Archive for November, 2007

Ever notice how some animals have a good energy about them, others not so good?

Dogs = good.
Snakes = bad.

The other day, our Evangelical Christian neighbors were out walking their dogs.

“Do you ever find any ssserpentsss in your field?” the woman asked.

The way Jim tells it, she hissed the word serpents. “As if she couldn’t stand the thought of snakes,” he says, and then he wiggles his shoulders in mock shudder.

Snakes can be scary. Especially poisonous snakes.

But Baby… well, Baby is a baby. Not in terms of her age, just her disposition.

She is, we’re told, old for a bullsnake. Almost 30.

The story goes: the previous owner of the place was driving down a dirt road on Indian land near the Arizona – New Mexico border. A baby snake went slithering across the road; the jeep barely missed it. The guy jumped out, caught the snake, and brought it home in a coffee can.

He built a six-foot-long, two-level cage in an enclosed potting shed next to the house. One whole wall of the cage is a south-facing window. 

The day we did our walk-through inspection, the guy asked us if we’d like to keep her. We had dogs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys. Why not a snake?

Indeed. Why not a snake?

She’s about eight feet long. Maybe longer. She’s alert, especially when she’s hungry. She’ll come up to where you’re standing and see what you have for her. Or maybe she thinks you’re the food.

Jim feeds her a rat, a big one, every three to four weeks. She usually eats it in a matter of minutes. I can’t watch. Once the rat screamed.

I’m not planning to introduce Baby to our neighbor. Unless, of course, the neighbor comes knocking on our door bearing a Bible. In which case, I might take her out to the potting shed.

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By Marylin

Recently, my daughter, a friend and I were on our way to our Chiropractor, who lives and has his practice in a small town east of our homes in Cody, Wyoming. We arrange our appointments on the same morning, and enjoy our commute together. However, this particular morning was different. My daughter was the driver, and it was our first trip in her new car, “Crystal Blue,” a cute little car, so named because, as she drove it off the Dealer’s lot for the first time, the old tune “Crystal Blue Persuasion” was playing on the radio and Tracy took this as a sign to name her car, as it is a beautiful, bright blue with a sparkling undercoat that gives it a depth, like looking at fresh, unspoiled snow on the ground when the clouds have gone and the sun first shines on it.

There is nothing in between these two towns, threaded together by a two lane highway, taking infrequent travellers east and west across the high desert landscape. The land is mostly rough, sparse clumps of sage and some native grass, that in the fall of the year, is almost as brown as the rocky soil. There are a few small farms still in evidence, many already abandoned by the rugged homesteaders, who tired of waiting for the promise of success, touted by Buffalo Bill and his vision of an irrigated paradise. The only evidence of life we see that day is a herd of graceful antelope in the distance.

“I don’t understand why we’re not getting any heat,” Tracy commented. She had just returned from Billings the day before, having taken the car in for its first “check-up” (like a mother taking her new baby to the pediatrician after the first six weeks). She no sooner had spoken, when the car began shutting down…all the needles on all the gages dropping backwards, simultaneously! She pulled off the road onto the shoulder, got out of the car and opened the hood to a cloud of what was steam or smoke, hard to tell which. She came back to tell us that the cap was off of the radiator, but she found it, and stated that it would probably be best to let the car cool off before trying to start it.

Almost immediately, a van pulled off the road in front of us and a man got out and asked if he could help. Although he was headed east, as we were, he offered to drive us back to Cody. We were about 25 miles out of town, and I was amazed that this individual would take the time out of his work day to do such a kind deed! He did not act in a manner that suggested that this extra “jog” in his journey was even the slightest inconvenience to him, although we all knew that it must be.

He apologized that the interior of his vehicle was “kinda’ messy,” as he scrambled to move empty plastic juice bottles, spare gloves, maps, etc. from the seats. He was as cheerful as though he had planned a rescue of damsels in distress as part of his day’s routine. We kept thanking him profusely, and his only response could have come out of an old Western movie, as an “Aw’ shucks, ma’am, ‘twarn’t nuthin’. To quote the Bible, ‘The Lord loveth a cheerful giver’.”

Marylin did this 15-minute writing practice based on the post WRITING TOPIC – KINDNESS & POLITENESS

About writing, Marylin says: I guess I’m a “dabbler,” as far as writing goes. My first work was done for North Hollywood High’s weekly newspaper; reporting and editing; good training. I enjoy both non-fiction (mostly in essay form) and fiction; short stories, song lyrics, one billboard (it was a Prairie Public Radio contest). I’ve written some poems (still into rhyming) and even a play, as yet, not produced.

