Archive for August, 2007

You Can't Go Back, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

You Can’t Go Back, one of the homes I lived in as a child, now abandoned, June 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

I spent two weeks on the road in June, researching my book. The second week was a road trip with my mother to Georgia, where I spent much of my childhood. Mom has been working on the family tree for at least five years. We printed out the whole tree (which ended up being about 4 feet wide and 5 feet long), taped it together, rolled it up, and carried it with us to the South.

To spur memories and aid my research, I asked her and my step-dad to drive me around to all the places we lived when I was growing up. I asked questions, took photographs, and taped their memories of love, land, and place. Not only was it a rich time with them, it was healing.

The demographics of the places we lived back then have changed. Many homes where I lived as a newborn, infant, or young girl, now reside in less desirable parts of town. The photograph is one of the homes where I lived with my mother. She said she used to rock me on the little side porch that is now overgrown with weeds.

I knew when I saw the Abandoned topic, I wanted to write about what it was like driving around, experiencing the past (some of which I was too young to consciously remember) through present eyes. I drummed up the memory of seeing this abandoned place, which was once our home, and wrote these haiku like a writing practice. They haven’t been edited.

I learned a lot on that trip. You can go back – but it’s not the same. And the death of one thing is the glorious birth of something else.

You Can’t Go Back – 15 haiku

rocking on the porch
imagining your soft lap
cradling my head

you can’t go back home
but you can peek through the past
as if it was yours

I raised the glass lens
sweat trickled down my armpit
let sleeping dogs lie

home was forsaken
covered with vines and green leaves
I opened the door

earth reclaims the past
memory doesn’t hold me
I am holding it

neighborhoods crumble
our memories are alive
long after we die

unraveling the past
identity cracks open
desolate and white

confederate flag
in the yard across the way
stops, pauses mid-air

the past is the past
never to be abandoned
as long as we live

grandmothers recite,
“go tell your stories, honey”
a dog barks nearby

running through puddles
along the wide Savannah
I dive but no splash

sultry and humid
I remember my last name
forgetting the first

time is elusive
batting flies against the rain
through leaky floor boards

pounding the pavement
emaciated memories
sparkling in the sun

the jewels of the past
backseat drivers one and all
remember, you are

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – “ABANDONED”

-posted on red Ravine Friday, August 17th, 2007

-related to posts:  Excavating Memories,  Cassie’s Porch – Then & Now, (Geo) Labyrinth Finder, Duck & Cover

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I remember one Christmas holiday when Dee was about three. Jim and I took her to the annual bonfire that our town puts on for the kids. Saint Nick was there on a fire truck, and they had cookies and oranges and hot apple cider. Jim and I stood on the perimeter of the bonfire. We didn’t know very many people, and we didn’t see much opportunity to meet anyone while standing in front of a giant blaze. Dee, on the other hand, approached a girl about her age. They looked at each other and one touched the other’s coat and vice versa. Then they ran off to play.

“Don’t you wish making new friends were that easy,” I told Jim. “I mean, you just see someone about your height, don’t even exchange names, and off you go holding hands.”

“Yeah,” he said kind of dreamy.

I used to believe that the best friend-making opportunities came when one was much younger. I was still friends with a girl I grew up with since age nine. Early twenties, too, were easy. Some girls I kind of knew in high school went to the same university as me. Our friendships deepened as we studied late at night in a restaurant shaped like a barn and gained weight on cinnamon rolls slathered in butter. 

Mid-twenties my work environments turned up good connections. In one early job at an advertising agency, we kept a dart board near the art director’s conference table. We’d brainstorm while playing a game of “Mickey Mouse.” The radio technician at our agency eventually recruited me to his team, and I spent the next couple of years toodling around Santa Fe with my fellow Dancing Pigs, as we were called.

My thirties brought several friends who were new mothers like myself. I joined a Moms-and-Infants group when Dee was born. We met every week at parks or one another’s homes. We traded advice on how to treat diaper rash and where to buy the best breast pumps. Eventually, though, I had to return to work. I let those friendships fall away, until finally, it seemed like it was just Jim and me together, figuring things out.

Now in my 40s, I’ve struck new friendships through politics, community involvement, the girls’ school, art and writing. The thing I’ve noticed about the people I spend the most time with is that we either do nothing together (except talk, laugh, drink beer) or we do something (write, conspire, paint). Which makes me think that while there is no rhyme or reason to friendship, there is indeed friendship. And, contrary to what I thought that winter night at the bonfire, making friends isn’t all that hard.

