Archive for April, 2008

I look in the mirror before I start writing but I can’t hold my own gaze. My nose is red from crying, eyes small. My skin is blotchy, and I am critical of my hair. It seems to get pulled straight by its own weight. I want my curls back.

Dad tells me this morning that Onofre is on — and then Dad can’t find the words. I wait, I’m thinking “life support,” but I don’t want to say it. Surely he’s not on life support.

You know how it is with far-away aunts and uncles, you see them three, four years ago. The time Onofre’s kids drove him to the casino near Española and we drove up from Albuquerque to meet him. We all had casino buffet: deep-fried shrimp and chicken-fried steak, green beans from a can, with canned mushroom soup for sauce and bread crumbs on top. Casino buffet food that we all oohed and aahed over, even me. And then the next year we see Uncle Onofre at his house in Pueblo, and all his kids set out a feast for lunch, white bread and wheat, roast beef, turkey, ham, bologna, three kinds of cheese, mayonnaise in a small bowl, potato salad. Beer.

Hospice. Dad finally says it. He remembers the word, that sounds like “hostile” but means something totally different.

Dad hasn’t lost a sibling since Mabel, and she died young; it’s been years. I don’t even remember how long ago. Onofre is younger than Dad by two years, they called him “Cielito” when they were kids, Little Sky, for his wide, sunny disposition. He whistled and sang, smiled a toothless smile, we called him “Uncle Bear” because he had a barrel chest and even when I was a kid I remember the hair on his chest popping over the top of his shirt. He was in-the-moment, spontaneous, huggable, not as cerebral as his brothers, skinny arms compared to his big chest. I remember the first time we visited them in Pueblo, they had an outhouse for a toilet and after our visit was over, I wished we’d never go back.

Not anymore. Now they live in a regular house, small but nice couch, chairs, just like the rest of us. So how did we get from the casino lunch buffet to the sandwich smorgesborg to the hospice? Via outdoor plumbing and hairy chest and bear hugs. Just like that it’s almost over.

I’m not sure why I’m crying for Onofre. I think I might be crying for me, for not being able to hold on to the girl I once was. For not being able to hold on to Dad, his big hands full of tremor and fear. For having to take Mom to the doctor, to see what’s wrong with her back, to do a Stress Test, to fix the bloody noses. I gently suggest that doctors don’t have all the answers, that maybe she should go see my alternative doctor. Mom gently doesn’t hear what I have to say.

It’s windy again today. I’m agitated and this cup of black tea doesn’t help. I can’t stop the wind, can’t stop time, can’t take away any of the moments lived. Once I remember talking on the phone to Dad, long ago, when I was in my 20s and thought we all had forever left. He said something to me, I can’t even get a taste now of was it Politics or Work or Family? All I remember was my pure and complete response, FUCK YOU! I hung up and sat there, having just told my dad those words, I wasn’t even scared, just angry and relieved, the way you can sometimes get relief from certain actions.

This morning I ask Dad if he wants to go to Pueblo to see Onofre before he dies. No, he says, and he doesn’t offer why. If he dies in Spring, they’ll cremate him now but hold a memorial service this summer, when all the old people can be outside in Colorado.

That’s not the same as seeing him before he dies, I think. I don’t push it. I know it would be hard, but I am kind of surprised. I guess it’s the part of me who refuses to accept that my parents aren’t up for anything anytime.


-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER

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I’m looking at my ruddy face in a small, round, silver mirror. I look older than I remember. Thick eyebrows, salt and pepper hair; it looks the grayest to me right after a haircut. There is something about the way it lays across the black plastic smock, and falls in shredded pieces on to the floor. Accents of changing color. I don’t mind. It is my grandmother’s hair.

I have a little pouch under my chin. I hate to admit it. Blue eyes that used to be hazel. More blue with age. I don’t often look in a mirror. Once in the morning after my shower to spike my hair. I’m a fluff and blow person, not much fiddling around. I look in the mirror when I brush my teeth. That seems strange and I don’t know why I do it. I am looking into a mirror now. It was suggested in the Writing Topic on growing older; I thought it might push me (over the edge?).

The body gives out, breaks down. Elasticity is lost; wisdom gained. I don’t have a problem aging. Life is easier now than it was 20 years ago. I’m 34x happier. I worry that I won’t get everything done I want to do before I die. That goes back to the Bucket List. I don’t have any control over that. I am where I am. I’m in my 50’s.

Fifty used to seem ancient to me. Forty seemed ancient, too. I couldn’t imagine being 30. Decades have passed. The older I get, the more I know who I am. I have this theory about aging. I believe people become one of two things:  happier and more settled in who they are. Or angry and bitter. That’s black and white. I’m sure there is gray. It’s something I have noticed. And so I keep watching to prove my theory right.

Old, cranky, bitter, judging, hoarding, fighting imperfection, not able to accept that the body is aging. Graceful, happier, wiser, content with who they are, willing to not be perfect, to pass the torch, giving what they have to the next generations to come.

