Archive for June, 2008

Collective Soul at 2008 Taos Solar Music Festival
Collective Bliss, Collective Soul at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival, June 28, 2008, photos © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.

Here are my souvenirs from Taos — numbness in my right ear and sore calves. Plus, that good kind of exhaustion you get from a night of dancing outdoors, near the stage, to the beat of your favorite band.

We spent the weekend at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival. It’s a three-day, multi-band, two-stage event held in Kit Carson Park. Dee and Em’s first concert, not counting local gigs where no one would even think of lighting up a joint. No, Taos caused me pause — Do I even mention what that smell is?

Ed Roland from Collective SoulI didn’t. Instead, I danced to the fabulous band who in the mid-1990s gave us “December,” the song I swear I wanted to record so I could play it on continuous loop during labor.

Soulful. That’s a good way to describe lead singer Ed Gould’s voice. He hails from Stockbridge, GA, son of a Southern Baptist minister. And I couldn’t believe I finally got to hear him in person. Twelve years I’ve been carrying around those lyrics, buying up CDs, and belting tunes in my car.

Define bliss: (outside-of-ten-years-if-they’re-lucky) middle-aged singers reaming strings and throwing microphone stands, wearing tight jeans and blowing kisses to their (assuming-we’re-all-destined-to-be-centenarian) middle-aged fans.

I danced my socks off, shook like I was possessed, rattled my arms in the air, whooped, hollered, whistled myself and everyone around me temporarily deaf, and caused my children to wonder, Is this what they mean when they say someone is speaking in tongues?

My one saving grace? I wasn’t wearing a leather halter top.

Sweet Nectar

It was only natural that Jim, the Hummingbird Whisperer, would be mesmerized two bands earlier by the liquid flute of native son Robert Mirabal, who hails from Taos Pueblo. A man with a message, Mirabal thanked us for bringing our children. Not me and Jim directly, but all of us Glad-Bag-for-raincoats parents and grandparents.

Kids need music. “They hold the future in their hands,” he said. I shivered, stared up at the sky and wondered if the rest of the bands would get rained out.

Then he sang a Circle Song and laughed away the wind, bringing us a still night.

Robert Mirabal   Robert Mirabal
Circle Song, Robert Mirabal at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival, June 28, 2008, photos © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.

Neither Jim nor I (nor anyone in the audience) could keep our eyes off of Silvana Kane, the Peruvian-born singer of Canadian band Pacifika. This woman was pure beauty, inside and out.

“Qué linda las mujeres de Taos,” she cooed. “How beautiful the women of Taos are, dancing in their skirts.”

We chanted back: “Qué linda!”


Beautiful Spirit, Pacifika at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival, June 28, 2008, photos © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.

Swimming Down Morada Lane

We stayed at Casa Benavides — the Mabel Dodge Luhan House was full — and what a delight! Homemade granola, yogurt, and fruit as first course at breakfast, along with coffee so strong that even half-and-half couldn’t tame it. Baked goods, French toast, waffles, an egg quiche smothered in red or green.

And another round of baked anything-you-crave from 3-6 pm. Afternoon tea, Taos-style.

From our patio we could hear the music almost as well as if we were at the concert, so we took many walks down Morada Lane, from the park to the inn and back again.

The girls rested, played cards, watched cable, ate lemon bars and pecan pie. Jim and I walked, rested, rocked, rested. Besides the bands mentioned here, we saw or heard Latino sounds, reggae, hip hop, and more.

If you asked my daughters what they loved the most, they might not mention the music. They might say, instead, that they liked shopping the best. Window shopping during our many rounds back and forth, but even better were the Fair Trade vendors at the festival. Tye-dye and sterling silver earrings and beads. Girls love beads.

So in between ice cream and burritos and roasted corn — festival food — not to mention tea, my daughters visited all the vendors many times. Each round, Dee and Em would return bearing bracelets or rings, bought with their own money. I helped Dee pick out her first two single earrings, which is to say, earrings worn without a partner. As in a third piercing, perhaps. Hmmm.


I loved being with my family doing something we all enjoyed, together and individually. Jim danced his Grateful-Dead-inspired shuffle and it was as if our pre-children lives suddenly merged with our post-children lives. Why hadn’t we thought of this before?

My favorite moment? Me in the mosh pit (well, Taos-style) swaying and shaking with friends and strangers; Jim and the girls a safe distance, watching and doing bopping of their own.

Folk Mandala, yarn laid into intricate pattern, seen at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival, June 28, 2008, photo © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.

“I love Collective Soul, Mom,” Dee tells me as we make our way back to our room.

“You dance like this, Mom,” Em giggles and wiggles her little body as she navigates the sidewalk, throwing her arms this way and that.

I can tell the girls see me anew. For once I’m not just Mom. I’m one with the music, one night in Taos.

That and shin splints.

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Ode To A Crab, mandala created from a blank circle, June 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Ode To A Crab, mandala created from a blank circle, June 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


ocean moondancers
sidewinding, hiding in shells
crabs are people, too

  Hello, Cancer!, detail of Ode To A Crab mandala created from a blank circle, June 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.      Hello, Cancer!, detail of Ode To A Crab mandala created from a blank circle, June 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Hello, Cancer!, detail of Ode To A Crab mandala created from a blank circle, oil pastels, black Sharpie, Crayola markers, June 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, June 29th, 2008

-related to posts: haiku (one-a-day), Target — May Mandalas, inspired by post, Good-Bye Gemini

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scratch paper haiku, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

scratch paper haiku, written with the shaft of a feather,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, all photos © 2008
by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

               Fire Ring & Birch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

ONE        1 frog + 1 toad =
                2 reams of good luck

Saw two frogs last weekend. One was this size (a toad). And one looked like this (a frog). The tree frog hopped out of the pond at Summer Solstice and spent some time with us on dry land. I now know the difference between a frog and a toad.



               At The Table Of Light, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

TWO       2 insurance adjusters + 1 friendly couple + 1 smiling contractor =
               1 new roof

The toad appeared right as our contractor and two insurance adjusters (a husband and wife team from Kansas) arrived on the scene to inspect the roof. I saw that as a good omen. The toad’s skin looked like the bark of a tree. I thought it was a moth and brushed it off the deck table. It jumped. That’s when I knew it wasn’t a moth. I slid the slick, 4-color binder with the roof estimate under her belly and moved her down under the garden day lilies. She had bright orange skin where the leg meets the body, the same color as the day lilies.



 Grounded, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

THREE    12 hours + 1 summer storm + 1 green tree frog =
               13 moons + 100 rocks + 1 gargantuan chorus

The second frog was a single green tree frog. She strolled proudly by the Solstice fire ring near a tumbled pile of birch, calling back and forth to her friends in the pond. One frog sang out. A few thousand returned the favor. This continued long into the night.



