Archive for September, 2007

How do you sleep? Do you sleep? Do you dream? Do you remember your dreams?

So much of our time, perhaps a third of our lives (if we subscribe to eight hours per day) is spent in sleep. Or in search of sleep. A time to rest and rejuvenate. A time to work out anxiety. To let everything go. At least until morning.

Do you go to bed late or get up early? Are you one of those that does both — someone who can function perfectly well on four or five hours of sleep a night?

There are rituals around sleep. Prayers (Now I lay me down to sleep…) and lullabies (Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep little baby…). What were your rituals growing up and what are your rituals now?

Sleep on it. Dream about it. And when you wake up, and when you’re fresh, write about sleep. Write everything you know about sleep. Write the word SLEEP in captial letters at the top of your page and then write. For fifteen minutes. Don’t stop writing until your time is up.

Be awake to Sleep.

Counting Sheep, watching the churro sheep through the fence post at the Harvest Festival, last day of September, photo © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday, Simplex Projector detail, Parkway Theater, Minneapolis, MN, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Yesterday, 35mm Movie Projector detail, inside the recently refurbished Parkway Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

After dinner at the Tea House last night, Liz and I went to see The Brave One. I’ve always been a big Jodie Foster fan. She’s got charisma, isn’t afraid to tackle psychologically complex roles, and Liz and I both enjoy her intensely handsome good looks. This was a tough role. And I applaud her for taking it on.

I predict that most Americans won’t be able to stomach the underbelly truth of this film. Attendance numbers will drop. Because we live in a country that would rather pay to see the gratuitous violence of the Die Hard series, than skirt the stormy edges behind real violence in our own backyards.

This movie will make you think. And the chemistry between Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) and Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard, another favorite) is worth the price of admission.

New York City adds a fertile, heart thumping backdrop. But it’s the disturbing psychological thrust of the film that drives home a deeper truth we already know in our hearts – when it comes to integrity and morality, we don’t really know what we’d do…until an it-will-never-happen-to-me situation knocks the breath out of us and changes our lives forever.

The Brave One – Things To Look Out For

  • Prolonged suspense
  • Rugged good looks
  • Understated sensuality (eye contact, voice, dialogue)
  • Well-integrated score
  • Increased heart rate
  • Unexpected endings (in every situation)
  • Changed definition of “community”
  • Sideways glances as you walk out of the theater
  • 2:02 hours of stomach tension. Prepare to be on edge.
  • You’ll try to put yourself in the same situation. And wonder what you’d do.

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, September 29th, 2007

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First Thoughts, Rainpainting Series, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Somewhere Buried Deep, Rainpainting Series, outside the Parkway Theater in the rain, September 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

First Thoughts

somewhere buried deep
within the fire of second choices,
first thoughts

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, September 28th, 2007

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Alberto Gonzalofishe, former Attorney General (appointed by George W. Bush) depicted as a fish on a plaque, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

-Inspired by PRACTICE: Fish Out Of Water – 15mins

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Alberto Gonzales, I see his round face, some vato I might see at El Camino Restaurant on Fourth Street, eating huevos rancheros. There he might be happy, light, maybe even Democrat, but up on stage, the television reporters talking over each other to ask him questions, poor señor Gonzales was like the proverbial deer. I saw his fear.

I don’t like Alberto, was happy when he resigned, but I do recognize one thing. A fish out of water.

Now that he’s gone I can wonder what it was like working with the Bushes and Cheneys. The privileged white people who know names like “Alberto” and “José” and “Juan” from their gardening help. I can imagine how Bush might have pronounced Alberto’s name. The long Al, the Bear, and the Toe. Al-Bear-Toe.

Or maybe Bush was used to his share of Albertos from the ranch in Crawford. Maybe his best laborers were brothers named Jesús and Miguel, and their cousin Alberto, and maybe Bush could get by with broken Spanish. Hell, his brother married a brown girl, for God’s sake, we love ‘em like family.

But this isn’t Alberto or Dubya or Jeb. Although I do like saying “Jeb.” This is me, I’m a fish, flopping around on the ground. Do I grow feet, do I flounder, what are my experiences?

I married a white guy, we call them “Anglos,” and his politics are good. Strong democratic family, a good family. Kind and compassionate. My husband says when he grew up he wanted to be American Indian. He catches fish with his hands. He’s a fish out of water, too, my husband, and one of the ornaments we have for our Christmas tree is a black sheep his mother knitted for him.

I went to the Albuquerque Country Club for lunch last week. It was an event my mother-in-law invited me to, something she wanted me to do. It’s complicated. I love her, really love this woman. I wanted to be there, to put on my best face. I’m beyond high school resentments, those Cleff brothers who called it Vato High. I’m grown up, a grown woman with children, for God’s sake. Nothing is as glib as when seen through the broken heart of an 18-year-old.

There, in the white linen tablecloth world of brown people taking care of white people, the club members with names like Baca and Gonzales, they’re mainstreamed now. Do they look in the eye of the thin brown vato walking past on his way to pull weeds so the sidewalk is free of debris?

Fish out of water, I grow lungs and legs and my scales get light. I attended a Hispanic Leadership Conference hosted by my company. I told a VP that I appreciated his embracing his “chicanismo,” and the guy looked at me and said he embraces his “puertoricanismo.” Take that, brown chica grown up in a white world, at least I have my own people, we eat our eses and reject all of it, especially your stale Reyes Tijerina revolution.

So adaptable. Like Alberto. We conform. Speak with zero accent. Use big words. Go to banquets, my God, I can straighten my hair in the name of a banquet. Too bad he is a Republican, and a nasty one at that. I might have felt sorrier than I did the morning I heard the news, the fish finally died.


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The 7 tea roses sitting on the deck, roots untangled and exposed, tilted in their makeshift pots, looked like fish out of water. I stared at them through the picture window. The wind whipped the mustard ash leaves across the peeling gray paint. We called a handyman to help shore the deck for winter. He is coming Thursday. And we are looking into gutters for the small white cottage named Indria. Another way I knew I loved Liz – when she referred to her home by proper name.

I have felt like a fish out of water most of my life. A grand sweeping statement, not made of detail or feeling. Living an alternative lifestyle is a long swim upriver. Strong. Strong and long. Luckily, I am a good swimmer. But lately, weak in the knees. And fish don’t have knees, do they? Only fins and gills. They breathe with gills. Oxygen out. Or in? Now I’m confusing lungless fish with the leaves on the oaks that bend and gnarl across skies to the west of me.

I’m longing for more confidence. Everything is going fine. Swimmingly, in fact. Yet that nagging doubt. It rises this time of year, when the skies grow darker and the hours of light, leaner. I am sad to see the light go. Happy for a snowy winter. Can you have it both ways? Maybe in pulp fiction.

The tea roses – Liz drove home from work, unpadlocked the shed, and out came the square-toed shovel. I was commenting on red Ravine and peeked up to see her bent body over a grassy hole. I had to go out and help. 7 tea roses. We inherited them from our friends who moved last summer, only 10 minutes away. They bought a new house and are not fond of the idiosyncrasies of hybrid roses.