Maya Angelou turned 80 years old on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Do you think Martin knew he would not live to grow old? Or that Maya thought she would reach the age of 80? There were many articles written about her on April 4th. She is of the giving and wise variety. Yet she hasn’t shrunk from her responsibilities — as a woman, as a writer.

If Martin Luther King were alive, he would be one year younger than Maya. She was an aid to his cause, all those years ago. She still speaks for him through the way she lives her life. Think of everything she has seen.

I ran into a conversation between Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey. Maya, one of Oprah’s mentors, was talking about living according to your principles. She is a Clinton supporter, and under constant pressure, remains loyal to Hillary. She has written a poem for her. Oprah is outspoken for Obama. They debate, have long conversations. They each stand strong, loyal to their candidates. They are respectful. They remain friends.

You can talk about spiritual principles. Or you can live by them. Talk is easy. Cheap. Principles are the hardest to uphold when we want something. Or in the face of adversity. Angelou said courage is the most important principle – because without it, you can’t really live up to the others. We might think we want to live at all costs. And then something comes along we are willing to die for.

If you think about Dr. King, he had an offer to go back to a seminary and teach for a year right before he died. He wanted to go. To rest. But he knew it would feel like he wasn’t fulfilling his obligations. So he stayed true to his vision. And went to Memphis to support the sanitation workers. He marched at the front of the line, even though he was tired, worn out. And he dropped his head in despair when a group of young marchers at the end of the line erupted in violence. Maybe at the end, he felt old. He was not perfect. He was human.

I started thinking about Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King and their great courage. I pale in comparison. When I look at what they have each been through, I wonder why I complain about the obstacles that fall my way. But I have learned not to compare myself. Not to anyone. Not to other artists, or writers, or teachers. My demons are mine. I earned every age spot, wrinkle, and wart. I’m not young anymore. Yet I am the most alive inside I have ever felt.

Growing older — it is harder to keep the weight off. I could lose 20 pounds. You can’t see that on a blog. My friends look to my vibrant Spirit. My family loves me unconditionally. So does my partner. The mirror tells me I look sad. Tired. But my eyes are bright. My heart feels heavy. It will not last. It will pass. When I think about dying, I think about looking down on loved ones, urging them on toward their dreams, smiling, holding the space. The way my grandmothers Ada and Elise do for me.

When I visit the South with my mother, we often visit gravestones under plantation magnolias in ancient cemeteries. The history is there. We didn’t create it. But we carry it. We walk among the dead, recall living memories. The pilgrimage, for me, is to pay my respects. To those who have come before. I am in the lineage of the Southern mothers, fathers, grandfathers, great aunts, and grandmothers whose graves I visit. They are not there. My memories of them are.

I drive past the homes where relatives used to live. Some remain in the family. Some belong to complete strangers. I don’t know them. I never will. But I have to bear witness. I don’t want the dead to be forgotten. I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to be remembered. And so I remember and honor others.

Visiting graveyards, a wrinkle in time. The living commingling with the dead. It might sound morose. But I don’t think of it that way. In Kit Carson Memorial cemetery, Mabel is buried not far from the black, wrought iron around the Carson plot. She would not be amused. The more I think about it, the more I want to be scattered to the wind, high over some tiny, rocky beach on the Oregon Coast. No gravestone. No marker. I want to be remembered as a free spirit. Though no writer ever feels free.

I’m staring in the mirror again. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

You are.

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, April 11th, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER and the post, 40 Years

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Rubber Stamp, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Rubber Stamp, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 100-year-old maple floors of the Casket Arts Building, April 3rd, 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

ink covers rubber
thunder blizzard covers spring
paper covers wood


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, April 10th, 2008

-related to posts:  haiku (one-a-day), WRITING TOPIC – TOOLS OF THE TRADE, ybonesy’s PRACTICE: Tools Of The Trade – 20min

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By Carolyn Flynn

For red Ravine

SAGE Editor, author and redRavine.com contributor Carolyn Flynn recently attended “An Evening with Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Lamott” on the UCLA campus.


To loosen up before writing a new book, Elizabeth Gilbert invites one person to join her and live inside her head. She says she wrote Eat Pray Love as a letter to her friend Darcy. “You should never begin unless you have in mind one person,” Gilbert says. “It’s good if you choose somebody who likes you.”

Gilbert is before an audience at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus with Anne Lamott, author of Operating Instructions and Traveling Mercies, and they are sharing tattoos and exchanging metaphors because that’s what writers do when they get together. “Like my boots?” Gilbert says, clicking her toes together, then her heels, “I’m acting like a second grader,” she says.

Gilbert has just introduced Lamott and everyone is laughing. My son is slapping his knee and nearly falling on the floor. Gilbert confesses that she was so giddy when Lamott blurbed her book that she drank two margaritas and ate an entire bag of Halloween candy. When she called Lamott to thank her, she thought about chirping out that charming anecdote, but then, she says, “I realized that might not be the most professional way to introduce myself.”

