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Archive for the ‘Essay’ Category

Farrah Fawcett as Jill Munroe circa 1978 (public domain)Oodles of words have been spilled about the deaths this past Thursday of both Farrah Fawcett, at age 62, and Michael Jackson, age 50, and oodles more will be said. There’s little I can add, except perhaps this. 

When I think back to my youth in the 1970s, I will fondly remember one gift among the many that these pop icons gave us, and that is their hair.

Ah, Farrah’s mane. Long, thick. My God, did she ever have thick hair! And all different shades of blonde on one head.

She was Jill, the sexy athletic Angel. Sabrina (Kate Jackson) was the smart Angel and Kelly (Jaclyn Smith) the girl next door. But we all wanted to be Jill. Or at least, most the girls in my graduating class did.

We knew nothing of “blow-outs” then. Why today, with the right cut, I could replicate a Farrah Fawcett hairdo in no time, thanks to styling gels, leave-in conditioners, multi-sized barrel curling irons, diffusion blow dryers, and round bristle brushes. But back then we had few tools at our disposal.

Class of 1979, high school graduation portrait, me donning a bad Farrah Fawcett hairstyle, 1979, image © 2009 by ybonesy, all rights reservedNonetheless, I tried my best to turn my frizz into Farrah’s layered mane. As seen in my high school graduation photo, I managed to feather my bangs, which I did by slowly pulling out (and in the process, singeing) the strands of hair clamped in my curling iron.

I settled with partial feathers, a sort of ready-for-take-off look that alone required hours to achieve. The rest of my curls I left be, except for the very ends, which I halfway straightened.

Some girls were excellent at emulating the ‘do, and I was excellent at hating them and their blonde streaks. But most girls, like me, failed miserably at transforming their natural waves into Farrah’s sexy look. And then there were the girls, in hindsight the courageous ones of our day, who didn’t even try to, through their hair, be anything other than who they were.




Class of 79, classmate who had the Farrah Fawcett hairstyle down pat, streaks and all (I'm sure I hated her in high school)

                      Class of 1979, a classmate who tried the Farrah Fawcett look (with mixed results)

                                                  Class of 1979, a classmate who went with her own hairstyle




Michael Jackson 1979 (public domain)My hair was probably better suited for the male ‘do of the time, which in the late 1970s was donned by Michael Jackson, pre nose jobs, skin bleach, dimpled chin, and straight wig. 

In 1979, his song Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough was in the Top Ten. We danced to his music and tried his moves. And the most fashionable guys — the foxes, as we called them — wore polyester shirts, vests, and slacks.

Not every boy could pull off a Michael Jackson ‘fro, but this had to be about the only time in the past 30 years where men yearned to possess curls worthy of clown wigs. For some, the ‘fro came naturally. For others, it was just a bad perm away.




        Class of 79, a classmate with the Michael Jackson afro and polyester shirt AND vest

                            Class of 79, a classmate with the Michael Jackson afro and polyester shirt




You gave us many gifts, Michael and Farrah. How can a legacy in music and dance compare to the short-lived afro that even you, Michael, discarded once you hit mind-blowing fame and fortune? It is minor, I admit.

And Farrah, you were much, much more than the sum of the seemingly infinite hairs on your head. But in the late 1970s, those hairs were the goal of every female my age, and I don’t think we have ever worked in tandem to achieve a singular style since.

Thank you both. For being the ones who impressed us most when we were at our most impressionable.

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Vietnam Purple, blooming flower in the jungle of south Vietnam, May
2009, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
We leave on two buses for a hydroelectric plant in south Vietnam, near the forest where later in the day we will tend trees. I wear jeans, a blue t-shirt like everyone else, and a black baseball cap. The bus I am riding is half-full. It winds through narrow roads, and after an hour I start feeling carsick and have to sit up tall so I can see over the high-backed seats out the window.

My company has a strong tradition of volunteerism. In the past year I joined work colleagues from my department in painting the interior of a Peanut Butter & Jelly preschool for low-income kids in the town of Bernalillo and preparing care packages for families supported by Roadrunner Food Bank. On my own I have over the years volunteered in my daughters’ classrooms and in the process earned the schools matching cash grants. But I have never volunteered outside my greater community, much less outside my country.
 
The area we are heading to now was hard hit during the Vietnam War. Vegetation was and continues to be contaminated by Agent Orange. My Vietnamese colleagues earlier in the year planted a type of tree known for its ability to grow quickly. As they grow, the trees pull toxins out of the soil. After 20 years the trees are cut down, taking the toxins with them.

But the trees are planted in the jungle, where vines can choke the saplings. Our job is to tend to the trees, clearing away vines and other invasive plants with hoes, allowing the trees to flourish.

But first we stop at one of the largest hydroelectricity plants in the southern part of the country. We get a tour of the facility and meet up with students from a local high school who will join us for lunch and then for the tree tending in the afternoon.
I’m not one for being fascinated by things like hydroelectricity, not to mention the tour is conducted in Vietnamese, but I honestly enjoy seeing the place. It is located in the lush countryside, about two hours from Saigon, with rivers and a reservoir created by the dam. Especially interesting are black-and-white photos from when the plant was built.
 
 
 
 
 

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Hydroelectric Plant (one through four), old black-and-white photos of the building
of the plant in south Vietnam, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 

∞ ∞ ∞





After the tour, the students join us for lunch in a thatched-roofed restaurant where we eat build-your-own spring rolls made with tiny prawns from the reservoir. I have never seen such miniscule shrimp. They lend new meaning to their name.

Soon comes a round of Vietnamese toasting. With arms stretched toward the center of the table, mugs in hand, we count to three and yell, “Yo!” Always the instigator, I urge my table mates to roar the loudest. We definitely succeed.




Youth Volunteers, three students who volunteered with us in the forest (and, man,
did they work!), May 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





It is steamy by the time we stand ready, hoes in gloved hands. In groups of three, each team begins work on two rows of trees. Even though it often rains in the afternoons this time of year, the yellow-red earth seems bone dry. I let loose on the vines that are choking the first tree on my row. I am, after all, hardy and not afraid of hard labor.

Sun bears down, sweat seeps from under my cap. Whack! Whack! Whack! I stop between chops to drink water.

By the time I am halfway down the row, I am dizzy and queasy. I sweat large amounts of water, and I drink large amounts of water to replace the sweat. But the more water I drink, the more nauseous I get. I squat near the base of the tree I’m working on and tug weakly at the vines. When I reach the end of the row, I sit in a spot of shade and regain my strength.




∞ ∞ ∞





  

Fast Grower, Seeds, Leaf, and Scorpion, scenes from the forest, including scorpion in a bottle, May 2009, photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




∞ ∞ ∞





After all the rows are done, we gather our tools and ourselves on blankets set under the shade of large trees. We gobble down fresh pineapple and papaya spears, peeled pomelo sections, and slices of watermelon. Everyone is laughing and talking. I am delighted to have been a part of the effort yet relieved that the work is over.

I pick up a couple of empty water bottles as we get ready to leave. Someone points to one of the bottles in my hand and I nearly drop it. Inside is a scorpion, caught and trapped by whoever was sharing the blanket with me. This is a different world!