What has been your experience with making friends? Do friendships come through your passions (art and writing, for example), or do they come from living on the same street? Do you still have friends from childhood, or do you find that friendships happen in time and once that time has passed, so has the friendship? Tell me your thoughts on friendships and what makes them last.

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The summer of 2004 I was on a sabbatical from my work. That summer I wrote every day. I also created with three fellow writers a workshop-style group. At the beginning of each week, we emailed to one another new sections from our manuscripts. At the end of the week, we met in person to give feedback on the work each writer had sent. It was a good group. We laid ground rules about what was and wasn’t allowed during critique. All the writers were strong, and we all made good headway on our projects. I managed to complete two short stories that summer.

One of the writers in the group was a young woman named Amanda. She must have been about 22 or 23, only a year out of college. She was an assistant at an elementary school and had the summer off, so in addition to our writing workshop, Amanda and I also met weekly to do writing practice. We often did long sessions; sometimes we’d do two one-hour practices back to back. She wrote fast and pressed down so hard with her pen that she often had to shake out her hand.

Amanda’s parents were only about five years older than me, and I think Amanda saw me as a sort of mother figure. She moved to Albuquerque for the job, and I could tell by how much she talked about her parents that she was terribly homesick. Her writing was brilliant. It was fresh and alive. She often wrote in the voice of a young girl, but the things she wrote about were mature. Loneliness. Being lost. Loving the wrong person.

It was Amanda who one day threw out the topic “sleepaway camp.” “What is ‘sleepaway camp’,” I asked. She explained: a summer camp where you go overnight for a week or so with other kids. I agreed to write on the topic but only for ten minutes. I didn’t think it would hold my interest for any longer than that.

I remembered that particular practice when I did a post on my daughters’ recent return from summer camp. I found it in one of my old notebooks and decided to reproduce it here. What struck me was this: I started that practice with no memory of ever having gone to a camp. Yet, by the end of the practice, it came back — I had once attended a Girl Scout camp. It had been lost, temporarily buried underneath a bunch of other stuff. Once I started to unpack the other stuff, the memory came into view.

Amanda moved away at the end of that summer. I called the school where she worked but they didn’t have a forwarding address. My emails to her bounced. I’ve thought of her often. I figure some day she’ll turn up again, probably on the spine of a best-selling work of fiction. I didn’t know her for very long, but she gave me the gift of discovering that my memories will return if I keep doing writing practice. 

PRACTICE: Sleepaway Camp

I never went to sleepaway camp when I was a kid. One time, in fifth grade, my mom put me to bed at 7 pm, washed and dried like a poodle, so my dad could wake me up at 4 am and get me to the Alvarado Elementary parking lot by 5 am. We were heading in buses to Carlsbad Caverns.

We wore jackets because it was still cool in the mornings, even though it was almost summer break. Steve McIlheney’s family owned McIlheney’s Dairy, so they supplied the milk, whole and unpasturized. It tasted thick and raw to me, like eggs were mixed in. I didn’t touch mine.

I don’t know if sleepaway camp existed when I was young or if my family was just an anomaly, one of those sleepaway-camp-unaware types of family. I think both. I think some kids went away to camp, but I would wager most of those places were big and not cozy, with chores like shoveling and digging posts. I imagine the rooms to be dirty with rat droppings under the old bunks, which had army mattresses and thick blankets that smelled like dust. I imagine the only kids who were shipped off to these sleepaway camps were on LSD by the age of 12 or sleeping with their mom’s boyfriends.

But I also would wager that there were nice sleepaway camps, camps with tennis courts and horseback riding and swimming in heated pools, camps for kids whose parents thought about such things as developing independence and having their kids have a richer experience than, say, sitting in front of the TV all day and watching Hogan’s Heroes and Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island and eating entire bags of potato chips, the Safeway brand kind.

And suddenly it dawns on me that I was scared on that bus, driving five hours, three in darkness, my stomach empty but for a too-sweet donut. Coconut, burnt coconut, the kind my mom bought when she bought donuts. And how I would have preferred white powdered sugar or chocolate dipped, but how they gave us burnt coconut instead, plus the milk, and how I wanted to sit up near the front of the bus behind the driver, near the teachers but how they only let the feeble kids sit up there, the ones prone to carsickness and how I sat in the back instead.

And now, a distant memory, Girl Scout camp, my God, I did do sleepover camp, I just forgot.