 Solstice Skies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

FOUR      1 summer solstice here =
                1 winter solstice there

Self-explanatory. We are one world.



 Curls Of Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

FIVE       1 fireside story from 2 shaman lips =
               4 Tibetan nagas

Nagas are snake spirits, cobras. They live in or near water — deities of the primal ocean and of mountain springs; also spirits of earth and the realm beneath it — dragons of lakes, ponds, and oceans. They protect the Buddha and like to come up through the feet. Buddha took his sword and cut a valley into 4 parts = 4 Great Nagas. Nagas eat frogs.



 Drumming, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

SIX          1 drumbeat in the rain =
                10 drums in dry heat

It poured in the middle of Solstice. We stood under a cluster of cedars, watched sheets of rain crest over the pond, and kept drumming. The skin of a hand-stretched drum changes tone with the humidity. When the air is saturated with water, one beat can resonate deeply and hang in the air. Close to the fire again, the skin pulls hard at the wood frame. The mallet bounces off hide in short bursts of sound.



 Tools Of The Trade, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

SEVEN     shedding 1 old skin =
                much harder than you think



 Goddess Takes A Leap (Of Faith), Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

EIGHT    4 marshmallows + a 2-pronged stick =
               3 marshmallows splat on the ground + 1 mean S’more


Hershey’s S’mores (Indoors or Outdoors)

4 graham crackers, broken into halves
2 Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars (1.55 oz), broken into halves
4 marshmallows

Outdoors: Place chocolate bar half on graham cracker half. Toast marshmallow over grill or campfire (supervise kids if they’re doing this); place over chocolate. Top with second graham cracker half. Gently press together. (Recipe from the cardboard on the inside of a Hershey bar)

Indoors: Place graham cracker half on paper towel; top with chocolate bar half and marshmallow. Microwave at Medium (50%) in 10 second intervals until marshmallow puffs. Immediately top with remaining graham cracker half. Gently press together. Repeat, serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.



               Drawing Down The Moon, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

NINE      1 alligator + 1 panther =
               get along just fine 😉



               Solstice Goddess, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

TEN        25,000 humans + stones aged at 3000 years B.C. + 1 Salisbury Plain =
               Summer Solstice at Stonehenge 

Some people’s Solstices are way wilder than mine! Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain about 90 miles southwest of London, was built over three phases between 3,000 B.C. and 1,600 B.C.  Cremated remains and burials continued for at least 500 years. It is estimated that at least 240 people were buried at Stonehenge. More than 750,000 people visit every year.



Incubate Magic, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.                  Tree Frame, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.                Feather & Wand, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer Solstice 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


 BONUS:  Incubate magic


scratch paper haiku

train whistle marshes
summer solstice grabs the light
and turns it to dark




-posted on red Ravine, Friday, June 27th, 2008

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By Linda Weissinger Lupowitz

For Noah, breech at 37 weeks

Lifted Up, photo © 2002-2008 by Kim Donald. All rights reserved.
Lifted Up, photo © 2002-2008 by Kim Donald.
All rights reserved.

“This could feel a little cold,”
the ultrasound technician warns,
warming the electrodes—or something
more benign—to place upon my daughter’s
swelling belly, bringing life to the idea
of her yet unborn child, at twelve weeks
now revealed—

A nimble gymnast, flexing, leaping, kicking
in a dark internal sea…sound waves coursing
tides within the muscular gymnasium,
and There,

Upon the screen, a face appears—
the Face You Wore Before You Were Born.

Cold waves, heavier than light, unveil
the secret sac in which you float and dance:
a private glimpse through some impossible

Your face swims into view—an upturned nose
and certain gaze, before your Soul has met
its match in union with such princely flesh;
a clay-vessel bobbing briefly in a red river,
soon to be caught in the rushes and rescued
to our world, this side of deliverance.

“…I’m not saying what you see,” she says,
“but if it looks like a turtle, it’s a boy;
a girl looks like a hamburger…”

Tiny turtle, cozy in the confines of your high-
flying mama, here you find a steady balance
in the sky, pushing with your heels toward earth,

gripping toes and sturdy soles, locked knees and elbows,
navel-numbing with your bony head, competing for her
breath—riding the ups and downs face forward
with the gravity of your purpose.

At thirty-seven weeks, frankly Noah,
you are breech, stubbornly maintaining
your position, firmly planted in the face
of sheer adversity, despite threat of a cesarean
—scheduled now for Tuesday. Doctors
with their knives are sharpening
their plans to take you out.

Ana tells me of a birth-emergency, wherein
a paramedic reached within to check the cervix
of a laboring mother, when a tiny hand
reached down to grip his finger….

Turn, turn, little turtle, nudges your father,
his strong hands circling your home;
airplanes crash into buildings, cities fall,
people leap and bombs are dropping, dropping.

Leaves flee the trees in a Mississippi breeze,
you’ve borne tornado warnings, still you
hold this space.

Your distant grandfather penetrates his healing
message through the ethers, through the density
of matter, to meet you in that space we share,
born and unborn, on higher ground.
“He’ll turn,” he says with certainty.

Ana anticipates a simpler birth, more antiseptic,
less messy than this rush of unpredicted fury…
as suddenly, surprising her, on Saturday

You flip, breaking the womb-waters,
wedging head and shoulders in the pink canal,
diving your unheralded descent towards light,
or from it.

Mamababe, photo © 2002-2008 by Kim Donald.
Mamababe, photo © 2002-2008 by Kim Donald.
All rights reserved.

Birthing the Poem

Poetry is a birth process, conceived in love – a glimmer in the eye, a spark, a word that won’t let go lodges deep inside the mind, takes form, gathers strength.

The geometric nucleus, nurtured in silence, swells until it shows, until it is a little embarrassing. It can get out of control, morph into something you might be ashamed of.

Then you must labor to deliver pen to paper, and push the poem out. This transition is exquisite, private, no epidural needed. There may be tears. Waters have broken.

Look at it now, wrinkly and raw. Count the words and listen, arrange and rearrange. Deep breath, let it down, now swaddle and share a newborn with the world, perfect or not.

Like human progeny, rarely do live poems manifest intact from the Source. As I age, few will endure. I don’t know how many might still be left in me, from seeds long dormant.

Mom Asleep, photo © 2002-2008 by Linda Weissinger Lupowitz. All rights reserved.
Mom Asleep, photo © 2002-2008 by Linda
Weissinger Lupowitz. All rights reserved.

Noah Charles Strong was born soon after 9/11 – and he made us grandparents, a great blessing. Twenty-three years before, Ariana Faith made me a mother, and we had become a family.