The rain comes as the bus heads down the red dirt road out of the forest. I sit near the front, where I can look out the window. On the TV monitor above me, a beautiful Vietnamese singer croons a sad folk song. Life is not perfect, but this moment is.



Moon Swoon, video of a famous singer performing Vietnamese folk songs, the bus ride back to Saigon, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


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By Barbara Rick
 
 
envy 1
Envy Green, New York Botanical Garden, 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by Barbara Rick. All rights reserved.
 
 
 
It’s a hard, rotten knot of a word. Sinister. Secret. Has a way of gripping me by the throat and squeezing my soul of rational thought, patience, and generosity. Keeps rolling in like a black wave. ENVY.

After a crushing professional disappointment a while back, I found that I was brooding. Dark and long. Gnawing on the ‘injustice’ of it all. Sneering as I licked my wounds.

I became aware that I — as spiritually evolved and as peaceful a meditation warrior as I like to believe I am — was hobbled by something much bigger and darker than myself. Something slithery, lizard-like and primal. I was on to ENVY.

Touching its long thin tail. Up to my shins in it. And if it was giving me this much trouble, wrestling with me backstage in my accomplished, prosperous, abundant life, chances are it’s doing a number on everyone else as well. 

So I began digging, peering back through human history, and what I saw knocked me out.
 
The story of Cain and Abel, for starters. That’s when Cain, a farmer, turns on his shepherd brother because God liked Abel’s gift better. Cain, who by all accounts hadn’t even given much of a gift, was enraged anyway and ‘set upon’ his brother in a field. At the root of this first recorded homicide? ENVY.

Treatment of the Jews in the Holocaust? Not just the scapegoating, but the Germans preferred to actually lose the war than let up for a second on the extermination campaign against the Jews. ENVY, again.

Driving those planes into the Trade Center towers on 9/11? Yes.

Hostile, implacable, illogical, petty, deadly ENVY.
 
What a juicy, throbbing idea for a new documentary! We are intensively at work on this as we speak at my company, Out of The Blue Films, Inc. Seeking and receiving support and insights from some of the best minds in the world on this subject; scholars and artists musing, informing, inviting, seducing others to look at something most dare not. This film will be a bold, insightful, humorous exploration of the causes and consequences of this most corrosive human emotion.

Why and how is ENVY at work? It has a chameleon nature. First you see it, then you justify. It’s the squirming worm under the rock of history, hiding from the light. Exposed occasionally and brilliantly by Shakespeare, Dickens, immortalized in Salieri’s encounters with MozartIago’s loathing of OthelloCassius’ for Caesar … Claggart’s Billy Budd.

Viscous and vicious… elusive… a most urgent threat: between siblings, neighbors, nations. The evil eye. Often confused with jealousy, which, our ENVY scholars tell us, is often easier and softer for many to admit. Jealousy involves three people, and the fear of losing something you already have, while ENVY is typically between two people: that painful, searing feeling you get when someone else has what you long for and fear you might never get.

It’s the most shameful of the deadly sins, the mother of all others, writes Chaucer.

The driving, writhing force beneath most beloved fairy tales from Cinderella to Snow White. Scholars agree it casts a long, long shadow on humanity and its greatest power is that we are afraid, unwilling, or unable to look at it. Its care and feeding in secrecy under our dark collective psyche is the most damaging of all.

So we are calling it out, conjuring it up, exposing it to the best of our ability.
 
 
 
 

Trapped, Tucson, Arizona, near the Santa Catalina Mountains, 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by Barbara Rick, all rights reserved

Trapped, photo © 2005-2009
by B. Rick. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
We’re asking you, and others: Whom and what do you ENVY? Who has envied you? How has ENVY impacted your life?
 
 
 
 

London, 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by Barbara Rick, all rights reserved

London, photo © 2005-2009
by B. Rick. All rights reserved.

 


We’re using unique storytelling techniques to tell this dark, dangerous and ultimately triumphant story of human good over human evil — embracing the worst of ourselves to coax out and harness the very best.

What long and twisted roads has ENVY chased you down? When did it sneak up and scare the daylights out of you? Chain your heart and mind? How did you escape? Or didn’t you?

Please share with us your essays, short stories, poems, haiku, watercolors, oils, collages, drawings, photographs, and music. One of you will win a prize: a bright and shiny new Amazon Kindle. Any and all entries, or excerpts of them, could end up in our revolutionary and groundbreaking documentary. No promises, of course. Remain anonymous if you wish, that’s fine.

Shine a light on your ENVY. Chisel at it with your pen or paintbrush – splash some sunlight on your darkest corners. Walk together with us, deep into it and out onto the other side. It will be a hell of a ride.




________________________________________________________________



TOPIC – ENVY (A PRE-CALL FOR ENTRIES)




The  Out of the Blue Films, Inc. ENVY Contest at  red Ravine avatar officially starts in two 

days, on Thursday, June 11. That’s when we publish here at  red Ravine avatar    

the  Out of the Blue Films, Inc. ENVY Contest Submission Guidelines. Your writing or

visual entry may be selected as the winner of an Amazon Kindle.



So come back on Thursday, June 11, to read the ENVY Contest Submission Guidelines. We’ll tell you What creative forms are accepted and in what formats, and Where to send your entry and How. We’ll also provide the Terms & Conditions for the ENVY Contest.

Don’t miss your chance to win an Amazon Kindle, the reading wireless device that you hold in your hands like a book and that can carry in its memory thousands of titles that can be downloaded from the Amazon library — so you can read anywhere, anytime.



________________________________________________________________




Barbara Rick is a Peabody & Emmy award-winning filmmaker/journalist based in New York City. She is president and founder of Out of The Blue Films, Inc., creators of exceptional documentaries on important social issues that ignite positive action and promote open dialogue.

Recent films include ROAD TO INGWAVUMA (ing-wah-VOOM-ah), which chronicles the unique delegation of some of America’s most respected artists and their families to post-apartheid South Africa, and IN GOOD CONSCIENCE, one American nun’s battle with the Vatican over the rights of gay and lesbian Catholics.

ENVY is the latest project from Out of The Blue Films, Inc. in keeping with the company’s longstanding mission to tell the most inspiring stories that explore, articulate, educate, and celebrate humanity.





red Ravine is a vehicle for the promotion of this contest. red Ravine is not liable for any actions by the Producer, nor the Film. Any submissions are made directly and solely to Producer and not to red Ravine. red Ravine has no legal responsibility for submissions nor for any outcomes from the contest.

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Strange Bird, self-portrait, May 2009, pen and ink on graph
paper, doodle © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.
 
 
 
Sitting on a United Airlines flight, San Francisco to Hong Kong, I am relieved to find the middle seat empty as the last passengers take their seats. The plane starts its slow taxi to the runway. I buckle my seatbelt.

This is Economy Plus, a section touted for its extra five inches of leg room, which on a 14-hour flight impress me about as much as the dinner selection of chipped beef or poached fish.

Before the plane lifts from the tarmac, Frank in the window seat asks about my nose. We have already introduced ourselves, and I have already answered his queries about my ethnicity and where I’m from.

“Where’d the nose come from?!”

The question jars. Does he always ask about physical traits of people he’s just met? Are those breasts real? So, how’dya lose your leg?

