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Archive for September, 2007

I notice in the blog world there are those who do and those who don’t. Those who write using their real names. Post photos of themselves and their children. Tell us what cities they live in and when they’re out of town. Those who give “the internet” almost all the pieces of the puzzle.

Then there are people like me. I tell you where I’m from, who my family members are and some of what we’ve been doing. I say when I’m feeling down and why. I write about my past, and I post photos of things I see day-to-day. But I don’t divulge my name, and I don’t show you what I look like or what my kids look like.

As long as I hold some things back, I’m free to reveal others. It’s a balancing act. And it’s unique to blogs, I think, and unique to this blog, for which I am a principal “character.” If I were to write an article for a magazine, I would use my real name. Same if I were to write a book. But right now, maintaining this blog day-to-day, I’m not there.

And when it comes to my kids, I might never get there. Some children I’ve seen so many times on their parents’ blogs that if I saw the kid at a grocery store, I’d be able to say, “Hey, you’re so-and-so from xyz blog.” That’s kind of scary. I mean, who am I from Adam and how do those parents know I’m not so unstable that I might just do something harmful? (I wouldn’t. I would never harm anyone unless in self-defense, in which case, watch out!)

There’s something about the immediacy of blogs and the intimacy they seem to require to gain a following, that begs the question, Who’s reading our blogs? And how do we know all those people are just as harmless as I am? So, why take a chance?

QM and I laid out our boundaries when we launched red Ravine. We give a lot; we don’t give it all. Since then, no one has asked me to give any more than I do already; yet, I wonder about this as each week passes. I continue to test the limits.

Where all this is leading is, I want to hear from other bloggers. What about you? Where do you draw the line?


              what's in and what's out
              –What’s In and What’s Out, asters coming through the fence
              at home, Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Valley, September 2007,
              photo © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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what if merv were chicano?
Merv García, pen and ink and pencil on graph paper, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Merv Griffin: OK, my little pajaritos, do we have any requests?

Someone in audience: Y volver, volver, volver…

Someone else in audience: …a mis brazos otra vez…

MG: Coños, babies, come on, I’m not Al Hurricane…let me play you una cancioncita about my lovely bunch of coco-nuts…

Someone in audience: Al Hurricane? I thought you were Tony Bennett, oyé!

Someone else in audience: ¿Qué cosa Tony Bennett? ¡Oralé, he’s Engulburk Humperdink!


what if merv were chicano?what if merv were chicano?what if merv were chicano?what if merv were chicano?what if merv were chicano?


-Related to posts What If The Southwest Guy Were Chicano? and What If Madge Were Chicana?

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I’m letting go, letting go, letting go. I want to let go of the need to control. Let go, let go, let go.

I’m letting go of sorrow. There is a way that it haunts me. Fear. I want to let go of fear. I lived much of my life that way. Fearful to walk in the crowded world. I am afraid I will fail. It doesn’t matter how many good things come along to support me on my path. I’m afraid I will fail. That’s it, QM. It’s not success that haunts you. It is failure.

Thin-skinned and thickheaded. Keep at your craft. Practice. I had dinner with another writer at Saigon restaurant tonight. And from Pudd’nhead Wilson, she told me this paraphrased quote – most people say, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I say, put all your eggs in one basket and carefully watch them. She said she interpreted it to mean put your ass on the line for something and then give it your all. And then I smiled because I knew she was saying something we’d learned from Natalie – to put your ass on the line for something – anything – it doesn’t have to be writing.

“Anything” is whatever thing you have passion for. “Anything” takes courage and guts. “Anything” will not necessarily make you happy. But that “anything”  – give it your all.

And then we talked about stories from the Fair and developing characters in fiction writing and the insanity of credit card companies (not related) and going to see Steve Almond read in October. And I had iced tea (but I longed for sweet tea) that I poured from a stainless steel steeping pot over crackling ice, and fried rice with little bits of green peas and tiny whole shrimp that I ate with chopsticks. And to-die-for spring rolls with little flecked shreds of white daikon ribbons and wondered, have I had enough?

The blog has become a practice. It could not survive without community. What would be the point? I don’t want to write to hear myself talk. I write to be heard. I write to develop my voice. To know who I am.

I want to let go of the frightening way I keep telling myself I can’t do it. And then I feel lazy and start comparing myself to others. Comparing my insides to other people’s outsides. And then there’s a black hole where my heart used to be. But these days I fill it with all that electric energy created from everything I’m letting go of. And the sum total could fill a moon crater. And what is left is just me.

Just me – and that basket of eggs.


-15 minute handwritten writing practice, Thursday night, September 13th, 2007, after pondering Visions

-Fortune cookie from Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant after dinner with my friend: You are inclined to come up with unconventional solutions.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, September 14th, 2007

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – “I WANT TO LET GO OF …”

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I want to let go of this feeling of concern over Dee. I want to be light with her, not expect that she talk more, smile more, stand up taller, walk straighter.