My Grandson, after graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute asked if we could collaborate on picture books for children. So far, we have completed two, and are looking for a publisher. While living in Simi Valley, from 1997-2000, I published five essays — all humorous, tongue-in-cheek — in a weekly column in the “Ventura Star Tribune.”

As an adult, I took a course in Journal Writing, in which we used Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones. Now, I am writing childhood memories. I decided to do this after realizing, in doing genealogy, that I longed to know how it felt to be living in a certain time and place, and wondered why my family moved from place to place. Simply listing dates and places does not satisfy anyone’s curiosity! 

I recently joined the Cody Writers, an informal group of women who enjoy writing and sharing what they write. We meet once a month. I introduced them to Goldberg’s “laws of Practice” at our last meeting. We all wrote like mad for ten minutes and then shared what we wrote. I know we’ll be doing it again!

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Cutting The Cake, Amelia's hands cutting the cake, the day she turns 70, Central Pennsylvania, photo by QuoinMonkey, November 2007, all rights reserved.

Cutting The Cake, Amelia’s hands cutting the cake on the day she turned 70, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

I’m sitting in Amelia’s kitchen. The smell of homemade chicken and dumplings spins across the room. My brother and sister-in-law stopped over for breakfast. Amelia made Canadian bacon, grits with butter, crumbled bacon and sharp cheese bits, scrambled eggs, scratch biscuits, orange juice, and French Roast.

My sister-in-law had us in stitches over a story about a trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We were cracking up over our second cup of coffee, and it reminded me of all the rambunctious activity, laughter, and fun that’s taken place in this kitchen. Mom has lived here over 40 years. I find it comforting that she has the same Ma Bell wall phone with same old-fashioned  “ring” and the same 20 foot coil of cord that extends all the way across the kitchen so she can chat while she cooks.

In this fast-paced world, it’s nice to be able to go home.  And for home to still be there. Home and hearth were so closely connected in Mom’s generation. And many generations before her. These days a family is lucky if even one parent can stay at home, much less the whole family sitting down to a home cooked, family meal around the kitchen table at the end of a long day.

Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mom turned 70 last Saturday. She’s seen a lot of change. The week before, my brother called with an idea to fly me home. My five siblings chipped in to buy a ticket from Minnesota to Pennsylvania so that I could surprise her. Everything went like clock-work, from pre-Holiday ticket prices, to flights, to coordinating busy schedules. It was meant to be.

It was so hard to stay at my brother’s for two days without calling Mom and spoiling the surprise! The first surprise was the party with my 4 brothers, 1 sister, and all of the extended family. I didn’t get to see this part, when she walked in with a huge smile on her face (I was hiding out in an appliance box!). She hugged everyone, my sister placed the tiara on her head, and she sat down to open presents. When my sister gave the verbal cue, “It’s too bad QuoinMonkey can’t be here.” Out I popped, arms spread, singing Happy Birthday off-key from a wrapped, bowed and ballooned, dishwasher box where I had been hiding the last 20 minutes.

Who's Inside The Box?, Mom's 70th Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey's nephew. All rights reserved. Mom burst into tears. I was soon to follow. I’d never seen her so surprised! (She’s very intuitive and we were rarely ever able to keep any secrets from her when we were growing up.) We exchanged a long hug. The whole family poured into the kitchen, and dove into all the homemade Southern food. There was banana pudding, pork barbecue, beef barbecue, hushpuppies, biscuits and sausage gravy, black-eyed peas and rice, sweet tea, lemon meringue pie, and a glorious birthday cake. (Hey, all family, please chime in in the Comments if I’m forgetting anything!)

Home and hearth. What matters to you? Each time I come back home, the grandkids, nieces, and nephews are taller, the parents and siblings are older. Health fluctuates, situations challenge and change. Home connects me to the past, and forges the future. It’s as if everything I ever did tumbles through a parallel universe. It’s good to spend time with my family.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

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Dear Person Sitting Next to Me on the Plane,

Do you plan to never make eye contact? I thought I was a cold traveler, but you take the cake.

BTW, that haircut is kind of silly. It’s so David Schwimmer on Friends.



Dear Person Sitting Next to Me on the Plane,

Why did you have to take *this* middle seat? There was one available three rows up.

Wait a second, is that you who smells like garlic?? My God, did you take a bath in garlic oil?

Ah, I see. Someone packed you dinner for the ride. How nice of them. Mmm, garlic chicken. Yum. Ooo, garlic mashed potatoes. Wow, you just squeeze them out of the baggie into your mouth. That’s attractive.

P.U. I could do without the smell of steamed broccoli and cauliflower. I see you can’t.