“It’s Apache,” I say. A lie, although I’ve always thought that my great-grandfather, José Inocencio, looked like Apache chief Geronimo. The bump on my nose, which forms a contiguous line with my cheekbones, definitely comes from José, as does the hook.

I stick my beak back into my journal. I’ve been working on a doodle I started almost two years ago but never finished. One of the side benefits of being held hostage on a plane for 14 hours is that I get to finish what I started and start a bunch of new stuff that I won’t finish.

“Whatcha workin’ on?” Frank asks. For all his annoying questions, he seems genuinely interested.

I open the book so he can see the picture of a fish walking down a city street. Frank is a lawyer, which is about all I know of him. He notices that a sign on one of the buildings in my drawing says the word LAW. I flip the pages to show him other doodles, and when I land on a picture of a bird next to the word Anxiety, I tell him that I did that one for a piece I wrote about Anxiety.

“Do you have anxiety,” he asks.
 
And with that question, I divulged to a man I’d known only as long as it took to reach cruising altitude that I sometimes suffered from anxiety, that my mother was also anxious, and that I tried anti-anxiety pills but weaned myself off of them.

Then I opened a fresh page in my journal and sketched the outline of what would become my next doodle: a half-woman-half-bird sitting in a cage, naked except for a cape of feathered wings. 
 
 
 
 
bird boobs
 
 
 
 
This tendency toward self-disclosure—I’d like to think it’s a positive trait that comes from my mom. Mom was, still is, the kind of person who’s easy to be around. Troubled friends of mine or my brother’s when we were teenagers often sought refuge at our house. Mom fed them tortillas off the griddle or hot rolls with butter. She asked a few questions of the kids; mostly she let them be.

Uncle Henry, who is married to Mom’s sister Erma, used to visit Mom on late afternoons. He taught Drivers Ed after coaching track at an Albuquerque high school. Many times I walked home from the bus stop to find some pimply kid slouched behind the steering wheel of a car in our driveway. Who knows how long Uncle Henry had been inside, drinking coffee or tea, eating a snack, and talking to Mom?

Mom also has a way of telling it like it is. She’s unlike most women I know of from her generation. Rarely private, never proper. She’s our own Dr. Ruth; she’s told some of us, her daughters and granddaughters, that married couples ought to have sex “about three times a week.” I won’t go into why she once received a ceramic jar labeled Mom’s Farts.

Mom can be riotously self-deprecating. For Father’s Day a year or two ago, we all watched Dad open the usual array of gift cards: Lowes, Borders, Barnes & Noble.

“You shouldn’t get him gift cards,” Mom chided. “Why didn’t you give him something useful, like a hoe?”

“I already have a hoe,” Dad objected.

“Who, me?” Mom asked, at which point they looked at each other and burst out laughing.

We’re on the look-out now for HO-themed presents: Christmas gifts wrapped in HO-HO-HO paper, and a HO-HO-HO t-shirt found at a store in Denver, which we got for Mom this past Mother’s Day.

My mother (and my dad, for that matter) has always been transparent. As a former boyfriend used to tell me, “Your parents are WYSIWYG.” What you see is what you get.
 



bird boobs




There is such a thing as over-exposure. I don’t always know where to draw the line, although I’ve gotten more discerning each year that passes. I won’t hesitate to pop in the earbuds and keep to myself if I feel the need to stop emitting honesty.

For example, I could have told Frank that besides inheriting her anxiety, I’m also prone to Mom’s tendency to bloat after sitting in one spot for too many hours.

Speaking of which, on the return flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, there was no Frank, but there was an Indian man hopping from foot to foot and doing knee bends in the waiting area near the bathroom.

It was the middle of the flight, shades drawn and the plane completely dark to simulate nighttime. I made my way past sleeping passengers, their legs, pillows, and headphones spilling into the aisle. The toilet was occupied. I looked to the Indian man and asked, “You in line?” He nodded and kept running in place.

We waited for what seemed like a long time, being as how the man wouldn’t stand still. When the door popped open, he hesitated, then looked at me.

“You go next,” he said. He’d finally stopped moving.

“Are you sure??” I asked. Maybe he was about to pee in his pants.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure! I’m going to be a loooong time, and after I’m done you won’t want to go in there.”

“Ah,” I said and made for the door.

I didn’t know whether to thank him at the time, although looking back, I’m really glad he shared.






Disclaimer To Frank, In Case He Ever Sees This

You truly were a nice seat mate, nose question notwithstanding. I should have mentioned that I’m known to write about people on planes. At least I didn’t draw you.

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No bunnies in the garden, Easter bunny statue
after a visit by the ghost, April 2009, photo ©
2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



On Easter Sunday night, the night Patty came over with my ugly rabbit in tow, the ghost was active. We sat in the great room, exhausted but satisfied. The party had been a success. The house was clean (we vacuumed up edible Easter basket grass from all corners of the playroom), ham was in the fridge, the dishes done. Patty, Jim, and I stared at my ugly Easter bunny — Patty found it at Marshall’s — and laughed. It stood two feet tall on hind legs. Other than the basket it carried in its paws, the rabbit was meant to be realistic, not a cartoon bunny. It was painted khaki tan.

When the gate outside the window snapped closed, Jim glanced my way. “What?” I said, knowing exactly why he looked at me. He told Patty that it was the ghost. Like Jim, Patty has a sixth sense. Jim told her that the ghost was matriarchal, that she had been a gardener and wanted the place to be looked after.

Patty looked out into the darkness. It was late. She got up to leave. I walked her to the front door as Jim took my ugly bunny out to the back patio.


The first year we lived here the ghost was most active in the master bathroom. She flushed the toilet at random, sometimes several times a night. One time she bumped me as I leaned over the sink brushing my teeth. Jim had also felt her presence, even seen her—not her face but the old-fashioned fabric of her dress—in the laundry room. I pictured her to be matronly, gray hair in a bun, benevolent but stern like an elderly woman in a Mary Cassatt painting.

But lately she’s been out by the side gate, along a brick path leading from the front porch to the rose garden in the back. That’s where the greenhouse is, too. Jim is convinced she wants to see us using the greenhouse. He thinks my recent project revitalizing the rose garden is especially making her happy.

It is a sweet spot. An old apple tree anchors it, hanging like a weeping willow over the large plot. In the dirt are the graves of two dogs, an entire sprinkler system that no longer works, and several round stepping stones that were (until we uncovered them) buried under debris. The only living remnants of a thriving garden, besides the apple tree, are the several rose bushes, one taller than me by a couple of feet. I’ve told Jim, “Someone once loved this space.”

It must have been lush at one time.




Easter bunny in front of the garden, April 2009, photo © 2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved




Day after Easter we wake to rain. It’s come down all night, gentle but steady. I stay in bed; I worked hard getting ready for the party, getting ready for spring, getting that special garden into shape for the first round of perennials I planned to plant there soon. Em runs into the bedroom.

“Mom, did you paint the rabbit?”

I’m not sure if I heard her right and if I did, what in the world was she talking about?

“What?”

“Did you paint the rabbit??”

Paint the rabbit? I turn it over in my head. What rabbit?

Jim comes in behind Em. “Roma, the rabbit has green splotches on it.”

Green splotches!?

I get up, trudge to the windows looking out over the wet patio. There the ugly rabbit stands on hind legs. He is khaki tan, yes, but now he has big army green splotches all over him.