I want to let go of the legacy I carry from my own parents, Dad’s constant “Dumb!” He used to say that any time I did something stupid — hammer his good nails into a piece of 2-by-4 while playing Dentist, not understand how to do Calculus, or paint the corner of my bedstand with Janet’s nail polish.

I want to let go of the kind of parent I’ve become, demanding and disappointed. I don’t know when it started, I’d like to say it is just a three-week-old trend that came up when Dee began middle school, but I worry it has been with me all my mothering life.

I want to let go of the penitente within me, her self-flagellating nature. I want to drop the whip, bury it or burn it, walk with a bounce in my step, be naturally happy and, most important, satisfied. When was the last time I was content with the person I am, the people around me? When was the last time I enjoyed going somewhere with my girls, saw it as more of a privilege than a burden?

Even at Ghost Ranch we arrived late and I had to put up a six-person tent. Dee ran off to eat, and Em had to help me struggle with the rods, making them flex so the tent would stand. They flopped every time I tried to lift them into an arc, and finally after five attempts I was sweating and in tears. I can see the look on Em’s face. Alarm. That’s what it was, a mirror to my own panic. I swore at Dee under my breath for not being there to help, and now I see her running back from the dining hall, friend in tow. I must have given her the look to kill. She told her friend to leave, and then what? I’ve said as much as I wanted to say.

It’s time to let go of all of it, my dissatisfactions and disappointments, and who exactly am I disappointed in? Is it me, for not living the life I wanted to live, as an artist and writer? For having this conventional life to begin with? For my choices? And so what of them?

They’re done, made, and now I’m thinking of that saying “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” Why are those sayings always so punitive?


-From Topic post, “I WANT TO LET GO OF…”
-NOTE: I wrote this during a recent writing practice with a friend at the Sunflower Market café in Albuquerque.

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New Mexico-based painter and photographer bloomgal64 sent me an email note a few days ago with these words in the subject line: “An Italian ybonesy.” At first I panicked. Oh no! Some Italian has absconded with my nom de plume and now I will spend the rest of my blogging life explaining, “No, no, you see, I’m the American ybonesy…”

But as I read bloomgal’s message and clicked on the link in Flickr it was pointing me to, I saw that what she wanted me to see was an Italian artist who, at first blush, bloomgal mistook for moi.

¡Qué complimento! (I don’t know how to say “compliment” in español ni italiano, so I hope I’ve not picked a false cognate, which I once did when I went on and on to my Spanish boarding ladies about “preservativos” in foods, not realizing that “preservativos” meant “condoms” in Spanish.)

Check out the work by the artist known as ushnetwork. He is whimsical, political, and wonderful. He has done portraits of young maidens, Madonna of the Milk, Charles Bronson, Condi Rice, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and many more. (I wonder if I can talk him into doing a Portrait of ybonesy?)

And, bloomgal, if you read this, Thanks for making my day!!

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By Teri Blair

It’s been 40 days since the 35W Bridge collapsed. Today, a sunny Fall day, I’ve come down to view the site…the first day (since the first fitful days of August) that I’ve been here. I’m writing this from the 10th Ave Bridge. I stand close enough to the collapse site to see everything, practically close enough to touch the pillars, the crushed railroad cars, the twisted steel. It looks smaller than I expected, like that feeling I have when I go back to my elementary school and the rooms seem little.

As in early August, a huge crowd gathers. We stand in respectful silence and awe. Seeing. It sinks in, one level deeper. In the river there are 5 barges, the ones used for clean up. They bob slightly in the muddy Mississippi, and I wonder how the divers found anyone. The river is dark, even with the midday sun. Two of the barges have cranes several stories high perched on them, and I don’t see the flags at first. I can’t see much at first. There is too much to look at, and all I can do is stand there. Absorbing it into my cells. But then I see it; a flag is flying against the blue sky, the Minneapolis skyline in the background. I instantly remember seeing the flags flying at Ground Zero, and I have the same rush of faith and patriotism and tenderness for what has happened. I look around, and see flags everywhere around the collapse site. There are 8. On the cranes, the barges, the trailer where the demolition crew takes their breaks. And I know someone thought that through. It was the way someone showed up for what happened here.

I walk the length of the bridge. Slowly. When I get to the end and turn to walk back, women begin to pass me wearing cotton dresses and white bonnets. And then their men come. The single ones clean-shaven, the married with beards. My attention turns from the bridge to the Mennonites, and I realize they are curious, too. Then, quite suddenly, the group of 50 clusters near one of the lookout points and forms a choir. They begin to sing a cappella hymns in 4-part harmony. Their voices are gentle, soothing, the music floating over the site and the people viewing it. I am singing the lyrics with them in my head—all familiar songs from my early upbringing in the church. A Mennonite man approaches me with a CD of their music. I accept it. He tells me they have driven up from southern Iowa to sing on the bridge. A 5-hour trip. They sing 7 songs, and continue across the bridge.