Now, with 4 million copies of Eat Pray Love sold, their lecture agents have brought them together for two nights of conversation — here at Royce Hall and the next night on Lamott’s home turf in Marin County, California. It’s a rare evening that’s been waiting to happen for about the past four years, starting back with that crisis point in Gilbert’s life when she was going through a highly charged divorce and a gut-wrenching breakup with her transitional relationship (“It didn’t work. No one could see that coming,” she says, deadpanning). Gilbert was planning her trip to Italy, India and Indonesia that would be the tableau for Eat Pray Love and pitching the idea to her editor.

But a book about spirituality was a tough sell. We’re talking about people who say “fuck” eight times before breakfast but can’t say the G-word, Gilbert says. And forget about the J-word. She told her editor, “But don’t worry, I feel like I can tell that story, kind of like Anne Lamott would.”

And so the seed of a great pairing was born. Gilbert breaks away from the format that the writers’ lecture agents prescribed for them and introduces Lamott to the audience. “If she had not done this, there wouldn’t have been a path,” she says. “She proved to the world that you can write about divinity in a way that does not make intelligent people want to projectile vomit.”

That blurb that prompted Gilbert’s ecstatic binge on fun-size M&Ms meant a lot. “If she liked the book, if she did blurb me, then it was a stamp of authenticity: It’s safe to read this.”

Thoughts on Faith

Then Lamott reads her story, “Ski Patrol,” from Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. Again, my son’s sides are splitting with giddy laughter, maybe because he relates to Lamott’s son’s embarrassment about her feeble attempts to ski, a lack of grace he can easily picture in his own mother. In the story, Lamott takes a rather ungraceful and ill-advised leap from the chair lift and lands in a contorted heap in a mound of snow. She has no other choice but to ask for help, she says, “something I force myself to do every four to five years.” But she believes that help will always come — eventually. For instance, she says, “America will heal from the Bush years — eventually.”

After her reading, the two writers sit in comfy chairs like we’re all just in their living room. Lamott launches the conversation with, “So what’s your favorite question for an interviewer to ask you?” But she follows with this question, before Gilbert can answer: “Are you on any particular spiritual path?”

Gilbert admits to “cherry-picking” in Eat Pray Love but says we should not be apologetic about embracing a diversity of spiritual beliefs. Spirituality is evolving, and many of the current structures aren’t a perfect fit. If she had to say just one, it would the yogic path, which led her to the ashram in India. “Buddhism makes the most sense intellectually, but it doesn’t grab my heart,” Gilbert says.

Part of her needs the messiness of not having just one path, Gilbert says, but she tells Lamott she admires her for being anchored in one church community, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City, California. “You have one place that’s your home,” Gilbert says. “I admire that. While drinking from many wells.”

Lamott, who describes her church as the one with the scraggly Charlie Brown Christmas tree and the ragged hearts, says it was just the right place for her. “I am very devout, but I don’t have certainty or conviction. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it’s certainty.”

Though many people look to her for wisdom, she says she’s unqualified to answer spiritual questions that the greatest minds of the world have explored, such as how to explain suffering. “I’m just a post-alcoholic, post-menopausal tired person. I don’t know.”

Lamott’s down-to-earth spirituality is easy to embrace. “Like everybody else, I forget it. I think things into the ground.” But it’s very simple. It’s about how you live and how you respond to suffering. All traditions know this. “When you see suffering, you don’t look away.” Lamott was raised in an atheist home with a strong social justice orientation, so her faith is through the lens of helping others. “If I want to feel really loving, I need to do loving things,” she says. “Faith without works is dead.”

Gilbert notes that when she examined the arc of Lamott’s work, she saw an evolution from Operating Instructions, Lamott’s memoir of the first year of her son’s life, which came not too long after she got sober. Lamott was a single mom who hadn’t planned on raising a baby boy on her own. Gilbert notes that in Operating Instructions there were “so many shredded edges,” but now Lamott has raised a son to adulthood and written three books on faith and people are coming to her.

But Lamott won’t say it’s easier for her. “When I wake up in the morning, I’m mentally ill.” All of her obsessive-compulsive disorders and addiction tendencies have woken up already and made the coffee and they’re sitting on the bed. “I have written so many books. People think it goes well for me.” But she says, “Humor and laughter are carbonated forms of holiness.”

On Writing: A Work Ethic and a Little Grace

Neither writer says it’s easy to write. Neither says she has any discipline whatsoever. Gilbert tells a story about the poet Ruth Stone, who would receive poems fully formed in her imagination. Her challenge was racing up from the strawberry fields back to the house to get a pen and paper and get it down before it left. To this, Lamott says, “I’ve never heard of Ruth Stone until now, but she is now my mortal enemy.”

For example, Lamott says, it took her two weeks to write the 1,500 words in “Ski Patrol.” Her first prayer in the morning, when she’s greeted with all of her demons is “God, help me get out of the way so that what needs to be written can be written.” For her, the process is to work really hard to get the “shitty first draft” that she writes about in Bird by Bird, her book about writing, and the rest is getting out of the way. “Everything is five or six drafts.”