“Were they there before?” Jim asks, mostly to the universe. We wrack our brains. I don’t remember them. Em doesn’t remember them.

I call Patty. “Patty, our rabbit has green spots. Big green spots. Did it have green spots last night?”

“No,” she says, laughing.

“Are you sure?”

“I drove around with that rabbit in the back seat for weeks; of course I’m sure. It did not have green spots!”

We develop our theories: water-activated paint, all of us were just too tired to see the splotches, or the ghost has a sense of humor.


Two weekends have passed since Easter. I’ve managed to get more than 40 plants into the flower garden. Two mums, four hollyhocks, three clumps of daisy. I planted the Easter lillies we got as gifts for hosting the Easter celebration. Under the rose bushes I put leafy coral bells, the color of ruddy cheeks, as ground cover.

A patch of columbines sit in the shade of the apple tree, penstemons in full sun, flowering woodruff, soapwort, salvia, coleus for the exotic red-green foliage, evening primrose, Icelandic poppies, a bleeding heart bush. Near the brilliant violet of a plant whose name I’ve forgotten, I seed small marigolds. I can just imagine the bright orange-yellow against the purple in summer. Because I know Jim loves herbs, I plant a large oregano in the corner closest to the back door, and I leave room for the chives he bought at Grower’s Market.

Jim remarks that she’s happy to see the garden take shape. I have noticed less of her. The last time I felt her presence was one morning early in the week after Easter; I went outside, not a breeze in the air, and the gate swung slowly closed. It dawns on me that I had been schooling our pug, Sony, to use the garden as her potty area. Nowadays my refrain to Sony is, “Out of the garden, out of the garden.”

The ghost is happy.

Jim is comfortable with her presence; me, less so. I don’t much like the idea of just letting a ghost be. At one point I suggested that we invite a friend of a friend, a ghost whisperer, to come and at least make contact with her, see why she’s here. Jim looked at me askew. “You’re not going to pay for him to do it, are you?” I know what he was thinking: I know why she’s here.

And the truth of the matter is that I trust his instincts. I can sense that she’s found some peace of late. Or maybe it’s me, finally digging my hands into the earth, taking the patch of land into my care. A few days ago I moved one of the mums from the spot I first planted it. Too crowded into the rose bushes and the flowering woodruff at their base. I planted it in a roomier spot, in full sun.

Mums are an old-fashioned plant, hardy like dahlias and zinnias, a flower I associate with ancestors from a long-ago past. I have a feeling she likes them.





Image, I noticed the image of a face in this photo that Jim took of an ice crack over a hole, photo © 2007-2009 by Jim, all rights reserved   Image, I noticed the image of a face in this photo that Jim took of an ice crack over a hole, photo © 2007-2009 by Jim, all rights reserved
Image, I noticed the image of a face in this photo that Jim took of an ice crack over a hole, photo © 2007-2009 by Jim. All rights reserved.




Postscript: I wrote this as a Writing Practice (later edited) Monday night on the plane ride from Albuquerque to Portland. I was looking through pictures stored on my computer when I noticed the above photo that Jim took two winters ago. It is a shot of an ice crack over a hole. Suddenly the image of a face jumped out at me. It’s a benevolent face, like a young Madonna or the Christ child.

I marveled at Jim’s gift, how he can commune with hummingbirds (they’re back, by the way; just showed up this week) and the ghost of a former matron of the house. Patty says Jim is an innocent, that he has a clear channel to things the rest of us don’t.

This photo made me realize that the ghost is OK. As Jim said when I brought up the notion of inviting over the guy who talks to ghosts, “Not everything has to change. Some things are fine just the way they are.”

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By Teri Blair


St. Paul's Icelandic Lutheran Church, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved

St. Paul’s Icelandic Lutheran Church, Minneota, Minnesota, where the services for Minnesota writer Bill Holm were held, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.




Early on a Sunday morning in March, I drove three hours to attend the funeral of writer Bill Holm. Since that day, I’ve wanted to write about it. But I keep getting stuck. I pace. I try again. The paper is crumpled and thrown in the trash.

What’s wrong? I’m trying to make my writing as grand as Bill was, or as eloquent as I think he deserves. When I stop writing and try to do the dishes instead, I consider what Natalie Goldberg would tell me to do. She’d say, Just tell the story. The story is enough.




height="225"

The First Settlement, sign outside the St. Paul’s
Icelandic Lutheran Church, March 2009, photo
© 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





Bill was born on a Minnesota prairie farm, educated at the local public school, and grew to be six-and-a-half feet tall. He had a huge shock of red hair that turned white with age, ruddy cheeks, and a beautiful, booming voice. He left Minnesota after college to live around the world, but by the time he was 40 he had returned to his hometown, to his roots. He taught English and poetry for 27 years at Southwest State, and proceeded to publish 16 books. He bought a house in Iceland, and split his time between Minneota, Minnesota and a cottage near the Arctic Circle. He was bold and certain and convicted. He was funny and irreverent and warm.

I heard Bill speak a year before he died. He was reading from The Window of Brimnes at the Minneapolis Public Library. He was three weeks shy of retirement, and could barely contain his excitement for the next phase of life. No one in the audience could have guessed his new life would only last a year. When Minnesota Public Radio announced he had died after collapsing at the airport, I was crushed. Bill couldn’t be dead. I had just seen him. And he was just starting his new life, remember?

I knew I would go to his funeral. It was obvious. I now consider that I may have ignored that quiet voice telling me to go. I’ve done that before, argued myself out of following my instincts. But this time I didn’t.


Minnesota River, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reservedI packed a lunch the night before, and got on the road the next morning before daylight. The funeral was at St. Paul’s Icelandic Lutheran Church, built in 1895 by immigrants. Because I knew there wouldn’t be much room in the small church, I got there two hours early. After securing a space in the back pew with my coat and bag, I went to the front to look at the floral arrangements. The flowers had come from around the globe, from everyone. An open copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was in the bouquet from his wife. When I returned to my seat, another early-arriver walked in. Poet Laureate & Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser. When I saw him, I knew what the day was going to be like.

One by one they began to arrive, the gray-haired authors. Many of them I knew, and some I only recognized from book jackets but couldn’t place their names. Ten of them were pallbearers. I was awed. Humbled. I’d watch them approach each other, hug, and weep together over losing their friend. Not competitive. Tender. Attached to each other. I was in the company of greatness, and I knew it. They were steady. Present. The media wasn’t allowed into the church, and there was a hush of holiness. We gathered, and honored, and were still.

The funeral service was a full two hours long. In addition to writing, Bill was an accomplished pianist. There were Bach piano solos and Joplin’s ragtime. An octet from the college sang Precious Lord Take My Hand. Bill’s poetry and essays were read. The preacher made us all laugh when he told how Bill sat in the choir loft during sermons and read the newspaper. Though he didn’t agree with all the theology of Lutherans, he valued his roots in that little church.

When the service was over, Bill’s wife was led out first. A tall woman who looked sad and grounded and strong and peaceful. The author-pallbearers followed her out. Some of them held hands, and they stood very close to each other. I wanted time to move slower, to be with them longer in that small place.