I continue walking. An artist paints the collapsed bridge with her oils, an easel set up. Parents quietly explain to their children what they’re seeing. The voices are mainly those of the children, innocent questions about how people drown, would the choo-choo train be okay; one cries when he thinks his big brother has a better view.

I came here today simply because I needed to. I came without expectations. It was time. What I didn’t plan on was the feeling of tremendous unity. Everyone tries to make sense of this, and brings what they have. The Army Corps of Engineers brings their flags; the Mennonites bring their music, the artist her palette. A feeling of deep peace permeates the crowd. And I can see somehow (as the Mennonites have sung)…It is well with my soul.


About Teri:  Teri is a writer from Minnesota, living in Minneapolis. She went to the I-35W collapse site every day for several days immediately following the tragedy, but she was not able to see the bridge up close due to barricades blocking public access. Teri again visited the site this past weekend, where she did the writing practice “40 Days, 8 Flags, and 1 Mennonite Choir.” This post is a follow-up to “Thornton Wilder & Bridges,” a piece Teri wrote shortly after the August 1, 2007, bridge collapse.

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Beach Grass In Winter, Duluth, MN, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Beach Grass In Winter, walking along Park Point Beach on Lake Superior, near Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

It’s a beautiful Fall Sunday in Minnesota. I’m feeling reflective, pensive. Like the perennials on the deck that I need to transplant, my body is beginning to prepare for the long, dark winter ahead.

Fall is my favorite time of year. The diminishing light leads me to take long walks along the trail by the house, then settle in to write. I anticipate large pots of soup simmering in crocked earthenware, and bits of flakey ice dotting the windshield. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m heading out to the garden after this post to dig a few holes for planting. Ted Kooser is on the table beside me. The native Nebraskan would understand the restlessness and listless turn toward hibernation that implants itself in Midwestern souls this time of year.

I started out wanting to post two of his poems on art. But as I’m writing the introduction, I’m drawn to a monotone photograph taken while walking a cold, windy beach in Duluth last winter. So I’ve decided to include his poem, Memory. It harkens to the land and the associative connect-the-dot qualities of memory that lead writers to write the things they write.

Below is his poem from Delights & Shadows, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The book is set in New Caledonia, designed by William A. Dwiggins in 1939 after the Scottish faces of the 19th Century. It is printed on archival-quality Glatfelter Authors Text. The book design is by Valerie Brewster. The cover art, August Night At Russell’s Corners, by George C. Ault.


Memory

by Ted Kooser

Spinning up dust and cornshucks
as it crossed the chalky, exhausted fields,
it sucked up into its heart
hot work, cold work, lunch buckets,
good horses, bad horses, their names
and the names of mules that were
better or worse than the horses,
then rattled the dented tin sides
of the threshing machine, shook
the manure spreader, cranked
the tractor’s crank that broke
the uncle’s arm, then swept on
through the windbreak, taking
the treehouse and dirty magazines,
turning its fury on the barn
where cows kicked over buckets
and the gray cat sat for a squirt
of thick milk in its whiskers, crossed
the chicken pen, undid the hook,
plucked a warm brown egg
from the meanest hen, then turned
toward the house, where threshers
were having dinner, peeled back
the roof and the kitchen ceiling,
reached down and snatched up
uncles and cousins, grandma, grandpa,
parents and children one by one,
held them like dolls, looked
long and longingly into their faces,
then set them back in their chairs
with blue and white platters of chicken
and ham and mashed potatoes
still steaming before them, with
boats of gravy and bowls of peas
and three kinds of pie, and suddenly,
with a sound like a sigh, drew up
its crowded, roaring, dusty funnel,
and there at its tip was the nib of a pen.

-poem by Ted Kooser, from Delights & Shadows, Part II: The China Painters, Copper Canyon Press, 2004

 

-about Copper Canyon PressThe Chinese character for poetry is made up of two parts: “word” and “temple.” It also serves as pressmark for Copper Canyon Press. Founded in 1972, Copper Canyon Press remains dedicated to publishing poetry exclusively, from Nobel laureates, to new and emerging authors. The Press thrives with the generous patronage of readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, teachers, students, and funders – everyone who shares the conviction that poetry invigorates the language and sharpens our appreciation of the world.

