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Liz Shoots the April Moon

Liz Shoots The April Moon, Minneapolis at night, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s hard to get back into the practice of writing for red Ravine after two months away. Where have I been? The business of life. And love. Art and passion. Mr. Stripeypants was sick for a time, a bug he contracted during surgery. He’s fine now. I was sick for three weeks, then it was time for Art-A-Whirl. Liz and I spent hours in Casket Arts Studio 318, talking art and writing and authors. Explaining panoramas on brushed metal and the latest installment in the Writers Hands Series. After Art-A-Whirl, I am so energized by the people that stop by that I want to spend every waking moment in my studio.

My mother went to Georgia without me this year. I missed traveling with her; she continues to research the family tree. I take it up, too, in my spare time. I will never lose my passion for history — the people, places, and things that lived before us. While I was away, the seasons changed. Quickly and without apology. What would normally be Spring has bloomed as Summer. We lost a few limbs on the two cedars in an ice storm. An arborist is coming to give the oaks and cedars a trim on Monday.

Where have I been? I went to see Anne Lamott at a bookstore. And Leslie Marmon Silko at the downtown library. I photographed the clouds with my Droid. I stood on a bridge and shot the Moon with Liz. We are working on a business together. It’s slow and steady, like the Turtle I am. I am working on the project plan. Liz digs into business details. We will meet with a designer soon to begin work on our website. More to come.

I can say I missed you. I did. When I come back to this place, it is like coming home. I have a guest piece coming up soon. And a new Writing Topic. While I was away, red Ravine turned five. Five years and a million hits. I didn’t know when I started writing and posting my art here that years would fly by. That I would be exposed for the gaps in my practice. One year, I took a photograph every single day. Another, I wrote Writing Practices all day long. One year, there was a haiku a day. In 2012, I take time to breathe. And expand within my own absence. I have not lost my gratitude for you. There is no way to explain where the time goes. I always come back to the things Natalie taught me. Continue. Continue. Continue. Get up. Jump back in.



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, May 31st, 2012

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Documentary Shorts At The Riverview, Droid Shots, original photograph edited with Paper Camera, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


When Liz was asked what movie she wanted to see before a belated birthday dinner at Blackbird, she chose the Oscar Nominated Short Documentary films at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. The filmmakers took us around the world, Baghdad to Birmingham, Pakistan to Japan. The presentation included four of the five films nominated for an Oscar in the Short Documentary category for 2012: Incident in Baghdad, Saving Face, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, and The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement. (The fifth nominee, God Is The Bigger Elvis could not be shown due to licensing issues.)

In 130 minutes, I swept through a full range of emotions. Saving Face moved me to tears one minute; the next I was smiling with the big hearted doctor who traveled to Pakistan to reconstruct the acid scarred faces of women attacked by their husbands. Incident in New Baghdad horrified me and reminded me how sheltered most Americans have been from the ravages of two wars.

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom had a visual yin and yang quality. Grief, destruction, devastation, and loss following the tsunami in northern Japan; delicate blossoms of centuries old cherry trees restore hope in ways “beautiful but not showy.” James Armstrong, The Barber of Birmingham, walked steady and strong through decades of the Civil Rights Movement, and listened closely when he cut the hair of Dr. Martin Luther King. His mantra: “Dying isn’t the worst thing a man can do. The worst thing a man can do is nothing.”

The men, women, and children in these documentaries survived against all odds. They are impeccable warriors who teach me to pay attention, find my voice, and not be afraid to speak out. They teach me to show gratitude for the gift that is my life. They teach me about courage.  Through hardship and injustice, they show up and tell their stories to filmmakers who ensure their stories are heard. I hope you take the opportunity to see these films. They will inspire you to live life to the fullest, to take risks with your art and writing, and walk the way of the peaceful warrior.



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Incident in New Baghdad – 25 minutes – USA – James Spione

One of the most notorious incidents of the Iraq War – the July 2007 slayings of two Reuters journalists and a number of other unarmed civilians by US attack helicopters – is recounted in the powerful testimony of American infantryman Ethan McCord whose life was profoundly changed by his experiences on the scene.


______________________________________


Saving Face – 40 minutes – Pakistan/USA – Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

Every year hundreds of people — mostly women — are attacked with acid in Pakistan. The HBO Documentary SAVING FACE follows several of these survivors, their fight for justice, and a Pakistani plastic surgeon who has returned to his homeland to help them restore their faces and their lives.


______________________________________


The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom – 39 minutes – Japan/USA – Lucy Walker

Survivors in the areas hardest hit by Japan’s recent tsunami find the courage to revive and rebuild as cherry blossom season begins. A stunning visual poem about the ephemeral nature of life and the healing power of Japan’s most beloved flower.