Gilbert calls it the “angel and the plow mule,” harkening to her Calvinist work ethic Connecticut upbringing. “This is my job. I’m the plow mule,” she says. She believes that if she works hard enough, the angel will come along and put the moving sidewalk under your plow.

“For artists, the enemy is perfectionism,” Lamott comments to this. When you are writing, you are finding out slowly what it is. “You have to un-learn everything they told you. You have to waste paper.”

The Auntie Brigade

Gilbert has not taken the path of motherhood, and Lamott asks about that. Gilbert attributes much of her angst in her 20s and early 30s to grieving that. She knew she wasn’t going to have children, by choice.

She says when you examine any human settlement in any culture, any time, you’ll find a very consistent 10 to 20 percent of females who don’t have children. It’s so consistent, that she has concluded that it’s a genetic necessity to have a cadre of adult, caring, compassionate women who do not have their own children. She calls it the “Auntie Brigade,” and she likes to think of herself as a “sparent” — a spare parent. “I feel a kinship with those women,” Gilbert says, adding an aside that she has since married her sweetheart from Eat Pray Love.

“What’s the most important thing you know?” Lamott asks her.

“Gentleness,” Gilbert says. She’s learned how to be gentle with herself, like the “older sister, older me” in Eat Pray Love. This is the older, wiser self who will say, “You want to do that? Well, that’s OK. You know it didn’t work out so well the last time. But if you really need to do that, you can do that.” She’s learned to trust that wise counsel, which grants her free will with compassion.

The Abyss

“You haven’t asked, but I’m going to tell you,” Lamott says. “What’s the most important thing I know? We’re all afraid.”

Lamott, who takes the spotlight for a bit to sound off on the presidential election, says in America, we’re all walking around with “this sheet metal loneliness.” American culture is about disguising that. “In America, if you do fall into the abyss, you go shopping. Go to Ikea and buy a throw rug.”

This “sheet metal loneliness” is protecting us from the dark night of the soul, Lamott says. We are very fearful, “but truth and beauty win out. The right thing will happen.”


Photos of Gilbert and Lamott from authors’ websites; photo of Lamott by
Mark Richards; book photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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Streaked Window, today’s view, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




there’s a tree outside
it has tiny yellow blossoms
glowing in the dark




-related to post: haiku (one-a-day)


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One Year Today, celebrating the one-year anniversary of red Ravine, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


QuoinMonkey: I can’t believe it’s been a year since we launched red Ravine!

ybonesy: Me neither. It’s felt more like ten. (laughs) Just kidding. But I am amazed at how much energy it takes and how some days I have the energy and other days I don’t. Fortunately, one thing I’ve learned is, what goes out eventually returns.

QM: Yeah, I know what you mean. The blog has become part of our practice, and just like with any practice, sometimes you get fried and have to refuel. It’s nice to be in it with a partner. When you’re down, I’ve got your back. When I’m down, you’ve got mine. Could you ever imagine doing this on your own?

yb: No way. There’s the daily or near daily posting and maintenance of the blog, and then there’s the whole putting yourself out there part. For me, that exposure is the piece I might not be able to deal with if it weren’t for the fact that you’re out here, too.

QM: That’s so true. Hey, I want to say that I really I appreciate you. Even though we are different people and have different styles, we work well together. And I value our differences.

yb: Thanks, QM. I appreciate you, too. After a year working together so closely, I’ve come to value the time you take with things, the quality you put into everything you do. Now when I do a post, I take more time with it. I look at the spacing and layout and wonder, what would QM think about this visually?

QM: I do that, too. I’ll post something because I think, ybonesy would do it now. And you take risks, which encourages me to take risks in areas I might not otherwise.

yb: One year later I can honestly say, I’m glad we did this. You’re right — it is a practice. It keeps me moving and producing every day, every week. It inspires me creatively. I have to say, it’s even influenced me in terms of getting my writing room together and thinking about my personal style more seriously. What do you think? Are you up for one more year?

QM: (laughs) Yep. One more year, one day at a time. I gain so much from our faithful community of readers. Creatively, the practice of keeping an art and writing community blog going, fuels my individual creative projects. Count me in. What about you? One more year?

yb: Absolutely! I’d miss the blog and our blogging community — and working with you! — if I didn’t have it. Hey, the other question I have is, What two or three things would you like to accomplish in Year 2?

QM: I’d like to integrate red Ravine into the rest of my creative projects, move it to the next level — with our readers out on the Internet, and with my teaching, writing, and art on the ground in Minneapolis. I’d also like to take more public risks in my writing. We know who our readers are – the same people who will be reading our books. So I’d like to take more risks, while still honoring the mission and vision we set for red Ravine. What are your goals?

yb: Similar ones. The integration with the rest of my stuff — that’s key. And taking to the next level both the blog and my own writing and art. Oh, and speaking of taking risks, this might be the year to figure out what to do about our identities. Do I become ybonesy, or does ybonesy become me? Can we be interchangeable, and how do I assuage concerns I have about safety and Internet identity? Lots to figure out.