But Liz never shrinks from a challenge. It is I who run. She has the greenest of thumbs and now I’m thinking about the time we visited the Jolly Green Giant sign down in rolling, hilly southern Minnesota, Le Sueur. She snapped a photo of me standing next to the pea-clothed big guy. Did he have a leaf for a hat? Oxygen. If I find the photo, maybe I’ll post it. But then I’d have to blur out my face and body leaving nothing but – this writing practice.

Last night before the rain, I pulled on steel-toed motorcycle boots and helped Liz plant the 7 tea roses we dug up from our friends’ home on Sunday. They have round white tags with silver edges and names like Queen Elizabeth and Glowing Peace and Elle and Mirandy and Betty White, but we gave Betty away to our neighbor, Bev. And when we were done, they looked happier and no longer like fish out of water, but roots in wet land.

And my fingernails bled dirt underneath and my hands smelled like a ribbon of earthworm. My hair blew back behind my eardrums and the wind was so loud she swept the changing season that seems to pound through my head. We walked into Indria and made chicken and dumpling soup. And all seemed right with the world until I remembered the fish that I’m allergic to now, and the lump came back into my throat. The same watery lump that dumps me on dry land, wondering which decision it is that will tip the gray scales.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, September 26th, 2007


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Diebenkorn Leaves Taos, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Diebenkorn In New Mexico, Taos Mountain in the background, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

When I was in Taos in July, we carpooled over to the Harwood Museum of Art to see Diebenkorn In New Mexico. When I was looking through my Taos photos last night, I realized I had wanted to do a post on Richard Diebenkorn after I got back. Time has rolled on without me.

The exhibit is moving to the San Jose Museum of Art and will open there Sunday, October 14th, 2007. If you are in the area, it’s worth checking out this period of Diebenkorn’s life (1950 – 1952).

 Natalie's Favorite, Diebenkorn In New Mexico, July 2007, Taos, New Mexico, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.       One Of My Faves, Diebenkorn in New Mexico, July 2007, Taos, New Mexico, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

Playing Favorites, Diebenkorn In New Mexico Exhibit, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photos by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

It was in 1950 that Diebenkorn enrolled in the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of New Mexico, leaving behind a teaching position at the California School of Fine Arts (now known as the San Francisco Arts Institute). It had been at the California School of Fine Arts that Diebenkorn crossed paths with artist, David Park, who became his mentor and friend.

Natalie wrote about Diebenkorn in her book about painting, Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World. (It’s one of my favorites. Read Chapter 1, How I Paint at this link.) So she was thrilled to take the class of 50+ students to the Harwood to see his work. In preparation for the visit, she told stories about her chance meeting with Helen Park Bigelow and a series of strange twists and turns that led her to learn that Helen was David Park’s daughter.

Though I missed Helen’s August lecture at the Harwood last summer, her introduction explains:

After the Diebenkorns returned to the Bay Area from New Mexico, they and my parents became best friends. I was married and living nearby, and it was during those years, the fifties, that my three children were born. I was in and out of my parent’s house, where I saw Dick and Phyllis often, and got to know them and love them and also got to know and love Dick’s works. Through my father, Dick and the third player in that important friendship, the painter Elmer Bischof, those years gave us what became known as Bay Figurative Painting, and the emergence into national recognition of David, Dick and Elmer. As I observed the three young painters, Dick and Elmer in their thirties and David in his forties, their passion for work left deep impressions. For my Harwood Talk I will share stories and insights from those years, with a focus on the friendship, competition and recognition the three painters shared.

The last few times I have visited museums with Natalie’s classes, she has had each person slow walk around the exhibit and view the work (it was O’Keeffe last December in Santa Fe). When she rings the bell, we stop – and choose our favorite painting, the one we would love to take home, by standing directly in front of it. Then we describe what we like about the piece.

It’s another form of practice that Natalie teaches, to slow down and take in each piece of art in silence. I call it museum walking. Other people viewing the exhibit usually join in with the class. It’s a great exercise in seeing.

And, for me, I find that the painting I like the most is not necessarily the same painting I could stand to live with for the rest of my life! There are many things to consider when choosing art for one’s walls.

Harwood Museum Of Art, Taos, NM, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.Diebenkorn In New Mexico was organized by the Harwood and highlights a little-known period of Diebenkorn’s work. But it was a time that had a lasting impact on his career.

The exhibition brings together 50 paintings, works on paper, and sculpture that have never been seen together before.

We’d love to know which piece you’d take home. But be prepared. Museum walking makes the guards quite nervous.

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

-related to posts: Mabel’s Dining Room, A Reason To Be In Taos This Summer

Diebenkorn in NM, Taos, NM, July 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights rewerved.

Continues Upstairs, Diebenkorn In New Mexico Exhibit, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

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Turkeys Wild among the Geraniums, letting the turkeys loose on the land one morning, photo © 2007 by Jim. All rights reserved.

It’s been about ten or so weeks since our mama turkeys hatched a bunch of babies. We call them “turklets” in our household, but they’re really called “poults.” They’ve grown a lot since the last post about them. I imagine they’re about 16 years old in people years.

For a few weeks we talked about giving them away to people who would raise them as pets and promise not to eat them. But it looks like we’re going to keep them instead. Jim has this idea that he’s going to let them run wild on the land. That we’re going to start a whole colony and that years from now, long after we’re gone, people will wonder where the wild gray-and-brown turkey flock came from. For all we know, books will be written about them and their fame will rival that of the wild ponies of Assateague Island.

For now we are working on making them as wild as possible. Every morning Jim shooshes them out toward the field. So far, they have learned to circle the house several times a day. Mostly they hang out on the back patio.

We’re hopeful. They all have learned to puff up big any time the eagle comes flying ’round. We know we might lose one or two before they are fully able to survive the wild. But some day, hopefully in our lifetimes, we will see gray-brown turkeys roaming the Rio Grande Valley.


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Marooned Carp, from the Rio Grande, caught in the irrigation canal and released into the ditch where it will hopefully find its way back to the river, photo © 2007 by Jim. All rights reserved.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy defines the metaphor “fish out of water” as someone who is out of his or her normal environment or range of activities.*

The Phrase Finder cites an early use by Chaucer in a version of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales —

…a monk, when he is cloisterless
Is like to a fish that is waterless

— and found the earliest reference in Samuel Purchas’ Pilgrimage, 1613:

The Arabians out of the deserts are as Fishes out of the Water.

If fish have been finding themselves out of water for almost 400 years, surely in our short lives we have each found ourselves in situations or settings where we did not belong.

Have you? Have you left your so-called “comfort zone”? If so, did you flounder and gasp for air, or did you grow legs and walk? Maybe you are in a perpetual state of being different.

We all seem to know the feeling, whether constant or fleeting, of the poor wild-eyed fish, gasping and flopping, awaiting a sure death unless whisked to familiar terrain.

Think about those times in your life. How did they feel? Did you panic? If so, don’t panic now. Breathe deeply, center yourself, then take out your pen and notebook. At the top of a page write these words, “I feel like a fish out of water when…” Then write for ten minutes. Keep your hand moving as if it were that fish, finally let free.