Em, excuse me but the airline attendant is trying to pass me my peanuts. Yes, thanks. This is my dinner tonight. Not that you care.


Dear Drunk Man Sitting Next to Me on the Plane,

Don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink? I mean, they fill those glasses pretty full.

Really now, do you honestly need two Baileys-and-coffee after four glasses of red wine??

I mean it, you’d better be able to hold your liquor or I’m never sitting next to you again.


Dear Couple Sitting Next to Me on the Plane,

I take it you’re newlyweds. Sweet how you hold hands during the entire flight.

You guys are so young to spend the entire hour reading quietly like that. Gosh, you already seem to be like an old married couple.

Not that it’s any of my business.


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Mimbres Man sent an email last week saying he’s been journaling with his fifth-grade students every morning. They spend at least 15 minutes writing on a different topic.

He wanted to share a recent and favorite topic with the readers of red Ravine. We’ve included it verbatim below.

In today’s fast and furious world, this topic is a great reminder to slow down, to show compassion and love. Thank you, Mimbres Man, for showing your love (smile) to us here at red Ravine! The feeling is mutual.

Kindness & Politeness

Courtesy Pays road signIn my home state, there are road signs that say Courtesy Pays. These signs aren’t everywhere, just on certain winding mountainous routes. When I was young I noticed them because they were black with white lettering.

These signs are two sided with hinges on the top side and in the winter they unfold into bright yellow rhombus-shaped signs and warn motorists to WATCH FOR SNOWPLOWS. But most of the year they stayed folded black triangles and remind drivers to be nice to each other.

Today, as you drive the rural backroads of New Mexico, people wave to each other — just a little friendly hello. New Mexico drivers are just showing a little courtesy to each other.

The world is a better place when people show a little kindness & politeness.

Write about kindness & politeness. What does it mean to you? Since you receive a grade in kindness & politeness, does it make a difference? Think about it. Write about it.

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Snippet of emotions from written list

I did the emotional vocabulary exercise this weekend. The exercise is this: For five minutes, list every emotion you can think of. Write as fast as you can. Don’t stop to think.

Except, after five minutes were up, I kept going. I went for an hour, and then as I typed my list into the computer I went further. Eventually I stopped, but afterwards, when I was slicing potatoes or brushing my teeth, I’d think, Did I remember excited?

The next step of the exercise was to take one of the emotions from my list and do a 15-minute writing practice on it. I thought about emotions all weekend — lust and envy, distress and kindness — yet I never made it to the writing practice.

I shared my list with Ritergal, and she shared her list with me. When I saw some of the emotions in her document, I was like Homer Simpson when he realizes he’s missed something obvious. Doyt, how could I have forgotten flabbergasted?

I’m not going to publish my list, but I do want to share these things I learned in the process of doing the exercise:

  1. I often used strings of words to describe emotions — loopy for someone, out to get you, walking on water, all over the map, on pins and needles. I was quick to find a way to say what I wanted, even when I couldn’t pinpoint the one word that captured it exactly. It was empowering to realize I can get where I need to go with the words I have.
  2. I sometimes wondered whether something was an emotion or not. After I did the exercise, I googled “what is emotion” and found this helpful link.
  3. Each emotion I wrote triggered another. When I fell into a negative streak, I flew with it. Then I balanced with opposites. It was like flying in zigzags with words.
  4. Whenever I got stuck, I used the prompt I feel…. That always got me started again.

This exercise made me think of the song “Feelings” by the band Gemini. It came out when I was in 7th grade. Thecla and I were in love with Kenny Martinez, who in turn loved Carmen.

I was nothing but emotion that year. Hating Carmen, who was actually my best friend. Lusting over Kenny in his polyester bell bottoms. Finding solace that I at least had a budding friendship with Thecla, which perhaps was better than Kenny, better even than Carmen. Thecla was loyal in a way neither of them were.

Up until 7th grade, emotions were like arms or bony knees or movements of my body — something you just had. But in 7th grade I suddenly found words to describe what I was feeling. Puppy love. Infatuation. Longing. Insecurity.

Ritergal said: “The golden nugget I have discovered the last few days is that a five-minute writing exercise can turn into a potentially life-changing event. Exploration and review of one small area may ripple out into your whole life or way of thinking.”

I’m right there with her, and I honestly still don’t know why. Somehow I think it has to do with emotions being at the core of writing practice.

Then again, it might have everything to do with that blasted song.

               One page from my list

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Norman Mailer died this morning. Here is a quote from Mailer:

I think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension.

Words to write by.

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By 94stranger


It is not I the first to say

each soul is like a garden;

each death a garden

where we may no longer walk.