 
 

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, September 9th, 2007

-related to post, What Happened to Orr Books?, Ted Kooser’s American Life In Poetry Project

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On Thursday, September 6, the City of Santa Fe, NM, hosted the annual “Burning of Zozobra.” Zozobra is a fifty-foot-tall bogeyman, Old Man Gloom in effigy. Each year he is set before an audience of thousands and burned. (Burn, baby, burn!) Most onlookers are ecstatic to see him go; others feel sorry for him in the end.

The ritual was started by artist William (Will) Howard Shuster, Jr. in 1924 and incorporated into the almost 300-year-old Fiestas de Santa Fe. According to the “Will Shuster’s Zozobra” website, Shuster’s “inspiration for Zozobra came from the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico; an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, was led around the village on a donkey and later burned. Shuster and E. Dana Johnson, a newspaper editor and friend of Shuster’s came up with the name Zozobra, which was defined as ‘anguish, anxiety, gloom’ or in Spanish for ‘the gloomy one’.”

 

Watch the two-part documentary of the 2005 burning made by producer, director, and writer DL Fitch. You can decide for yourself what you think about the ritual. No matter how you feel, you’ll probably agree that the notion of releasing gloom — letting go of heartache and jealousy, giving up anger — is a powerful intention.

 

Again from the website, there is this quote from A.W. Denninger:

Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year.

 
For this writing topic, watch the videos. Then do a 15-minute writing practice starting with the words, “I want to let go of… .”

 
Now Go!

 

 

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Ranked by local Twin Citians as 15th on a list of top independent bookstores in Minneapolis, Orr Books was one of my favorite independents. For almost 40 years, the tiny, quiet store resided in the largely urban Uptown section of Lake Street. The parking was terrible, but the staff was knowledgeable and friendly. And I could find off-the-wall, eclectic books for a lazy Saturday of soul searching.

I spent many days there, in the comfy armchair by the counter, hanging out with great literature.

I had given up believing that Orr Books would ever close its doors. They had been threatening for years. Usually it was some new real estate deal happening in the trendy Uptown area that was raising the rent, pushing them out.

Each time I got wind of a closing, I’d stop in and ask the owner, Charlie Orr, if they were going to make it through. And each time he’d tell me, “Well, we don’t know. We’re going to try to stay open as long as we can.”  He just kept on going.

But in July, while I was in Taos at a writing retreat, one of the longest running Twin Cities Independent bookstores closed its doors for the last time. The day after I returned, Liz slipped a paperback book in my hand over morning coffee and said, “I got this for you. It’s the last book I bought from Orr books.”

“What?” I said, gently sliding the cover through my fingers. “They’ve really closed?”

Orr Books has sentimental value to me. When I felt alone, lonely, entrenched in one of my isolated, weekend jags of lining books up on my bed and reading, reading, reading, Orr Books was there. I would browse their shelves, spend hours grazing covers, and talk to the staff about poetry, writing, and authors.

I rarely left the store with less than $100 worth of books. Then I would head over to the Lotus next store, grab some beef lo mein and an order of spring rolls, stack my treasure tomes up on the table, and dive in.


That was then – before I admitted to myself (much less the rest of the world) that I was a writer.  Before traveling to Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos for writing retreats. Before I went to see Natalie Goldberg read from Thunder and Lightning at, you guessed it, Orr Books.

It was the year 2001, and I convinced my friend, Gail, to go with me. I sat on a hard bench, back by the bodywork books, craning my neck to get a glimpse of Natalie. The store was packed.

I bought Thunder and Lightning that night. Natalie signed my copy of Writing Down the Bones (sneaking a quick peek inside the cover to see what edition I had) and mentioned that she was giving workshops in St. Paul. When I left the store, I had an extra bounce in my step. I told Gail I was going to sign up. 

Many blue moons and 10 or 11 retreats later, my writing is going strong. But Orr Books is no more.

The closing of many independent bookstores across the country marks the end of an era. I’ve often heard Natalie say she knows a town is thriving if they have at least one independent bookstore.

It begs the question, are people even paying attention to the number of independent bookstores that remain standing in their hometowns? What are we as writers doing to breathe new life back into flagging stores. And are communities willing to spend the extra time and money to support them.

Below is the final letter distributed by Charlie and his staff at the closing, a history of the people and the store. Liz handed the crisp, white paper to me along with the last book she purchased from Orr Books – a copy of Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows.

Every time I pick up Ted’s book, I will think of Orr Books. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate its memory.



The History of Orr Books
       -details provided by Charlie Orr

The facts go something like this:

Vera opened Uptown Bookstore (2908 Hennepin) during the Art Fair in August 1968. As she couldn’t afford to leave her job as the textbook buyer at the U of M, Charlie quit his job as a cabdriver, and worked for the first 6 months, then left for California with friends. Interesting fact: before hacking a taxi, Charlie had served in the U.S. Army as a Russian linguist.