*The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, and James Trefil. Copyright © 2002 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

NOTICE: No animals were harmed in the making of this post. In fact, one was rescued.

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-My Wednesday morning direct flight to PHX left ABQ at 7:45 am.
-My direct flight left PHX the same day and returned to ABQ at 4:05 pm.
-How many hours total did I spend in PHX on Wednesday?

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  Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge      Rob Wilder
  Images provided by Anna Crowe, Bantam Dell Publishing Group, Random
  House, Inc.; Cover Art © 2007 by Jose Luis Pelaez, Inc./Picturequest; Cover
  Design by Lynn Andreozzi. Photo of author Robert Wilder © 2007 by Jennifer
  Esperanza. All rights reserved.

On Thursday, September 13, QuoinMonkey and ybonesy interviewed Robert Wilder, author of the recently released Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Part 1 of that interview can be found here. Part 2 begins below. We’d like to thank Robert Wilder and Anna Crowe for helping make this happen.

Interview With Robert Wilder – Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge: An Irreverent View of What It Really Means to Be a Teacher Today

red Ravine: So, Rob, I want to talk a little bit about your voice. In your writing, it’s edgy, humorous … have you always written with that particular voice?

Robert: No. You know, I wrote fiction for 16 years before I started writing non-fiction, and when I wrote fiction I always wanted to be the smartest kid in the class. I wanted to be a luminary like all those writers I loved. So I would write, wanting to be something that I wasn’t. I’d put on a voice that wasn’t really authentic.

What I found in my teaching, talking to students as well as telling stories to people, was that those two voices were really different. And I really liked the voice I used telling stories and being in the classroom. But I didn’t give myself permission to use it in my writing.

I felt I had to be smarter than I was, and what I realize now is it hurt my writing. I didn’t trust my own voice and it made my writing really watered down. There wasn’t a lot of energy in my fiction, I see now. But once I started writing stories about my family, where I didn’t really think anything was going to happen with (the stories), I wrote them for the pure joy of writing them and because I thought they were funny and I was interested in some of the tensions and interesting complications in them. Because I didn’t really think they were going to go anywhere, I gave myself permission to use all the parts of my voice that I used during the day.

I’m going to have a reading … and one of the things that’s interesting about writing is that, obviously, I use profanity and irreverence and things like that, and for me that’s sort of like a painter. I allow myself to use a lot of different colors and some of the colors that a lot of people would not use in their painting.

I’d like to use a wide range of language. I would like to be able to quote Shakespeare and make a potty joke if I think it’s funny or relevant. It’s the way I experience the world. During any given day, I hear very low humored, low language, and very high, and I like that juxtaposition. I don’t like the same note over and over.

I like complications of low notes, high notes, and all in-between. The voices in the book are closer to my voice in real life and the way I really think. And when I was writing before, that was the way I wanted to be rather than the way I was.

I had to get over that I’m not going to be Philip Roth or I’m not going to be Cormac McCarthy and I’m not going to be Toni Morrison. That I have to be who I am and be okay with that.

red Ravine: I was going to ask you — Are you that way in person? — but I actually just finished the Sub-Par chapter where you’re talking about taking your daughter, Poppy, out of the sleazy substitute guy’s class and it sounds like … you’re pretty funny in real life.

Robert: There are a lot of writers who write funny … like Augusten Burroughs … but if you met him, you wouldn’t think he’s funny at all. There are a lot of writers like that. Humor’s been part of my life ever since I was a kid, and it’s the way I deal with situations. It’s the way I put my daughter at ease and my son at ease. It’s the way I put my students at ease.

I think a lot of times, things for me are funny. A lot of people, maybe they get angry, but I think life is funny. I really do. I think there are a lot of things that we can stop and look at and say, “Isn’t that nuts?” But also that’s a celebration of how wonderful life is, you know.

I do joke around in class a lot. I use humor as a way to bridge the kids from their movie situations to books or a way that if there’s awkwardness in high school, which there is on a daily basis, I just say it’s funny, we’re all in it together, it’s okay. So it is more like who I am.

Some of the stuff, obviously, I don’t go that far in the class or with my children. I’ll think about how nuts or irreverent it is; obviously there’s a time and a place for all that. But in my writing, as you guys know through writing practice, I will allow myself to go where I need to go. And not to be editing or censoring myself as I go because that will kill any art.

What’s fun is I can go as far as I want and then … my editor and I eventually have a conversation about how far is it and, for a piece specifically, is this too far? Or do I need to push it a little bit? Those are great conversations to have.

red Ravine: When did you know, Rob, that you were a writer?

Robert: (laughs) That’s a hard question. It’s hard to answer that question. I still doubt it, you know. I think a lot of writers still doubt it. I still have to remind myself that I’m a writer. People meet me and ask me what I do, and I always say teacher first, just because it’s a more easy-to-understand profession.

That’s a really hard question. On some days you wonder whether you have more in you and other days you think you could write about something every day of your life. So I think I struggle with that identity, even with the books.

I think I’m slowly realizing that writing is my profession, it’s what I profess. But I can’t say I ever feel like one. I think a lot of writers feel this way, that the other guy is the writer (laughs). The other person has got 3 books or the other person is in the Times instead of this magazine.

But what I’ve done is give myself permission to say, “I’m going to write the rest of my life, no matter what the situation is.” I’d rather look again at writing as a practice that I like to do and that I want to keep doing for the rest of my life, no matter what happens, rather than earning the nameplate or the faceplate title “writer.” I’d rather say that I’m a “practitioner” and that I’m going to continue to practice no matter what happens.

That feels better to me because then I don’t feel like I have to live up to anything. Which I think if you say you’re a writer, sometimes, for a lot of people, they feel like they have to hit a homerun every time they step up to the plate.

red Ravine: Do you remember the first thing you wrote?

Robert: I wanted to do stuff like that as a kid, but we didn’t do those things. My dad was a banker and my mom was a stay-home mom. I remember trying to write stories as a kid and not being encouraged to do it. I took a cartooning class, I remember, when I was really little and it was fun. But I didn’t have talent in terms of drawing, so I was assigned to do the bricks in the back of the cartoon (laughs).

I was a pretty late bloomer. I wrote in high school; I had a creative writing class that allowed me to write. But you know there was no place for it, and I can say that honestly, it wasn’t until graduate school or when I moved to Santa Fe to write that I was ever really encouraged to write.

When you grow up in the suburbs of New York in the 80’s like I did, they didn’t want young boys to be writers. They wanted you to be a banker or a lawyer or a doctor, right? Or a soccer player. Or they weren’t looking at boys to be anything artistically inclined.

Even in college, I felt like I wasn’t included. A lot of these kids came from high powered boarding schools where there was great writing going on and they were starting these magazines and I wasn’t really included in that. I would be the kid with the soccer player hair cut in the back of the reading when Richard Wilbur came to Wesleyan. I’d be the kid in the back of the class. So I can’t say until I was almost in my 20’s and 30’s was I actually encouraged to pursue any art form at all.