______________________________________


The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement – 25 minutes – USA – Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday

Mr. James Armstrong is an 85-year-old barber, a “foot soldier” and a dreamer whose barbershop in Birmingham, Alabama has been a hub for haircuts and civil rights since 1955. The dream of a promised land, where dignity and the right to vote belong to everyone, is documented in photos, headlines and clippings that cram every inch of wall space in his barbershop. On the eve of the election of the first African American president, the Barber of Birmingham sees his unimaginable dream come true.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, February 22th, 2012. Read more about the films at the links and watch a trailer at the Riverview website.

-related to posts: And The Oscar Goes To…, Eloquent Nude At The Riverview

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Sunrise Undercover, Droid Shots, original photograph edited with Paper Camera, sunrise at a writing retreat in a small town outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.







The Fallow Field


The master gardener
tithes and tills,
never forgetting to bury her dead—
broken bones rise from the fallow field
odorous compost, grist for the mill.








-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 6th, 2012, at a self-propelled silent writing retreat outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With gratitude to my writing friends. For more on composting and how we structure these small silent retreats see:  Sit, Walk, Write On Lake Michigan, I Write Because…, and Make Positive Effort For The Good.

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Triptych: After The Blue Rain, inspired by Irish poet John O’Donohue, original photograph: an early Winter Solstice Fire 2011, altered in PhotoShop Elements, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.





after the blue rain

Have you walked
the barren landscape
of the chattering wire —
blue rain runs in the silence
of a white hot fire.






-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 28th, 2012, gogyohka inspired by Irish poet John O’Donohue after listening to one of his last interviews before his unexpected death in 2008:  The Inner Landscape of Beauty with Krista Tippett, On Being (LINK)


When you cease to fear your solitude, a new creativity awakens in you. Your forgotten or neglected wealth begins to reveal itself. You come home to yourself and learn to rest within. Thoughts are our inner senses. Infused with silence and solitude, they bring out the mystery of inner landscape.” — John O’Donohue from Anam Cara (In Memoriam)


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January Bear Moon, Olympus Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








Jewel of the North Woods
under the waning Bear Moon —
will you birth your cubs
on Lily's birthday? Or three days later,
when Hope's Spirit comes to play.









NOTE: Jewel the black bear is in the early stages of labor (you can watch at this link: Jewel’s Live Den Cam or check out the links in the poem to see Jim Stroner’s photographs of the bears). Jewel is a wild black bear, the sister of the famous Lily the Black Bear who gave birth to Hope on January 22nd, 2010 (we lost Hope last September during the 2011 Minnesota hunting season). If I remember correctly, it is Lily’s day of birth today, January 19th. I wrote the poem before I read the Wildlife Research Institute update tonight stating that it will be biologist Sue Mansfield’s birthday on January 20th (Happy Birthday, Sue!). The mystery remains, on whose birthday will Jewel of the Northwoods have her cubs?

The photograph was taken a few weeks ago at the Full January Moon. Liz and I went out into the urban Wild to photograph the Moon as she rose. Depending on your background, the January Moon is known as the Wolf Moon, the Cold Moon, and the Bear Moon (among many other names). It’s the Bear Moon all  month long, not just at the Full Moon, and is usually one of the brightest Moons of the year. Stay warm, Jewel. It’s -6 in the Twin Cities and -15 in Ely, Minnesota. We are watching your every breath.


-posted on red Ravine, , Thursday, January 19th, 2012, with gratitude to biologists Lynn Rogers & Sue Mansfield

-related to posts: haiku 4 (one-a-day) meets renga 52, MN Black Bear Den Cam: Will Lily Have Cubs?

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DEC SHADE4

Say Goodbye To Tungsten Light, Golden Valley, Minnesota, December 2011, photo © 2011-2012. All rights reserved.


I burn the Christmas lights long after the day has passed. The soft warm glow of tungsten soothes me. I grew up on film photography, old school, and loathed florescent and LED. Say goodbye to tungsten; the last 100 watt bulb rolled off the DEC 2011-12-18 19.40.22assembly line in December 2011. We lost poet Ruth Stone in 2011 and singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow. They leave behind a rich legacy–their poetry. We lost Hope, the world’s most famous black bear, to the long arms of a Minnesota hunting season. Did they choose their lives, or did their lives choose them?

Goodbye December, January awaits. I look forward to the New Year. In setting goals for 2012, I can’t help but think of the things I will leave to 2011. I never heard back from my father, yet I feel glad I wrote the letter. It is one less thing I have to wonder about. Mr. Stripey Pants had surgery on Monday, December 12th. Bone rubbed on bone in his lower jaw when he chewed his food. We tried to be upbeat that morning, saying he was on his way to breakfast at Tiffany’s (the name of his surgeon). A few weeks later he is almost back to normal. The scar tissue that had formed around a puncture wound near a back tooth has been removed; it was not cancerous. I am grateful for good vet care and the resources to pay for it.