My garden has its walls; a hidden door

beneath the ivy, where the passer-by

would hardly look.

Inside is grass and sweetly- flowering shrubs,

a fountain and a small pavilion too.

You will not find the master

of the garden there,

on silk embroidered cushions sipping tea;

no-one in residence you’ll find

except an old man in a battered hat

composting autumn leaves.

About writing, 94stranger says: I’ve been writing poetry since I was a teenager. My career as a poet got knocked on the head at a very tender age, when I came into contact with the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Pieces such as Fern Hill were the kind of thing I would have desired to write, yet I felt that they could not possibly be bettered. At that point, I ceased to have any ambition to be a Poet.

I guess it’s taken me most of the rest of my adult life to reach the point where I feel that perhaps I have my own voice, and that in any case what others feel about what I write is not a life and death issue! I care about what I feel about it, but that’s not quite the same.

Writing poetry has been a very occasional and episodic thing with me over the years – I have more than once gone several years without writing a line. Actually, I’ve written more poetry in my three months blogging than I probably had in the previous three decades.

Essentially, I write when I am moved –- I don’t feel any obligation to try to write, because my self-image does not include that of being a professional writer in any sense.

I have my obsession with Rainring (for which I am serialising the story I wrote for the illustrators of the cards on the 20th of every month under the rubric “Tales from Rainring”) and one obsession is enough for anybody! I blog under the pseudonym of 94stranger because The Stranger is the Rainring card that represents my personal type.

This poem is a reflection of how I feel about myself. I was, incidentally, a professional gardener for many years. I think of my work these days as gardening in the psyche. The only other thing to say about this specific poem is that it hasn’t yet been matured, so I don’t know if it’s in the final form. The only way to find that out is to leave it for a year or two and then go back and take a long cold look at it. “Write in heat, revise cold” would be my motto for poetry writing, I reckon.

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Turkeys Greeting #1
Hey, look, it’s Mom, she’s home for lunch!

Turkeys Greeting #2
Hi, Mom, d’ya got anything for us? What d’ya got?

Turkey Greeting #3
What d’ya got there, Mom? D’ya got anything??

Turkey Greeting #4
She dudn’t got anything, let’s get the flock outta here.

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Yesterday after work, as I’m shopping for lunch fixings at Smith’s, I get a call on my cell phone from a headhunter. He says, “Hi, my name is Joe So-and-so and I’m an executive recruiter with XYZ in San Francisco.”

I know why he’s calling. I have my profile in one of those professional networking sites, not because I’m looking for a new job. I just think it’s smart to keep your options open.

“Hi, Joe,” I say, “what can I do for you?” My daughter, seizing on an opportunity, points to the Dr. Pepper and mouths, Can we get it, can we get it?

Joe tells me his client is a mid-sized corporation in the Midwest and that they’re looking to fill a Director-level position with someone like me. He ticks off all the positions I’ve held at my current company that make me qualified for the role. “What can I do to entice you to take this job,” he asks.

Right away I tell him I’m not interested. I don’t want to relocate to that city, I’m pretty happy where I am, plus I’ve done that type of work before and don’t want to do it again.

“Take the position for three years,” he says, “use it as a stepping stone to Vice President somewhere else. Salary is $175 to $200K.”

By now my youngest and I are wandering aimlessly down aisles. I’ve shooshed away the Dr. Peppers and am being pulled toward the wasteful single-serving containers of Pringles.

“I don’t think so,” I tell him. He tries a bit harder, reminds me that the salary will go a long way in that part of the country. I beg him off. We chat a bit longer. He seems genuinely interested in me, keeps probing what it is I want to do in my career, so much so that I finally stop and ask half-jokingly, “Wait a second, do you want to find someone for your client or do you want to find a job for ME?”

I offer to send him a couple of names of people I know who might be interested in the role if he sends me his email. He asks if I’m OK with him holding on to my contact info in case something else comes up. I tell him that’s fine.

When I get home I tell Jim about the call. Describe the job and where it is; he says, “Glad you said ‘No’.” Mention how much the salary is; he says, “Hmm, that’s a lot.”

This morning I send Joe the names of two guys who’ve left the company for higher paying jobs. They’re hungry in a way I don’t seem to be. They are the kind of people who will relocate themselves and their families anywhere if the price is right.

I look out my window and see the Sandias. The grasses and trees have turned the muted greens and yellows and oranges that signal the final stages of autumn. My aging parents live close by. I can take Dad to CostCo when he needs to do a shopping trip. I’m not going anywhere.

But Joe’s call did make me wonder. Is there a salary I’d have been willing to seriously consider?

How about you, readers? Does your head have a price?