-Ten-minute practice from August 2004

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Small hand, charcoal sketch by Em, August 2007This year at my daughters’ summer camp, the art instructor used sketchbooks. She said sketching was in keeping with the theme for the camp, Look To This Day. I think what she meant was that sketching was quick. You capture what’s in front of you — a hand, a tree, maybe a thing floating in your imagination. You don’t labor over anything or tighten it up. Just sketch, then move on.

These are some of the images from Em’s sketchbook. Em is eight. The first time we took her to camp, last year, she was the youngest kid there. Usually they don’t let kids attend camp unless they’re eight or over, but Em got to go at age seven since her older sister was also attending. Em loved it. She didn’t get sad or need to call home. Not that I thought she would. One thing I know about this youngest daughter of mine: she’s easy-going and independent.

Eye to eye, charcoal drawing by Em, August 2007This past Sunday Em and I flipped through her notebook to pick out sketches to post on red Ravine. She stopped at one done in colored pens. “This is my favorite,” she said. “It’s my teacher’s favorite, too.” 

She told me the art instructor liked it so much that she made a photocopy to take home with her. Em’s whole face was smiling when she said it. Em has big teeth and a big mouth; her smile really does stretch from ear to ear. “Is it a dog,” I asked her. “Hmm,” she said. Apparently she hadn’t given it much thought until that moment. “It’s maybe a dog,” she finally said.

Maybe a dog. I like that. And I love the art instructor for making a fuss over Em’s art. We get our cues early on whether we are good or not. 

                     Maybe A Dog, sketch with colored pens by Em, August 2007
                     Maybe A Dog, all sketches © 2007 by Em. All rights reserved.

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Another month has rolled by, so our May guests have rotated off the Guest Writers & Featured Artists widget on the sidebar. You can still locate their pieces, however, by typing their individual names into our Search bar. Or by clicking on Guestwriter or Guestartist under Contributors on the sidebar.

We’d like to take a moment to thank all of our Guests who have written with us on red Ravine. Each one of them has supported and expanded our efforts to create a dynamic writing and art community blog.

And, just to remind you how brilliant, exciting, and provocative our guests are, here are links to our May sojourners:

We are still working on our new submission guidelines so we can continue to solicit and publish writing and art from friends and strangers alike — kindred spirits of all stripes. We hope to publish our guidelines in the coming weeks.

If you just can’t wait until then, drop us a line at info@redravine.com anytime to find out how you can become a guest on red Ravine. And thanks for reading!

 -related to July post, Where To Find Our Guests

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

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by Elizabeth Statmore

Writing this book is the loneliest journey I have ever been on.
Nothing even compares — not divorce, not mental illness, not
abandonment, not the murder of my best friend from high school. Not
therapy. Not meditation.

The other day I told Natalie how hard I am finding this last stretch.
She agreed sympathetically and compared it to giving birth. “At the
end, you really have to push.”

A thought occurred to me. “So is there an epidural when you get to
this part?”

She laughed. “No painkillers. Just screaming.”

Some days I wonder if this is how the deeply delusional feel in
psychiatric hospitals. I shuffle around the house in my socks and a
dark blue sweatshirt, muttering to myself. Just me and my characters.
I hear their voices. They argue and negotiate on the pages of my
spiral notebook. I plug cartridge after cartridge into my Waterman
fountain pen. Black ink only. I can’t bear to see colors these days.

The other night my dharma teacher said, “Intention precedes action.”
I wrote this on a small yellow Post-It and placed it next to the
altar on the far left corner of my desk. On the wall just above it is
a companion Post-It with a recovery saying on it. The saying was
given to me by a fellow writing practice writer. It says, “Motivation
follows action.”

This captures how I am feeling these days. Intention precedes action
and motivation follows it. And I am suspended in the action in the
middle, groundless and beyond grasping, hovering over the edge of the
cliff like the great dharma teacher Wile E. Coyote. I blink into the
camera and feel myself gulp before the fall.

Abandoned Is… is a writing practice written from the Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – “ABANDONED.”

About writing, Elizabeth says:  I love the way writing practice lets me crawl through the window of a dream into the spirit world, where wild time is woven together with ordinary time to bind our souls to joy. I began writing practice in 1988, when I discovered Writing Down The Bones at my favorite bookstore, and I began formal study with Natalie Goldberg soon thereafter. Day by day, this practice has taught me to accept my whole mind and to work my way through life one word at a time.