Minneota's library, the librarians would call Bill Holm, and he'd walk there to sign books for the tourists, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved

Minneota’s Library, the librarians would call Bill Holm,
and he’d walk there to sign books for the tourists, March
2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.

 

 

After ham sandwiches at the American Legion, I found the farm where Bill had been raised. On a deeply secluded road, the old farmstead sat on top of a hill. I got out of my car and looked at the beautiful rolling hills that Bill grew up on. I imagined the hundreds of times he walked down the same long driveway where I stood to wait for the school bus. I drove to the Icelandic cemetery and looked at the graves of his parents, imagining some of his ashes would soon be inurned there, too. I drove home slowly, filled with all I had seen.

Bill would appreciate me going to his funeral, but he wouldn’t want me to stay sentimental too long. He’d expect me to get on with it. Get on with it, now, he’d say. Be alive.




Westerheim Icelandic Cemetery, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved

Westerheim Icelandic Cemetery, March 2009,
photo © 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





 
___________________________________________

 

Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back

by Bill Holm


Let go of the dead now.
The rope in the water,
The cleat on the cliff,
Do them no good anymore.
Let them fall, sink, go away,
Become invisible as they tried
So hard to do in their own dying.
We needed to bother them
With what we called help.
We were the needy ones.
The dying do their own work with
Tidiness, just the right speed,
Sometimes even a little
Satisfaction. So quiet down.
Let them go. Practice
Your own song. Now.

 

___________________________________________

Poem copyright (c)2004 by Bill Holm, from his most recent book of poems “Playing the Black Piano,” Milkweed Editions, 2004.




 

Poet Bill Holm, 1943-2009, from the program for his Memorial Service in Minneota, Minnesota, original photograph by Brian Peterson, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Poet Bill Holm, 1943-2009, Memorial program photograph by QuoinMonkey, original photograph of Bill Holm © 2009 by Brian Peterson.

About Teri Blair:  Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey fondly and frequently writes. (See Postcard From Billy Collins — Kicking Off National Poetry Month for the latest post on that group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri is an active and valued member of the red Ravine community. Her other posts include A 40-Year Love Affair, about Bill Irvine’s passion for the Parkway, a landmark theater in Minneapolis that closed in 2008; and 40 Days, 8 Flags, And 1 Mennonite Choir and Thornton Wilder & Bridges, both prompted by the August 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. Teri was also one of our first guest writers, with the piece Continue Under All Circumstances.

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By Lesley A. Goddin



Spirit walkers. Moving slowly leaves an energy impression on the path. December 2008 © photo 2008-2009 by Lesley Goddin. All rights reserved.

Spirit walkers, moving slowly leaves an energy impression on the path, December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by Lesley Goddin. All rights reserved.





Slow or fast.

This is suddenly the question of the century for me.

I was born slow. A brown-eyed, curly-haired Taurus—stubborn, plodding (yes, it really says that in horoscope descriptions). Maybe lingering and savoring, which is why we like food so much.

My childhood was given to many daydreams and meanderings, and walks in the woods, among the poison ivy and honeysuckles and magic of light falling through green leaves. Looking and sketching. Slow thinking. One thought cascading down upon another like water tripping down levels of a rock fountain. Nourishing.

But as time went on, slow fell out of style. It was FAST! FAST! FAST! Multitask—no time for lingering or even being present. In my 30s, I actually remember sitting in my corner office on the 35th floor of a building at 52nd and Broadway in Manhattan, thinking, “I am like a well-oiled machine.” I was proud of that, proud of being able to zing from one activity to another; excited by life, excited by my ability; buzzing with importance.




Golden nuggets. As I linger in the fading light, the rocks around me turn to gold. December 2007 © photo 2007-2009 by Lesley Goddin. All rights reserved.

Golden nuggets, as I linger in the fading light, the
rocks around me turn to gold, December 2007, photo
© 2007-2009 by Lesley Goddin. All rights reserved.






Now I am 51. And the fast life is losing its appeal. I moved to New Mexico 14 years ago, but kept up the pace. Except now fast includes email and texting and cell phones and being online with two email accounts and several social networking sites opened at once, as I sit in my home office and work remotely editing an industry trade magazine. Fast means keeping up with it all—answering emails the second they arrive; keeping my train of thought; not finding time to declutter my house or compound the oxidation that has formed on my 14-year old car hood.

This weekend, my body rebelled. It put a knot in my chest and a gasp in my breath and jelly into my legs. I know this syndrome—overloading my nervous system with stress and busyness and then trying to clear it out with intense exercise. My wise body wasn’t having any of it. Dreams of walking and yoga and deep breathing filled my head and my online research confirmed that was just what I needed. A return to the slow.




Solar lit labyrinth. The labyrinth awaits my slow, meandering pace. July 2007 © photo 2007-2007 by Lesley Goddin. All rights reserved.

Solar lit labyrinth, the labyrinth awaits my slow,
meandering pace, July 2007 photo © 2007-2009
by Lesley Goddin. All rights reserved.






So, this is my mission now. To live in the slow. To BE slow. To BE. To savor and linger and walk just a touch slower than I know I can; to do one thing at a time; to give up worry and hurry for Lent. I am remembering who I am; I am snorting through my Taurus nostrils and stamping my bull hooves and pawing the ground in stubborn slowness and defiance of the world’s ever-increasing pace.

I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it any more—except I am not mad. I am sane. I am wise. I will meander through the cobblestone-and-gravel labyrinth I helped build at a local church and let God talk to me.

Tonight, out for my slow walk at dusk, I asked for Divine direction. Across the street and up in the brown foothills, movement along the trail caught my eye. A huge deer, chocolate brown against the mocha dusty trail moved with grace, white rump flashing. Then another and another—seven in all. I stopped, stood smiling, watching their meandering climb, joined by a bicyclist to witness the miracle and share small words, all a gift of choosing to be slow. And I got my answer.




Pronghorns. Not the deer I saw in the foothills, but slow walking got me close to these pronghorn antelope in the Petrified Forest in Arizona earlier this year. January 2009, photo © 2009 by Lesley Goddin. All rights reserved.

Pronghorns, slow walking got me close to these
pronghorn antelope in the Petrified Forest in Arizona
earlier this year, January 2009, photo © 2009
by Lesley Goddin. All rights reserved.






Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11, and drawing and sketching since she could hold a pencil. Her penchant for observation led to her becoming a paid professional as a trade journalist, publicist and currently as an editor for TileLetter, a trade magazine for tile contractors. She has also written for Guideposts, Walls, Windows and Floors, Floor Covering Weekly, and Low Carb Energy.

Her inspired writing life centers around topics of Spirit, including several sermons and an ongoing e-newsletter called Footsteps, for members of the labyrinth community in Albuquerque, an ancient walking meditation. She is currently working on a book of labyrinth-inspired essays called Letters from the Labyrinth.




-related to Topic post WRITING TOPIC – SLOW OR FAST?

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By Bob Chrisman
 

Aunt Annie Saluting, photo 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Here’s to you, Aunt Annie!, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.




A cup of tea with sugar brings back memories of my first cup, the day my mother said, “You’re old enough to drink tea.” Sacks of pale orange “circus peanuts” remind me of the stale ones in Grandma Hecker’s candy dish. Homemade caramel-covered apples take me to Mrs. Wallace’s kitchen where I taste tested them the night before Halloween. Ritz crackers transport me to Mrs. Thompson’s house where we played Ring-Around-The-Rosie.