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If you’re anything like me, that is. The kind of person who at the sight or mention of Blood gets weak from head to toe. Like those pens you stand on end and the color drains, revealing a naked woman underneath. Except, instead of busty nude, you get floppy, boneless mass. Which is what I am right now, sitting in the waiting room of Urgent Care.

I lean my forehead against the cool of my palm, elbow on the arm of my chair. I try not to look at the sick people around me, try not to deduce what it is that brings them to this small, germy room. As long as they keep their distance I can hold my limp self together. I can pretend to be patient, care-giving wife while inside the bowels of Urgent Care, Jim is probably passed out himself.

This is our running joke. We’re both fainters. We come from long lines of fainters. We tell fainting stories at family gatherings. I have to lie down to hear most of them, even the ones I’ve heard before. I am working hard not to add to our repertoire.

What brings us here is Jim’s finger. And the deep slice he inflicted on it, by accident, yesterday. I knew it was bad by the way he staggered through the front door and announced, in a low, serious tone, “I got cut.”

It wasn’t a nonchalant “I got cut,” tossed out as he grabbed a Blue Sky soda from the fridge. Nor was it an “I got cut” spouted irately as he marched into the bathroom to fetch a Band-Aid. No, this version implied so much more.

It was a come-help-me-I-am-bleeding-profusely-and-am-about-to-faint-oh-my-God-I-can’t-even-look-at-it-it’s-so-deep “I-got-cut.” It was the kind of “I got cut” that caused me to drop my cheese grater and say, “No, don’t tell me,” to put my hand on my forehead then drop it to my side, to rub hard the thighs of my jeans, something I do to remind myself that I’m still here. The kind of “I got cut” that finally sent me hobbling, as if crippled, to the bed where I crumpled and yelled, weakly, “What do you need?”

Deep breath.

Even writing this makes my heart race. I pull my legs up under my body, form myself into a fetal position (as much a fetal position as one can get while sitting in the waiting room of Urgent Care). An extremely overweight man gets up and stands by the door. It’s as if he senses my internal debate over whether or not to maintain full consciousness.

I hate it that I do this. I want to be strong. I want to be the kind of person others would never vote off the island. I’m strong in so many other ways.

I did manage to cut a strip of cloth out of a clean flannel pillowcase for Jim.
I didn’t clean or bandage the cut, which was hard for him to do on his own.
I did call three Urgent Care centers to see if any was not crowded.
I did clean up the blood that had dripped all over the bathroom.
I did drive him here, and I am sitting, waiting. Weak, but waiting.

Flash back to another time we were in a medical clinic together — 1991, the weeks before our wedding day. You used to have to take a blood test to get a marriage license. Jim and I went together. We entered our respective examination rooms at the same time, emerged at the same time, smiled that the other was still pink in the cheeks. We walked together — soon to be Husband And Wife — to the check-out counter to pay. Then this:

Jim: “I think I’ll go wait outside.”

Me: “What’s wrong?” (alarmed) “You’re not going to faint, are you??”

Jim: “Eh, I feel kind of woozy. I’ll be OK.” (off he scuttles)

Me: (standing there, thinking about him, sure he’s going to faint. soles of my feet start to hurt. shuffle from one foot to the other. what’s taking the guy so long to run my card through the card reader??)

Me: “You almost done?”

Guy: “I keep getting a busy signal.” (has his back to me) “Let me try again.”

Me: (feeling light-headed, picturing Jim sprawled out on the grass by the parking lot…the tunnel, here it comes…)

I ended up running back to my examination room, flinging open the door and flinging myself onto the table right before losing consciousness. I woke to Jim and the Guy standing over me, the Guy laughing about how one minute I was there, the next minute gone.

Kind of like today.

Oh, here’s Jim now. He seems jolly. An old man in a wheelchair asks what they did back there. “Well,” Jim begins, “the doctor squeezed it together so hard I almost screamed…” 

“No, Jim, don’t,” I call from where I am. Heads turn my way. The old man’s mouth opens then closes, like he’s just seen something scary.

Jim and I walk out the door. “Don’t tell me anything until we get home,” I whisper. “OK,” he says.

Our pact. In sickness and health. And sight-of-blood-induced fainting. ‘Til death do us part.

          Jim’s little finger, post Urgent Care

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 Writer’s Hands IV, hands of Bel Canto author, Ann Patchett, signing a copy of her latest book, Run, Fitzgerald Theater, downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Writer’s Hands IV, hands of Bel Canto author, Ann Patchett, signing a copy of her latest book, Run, Fitzgerald Theater, downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Part I.