Revisiting my old spiral notebooks reminds me how hard I worked in the learning but more importantly, how hard I had to try. They remind me how I learned to step forward with my own voice and declare, “The only one who limits me is me.” Year in, year out, they remind me how this practice has given me who I am.


In addition to the novel she is writing, Elizabeth is a frequent contributor to KQED-FM’s Perspectives series. If you would like to read more about Elizabeth, visit her website, Elizabeth Statmore. To listen to her work on Perspectives, click on the link, radio.



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 13th, 2007

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My girls came back today after a week at sleepaway camp in the mountains. The camp is run by an exuberant camp director whose father was a camp director and whose cousins and friends help put on the week’s activities. The counselors are young, hip (some have goatees, others wear pink hair and striped leggings for pants), and wise beyond their years. The instructors teach African dance, world beat drumming, a form of martial arts I’ve never heard of done with sticks, a writing method called Wild Words, sketchbook art, yoga, and “medicine trail” hikes to learn about the healing powers of plants.

This is Dee’s third year attending, Em’s second. After spending an afternoon watching my girls and their camp-mates read their own poetry and play “Here Comes the Sun” on guitar, after hearing the rhythm of their drumming and seeing their dances and yoga poses, I am once again blown away by what an inspirational experience this camp is. Every child there, it seemed, was glowing.

This is so unlike my own childhood camp experience. The one and only sleepaway camp I attended was a Girl Scout-sponsored event in the mountains. I went with my best friend, Lori. Being that her sister Nita was a camp counselor, we felt heady, like we had an “in” with the staff. My main creative memory was of Nita teaching us the words and dance moves to a ditty called “Chiquita Banana.” It went:

I’m a Chi-quita ba-na-na and I’m here to say
ba-na-nas are grown in a special way.
Ba-na-nas are grown in the south e-qua-tor
so don’t put them in your, umph, umph (here you thrust your pelvis)

My most vivid other memory is of the camp head, a woman with set-and-dry hair who dressed in an adult version of the Girl Scout green jumper, admonishing me and Lori for cutting up during mess hall duties. She told us we were not welcome at camp again, nor for that matter to Girl Scouts, period. (We might have done a bit more than slop around food; I think we got caught smoking cigarettes with Lori’s sister, although I’m a bit fuzzy on that part.)

How things have changed! The camp director today explained that the theme for Dee and Em’s camp this summer was “Look to this day.” He said the phrase came from an old Sufi poem. The spirit of the poem, he said, had been woven into each facet of camp teachings. Tonight I looked it up so I might better understand what he meant. I found this version on oldpoetry.com:

Look to this day
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

I asked Dee and Em if there was anything from camp they would like to post on red Ravine. Dee picked out something she wrote in Wild Words. Both also wanted to share a couple pieces of art, which I’ll do this week under separate posts. For now I’ll sign off with Dee’s poem:  

by Dee

Look to this day
Live in this moment
Now is all yours to own
Then is but a memory
When is still to come
Control what you have now
Now is all that matters
Look to this day

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Blue Light Special, downtown Minneapolis from the car window, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Blue Light Special, downtown Minneapolis, shot from the car window, August 3rd, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

I’m a creature of the night, a night owl all the way. On Friday afternoons, I’m pondering the wonders I’ll accomplish when daylight melts to dark. Maybe I adopted the tendency from my Mother. She was a night owl, too. And on a recent trip to Georgia together, we’d be up all hours of the night, writing and working on the family tree.

When I was younger, Mom and I would watch Lou Grant (who I saw in a guest spot on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm tonight) on the Mary Tyler Moore Show,  or Sam on Bewitched; then I’d give her a peck on the cheek goodnight, and head to bed. I had school in the morning. But the highlight of Mom’s day was just beginning – blessed time to herself.

With six kids, she never had a moment’s peace. Unless she slipped into the bathroom of our small ranch-style home for a long soak in Avon lavender bath beads and SkinSoSoft. Or stayed up late, riveted to a Lauren Bacall film until “This Is A Test Of The Emergency Broadcast System…” echoed down the hall.

In the 1960’s, baths and late night television seemed like the only options for busy mothers to have time alone. I’m probably projecting all kinds of things on my Mother. All I know is I have no idea how she did everything she did, and still managed to keep her sanity – unless it was to steal a few moments after the sun went down.

As for me, I just plain love the night. And her shroud of darkness. It’s quiet. And still. The light is fuzzy and falls around me in rusty yellows and browns. The focus is warm, far less than sharp, and sooths my restless heart. When the rest of the world is lights out, a whole underground culture emerges. I love to go out photographing the city at night.