Born in a tumble-down farmhouse on a back road in South Carolina, she emerged in full voice and power three days after Christmas 1977, caught by her father. We were caught by surprise at the impact such a small being had upon our world. The birthing kit was fifteen dollars, for two midwives attending a then-illegal home birth.

It cost many thousands of dollars for Noah’s arrival in Mississippi, and he pulled off a surprise as well. He was breech and supposed to be c-section, but changed his mind.

My view of technological intervention in birthing is dim, so I was relieved by the choice he made. Robert does distant healing work, and he was confident that Noah would turn, as he turned him across time and space.

The conceptual spark that started a fire in my soul was an ultrasound image, a little black- and-white glossy print of what was inside my pregnant daughter. I was privileged to see within the mystery, to witness the secret face of my unborn grandson.

This stunning vision persisted through post-partum gestation, until one day I sat on the pebbly beach of the Rio Grande, and wrote this poem on the back of a folded shopping list.

Like Noah, it came to light in one sudden rush. Then, as we got to know each other, the features became as familiar as the face of one you have known since before you were born.

Mom Asleep Gold, photo © 2002-2008 by Linda Weissinger Lupowitz. All rights reserved.  Mom Asleep Gold, photo © 2002-2008 by Linda Weissinger Lupowitz. All rights reserved.

The Zen Koan

The Monk Mayo asked this question of the Sixth Patriarch: “What is Zen?”

The Patriarch replied that, “when your mind is not dwelling on the dualism of good and evil, what is your original face before you were born?”

This question seems nonsensical, but this is only so when measured against the linear logical requirements of society. The question is intended to open the initiated mind to possibilities beyond the rational. It is also designed so as to waken the student to the possibility that spiritual answers require a different mode of thought.

Zen master Dogen had a saying that is appropriate in the present context. He said that in order to perceive reality we must “drop mind and body.” In other words, it is essential to drop all habits of thought and preconceptions in order to understand the truth.

The Koan forces the student to face this type of thinking. The answer to the question What is your original face before you were born? cannot be answered on the level of rational logic. It points towards the possibility of knowing or understanding without the constructs of reason and habitual response.

The question suggests we have to approach spiritual reality as if we had knowledge of things before we were taught the ways of thinking of this world; in other words, ” before we were born.”

In trying to answer the Koan, the student will come to a mental “precipice,” as it were, where all the methods and procedures of accepted thinking no longer function. The purpose of the Koan is to shove the student over this precipice into an area of experience that is completely new. This is the spiritual reality that the Zen master is attempting to guide the student towards.

Mom Asleep Gold, photo © 2002-2008 by Linda Weissinger Lupowitz. All rights reserved.  Mom Asleep Gold, photo © 2002-2008 by Linda Weissinger Lupowitz. All rights reserved.

Linda Weissinger Lupowitz was born in Philadelphia, moved way out west with Robert to New Mexico, home-birthed and homeschooled three children. She runs a chiropractic practice and a virtual staffing agency, Connect2Pro. A graduate of Smith College, she has been Associate Editor of Taos Magazine, Rio Grande, and Mothering Magazine. The online journal of poetry and photography, C. Little, No Less, was started in March 2003, as a plea for peace.

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Wonder X 7, November 2007, Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Wonder X 7, November 2007, somewhere in Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Otto’s bread cutter
invention holds mystery
a slice of wonder

             Wonder, November 2007, Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Wonder, November 2007, Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Wonder, November 2007, Central Pennsylvania, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

-related to posts: haiku (one-a-day), White Bread Revival, WRITING TOPIC – BAND-AIDS® & OTHER 1920’s INVENTIONS

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Baby Box Turtle and Spring Rabbit, critters in the Rio Grande Valley, photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


Tortoise or Hare, which one are you?
Fifteen minutes, write.

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I love Q-Tips, love the way they swab the entire ear. I come dangerously close to sticking them too far inside the ear canal, each time pushing the little stick and its cotton puff a tiny bit deeper.

I’ve never had a Q-Tip mishap, never had to be rushed to the emergency room to get the cotton out from inside my eardrum. But it’s like playing with fire, stretching to scratch that itch. I know if I go too far, the pain, magnified by the chambers of my waxy inner ear, will be crazy-making unbearable.

I’ve known people whose ears produced so much earwax they have to take monthly trips to the doctor’s office to get big chunks removed. I can imagine the relief they must feel, like being brought up after an ear-bending dive, or brought down from the milky heavens, ears popping their way to normalcy until finally, ah, stillness.

A co-worker once told me how he almost fainted from getting his earwax removed. He described a firehose-like contraption, jets of water so strong I imagined the wax being blown from inside one ear out the other. As he talked, flopped in his chair like a ragdoll, I pictured torture contraptions, the doctor a balding man with an eye monocle. I felt grateful that on a scale of zero to mucho waxo, I rated average.

Ears have always been part of our family lore. The big Dumbo floppy ears of Sandy. Narciso was said to have the biggest ears among Sandy’s brothers. All of them had stiff hairs growing out from the inside and blackheads on the backs of their ears.

Mom had Maniere’s Disease when I was a kid, and I can still recall the onset of an episode. How she’d panic, behind the wheel of the Caprice or in the check-out line at Safeway’s. I remember the two of us fleeing the store without our groceries, peeling off in the big blue Caprice down Griegos Road for home. Mom’s eyes wild, and me, meek and scared in the front seat. I knew once we ran through the front door she’d fling herself into the entryway bathroom and puke her guts into the green toilet. Later, after crawling down to the bathroom off her bedroom, she’d spend the rest of the day curled on the bathroom rug, calling for help — water, a wet cloth — while I crouched in my closet, crying.

Mom says the reason she got Maniere’s was because Grandma used to treat ear aches by having Robert pee into a cup and pouring the hot urine down the offending ear. Can you imagine? Mom told us later, when we were adults. Yeah, but isn’t pee antiseptic, I always said, trying to be helpful.

I never remember Q-Tips in the house as a kid. Mom used Bobby pins to clean her ears. I can still see her circling the pin inside her ear, round and round, as if she were a wind-up doll. She used the curved end of the Bobby pin, and she pushed hard, much harder than one would expect. She always mined plenty of wax, cleaned out the pin and put it in the drawer for next time.

I wonder if ear cleaning, like manners or a person’s voice, the color of eyes, gets passed on through DNA. I bet if I took a poll, I’d find that every one of my siblings loves the feel of a good ear cleaning with a sturdy Q-Tip. We might eschew Bobby pins; unlike Mom we’re willing to spend money on equipment made for the job. But I know we all probably inherited the kinds of ears that pop while flying and carry an almost constant, faint tinnitus.