Whereas my own children and friends’ children, especially living in Santa Fe, are. A friend of mine whose kid, they live in NYC, … came to visit us and we took (the son) to ride a horse and we said, “Wow, you’re going to be a cowboy.” He said, “No, I don’t want to be a cowboy! I want to be an artist.” I thought that was so cool that he thought at 3 years old that one of his professions might be an artist.

That never would have occurred to me at his age. My son and daughter both feel like they could be artists or writers or painters or musicians or whatever. I never thought that as a kid. I think it’s great now, but that wasn’t the truth for me.

red Ravine: Who were your writing mentors?

Robert: Natalie (Goldberg) is probably my main mentor, just because being with her and teaching with her has taught me so much about, not only writing, but also how to be a writer. In other words, how do you deal with all the “stuff” that comes with writing. She’s been an unbelievable ally and mentor and teacher. I can’t say enough about what she taught me and what she continues to teach me as a friend.

I have other writing mentors: Kevin McIlvoy in Las Cruces is a terrific writer but an unbelievable teacher. And Antonya Nelson and Robert Boswell who are a writing couple, which is unfathomable to me how they can get so many amazing things done and be married and have children. So those people are all great writing mentors for me.

And also I think it’s important, not only writing mentors teaching you to talk about books and syntax and all this stuff, but I think it’s important to have mentors who have a lifestyle that’s similar to your own. So in other words, if you’re a writer and you have children, it’s great to be around other writers who have children. Not to say if you don’t have children, you can’t be around them, but it’s nice to know.

A lot of people now come to me and say, “How do you get all this done?” I like sitting down with other writers. I met with a graduate student, (former student) of mine who’s about to go into elementary education and early childhood. She said, “I’m so concerned about not being able to write.” I like showing her how to do it, if I can do it, she absolutely can do it. And to give her permission to do that.

I think it’s important to have people who have similar lifestyles who can show you where they get their work done and that it’s possible to be a really good parent and a good husband and a good community member and a writer. That you can do all that and there’s someone there cheering you on.

I always tell my students, my adult students, to email me if they’re ever getting down … you know, I’m not getting the laundry done, whatever it is. I’m happy to give them a little pep talk and say, “Here’s what I did today. I’m totally with you but, maybe if you try to do this. Or it’s totally okay that you take an hour a week to go write. It’s fine.”

It’s great to have people in your corner who are like that. And I’m lucky to have them as well.

red Ravine: That’s great. And you’re publishing with one of the best major publishers, Random House. How did you break through with this particular publisher and not some small publisher?

Robert: I’m almost hesitant to tell the story. It seems unreal and it’s not typical. What happened was, as I said, I was writing 16 years as apprentice writing and then I started writing the Daddy Needs A Drink stuff and it got a lot of attention. My current agent saw this piece in “Salon” from Daddy Needs A Drink and basically convinced me there was a book in it. I didn’t believe him.

Ultimately, he found me. And convinced me that I had a voice that needed to be out there. That there was a book in this. … He saw in me, or in the work, that there was something going on and that I really should pursue that.

Once he showed me how you write a proposal and how you do all these things, he showed all these people and convinced them, too. We ended up going with Bantam Dell. … We signed on with them for two books because I did tell them about the idea for the teacher book which they liked even though I hadn’t written it yet.

It just happened that way. And you know, it’s hard because it sounds like the old Hollywood where you go out and you get discovered. But I want to remind everybody when I tell that story that I was working for 16 years before that. It wasn’t all of a sudden I thought one day, “Wow, I’d love to sell a book.” I had an apprenticeship for a long time before I actually even thought about putting together a book.

red Ravine: Well, I’m watching the clock. We have about three more questions and I think we can get to them.

Robert: No worries, I’ll tell you when I have to go.

red Ravine: Okay. We’d like to know what you’re working on next.

Robert: What I’m working on next, which is going to be a big hard project, is: I’m going to work on what it was like growing up with my dad and my brothers, you know, living the Wilder life. What it was like for me to lose my mom at a relatively young age and then move into the clan of men. You know, what is it like to live with a dad and three brothers without a female figure in the house.

I think it’s going to be a little, uh, obviously it will be funny, but funny in a more poignant way, I hope. So I’m mining a lot of the early stuff with my family. A lot of people love it when I write about my dad and my brothers, and there’s a lot there. So that’s my next project and I think it’s going to kick my ass to be honest. But, I’m sort of looking forward to it.

red Ravine: Has there been anything you’ve been afraid to write?

Robert: Yeah, there are some things you’re afraid to write … like some of the darker stuff from teaching. … I would love to write sometime what it’s like to be a teacher and have your students die. I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit over my years.

I’ve had a few students who’ve died in car accidents and so forth, and it’s a very interesting thing as a teacher. I know a few people have talked about it, how you’re not their friends and you’re not their parents, but you’re really close to them.

I read pages and pages of intimate things from these kids that their parents never get access to. I also spend a lot of time with them. I get to know them in ways a lot of people don’t. And then when they die or they leave or they get in trouble, you don’t know really where to place that in the emotional file cabinet.

I’d like to write about that. I haven’t figured out a way to do that yet. But it’s something I’ve been a little afraid of, and I haven’t figured out the right way to tell those stories. But I know a lot of teachers who have suffered like I’ve suffered with losing students.

You’re standing by yourself at the funeral. You’re not with the parents and family and you’re not with the buddies. You’re somewhere else. I’m interested in that. And I’m not sure how to do that yet but it’s something I would like to do.

Those are the kinds of things I need to write. As well as, I haven’t written a lot about my mother dying and what that was like being thrown into that. And I’m going to take my own advice and throw myself into the next project.

red Ravine: Do you struggle about revealing any personal information about your family or even students, sort of worrying that they might see themselves somewhere?

Robert: I do. I think about it quite a bit and my goal is, I’m never trying to hurt anybody’s feelings. If I think it’s going to be embarrassing to them, I’ll change a few details to protect their privacy. I think that’s fine. I don’t think that’s a James Frey thing.

If I think they’re going to be embarrassed, the other thing I’ll do is check with people. I’ll check with people and say, “Look, I’d really like to write about this and how do you feel about that?” Most of the time, they’re okay with it. In fact, I always think people are going to get upset. Nine times out of ten people ask me why they weren’t in the book (laughter).

Or I wrote something about a former headmaster who’s a teacher and a colleague of mine. I wrote a description of him and he loved it. It’s interesting; it wasn’t complimentary, but he thought it was right. Most of the time when people struggle a little bit, and then they read the book or they hear they might be in the book and they read it, everyone has said I’ve gotten it right. Even if they say it reminds them of something they didn’t want to remember, I don’t think anyone thinks I’m out to get them.

I don’t write tell-all books. And as for myself, I try to risk as much as I can without embarrassing my family. … The other thing is, I’m not trying to reveal stuff just to shock people. It has to fit in what you’re trying to write about. Is it organic to the piece? I think if it is organic to the piece, and you want to write about your sex life, write about your sex life. Great writers have done that.

We as readers can figure out when things are gratuitous and when they’re not. If they seem essential, even if they’re shocking, you say, “You know what, maybe I don’t want to read that kind of stuff but it’s part of the deal.” Versus “Wait, I don’t understand why this fits into this piece, I don’t get it.”