Minnesota leaves behind the 86 inches of snow from last Winter, an unfair trade for the tawny grasses and 50 degree days in the Twin Cities last week. I don’t miss the shoveling, but wonder how the Art Shanty Project will take place on Medicine Lake in January. Where is the frozen Minnesota tundra of 2011? I leave behind a broiling sweaty Summer where I did little gardening. The cedars look limp and brown. Fall 2011 was 1323477165415one of the driest on record. Rain, rain, come and play, don’t wait another day. I have grown to miss the rain.

I leave behind a year of no travel, unusual for me. My large extended family lives in Pennsylvania and Georgia, so I often plan vacations around flying back East. I missed visiting with them. In 2011, I attended no out of state writing workshops. I did not take a vacation outside of Minnesota. There was one trip to North Dakota, but not for pleasure (though it had its moments). I leave behind all the angst and sorrow created by the greed and selfishness of others. You sometimes learn the most about people when things go awry. It’s not over yet. The law requires patience, and the resources to carry through over the long haul.

Dear December, there were days you left me nostalgic and somber. But I vow to enter 2012 with optimism and gratitude. Long line for A Christmas Story at Riverview!I will long carry the joy of my brother’s visit to Minnesota the week before Thanksgiving. I carry two healthy cats, Kiev and Mr. Stripey Pants. I carry the love of a caring partner, close friends, and family. I carry excitement at the prospect of celebrating Liz’s birthday in January, and a trip to Wisconsin for a self-propelled writing retreat in February, what used to be the dead of Winter. I leave behind anger, resentment, regret; I release what is no longer helping me be the best person I can be. What people, places or things do you leave behind?

The pantry is stocked. The black-eyed peas soak in the pot, ready to bless the place I call home with good luck and cheer. I am grateful for those who stick with me in times of uncertainty. I am grateful for those who come to the aid of all HOLIDAYsentient beings in this world, not just humans. I am grateful that we do not inhabit this planet alone, that there are ancient burr oaks, Southern live oaks, slithering snakes, hairy spiders, playful black bears and white winter squirrels. I am grateful that the decisions that matter most are not left in the hands of humans.

December, I say goodbye to you tonight with gratitude and anticipation. I am thankful for your rituals. It’s the night before the New Year. What will my yearly practices be? It will be around the last fire of 2011 that I choose goals for 2012. Thank you, December, for having the courage to let go.


-posted on red Ravine, New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 2011

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Cool To The Touch, by the Thanksgiving fire with friends, Droid Shots,
edited with Little Photo, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, November 2011, photo
© 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Gratitude unfolds,
hot fire in the belly
cool to the touch—
River of self-doubt,
I carry the light
all the days of my life.






-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, November 27th, 2011

-related to posts: haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52, Gratitude Mandala — Giving Thanks

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The gift of time. Rocking in a white porch chair, drinking Stash Fusion Green & White tea. My stomach is full on residual Thanksgiving, a small feast for two (plus two cats). I am grateful for those who checked in on red Ravine while I took a break. It started as a short week away from the Internet, and turned into boots on the ground living—time for Liz, for my brother’s visit to Minnesota, for Mr. StripeyPants and Kiev. I checked in with my family on Facebook once in a while, but rarely fired up the laptop during the week. It was refreshing to take time to think, to sit, to be.


Unconnected.


I stopped all my practices for a month, including red Ravine. Since 2001, I have done at least two yearly practices, one writing, one visual, each beginning in January and ending in December. Writing practice, haiku, haiga, renga, BlackBerry 365, the Great Round mandala series; I stayed true to them. I honored them. This year it felt like all I was doing was trying to keep up with the many practices I had taken on, my agreements to others, my commitment to myself to keep going for a full year. I made it January through September. It was freeing to choose to take a break rather than force myself to continue.

But I miss this place, this creative space. Something I learned when I stopped doing my practices was that a part of me went into hiding. I am not happy when I am not taking photographs, writing, painting or drawing. Last night Liz and I watched A Very Gaga Thanksgiving. Lady opened up in a short interview. She said her song, “Marry The Night” was about the moment she made a choice to give her all to music. Right or wrong, up or down, her first relationship would be with the music; she would be true to herself.  It is another form of befriending the Black Dog, the dark shadowy side that comes with deep exploration of your writing or art.