-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – BAND-AIDS® & OTHER 1920’s INVENTIONS

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Vintage. I love vintage. I was looking at old black and white photos in the studio last week: a scrapbook of army shots, Easter in Tennessee, the summer of 1965, Mom on her wedding day in the late 50’s. The beautiful, classic vintage wedding gown would knock your eyeballs out.

Mom had a hairdryer in the late 1960’s; it all fit into a portable suitcase: plastic bonnet, motor of questionable horsepower, a short pink hose that only allowed her to go as far as the end of the couch. I remember when she had to get up to answer the door, run downstairs to tend the laundry, or stir chili on the stove — she’d unhook the tube with a turn of the end cuff, and walk with the dangling hose next to her side, bonnet still on her head.

Women used to sit under gray metal hairdryers with pin curls and purple plastic rollers, the smell of permanent fixings filling the parlor, shouting to each other over a magazine. Beauty parlors were the hub of the town, always bustling with electricity.

But if you ask any woman, I bet they will tell you the greatest invention ever made is the tampon. I didn’t research its meager beginnings. But I should have. We should all pay homage to not having to wear those nasty boards between our legs anymore. Those and garter belts that left red welts mashed into the tops of your thighs, just had to go!

I wish I still had that 1963 Austin-Healey Sprite, red with a black roll bar. The muffler was always falling off and I had to wire it up with a coat hanger but I loved that car. Black Pontiac, my grandmother drove one of those. I am drawn to photograph vintage cars but only as I see them on the street. I’ve never gone to a car show. But I have tooled down University Avenue near Porky’s to check out the vintage cars and motorcycles that clog up the main artery of Frogtown between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

There are times when I long for the simpler ways cameras and toasters and projectors worked. Liz and I went to a garage sale a few weekends ago and came away with some vintage camera equipment: Argus slide projector with manual cartridge, old 8mm Kodak projector, two black manual camera bodies, a cigar-shaped Shure microphone, and 4 old tripods, one with wooden legs, that they threw in for free. There were a couple of old wine crates from Europe and even an 8-track player. The 8-track part didn’t work. But I grabbed the 8-tracks. Big and clunky as they are, I couldn’t help myself.

I used to have an 8-track player bolted to the floor of my 1968 powder blue VW Squareback. I loved that car. It was in perfect condition when I bought it from a friend in Missoula, Montana in 1976. It wasn’t warm in the mountain winters. But it drove like a dream with that big old steel blue steering wheel. The analogue 8-tracks and cassettes sound better than their digital counterparts, the closest thing to live music. But people have forgotten that. I thought of it again when I was reading about 1920’s inventions.

These days you just don’t hear about people in Hastings, Nebraska holing up in their garage and inventing another liquid sugar drink. Or the likes of a new-fangled Band-Aid hitting the market, invented by a woman in her farm kitchen in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.

Where are the new inventors? What towns and cities are thriving with entrepreneurs taking new chances on an old dream. I kind of wish they’d come out with a half-decent garden weeder. None of the ones I’ve tried work. I still get a sore wrist after every dance through the compost of our garden gates.

There’s a tree swing on an ancient oak next to our driveway. I saw the neighbor kid’s grandmother swinging on it last weekend. Flying high out over the lower elm, do you think she wondered who invented the tree swing? Or more about if the rope wrapping was going to hold close to the branch?

The inventions of our time define who we are. Old-style mechanics are the way to go. The less moving parts, the better. Who can work on their own cars these days? They are way too computerized and digital. And one closed circuit shuts down the whole engine; I have to walk home from the store. I’ll be sure to put a Spider-Man Band-Aid on those blisters.


UPDATE:  I had to look. Check out this great article on the history of Who Invented Tampons?, June 6th, 2006, on The Straight Dope (LINK). Though women are connected to the origins and beginnings of the invention of the tampon, there are lots of surprises there. The ancient Egyptians invented the first disposable tampons from softened papyrus; the ancient Greeks from lint wrapped around a small piece of wood (recorded in writing by Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C.)

And guess what? Our old friend Johnson & Johnson (the Band-Aid inventors) are connected to the first commercial sanitary pad — Lister’s Towels, first manufactured in 1896.

Commercial tampons were probably available by the late 1920s or early 1930s, but they didn’t gain mainstream acceptance until Tampax appeared on the market in 1936. (In 1935, Kimberly-Clark was offered the patent rights but thought it would be like throwing money out the window. Not a good move. The product became Tampax, the first tampon with an applicator patented by Dr. Earl Haas.) Here’s what the article says about Earl’s product:

After failing to get people interested in his invention (including the Johnson & Johnson company), on October 16, 1933 he finally sold the patent and trademark to a Denver businesswoman, Gertrude Tenderich, for $32,000. She started the Tampax company and was its first president. Tenderich was an ambitious German immigrant who made the first Tampax tampons at her home using a sewing machine and Dr. Haas’s compression machine.”

I guess the tampon was another great invention rooted in the 1920’s!

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, June 23rd, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – BAND-AIDS® & OTHER 1920’s INVENTIONS

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Ah, it’s a beautiful day. Look at the clouds.
I think I’ll just lie down here and take a picture.

Oh, hi Otis. What are you doing? (plumph)
Otis, hey, do ya mind? You’re sitting on my chest.

Otis, really, you’re too big to lay your dog down on me.
Come on, I need to get up now.

Otie, come on, this isn’t funny, I can’t get up.
Otie, get up, boy…

Hey, you guys, help! Help me!! Someone!! (no answer)
Otis, PLEASE, let me up!


Whew. That’s better. Thank you, Otis.

For more touching stories about people and their special relationships to dogs, check out NPR’s These Books Have Gone to the Dogs.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post. (I do have a sore lower back as a result, however.) Photos © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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Diamonds At Solstice, June 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Diamonds At Solstice, June 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

At Diamonds they say, “Come for the caffeine, stay for the camaraderie.” Diamonds Coffee Shoppe — Your Atomic Coffee Stop — is located in the Arts District of Northeast Minneapolis. It’s a great place to write. To Dawn and Lucy, it’s not just coffee, it’s a philosophy.

Three of us were there last Wednesday evening to write and do art. It was our weekly creative project meeting, part of our dedication to our practice. Our small group of four alternate between the studio in the Casket Arts Building and Diamonds a few blocks away.

Last week the Pop-A-Lock guys were there; 8 of them formed a circle in the hall next to us (across from the vault), and had their business meeting. As fate would have it, one of them had helped me change a flat tire a month ago over in Brooklyn Park. The world gets smaller every day.

Diamonds In Primary Colors, June 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Diamonds Coffee Shoppe
1618 Central Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
(612) 789-5282

Mon through Thurs – 6 AM to 10 PM
Fridays 6 AM to 10 PM
Saturday 7 AM to 10 PM
Sunday 8 AM to 10PM


There were three things on my mind tonight. The first was an end of week meeting with my Gemini friend ybonesy. All went well; we are right on track. The second is Diamonds. I downloaded the photos I took last Wednesday. Maybe there will be a Fotoblog to follow. The third?