Business was good for Vera, and in 1971 she opened a 2nd store, called Uptown Bookstore 2 (Roman numeral), where she sold new hard covers, while continuing to sell paperbacks at the original shop. When times got tough, she decided to close Uptown Bookstore 2. Vera called Charlie in California, in early 1973, to tell him this news.

Meanwhile, Charlie had been hustling used books to no great avail out west. He told Vera he would return, and take over the 2nd store, renaming it Orr Books. It was located at 3027 Hennepin Ave. before Calhoun Square was a twinkle in Ray Harris’ eye. Charlie’s partner in the new bookstore venture was Zarifah, a Sufi dance leader. They sold only used and collectible books, while Vera continued to sell new hard and soft cover books down the street.

In 1976, Vera gave up Uptown Bookstore, and went to work with Zarifah and Charlie, bringing along her faithful book buyers. Vera, in her day, had her own large and devoted following. Zarifah soon left to pursue other interests, and in 1977 Julia Wong was hired to assist Vera and Charlie.

In 1981, Calhoun Square opened, and Orr Books moved to its present location at 3043 Hennepin. During Julia’s 20-year career, Charlie hired various people you may remember: Wendy Knox, Helen Antrobus, Mary DuShane, Lynn Miller, Steve Thomes, and who knows else. Ben Orr came on board after high school. David started on his birthday in 1986. Liza started in 1994, and Peggy and Lorna have been the last part-timers.

The most profitable years were during the sale of textbooks for St. Mary’s Graduate School. The most interesting years were the fist 3-5, when, to survive, Charlie became a comic book dealer, a Beatles dealer, and most successfully, a baseball card dealer, even running auctions after hours to avid collectors.

It is with great regret that Charlie has decided to finalize Orr Books. Times change, as do we all. Charlie (and David and Peggy) now face, like you, the inevitable question: where will we now go to find the good books that nourish and please? It’s been a wonderful 34 years (39, including Uptown Bookstore) and they will always be fondly recalled.

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, September 7th, 2007

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what if the southwest guy were chicano?

Southwest Guy: Oyé, ven aquí por tu regalo gratís…

Traveler: ¿Qué cosa gratís?

Southwest Guy: Es un t-shirt *muy* bonita…que te doy después de que you fill out esté application de tarjeta crédito…

Traveler: ¡No quiero un feo t-shirt de Southwest, hombre!

Southwest Guy: Espera, hombre, you can die it black, man, and wear it camping!


-Related to post What If Madge Were Chicana

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By Elizabeth Statmore

Here’s how a recent radio commentary emerged from writing practice to final recording.

This piece started life being written by hand as a 10-minute writing practice. Typed up, it came out to 595 words. Here’s the original, unedited writing practice:

I need to babble a bit and probably ramble on about things unrelated to my chapter. God, I really want this chapter to be over. Get it over with already. I am going to have to turn it over to my Higher Power.

But right now what occurs to me is how I felt when I heard the news that Grace Paley had died. I played ping-pong with her one summer at a women’s writing workshop at a Benedictine retreat center in the forests of central Oregon. She was the writer-in-residence that week — no students for her, no obligations except to be present with that wide green ping-pong table in the great hall that looked out over the bend in the wild McKenzie River.

She was always ready for a game or just a rally, and she seemed to be almost lurking by the table, waiting for her next victim or partner to come by and play with her.

She was not a particularly gifted ping-pong player, but she played with great gusto and delight and with an enthusiasm that was infectious.

She was already older, a round, frumpy looking woman with a careless halo of white curls and luminous blue eyes that glowed with a fierce sense of fun. She would hang out there by the reference books, the communal dictionary and other resources, waiting for someone to come along and play ping-pong. She was like the troll by the bridge or other mythical helper figures in fairy tales that the protagonist has to get by. It was as if a few rounds of ping-pong with her were just the thing to get you over that hump in your chapter or to work out the kinks in your sonnet.

I had read some of her stories and I grew up in the world that was the sequel to the one she depicted.

When she played she had a way of rocking from one foot to the other in victory. She also had a good-natured paddle slam through the air when she flubbed a shot.

She came to all the student readings, not just the faculty ones, and she took us seriously. I danced over the moon the night she told me she loved a piece I read aloud that evening. You might have heard me joining in the coyote madrigals in the forest after midnight later that night.

It was only in hindsight that I recognized how much greater was the gift she gave me through her stories. Growing up in that sequel world to Philip Roth and Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud, it was eye-opening to read the shadow side, the lives of the Jewish women of that era dealing with love and loss and heartbreak and belief.

She didn’t just hang out with the other teachers — all noted authors in their own right — but she at whole-grain hippie pizza with us students on the deck and seduced us into senseless ping-pong marathons / tournaments that lasted late into the night and talked politics with us and what it meant to work as a writer.