When I listened to her, I knew she was right. It takes great sacrifice to marry the night. And part of the ritual is to know when you need a break. Near the end of the silent workshops with Natalie in Taos, there is a short meeting with her in the round. We sign up on a sheet of paper taped to the zendo wall. Five or six at a time, we slow walk to the cabin at Mabel Dodge Luhan, take our shoes off, sit in a semi-circle, candles lit, in silence, and Natalie goes around and checks in with each of us. Almost every time, there is one person who says they don’t want to write anymore. Natalie inevitably responds, “Then don’t write. Take a break. See if you come back to it.”


Those words are as important to me as the day at my first workshop when she told us to plan on at least two years of Writing Practice before stopping. Oh, and don’t quit your day job.

If you are listening to your teachers, good advice sticks in your craw, and rises to the surface when you need it. The list of things Natalie has taught me over the years would fill a notebook; I bring each one out as I need it, and practice those I believe will make me a better writer, a better artist, a better person. Sometimes I fail. And that is okay, too.


At the one month mark away from my practices, I started adding them back in, one at a time. I added Writing Practice first and continue to write with my online group. I am grateful they have stuck with me. After a little over two months away, the next thing I am adding back into my practices is red Ravine. I have noticed that I am happiest combining writing and art; red Ravine is a good venue for the collaboration and synthesis that happen between the two. I want to look at restructuring, infusing the past with a burst of new life.

It is Thanksgiving weekend and I have much to be grateful for. I will take time to make my yearly gratitude list and begin work on another mandala. I have not been tossed away. The work continues. Positive effort for the good is the best practical response to a hungry world. I am grateful to be back on the page, thankful you are still here. The silence doesn’t scare me anymore; it is filled with light. The wind bristles and becomes her own wingman, sailing to the next stop. The best I can hope for is a gentle landing.


-posted on red Ravine Friday, November 25th, 2011, Thanksgiving weekend, an edited Writing Practice

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Healing Heart Mandala, created on gray, rainy day while listening to Mandala Healing: Using Sacred Symbols for Spiritual & Emotional Healing by Judith Cornell, Golden Valley, Minnesota, September 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




THE SECRET OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER

Once you turn the light around,
everything in the world is turned around.
The light rays are concentrated upward into the eyes;
this is the great key of the human body.
You should reflect on this.
If you do not sit quietly each day,
this light flows and whirls,
stopping who knows where.
If you can sit quietly for a while,
all time-ten thousand ages,
a thousand lifetimes---is penetrated from this.
All phenomena revert to stillness.
Truly inconceivable is this sublime truth.


—from The Secret of the Golden Flower: The Classic Chinese Book of Life, translated by Thomas Cleary, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, p.19


___________________________________________________________________________

HEALING INTENTIONS


   acceptance                   appreciation                   authenticity
   awakening                   balance                            beauty
   beginner's mind          creative play                  clarity 
   compassion                  connectedness               devotion 
   egolessness                  emotional healing          faith
   fearlessness                 forgiveness                     freedom to be 
   grace                             gratitude                         harmony
   healing laughter          honoring diversity         illumination 
   inspired creativity      integrity                          joy 
   kindness                       life as a celebration       listening with the heart
   living in the present   mental healing               miracles
   non-judgment             oneness                           opening the heart to love 
   patience                       peace                               perseverance
   practice of truth         radiating love                 soul illumination 
   spiritual healing          surrender                       transformation
   trusting intuition        unity                                wholeness 
   wisdom                        wonder




Healing Heart Mandala (Detail)-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

-related to posts: Labyrinth Mandala At The Aquarius Full Moon, Ears Still To The Lonely Wind — Mandala For Rabbit, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Shadow Of A Dragonfly, Dragonfly Wings — It Is Written In The Wind, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas, EarthHealer — Mandala For The Tortoise, ode to a crab (haiku & mandala), Eye Of The Dragon Tattoo

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By Teri Blair



Lawrence Welk’s Boyhood Home, Strasburg, North Dakota, July 2011, all photos © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


The Lawrence Welk Show was a Saturday night staple when I was growing up. My favorite acts were Cissy and Bobby, tap-dancing Arthur Duncan, and the guy on clarinet with big glasses. I didn’t pay much attention to the show’s host, though I wondered about his accent. I had a vague sense he came from the state just west of mine, but he mainly seemed tan and Hollywood and Californian. Not like the people I knew.

I’d seen his birthplace marked on my North Dakota map for years, and then one day, just like that, my mom and I decided to go. We checked out library copies of Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Autobiography of Lawrence Welk. Mom read it first and told me she couldn’t put it down. I figured that was because she still watched his reruns on public television. Then I started reading it, and I couldn’t put it down either. That’s when I found out Lawrence Welk wasn’t just a tan and smiling Hollywood face. Far from it.

We took two-lane roads to get to Strasburg, ones where you can tell where you’re heading. Mom reread the first chapter out loud to us, the one about Lawrence’s childhood in North Dakota and his passion to play music and get off the farm. We wanted everything fresh in our minds.