Fitzgerald Theater (Inside), night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty; A Friendship, on MPR's Talking Volumes, St. Paul. Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

On a rainy October night, inside the haunted Fitzgerald Theater, Ann Patchett held the audience rapt. She has created a huge life for herself. A writer’s life. Awed by her confidence and poise, I was surprised to find she is also funny, and witty. Bel Canto was the novel that put her over the top. And earned her the alias, “Opera Girl.” But it was the memoir, Truth & Beauty, that drew me in.

The Write Kind Of Jazz, live jazz quartet, night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty; A Friendship, on MPR's Talking Volumes, Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved My friend, Teri, read the book for one of Natalie Goldberg’s workshops. Then attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop last summer (where much of the book takes place). She suggested I read it. Along with Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face.

Suddenly, it was October, and Teri, Liz, and I grabbed dinner at Mickey’s Diner before walking across Exchange Street into the bustling, sold-out crowd at the Fitzgerald.

We found split seats tucked way in the left corner, right under the balcony. Opening with an airline joke about her lost luggage, Ann Patchett sat across from Kerri Miller wearing black Jazzin' With Ann Patchett & Kerri Miller, Ann Patchett & Kerri Miller enjoying the live jazz quartet at the Fitzerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. jeans, black boots, and a burnt orange scarf. Casual. It didn’t matter. Her comments on grief and loss stilled the room. It was her grieving process for Lucy that became Truth & Beauty. There was no tour when the book came out. She seemed happy to talk about the healing.

Part II.

At times, Ann had the audience in stitches. Other moments, there were tears. Later she would joke with us, pose for a few photos, and sign our books. She seemed glad to be there.

I listened with hungry ears. Teri and I nudged each other anytime we heard some snippet of wisdom, another link in the chain of making our way as writers. Liz took notes in the seat behind us (thanks, Liz!). And every once in a while we would explode into laughter at one of Ann’s jokes.

I soaked it all up. What did I learn?

  • She doesn’t have to write every day. She has no rituals or rules.
  • She doesn’t write between books. She rests.
  • After writing her books, she lets them go. She doesn’t read them again. She doesn’t even remember Bel Canto. She’s moved on.
  • The idea that’s cookin’ may not be the book at all.
  • Writing a novel is about faking it with authority.
  • Two words: pen pal. She has close pen pals.
  • A new definition of pornography was forged when Clemson University (in South Carolina) strenuously objected to Truth & Beauty being on the freshman class syllabus, claiming it was filled with “pornography.” There was a protest; Ann needed a bodyguard to make her speech.
  • Profound, close relationships between two women scare a lot of people.
  • Run, Bambi, Run!
  • The center cannot hold; the falcon cannot hear the falconer.
  • When you write a new book and go on tour, people really want you to talk about the last book because that’s the one they last read. (In this case, the last two books.)
  • She met her best friend and writer, Elizabeth McCracken, during the living of Truth & Beauty. She trusts her with her life.
  • She writes 98 percent for herself, 2 percent for Elizabeth, and no one else.
  • You can’t put love on the scales.
  • In her mid 30’s, she had no knowledge of opera, had never been to an opera, had never listened to an opera. But after Bel Canto, when something goes on in the world of opera, The New York Times calls “Opera Girl.”
  • Research brings her a lot of joy. She hates magic. Why? Magic is the most misogynist art form in the world
  • No experience matches the moment she finished her first published novel, The Patron Saint Of Liars.
  • She was two blocks away from the World Trade Center when it went down. She was holding someone’s hand. 

Part III.

               The Fitzgerald Theater (Outside), night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

The Fitzgerald Theater (Outside), night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, on MPR’s Talking Volumes, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

What I want to say is that Ann was inspiring. She didn’t pull any punches. She was at the same time vulnerable and strong. Very strong. She knows how to take the criticism of her readers, and the country. She mentors others, gives back. But also seems like she guards her time with her life.

The day after we saw her at the Fitz, she flew to Dallas. Or somewhere in the heart of Texas. The tour went on. I smiled when I thought about her missing luggage. I wondered if Run would do well. But I could tell it wouldn’t matter all that much. She’s already moved on. She’s looking in the eyes of a stranger, waiting for the next book. She’s doing what she’s wanted to do since she was 5 years old. She never wavered for a moment. She’s a writer.

In the moment of our death, we are closest to our life. And the person who is with us at that moment is the person that we desperately need. Because they’re the only person who really understands what we’ve been through.

  – Ann Patchett, Fitzgerald Theater, October 16th, 2007

Part IV.