She decided early on in her career that it was too overwhelming to try and write a novel, too big a project for her. She dedicated herself to her work as a miniaturist.

In the end what remains is her generosity, both in her work and in her living. She shared her mind with us and her enormous human heart, and we are all the richer for it. She will be missed.

I realized this could be the basis of a successful NPR commentary. Why? Three main reasons:

  1. it had a good “news peg” (relationship to a current news event)
  2. it offered a unique and personal connection to the subject (ping pong, rather than writing)
  3. it included a lot of fresh and interesting details

But to make it work, I would have to pare this first draft way down.

Through experience, I’ve learned that the text of my commentaries can only be about 350 words long — including the sign-off — in order to fit into the strict two-minute time slot in the Morning Edition clock that KQED uses (see examples of the major NPR clocks that affiliate stations have to adhere to at this link).

In radio, the time limit is the law. You will be edited or discarded if you can’t stay within the time count. So I am religious about rehearsing and knowing my time count.

For a two-minute commentary slot, my ideal is to come in between 1:48 and 1:52. At my normal speaking speed, that gives me about 350 words. In essence, this piece needed to be almost cut by half. This is where it comes in handy to know how to separate the creator from the editor.

STEP 1 – Say each thing only once.

In most of my writing practices I tend to cycle around ideas, topics, and memories, taking as many swings at the ball as I want to. It’s writing practice. Who cares if I repeat myself or babble witlessly?

Tracking Edits Function on WordBut for publication or broadcast, few things merit that much repetition. I took out my scalpel and cut out everything extra. I use Word’s “Track Changes” feature (pictured here) to make my first round of slash-and-burn cuts. Once you turn on this feature, Word will puts each deletion or change into a colored bubble on the side so you can make decisions about each one later.

It’s also true that you need to come right to the point in a short piece. “I played ping-pong with Grace Paley one summer…” is the hook in this write. I used that as my lead.

STEP 2 – Reassess.

This is always the horrifying step for me. I do a word count on what’s left after I think I’ve sliced out all my little darlings. The draft is now down to 515 words. On the one hand, this is good news: I’ve cut out 80 words with no pain. On the other hand, I still have to cut out another 165 words.

STEP 3 – Boil it down.

This is where the editing process gets interesting for me. The process shifts from surgical to chemical. I need to find ways to distill down the sense of what I’m saying in fewer words. Phrases need to be boiled down. For example: “but she played with gusto and an enthusiasm that was infectious” gets shorted to “but she played with gusto and with an infectious enthusiasm.”

Every single word must be considered.

Toward the end, I find two sentences that each encapsulate my elation at her positive feedback. I have to get rid of one, no matter how much I love it. Much denial and gnashing of teeth. I take the dog for a walk. In the end, I decided to drop my address to the listener, “You may have heard me later that night, when I joined in the coyote madrigals across the forest.”

It’s cute, but cutting it retains the sense and gives back 18 words. I’ll use the idea somewhere else another time.

Cutting out “depicting them with unflinching honesty” gives back another 5 words.

I add in the tag line (“With a Perspective, I’m Elizabeth Statmore”) which adds a non-negotiable 6 words, unless I change my name to a one-word moniker like Prince or Madonna (unlikely).

Eventually I trim the whole thing down to a workable 358 words and submit it to my editor for consideration. Every commentary is a completely new submission.

STEP 4 – Rewrite.

After 4,000 years (or three days, I can’t remember) the editor writes back and tells me he likes it a lot but worries that many listeners won’t know who she is and the intro can’t provide much context. He asks if I can take a stab at finding a way to establish who she is early on.

This means finding more words to cut but even worse, finding a way to sum up who Grace Paley was in a few words.

I did some writing practice and came up with an allegorical analogy (that Ph.D. in Comparative Literature comes in handy again!) comparing her to a present-day equivalent that most Bay Area readers would recognize, at least by name.

Here’s what I came up with:

That may not mean much to some of you, but for many of us she was a literary rock star, an award-winning author and activist who could be funny and political and profoundly compassionate all at once. Basically, the Anne Lamott of her time.

I cut a few more extra words and boiled it down to 366 words, which is fine if I rehearse properly.

By now there wasn’t much time left to get it recorded while it was still current! I chase down the supervising recording engineer and book the first studio appointment available the next day.

Here is the final version, which was broadcast on KQED on Tuesday, 4-Sep-07:

I played ping-pong with Grace Paley one summer at a women’s writing workshop in the forests of central Oregon.

That may not mean much to some of you, but for many of us she was a literary rock star, an award-winning author and activist who could be funny and political and profoundly compassionate all at once. Basically, the Anne Lamott of her time.

She was the writer-in-residence that week — no students, no obligations except to be present with that wide green table in the great hall that looked out over a bend in the wild McKenzie River.