Summer Solstice. Liz and I are going to a Solstice celebration tomorrow night at a friend’s house. Fire and water. In Minneapolis, the longest day of the year passed a few hours ago at 5:59pm. When is Solstice in your part of the world?

Below are some links that might help. I was looking at archived photographs of the same date last year; the peonies were well on their way. This year the ants have opened only three blooms. Spring is late in coming. I welcome the light.

Time for Summer. Have a diamonds and light Solstice.


  • Times listed for Winter & Summer Solstices (and the Equinoxes) beginning in 1900:

Holoscenes – Textures of the Earth: Seasons From 1900 To 2099 (LINK)

In the Midwest, we have to subtract 6 hours from UT to get Central Standard time (and 5 for Daylight Saving time (LINK). See also Holoscenes – Textures of the Earth – Special Projects (LINK)

  • Here’s how to translate UT time to our time, wherever we are:

Earth & Sky: How Do I Translate Universal Time To My Time? (LINK)

  • Here’s a final link to different systems of time:

U.S. Navy – Systems of Time (LINK)

Diamonds At Dusk, June 2008, Minneapolis, Minnesota, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, June 20th, Summer Solstice 2008

-related to posts: 8 Minutes, Winter Solstice – Making Light Of The Dark, Solstice Fire In Winter, 15 Hours, 36 Minutes Of Light

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Los Amantes, pen and ink on tracing paper, doodle
© 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I read horoscopes and obituaries
flip between the future and the past
they share the heavens in common.

I examine, too, Before and After photos
of a plain, some might say mousey, woman who
through something akin to magic
emerges transformed
a lesser Jolie or Paltrow
much lesser, some might say
I suggest we withhold judgment
until we consult the stars.

It is the 50th Anniversary snapshots I love the most
Before: earnest faces, handsome and pretty
every one, without exception, recalls a silent movie
After 50 years and who knows how many dreams
intercepted by crisis
a thousand and one threats
and hanging by a thread
I search for youth (check the brow)
happiness (corners of the mouth)
a singular sign of love (hands, eyes, even skin might give it away).

Gemini is romantic
and pragmatic
Mercury retrograde, it’s said, slows down this mercurial communicator
emphasizes earth
de-emphasizes shattering
illuminates. Claro.

The newspaper says, “Don’t make important decisions
before the 19th.”
Don’t write big checks.
It’s fine to start a new page.
Correction: Your whole life will open up to a new path in the year ahead
after the full moon.
Travel, slow down
tear down what is no longer needed
rebuild a new structure that will be more suitable.

I read my horoscope the way I read the obituaries
Do I know this person?
“Stick to your guns, Gemini,
dear Gemini.”
Did we go to high school together?
I draw down the yearbook from the shelf where it waits
for such an occasion
run middle-aged fingers over cool, smooth paper
feel for a time when I was eager to know
how Pluto and a gaggle of planets
conspired for and against me.

I close the pages on another year
remember fondly my fading Gemini traits
“sex appeal,” “wild child,” “fast not slow”
I hardly recognize myself in daily prognostications

I have to admit
I’d rather wallow with the bereaved and
wonder how the youngest among the deceased
came to meet his end.

As we roll into a new season and a new astrological sign — Goodbye, Gemini; Hello, Cancer — I wanted to visit the notion of horoscopes. I started out in the early days of Gemini wanting to write my own horoscope. A few weeks later, I thought I might create a poem from words and phrases lifted out of the daily and monthly readings found in different newspapers.

In the end I wrote this poem. It does contain phrases that stood out from one of the more interesting June readings for Gemini. ***UPDATE*** — Here is a link to a website called Newspaper Blackout Poems. And I want to give credit to jillypoet and Mariacristina, two poet bloggers who recently tried the blackout method and gave me the inspiration for doing something similar with my horoscope.

I also came across this portal — the best of the horoscopes. I especially enjoyed the first one listed: Susan Miller’s Astrology Zone.

What about you? Do you follow your horoscope? How much weight do you give it? Just curious. (Curiosity is, by the way, a Gemini trait.)


-related to posts, Reading The Obits and The Uses Of Sorrow – What Is It About Obituaries?

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Band-Aid Freak!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Band-Aid Freak!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

I’m a Band-Aid® freak. I love Band-Aid® Brand Adhesive Bandages. I’m famous around the office for stocking a plentiful amount in the metal bin above my cube. Paper cut? No problem. Spider-Man, Batman or SpongeBob SquarePants to the rescue!

Band-Aid® Bandages were invented in 1920 by a New Jersey man named Earl Dickson. Earl worked as a cotton buyer for a small start-up company called Johnson & Johnson. His wife Josephine (formerly Josephine Frances Knight) was always picking up nicks and cuts in the kitchen. Earl invented a ready-made bandage by placing squares of cotton gauze at intervals along an adhesive strip and covering them with crinoline (petticoat material!).

First Poison Ivy Of The Year!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.First Poison Ivy Of The Year!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.First Poison Ivy Of The Year!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Band-Aid® was born.

But the new product only sold a total of $3000 the first year. It was the Boy Scouts who put Band-Aid® on the map after an unlimited number of free Band-Aids® were distributed to Boy Scout troops across the country. The long history of innovation continued, and as of 2001, over 100 billion Band-Aid® Brand Bandages had rolled off the assembly line.

In the 1970’s,  John Travolta, Terri Garr, and Brooke Shields all appeared in Band-Aid® commercials. And remember that little jingle, I am stuck on Band-Aid® ’cause Band-Aid®‘s stuck on me? It was penned by Barry Manilow (and will surely get stuck in your head!). Barry did pretty well in the jingle business and is also responsible for Like a good neighbor…well, you know the rest.

Earl Dickson didn’t do too bad for himself either. Johnson & Johnson eventually made Dickson a vice president at the company, a position in which he remained until his retirement in 1957. He was also a member of the board of directors until his death in 1961. At the time of his death, Johnson & Johnson was selling over $30,000,000 worth of Band-Aids® each year.

As much as I love Band-Aids®, they weren’t the only invention of the 1920’s. It was a decade quick to embrace wild ideas and new technologies. Here’s a video and a short timeline of other 1920’s inventions:

               Crazy 1920’s Inventions from Aaron1912 on YouTube


  • Hair Dryer (1920)

Prior to 1920, woman dried their hair by inserting a hose in the exhaust of a vacuum cleaner and blowing themselves dry. But in 1920, hand held dryers were introduced by the US Racine Universal Motor Company (Wisconsin), and the Hamilton Beach Company.