As a writer you always have to ask yourself, is this vital to the piece you’re writing? Where does this fit? How does it fit? If it fits, you’ve got to go with it. If it doesn’t, you can’t. You learn that over time. You learn that from writing, not from listening to other people.

red Ravine: We have two last questions. One is, for you, what does success as a writer look like and are you there yet?

Robert: I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit. For me, success means I would love to continue to get published and get paid a little bit. I don’t think I’m ever going to be a wealthy man from writing. So success for me is the ability to continue to write, to have time to write, where I feel like I can get away and write. That is success.

Most writers will say, when it really boils down to it, if they can continue to write for the rest of their lives, they’ll be happy. That is success for me and I think, as of now, I have it. Though I also have to fight for it.

So even though you have a book, you have to be careful not to get carried away. I mean look at Junot Diaz, who wrote Drown. It took him 10 years to write a novel … that’s a long time. And obviously he had a lot of fame and a lot of success, … a lot of speeches.

I would like to continue to be able to write for the rest of my life and have time to do that. I’d love to have more time than I have now, but I’m hoping eventually to get there. As of today, I feel like my life is pretty good. I’ve got a healthy family, we’re not in great debt, we enjoy a beautiful blue sky in New Mexico, I’m making a difference with my students…that for me is pretty successful.

I think if you start wanting all the things that you can’t have, that’s a really bad thing to do as a writer. But if you get some work done every day or every couple days, I think that, for me, is success.

red Ravine: What advice do you have for new and emerging writers?

Robert: Learning about writing practice is one of the keys. My idea for a new writer is to get your work done. I know it sounds really simplistic … and a lot of writers have said this, if you can get 500 or 1000 words done a day, that is a great thing.

Be careful if you think publishing a piece in a magazine or book will make you a happy person. Or will save your life. It won’t. It really won’t. What may help you as an artist is actually producing and writing every day. Or every couple days when you can. I think that’s the best advice people can give you.

Don’t listen to that Monkey Mind. Don’t listen to everybody telling you you can’t do it. Or you’ve got to produce something too quickly. If you can find time to do your art, then that will actually lead you and take you where you need to go. Be careful not to put the cart before the horse. I think there’s no other way to write but to write.

red Ravine: This is an excellent interview and it’s very inspiring, Rob, thanks so much for your time.

Robert: Oh, no it’s my pleasure. There are a lot of harder things to do in the world than to have people ask me questions. I appreciate you doing it.

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About the Author: Robert Wilder currently teaches high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he is inspired daily. He has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and has a monthly column for the Santa Fe Reporter called “Daddy Needs A Drink.” He has been published in Salon, The Greensboro Review, The Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and regional magazines and newspapers. He is a Frank Waters fiction prizewinner and two of his stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives with his family in New Mexico. Visit him online at www.robertwilder.com.

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Today was irrigation day. Jim calls the Ditch Rider early in the morning to see if it’s OK to irrigate. We have to coordinate with other properties that draw from the same ditch. If everyone irrigates at once, the water level will drop and no one will be able to get water.

But today, a Thursday after good rains up north, the water comes fast out of the gate. It flows from a larger ditch, one of many that run throughout the Rio Grande Valley, into smaller acequias. Ours is lined with concrete, technology from decades ago.

It’s not an efficient way to water. It’s ancient, flood irrigation. It’s cultural. We are slow to change. Jim wants to participate in the latest water conservation methods, but we can’t do anything until after the season. The trees are full of apples, and we have to use what tools we have.

It’s labor intensive, too, working the land. Not many people do it any longer. We know old-time farming families in our community. The men and women, both, get hunched over. They look like they are walking sitting. They work harder than anyone I know. Their lives seem romantic. It’s the land. The land is beautiful, but its beauty (if it’s a farm) is often directly proportional to the amount of bend in its farmer’s back.

We’re not real farmers. Well, I’m not a real farmer. Jim is close. He works hard every day outside. He works with his hands. I tell people that if we both worked on computers, our lives would be sad.

Jim took these shots today with my camera. I loaded them into my Flickr account, just to save space on WordPress. I feel weird having them there. But he’d never create his own account. He just comes to where I’m working, shows me his shots on the small screen on the Canon. Then says, “OK,” when I ask him if he wants me to load them onto my computer. I look at them and realize, artists aren’t the only ones who see things a certain way.

Right now we grow apples. Some pears, too. And grass that can be turned into hay. We talk about farming. It’s true we might do it. A little patch, anyway. We’ll have to see. That’s what my mom always used to say. We’ll have to see.

I wouldn’t mind if we stick with pasture grass and the orchard. We could do so much more, I know. But we could do a lot less, too.



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                   TALES cover
                   Image provided by Anna Crowe, Bantam Dell
                   Publishing Group, Random House, Inc.; Cover Art
                   © 2007 by Jose Luis Pelaez, Inc./Picturequest;
                   Cover Design by Lynn Andreozzi. All rights reserved.

On Thursday, September 13, QuoinMonkey and ybonesy interviewed Robert Wilder, author of the recently released Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge.

The interview was so rich, so chock full of good information for writers, that we decided to publish it in its entirety.

Robert took a break between classes to talk to red Ravine for about an hour. What follows is the first half of our interview with him, where he talks about his latest book and how he wrote it. 

Interview With Robert Wilder – Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge: An Irreverent View of What It Really Means to Be a Teacher Today

red Ravine: As we recall, this book came out pretty quickly on the tails of Daddy Needs A Drink. The question we have is, had it been percolating? Had you been thinking about writing it even before Daddy Needs A Drink?

Robert: I actually thought about writing it around the same time. When I was writing Daddy Needs A Drink, I thought, yeah, there are a lot of parallels between being a parent and being a teacher. Every day I do my parenting thing — and I also do my teaching thing, and I see connections. I also see some of the same complications and humor that I find with kids.

It’s funny when you’re a teacher, colleagues will ask, “How are your kids?” and sometimes you don’t know whether they’re talking about your own biological children or your students. So I’d had files and done some writing on the teaching before and during Daddy Needs A Drink. I also handed in Daddy Needs A Drink almost 2 years before it came out. When I handed it in, I started working on the teaching book.

red Ravine: That makes sense. How long did it take you to write Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge?

Robert: Well, you know it’s hard because I had been working on it, all in all, I’d say a couple of years because I had been working on pieces of writing for different teaching magazines. And I had been journaling and keeping notes. I still do, even though Tales is out. I took notes this morning and I take notes when I teach.

Yesterday I was handing out note cards; I do a writing exercise where I ask students to describe their face. And then I read them and we try to guess who is who. It’s a description exercise, it’s a voice exercise, it’s a lot of different things, it’s a memoir exercise. And so, I’m handing out the note cards and one of my students, this kind of jockey boy who I really like, he’s like, “Dude, I hate note cards.”

I mean that, for me, is hysterical. So I have my little planner and in the back I make a note about the idea of being a teenager where your initial impulse is resistance, even if it’s something as mundane as a note card. I even take notes as I’m teaching and I’ll always stop and write things down, like if the kids introduce a new word I’ve never heard of or a new sense of fashion. They all come in wearing this new thing and I’ll say, “What is that?” or “Where does that come from?” because I’m fascinated by them.

red Ravine: What surprised you most about Tales From the Teachers’ Lounge?

