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Wheel Of Life, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


ONE: Gates Of Death, Stage 10 of The Great Round, begins the natural process of ending the Great Round cycle in preparation for a new beginning. Experiences that open this stage often come in losses or obstructions that challenge us to question who we are. The first mandala, Wheel Of Life, brings us face to face with the relentless passage of time. The Wheel of Life turns on, sometimes up, sometimes down, urging us to let go.

Medium: Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, Rainbow Magic pens that erase and change color, Reeves Water Colour Pencils




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Celtic Cross, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


TWO: In Stage 10, we are being separated from that which is no longer needed. Celtic crosses made of tall, silent, enduring stone dot the landscape of Scotland. They stand against the sky, washed by the winds and rains of countless seasons, reminders that even though things change, there is a part of us that lives on.

Medium: Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, and Reeves Water Colour Pencils




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Lotus, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


THREE: In mandala three, based on the Kali Yantra of Hinduism, destruction opens the way for creation. The eight-petaled lotus represents the goddess Kali in her nurturing maternal aspect. The inner circle, traditionally colored black, reveals her also as a Destroyer, the dark womb that absorbs all into non-being. The central triangle, ultimate symbol of divine feminine creative energy, holds the spark of new life.

Medium: Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, and Reeves Water Colour Pencils




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Gateway, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


FOUR: Stage 10, Gates of Death, opens the last segue leading to the completion of a Great Round cycle, and urges us to walk through the gate into the unknown. It is time to let go of the way things have been and clear the way for a new beginning.

Medium: Reeves Water Colour Pencils, Crayola markers




October Mandalas — Stage 10 – Gates Of Death


The last few months I have been feeling empty, like I am nearing the end of a creative cycle. I have been wanting to shed the old, to wrap up lingering projects and push them out into the world, so that I can open to something new. It’s disconcerting to not know where you are going—a good time to revisit old practices. Yesterday, I spent most of the day in silence and opened the book on mandalas. When I revisited Stage 10, Gates of Death, I knew it was time to sit with the lessons it had to teach.

The mandalas are from the 10th month of a year-long mandala practice that began with the post Coloring Mandalas and followed the twelve passages of Joan Kellogg’s Archetypal Stages of the Great Round. I spent that year taking the Great Round to completion. But there was something I had yet to understand—-it would take until 2013 for events of my life to catch up to the last cycles of the Great Round. Some of the signs of Stage 10 – Gates of Death are:

  • losses or obstructions that challenge us, causing us to question who we are
  • things that once seemed important, seem empty & meaningless
  • bittersweet parting with what was; painful rending from what can no longer be
  • desire to let go of life the way it was, with no sense of what is to come
  • sense of deflation when the connection between Ego & Self grows more distant
  • aware of cycles of decay in nature and the eventual approach of death


Adding to the sense of disorientation I’ve been feeling, I lost a writing friend in July. And in November, I found out my blood father died on October 31st, ending any chance he might have to read the letter I wrote. Death. Decay. Loss. Rebirth. I still believe that anything we take on as a practice takes us where we need to go. It is the time it takes to get there that remains a mystery.



Archetypal Stages Of The Great Round on red Ravine:


Crystallization — September Mandalas
Functioning Ego – August Mandalas (Goethe & Color)
Squaring The Circle – July Mandalas (Chakras & Color)
Dragon Fight — June Mandalas
Target — May Mandalas
Beginnings — April Mandalas
Labyrinth – March Mandalas
Bliss – February Mandalas
The Void – January Mandalas
Coloring Mandalas


-posted on red Ravine, Thanksgiving weekend, Saturday, November 30th, 2013




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Walking The Bluff, last Midwest Writing Retreat, Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Grafton, Wisconsin, March 2013, photo © 2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Writing friends are hard to come by. Friends who are good practitioners of writing, even harder. The last time I saw Bob was at the Milwaukee airport in March 2013. He smiled and gave me a hug, then we walked to separate gates after five days of Sit, Walk, Write with Jude and Teri. We met many years ago at a Natalie Goldberg writing retreat in Taos, New Mexico. The Midwest Writing Group we formed has continued to meet every year since to practice writing. To honor silence.

For me, Bob was one of the pillars of our writing group. He held the space, led the slow walking, kept time when we wrote, engaged in lively discussions at the dinners he prepared. He was an excellent cook. I will never forget his laugh. Bob contributed work to red Ravine and continued to post practices with me after others fell away. I could count on him. Today, Sunday, August 4th, 2013 at 3:30pm, a memorial service for Robert Tyler Chrisman will be held at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut St., Kansas City, Missouri.

Bob Chrisman, born Robert Tyler Chrisman on May 3, 1952 in St. Joseph, Missouri, passed away peacefully Friday, July 12, 2013, at Kansas City Hospice following a massive stroke. He was surrounded by family and friends who sang to him until his final breath. When I was reading back through Bob’s writing on red Ravine, I realized we had done a Writing Practice together in 2011 on Death & Dying. I find comfort in his words:


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Why all this focus on death at a time of year when the world screams with life and beauty? Why must death occur during these spring months when the earth bursts forth in new life and beautiful shades of yellow-green, when flowers of all colors open and scent the air, and when we can say, “Winter is gone for at least seven months”? Why?