QM: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about identity, too. Especially as I’ve been moving into the new art and writing studio and want to share what I’ve learned on red Ravine. I’m open to clarity. If we stay as committed as we are now, and continue to treat this work as a practice, the answers will come. We won’t be tossed away.

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The Face of Winter, Minnesota, February 2008, photo<br /> © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Face Of Winter, Medicine Lake, Minnesota, February 2008, photo
© 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

When photographer Peter Haakon Thompson came up with the Art Shanty Projects in 2003, he never meant for it to become a huge event. The original plan was to take a break from work, build his own ice shack, and hang out with a couple of friends. When Liz and I attended the event last February, during some of the coldest winter days on record, it was obvious his idea had caught fire in Minnesota.

Midwesterners are known for creative ways to weather the dark winter seasons. If we stayed inside through the long months of winter (we had an end of March blizzard just last weekend), we’d surely go insane. To break the lethargy of cabin fever, we are prone to brave the elements and get our butts outside. What better way than a venture into the Arts.

Angles, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Which Way's Up?, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Paw Print, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Tilt, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Top Of The World, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sun Under Clouds, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Cub-I-Cle, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Spaceship On Ice, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Stuffy In Here, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

In a 2005 MPR article on The Art Shanty Projects, Peter explains how he got started: “I just really liked the idea of small spaces that you can fit everything into,” says Thompson. “I’m a sailor and I really like sailboats and how everything fits into that small space.”

Once Thompson’s friend David Pittman heard about the project, he immediately saw potential. The Art Shanty Project, co-curated by Pittman and Thompson, was born.

I Love Medicine Lake, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Freeze Pop Pullover, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Moon Angle, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Ships Pass In The Night, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Postal Shanty, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Woodburner - The Black Box Theater, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Airplane Ice Shanty, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Inside Out, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Biking Across Medicine Lake, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Artists dove deep into their right-brain imaginations to reinvent the ice fishing house. What’s limnology? What about a portrait in the Snap Shot Shanty? Or a visit to the Shanty of Misfit Toys. This year, Old Man Winter would have been chuckling under frigid, billowing puffs of breath. Because on the coldest day of Winter 2008, Minnesota families of all ages showed up at East Medicine Lake Beach to do the bunny hop.

“Part of the idea I think for us is that this is not an intimidating gallery environment,” says Thompson. “So I think people are more willing to come and look at stuff if it just doesn’t have that quiet gallery atmosphere. It’s outside and there’s kids and dogs running around and snowmobiles.”

See Through Walls (Photo Shanty), Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Sails Up, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  MoonAngle, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Through The Mask, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Cool Screen (Ice Mouse), Medicine Lake, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Skeleton Car, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Horizons, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Through The Windows, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Red Bike, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Art Shanty Project is over for the season. But the memories linger. The Karaoke Shanty, Postal Shanty, Cubicle Shanty (created by a group that designs parking structures), Foreclosure Shanty, and Black Box Theater are closed for the year. The Freeze Pop pullover has been retired. The track for the bicycle ice races, melted into lake. But the Art of Ice lives on in these photographs.

 Hillary, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Around The Corner, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Home, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Blue Reflector, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Have You Hugged A Limnologist Today?, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   The Green Easy, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Two Step, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Ice Ship Reflections, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


    Angles, Medicine Lake, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.      Angles, Medicine Lake, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Angles, Medicine Lake, Minnesota, February 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

To view more photographs and press of the Art Shanty Projects, check out these links:

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, April 6th, 2008

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Heart to Hands, Natalie Goldberg at Bookworks in Albuquerque, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved. (QuoinMonkey started the Writers’ Hands series; this photo is in that fashion yet not of the series. Deep bow to QM for the inspiration.)



It’s been almost a month since I went to Bookworks on Rio Grande Boulevard in Albuquerque’s Rio Grande valley to hear Natalie Goldberg read from her new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.

Bookworks is a small bookstore, one of the few independents left in the city. Every nook is packed with something — books, journals, cards, stationery. It’s the kind of bookstore that makes you feel like you’ve walked into the living room of an eccentric old bibliophile.

It was amazing they fit in as many chairs as they did — four rows, about ten chairs in a row. Which means, 40 of us were sitting — the ones lucky enough or smart enough to get there early. I snagged the last chair, tucked against a bookshelf. I didn’t see it until I’d been standing for ten minutes. I was relieved to sit.

Every other open space in the bookstore was then filled with mostly women, mostly my age or older, standing. They were like water flooding the store. They lined the aisles, one person standing behind another standing behind another. It was vaguely reminiscent of the midnight sale of book seven in the Harry Potter series, except on a smaller scale.

A woman I knew, a recent transplant from Denver, sat two chairs over from me. We leaned in to chat about how excited we were to see Natalie. The woman motioned with her chin around the room. “I can’t believe we didn’t have to stand in the line to get in. If this were in Denver, they’d have to sell tickets, and there’d be a line just to buy the tickets.” She was right. Albuquerque is still a town masquerading as a city.