  • Combustion Engine Car (1920)

Invented by Henry Ford, cars powered by combustion engines were affordable to the American public and mass produced. The ‘Model-T’ was the first car to roll off the assembly line. (If the price of gas is any indication, the love affair lives on!) 

  • Kool-Aid (1927)

Edwin Perkins of Hastings, Nebraska created the most important invention in American history: Kool-Aid (originally called Fruit Smack). Perkins was a chemist who owned “Perkins Product Company” which sold perfume and calling cards. The original Kool-Aid flavors? Cherry, Lemon-Lime, Grape, Orange, Root Beer, Strawberry, and Raspberry.

  • Liquid-Fueled Rocket (1926)

Robert Goddard’s liquid-fueled rocket and methods of propulsion are still used by the North American Space Association. His oxygen and liquid fuel lifted the original rocket 184 ft.

  • Q-Tips (1923)

Polish-born American Leo Gerstenzang was married to a woman who used to cotton swab each end of a stick to clean her baby’s ears. Leo took her innovation and put it on the market. Then called ‘Baby Gays”, the wood was replaced by white cardboard, and Gerstenzang started the “Infant Novelty Company” to sell Q-Tips.

  • Lie Detector (1921)

John A. Larson was a medical student at the University of California when he invented the Polygraph, or lie detector. The device measured heartbeat and breathing to determine if a person was lying, and later included a skin monitoring system to measure sweat.

  • Bread Slicer (1927)

Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Iowa got the idea for a bread slicer in 1912, and in 1927 invented a machine that could successfully cut and wrap a loaf of bread. The machine was later improved by baker Gustav Papendick.

  • Bulldozer (1923)

In 1885, engineer Benjamin Holt built a crawling tractor, which he called “caterpillar.” Later, scraping blades were attached and in 1923, LaPlant-Choate Manufacturing Company produced the first bulldozer.

  • Traffic Light (1920)

Police officer William Potts from Detroit, Michigan was the inventor of the traffic light. Using red, amber and green lights, and $37 worth of wire, he built a light for the corner of Woodward and Michigan Avenues in Detroit. Around the same time, African-American Garrett Morgan invented the automated traffic light. It worked the same way railroad lights work today and was the concept on which four way traffic lights were built.


History is pregnant with writing possibility. Pick a 1920’s invention — the combustion engine, the lie detector, the hair dryer — and write about how it changed the future.

Do a Writing Practice on the first childhood memory that comes to mind when you think of Kool-Aid, Band-Aids®, or Q-Tips.

Maybe you hate the feel of a Q-Tip in your ear; or maybe it’s something you look forward to after a morning shower. When’s the last time you tasted Kool-Aid? Did you know it was invented in Nebraska (along with CliffsNotes and the Vise-Grip)?

What’s the greatest thing ever invented? Ten minutes, Go!

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

-related to post, If You Could Go Back In Time…

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First time I ate Frito Pie was in 1985, at the old Woolworth’s store on the Santa Fe Plaza. I sat on a vinyl swivel barstool in the back of the store, behind miniature Indian drums and dreamcatcher souvenirs. I think my friend and roommate, Denise, was with me. The counter help handed us each a sandwich-sized bag of Fritos, opened lengthwise and topped with chile beans (or, as Denise would have said, “chile beany”), shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion.

Mom didn’t start making Frito Pie until we were grown and out of the house. Maybe she didn’t like that the recipe included processed food. (Although that didn’t stop her from making chow mein, which she threw together with a can of sliced water chestnuts and crunchy store-bought noodles that tasted like Cheerios without the sugar.)

Now Frito Pie is one of those dishes Mom will have on hand in case everyone drops by on a Saturday or Sunday. She says it’s easy to make — all you need is a pot of beans, chile meat, shredded cheese, and a bag of Fritos.

I’ve started making Frito Pie for my family, being as how it’s one of two things my girls will ask me to cook when I give them a choice. (The other is something we call “Soupy Spaghetti,” passed down from my grandmother, who learned how to make it in the mining camp of Dawson, NM.)

I made Frito Pie last night with ground pork I picked up at the butcher shop and powdered red chile from yesterday’s growers market. Healthy as I tried to make it, Frito Pie is not the kind of meal you want to serve every day. Fritos are high in calories, although they come these days with zero trans fats. But it’s a nice treat once in a while.

As to the origin, some say Frito Pie got its start right there at Woolworth’s on the Plaza. Corporate lore at Frito-Lay, however, is that Daisy Dean Doolin, mother of the guy who first bought the rights to market Fritos in 1932, not only perfected her son’s product but also made it into a dish as a way to help market the crispy fried corn chips.


Woolworth’s on the Plaza closed in 1997, but you can still find Frito Pie in a few places around New Mexico. Like most foods, though, the best Frito Pie is the one you cook yourself:

1. Pot of Beans

Sort about two cups of pinto beans to remove any small stones or not-so-pretty beans. Wash the beans and soak them overnight in plenty of water. I always forget to soak, so I do the “one-hour method” the day of, which is to bring the beans to a boil in a medium-sized pot; the water should cover the beans by about two or so inches. Take the pot off the heat as soon as the water starts to boil, put a lid on the pot, and let the beans stand for an hour. (Either approach — soaking overnight or the one-hour method — will minimize the gas that beans are prone to cause.)

Add more water to the beans, covering them by about an inch. Make sure not to add too much now that the beans have soaked in a lot from the earlier step. Throw in a couple of whole cloves of garlic, and put the beans on a low simmer, as low as you can go (if you’re using a gas stove) without the burner going out.

You don’t want the beans to boil even slightly, as boiling makes the skins fall off. Let the beans simmer, watching the water level and adding more as needed, for two to four hours. The longer you cook them, the thicker the bean juice. Again, make sure not to add too much water; you’ll want the bean juice to be thick, not watery.

Once the beans are done, season them with salt, pepper, and a pinch of dried oregano. Don’t add the salt while the beans are simmering, as salt toughens beans.

2. Chile Meat

In a large frying pan, add just a touch of oil. I use olive oil, and I use no more than a big teaspoon. Add a couple cloves of chopped garlic and a chopped yellow or white onion. Once those are turning soft, add a pound-and-a-half of your favorite ground meat. I use lean pork or lean bison, but beef is traditional. Cook over medium-low heat until the meat browns nicely. This might take a while, about twenty minutes.

While the meat is cooking, add a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of dried cilantro, a teaspoon of dried oregano, and a teaspoon of pepper. (Truth is, I don’t follow recipes unless I don’t know the dish, and since I know this one pretty well, I’m just guessing on the amounts. These should work.) Make sure that as the meat is cooking, you break it up well, as ground meats have a tendency to clump.