Lawrence was born in North Dakota in 1903, one of eight children of immigrant parents. The ten of them lived in a tiny sod house, milked cows, and spoke German. Lawrence had four years of schooling before he begged his parents to let him quit. Since he knew how to read and write, they let him. A farmer wouldn’t need more than that, they figured. But Lawrence’s father had carried an accordion all the way from Europe, and that one musical box lit a fire under the third Welk son. He had an affinity for music, an insatiable appetite for chords and melodies and rhythm. He tinkered with homemade instruments, and learned everything his father would teach him about music.

Though his family assumed his future as a North Dakota farmer, Lawrence knew he had to live a different life. He didn’t know how he could, only that he must. Then when he was 11 his appendix burst. By the time his parents found someone with a car and he was driven to the hospital in Bismarck, he was almost dead. He lived on the edge of life and death while his poisoned blood was treated. Though only a child, he determined if he survived he would make his living as a musician. No matter what.

He spent the rest of his childhood hiring himself out to play accordion at every event he could find around Strasburg. Every nickel he made went to pay off the $400 accordion he bought through a mail-order catalog. A deep satisfaction stirred in him to watch the joy his playing brought to people, an intrinsic reward that would fuel him for decades.

The View From Lawrence Welk’s Bedroom, Strasburg, North Dakota,
July 2011, all photos © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When he left the farm on his 21st birthday, his father predicted his ruin as a musician. He told Lawrence he’d be back in six weeks looking for a meal. What followed were years of small gains and huge setbacks—trying to find work as a musician during The Depression wasn’t easy. Lawrence often went hungry. One time his band quit on him, embarrassed by his broken English and the way he tapped his toe to find the beat. He was naïve and trusting, taken advantage of more than once. He had to start over again and again with nothing but his accordion. But his internal compass was undeniable. His wife said years later that he was like a cork. When one plan failed, he’d be momentarily submerged before he’d pop up in a different place with a new strategy. By the time he landed the television program, he had paid his dues and then some. He had already spent 30 years on the road playing ballrooms.

After our tour of the homestead, I slow-walked around Lawrence’s childhood farm. I stood in the places he talked about in the book: the spot by the barn where he asked his dad for the $400 loan, the upstairs loft where his appendix burst, the tiny living room where he listened to polka music. I went to Mass on Sunday at the German Catholic church and sat where he had. I looked at the stained glass windows, the same ones Lawrence had looked at when he was a little German boy. He didn’t know how his story would end, but sitting there, I did.

Lawrence knew who he was, who he wasn’t, and he stuck with himself. And from that, I take great inspiration. By the time of his death in 1992, he had had the longest-running television program in history, and had helped launch the careers of dozens of musicians.

What is possible when we don’t deny our true selves?




_________________________




About Teri: Teri Blair is a writer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first piece for red Ravine, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and published a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Since then, she has written Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group, Discovering The Big Read, a piece about the largest reading program in American history, and Does Poetry Matter?, an essay about the Great American Think-Off.

Earlier this year, Teri was a writing resident at Vermont Studio Center in the heart of the Green Mountains. She finds inspiration on the road. Her writing pilgrimage to the Amherst, Massachusetts home of poet Emily Dickinson inspired the essay, Emily’s Freedom. At the end of September, Teri will be flying into Atlanta, Georgia to embark on her latest writing adventure — a two-week road trip in a compact Cruise America rolling along the Southern Literary Trail.


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AND THEN...

And Then, last page of The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage, 1979, Doubleday, from artist & writer Judy Chicago, Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
and then both men and women will be gentle
and then both women and men will be strong
and then no person will be subject to another's will
and then all will be rich and free and varied
and then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
and then all will share equally in the earth's abundance
and then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
and then all will nourish the young
and then all will cherish life's creatures
and then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth
and then everywhere will be called eden once again


—artist & writer Judy Chicago, from The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage, 1979, Doubleday


-posted on red Ravine Monday, September 12th, 2011

-related to posts: A Moment Of Silence – September 11th, 2011, 9:02am, Remembering – September 11th, 2008

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-posted on red Ravine Sunday, September 11th, 2011, 9:02am

-related to the piece: Remembering – September 11th, 2008

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World’s Largest Sandhill Crane – 29/52, BlackBerry 52 — Week 29 Jump-Off, Steele, North Dakota, July 17th 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



On a July trip to North Dakota, we exited off I-94 to fill up with gas in Steele, North Dakota. Across the street, next to the Lone Steer Cafe (formerly a bustling Greyhound bus station), a 40-foot sandhill crane stood grazing in the grass. Sandy, the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane, was built in 1999 by Arena, North Dakota resident James Miller. The sculpture weighs 4.5 tons and is constructed of rolled sheet metal welded onto a steel inner frame. It was built in three separate sections — the body in one section, the neck and head in another, and pipes fitted to make the legs.