Certain recipes hold special memories. I bake scalloped potatoes topped with pork chops the same way my mother did and in the same glass loaf dish. When I make Hamburger Splatter, I remember the adults who my mother babysat when they were children stopping by for the recipe. My favorite holiday dish recipe is scalloped oysters. Aunt Annie, Mom’s youngest sister, made them every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I asked my cousins why their mom fixed such an exotic dish for such meat-and-potatoes people. Neither of them knew but thought a neighbor might have given the recipe to Aunt Annie. Oysters don’t grow in northwest Missouri. My mother and her sisters didn’t have unusual tastes in food. Yet every holiday dinner, sitting next to the freshly roasted turkey, the real mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole, and the fresh raspberry pies made from home-canned raspberries, we’d find the scalloped oysters.

I asked my aunt for the recipe. I didn’t want her to pass away without someone having it. “I don’t really have a recipe anymore. I just know how to make it,” she said. She wrote down the ingredients and instructions on a piece of notebook paper, which I lost the first time I used it. My recipe, which I carried in my head until now, captures the taste and consistency of the original.

Scalloped oysters remind me of family gatherings when my mother, her sisters and their husbands were in their prime. I remember long prayers while we held hands followed by huge meals, hours of card games, and the feeling of being loved.

Most of all I remember my Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete. They loved one another very much. They had an ease with one another and they treated each other with respect. She wasn’t always easy to live with (none of the sisters were), but Uncle Pete never fell out of love with her. I always thought, of all the sisters, Aunt Annie had the happiest marriage.



Uncle Vernon (Pete) O. Simmon in uniform, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Uncle Vernon (Pete) O. Simmon in uniform, image
© 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.





Photographs from the 1940’s capture a dashing young man in a military uniform and a dark-haired beauty. They made a striking couple all of their lives.

After he returned from the war, they bought a little house on Garden Street where they raised their three children and hosted many holiday dinners. I always envied my cousins for the parents they had.

I grew closer to them as I aged. Many times I would leave my mother’s house and stop by theirs before I drove home. Aunt Annie told me stories about her sisters and the family, things my mother never mentioned. Uncle Pete would interrupt, when he could, to offer his two cents on the subject. I loved them both and came to treasure those times with just the two of them.

Uncle Pete died of pancreatic cancer in October 1996. His death broke Aunt Annie’s heart. They had been married for over 50 years. She went through the motions of living for about a year before she took sick and died in December, 1997. I think that he was waiting for her when she passed. If he had anything to say about it, I know he was.

Here’s the recipe for her famous scalloped oysters. I hope the recipe generates some good memories for you and your families.




Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete, image © 2009
by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.





Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters



1      1-pound loaf of Velveeta Cheese (sliced)
32    Saltine cracker squares (approximately one package out of a box of four)
4-5   8-ounce cans of oysters (pieces-and-bits or whole or a combination)*
2      12-ounce cans of evaporated milk**


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice Velveeta Cheese into slices about an eighth of an inch thick. Open four cans of oysters and drain off most of the liquid. (Note: Keep some to pour into the casserole to add more oyster flavor, if desired.)

Use a casserole dish that has a lid (even though the lid isn’t used except for storage of leftovers). Grease it with your choice of oil; I prefer butter.

Then begin the layering process:

Crush enough Saltine crackers to make a layer on the bottom of the dish. Next place a layer of oysters with some liquid from the can. Cover with a layer of slices of Velveeta Cheese. Pour enough evaporated milk to wet the layers. Repeat.

The amount of the ingredients given above makes about three layers. Top the dish with another layer of Velveeta Cheese. Bake until the cheese on top is melted and a warm brown, about 90 minutes (longer if you want it crustier).

This dish will serve at least 8-10 people and maybe 10-14 if plenty of other food is available. You can make smaller portions by using a loaf pan and only making two layers. I do that when I have no one else to join me. The leftovers make a tasty, if unusual, breakfast treat.


*The number of cans of oysters you buy will determine on how “oyster-y” you want the dish to be. I found that four cans make generous layers. I usually buy two cans of pieces-and-bits and two cans of whole oysters.

**You will have approximately 1/2 can of evaporated milk left when you finish. My youngest cousin says that she uses regular milk.

Hopefully you have a strong heart and clean arteries. Bon appetit.




Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. His other red Ravine posts include Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.

We’d like to thank Bob for providing this recipe and the story of the aunt who inspired it. And thank you, Aunt Annie! We’ve been dreaming about scalloped oysters since last Thanksgiving, when Bob made mention of the dish in a conversation in the post Reflections On The Other National Bird.

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Forbidden Fruit, range of wines to be tasted at Casa Rodeña in Albuquerque’s north valley, March 2009, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





My definition of torture: A half day off from work to go to a company-sponsored wine-tasting event. God, am I a whiner or what?! Well, at least I’m not a wino, which I definitely was on the road to becoming.

My fondness for wine started in 10th grade. Annie Greensprings and the apple-based Boone’s Farms, so-called pop wines that peaked—in popularity only—in the 1970s. I was 15 or 16 and for one short summer steeped in the fake ID business. Yes, my boyfriend Corky and I, and Corky’s best friend, a wunderkind with graphics, set up a New Mexico drivers license processing station in Corky’s bedroom. Droid painted an exact simulation of the New Mexican goldenrod yellow and brick red background, Zia symbol and all. (This before the Department of Motor Vehicles went high-tech, with holograms to certify authenticity.)

In 11th grade I was invited to Elizabeth Z.’s dinner party. Elizabeth was a year older than me. She served lasagna in fancy plates on a linen-covered dining room table dotted with bottles of Liebfraumilch, a German wine that was almost as sickly sweet as Annie Greensprings. Yet, it had a name that looked nothing like the way it was pronounced, and the sophisticated Elizabeth was endorsing it. I figured it was the wine choice for people of good breeding and immediately co-opted it as my own favorite.

My love of wine and my continued devotion to cheap wines in particular, got stronger the year I moved to Spain. There wine was like water. You drank it starting at about 10 in the morning (at least people in my neighborhood did). We took our first break of the day, dropped into the little bar for a quick copa de vino tinto, a glass of red wine, and ate a little plate of peanuts or olives, or maybe if the tapas were good, a nice-sized serving of ceviche or a cured-ham-and-hard-cheese bocadillo.

Pepe, the guy who owned my favorite bar, La Llave, which sat one small step across the cobblestone road from my apartment, liked to share with me his private stash of wines made of apples or plums. They were sweet and fruity and reminded me of the time Dad tried his hand at making wine in the garage, one year when he grew too many Concord grapes.

In Spain I took to buying myself bottles of Cortesía, a sweet white wine, probably similar in taste to a Reisling. In addition to hanging out at La Llave, I often sat on the rooftop terrace outside my bedroom and indulged. When I got to finishing off about a bottle a day, I realized I had a wine problem. I noticed a small shake in my hands as I lit my first cigarette of the morning, and it became harder to convince myself to wait out the hours before breaking out that first glass of wine of the day. 