Grace was not a particularly gifted ping-pong player, but she played with gusto and with an infectious enthusiasm.

She was already older, a tiny round woman with a careless halo of white curls and luminous blue eyes. She would hang out by the reference books, lying in wait for some new ping-pong partner, like some mythical helper figure in a fairy tale that the protagonist has to get past. As if a few rounds of ping-pong with her were just the thing to get you over that hump in your chapter.

When she won, she rocked gleefully from one foot to the other. When she flubbed a shot, she slashed her paddle through the air in frustration and spun around.

She didn’t just hang out with the other luminaries. She ate whole-grain hippie pizza with us students on the deck and lured us into endless ping-pong marathons. We talked politics and she asked us what it meant to work as writers.

She came to all the student readings and took us seriously. I danced over the moon the night she told me she loved a piece I read aloud that evening.

I understand now some of the gifts she left behind. She dedicated herself to the life of the miniaturist, caressing the shadow side of that world claimed by Philip Roth, the unnoticed lives of the women as they dealt with love and loss.

In the end what remains is her generosity. She shared her mind and her enormous human heart, and we are the richer for it. She will be missed.

With a Perspective, I’m Elizabeth Statmore.

I think this version retains all the spirit of the original, but in a form that enables it to find publication. Ultimately that’s all editing really is — helping your piece to find a foot hold.

You can hear Elizabeth’s piece Remembering Grace Paley on KQED Radio at this link. It aired yesterday, Tuesday, September 4, 2007.  Elizabeth is a frequent contributor to KQED-FM’s Perspective series. To read more about Elizabeth, visit her website, Elizabeth Statmore.

 

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I can’t think of any I rode as a child, don’t have a mental picture of me on a horse, Dad with his pock-scarred young face standing beside me. Although as soon as I wrote that, I pictured him there, cut his image out of an old photo of him and me that I have in my mind, placed us on an old carousel instead of in front of Grandma and Grandpa’s old ranch house. Dad and me, my eyes smiling into slits the way they do in all the old photos. Dad, who I thought was so handsome with his perfect lips and dark eyes, if only his face hadn’t scarred. I remember he got it scraped back when “scraping” was the surgical method in vogue for problem skin such as his.

Merry-go-rounds, and I think of how much they seem to represent the ups and downs of life. Circular life, going round and round. Coming and going. Dad is 84, or is it 83?, I always forget. His back is so bad he can hardly walk, and right before my eyes he has become an old, old man. Up and down, several years of oscillating between old age and very old age, and now he’d require one of those benches on the carousel, the ones as a kid I always wondered why they bothered having.

And today is Dee’s birthday, she told me last night, “I don’t want to be 12.” “Twelve is fun,” I told her, and then when I held her in the dark she whispered, “I don’t want to change.” She’s never wanted to grow older, this daughter of mine, always somehow knew that growing older is a process, of life’s ups and downs, coming and going. She gets older, so do the rest of us, Dad moves on, makes way, she becomes a teenager, or on the cusp, everything changes, nothing stands still. She still sleeps with her stuffed horse, Mary Christmas, a horse that can stand up, like on a carousel, and I do remember me as a new mother standing beside Dee as she kicked her chubby legs, kicked them to signal Let’s go! Let’s go!, waiting for the man to finish taking people’s tickets and checking the kids’ straps before he went over to the controls and made the horses move.

Merry-go-rounds. One of the slower, more pleasant rides on the midway. Just like life, I tell you, they seem so mild they’re almost boring. While you’re on them you see almost everyone out on the hot pavement watching you. You see them smiling, mouth open, waving as you come around. Or stuck in thought, staring at the Ferris Wheel or nothing in particular. And before you know it, your turn is coming to an end, slowing down so much that you can feel what a dizzying experience it’s been after all.

from suggested Writing Practice in Nightshot – Carousel

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Woman With Bird, folkart from China Woman With Siamese Cat, folkart from China

Michaels was having a sale on custom framing this weekend. Half off the regular price. I took four odd-sized paintings I got in Shanghai a couple of years ago. They’d been rolled up in a paper tube ever since I bought them. 

Paul with a goatee let me go behind the frame shop counter and pull my own frames off the carpeted wall. I took down frame corner after frame corner. I wanted something minimalist, yet I gravitated to brushed metal in neon colors and thick ornate wood. I finally decided on a wood frame that must have been at least three inches wide. It was stained black with decorative embossing, except raised. I requested an eggshell-white mat, also three inches wide. 

Paul asked me if I wanted the special glass that cuts down the glare. Back when I worked at The Framery near the University of New Mexico, we never recommended non-glare glass; it was almost so frosty you could hardly see the image. This new non-glare stuff was way better. Kind of like the UV tint you can get on your eyeglass lens. “Yes, give me the Masterpiece Glass,” I told Paul.