Maybe all this life and beauty replaces the darkness and depression of the winter and I want no more of it. Give me life in all of its forms and beauty. I suffer enough during the winter and I’m over it, but I’m not, it seems.

I notice the beauty and revel in it because I know the bleakness of winter. Joy returns to my life because I know that the good times may not last forever. The friends I carry in my heart as the treasures of a lifetime will die. I must rejoice in their being while they are with me and not put that off for a change in the season or the approach of death.

How is it that the richness of life requires us to know the poverty of despairing times? Does it work like salt on cantaloup or watermelon? The saltiness makes the sweetness that much sweeter as death makes life more precious.

If I could stop death and dying, would I? No, I would let things happen as they must. I might even bring death to those I love earlier if they desired it, but that’s not my place in life. Sitting next to the bedside of a friend who’s dying makes me aware of the value of the time we had together and what a loss their death will be. If they must die (and they must), I can spend the final days and hours with them and carry them and those times in my heart until I pass from this earth.


-Bob Chrisman, excerpt from a 2011 Writing Practice on the WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING.

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GATE GATE PARAGATE
PARASAMGATE
BODHI SVAHA

Gone, gone, gone beyond
Gone completely beyond
Praise to awakening


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 4th, 2013. I miss you, friend. And I carry you in my heart until I pass from this earth. I believe..

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Graves, Upper Mill Cemetery, Circa 1806 – 10/365, Archive 365, McIntosh County, Darien, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was blistering hot and steamy the afternoon we visited the Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien, Georgia. On a search for ancestral archives, Liz, Mom and I took a road trip from Augusta, Georgia to St. Simons Island where we spent a few days and visited with relatives. We then drove north stopping in Fort Frederica and Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien. Our last stop was Savannah, a city I hope to visit again someday. Looking through these photographs, I realize how important it is to document your travels. It’s been four years since I have returned to the South. Each photo conjures the heat, humidity, live oaks, Gold Coast breezes, white packed sand, and the pilgrimage to Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home.

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ARCHIVE 365 is a photo collaboration between skywire7 and QuoinMonkey featuring images from our archives. We will alternate posting once a day in our Flickr sets from July 1st 2012 through June 30th 2013. You can view our photographs at skywire7 Archive 365 set on Flickr and QuoinMonkey Archive 365 set on Flickr.

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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By Elizabeth Statmore


Fromage died on Saturday, May 12th 2012 at 11:30 p.m. at All Animals Emergency Hospital, surrounded by us and our love. He was dehydrated and disoriented, with a temperature of 105.6. Normal temperature for dogs is 101-ish, with 102 being in the high fever range. So Fromage had a raging fever, probably from a combination of a brain tumor (or nervous system tumor) and end-stage kidney disease.

We knew it was serious when he couldn’t do anything with a Beggin’ Strip — his favorite treat in the universe. And I’d dreamed Wednesday morning that he died. I knew it was a precognitive dream, but I didn’t know how or when the end would happen.

He did his utmost to stay alive for me — to support me and love me through this disorienting chapter of my life. He showed the same heroic courage and love he had shown us all his life. He was an impeccable warrior to the end, but in the end it was time to let him go.

It was the night before Mother’s Day.

It’s the little things that really punch me in the gut — the moments that interrupt my conditioned habits, such as automatically tucking the newspaper bags into the plastic bag collection next to the front door, only to realize that I don’t have a need to save dog poop bags any more.

I put his sterling silver tag on a chain and started wearing it around my neck last night as I went to bed.

He was the only being who has ever called me his mother. On our first Mother’s Day he bought me a pair of dog socks.

He was the dog of my life.

He was the dog of my heart.

I somehow left my favorite fountain pen at school on Friday, but I was too stressed-out and worried yesterday to deal with it. But this morning, all I wanted to do was write, so I drove down to school and back to retrieve it.

When we got to All Animals, Fromage had a fever of 105.6. This was a raging brain fever. He couldn’t even walk down our front stairs. I carried him in my arms down the thirteen front steps — all 60+ pounds of him. David carried him into the car. He was dehydrated and disoriented and scared. He was dying.

I held him in the back seat while David drove. He lay quietly on the back seat, watching where we were going.

He had kept himself alive so he could support me. And now I knew it was my turn to support him by letting him go and by easing his passage into the next world, into his next life.

Fred always said that Fromage was my spirit guide.

Now my heart just aches. David’s too. Fromage loved David so much, even though David felt hurt that Fromage was always so freaked out and demented these last few years. David hugged him and loved him too, even though there was so much dog hair. By last night, no one cared.

I can’t put away his old beds or mats yet. I am still processing the fact that he is gone. There is a giant Fromage-shaped hole in my heart — one with one stand-up ear and one flappy ear. The stand-up ear is his right one. It has a bite taken out of the tip. My lips and fingers know the shape of that missing spot instinctively. Completely. Like a fingerprint.

He’d been staying alive to get me through this tough time. On Wednesday night I got the word that my layoff notice had been rescinded. He went downhill fast from there.

I loved that dog so much.

He loved me more purely and wholeheartedly than I had ever been loved before. It was a healing kind of love. He healed me. He made me whole.