As the year progressed I became increasingly bewildered about what I was doing with my life. I’d gone to Spain to write, make art, and learn Spanish, but by eight months into it, I’d dropped out of all my classes, became part of and then later stop going to a still-life art studio, and spent most of my time in La Llave or holed up in my room writing letters, doodling, and drinking wine as I pondered my next step.







Fortunately, my body protested to my wine addiction long before my brain did. For about 15 years after returning from Spain, I continued to drink wine. I eventually learned about and started drinking good red wines. I mostly loved reds on the dry side—sauvignons, zinfandels, and pinot noirs—although I would also imbibe in the occasional chardonnay.

I never became as heavy a drinker as I’d been in Spain, although I had intense wine cravings. I allowed myself two glasses of wine each evening after work, and if I went to a party I allowed three, and on the rare occasion, four, assuming it was a long party and the drinks were stretched out over several hours.

Then what I call “my wine allergy” kicked in. Here’s what I noticed:

  • Morning aftertaste: The morning after having wine, even after having only one glass, I could still taste the wine on my breath. It seemed as though the wine were sitting in my stomach, and that all I had to do was exhale and there would be a lusty, boozy smell. It made me feel like I’d already been drinking from the moment I woke up.
  • Face blushing: Suddenly, the very first sip of wine caused my entire nose and the area just on either side of it to blush. My sinuses and lips would heat up, and I knew that whoever was looking at me was now seeing a red-nosed reindeer version of me. There was nothing I could do to stop it from happening. Eventually, halfway through the glass, my face would go back to normal, but the blushing was intense and embarrassing while it was happening.
  • Smell intolerance: Wine, even expensive bottles, took on a rubbing-alcohol scent. I stopped being able to discern a fruity bouquet or any aroma save for the overwhelming smell of something flammable. A friend could walk up to me, her goblet exuding its eau de vin, and all I could smell was something akin to ethanol.
  • Taste intolerance: Same thing finally happened with taste. It all tasted bad to me, like wine from a bottle that had been uncorked for months. My wine connoiseiur friends insisted I try good wines, assuming I was drinking the cheapo stuff (again!). It didn’t matter. Good wine, even great wine, tasted like hootch to me.








People tell me it’s the sulfites. I tell them I don’t know what it is, but secretly I believe it’s divine intervention and my body warning me that there’s not too big a step between me and alcoholism. My body can’t process liquor. The good news is that the allergy killed all cravings for wine. Just the smell in the wine-tasting room was enough to send me outdoors every once in a while.

I can still go to wine-tasting events, watch everyone swirl their glasses and check for “legs” while I eat more than my fair share of olives, salami, and cheese. When they inhale the wine’s bouquet, I sneak out, creep around the place and snap a few shots.

But I’ll let you in on a secret. Now my drink of choice is beer, and to tell the truth, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference between wine and beer as far as my body is concerned. Already I’ve noticed some of the same “wine allergy” symptoms starting to appear.

So this is where I stand: on the edge of accepting that I’m not made for any of it. Maybe I started too young, or maybe I got the low tolerance gene that resulted in goofy-drunken-relative stories that both my parents have from their respective families (the great uncle who always showed up to parties drunk). I was a heavy drinker for the one year I was in Spain, but what little I drink now has a big effect, too big an effect, on my system.

I’d like to declare right here that I’m giving it up, too, before my body forces me to. And maybe I will, with all of you as my witnesses. I’ll let you know, but believe me, I just raised the ante on myself.





NOTE: Alcohol addiction is no laughing matter. I’ve actually been kicking around declaring myself alcohol-free for over a year. Somehow I can’t reconcile the fact that I don’t drink very much, yet my body still has an intolerance. It’s probably an excuse, but I think I’d be laughed out of Alcoholics Anonymous if I let it be known that I was trying to wean myself off of a beer a night.

Still, wean myself I must. And, if like me you are even slightly concerned about your own drinking, check out the sources below. You and I are not alone.




Resources

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By Elizabeth Statmore



Writers are gardeners. We sow seeds and cultivate worlds. Every writing practice I do is a seed I hope will germinate, but I have to approach it with no expectations. Seeds, like words, are happily indifferent to my intentions. They force me to learn over and over how to follow their process without hope or expectations.

I keep a seed-starting station on the bookcase in my bay window sill. I face it while I do writing practice on the couch. It has fifteen deep cells, each planted with a different hope for my garden. Actually I sow in multiples. Right now I have two each of flat-leaf parsley, winterbor kale, lacinato or dinosaur kale, speckled trout lettuce, and Merveille des Quatre Saisons lettuce, among others. I have three cells of an heirloom ruffled pansy I am nuts about — chalon suprème purple picotée. The flowers are ruffled confections of deep plum and violet and mauve and golden yellow and white. They’re not easy to find. I have to order the seeds online from a web store in England.

As with writing practice, there are no guarantees. You make positive effort, but you can’t know in advance what will root and take off and what will refuse to cooperate in your plans.


My parsley cells have gone crazy. Same for the two types of kale. This year the pansies have agreed to participate. Some years they just refuse to release their secrets.

One of the White Boston Lettuce cells has sprung magically to life while the other has stayed mum. The seeds just refuse to get started. They sit there beneath the surface of their sterilized germinating mix, lips pressed stubbornly shut. They squint up at me when I inspect them. They dare me to plant over them.

The seed-starting system is a miniature greenhouse, with an opaque bottom tray and a clear plastic domed top. The top has two green louvered vents that can be opened once the first seed leaves poke their noses up out of the ground.

I placed the tray on a large baking sheet to catch any drips that overflow out of the sides. Germination is a moist and messy business. I have already had to refinish the top of the wooden bookcase once.

Below the baking sheet is an electric warming mat. It’s like a special heating pad for sprouting seeds. They respond to the warming temperature of the soil they are planted in, like words in a writing practice. They only start their work once I’ve warmed things up.

The other key to the seed-starting station is an old little desk lamp I’ve outfitted with a fifteen-watt greenhouse bulb. It’s a compact fluorescent that emphasizes the blue rays of the light spectrum, the ones that seedlings respond to.

I’ve learned all this from library books. I was not raised as a farm kid or even a gardener’s kid.


I am struck by the familiar combination of artifice and natural conditions I have to create to get things started. Some of my non-writing-practice writer friends feel this way about my reliance on writing practice. They ask how I can ever get projects done when I give over so much of my writing energy and time to wandering aimlessly across the pages of my Spiderman notebooks.

I’ve tried to explain it to them, but it’s like starting a garden from seeds. If you don’t do it this way yourself, it’s tough to wrap your mind around. How can a bunch of specks in a paper envelope turn into fragrant pasta sauces or salads? One person’s mystery looks like another person’s madness.











Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and gardener. She is a long-time practitioner of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg, and she recently finished her first novel by using Writing Practice as her foundation.

A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last piece for red Ravine—Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece—was a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is…. All doodles © 2009 by ybonesy.

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Bursting, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Bursting, purple coneflowers in the summer garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




It’s hard to believe, but the years are ticking by on red Ravine. We are well into 2009. If you missed any of the writers and artists who published with us in 2008, links to each of their pieces are below. Please feel free to revisit their work. Or if you are reading for the first time, new comments are welcome; let them know what you think.

ybonesy and I extend our gratitude to our dedicated readers, to our haiku poets, and to all who have published with us on red Ravine. It is our honor and pleasure to have gotten to know you better through your work. We look forward to future submissions.