Thanks for reminding me, ybonesy, my 6a.m. friend, how much I love the twilight, the space between day and night, the sullen gaps of light that blanket the night dwellers.

Around sunset, when the light shifts and the moon peeks her ashen head over the oaks, I’m buzzing with electric energy. Except for tonight, when I find myself needing rest. The clock strikes 12 in a midsummer night’s dream; it’s been a busy month. And I have an early day tomorrow.

 –Night Owl posted at Midnight on red Ravine, Friday, August 10th, 2007

-related to post, A Morning Person

UPDATE: the building with the blue neon ring is the top of the Fifth Street Towers I.  The bottom photo on the link shows both towers at night. Fifth I is a little shorter than Fifth Street Towers II which was built later. See discussion in the Comments of this post.

Here’s a link to all the buildings on the Minneapolis Skyline: Buildings of Minneapolis. If you click on each of the links you can see photos of the buildings.

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old wagon
Morning Wagon, photo © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Mornings, and I find myself on a Friday afternoon thinking about Saturday morning. I love my ritual of making coffee, heating up milk (if I don’t, it will turn the coffee cold, I use so much), watching the light stream through the sliding glass door. We don’t get the morning paper, but if I could, I’d order one up just for tomorrow so I could walk out the long drive past the old wagon and to the place outside the gate where the paper would wait, just for me.

This isn’t living in the present, I know. This moment — right now — is Friday, not Saturday. It is 4:38 pm, not 6:30 am. And yet, I won’t wag a finger at myself for not living in the moment. Maybe I let myself off the hook too easily by telling myself, “It’s all in anticipation for new beginnings.”

And here’s my secret: 80% of the time I would choose a new day over the end of this day. That’s me. Don’t feel bad for me. I don’t.


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In her post Thornton Wilder & Bridges, guest writer Teri Blair said this about Mr. Schminda, her former teacher:

Years ago, I was given a reading list by my 11th grade English teacher. I was in the college prep class, and the list of 100 or so books were ones he wanted us to read before we graduated from high school. It wasn’t just his idea. He told us a committee of English professors had compiled it. These books were considered the bare-bones-minimum to have read before we darkened the first door of a collegiate hall.

This piqued the interest of several readers — myself included — and we asked to see the list. Teri generously reproduced it from mimeographed pages carried with her since high school. So, without further ado…(drumroll)…and in no apparent order except that which made sense to Mr. Schminda et al., here is…

Provided by Teri Blair

          CANNERY ROW

          MOBY DICK
          WHITE JACKET




          O PIONEERS!
          MY ANTONIA



          OUR TOWN


          THE OCTOPUS







          MAIN STREET
          ELMER GANTRY

          ICE PALACE

          THE JUNGLE







          LAUGHING BOY




          ALL THE KING’S MEN





          2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

          FAHRENHEIT 451

          ON THE BEACH

          ALAS, BABYLON



          NATIVE SON






          WHITE FANG
          CALL OF THE WILD
          SEA WOLF


          THE GOOD EARTH






          THE CRUCIBLE


          RIP VAN WINKLE

          THE RAVEN







In a brief email exchange about her former teacher, Teri said:

Mr. Schminda is retired now, but lives in the same small town where he taught English to high school juniors. He whet my appetite for good books, and it was more than passing on the list of classics to read. He was thrilled about literature and authors.

One of the books we read the year he was my teacher was Moby Dick. I remember him pacing up and down the aisles between desks waving his paperback in the air and talking about Captain Ahab. He got fired up thinking about the adventure of the whale hunt.

When we read The Grapes of Wrath, I was desperate to go to Oklahoma and retrace the steps of the Okies fleeing the dust bowl. I wanted to know and love books as Mr. Schminda did. We all had to do an in-depth study of a writer; I picked James Weldon Johnson, my friend Pam chose Stephan Crane, and Sherri’s was John Steinbeck.

Mr. Schminda told us that we’d have to write one paper after another once we got to college. He told us by the time we left 11th grade he was determined that we’d know how to write term papers. We wrote and wrote and wrote. And when I got to college, thanks to his instruction, I knew how to write.

Thanks, Teri, for sharing Mr. Schminda with us, and thank you Mr. Schminda for inspiring Teri and countless others with your passion for reading and writing.