Once the meat is browned and seasoned, add three tablespoons of red powdered chile. Add another tablespoon of flour. Mix those in as much as you can. Then add two cups of water, mixing it well with the chile powder and flour to make a thick red chile sauce. You can add a bit more water if you’d like, especially as it thickens.

3. Toppings & Assembly

While the meat is cooking, shred plenty of medium sharp cheddar cheese. Chop lettuce, white onion, and tomato (you’ll want to use locally grown).

To assemble, place a couple of handfuls of Fritos (don’t get the big scooping kind) in a bowl, add in a handful of grated cheese, a ladle of beans, and a ladle of chile meat. Top it all with the lettuce, onion, and tomato. It’s ready to go.


Does anyone remember the old Frito joke from when you were a kid?

Your older brother asks you, “Hey, ya want some Fritos?” You sit up, excited. We don’t get Fritos every day; usually it’s Safeway brand potato chips, the bag of which invariably includes a few green-rimmed bitter chips.

“Yeah,” you say.

He stands up to get the chips, and while he’s standing and you’re admiring him from the bean bag chair, he sticks his bare foot into your face.

“Free toes,” he says.


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I Love U Pa, doodle © 2008 by
ybonesy. All rights reserved.

We spent the afternoon with Dad. One of my sisters got him a card with the above message, which netted lots of laughs. My other sister wrote her own goofy card having to do with hoes, but that one requires too much explanation, so I think I’ll leave it at that. 

There’s always laughing on Father’s Day with Dad. I sure do love him.

Hope all the fathers out there had a great day. And what about that golf game?!

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Last weekend my friend Jana came over with her son, Dez, just to hang out and take shots of our newly hatched turkeys. (Yes, it’s that time of year again.)

We walked all around the yard, but most of the interesting animal life had taken cover from the heat. Jana noticed a hollow branch on an apple tree, and because photographers are naturally curious she took a peek inside the hole.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!” She jumped back several yards.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I joined in, partly so she wouldn’t look so silly in front of her son and my daughter (wink, wink) and partly to scare off whatever horrid creature had to be inside that tree.

“There’s something in there.” Jana pointed a shaky finger at the gnarled trunk, holding hand to chest and trying to catch her breath.

I ran to the tree ahead of the kids, pushing Em out of the way as she tried to beat me to it. Thankfully, I was the only person besides Jana tall enough to look into the hole. With my body poised to flee at a moment’s notice, I slowly leaned in to peek inside the hole. This is what I saw:

Launched a thousand screams, mouse in a hollow tree trunk, June 2008, photo (taken with Jana’s camera) © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

“Aw, it’s a teeny little mouse,” I said. The poor thing was quivering.

I picked up the kids and let each peer in. Then the work of trying to take photos began, and that’s when a new round of screaming took place, led by Jana.

In the end, we didn’t get a lot of photos and what we did get weren’t very good, but Jana and I laughed like crazy. You can know someone for a while before you discover certain shared quirks. It was fun to find out that we are both screamers.


One other thing about last weekend. We have a bizarre cat statue that came with the place when we bought it. Jim hides it around the yard, the way Trader Joe’s hides that coconut doll with the grass skirt in the shelves so that kids can find it and win a prize. (If you don’t have kids and don’t shop at Trader Joe’s, you’re missing out.)

Anyway, Sony the pug found the cat, and, well, you know what Sony does when she finds things. Luckily, we rescued the cat; it presently resides in all its mangled glory on a tree trunk by our new flower garden.

Jana was immediately drawn to the cat, and it turned out to make a darned cool-looking photo.

The moral of that story is, Wake up! Bizarre mangled cats can make for interesting pics. They might even elicit a shriek from the screamers among you.

Untitled, cat statue at ybonesy’s place, photo © 2008 by
blueskydesert. All rights reserved.

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Eye, (self) portrait of innocence, photo © 2008 by Dee. All rights reserved.

Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of Cherokee Nation, was in Albuquerque last week to talk about changing lives and building community. Among other things, she shared this quote, attributed to the Navajo:

You can not see the future with tears in your eyes.


Write these words at the top of your page, then write for fifteen minutes. Don’t stop. See where it takes you.

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The Ant & The Grasshopper, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

At Sarah Lawrence College, Ann Patchett admired the hugely popular Lucy Grealy from afar, never realizing that the two were destined to become the greatest of friends. Ann wrote short stories that people liked but was not someone they remembered. Lucy was the one everyone knew.

Talented poet, waif who as a child lost part of her jaw to cancer, Lucy ran the Friday night film series back at Sarah Lawrence. Students chanted “LOO-cee, LOO-cee, LOO-cee,” and crowded into the coffee shop to hear her read her poetry. Ann sat in the audience, watching, believing they might have something in common.

Now this. It is August 1985. Ann and Lucy are the only two from their graduation class who’ve been accepted into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Lucy couldn’t afford her own place; hence, the two are roommates, meeting up for the first time since arriving in Iowa City. Ann stands in their empty house, and like a banshee Lucy shoots through the door and throws her ninety-five-pound body on to Ann, locking arms around neck and legs around waist.

Here is Patchett writing in her memoir Truth & Beauty: A Friendship:

I do not remember our love unfolding, that we got to know one another and in time became friends. I only remember that she came through the door and it was there, huge and permanent and first.

And so their friendship began. Instantaneous, complex, epic. It lasted seventeen years, until 2002. Lucy died in December of that year of a drug overdose — ruled accidental — at the age of thirty-nine. 

Writing Truth & Beauty, Patchett said, was part of her mourning process: “I wrote a book about us. I wrote it as a way to memorialize her and mourn her, and as a way of keeping her own important memoir, Autobiography of a Face, alive, even as I had not been able to keep her alive. This was a story of a Herculean effort to endure hardship, and to be a friend.”

The Ant & The Grasshopper

Throughout the book, Patchett draws on Aesop’s fable of “The Ant & The Grasshopper” as metaphor for her relationship with Grealy. Ann is the industrious Ant, laboring through summer to have food in winter. Grasshopper Lucy whiles away time, too concerned with the business of living to think about the future.

When winter comes, Grasshopper finds himself dying of hunger, while Ant eats from the stores collected in the summer. But in her version of the fable, Patchett makes this modification:

What the story didn’t tell you is that the ant relented at the eleventh hour and took in the grasshopper when the weather was hard, fed him on his tenderest store of grass all winter…Grasshoppers … find the ants … They need us to survive, but we need them as well. They were the ones who brought the truth and beauty to the party, which Lucy could tell you as she recited her Keats over breakfast, was better than food any day.

And so Patchett tells the whole story of Ant and Grasshopper — their dependencies and differences, the sordid details of their lives.