When Crystal and I saw Mary Oliver the first time at the Herbst a few years ago, Mary had recently lost her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, and had been writing about it for some time. A woman in the audience asked how she’d gotten through the devastating loss. “Well,” she said, first you go a little crazy. You go nuts for a while.” That thought comforts me now. I am going to have to go a little nuts for a while while I grieve.

The loss feels cavernous.

It’s also tinged with fear and shame that I might not be experiencing appropriate gratitude for the gift of his life. I *do* feel a bottomless gratitude for his life. It’s just that right now, this is the part where I have to take in and let out the hurting — the loss and the groundlessness of impermanence.

In legal terms, I rescued him, but the emotional truth is that he is the one who rescued me.

He was a magical dog, a magical creature. In mythical terms, he was my magical helper-being.

“A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky,” Mary Oliver writes in one of her dog poems. In so many, many ways I’ve been very, very lucky. Fromage was in good health and good spirits until this very last week. He enjoyed long walks and Trash Night and giving David five and ten and eating Beggin’ Strips until the very last day of his life. He watched for my return through the glass in the front door every single day of our life together.

As we left the hospital room after it was over, I kissed him behind his flappy ear — where, even in death, he still smelled like a puppy — and I whispered to him, “Okay, Puppity, guard the house.”

Then we left the treatment room and closed the door behind us.

I did not look back.


Fromage at the Dog Garden, Dog Garden, San Francisco, California, April 2004, photo © 2004 by Carlos Hillson. All rights reserved.


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About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

Long is Part I in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage.

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Father Love Joy, taken the day before Father’s Day, Casket Arts Studio 318, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 16th, 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Many Father’s Days pass with a card, a note, a phone call. It’s easy to forget that Father’s Day can be somber for those who have lost fathers to war, illness, death or divorce. I don’t know what it is this year, but Father’s Day sticks to my heart. Maybe it’s the letter I wrote to my biological father last year after 50 years of no contact. Or the way my step-dad from South Carolina drove over 600 miles to see me when I was in Pennsylvania visiting my brother after his liver transplant. Or maybe it’s the way I can feel connected to my step-dad from Pennsylvania by checking in on Facebook when he winters in Puerto Rico.

I’m looking back; I’m looking forward. Back to the things my dads have taught me. Forward to the gratitude I feel that they are a part of my life. Over the years, I related most to the matriarchal side of our family. But the bond between fathers and daughters is inescapable. I ran from it in my twenties; I was trying to stand alone, be my own person. I humbly step back into the circle. It is unbroken. Fathers are the other half of the sky.

Some feel that divorce leaves children alienated and confused. That kids are too young to understand the nature of adult relationships until they have lived through a few of their own. How complicated and emotional and painful they can be. But children are resilient. And the truth is that adults go through many relationships over the course of their lives. Hopefully, insight follows pain. Understanding is born from love and loss. Wisdom comes from forgiveness and learning to love again.

I have a biological father I have not seen since I was six. I have a Southern dad who lives in South Carolina and was a big part of my life from the ages of two through eleven. I have a Northern dad who lives in Pennsylvania part of the year, the other part in Puerto Rico. He was a father figure from the ages of twelve through eighteen. I carry little pieces of each of these men into late adulthood; they are all part of me.

My First Bicycle - Morristown, Tennessee


I am a better person for what I learned from my three dads.

I learned to ride a bike in Tennessee. It was my dad who unbolted the training wheels, held the back of the seat until I was steady, then let go the moment I felt balanced. I learned to slip together model train tracks, drop liquid smoke into the stack to make steam (oh, that smell!), let the transformer cool off after a few hours. On Christmas morning, my dad would get right down on the floor with us and assemble model cars, toy blocks, and Easy-Bake ovens. He gardened, cooked and cleaned when Mom needed the help, tore apart car engines and taught her how to put them back together, and worked two jobs to keep us afloat. From my dad, I learned the meaning of generosity of spirit, of honesty and doing the right thing, of standing up for your beliefs and challenging those who take advantage of others.

In Pennsylvania, I grew old enough to drive. It was my mother who sat next to me in the Buick while I learned the ropes. But my dad who taught me how to slip the clutch on the red Austin-Healey Sprite we towed from my grandparent’s garage. The vintage racer belonged to my uncle and had seen a lot of wear. He said he’d give it to us if we could figure out how to tow it home. That Sprite became my first car. Mom added the shag carpet; my dad fixed up the engine and got the little spitfire running after hours of labor—a great gift to me.

From my dad, I learned to build a scale model guillotine for an 8th grade English project on A Tale of Two Cities. The blade was sharp; Mrs. Juarez was impressed. My dad taught me the first chords on the guitar I received for Christmas that first year of college. He always had a couple of guitars and an amp around the house when we were growing up. I also learned a little about politics and community from his dedication to workers rights through union organizing. I learned that change is possible if you are willing to fight for it.

From my biological father, I learned what a child learns from absence. There is a wondering that goes with a parent who is no longer present, a do I matter to them? I wonder if they ever think about me feeling that stays with you into adulthood. His family was lost to me; his parents, my paternal grandmother and grandfather, were strangers. But I did reconnect with my aunts after 50 years. They welcomed me into their families. From that experience, I have learned forgiveness and unconditional love.