Post Script:  Don’t take my word for any of this. To hear Ann speak about ichthyology, magic, Bel Canto, bodyguards, Opera Girl (and to find out whose hand she was holding), listen to her talk in its entirety at the link below (you might even recognize a familiar voice during the audience Q&A):

Live appearance: Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Patchett discussed “Run” with Kerri Miller and the Talking Volumes audience at the Fitzgerald Theater.

Related links you might enjoy:

Seattle Arts and Lectures: Elizabeth McCracken & Ann Patchett
Novelists, 5th Avenue Theatre, January 10, 2000

StarTribune Article on Ann Patchett
Setting Her Own Pace, October 2007
(you may have to register and log in to read)

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC: WHAT HAVE YOU LOST & F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Birthday Celebration

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Dios Mío, pen and ink and pencil, November 2007, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Here is a test. For the next five minutes, list every emotion you can think of. Write as fast as you can. Don’t stop to think.

How many did you come up with? Ten? Twenty?

I could make something up and say, 30 and over means you have a rich emotional vocabulary and, thus, deep emotional intelligence. Ten and under means you need help.

Ah, but this isn’t really a test. This is an exercise to bring light to the richness of human emotion.

Happiness and sadness and anger are like green and blue and red. Primary colors. A writer needs a broad palette.

So, after you’ve made your list of emotions (and grown it a bit as you remember all the emotions you forgot the first time you made the list), pick one. Use it as a prompt for a fifteen-minute writing practice.

Write everything you know about that emotion — when you’ve owned it, when it has owned you, how you’ve used it, why you gravitate toward it or avoid it, where you got it from. If your 15 minutes are up yet you still have more to say, keep writing. Go as deep as you can with that emotion.

Emotion. In motion. Go.

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I don’t often lose things. Keys, gloves, hats, mittens, I usually own them for life. I don’t know why that is. I tend to be pretty grounded and track on a minute by minute basis. It’s changed as I’ve gotten older. I have more spaciness. I attribute it to hormonal shifts in the brain and the body.

Last December, after I moved from an apartment I’d lived in for 14 years, I lost track of everything. I purged and got rid of things quickly, off to Goodwill and ARC and Salvation Army. Art studio items were boxed up and moved to storage. I didn’t know what I was living with and what I’d given away or stacked into the garage.

I still don’t know. I recently drove over near the lake to grab a few boxes out of storage. I ended up with about 10 piled inside the Camry, and now stacked by the piano in our living room. In two of them, I found the documents I needed. One bent box, with my scribbled handwriting of 10 years ago, contained a stack of old journals. I’m thinking I may toss them or burn them. I need to see what’s on the page.

Before I did writing practice, my journals were filled with intellectual analyzing and the day-to-day trivia of love and life. So what’s changed? A lot. I can’t stand to read the old stuff. But it does have details that I might use in my memoir. It’s just so boring. I guess this could be considered boring, too. But usually by the end of a practice, I’ve gotten down to some little tidbit that I didn’t know about myself before.

Losing face. The mask. I’ve felt a lot of shame over the course of living. It’s been a long haul to turn it around into confidence. To let go. To know that the choices I make and the things I do are not me. They are choices I make and things I do. Many women feel some form of shame. I know because I hear them talk about it or act from that place in their heart. I recognize it. If you know what to look for, no one can hide.

I often wished to be lost. To never have to grow up. The better I feel about day-to-day living, the more fond I am of the notion of adult. It’s not necessarily easy to think the way artists and writers think. To pull the grub into the heart and spit it back out in words or images that ping the feeling in others. You’ve got to be willing to take in all the crap life has to dish out.

I’ve lost my way a few times. Felt completely ungrounded. Like when I was 21 and moved to Montana. One day I was in Pennsylvania. The next I was flying into Missoula. The only ground I could find were the mountains that captured me the minute I stepped off the plane, held me, and never let go. I still dream about them sometimes, especially the Bitterroots where I spent time stripping logs and digging foundations for the cabins my friends were building.

When I see photographs of myself at that time, I have this lost look in my eyes. I don’t recognize the 20-year-old body. What happened to that? I’m staring at the camera, eyes clear and hazel blue. But where are they going?

Here. They were going here. To the place I’ve landed. The last 10 years have been more about letting go and letting in a bigger life. I didn’t think I deserved a bigger life. What do I think now? There are givers and takers. And they live side by side. I’ve given away too much. But no regrets.

The wind’s whipping through the naked oaks outside the window. I’m waiting for the contractor to come power wash the deck in preparation for sanding, shoring up, and painting. There is a wobble in the pine rails and floorboards. But the foundation is solid. The peeling paint is tinted from the green of arsenic. The contractor said that’s what they used to use to preserve building wood. He said arsenic is not used anymore. But the chemical they’ve come up with to replace it is no better.