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by Teri Blair

Years ago, I was given a reading list by my 11th grade English teacher. I was in the college prep class, and the list of 100 or so books were ones he wanted us to read before we graduated from high school. It wasn’t just his idea. He told us a committee of English professors had compiled it. These books were considered the bare-bones-minimum to have read before we darkened the first door of a collegiate hall. The list included all the classics. Most of us got to two or three of them. We instead invested our time cruising up and down Main Street in convertibles and drinking chocolate shakes at Hardees.

But I held onto the list. In the countless moves I have made since I graduated from high school in 1979, I never lost the list. I made several resolves through the years to read each and every book, and with every resolve I would read a few more. Finishing them before college changed to finishing them during my lifetime.

And then this summer, something happened. A fire was lit under me, and I can’t stop. I read O, Pioneers! (Willa Cather), The Crucible (Arthur Miller), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith). I read The Red Badge of Courage (Stephan Crane) and White Fang (Jack London). I have read twenty books from the list back-to-back — the intensity and desire to continue building with every book.

There is one that stood out for me. One I curiously have liked better than all the rest. Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge Of San Luis Rey. It is the story of Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk living in Peru. One day, the most famous bridge in the country suddenly (and without warning) collapses, killing five people. Brother Juniper is desperate to make sense of it, to understand why these five died. He researches the life story of each of the people, trying to find connecting links/clues/a rationale. He wants to know if the way we live our life really makes a difference or matters. He wants to know if a Divine Force is orchestrating events. Or even cares. The book is fabulously written, a real page-turner.

I finished the book about a week ago, ten days at the most. I finished it right before the funeral of my cousin Shawn, the one who died unexpectedly when his car overturned on a country road. I was thinking about it when we stood around his grave in silence. I kept thinking about it when I returned to Minneapolis. Why some are taken and others left. Why I am left.

And then on Wednesday, in my beloved city, the bridge went down. And Thornton’s book was no longer simply a great piece of literature. In the first hours of learning about the 35W bridge, I had the strangest sense that the book was coming true specifically for me. It was eerie and confusing and I wanted it to stop and not get that close. I did the only thing I could think of; I read the next book on my list: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Emily’s famous line, spoken from the grave, now rings in my head. “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”

I crossed over the bridge six hours before it collapsed. The speed limit was only 40 mph, and I remember it clearly — the men with hardhats and orange vests, the traffic diverted to one side, the midday sun heating up the concrete. I replay the drive slow-motion in my head, understanding that at that moment the bridge was straining, barely able to maintain its load, almost ready to release. It was breathing its last breath. We didn’t know.

I have realized this week that I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of never living. I am afraid of mindlessly grinding through years being half-conscious and blandly molded to the status quo. I am afraid of never realizing my life.

And so I walk slower. This one act is real. My connection to life.

-related posts:  Bridge to Nowhere – The Great Connector, Fear Of Bridges, Minneapolis At Night, Natural Wonders: A Pentagram, The World According to Mr. Schminda (et al.)

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Abandoned is a place, and for a moment I hear these words in my head (as if from a Country-Western song): Abandoned is a place where I come from.

I remember taking a trip to Costilla with Dad, the first time I saw where he came from. We were with Uncle Nemey, Suzanne, and Kathy. I see us piling out of the VW van and walking in a line through a narrow doorway. The house is two rooms and a closet, more a shack than a house. I can tell you what I was wearing — blue shorts made of soft cotton and a striped t-shirt — yet I can’t tell you what we saw in the house. There’s a photo I took recently of an empty room with boards and building materials (an abandoned renovation job) and that’s the image I see when I think of the house Dad grew up in. Dark, small windows, empty potato chip bag on the floor. 

There is a whole vocabulary having to do with abandoned places. Shattered, tattered, forlorn. Trashed and infested. Scarred, and here I think of the thing abandoned as a scar on the landscape. Vacant and alone, and is a vacant stare an abandoned one? Has curiosity left the building?

Abandoned is the dog that fell out of the closet when Dad opened the door in his childhood home. Short-haired, reddish orange, I do recall that dog and how we all jumped back. It had been upright, as if on hind legs, and when I think of it falling I imagine it crumpling in a soft slump. It hadn’t been abandoned all that long before we arrived, its body yet to decay (and there’s another one of those words). We didn’t move the dog from where it lay in a heap, heap of trash. I wonder now how it felt to see so much abandonment in a place that once meant something more. If I had been older I might have thought to put my arm on Dad’s shoulder, and all I can say is I’m glad he was younger then. I don’t think he could stand seeing that dog now.