Natalie arrived late. She was calm; she’s always calm. She tried sitting in the wingback chair they had set up for her in the front of the store, but when she did, she could only see the people in the first row. Instead she pushed aside a display of small bunnies — Easter paraphernalia — and climbed atop a platform normally used for merchandise.

“Ah, that’s better,” she smiled as she looked around the room.


It’s hard this many weeks later to summarize what Natalie said. From my notes, I offer these few gems:

  • Of the recent memoir debacle, where a young memoirist was busted for falsely portraying herself as a half Native American, half-white foster child involved with gangs in South-Central LA, Natalie said that this fabrication and others like it are an indication of how much energy there is around memoir.
  • She said people who want to write memoir sometimes think they need to span their entire lives. Writing memoir isn’t about writing your life — birth to however old you are now. It can be writing about a portion of your life: My life with men. My life with chocolate.
  • Old Friend from Far Away is, according to Natalie, the closest experience you’ll have to being in the classroom with her. Having read several chapters in the book and having spent many weeks in her workshops, I can vouch — it’s as if I’m there all over again.
  • She said the book is structured the way it is for a reason: so readers won’t freeze on any one chapter in the book. No hanging a section like you would a poem on your refrigerator. She wants us to read the whole book; “It was made with the whole mind.”




Natalie read three or so chapters from the book. In one titled “One Thing” (p.247) I recognized immediately a fellow student of Natalie’s who participated in the same year-long intensive that QuoinMonkey and I attended. “Just Sitting — Or Doing the Neola” (p. 82) was inspired by another student. I smile now thinking how much the essence of her students is captured in this book.


               Thank you
               Sky and tree
               Big and small
               Green and red

               The taste of chocolate
               Bread and pinto beans

               This land and other lands

               Past and future
               Human, dog and zebra

               Everything you know–
               And the things you don’t

               Hunger, zest, repetition

               This is for all my students

                          ( ~ the dedication in Old Friend from Far Away)


Of the chapters she read, my favorite was “Fulfilled” (p. 275). Many of us were in tears. The chapter is for us, every one of us who’s ever wanted to write. It’s long for an excerpt, and much as I’ve tried to shorten it, here it is almost in its entirety:


The author Willa Cather believed that if you had a wish for something from a young age–for example, being an opera singer–and you continually made effort at it, you would live a fulfilled life. It didn’t matter if you were on stage at the Metropolitan; maybe you sang in a local theater; perhaps you took lessons and belted it out in the shower and at family gatherings. That was good enough. The important thing was to stay connected with your dream and that effort would result in a basic happiness.
       Cather said that those who gave up carried something painful, cut off inside, and that their lives had a sense of incompleteness.
       Don’t let the light go out. Get to work, even if the going is slow and you have six mouths to feed and two jobs.
       A few years ago I was invited to meet with the creative writing students in a graduate program at a big midwestern university. When I asked what their plans were, eight out of the ten, turning up their empty palms, said, well, the most we can hope for is a job at a community college. We know it’s hard out there in the book world.
       I was quiet and looked down. In their heart of hearts I wanted them to be thinking: Tolstoy, Garcia Lorca, Jane Austen, Proust, Alice Walker, Naguib Mahfouz, Virginia Woolf, Chinua Achebe. They seemed beaten-down, too practical, too rational at such young ages. All of them should have been hungry to step up to the plate and smack the ball home. What happened?
       Great writers do not write so that their readers will feel defeated. They wait for us to blow on the embers and keep the heat going. It is our responsibility. When we understand this, we grow up. We become a woman. We become a man.
       No institution can give you this authority; though you may learn many wonderful things there. Like a little bird, you must open your small beak and feed yourself one drop of rosewater at a time, then a kernel of corn, a single sesame seed, even a tiny pebble. Keep nourishing yourself on great writers. You will grow from the inside out and stand up on the page.
       No protest, no whining. Right now take a nibble of bread. Make a bit of effort. It does not have to be enormous. Just go in the right direction and the trees, insects, clouds, bricks of buildings will make a minute turning with you and salute you.


After Natalie signed my book and I snapped shots of her signing it and the person’s behind me, I said goodbye, tucked my camera into my pocket, and turned to leave. Natalie called out to me: “Send everyone my love on the blog.”



-related to posts, Natalie Goldberg — Old Friend From Far Away (Two Good Reasons to Buy Independent), Natalie Goldberg — 2000 Years Of Watching The Mind, Beginner’s Mind, More About The Monkey

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Shadow Of A Bridge, looking out from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, outside of Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, Tri-X, black and white film photo © 2003-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Shadow Of A Bridge (The Journey), looking out from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, outside of Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, C-41 color film photo © 2003-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

                                                      ~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


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Sarah (Book of Genesis), gouache on wooden board retablo,
painting © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

You can’t stop it. The tick-tock of the clock.