Residents of Steele, North Dakota erected the giant sandhill to call attention to the fact that Kidder County is one of the best birding destinations in North America. The Coteau Rangeland of North Dakota, commonly known as the Prairie Pothole Region, is an area of glacial potholes located in the direct path of the migration flyway making this area a favorite spot for migratory nesting birds, including the Sandhill Crane. To the west, Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, established as one of the country’s first wildlife refuges in 1908 by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt, is the largest American White Pelican rookery in North America, where thousands of pelicans nest each spring.

North Dakota artist James Miller, creator of the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane, died October 17, 2002. According to his obituary in the Bismarck Tribune, Jim and his wife farmed north of Arena from 1955 until retiring in 1991. He created metal work sculptures in his shop and invented his own version of “Miller Bilt” hydraulic presses, along with everything from two wheeled trailers and wheelchair ramps to yard ornaments, docks, crystal radios, and even a steam engine. His art live on in 26 states throughout the country.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS,   dragonfly revisted — end of summerfirst dragonfly, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Shadow Of A Dragonfly, Dragonfly Wings — It Is Written In The Wind, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas, sticks for legs and arms

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By Sandra Vallie



It’s hot, pushing 100, and I have to wait until it’s cooler to water the heat-sapped garden. Until it’s cooler, or dark, or 7 pm, the time the city allows watering – whatever measure I decide today is the tipping point where the amount of water soaking into the sand is greater than what the bone-dry overheated air is sucking up into itself. In the house, safe out of the sun, I’m anxious looking at the heat-limp plants across the yard. Corn leaves curled into points, drooping tomato plants and cucumber leaves flat against the ground. I know the plants are well-watered; some of what I see is self-protection and some a part of the taking up and giving off of water. As soon as the sun moves further toward the west and I carry water to the plants through the hose, the leaves and stems will fill with water and this limp spread of green will become plants again.


I’m from Michigan and this is my first year trying to grow vegetables in New Mexico. I pretty much planted the garden twice because I hadn’t learned that we can still have below-freezing nights even when the temperature in the day is 80 degrees. How much water is too much and what is enough. Why, when I asked the woman at the nursery about gardening in New Mexico, she told me to not even try. Half the plants I put in my son’s yard last fall didn’t make it through the winter, falling to the cold and what I haven’t learned yet.


For 20 years, I watched peonies, lilacs, tulips, hosta, coneflowers, azalea, iris, daylilies and butterfly bushes grow tall, wide, and fragrant. Lush. Luxuriant and juicy. Moisture in the air reflected the hundred greens growing around the yard and the air glowed. Lettuces, green, red and purple, came in the spring, followed by peas and beans that reached across the raised beds to share the poles supporting plants and pods. Tomatoes grew so fast and heavy they kicked away their cages. Cucumbers ran across the garden to the corn and climbed high enough I could pick the fruit without bending over.


I exaggerate. A little. Lush it was, very different from my yard here, each plant holding to its own space, as if each one feels it deserves only so much water and so many nutrients from the spare soil. I’ve never seen plants grow so slowly; at first it’s almost as if each morning they decide whether or not to push up, out, forward, just one little bit. As if they know that growing higher will put them closer to the sun and they’ll be hotter. My plants in Albuquerque work harder than plants in Michigan. In this place where there is so much space, where I finally feel I can be as big as I am, exuberant, joyful, expansive and – well – lush, my vegetables appear so tentative and afraid.


Cactus spread, although I don’t know that I’ll ever call them lush. There are several in the neighborhood I’m drawn to, even a couple I’m lusting after for their deep, almost hallucinatory red-purple blooms or their improbable flowers, yellow and ten feet above the plant their stalk grew from. Cactus, though, and weeds like the silverleaf nightshade, the most prolific plant in my landscape cloth- and gravel-covered yard, are what led me to write a few years ago after a visit: “Everything green here bites.” I know I’m never going to embrace a cactus or walk barefoot across the goatheads and foxtails to get to them. I yearn to load my arms with heavy-headed peonies and stargazer lilies that are deep enough to serve soup in, although I’m afraid I’d have to drain the remaining water out of the Rio Grande to do it. Before I moved here I asked a friend if I could grow roses in Albuquerque. “You can grow anything you want in Albuquerque as long as you can afford the water.”