There have been painful moments, too, times of disappointment, times when I felt invisible. But on this day, Father’s Day 2012, I focus on the richness I have gained. To my three dads — thanks for all you have taught me. Most people only have one father. I am blessed with the gift of three.


-posted on red Ravine, Father’s Day, Sunday, June 17th, 2012

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Triptych: After The Blue Rain, inspired by Irish poet John O’Donohue, original photograph: an early Winter Solstice Fire 2011, altered in PhotoShop Elements, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.





after the blue rain

Have you walked
the barren landscape
of the chattering wire —
blue rain runs in the silence
of a white hot fire.






-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 28th, 2012, gogyohka inspired by Irish poet John O’Donohue after listening to one of his last interviews before his unexpected death in 2008:  The Inner Landscape of Beauty with Krista Tippett, On Being (LINK)


When you cease to fear your solitude, a new creativity awakens in you. Your forgotten or neglected wealth begins to reveal itself. You come home to yourself and learn to rest within. Thoughts are our inner senses. Infused with silence and solitude, they bring out the mystery of inner landscape.” — John O’Donohue from Anam Cara (In Memoriam)


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Cool To The Touch, by the Thanksgiving fire with friends, Droid Shots,
edited with Little Photo, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, November 2011, photo
© 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Gratitude unfolds,
hot fire in the belly
cool to the touch—
River of self-doubt,
I carry the light
all the days of my life.






-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, November 27th, 2011

-related to posts: haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52, Gratitude Mandala — Giving Thanks

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Healing Heart Mandala, created on gray, rainy day while listening to Mandala Healing: Using Sacred Symbols for Spiritual & Emotional Healing by Judith Cornell, Golden Valley, Minnesota, September 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




THE SECRET OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER

Once you turn the light around,
everything in the world is turned around.
The light rays are concentrated upward into the eyes;
this is the great key of the human body.
You should reflect on this.
If you do not sit quietly each day,
this light flows and whirls,
stopping who knows where.
If you can sit quietly for a while,
all time-ten thousand ages,
a thousand lifetimes---is penetrated from this.
All phenomena revert to stillness.
Truly inconceivable is this sublime truth.


—from The Secret of the Golden Flower: The Classic Chinese Book of Life, translated by Thomas Cleary, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, p.19


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HEALING INTENTIONS


   acceptance                   appreciation                   authenticity
   awakening                   balance                            beauty
   beginner's mind          creative play                  clarity 
   compassion                  connectedness               devotion 
   egolessness                  emotional healing          faith
   fearlessness                 forgiveness                     freedom to be 
   grace                             gratitude                         harmony
   healing laughter          honoring diversity         illumination 
   inspired creativity      integrity                          joy 
   kindness                       life as a celebration       listening with the heart
   living in the present   mental healing               miracles
   non-judgment             oneness                           opening the heart to love 
   patience                       peace                               perseverance
   practice of truth         radiating love                 soul illumination 
   spiritual healing          surrender                       transformation
   trusting intuition        unity                                wholeness 
   wisdom                        wonder




Healing Heart Mandala (Detail)-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

-related to posts: Labyrinth Mandala At The Aquarius Full Moon, Ears Still To The Lonely Wind — Mandala For Rabbit, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Shadow Of A Dragonfly, Dragonfly Wings — It Is Written In The Wind, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas, EarthHealer — Mandala For The Tortoise, ode to a crab (haiku & mandala), Eye Of The Dragon Tattoo

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Dragonfly Revisited – 33/52, BlackBerry 52 — Week 33 Jump-Off, Golden Valley, Minnesota, August 10th 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: Original Droid snapshot of a dragonfly on our front window at the end of Summer, August 2011. Altered in Photoshop Elements.






A month ago Thursday, a road trip West, dragonflies swelled the North Dakota skies. Hundreds of dragonflies, one place. Everywhere—
we stopped; winged clouds of a prehistoric past.

Another Full Moon, a long day at work. Head bowed, walking toward the door. There, in the wind, completely still. Dragonfly, tucked under the lip of the window eave. Inside, outside, everyside. Luck follows Dragonfly. Dragonfly follows the dreamtime.

In time, I dream.






-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-related to posts: first dragonfly, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Shadow Of A Dragonfly, Dragonfly Wings — It Is Written In The Wind, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas, The Sketchbook Project, haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52

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My first bicycle. Royal blue, silver fenders, metal training wheels bolted on to the frame. Practicing, practicing, practicing until I got it right. Riding a bicycle, my first taste of freedom. My second bicycle, a 26 inch with a wire basket in the front to hold my text books. Books covered in brown paper that was once a bag, drawn on, colored on, with stickers and awkward handwriting. I never had good handwriting. I remember learning to ride a bicycle. The scariest part was the space between the wobble from one training wheel hitting the ground, then the other. Or maybe the scariest part was when the rubber actually hit the sidewalk and it felt off balance, like I was going to tip over, fall to the pavement, scrape my knee.

What I remember about my first bicycle isn’t as much about the object as the person who cared enough to hold the back of the seat until I got my balance, the person who ran along beside me when I teetered, who knew when it was safe to let go after the training wheels were unbolted—let go and let me fly. It’s the memories more than the objects. The objects are triggers. When we moved to Pennsylvania, our breezeway was always full of bicycles. Kids and bicycles. There was always one kid learning to ride a bike. It was the way my brothers roamed the streets with their friends.