Once I heard someone say that time doesn’t pass (as if we’re standing still and time flows on by); instead, we pass through time.

Perhaps you don’t want to stop the passage of time. Maybe you’re one of those people who believes that, like fine wine, we just get better with age.

An MSNBC article that came out in 2007 cited research indicating that even people who develop chronic illness late in life have a good chance of living to the age of 100. The key is lifestyle. Good nutrition, exercise, and avoiding smoking all can attribute to longevity.

According to the 2000 census, the U.S. boasted more than 50,000 centenarians at that time, and the number of people aged 100 or more is expected to double by 2010.



How do you approach aging? Is it something you look forward to or something you dread?

The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.
                              ~Frank Lloyd Wright

Time wounds all heels.
                               ~Dorothy Parker

Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breadth of the universe, old age flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.
                              ~Edith Wharton

Perhaps you’re dealing with aging parents and have gotten a glimpse of what is to come. (Da golden years, my foot! More like da-crepit years!)


Take a look at yourself in the mirror. Examine closely all the places where your skin gives away the aging process. Check out your crow’s feet. Does your brow carry the worry of your life? How about the spot between your eyebrows?

Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
                              ~Mark Twain

Think of all the ways we talk about aging. Growing old gracefully. No spring chicken. Past one’s prime. One foot in the grave. Senile, advanced, in decline, geriatric, antiquated, ancient, hag, wrinkled, winter of life. Older but wiser.

As we grow old, the beauty steals inward.
                              ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am not young enough to know everything.
                              ~Oscar Wilde

Write about growing older. Write about it whether it matters to you greatly or not. Write about the passage of time as if time is running out. (It is.) Write, write, write. For 15 minutes. For the rest of your life. Now go.

Once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.
                              ~Charles M. Shultz


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descending, Taos Mountain at sunset, Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, photo © 2003-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

descending, Taos Mountain in winter, Taos, New Mexico, C-41 color film print, January 2003, photo © 2003-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Taos Mountain sunset
holds a fading memory
yellow snaps of sage

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

-related to post: haiku (one-a-day)

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Van Morrison is on in the background singing, They Sold Me Out. Later…Jools Holland. The sky is lit up at 7:51. A few months ago, dark by 4pm. I’m thinking about Mrs. Blume, my 4th grade teacher. She said her son, Jules had a crush on me. Why? Because my hair looked like Patty Duke. Swirl, schwish, swoop under the chin.

But this writing practice is about Tools of the Trade. It’s hard to dive right in. I splayed everything out on the couch beside me. The bucket of Kid’s Crafts 100 FineLine Markers, The Crayola GlitterGlue and PipSqueak makers, the Portfolio 24 Oil Pastels, yellow cat with green box, long eyelashes, sylin’.

I’m looking at the Canson watercolor paper manufactured in France, 9×12 and 4×6, cold press, Montval Aquarelle. Liz bought the paper along with a box of 24 Reeves Water Colour Pencils. We went to purchase art materials when we started working on the mandalas. The rest of my art supplies are packed in boxes. And boxes and boxes. I hauled them to the studio last week. But I don’t know what I have. I need to go through them, purge.

It was ybonesy who said that she has art supplies she would not use, even if she could find the time. I feel the same way. When I went to MCAD, I was sure I was going to be able to tackle every art form before I died. But that’s like saying I’ll read all the books I want to before I die. It’s not happening. That reminds me of the Do Or Die lists that ybonesy and I made for that Writing Topic. And that takes my brain to Bucket List, a movie Mom saw about a month ago. What is important to us? What do we want to do before we die?

This is all I ever wanted to do. Write, photograph, be close to my family, have a partner that makes me smile every day, and good loyal friends. Loyalty is important to me. This is something I’ve realized over the last year. I have lost friends. I have gained friends. Isn’t it strange how people come and go, suddenly, and most times with no rhyme or reason. Loyalty. But not at all costs.

There are Crayola colored pencils in a green swoop neck container with a roll top, like a roll-top desk. The roll part of the top is clear and I can see that many of the points need sharpened. The thing about colored pencils is that I love contrast and I can’t seem to find a deep enough value in the tip of a colored pencil. Others are able to achieve dark, dark, blues, crimson reds, and lemony snicket yellow. That’s not a word. Where did it come from?

On the painted living room table there is a navy mug with gold moon, sun, and stars, from the Wedge CoOp on Lyndale. It’s filled with 4 fluorescent highlighters (I use highlighters a lot in writing), a black Uniball Vision (an old favorite), a cool Post-It highlighter, filled with Post-It flags on the other end. I use a lot of Post-It Notes. Did you know the glue came out in 1968 but the Post-It was not mass marketed until 1980.

There is a hot pink Pilot Precise V5, Extra Fine, a Sanford Fine Point Sharpie, an overused emery board that Chaco likes to lick, and a Twist-Erase 0.7 Pentel pencil made in Japan. There is an Olivia pen, a publisher gave to the bookstore where I worked, bright red bottom, clear top with a thick liquid, Olivia floating from top to bottom when I move the pen up and down. Olivia wears a red smock, black and white striped pants, and a black bowtie. Her skin is bright, a fictional pig.