Robert: About writing it?

red Ravine: Yeah, or after it was done and you looked back on it, was there something in particular that you thought, “Wow I didn’t realize that was going to happen!”

Robert: Well, you don’t know when you’re writing it. When I’m in it, it all seems totally full and real to me. I try to get it as real as I can make it. So I never understand what I’m doing as I’m doing it. But now that I look at it, I realize it’s more complicated than I thought it was.

I wanted it to be, I hoped it to be, sort of smart/funny. But now that I’m stepping back and hearing people talk about it, I realize that there’s more edginess. You know, someone said to me, “Wow, this is a really edgy essay.” And I didn’t see it that way because that’s sort of the way it is, you know.

A lot of teachers have been responding just great, saying, “God, this is exactly what I feel like when I’m in the classroom, and this is what I’m thinking and I never get to say it.” So, for me, I didn’t realize how dangerous it is to tell the truth about being a teacher in this time.

It’s a little dangerous to know that a teacher has human feelings and a range of emotion and teachers can get mad and sad and be funny and be irreverent…and so it’s a little more risky than I thought it would be when I was writing it because when I was writing it I was just writing about what it’s like for me to be a teacher. And I don’t consider myself an especially edgy or risky person.

I’m a dad, you know, I like my health insurance, I don’t bungee jump, I don’t have any major addictions, so I just think of myself as a dad and a teacher and a husband and just sort of a person. And then when people respond to it, they respond to the work in ways that maybe I hadn’t really considered when I was writing it because when I was writing it I was just trying to keep my head down and tell the truth.

red Ravine: Yeah, as you talk about that, I’m in the second section, Chapter 5, and that’s exactly what I’m thinking, “Wow, this is edgy, this is bold. He’s revealing who he was as a student…” and, you know, your students are going to be reading that, and so, I had that same reaction about how courageous you are to really just tell the truth about who *you* are, who the real you is.

Robert: Yeah, I guess I don’t feel it’s courageous when I’m doing it at all. A lot of my students have already read the book, they were dying to read it much more than, obviously, the parenting book. I think, as a teacher … when you see a kid sitting alone in the cafeteria, you recall those moments in your own life. That’s the great blessing and curse of being a teacher … it’s sort of like Groundhog Day. Every year you see the kids make the same mistakes and go through the same awkward moments, and you can’t save them. That’s part of who they are.

And I think it’s really good to remember what it was like for you as a kid to be in the classroom when things were really boring. Or no one was listening to you, or people were making fun of you. Or you were having a great day and you wanted someone to acknowledge that. I think it’s important for the teacher not to lose touch with that. Because that’s in a sense who you’re dealing with. You’re dealing with past versions of yourself in a sense. And …I think for a lot of teachers, well, I’ll just speak for me, (we became) teachers because maybe there wasn’t something we got. Or maybe someone inspired us. But the other side of that is maybe there was something we needed as students that we never got.

For instance, for me, in high school, I was a soccer player, so my teachers and a lot of people, all they cared about was what I did out on the field. And not that much about what I was doing in the classroom. And so, for me now, when I’m dealing with athletes, I want to be equally interested in both. I want to show them that you can be very smart and a good basketball player and they’re not mutually exclusive. Or if a person is only … known for their performance in the classroom, to show them that you went to their athletic game and you noticed that side. Or you went to their music concert. For me, it’s important to remember what it felt like to be a student, because then I can respond to the kids in a more authentic way.

red Ravine: So, so far, you said one kid read the book?

Robert: Oh, more than one. A bunch of them got a hold of it and there’s been stuff in the local paper. The reporter printed the first essay, which is pretty edgy, I guess (laughs).

red Ravine: uh huh (laughs)

Robert: So the kids are excited … because the other thing is, they want to know that teachers are human beings. I don’t know if you feel this way but I remember in classrooms when my teachers would tell stories about their lives, I was just fascinated. And those moments were very few and far between. So for them to hear that I’m a human and I have flaws and that I struggle, and, you know, on 9/11 I felt really sad because I lost friends in the Trade Center, or whatever it is.

I think sometimes as teachers we think we should shield all that, that it’s unprofessional to be human. I think that’s a ridiculous concept. And I know for students, they love it when you tell stories about your life because they want to know who you are, not just what you have to say about Faulkner. They want to know that there’s a real, full human being standing in front of them for a lot of days in a year.

red Ravine: Okay, before I switch gears and just talk a little bit more about your writing practice, I do want to share with you, when I went to first get this book, I went to Borders and the book was indexed in the Education section. And I was just curious what you would think about it when you found out it was indexed there. Is that where you’d expect it to be found?

Robert: Well, you know what, it drives me a little crazy. I think it drives most writers crazy, especially writers of non-fiction. It’s hard, because Daddy Needs A Drink is indexed in the parenting section next to Dr. Spock. And I’m not in love with that. But I can’t do anything about it except move it when I go to the local Borders (laughs).

I’d love for it to be in humor or memoir, but, you know what, I can’t control that. I had a feeling they were going to put it in education but as a writer, once your book comes out, in terms of controlling that, you have no control. You’ve got to concentrate on things you can actually deal with. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

What you hope is that people like the book, and they talk about it, and they make people go find it. And once in a while, actually, I’ve seen bookstores respond. If a lot of people ask for the book and it’s sold in the back section in education and parenting, they’ll bring it up front if people ask for it. So that’s what you can do but it’s a hard thing. A lot of writers have written about where you’re shelved and there’s not a lot of control you have over that apparently.

red Ravine: Okay. I’m going to switch gears, Rob, and we want our readers to know about your writing process. We want to know about, for example, how you get your writing done while maintaining your job as a teacher full-time.

Robert: Well for writing both of the books, a couple things have happened. One is that my regular writing practice for both the books is to get up very early. There are a lot of reasons for that. First of all, I’m better in the morning. I think morning is the best time of day. But also in the morning, as a parent and somewhat with a job, it’s a time when the phone doesn’t ring. And the time where you really don’t have to check your email.

And being a teacher, I think it’s even more difficult because once I step foot in the school, I’m pretty much available to everyone at all times. Like right now I’m talking from Natalie’s house because there’s no privacy from school. I can not have privacy, even if I go in the bathroom, there’s no privacy (laughs).

There were times when I was working on Tales and I had done all my prep and everything and I had an hour. And I put loose leaf paper taped up against the window and the door of my English office, which is very small and I share with a bunch of people, and I’d just be writing away, and, literally, people would knock and I wouldn’t answer it. And the students would come around to the window, and they’d knock. They would not accept that I had a right to privacy.

Plus if I was on the phone, like if I was on the phone with you right now, there would be people coming in and out and, literally, students stop and talk to you, even though you’re on the phone, because they think you’re at school and you’re accessible to them. So there’s absolutely no way for me, unless I’m just in the zone, to get anything done at school. So I found that getting up very early worked and during both books, I’d get up around 4 or 4:30.

