 (isn’t it around $12 a pound today?). You might have been playing a lightshow guitar (imitating Pink Floyd), or listening to the Stones, Roberta Flack, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Tony Orlando (knock 3 times), or Gladys Knight and the Pips, on your new Sony Walkman.

 

The Beatles broke up, Jack Nicholson flew over the cuckoo’s nest, Harold and Maud were the May/December romance of the big screen, playing next to The Deer Hunter, Deliverance, and Saturday Night Fever. Yes, John Travolta was hot (even before his Pulp Fiction days). So was Billie Jean King, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, and Jesus Christ Superstar (did you see Andrew Lloyd Webber on American Idol?).

If you are under 21 and voted during the 2008 Presidential Primary, you can thank the 1970′s — the voting age in the U.S. was lowered to 18. And Paper Mate introduced a new erasable ink pen, allowing you to wipe out those pesky voting mistakes in a single swipe.

But don’t jump too fast. It was before the age of the hanging chad. The Apple II computer had just hit the market, the first email took a lumbering ride across ARPANet (central backbone during the development of the Internet), and Intel’s first microprocessor 4004 (1971) contained 2,300 transistors (today’s will run 3,000 times faster).


            Study In Light, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Study In Light, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Study In Light, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


In the 1970′s Annie Hall was all the rage, along with Club Med, the VCR, streaking (yes, I tried it), and Pet Rocks (move over Sony the Pug!). Patty Hearst wielded her first machine gun, Son of Sam ran loose in the streets, Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, murdered 1-2 million people, and the Ohio National Guard shot and killed 4 college students at Kent State during an anti-war demonstration. Doesn’t that just blow your mind?

In the Me Decade, Elvis died of an overdose. So did Sid Vicious and Jim Morrison. Life and Look magazines were defunct by the end of the decade, along with cigarette advertising on TV, the draft, the VW bug (so they thought), and the Vietnam War. There was a recession in 1974 on top of an oil crisis in 1973 (what’s changed?). And TV would never be the same: Bonanza ended after 14 years; Gunsmoke after 20; and Ed Sullivan called it quits after 23 years.

You don’t see that kind of longevity in 21st Century media. Nor would you ever see televised daily proceedings of a national debacle like Richard Nixon and Watergate.

 

The world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in England, CAT-scans were introduced, the Heimlich maneuver perfected, and popular 70′s culture was buzzing with new words and phrases:  Murphy’s Law, Pro-choice, pumping iron, Punk rock, Rubik’s cube. Don’t rock the boat!

Money, money, money — 180,000 Americans were millionaires by the mid-70′s, an average hospital stay would set you back $81 a day, and a First Class postage stamp was 6¢ (Airmail, 10¢). The Metropolitan Museum paid $5.5 million for a Diego Velázquez portrait, while the Susan B. Anthony dollar took a political nosedive.

Rupert Murdoch bought the New York Post in the 70′s, and Cosmopolitan blossomed with Helen Gurley Brown at the helm. But literature (and a few oddball tomes thrown in for good measure) still boomed under the watchful eye of Minerva, Roman goddess of poetry and wisdom.

You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read. You can also tell a lot about a culture. In the 1970’s, here’s what America was reading.




  Minerva, Goddess Of Poetry, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Minerva, Goddess Of Poetry, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Minerva, Goddess Of Poetry, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Minerva, Goddess Of Poetry, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