That’s the way I feel this morning. Wobbly and solid. Not lost. Not found. I’m here on the couch beside Pants who is curled up in a pile of lime green and hot pink tissue paper. It was wrapped around the Halloween bouquet a few days ago. He quietly cleans himself. The paper crinkles under his ear. It seems to comfort him. Cats never seem lost. They know to follow their instincts. I’m learning to listen.


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Rudy, he was found by Jenny. He was in a ditch, a puppy, and I picture him barely holding on, clinging to the side like balsa wood that gets caught with the foam and bobs about before finally being pulled under.

Things found, I’ve found interesting stores, although they’re not really found. If you think about the word “found” or “discovered,” you realize nothing is actually ever lost, necessarily. Columbus “found” America, yet here were the indigenous peoples, Aztecs and others, just living and being, not wanting at all to be discovered.

I’ve found finds, my mind keeps traveling back to Asian antiques or modern outdoor furniture, like those places I stumbled on in the Pearl District in Portland Tuesday night. I’ve found great restaurants.

Oh how I wish I could write about finding something else, a pure find, like finding my inner artist, finding a piece of my heart that was frozen or not functioning, discovering a new compassion, a kindness for people or animals or children, my own. That’s the kind of discovery I want to make.

I want to discover the warmth of Dad’s hands, his perfect fingernails, how meaty yet solid his palm is, like it’s built-up muscle, and I want to discover the deep understanding of why a father’s hand can be so powerful.

I want to see on Dee’s chin the same beauty mark that belonged to Mom, find it there, as if I had never noticed that Mom lost it (of course she did, she had it burned off years ago).

-NOTE: I did this writing practice with one of my writing groups.

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Things that are lost, and really I feel like taking a gulp of my coffee. I feel like lying on my tummy at Dr. L’s place and having him adjust whatever it is I lost and has been relocated just behind my shoulder blade. Maybe he’ll find a little trinket, one of Em’s sparkly necklace pendants that she picks up.

Things that are lost, and I picture myself at age 9, or 7, standing on the inside of a women’s clothing rack. I am in the hollow in the center, and all around me are the slacks and skirts and blouses on hangers. I have torn off the bottom half of each price tag, the portion normally taken by the saleswoman when she checks you out. I’ve collected a stack of them, quietly and without drawing attention to what I am doing, while Mom shops.

And now, standing in this center of the rack, in the semi-darkness, I feel lost. Lost in an urban center or lost in a crowd, lost in a stack of clothing, lost while all around me I hear voices of mothers like mine, talking to the salesgirls or to one another, but not to other children. I am alone in my size and in the fact that my mother drags me on her shopping trips. Lost to her, I am like a purse or the lipstick, something to remember about before and after but not in between.

Lost, I am a lost thing found, now, sitting here. My coffee still beckons, coffee is never a lost thing. It dawns on me that some objects, persons, places, things have a lost energy to them, others a found energy. Or maybe it’s not found as much as landed. Solid, rooted, and that’s the way I want to go. If I am on a road traveling, I wouldn’t mind being lost if I knew in my heart I were found.

Lost, lost in space, lost in a world. Keys, wallets, credit cards, what are the things in my life that are lost? I’ve lost jewelry, the blue-and-white round earrings I borrowed of Dee’s. I’ve lost clothing, I couldn’t find my green sweater and later it turned up in Em’s chest of drawers.

-NOTE: I did this writing practice with one of my writing groups.

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Um, hel-loooo… can someone let me in?
They’re lining up to do a drumline.*

Hey, you just let Rafie in. Come on, you guys.
Don’t leave
me out here alone with ’em.

OK. Everyone into formation. Not you, duck.

Quacky idea…stupid turkeys. Hmmph!

Line ’em up, turkeys, straight and narrow!

Watch this…they’re fluffin’ up for the finale…

Woo-hoo, show some tail! Duck, get out!

We’re done…let’s get the flock outta here.
Wait a sec, is there any food?

*Drumline = a name suggested by one of red Ravine’s readers during a lively conversation about what to name our 11 “turklets.”

These turkeys are so advanced that they took it upon themselves to learn amazing turkey tricks, such as “doing the Drumline.”

Perhaps they were scared into action upon hearing some of the other names suggested, namely Butterball, Giblet, Barbie-Q, Stove Top, and Drumstick.

Although we’d like the turkeys to be wild, they haven’t taken well to the idea. Still, we have high hopes that these turkeys will make a mark in this world (and I’m not talking about turkey scat), forever burying the notion that they might be better served on a platter this Thanksgiving.

[Oh, and, the photos? Taken with my cell phone camera. Still waiting…]

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