Ann and Lucy were creative muse to one another, better off together than apart. “We were tender and patient and kind. We were not like the world at all.” They were physically in the same city only for a small portion of their long friendship. Ann eventually settled back home, in Nashville, while Lucy’s home base was the glamour and glitter and grit of New York City.

Apart and together, they shared a deep desire to become real writers. Writing was not only salvation but the one thing that made the two of them interesting. And Lucy, with her celebrity and high drama, made Ann more interesting and more alive:

Even when Lucy was devastated or difficult, she was the person I knew best in the world, the person I was the most comfortable with. Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t even realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.

Even so, for all their soul-deep connection, these two friends grew apart. Lucy became more needy, Ann less patient. Each became her own person.

Year of the Grasshopper

On the back cover of her memoir, Autobiography of a Face, Grealy is quoted: “I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I’ve spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison.”

Autobiography of a Face made Lucy famous. She struck the universal chord — of wanting to belong, to not be different.

The memoir starts with the diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma at age nine. After chemotherapy and radiation, reconstruction began. Lucy’s life was on hold as she waited for surgery after surgery — thirty-eight total — to bring forth normalcy, possibly even beauty.

While she waited, her insecurities deepened, becoming incessant and overwhelming. Do you love me? Do you think I’m pretty? Why doesn’t he love me? Will I ever have sex again? She wanted to be loved, but more than anything, she wanted to give love. She confused sex for love.

Grealy wrote of early drug use in Autobiography of a Face. She got codeine pills for each surgery and root canal, and after a while, even when she wasn’t in pain, she took the pills for the milky high they offered.

No matter how bad I felt about the world, about my position in it, I felt safe and secure and even rather happy thirty or forty minutes after I’d downed a couple of pills.

In spite of securing a book contract on the heels of her memoir, Grealy struggled with writing. The surgeries became more painful and less effective, her loneliness deeper and more despairing. She could hardly swallow food, and the physical pain intensified. She was tormented by self-hatred. Eventually she got hooked on heroin. She lost the book contract, lost the trust of her friends, and eventually lost her life.

Year of the Ant

Ann was a product of twelve years of Catholic school, “where we were not in the business of discovering our individuality.” Her Ant traits included:

  1. Enviable work ethic, writing her novel “as if it were a factory job.”
  2. Balance.
  3. Responsible (she funded her own degree, prepared for classes she taught, and used every writing fellowship to get actual writing done).
  4. A tendency to “blur into other people.”
  5. Tidy (“Unlike Lucy, I could never give myself so completely over to my art that I would not notice the half-eaten plate of spaghetti in the middle of the living room floor.”).
  6. Above all, always going to be fine; “It’s your blessing and your curse,” Lucy once told her.

From the moment Lucy jumped into her arms in their Iowa City rental house, until almost the end of Lucy’s life, Ann carried Lucy. Physically at times, and emotionally. Ann was present during Lucy’s many jaw reconstruction surgeries, holding her head while she puked into a pan or serving as patient advocate with medical staff. More fundamentally, Ann soothed as best she could Lucy’s constant self-doubt and tried to boost her esteem.

It was the single thing I wanted most for Lucy, to have a minute of peace from her relentless desire to understand why she hadn’t found True Love.

Toward the end of Lucy’s life, as her emotional and physical pain spiraled out of Ann’s control, the pragmatist Ant sought tangible ways to help the Grasshopper — sorting and paying bills or furnishing a new kitchen. Ann tried to get Lucy to move from New York to Nashville, to go through a sort of Ant-inspired rehab. Shelter, soft “Lucy food,” love.

But Lucy was never going to live in Nashville. Even if it might have saved her life, it wasn’t the life she wanted.


It’s natural to look at your closest friends and wonder how you’re different from them and how you’re the same. Early on, the differences are exotic. Have you ever been attracted to a friend who is so spontaneous — pure in-the-moment grasshopper — that you can’t help but be drawn to their energy? There’s something about how natural Grasshopper is, without filters and boundaries, that makes Ant more natural.

But then your ant nature kicks in. Try as you may, you can’t stop from becoming critical. Ant watches Grasshopper refuse to plan for the future or seem unable to take cues on when to stop talking about herself. Enough already! you want to say. Grow up! It’s not all about you.

The further I got into Truth & Beauty, the more I grew impatient with Lucy. I found that my admiration for her brilliance dulled at certain points, overtaken by my exasperation with her obsessions and insecurities. Yet, when I was done, I admired even more the deep, pure writing that came out of those same obsessions and insecurities.

My face may have closed the door on love and beauty in their fleeting states, but didn’t my face also open me up to perceptions I might otherwise be blind to? At the end of each day, as I lay in the bathtub, I looked at my undeveloped child’s body. I considered the desire to have it develop into a woman’s body a weakness, a straying from my chosen path of truth. And as I lay in bed at night, I considered my powers, my heightened sense of self-awareness, feeling not as if I had chosen this path, but that it had been chosen for me.

I also at times winced at the bald honesty with which Patchett laid her truth on the line. Ann admitting to Lucy her growing revulsion at how Lucy lived her life. Lucy calling Ann on her superiority, her got-it-all-togetherness: “…at least I can make you feel like a saint. That’s what you’ve always wanted.”

I read Grealy’s book first, then Patchett’s, then Grealy’s again, this time looking for clues as to what really caused her addictions and eventual death. Was it the cancer or the shame that came with having part of her face caved in? Or was there something in her core – recklessness, risk-taking – that was apparent early on?

I came to no conclusions. Or rather, I came to the conclusion that writing memoir is the most courageous and risky kind of writing one can undertake.

Not everyone loved Truth & Beauty. At Clemson University in South Carolina, Patchett’s book generated enormous and uninformed criticism for its portrayal of drugs, sex, and women in romantic relationship. Patchett talks about that firestorm in an essay published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 2007 and again in an interview with the same magazine.

Lucy Grealy’s older sister, Suellen Grealy, wrote a heartbreaking essay titled “Hijacked by grief,” in which she lashes out at the “not so gifted” Ann Patchett for “hitching her wagon” to Lucy’s star. These jabs stand out against an almost polite tone of desperation, a genuine longing for privacy and a return to wholeness for a family that has been picked apart.

Ann and Lucy started out believing writing might save their lives. Each walked the long, arduous road to become a writer. But even when a writer is brilliant and talented, and even when a writer possesses equanimity and self-control, writing will not save one’s life.

Writing does, however, demand that you be willing to let go, to let it out, to write the truth as you know it.


Must-Read – Must-Hear


Charlie Rose interviewed Lucy Grealy on November 16, 1994. She is the last guest on his hour-long program. Her interview starts approximately at 38:20 on the youtube video below. [Note: It’s advised that you let the show run its course versus trying to fast-forward to the start of the interview; the latter might cause audio and video to get out of sync.]

-Related to posts Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl” and Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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