I don’t remember riding in a group. It was more of a solitary effort for me. A way to get away and be alone. I clearly remember one ride to elementary school. I was so entranced with the ride, with the process, with looking down and viewing my feet turn the pedals, that I forgot to look up, and ran smack dab into a parked car. It jolted me, my text books flew out of the basket and on to the ground. I caught myself before I fell over but that jolt! when the tire hit the chrome fender, I will never forget it. I was embarrassed and looked around to see if anyone saw me fall. Which matters most? The fall or those who witness the fall.

Now that I think about it, my first bicycle taught me to trust. The second taught me how to fly solo, to be faster than anyone else, to not be afraid. My bicycles taught me independence, to trust myself, how to balance when things were careening out of control, how to stop on a dime right before the pothole swallowed me. My first bike was more than a bicycle. It was the beginning of learning to hold the world in the soles of my feet and the handlebar underneath my palms. It was a way to get away from the crowd, time to think, the feeling I’d later experience again when I learned to ride a motorcycle. There is no freedom like being on a two-wheeler, running under the power of your own two feet.


-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — MY FIRST BICYCLE

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Celebrate Peace - 18/52

Celebrate Peace – 18/52, BlackBerry 52, Golden Valley, Minnesota, May 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s Memorial Day 2011. The skies over Golden Valley are green and gray. Rain pelts the freshly splashed grass seed. The lawn has been mowed. The cedar branches that bent to the ground in the last snowstorm are trimmed. I’m cleaning the rust off my writing pen. Where to start?

I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site and left Uncle James a message. He is not forgotten. One day I will take the time to go back through my film archives and locate the negatives from the day I photographed the Wall in 1984. It was an unplanned visit, a stop on a road trip back East after I moved from Montana to the Twin Cities. Unknown to me, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was being dedicated that same year. Veterans dotted the landscape of Washington D.C.; I found my uncle’s name and did a rubbing on a thin strip of paper.

A few years ago, I reconnected with my aunt, his widow, and told her I had never forgotten James. She told me that the day he died, he visited her and asked about the baby, his son. The baby was not yet born. He never met him. She swears he was there with her, standing in the same room. She would not get the official word until the next day—he had been killed in war. I feel somber inside, remembering. But it’s not like me to forget. Some think I live in the past. Sometimes the moment is the past. The same way it is the future. To understand war, I try to celebrate peace.

It feels good to be writing again. Art-A-Whirl was a big success. The Casket Arts Studio space was my home for the last month. The Writers Hands Series is up on the wall. The cards and postcards are selling well. Liz has her Found Frame Series up; her Landmark Series makes beautiful postcards. Thank you to all who visited during the crazy rain and tornado skies of Art-A-Whirl. It means a lot to us.

A haunting aspect of art and writing is that you have to burn the candle at both ends to see projects through. I was sick during Art-A-Whirl week but just had to keep going. Once I got to the studio, the energy of art and the people who love it carried the day. But I had to give up time in other areas, like the unplanned hiatus from red Ravine. I appreciate you, the readers, who keep coming back. I checked in but did not have the energy to write and prepare for the long hours of Art-A-Whirl. Something had to give. I missed the community.

The photograph of the PEACE sign (part of the BlackBerry 52 Series with Lotus) is made of seashells sent to me by Heather, a friend I met through red Ravine. She often tweets about her life by the California shoreline. One day, she asked if we wanted her to send a little of the ocean our way. In a landlocked Cancer stupor, I said, “Yes!” She mailed a box of shells the next day. When they got here, they were filled with sand and smelled like salt air, crab, and clam. I laid them out on the deck table under Minnesota skies to air out. Peace flowed from the backs of ocean creatures. Thank you, Heather.

And thank you for listening. I am off to Studio 318 to work on a piece about May Sarton. It’s time to get back to my practices. It’s time to write again. It’s time to post on red Ravine, to journal and print more photographs. This week is First Thursdays. Stop by and see us! What I really want to say is that I appreciate the community that visits here. Art and writing are not created out of a vacuum. We are all in this together.



-posted on red Ravine, Memorial Day, Monday, May 30th, 2011

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING, PRACTICE – Memorial Day – 10min, PRACTICE: Memorial Day — 10min, May Day Self-Portrait: Searching For Spring, The Yogi (Cover Page) — 14/52, Nesting & Resting, Pulling Out The Sun (By Day, By Night), BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Searching For Stillness, icicle tumbleweed (haiga) — 2/52, The Mirado Black Warrior, Waning Moon (Haiga), Alter-Ego Mandala: Dreaming Of The Albatross (For Bukowski), EarthHealer — Mandala For The Tortoise

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My First Bicycle — Morristown, Tennessee, BlackBerry Shot of C-41 film print, Morristown, Tennessee, April 1959, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Do you remember your first bicycle? Did you learn to ride a bike in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s? Were you sporting a Schwinn, Raleigh, or Western Flyer, 24 or 26- inch frame, balloon-tired, single-speed coaster, three-speed, or ten-speed? Whenever I could, I’d steal away on my brother’s Schwinn Sting-Ray with the banana seat. Did your bike have a Wheelie-Bar (check out this cool poster for the WHAM-O Wheelie-Bar)?