Even boards have souls, photo taken August 5, 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reservedWhen I started this practice I had a notion in my head. It went something like, Abandoned is not so much sad as it is intriguing. And that’s the part of me that wonders what happened in a place that’s been left behind. Did a man younger than I am now come home from loading sacks of potatoes onto trucks all day, sit in a chair and lament that he was working his heart to death? Did a boy watch his mother die of cancer?

I’m thinking about Dad’s old house again. All of us standing in that house and it seeming like the ceilings and walls were closing in. Dad said, This is where my mother died, and he pointed to a spot on the dirt floor. We stood in circle peering into nothing but dirt. No stained mattress or rusty boxsprings. I sat down on my haunches, the way I always did as a girl, and I imagined Dad’s mother becoming smaller and smaller, disappearing like a whirlpool in a bathtub or a funnel the sand lion makes for the ants to fall into. When Dad’s mom died, he and his brothers and sisters were left alone.

Abandon has a permanence to it, yet don’t abandoned buildings go back to the earth? Weeds grow through the cracks and walls crumble. Someone eventually bought Dad’s childhood home. They must have cleaned up the dog and the debris (another word). Dad got married, had a family.

Abandoned is impermanent. Abandoned is never alone. Abandoned is my toes, is my hair, is me at this moment shipwrecked on my chair, my empty, empty mind.

-Based on a ten-minute practice on Topic post, Abandoned

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There are days when I look to the poets for inspiration. DailyZen is one of the places I visit. And today is one of those days.

Utter emptiness has no image,
Upright independence does not rely on anything.
Just expand and illuminate the original truth
Unconcerned by external conditions.

– Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091–1157)

The Way of heaven is silent,
It has no appearance, no pattern.
It is so vast that its
Limit cannot be reached;
It is so deep that it
Cannot be fathomed.
It is always evolving
Along with people,
But knowledge cannot grasp it.
It turns like a wheel,
Beginninglessly and endlessly,
Effective as a spirit.
Open and empty,
It goes along with the flow,
Always coming afterward
And never in the forefront

– Lao- tzu

No one really knows
The nature of birth
Nor the true dwelling place.
We return to the source
And turn to dust.

– Ikkyu (1394-1481)

The DailyZen Record – complete library & archives of DailyZen

On The Way DailyZen Journal

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Gold Medal Park, July 2007, near the I-35 bridge, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Gold Medal Park, August 3rd, 2007, blue light from the Guthrie, and the old Gold Medal sign, a few blocks from the I-35 bridge, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

I ended up in downtown Minneapolis Friday night, by the I-35 bridge. I didn’t plan to walk down by the river. But that’s what ended up happening. Liz and I took her Mom into Minneapolis to pick her brother up at the Hilton. The four of us went to Harry’s by the old Milwaukee train station for dinner. Liz had seen a write-up in City Pages.

The chocolate banana cream pie was sizzling and creamy, the Robert Cray a little too loud, the beer bottle chandelier campy, the energy electric. The fresh shrimp appetizer stared back at me from a clean, white plate with beady, black eyes and centipede feet. I had to work too hard to snag the meaty centers. But the butterbeans and ginger dipping sauce were delectable. And we had a good time.

Eat At Harry's, August 2oo7, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. After dinner, Liz decided to try to drive over the 10th Street Bridge. It was blocked off. So we went over by the University of Minnesota to see what was happening. Things were buzzing: summer students, slow-moving SUVs, curious tourists, and everyday people like us. People who live here and want to steal a fleeting glimpse of what’s happened to their city.

We couldn’t see much. But we did pass by the blue and yellow media tents precariously perched on the edge of the University Bridge. There was a lot of neck-craning navigation through slow-moving traffic. People seemed unusually eager to let us in. Kind. Polite.

Grain Belt Chandelier, August 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Later, we dropped Liz’s family off at the door of the downtown Hilton. We were tired and knew we wanted to get home. But we were so close. So Liz took a chance. “Wanna go down by the river to the parkway?” she asked. “Yeah, let’s try,” I said. Liz has amazing luck with parking. She found a spot under the gangly shadow of the Ceresota sign, right across from the old Whitney hotel. We grabbed our cameras and started walking down to the Mississippi.

It had taken me a few days, watching endless loops of media coverage, to figure out that my favorite part of West River Parkway was no more. The closest we could get was a short span of road under the Gold Medal Flour sign, next to the Mill City Museum and the Guthrie Theater. There were groups of people gathered on a little outcrop across from the Stone Arch Bridge. They stood two by two, talking one on one, quietly discussing what they were seeing.