The roots of my grandmother’s peonies I carried south are in pots out back, not growing. Soon, not yet, I’ll have to admit what I know and stop watering. I didn’t have time before we moved last fall to lift lilies or divide a few coneflowers. The rose bush by my bedroom window, though, is the same as the one that died in my Michigan garden a couple of years ago, my grandmother’s favorite. There are green tomatoes on the plants and sooner than I know they’ll be full and red enough for dinner. Lush is changing, from the huge bushes and plants that grew in the Michigan rain to the sound of water rushing through the garden hose, the sight of it spreading around the watermelon plants and at the feet of the raspberries, the corn leaves unfolding as the still skinny stalks draw up water from the soil, and the gratitude I feel that I have water to grow food with. The air may not be green from the plants, but the sky is crystal blue. While I’ve written this, it has become late enough to head outside to water and the first flowers on the cucumber plants have opened today in the heat.




_________________________




About Sandra:  My fairly recent move from my job and life in Michigan to Albuquerque, New Mexico, has opened up the opportunity (for which I’m gut-wrenchingly grateful) to write in spans of hours instead of stolen minutes. Although I’ve written mostly poetry in the past few months, I’m enjoying the process of exploring different forms for different subjects. I’ve been fortunate to have a community of encouraging and creative writers in the Albuquerque Ink Slingers, a local Meetup group, and my husband’s graceful willingness to live and work in 100 degree temperatures.


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CHOC 4 2011-07-15 18.11.43 AUTO c

Chocolate – One Of Life’s Simple Pleasures – 28/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 28 BlackBerry 52 response to Jump-Off from Lotus, Around the City: Simple Pleasures, July 15th, 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s late in the evening at the end of a long week, so I’m going to make this Writing Topic short—and sweet (the way I like my chocolate). Though today we think of chocolate as having at least a hint of sweetness, it wasn’t always so. According to the Smithsonian’s article A Brief History of Chocolate it is estimated that chocolate has been around for over 2000 years, and for about 90 percent of that history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn’t have anything to do with it. It wasn’t until Europeans came to the Americas that chocolate was sweetened with cane sugar and honey.

The Timeline of Chocolate History at The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club states that in 1765, the first chocolate factory appeared in the United States in pre-revolutionary New England, where the production of chocolate proceeded at a faster pace than anywhere else in the world. And in 1797, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe toured Switzerland and insisted on having chocolate available at all times, along with a chocolate pot.

According to the Smithsonian, we often misuse words related to the origins of chocolate:

Most experts these days use the term “cacao” to refer to the plant or its beans before processing, while the term “chocolate” refers to anything made from the beans. “Cocoa” generally refers to chocolate in a powdered form, although it can also be a British form of “cacao.”

Etymologists trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.”

Nectar of the gods. The Midwest Writing Group I am in never meets without indulging in a few bars of gourmet chocolate. (And it’s no secret that our teacher Natalie loves chocolate.) Reading, writing, and chocolate just seem to go together. Have you ever read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or delighted in Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Willy in the film (based on Dahl’s book) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory?

______________________

The Secrets Of ChocolateWhat is your favorite chocolate? Do you prefer milk chocolate or dark chocolate? Do you believe chocolate has aphrodisiac properties? Scientists have isolated phenylethylamine (PEA) which is a stimulant found in chocolate, and also in the brain. A miniscule amount of PEA is released at moments of emotional euphoria, raising blood pressure and heart rate. Is there a connection between food and the brain?

Last week Liz brought these chocolate bars home from Trader Joe’s. She chose the dark with walnuts and pecans; mine is the Swiss milk. Let’s put a slightly different twist on this Writing Practice. Instead of writing Chocolate at the top of your page, head into the kitchen and rip open your favorite chocolate bar. Slip a square right on top of your tongue, and write down what connects pen, page and a delicious chunk of chocolate — 15 minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-related to posts: the velveeta cheese of donuts haiku, WRITING TOPIC — CANDY FREAK, Homage to a Candy Freak, On Candy, Candy Stash — Barter Is Better

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RABBIT JPG 2011-07-10 09.57.54 TRIM AUTO c

Ears Still To The Lonely Wind — Mandala For Rabbit – 26/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 26, July 10th, 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Medium: Drawn by hand with a black Staedtler archival pigment ink Fineliner on Canson Mix Media XL Series 98lb drawing paper, collage paper. Colored & collaged with DecoColor Glossy Oil Base Paint Markers, Caran D’Ache NeoColor II Water Soluble Wax Crayons, Sharpie Medium Point Oil-Based Opaque Paint Markers, Lineco Archival PVA Adhesive, archival card stock paper. Gogyohka & haiga by QuoinMonkey. Photograph taken with a Samsung DROID.


It must be a plentiful year for Rabbit. I see her everywhere on my journeys across the Twin Cities. If you look to the spiritual aspects of Rabbit, she represents calling out Fear—looking it right in the eye. It is said that if we focus on people, places, and things we fear, we draw them closer to us. The very act of ruminating on what we are afraid of creates opportunities to learn the lessons conjured by those fears.