In the 1960’s and 70’s, bikes were booming. (Prior to the 1960’s, most bicycles were sold to children.) In 1960, 3.7 million bikes were sold in the U.S., with sales jumping to 15.2 million by 1973. When I took off the training wheels and graduated to a 26-inch frame, I’m pretty sure I was riding high on the Schwinn Fair Lady. Was my brother riding a Tiger? Did my sister have a Sting-Ray Stardust? I remember her bike had a white basket on the front, laced with flowers.

How many times did you fall off your bicycle when you were learning to ride? Did you use training wheels or go out into that brave new world balancing on the head of a pin. Tell me everything you know about your early bicycle experiences. The look, the feel, the wind in your hair. Were there plastic streamers flowing out of the grips, clothes pins snapped to playing cards (could they be Bicycle) and clipped to the frame, chattering over the spokes? Did you ride with “no hands?”

Get out a fast writing pen and a spiral notebook and do an old-fashioned handwritten Writing Practice. Write My First Bicycle at the top of the page and 15 minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 13th, 2011

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By Judith Ford

This is, I think, the first year I’ve begun to accept the notion that I will one day die. Not that it’s been a big secret. I watched each of my parents die. My mother, who was always the dramatic one, died peacefully, while my father, who’d never been much for self-expression, died struggling and full of fear and rage. Resisting all the way. Someone once said to me that we all die as we’ve lived. Not my parents.

I turned 63 a couple months ago. Not one of those BIG ages, like 21 or 40 or even the big 6-oh, but for me, a signal. A signal to pay attention. There isn’t as much time ahead as there is behind me. I might have said that last year or even ten years ago but for some reason, on this birthday, I got it: not a whole hell of a lot of time left.

When I say that to Chris, he gets all defensive and hyper-rational. Says things like, “yeah yeah, you’ll drop dead tomorrow.” “No,” I say. “I don’t think I’ll die tomorrow, just sooner than I want to.”

My father was 77, my mother was 74. I am healthier than they were. I don’t smoke. I exercise. Will that allow me to avoid the strokes that my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all suffered?

I always imagined, when I was in my 20’s, that I would die, at 84, falling off my motorcycle on a mountain road. I haven’t owned a motorcycle since my first child was born. I’d had one crash and after that, couldn’t ride without awareness of my vulnerability. When I had my daughter, I didn’t think it was fair for me to take that kind of risk any more. I kind of miss my little Honda 90. Was it a 90? I think it was. Its predecessor was a Honda 50, a slow old thing that, when I was 22 and had never owned a car, opened up worlds for me.

Back to death. Yes. Back to death. I had a brush with it when I was 42, a major flare-up of an auto-immune disease I didn’t, before then, know I had. After that, life was different. Everything was different and nothing was different. I mean, I was vividly aware of my mortality and of how much I wanted to stay alive. For months after I was discharged, following many weeks in the hospital, I experienced the world through a bubble of heightened senses, everything glowing and glittery and inexpressibly precious. Then, it faded. Of course, it faded; things that wake you up to the utter wonderfulness of being alive always fade. Routines settle back in. I went back to my habit of writing to-do lists that would choke a cow. Back to my pattern of going to bed each night with my head abuzz with what I hadn’t yet accomplished and must get to tomorrow. Now and then, I would remember. Then 5 years later, when I had flare-up number 2 and once again did not die, I thought I would never ever stop feeling grateful for yet another reprieve.

But I did stop. I do stop. None of us is alive and awake all the time, I guess. Would I want to be? Maybe not. It’s a bit painful.

In the past few years, several of my friends have been diagnosed with cancer and are out of the immediate – but not the long-term – woods. One friend died of Lou Gehrig’s disease 10 years ago. My golden retriever died the same year as my father (1995). My favorite therapy teacher, Dick, died that year, too. How did all these vital parts of my life stop being here, taking up time and space? They were here. Now they are not. How can that be? Not even a jagged hole in the air left from where they used to be.

So when I say I’m beginning to accept the notion that I will one day, sooner rather than later, die, I am whistling in the wind. I have moments here and there where I kind of get it and then it’s gone. And I’m left with the delusion that I have all the time in the world, until I think about it. I do not have all the time. I don’t like it that I don’t have more time.

Three years ago, I pretended to have only one year left. I followed a guide by Stephen Levine, did meditations on the subject, wrote about it, kept notes, but eventually, it all felt like a sham. I knew, the whole time, that I wasn’t going to die at the end of that year. I was pretty sure.

And I realized that, if it were true, if in fact I knew for sure I had only a year, what I would do was… nothing out of the ordinary. I would do the dishes, walk the dogs, fold the laundry, sit at my kitchen table and watch the finches flock to my bird feeders. I would choose to be alone. I would choose only those I love best to be with me. I would go to the grocery store. Maybe I would clean up my files so none of my writing would be inaccessible to my daughter (who is named in my will as the trustee for my writing.) I would go on as usual as long as I could, wanting the familiar, wanting to savor, wanting to bequeath, but quietly.

I know that at 63 my remaining vibrant years are dwindling. So what do I do? I make a commitment to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my 23 year old son next spring. Why not? There will never be a better time.