There was pointing and head bowing and quiet honor. Shared solitude. Silent prayers, inner mourning, deeper understanding. Solidarity. The I-35 bridge over the Mississippi had caved into the river. And yet we were still here. All that was left were the bright lights, twisted beams, and green vertical V’s of mangled metal. Everything else was under the river.

The 10th Street Bridge was standing behind the collapsed bridge. The illusion was that it stood in front of it. We walked past the Guthrie, down to within a block of the Red Cross building. A twenty-something policeman with a green flashlight, blue cooler, and yellow tape, roped us off from going further. It would be a long time before I drove the Rebel on that stretch of road again.

From the last barrier, we could see the section of the bridge that had smashed into the parkway. It stood brightly lit through the dark foliage that covers the river banks. I’ll never forget the woman on the news who had gone under the bridge on the parkway seconds before it collapsed. Her account of the deafening noise, immediate silence, confusion, horror, disbelief, and helplessness, will stick with me always.

Ceresota, August 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Ceresota, August 3rd, 2007, on a walk to see the I-35 bridge, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Liz and I walked silently back to the car. We took a few photographs, and checked in with each other when one of us would stop to stare at the river. My camera battery died. I wasn’t much in the mood anyway. I was taking it all in. And trying to hold the enormity of it. I’m not there yet. But the cover of night offered solace. By the time we were ready to leave, there were only a few people milling around near the Stone Arch Bridge.

We slowly walked up the hill by the old mill ruins. Liz snapped a few hundred ghostly orbs. We didn’t realize until we looked at our photographs this morning that bright blips of ghostly light were peppered throughout her photographs. The Spirits of the old mills are restless.

Perhaps they are shaken up by what they have seen. Or are surfacing to offer comfort to the living. There have been countless accidents and fires on that stretch of the Mississippi. Minneapolis grew up on her banks; she’s suffered a new scar. Loved ones have been lost. They are holding up the sky.

While we were driving home through the city that night, I realized how much I love it here. I was not born and raised in Minnesota. And it took me a long time to feel like I fit in. But after 23 years, this is my home. I love the Midwest. And Minnesota. I love Minneapolis.

I was surprised to feel the tears well up in my eyes this morning when I looked at the night shots of our town. I felt a strange sense of pride.

The pride has always been there, a hidden undercurrent. But Friday night, when I stared at the swollen Mississippi, quietly holding the severed, crumpled aorta of our city, the root was unearthed. I tapped into a vein of strength: a deep layer of connection and community; a place I know I belong.

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

Bridge To Nowhere – The Great Connector posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 5th, 2007

-related posts:  Fear Of Bridges, Minneapolis At Night, Natural Wonders: A Pentagram

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Minneapolis At Night, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved

Minneapolis At Night, shot Friday night, August 3rd, 2007, before a walk to Gold Medal Park to see the I-35 Bridge, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Minneapolis At Night, posted on red Ravine, Saturday, August 4th, 2007

UPDATE, 8/11/7:  Here’s a link to all the buildings on the Minneapolis Skyline: Buildings of Minneapolis. If you click on each of the links you can see photos of the buildings.

The crescent moon is part of 225 South Sixth which used to be known around here as the First Bank building, then US Bancorp.

-related to post, Night Owl

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        Zebra Mama and Baby in Africa, photo © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
        –Zebra Mama and Baby, photo © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I’ve been feeling blue today. There’s the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, and I know my friends there are dealing with the whole spectrum of emotion. I wish I could just hug them.

Then this weekend we take the girls to yet another sleepaway camp. Dee and Em are thrilled, but Jim and I were saying it feels like we’ve spent the entire summer rushing from one camp to another. I miss having a normal routine.

Does it ever hit you that you’re not a child anymore? Like you wish you could crawl onto your Mom’s lap or grab your Dad’s big warm hand and bring it to your face, but your parents are frail or struggling with serious illness. It suddenly dawns on you that this is now and that was then, and you get a big lump in your throat (and gosh, here you are at work hoping no one walks by your cubicle because how do you explain your red nose and the tears in your eyes?).

Anyway, I took this photo on a trip to South Africa back in 2002, I think. I had an early phone camera. The photo’s not great but it’s one of my screensavers, and it made me smile today and feel a little bit less melancholy. Hopefully it will cheer you up, too, if you need cheering up at all.

TGIF. Have a good weekend.

posted in red Ravine, August 3, 2007

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