In the beginning, I’d usually start at 5 but then I’d realize I didn’t have enough time because I’d start shaving off moments from my alarm clock. So I’d get up at 4 and I’d go to school when there was no one. I couldn’t do it at home because if my kids heard me up, they would get up. So I’d go to school around 4, 4:30, and I’d work until around 7 and then I’d start prepping for classes. And I did that every day and I’d do the same thing on the weekends. I’d get up very early because that’s the time when I can be alone and also my kids don’t need me. I did that pretty much all the time writing through the book.

And you know … I find that once you start doing that, just realizing that’s your job and that’s what you do, it’s okay. And I think the hard part about it for a lot of people is trying to carve out time and during the day, it’s more difficult.

The other thing I’d do, which I think is important, is I’d take weekends where I’d go up to Taos or go to Albuquerque and, a lot of writers do this, hole up in a hotel and just write non-stop for the weekend and get a lot of writing done, away. My wife is very understanding about this and a lot of times I’d hire babysitters to help her.

I think there are a lot of times where you do need those long stretches of days, like where you’re trying to structure a book, figure out how you want to structure all these pages you have, and you need to lay them out and really look at them. So I’d take weekends away and get little retreats and that was really helpful for me to do.

red Ravine: Rob, has this method of getting up early and taking your long retreats every now and then, is that now what you consider your regular writing schedule where you maintain it now that you aren’t necessarily writing a book?

Robert: Well, I should tell you, this year I have gone to part-time, which for me is three classes. So I’ve allowed myself a little more time. I’m not going to get up as early because I teach three classes in the afternoon now. It took me a long time to feel like I could actually do that, you know, move to part-time, to consider myself a writer *and* a teacher. So I’ve gone to ¾, and instead of getting up at 4, I’ll get up at 6. And what I’ll do is I will go to the St. John’s library, or something like that, and write and then just come in later to school.

But the thing about teaching high school, which is different than college, is that there’s something every day. So even though I teach from noon to 3 or noon to 3:30, at 9:45 I’ll have to go to the assembly where people will talk about the upcoming soccer games. That’s required of my job. So then I’ll go do that and I’ll go back to writing. Or every 10 days I have lunch duty, which is probably the worst (laughs) duty you can have.

The thing about being a writer while you have a job is you have to be really good at your job. I tell writers, and especially teachers who write, I’ll say, “Look, you can write, you can take those days, but it means you have to be a really good teacher when you’re in the class room. And you have to fill your obligations to your job. That’s fair. So if someone says, ‘Look, what are you doing?’, you can say, look my job, I’m a 100% solid here and I think it’s okay that I go.”

red Ravine: So you’re very familiar, obviously, with writing practice and we’re curious about whether you use writing practice to write your books.

Robert: See this is the thing, and I’ve talked to Natalie about this, everything is writing practice to me. So when I sit down to write every morning – that’s writing practice. Right? See, I think it’s interesting that people separate them. But when I was writing the book, sometimes I’d just write what’s going on, or what I need to do, or how I’m feeling. But then some days I’d say, okay, if there’s a chapter on “Substitute Teacher,” (there’s one in the book called Sub-Par) I’d write everything I know about substitutes, right? And then, that becomes the early draft of that chapter. And then I’ll write it again the next day.

So, for me, writing practice is when I sit down to write, I still write in longhand in the mornings… and writing practice has helped me immensely because it doesn’t allow my monkey mind to freak myself out. Everyday I could say, “God, you’ve got to write a really good chapter for a book.” But then I tell myself to shut up and just start writing. You know? Don’t listen to that pressure. Just start writing everything you know about substitutes and trust that will eventually lead me to where I want to go in the chapter.

So I literally sit down and do writing practice every day and some days are great. Some days I’ll get a lot of stuff that I’ll use eventually in something that will see an audience. But … there will be days and days and days where I’ll just write and write and write and it’s just for me, finding my way. And figuring out a way to land before I get to that. Does that make sense?

red Ravine: It does. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Robert: Because a lot of people do separate it, writing practice and then book writing. Well, writing does writing. So if you’re writing a book, you have to write. So you sit down and do writing practice. And what I’ll do is, I’ll take that and transcribe it and then I’ll start shaping it. I’ll take that rough writing and I’ll find the stuff that I need and I’ll start revising and revising and revising. But it all comes from writing practice for me. Without writing practice, I never would have written these books. Or anything else. It saved me in a million ways. You know, I could talk on and on about how much it has saved me, also from going nuts.

red Ravine: (laughs) yeah.

Robert: People think having a book will make you happy – it can also make you desperately miserable. And jealous. And petty. And mean and insecure.

Stay tuned for “Interview With Author And Teacher Robert Wilder -Part 2,” where Rob expands on finding his voice, what he’s working on next, what success looks like, and advice for new and emerging writers.

About the Author: Robert Wilder currently teaches high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he is inspired daily. He has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and has a monthly column for the Santa Fe Reporter called “Daddy Needs A Drink.” He has been published in Salon, The Greensboro Review, The Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and regional magazines and newspapers. He is a Frank Waters fiction prizewinner and two of his stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives with his family in New Mexico. Visit him online at www.robertwilder.com.

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Mom used to get so frustrated with us kids that she would scream. The she’d break down in tears. It was like everything inside her finally came out. Her face twisted up. She held her arms away from her, her hands balled up, and she hunched slightly like a bodybuilder showing his biceps. That’s when she screamed, more to get noise out of her than to quell whatever it was she was upset at. Finally, the tears came, hands flew up to the roots of her hair and she’d say something like, “I can’t stand it anymore!”

In my memory, it seems almost a physical depiction of Giving Up. Like her whole self had to go through a release. A welling up, explosion, then wilting.

Sometimes she was mad about something we did, although her meltdowns never seemed tied entirely to an event. I don’t recall any of us ever coming home late to Mom sitting by the doorway. I don’t recall her walking in while we were having a party or her catching us smoking a joint in the bathroom. Rather, it was the little things that chipped away.

She found a bong in the bedroom. She didn’t like my boyfriend. She was a grandmother at age 40.

Life was anxiety-producing. We kids spanned 13 years. My oldest sister was pregnant, married and out of the house; my other sister was away at college; my third sister a teen; my brother in middle school; I was in elementary school. (In hindsight, the little things weren’t so little.)

I remember when I was pregnant with Dee, I got the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Every night I read and re-read the sections that covered the particular number of weeks I was into my pregnancy. I also read ahead. Then when I got to that phase, I read and re-read that section.

I eventually got to the point where I put away the book. At seven months into my pregnancy, I even stopped going to see the doctor. I’d decided to birth my baby at home, and the midwife I’d picked out — the only one who did home births — was going away on a retreat for six weeks. She’d be back by my ninth month, just in time to work with me before the baby came.

I don’t know what snapped to cause me to transform from someone bewildered by pregnancy to someone with complete faith that I could birth my own baby. Maybe it was the sense that all the books in the world weren’t going to prepare me. Or maybe it was Jim and my last childbirthing class where we watched a film comparing US and European births. The US father was dressed in scrubs from head to toe, his wife laid out on what looked on an operating table under a stark light. The European couple was in a birthing center that resembled a lovely home. In the car that night, Jim and I both blurted, “The hospital birth looked scary!”