I have no grip on this at all. I think it’s a horrible terrible thing to do to people, get them all juiced up on life and then slowly – or all at once – take everything away. Not fair. I wish I could opt out. Of death. Of the many losses of aging.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Judith Ford joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Teri Blair

15 minutes into the grief group I knew it was a mistake. There were still two hours to go, and the stranglehold around my neck was suffocating. It had been, as every attempt had been, an honest effort at finding my way around my father’s death. When he was alive, I thought something would change when he died. It hadn’t. It was all still there.

The grief group leader was hired by the funeral home. A funeral home that was part of a chain in the metropolitan area. He began by telling the group his pedigree. I thought this was to assure us he hadn’t just fallen off the turnip cart. He was a professional with twenty years of grief group experience. We could relax now. In his good hands.

But by the fifteen-minute mark, I saw he didn’t know how to establish boundaries for the group. He didn’t set any for himself nor anyone else. When he told us in flourishing detail how he would be buried in a purple casket, wearing a bathrobe and holding a martini, we had to listen. He needed us to laugh and think he was crazy. Outrageous. When the 70-something woman kept interrupting to loudly wail and moan about her 93-year-old mother “she never thought could die,” when one of the others began openly to flirt with the leader…. when all these things happened within 15 minutes I knew it was a mistake.

I looked at the door, wondering if I could bolt. Then he called me out by name. He knew it because of the name tag I wore. He said I must have a question for him, and that I could ask him anything. I thought There is nothing on God’s green earth you can tell me or show me or answer for me. When I said I didn’t have any questions for him yet, he could see in my face I wasn’t going to fall in line with all the other success stories of people he had helped over the course of 20 years. He turned ever-so-slightly hostile and said to me, in front of the group, that some people just aren’t ready to do the difficult work of grief.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Bob Chrisman

An old friend called on her way back home from a weekend with her partner, son, and grandson. “I have some bad news and some good news. Which do you want to hear first?”

“Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Maybe the good news will soften the bad.”

“I didn’t expect you to say that. Here goes. The doctor found that I have endometrial cancer, undifferentiated. They have caught it at a very early stage.”

I stopped listening to her for awhile. The “C” word causes my stomach to clinch and the muscles in my neck to tighten. I’ve heard it too often in conversations with my women friends. Lost two of them to aggressive tumors that spread throughout their bodies.

But I focus too much on the losses and not on the wins. A friend diagnosed with breast cancer has remained cancer-free for 12 years. Other women have recovered completely from cancer of various organs. I’m thankful for those successes, very grateful.

My mind returns to the recurrences I’ve seen. A woman twelve years post treatment for a brain tumor has learned within the last two weeks that her cancer has returned. This time the doctor said she will die, but that’s what he said the last time and she lived for another twelve years.

Why all this focus on death at a time of year when the world screams with life and beauty? Why must death occur during these spring months when the earth bursts forth in new life and beautiful shades of yellow-green, when flowers of all colors open and scent the air, and when we can say, “Winter is gone for at least seven months”? Why?

Maybe all this life and beauty replaces the darkness and depression of the winter and I want no more of it. Give me life in all of its forms and beauty. I suffer enough during the winter and I’m over it, but I’m not, it seems.

I notice the beauty and revel in it because I know the bleakness of winter. Joy returns to my life because I know that the good times may not last forever. The friends I carry in my heart as the treasures of a lifetime will die. I must rejoice in their being while they are with me and not put that off for a change in the season or the approach of death.

How is it that the richness of life requires us to know the poverty of despairing times? Does it work like salt on cantaloup or watermelon? The saltiness makes the sweetness that much sweeter as death makes life more precious.

If I could stop death and dying, would I? No, I would let things happen as they must. I might even bring death to those I love earlier if they desired it, but that’s not my place in life. Sitting next to the bedside of a friend who’s dying makes me aware of the value of the time we had together and what a loss their death will be. If they must die (and they must), I can spend the final days and hours with them and carry them and those times in my heart until I pass from this earth.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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I had thought by the time I did this Writing Practice, we would be well into the green of Spring and Winter would have died a slow death. It’s green. But on the second day of May it dropped to 30 degrees. Ice crystals fell from the sky and pinged the windshield. I am still bundled in fleece, pulling a high collar up around the scruff of my neck to keep warm. Nature is unpredictable. So is the nature of one’s death. It happens that on the week we are writing about death and dying on red Ravine, Osama bin Laden would meet his demise. I feel no joy in his death. It is a strange mix of emotions, more like confusion and relief.

I remember the writing workshop with Natalie in Taos, New Mexico right after September 11th. She thought about canceling it but decided it was important to go ahead. It was a large group, over 50 writers, a talking workshop. The first night we went around the room, introduced ourselves, and spoke briefly about what it was like for each of us on September 11th. Some lived in New York, some had lost loved ones. I was more removed from the immediate impact. But it changed our country forever. Oddly, I don’t want to write about it. Not now. I will leave it for those whose voices ring with more certainty about what it all means. I can’t put labels on it. The whole ten years and two wars mostly makes me sad.