1 9 7 0 ‘ s – B E S T S E L L E R S

FICTION

  1. Love Story; Oliver’s Story, Erich Segal
  2. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
  3. Islands in the Stream, Ernest Hemingway
  4. Travels with My Aunt, Graham Greene
  5. Rich Man, Poor Man, Irwin Shaw
  6. Wheels; Overload, Arthur Hailey
  7. The Exorcist, William P. Blatty
  8. The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
  9. Message from Malaga, Helen MacInnes
  10. Rabbit Redux, John Updike
  11. The Betsy, Harold Robbins
  12. The Winds of War, Herman Wouk
  13. Jonathan Livingston Seagull; Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Richard Bach
  14. The Odessa File, Frederick Forsyth
  15. My Name Is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok
  16. Captains and the Kings, Taylor Caldwell
  17. Once Is Not Enough; Delores, Jacqueline Susann
  18. Breakfast of Champions; Jailbird; Slapstick: or, Lonesome No More!, Kurt Vonnegut
  19. Burr; 1876, Gore Vidal
  20. The Hollow Hills, Mary Stewart
  21. Evening in Byzantium, Irwin Shaw
  22. The Drifters; Centennial; Chesapeake, James A. Michener
  23. The Matlock Paper, Robert Ludlum
  24. The Billion Dollar Sure Thing, Paul E. Erdman
  25. Watership Down, Richard Adams
  26. Jaws; The Deep, Peter Benchley
  27. The Dogs of War, Frederick Forsyth
  28. The Fan Club, Irving Wallace
  29. I Heard the Owl Call My Name, Margaret Craven
  30. Ragtime, E. L. Doctorow
  31. The Moneychangers, Arthur Hailey
  32. Curtain; Sleeping Murder, Agatha Christie
  33. Looking for Mister Goodbar, Judith Rossner
  34. The Choirboys, Joseph Wambaugh
  35. The Eagle Has Landed, Jack Higgins
  36. The Greek Treasure: A Biographical Novel of Henry and Sophia Schliemann, Irving Stone
  37. The Great Train Robbery, Michael Crichton
  38. Shogun, James Clavell
  39. Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow
  40. Trinity, Leon Uris
  41. A Stranger in the Mirror, Bloodlines, Sidney Sheldon
  42. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien; Christopher Tolkien
  43. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough
  44. How To Save Your Own Life, Erica Jong
  45. Delta of Venus: Erotica, Anaïs Nin
  46. War and Remembrance, Herman Wouk
  47. Fools Die, Mario Puzo
  48. Scruples, Judith Krantz
  49. Sophie’s Choice, William Styron
  50. The Dead Zone, Stephen King
  51. The Third World War: August 1985, Gen. Sir John Hackett, et al.
  52. Smiley’s People, John Le Carré



 

 Goddess Of Wisdom, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Goddess Of Wisdom, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Goddess Of Wisdom, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Goddess Of Wisdom, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


 

1 9 7 0 ‘ s – B E S T S E L L E R S

NON-FICTION

  1. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex but Were Afraid To Ask, David Reuben, M.D.
  2. The New English Bible
  3. The Sensuous Woman, “J”
  4. Better Homes and Gardens Fondue and Tabletop Cooking; Better Homes and Gardens Blender Cook Book; Better Homes and Gardens Home Canning Cookbook
  5. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, William Morris
  6. Body Language, Julius Fast
  7. In Someone’s Shadow; Caught in the Quiet, Rod McKuen
  8. The Sensous Man, “M”
  9. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
  10. I’m O.K., You’re O.K., Thomas Harris
  11. Any Woman Can!, David Reuben, M.D.
  12. Inside the Third Reich, Albert Speer
  13. Eleanor and Franklin, Joseph P. Lash
  14. Wunnerful, Wunnerful!, Lawrence Welk
  15. Honor Thy Father, Gay Talese
  16. Fields of Wonder, Rod McKuen
  17. The Living Bible, Kenneth Taylor
  18. Open Marriage, Nena and George O’Neill
  19. Harry S. Truman, Margaret Truman
  20. Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, Robert C. Atkins
  21. The Peter Prescription, Laurence J. Peter
  22. A World Beyond, Ruth Montgomery
  23. Journey to Ixtlan; Tales of Power; The Second Ring of Power, Carlos Castaneda
  24. The Joy of Sex; More Joy: A Lovemaking Companion to The Joy of Sex, Alex Comfort
  25. Weight Watchers Program Cookbook, Jean Nidetch
  26. How To Be Your Own Best Friend, Mildred Newman, et al.
  27. The Art of Walt Disney, Christopher Finch
  28. Alistair Cooke’s America, Alistair Cooke
  29. Sybil, Flora R. Schreiber
  30. The Total Woman, Marabel Morgan
  31. All the President’s Men; The Final Days, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
  32. You Can Profit from a Monetary Crisis, Harry Browne
  33. All Things Bright and Beautiful; All Things Wise and Wonderful, James Herriot
  34. The Bermuda Triangle, Charles Berlitz with J. Manson Valentine
  35. Angels: God’s Secret Agents, Billy Graham
  36. Winning Through Intimidation; Looking Out for #1; Restoring the American Dream, Robert Ringer
  37. TM: Discovering Energy and Overcoming Stress, Harold H. Bloomfield
  38. Sylvia Porter’s Money Book, Sylvia Porter
  39. Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week, Laurence E. Morehouse and Leonard Gross
  40. Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon, Theodore H. White
  41. Roots, Alex Haley
  42. Your Erroneous Zones; Pulling Your Own Strings, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
  43. Passages: The Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Gail Sheehy
  44. The Grass ls Always Greener over the Septic Tank; If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries–What Am I Doing in the Pits?; Aunt Erma’s Cope Book, Erma Bombeck
  45. Blind Ambition: The White House Years, John Dean
  46. The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, Shere Hite
  47. The Right and the Power: The Prosecution of Watergate, Leon Jaworski
  48. The Book of Lists, David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace
  49. The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, Carl Sagan
  50. The Amityville Horror, Jay Anson
  51. Gnomes, Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet
  52. The Complete Book of Running, James Fixx
  53. Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford
  54. RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon
  55. Faeries, Brian Froud and Alan Lee
  56. The Muppet Show Book, the Muppet People
  57. The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet, Herman Tarnower, M.D., and Samm Sinclair Baker
  58. The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise, Nathan Pritikin and Patrick McGrady Jr.
  59. White House Years, Henry Kissinger
  60. Lauren Bacall By Myself, Lauren Bacall
  61. The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong


     Study In Light, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.         Study In Light, downtown Minneapolis Central Library,<br /> Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
Study In Light, downtown Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, April 24th, 2008

-Resources:  1970’s Bestsellers List from Cader Books, Writer’s Dream Tools, and The Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library

-related to posts: The 1950′s – What Was America Reading?, The 1960′s — What Was America Reading?, and Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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By Carolyn Flynn

For red Ravine


SAGE Editor, author and redRavine.com contributor Carolyn Flynn recently attended “An Evening with Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Lamott” on the UCLA campus.




 

To loosen up before writing a new book, Elizabeth Gilbert invites one person to join her and live inside her head. She says she wrote Eat Pray Love as a letter to her friend Darcy. “You should never begin unless you have in mind one person,” Gilbert says. “It’s good if you choose somebody who likes you.”

Gilbert is before an audience at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus with Anne Lamott, author of Operating Instructions and Traveling Mercies, and they are sharing tattoos and exchanging metaphors because that’s what writers do when they get together. “Like my boots?” Gilbert says, clicking her toes together, then her heels, “I’m acting like a second grader,” she says.

Gilbert has just introduced Lamott and everyone is laughing. My son is slapping his knee and nearly falling on the floor. Gilbert confesses that she was so giddy when Lamott blurbed her book that she drank two margaritas and ate an entire bag of Halloween candy. When she called Lamott to thank her, she thought about chirping out that charming anecdote, but then, she says, “I realized that might not be the most professional way to introduce myself.”

Now, with 4 million copies of Eat Pray Love sold, their lecture agents have brought them together for two nights of conversation — here at Royce Hall and the next night on Lamott’s home turf in Marin County, California. It’s a rare evening that’s been waiting to happen for about the past four years, starting back with that crisis point in Gilbert’s life when she was going through a highly charged divorce and a gut-wrenching breakup with her transitional relationship (“It didn’t work. No one could see that coming,” she says, deadpanning). Gilbert was planning her trip to Italy, India and Indonesia that would be the tableau for Eat Pray Love and pitching the idea to her editor.

But a book about spirituality was a tough sell. We’re talking about people who say “fuck” eight times before breakfast but can’t say the G-word, Gilbert says. And forget about the J-word. She told her editor, “But don’t worry, I feel like I can tell that story, kind of like Anne Lamott would.”

And so the seed of a great pairing was born. Gilbert breaks away from the format that the writers’ lecture agents prescribed for them and introduces Lamott to the audience. “If she had not done this, there wouldn’t have been a path,” she says. “She proved to the world that you can write about divinity in a way that does not make intelligent people want to projectile vomit.”

That blurb that prompted Gilbert’s ecstatic binge on fun-size M&Ms meant a lot. “If she liked the book, if she did blurb me, then it was a stamp of authenticity: It’s safe to read this.”


Thoughts on Faith

Then Lamott reads her story, “Ski Patrol,” from Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. Again, my son’s sides are splitting with giddy laughter, maybe because he relates to Lamott’s son’s embarrassment about her feeble attempts to ski, a lack of grace he can easily picture in his own mother. In the story, Lamott takes a rather ungraceful and ill-advised leap from the chair lift and lands in a contorted heap in a mound of snow. She has no other choice but to ask for help, she says, “something I force myself to do every four to five years.” But she believes that help will always come — eventually. For instance, she says, “America will heal from the Bush years — eventually.”

After her reading, the two writers sit in comfy chairs like we’re all just in their living room. Lamott launches the conversation with, “So what’s your favorite question for an interviewer to ask you?” But she follows with this question, before Gilbert can answer: “Are you on any particular spiritual path?”

Gilbert admits to “cherry-picking” in Eat Pray Love but says we should not be apologetic about embracing a diversity of spiritual beliefs. Spirituality is evolving, and many of the current structures aren’t a perfect fit. If she had to say just one, it would the yogic path, which led her to the ashram in India. “Buddhism makes the most sense intellectually, but it doesn’t grab my heart,” Gilbert says.