While Paul crunched the numbers on his calculator, I stood staring at the frames I’d rejected. I thought about the many other pieces of art I’ve had framed. One time I went to one of those boutique frame shops and picked out a really nice wood that had been stained bright red. It sounds ugly now, but it’s gorgeous. It was years ago, and it cost so much I vowed I’d never go anywhere for my framing but Ben Franklin’s, K-Mart, or Michaels. A year or so ago I framed about six photographs, all at Hobby Lobby, I think. 

Paul finished the calculations. “Two-hundred fifty-eight,” he said.

“Each??,” I asked. 

“Each.”

“That’s before the 50% off, right?”

“No, after.”

Poor Paul. I went back to the drawing board. Threw out the wood. Landed on skinny black metal — the basic foodstuff of frames. We got the smaller prints down to $103 each. The larger ones a bit more.

Egads. No wonder so many paintings and posters stay stuffed away in my closet.

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Carousel, MN State Fair, August 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Carousel, Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 


Carousels have a rich history at the Minnesota State Fair. I snapped this as we were leaving the Fair grounds Friday night. I receive a great deal of joy from the vibrant color, gritty glitz, and gauzy glamour of the night lights and carnival atmosphere of walking the Fair after dark.

The daylight was fun, too, but it was hot, dusty, and humid. When night cooled the air, the antique buildings creaked with relief from the heat, the moon rose over the Grandstand, and the 300 plus acres were electric with energy. That was my favorite time to prowl.

The original Minnesota State Fair carousel was called Cafesjian’s Carousel. In 1914, Austin McFadden paid the Philadelphia Toboggan Company $8,500 to build it, transport it to St. Paul, and assemble it on the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair, where it ran for 74 years. You can read what happened next when a St. Paul couple decided to fight the good fight to preserve its history and heritage at Our Fair Carousel. 

As for the carousel pictured in this photograph, I was not able to find any history from my brief research tonight. Maybe my friend that works at the Fair will be able to shed some light.

I remember riding the carousels as a child when I visited amusement parks with my parents. I always felt like I was tall and powerful, sitting atop a jumper. The standers bored me, even as a kid. I wanted to be moving, moving, moving.

Here’s a writing topic – do a 10 minute writing practice about your memories of carousels, or merry-go-rounds as we called them in my family. You can learn more about carousels at the Merry-Go-Round Museum. Write everything you know about carousels – Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

-related to posts: MN State Fair On-A-Stick and MN State Fair On-A-Stick II – Video & Stats

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Foods On A Stick At The Minnesota State Fair 2006, YouTube Video by TKordonowy.

Whoa! After 8 hours at the Minnesota State Fair, Liz and I made it home at 10:30p.m. last night, not much worse for wear. Unless you count the fact that we could hardly walk and had giant food hangovers!


Here are our MN State Fair Stats for August 2007:

  • Money Spent: $102 (not counting the $41 we saved with Cub coupon book & ticket discount) [See WCCO Good Question with Ben Tracy: How Much Does The State Fair Make?]
  • Time Spent: 8 hours (just at the Fair, not including travel & walking time)
  • Photos Taken: 642 digital day & night shots (by the two of us)
  • Events Covered with $$$: admission tickets, Butterfly House, walking, walking, walking, digesting, all food & drink, people watching, shiny blue 100% cotton State Fair hoodie
  • Fair Booty: autographs from Don Shelby, Amelia Santaniello, and Frank Vascellaro from WCCO, 11 kinds of food (5 on-a-stick, favorite was Fried Fruit On-A-Stick), 7 kinds of drinks, Swine, Sheep, Cattle, Goat, Poultry Barns, J.V. Bailey House, Fine Arts Building, polka band and coffee cup hat at Farmers Union Coffee Shop, opera, Air America Talk Radio 950am, Al Franken for Senate booth, wonder and awe in the Butterfly House, joy and laughter all around


We ran out of time for the full tour of the J.V. Bailey House or our annual viewing of the Dairy Princesses carved from butter. And we missed A Prairie Home Companion at the Grand Stand and the escaped bull that ran amuck through the crowd. For more insight into our food hangovers, check out the YouTube video by TKordonowy, Foods On A Stick At The Minnesota State Fair 2006.

I know Minnesotans that go to the Fair at least 4 or 5 times in one week. Ralph Cornelius has attended the Minnesota State Fair for 80 years without missing one year. Ralph was even there as an infant in 1928. But I’ve got to say, for me, once every one or two years is enough. We had a great time this year. More photos to come. Enjoy the video!


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, September 1st, 2007

-related to post, MN State Fair On-A-Stick

another video link you might enjoy that includes video in its infancy, 80’s hair, and brief footage of the butter sculptures:  Minnesota Stories, Just Plain Big: MN State Fair 1988

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