The older I get and the closer to death, the more I think about it. I can’t predict its time, but I can dedicate my life to living while I am on God’s green Earth. I listened to an interview with Janis Ian before seeing her in concert at the Fitzgerald last week. She had gotten very sick, and thought she may die in middle age. She said her thoughts on death before her illness were that she would take the time she had left to write songs, to write the perfect poem set to music. But when the time actually came, when she thought her life would be cut short, all she wanted to do was sit on the porch with her partner and watch the birds. To be close to her loved ones. That’s all that mattered.

It reminds me that I’m not going to be on my deathbed thinking about how hard I worked at all the jobs I have had over the years. It’s not likely I’ll be thinking of co-workers, the people with whom I’ve spent a majority of my daylight hours. I am more likely to want to spend time with Liz, stay close to home, hang out with the cats. I am more likely to want to go visit my mother and close family, to spend the time with friends I know I can trust. Friends with which I can share my deepest fears about dying and death.

There are moments when death doesn’t scare me. Late nights, when I wake up at 3am and can’t sleep, I do feel the fear. I try to befriend my idea of Death. It changes like the seasons. I do believe that life goes on after death. I find some comfort in that. I don’t have to get it right the first time. There can be second chances. But life will never be like the one I have right now, in this one moment. This is my life. I want to make the most of it while I am here.


-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING

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On The Trail In The Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico, mailed in 1947 from Whites City, New Mexico, vintage postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Jim White, the discoverer and explorer of Carlsbad Caverns has his experiences written up in a book of thirty-two pages with 30 illustrations, of which 16 subjects are in beautiful colors, and a wonderful colored cover entitled: Jim White’s Own Story.” Be sure and read these thrilling experiences of a lone cowboy three days under the world in Carlsbad Caverns.”


Before Ione wandered through the Joshua Trees & Desert Sands of California, she went spelunking deep in the underground caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. She would have accessed the park’s only entrance road, New Mexico Highway 7, by turning north off of US Hwy 62/180 at Whites City, New Mexico – which is 16 miles southwest of Carlsbad, NM and 150 miles northeast of El Paso, Texas.

The scenic entrance road stretches 7 miles from the park gate at Whites City (formerly the entrance to Walnut Canyon) to the Visitor Center and cavern entrance (which explains why the card is postmarked Whites City). To make it even more confusing, the address for the park’s Visitor Center is 727 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad, NM, even though it’s located 23 miles from the actual town.


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Carlsbad Caverns – Jan 23 1947, Whites City, New Mexico, vintage postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Carlsbad, N.M.

Here we are at the Caverns. You can’t imagine what they are. The most desolate country around here. All well. Everything going fine.

Ione.


Ione would have traveled 1300 miles from Dover, Minnesota to Carlsbad Caverns a year before the new visitor center was built, and one year after Jim White died in Carlsbad, on April 26, 1946 at the age of 63. Did you know April 16th – 24th is National Park week? What is your favorite national park? If you took a visit to Carlsbad Caverns you would find:

  • 117 (known) caves formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone
  • During the Summer, the caves are home to 400,000 Brazilian (more commonly called Mexican) free-tail bats [NOTE: To learn more about bats, visit Bats, Beautiful Bats! a piece about bat evangelist Michelle McCaulley who spreads the truth about the benefits of bats and other wildlife. Michelle runs the Rio Grande Basin Bat Project, which was created by her late father, Jim McCaulley.]
  • Carlsbad Cavern is only one of over 300 limestone caves in a fossil reef laid down by an inland sea 250 to 280 million years ago. The limestone rock that holds Carlsbad Cavern is full of ocean fossil plants and animals from a time before the dinosaurs when the southeastern corner of New Mexico was a coastline similar to the Florida Keys.
  • Twelve to fourteen thousand years ago, American Indians lived in the Guadalupe Mountains; some of their cooking ring sites and pictographs have been found within the present day boundaries of the park.

Jim White began to explore the cave as a teenager in 1898, using a handmade wire ladder to descend 60 feet into the cave. As an early visitor to Carlsbad Cavern, you might have entered the cave via an old guano mining bucket. In 1901, Abijah Long, a fertilizer expert, realized that guano could be used as a nitrate rich fertilizer. The following year, Long filed a claim for guano mining inside the caverns, and he offered Jim White work as a foreman. In about 20 years, an estimated 100,000 tons of guano were taken from Carlsbad Caverns at as much as $90 a ton. It wasn’t until years later, January 6th, 1912, that New Mexico officially became a state. If you had visited the park in 1928, you may have bumped into Amelia Earhart who gave underground park tours that year.

Though there are many legends and myths about which immigrants first discovered “The Bat Cave” (Native Americans knew of the caves thousands of years before), Jim White spent much of his life trying to convince others of the need for preservation. In October 1923, President Calvin Coolidge declared Carlsbad Caverns a national monument, and Jim White became cavern guide. In 1924, geologist Willis T. Lee explored the caves with White and wrote an article for National Geographic attracting national attention. On February 9th, 1937, Jim White began selling his book Jim White’s Own Story (ghostwritten by Frank Ernest Nicholson) in the cave, and his wife Fanny continued to sell it until her death in 1964.


-related to posts:  WRITING TOPIC: ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS, greetings from artesia haiku, Roswell, NM — Aliens Welcome Here, and for a more modern visit to the caves check out Postcards From Carlsbad Caverns

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