The point is, I finally figured out that I wasn’t going to figure it out. I just had to go with the flow. And once I went with the flow, I became calm. I knew what to do. I started to take responsibility for my pregnancy, and I prepared the best way I could, mentally and physically. When the day came, with Jim and my midwife by my side, I birthed Dee. In my bedroom. By myself.

What this has to do with Mom and her breakdowns is, I’m feeling a lot like what I imagined she used to feel right before she blew. And a lot less like I felt when I gave birth.

Earlier today I went to see Dee’s volleyball game. It went three rounds; they lost the last round by two points. It was close. Dee didn’t play well. Her serve was inconsistent, and her other hits were not solid either. All in all, it was a going-backwards for her. She started stronger four or five games ago, yet today’s game was her worst. I watched from the bleachers. She wasn’t the only one who wasn’t good. But a few of the other players had gotten great. The gap between them widened. It was hard to watch.

This is our first experience with team sports. Dee did rodeo the past two years. Rodeo is all about the girl and her horse. Dee’s horse is good. You can tell by looking at him. He’s honest, and he wants to perform for her. He does whatever she says. He senses when she’s ready, and every time he’s gone faster, she’s been ready. Watching her do rodeo was a thrill. She always improved in rodeo. Her barrel time got shorter, her finesse with the flags finer. She became competent before my eyes. I was in awe. Truthfully, I was in awe.

In the car home this evening, I asked her how the game felt. She shrugged. “Mmm,” she said.

“You guys did better,” I told her. “Mmm,” again.

“You were the captain this game, right?,” I tried. “Yeah,” she said, “one of them.”

“Well, that’s great, that means you guys led your team to an almost victory, which is way better than the past three games.”

She was silent most the rest of the way. When we were almost home she told me one of the girls who’s gotten great told her earlier in the day that Dee shouldn’t play volleyball. That same girl also told Dee after the game that they lost on account of Dee.

I tried to tell Dee from that girl’s perspective, Dee and the other players who weren’t strong were the reason the team lost. Dee missed the second-to-the-last point. She had a bad game. I didn’t want to gloss over the fact that Dee hadn’t supported the team the way the best players did. I wanted to point out that team sports are different from individual sports that way. That team sports are about two things: your game, and the team’s game. I didn’t blame. But I didn’t say that the girl who blamed was bad. Only that that’s how things are when you play in a team. It’s life. 

Honestly, I don’t think I did so well. Honestly, I’m at that stage of wanting a book to tell me what to do. And, while I’m being honest, I have to say I don’t want to go to the next game. If Dee keeps getting worse while the other girls get better, it’s going to get harder for Dee.

I know I need to let go. I let Jim practice with her tonight. She came in after about twenty minutes saying she learned to serve. I wanted her to show me, but I also didn’t. I’m at that place where I need to snap. Just like I did at seven months pregnant. I need to believe that she can do what she needs to do, and whatever happens she’ll be fine. I need to trust that Jim can be her father and help her. And that I’m going to be fine, too.

A part of me wants to do the Mom meltdown thing. The other part of me wants to rely on my own self for the journey. Then there’s the voice saying, “IT’S JUST VOLLEYBALL, FOR GOD’S SAKE!” Even so, I don’t know what Giving Up looks like for me right now.

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Summer’s almost over, and our June 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.

Again, we’d like 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.

Here are our June sojourners and links to their pieces:

We’re also excited that our Submission Guidelines For Writers & Artists have been published. The link can be found on the sidebar under How To Submit. Don’t pass up this great opportunity to see your work in print!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at info@redravine.com anytime. And thanks for reading!

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

-related to post, Where To Find Our Guests

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 The Rainbow Room, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Rainbow Room, view out the window, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

We started red Ravine with the vision that all writers break through to the writer within and create room in their lives to write: a place to sit in silence, a practice that feeds them, and a community that holds them. Over the five months since we publicly launched red Ravine, we’ve worked every day to make red Ravine that place, that practice, and that community.

Now in an effort to take our community and our blog to the next level, we are making a call to writers and artists to consider submitting your work to red Ravine. We realize that by making this call in such a public way, we are opening ourselves up to a lot more work, potential criticism (for accepting some pieces and not others), and possibly more headaches. Yet, this is the direction we want to go, and so we persist.

We’ve created a Submission Guidelines page where you can find all the information about how to submit your piece of writing or art to us for consideration. We want to make it clear that we will not be in a position to publish everything that comes our way. And we want to make it clear that we won’t always be able to say exactly why some pieces won’t fit. But, we’re willing to take the risk, and we hope you are willing to do so as well.

Take a look at our guidelines. If you have feedback on them, feel free to send us a note (an email address is included at the end of that page). And if you’re ready to get started, launch right in. We’re waiting.

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The Fitzgerald, St. Paul, Minnesota, April 2007, photo © 2007<br>  by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Fitzgerald, St. Paul, Minnesota, April 2007, photo © 2007
by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Last April, I went to see Galway Kinnell at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul. As my friend and I left the theater after a magnificent night of interviews and poetry, I turned and snapped this shot.

I am fortunate to live in the Twin Cities, a place that is a big supporter of writers and the arts (including funding). The Fitzgerald Theater is the oldest existing stage venue in the city of St. Paul and the home of American Public Media’s, A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.

When I interviewed my 8th grade English teacher in Pennsylvania in June (after having not seen her for almost 40 years), she told me she loved A Prairie Home Companion and had visited the Fitzgerald Theater in Minnesota. She didn’t know at the time that I lived here. I instantly felt a renewed connection. Memoir research leads down many vibrant roads.

Liz was perusing the City Pages at dinner the other night and informed me that on Monday, September 24th, the St. Paul Central Library is sponsoring a celebration of the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was born September 24th, 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and did you know he was named for his famous relative, Francis Scott Key?

You can find everything Fitzgerald at the Princeton site, F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers — 1897-1944 (Co187). And there’s more information at All About F. Scott Fitzgerald and the University of South Carolina’s, A Brief Life of Fitzgerald.

I saw The Great Gatsby at the Guthrie last year with Liz and her Mom. It was fun to see the play; I learned a lot about Fitzgerald. But I’m almost equally fascinated by his wife, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald , a writer and artist with a privileged and tragic life. The intimate dance of love between F. Scott and Zelda seems complicated and dark.


Details of the celebration of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday at the St. Paul Central Library are below. There will be readings of his work by Michael-jon Pease. And Lynn Deichart’s Jazz Quartet will play.

The Jazz Age of the 1920’s had a big impact on Fitzgerald’s life, the period when he became famous for The Great Gatsby and friends with Hemingway. I wonder if they ever bumped into Mabel Dodge?


Celebrate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Birthday
Monday, September 24th, 7p.m.

St. Paul Central Library
90 West 4th St.
St. Paul, Minnesota

For more information call: 651-222-3242.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, September 16th, 2007

-related to posts:  Forget Vonnegut – Jane Kenyon Lives On and Why Writers Don’t Write About Sex

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