Part of her needs the messiness of not having just one path, Gilbert says, but she tells Lamott she admires her for being anchored in one church community, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City, California. “You have one place that’s your home,” Gilbert says. “I admire that. While drinking from many wells.”

Lamott, who describes her church as the one with the scraggly Charlie Brown Christmas tree and the ragged hearts, says it was just the right place for her. “I am very devout, but I don’t have certainty or conviction. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it’s certainty.”

Though many people look to her for wisdom, she says she’s unqualified to answer spiritual questions that the greatest minds of the world have explored, such as how to explain suffering. “I’m just a post-alcoholic, post-menopausal tired person. I don’t know.”

Lamott’s down-to-earth spirituality is easy to embrace. “Like everybody else, I forget it. I think things into the ground.” But it’s very simple. It’s about how you live and how you respond to suffering. All traditions know this. “When you see suffering, you don’t look away.” Lamott was raised in an atheist home with a strong social justice orientation, so her faith is through the lens of helping others. “If I want to feel really loving, I need to do loving things,” she says. “Faith without works is dead.”

Gilbert notes that when she examined the arc of Lamott’s work, she saw an evolution from Operating Instructions, Lamott’s memoir of the first year of her son’s life, which came not too long after she got sober. Lamott was a single mom who hadn’t planned on raising a baby boy on her own. Gilbert notes that in Operating Instructions there were “so many shredded edges,” but now Lamott has raised a son to adulthood and written three books on faith and people are coming to her.

But Lamott won’t say it’s easier for her. “When I wake up in the morning, I’m mentally ill.” All of her obsessive-compulsive disorders and addiction tendencies have woken up already and made the coffee and they’re sitting on the bed. “I have written so many books. People think it goes well for me.” But she says, “Humor and laughter are carbonated forms of holiness.”



On Writing: A Work Ethic and a Little Grace

Neither writer says it’s easy to write. Neither says she has any discipline whatsoever. Gilbert tells a story about the poet Ruth Stone, who would receive poems fully formed in her imagination. Her challenge was racing up from the strawberry fields back to the house to get a pen and paper and get it down before it left. To this, Lamott says, “I’ve never heard of Ruth Stone until now, but she is now my mortal enemy.”

For example, Lamott says, it took her two weeks to write the 1,500 words in “Ski Patrol.” Her first prayer in the morning, when she’s greeted with all of her demons is “God, help me get out of the way so that what needs to be written can be written.” For her, the process is to work really hard to get the “shitty first draft” that she writes about in Bird by Bird, her book about writing, and the rest is getting out of the way. “Everything is five or six drafts.”

Gilbert calls it the “angel and the plow mule,” harkening to her Calvinist work ethic Connecticut upbringing. “This is my job. I’m the plow mule,” she says. She believes that if she works hard enough, the angel will come along and put the moving sidewalk under your plow.

“For artists, the enemy is perfectionism,” Lamott comments to this. When you are writing, you are finding out slowly what it is. “You have to un-learn everything they told you. You have to waste paper.”


The Auntie Brigade

Gilbert has not taken the path of motherhood, and Lamott asks about that. Gilbert attributes much of her angst in her 20s and early 30s to grieving that. She knew she wasn’t going to have children, by choice.

She says when you examine any human settlement in any culture, any time, you’ll find a very consistent 10 to 20 percent of females who don’t have children. It’s so consistent, that she has concluded that it’s a genetic necessity to have a cadre of adult, caring, compassionate women who do not have their own children. She calls it the “Auntie Brigade,” and she likes to think of herself as a “sparent” — a spare parent. “I feel a kinship with those women,” Gilbert says, adding an aside that she has since married her sweetheart from Eat Pray Love.

“What’s the most important thing you know?” Lamott asks her.

“Gentleness,” Gilbert says. She’s learned how to be gentle with herself, like the “older sister, older me” in Eat Pray Love. This is the older, wiser self who will say, “You want to do that? Well, that’s OK. You know it didn’t work out so well the last time. But if you really need to do that, you can do that.” She’s learned to trust that wise counsel, which grants her free will with compassion.


The Abyss

“You haven’t asked, but I’m going to tell you,” Lamott says. “What’s the most important thing I know? We’re all afraid.”

Lamott, who takes the spotlight for a bit to sound off on the presidential election, says in America, we’re all walking around with “this sheet metal loneliness.” American culture is about disguising that. “In America, if you do fall into the abyss, you go shopping. Go to Ikea and buy a throw rug.”

This “sheet metal loneliness” is protecting us from the dark night of the soul, Lamott says. We are very fearful, “but truth and beauty win out. The right thing will happen.”

 


      
Photos of Gilbert and Lamott from authors’ websites; photo of Lamott by
Mark Richards; book photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



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