It’s a good time for me to pay attention to Rabbit. Lotus wrote the poem Becoming a Rabbit -26/52 for one of the BlackBerry 52 Jump-Offs in our collaboration. I pulled in a line from her poem that spoke to me, wrote a gogyohka, and scripted it around the edge of the circle that would become a haiga:




Sidewinding summer rain
plays hide and seek with the sky.
Rabbit holds her ground ---
blades of mint awash in shadow,
ears still to the lonely wind.




I want to carry my Rabbit fetish from New Mexico in my pocket for the rest of July; there are challenges ahead of me with outcomes out of my control. Is it on the dresser with the other animals? She was a gift from friends, hand carved, and sold at one of the pueblos. I have carried the balsa Rabbit for a long, long time. To help ease my fear.


Rabbit may signal:
  • feeling frozen in place from trying to find resolution to a situation you are unable to resolve
  • being too focused on the future, trying to control what has not yet taken form
  • a need to write down your fears
  • space to stop, rest, reevaluate
  • time to wait for bigger, outside forces to move again
  • opportunities to reframe the way you see your present set of circumstances
  • the need to take a deep breath, burrow into a safe space, & release your fears



Lucky for me, Fear is a universal emotion. There is not a person on Earth that has not experienced Fear. I read it in the Writing Practices of friends. We talk about it over birthday dinners. I see it at the state, local, and federal government levels. I read about it in the news every day.

Naming my fears helps to dissipate anxiety I feel about things I can’t control. Rabbit helps me remember to breathe. And to listen for answers. Ears still to the lonely wind.



-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, July 10th, 2011, with gratitude to Lotus for the inspiration

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

Rabbit Mandala: Ears Still To The Lonely Wind (Detail) -related to posts: Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Shadow Of A Dragonfly, Dragonfly Wings — It Is Written In The Wind, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas, EarthHealer — Mandala For The Tortoise, ode to a crab (haiku & mandala), Eye Of The Dragon Tattoo

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ART 2011-06-25 19 b&w

Art Changes Everything – 27/52, BlackBerry 52 — Week 27 Jump-Off for week beginning July 4th, 2011, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: Droid snapshot of the wall outside Intermedia Arts, taken Pride weekend, altered in Photoshop Elements, b&w version.


Heat index over 100, sweat soaking through clothes. Last week was one of those weeks when I was searching for inspiration. Lids heavy from the day, the eyes kept roaming, leaped over to the bookshelf, and landed on Ray Bradbury’s Zen In The Art Of Writing. There are books I go back to again and again—for reminders that it’s okay to struggle. For stories about moments of success, paragraphs that sum up in a few words what it means to be an artist or a writer. I don’t separate the two. For me, writing and art are connected. They collectively make up the Arts.

I ran my fingers over the worn cover, then opened Ray’s book to the Preface. That’s as far as I had to go. Maybe a few tidbits in these paragraphs will have meaning for you, too. There are hours when I stop dead in my tracks; I don’t want to write anymore. Somehow, the practice keeps going. Not perfect. Tracks. Cairns inside eroded pockets of sandstone cliffs.

I enter the Preface right after Ray’s story of the day he breathed a second life into his childhood hero, Buck Rogers:


So I collected comics, fell in love with carnivals and World’s Fairs and began to write. And what, you ask, does writing teach us?

First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.

So while art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.

Secondly, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that.

Not to write, for many of us, is to die.

We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.

A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever it is, would melt out of shape in those few days.

But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

For writing allows just the proper recipes of truth, life, reality as you are able to eat, drink, and digest without hyperventilating and flopping like a dead fish in your bed.

I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.

     -Ray Bradbury from the Preface of Zen In The Art Of Writing: Essays On Creativity, © 1990 Ray Bradbury, original from “The Joy of Writing,” Zen & the Art of Writing, Capra Chapbook Thirteen, Capra Press, 1973.




And that is why I went to my studio and ate up the time with myself. So the world would not devour me. Time to sit and listen to music, to stare out the window, to write a few lines of poetry, to sketch at the ragged edges of the page, to find inspiration on a wall outside Intermedia Arts. Time to take up arms and fight, the smallest battle, the smallest effort to win.

Art changes everything.







Art Changes Everything (Color) Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, July 7th, 2011

-related to posts: Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas, The Sketchbook Project, Under The Rainbow — Twin Cities Pride

Art Changes Everything – 27/52, BlackBerry 52 — Week 27 Jump-Off for week beginning July 4th, 2011, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: Droid snapshot of the wall outside Intermedia Arts, taken Pride weekend, altered in Photoshop Elements, color version.

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