These are my tools of the trade. There is a Mead spiral notebook, 3 yellow legal pads, and a Spiderman folder where I carry all the notes from my red Ravine meetings with ybonesy. It’s thick and full of papers with lines in orange, yellow, and green highlighter. When I read ybonesy’s post on Tools of the Trade, I thought, “I really should give away those strings of beads I bought at BearHawk Indian Store. I should give them to an artist who would appreciate them, a beader.”

Once I thought I would sew. But I am not good at sewing. I usually have a lot of patience. I don’t have it for sewing, knitting, or anything involving thread, needles, or yarn. Strange. Because sewing is the perfect medium for meditation. To keep the hands moving, let the mind get lost, the body ground through the hands.

There’s a Prosperity candle from a Pennsylvania store I went to with Mom last June. The Satya Super Hit – Since 1964 – incense I got that burns long and wild (made by the same people that make Nagchampa and Saibaba). Blue, red, silver, black box, smells good as Italian Roast.

I gave Liz the Goddess Prosperity candle for her birthday. The odor, clean and green. The poem says – “In opening up our hearts to giving and receiving, blessings and gifts come easily. Abundance and joy flow in our life. The Goddess of Prosperity is the embodiment of success and fulfillment.” Prosperity. Giving and receiving. Can’t have one without the other. The art of a craft – not up for trade.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008


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I always wanted to work with my hands. Maybe that’s why I buy so many art supplies. I have a Pentel paint set I once bought in the Tokyo airport. The paints are like pastel sticks that you use to draw on paper. Also in the set are brushes on the ends of plastic tubes. You put water into the tubes, the water flows to the brushes, you use the brushes to smear the stick paint you’ve drawn onto the paper. It’s watercoloring for people who have a hard time letting go.

I’m sitting in my writing room looking at a big plastic tub, the kind you get to store stuff. In it I see a small peanut butter jar, Skippy, the kind with the red cap. The jar is filled with buttons. Buttons. Now, many years since the buttons collection was started, I can’t recollect what I planned to use them for.

For a short while, in the late 1980s, I worked for a silkscreener who let me use her sewing machine any time I wanted. I once sewed a pink penis head, stuffed it with batting and drew a face on it. I stuck a branch from a tree into the bottom, so the head looked like a puppet on a stick. The branch had a smaller branch emanating from it, like an erect penis. I made a tag for the puppet; it said “My doll, Dick.”

Jim’s dad picked up the puppet one day when he came to visit us. It had been lying on my work table, and it was the kind of slow motion event that you can’t stop from happening. Me on one side of the room, suddenly notice Jim’s dad, his hand going for My Doll, Dick. Me rushing to him, realizing as I approach that once I get there I’ll only be more conspicuous, less able to pretend I know nothing about the doll. Jim’s dad reads the tag, looks at me looking at him, puts the doll down and thankfully says nothing. 

The buttons in my Skippy peanut butter jar are, I think, from that era. Dolls made of fabric and found materials. I might have had a plan for the buttons, but if so, it’s since gone the way of My Doll, Dick. An interesting idea at the time but nothing lasting.

Also in the plastic tub are styrofoam forms, balls and triangles, a cube. Those from the time I wanted to make paper mache but never did. I have other things in there, too, things I can’t see but recall picking up from hobby shops. Shadow boxes and sandpaper, picture hanging hooks, photo corners, and blank notecards.

My tools of the trade have come down to a few pens and notebooks, and I’m relieved to no longer have those other materials weighing on me. All the things I wanted someday to use, except I was always better at fantasizing than I was producing.

I’m using a red fine-point Sharpie now, but this morning I had a purple Uniball gel pen. Over on my work table is a Pentel metal tip, .7 mm ball. All of the pens roll fast.

I remember the moment I became fascinated with tools. I was in the garage at home and came across a yellow plastic case. Inside were drill bits of all sizes, tiny ones and long ones. They were perfectly laid out, each snapped into place. I fell in love with that case, not even knowing what it was used for, only that something about it made me feel like the world was ordered and safe.

I wanted to keep it, have it be mine, and later that evening when I asked my dad if I could have it, he told me No, that it was his for his new power drill. I asked, then, if I could play with it, and again he said No.

The next day I got a big block of wood that he kept to place behind the back tire of the car any time he worked on it. I took the drill bit case and set it beside me, pretended it was a super-powerful set of tools, needed only when my regular tools didn’t work. The “regular tools” were nails of all sizes that Dad kept in an old coffee can. One by one I took them out and nailed them into the wood block, opening and inspecting periodically the drill bits, taking one out for measurement purposes, but never putting a hammer to them the way I did with the nails.

I got into trouble that night when Dad got home. Got in trouble for messing up his wood block, for wasting good nails, and for playing with his drill bits even though I was told not to.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – TOOLS OF THE TRADE

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