Thank you!



‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾


January 2008


My Totem Animal by Sharon Sperry Bloom

CIRCLES – A Free Write by Carolee



February 2008


A 10-Minute Free-Writing Practice by Christine Swint

Hair – 15min by Robin



March 2008


A 40-Year Love Affair by Teri Blair

Hands by Bob Chrisman



April 2008


An Evening With Elizabeth Gilbert & Anne Lamott by Carolyn Flynn

Interview With Author and Artist Natalie Goldberg



May 2008


Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group
by Teri Blair

Growing Older by Bob Chrisman

Growing Old by Bo



June 2008


The Face You Wore Before You Were Born by Linda Weissinger Lupowitz

“Goat Ranch” by Bob Chrisman



July 2008


The Art of My Self-Publishing by Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager



August 2008


Rollin’ Easy by Marylin (aka oliverowl)

A Lesson By Example by Bo Mackison



September 2008


Stephenie Bit Me, Too! by Bob Chrisman

Crisis Changed My Life by Robin

The Shamanic Series by Carol Tombers



October 2008


The Law Of Threes by Bob Chrisman

Why I Vote by Teresa Valle

Ink Illuminations by Katherine Repka*



November 2008


Mystery E.R. by Judith Ford

In Memoriam by Bob Chrisman



December 2008


haiku (one-a-day)– a year of collaborative haiku practice from our visiting poets 



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-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

-related to posts: Piglet Bearing Gifts (red Ravine’s 2007 Guests) and haiku (one-a-day)

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By Linda Weissinger Lupowitz



Our Preserve, a sign in the Corrales Bosque Preserve, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Our Preserve, a sign in the Corrales Bosque Preserve, which is part of the Rio Grande Bosque, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




The Rio Grande supports a ribbon of green oasis along its length, from its beginnings in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, to its junction with the Gulf of Mexico. In New Mexico much of this oasis is a native bosque (Spanish for woods) of Rio Grande cottonwood, together with a few other shrubs and trees, alongside a burr-reed and willow marsh. The marshland was once extensive along the river, sustained by the yearly floods which replenished the water table and fertilized the soil. Now this marshland is rare, found only in places where mudflats persist and drainage from diversion channels keeps the soil relatively moist.

~from Jim Swan’s Rio Grande Bosque




Footprints on North Beach, Corrales Bosque Preserve along the Rio Grande, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reservedWinter walking in the Corrales bosque is cool and quiet—I hear only the sound of my shoes on the forest floor, and my own breathing. Wind vibrates faded yellow leaves hanging high above—now and then a leaf twists off, clatters down, bumping through branches to land in the path. The trails are private and winding, at times damp with snow in the shade, or most often deep, soft chalky dust, pocked by paw prints, hoof prints, bicycle tracks.

Horse – Bicycle – Pedestrian – who yields to whom? The triangular sign shows the walker yields to both.

Towering above are the textured trunks of twisted cottonwood trees, adorned with mistletoe, sometimes raucous with hundreds of crows, chanting among rattling old leaves.

On gravel bars along the river, the geese sun themselves, all facing south; a laughing duck, or the shadow of an intruder disturbs the peace. At once, a hundred Canada geese flap up in procession, wheeling into the western sun, their white breasts reflecting gold, dark wings working. Circling over the bosque, formations gather, call and respond—flying shadows ripple across the sunlit canopy.



Geese gather on the Rio Grande, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Geese gather on the Rio Grande, photo ©
2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾


Seasons change: a reminder that I have been here, walking and watching, for what seems like a very long time. At about age 40, I found out I could stroll out the back door without anyone hanging on my leg. I walk dogless these days.

Once in a wet year a giant hollow tree fell across the path, roots rudely exposed, grubs and ants and toadstools, stacked like dinner plates. Little kids clambered the slippery trunk: a mossy bridge, a balance beam. Now decades later a part of the architecture of the forest, silvery and smooth, the worn log is carved with hearts and names and charred like an old bone.

New green leaves of foresteria unfold, the orange-blossom scent of Russian olive penetrates. Cotton flies on the air, puffs and piles on the understory like a summer snowfall. We watch for signs of rain, we wish for rain. Glorious yellow Pecos sunflowers, multi-headed black-eyed Susan, preside over summer meadows, as brilliant purple asters endure long after frost has bleached the tall grass.

Here in the shelter of the bosque, the howling wind on the mesa is tamed to a smart breeze, tamarisk petals spray a soft pink glow in early spring, or, in autumn, Hallowe’en-orange flames contrast with black trunks silhouetted against the tangled underbrush. It is an evolving landscape, weeds and waters never the same for long. One flush spring I wade through high runoff to reach the small patch of silky sand, watch the clouds change and shadows slip across the face of Sandia—but now that wash is dry, a thicket of red coyote willow. The beach yields to mud and cockle-burrs, the sand shifts south.



Bending Cottonwoods, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Bending Cottonwoods, photo © 2009
by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




Rio Grande: a big nombre, this shallow stream does not seem worthy of, but it’s all we’ve got. Mud-olive brown, rippling with mystery, source in the clean headwaters of the Colorado High Country, way above Taos, up in the meandering creeks and bogs of Creede. All the way down to Mexico, it rolls on by us.

Two Sandhill Cranes, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reservedIn winter, the mirrored surface gleams an ice-blue reflection of the sky. Sandia sparkles with new snow, while I soak up the white-hot light on a bright beach—safe, miles from anyone, minutes from home. “So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, / Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn.” (Wordsworth)

The bosque is home to roadrunners and snakes, lizards, cottontails, turtles and peeping quail. Sandhill cranes, like feathered dinosaurs, walking absurdly on stick legs, clumsy taking off, and stunning in unlikely flight, wings creaking just overhead.

 
Rope swings out over the shallows, promising cool breezes on a hot day, sun and shadow, shadow and sun. Boys whack sticks, dogs chase sticks into the currents, chug smiling with a slimey log, shake on the shore. Step around coyote scat and green horse piles. Sleek bicyclists in their brilliant bodysuits speed by the slow walker.

(The rope-swing cottonwood tree, snapped and graffiti’d, lays on the bank now, with only the fading notes of children’s voices—the home-schoolers and the unschoolers and kids just let out of school for summer—reminding us that this was once a grand tree, to swing up, out and over a grande river.)


Rope swing by the Rio Grande, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Rope swing by the Rio Grande, photo ©
2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.



‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾


Last winter I was surprised by a locked gate at Romero Road, so I hiked in along the lateral ditch. A huge truck loaded with trees and brush drove by me, while from the north came the whining machine sounds of saws and chippers. What could be going on? I was afraid to ask.

Months later, on a March afternoon, I headed south on foot from the North Beach and was shocked and saddened beyond words at the recent clear-cutting and scraping of all non-native species, dead wood and brush from the bosque, for “fuel load reduction.”

In the dry Southwest, fire danger is a legitimate concern. Sadly, in the name of safety and conservation, an aggressive attack has been sustained against the ecosystem of the undergrowth…so much is gone.

At what price do we protect property, but abandon the beauty and peace of nature that sustains this fragile life?

Where have the animals and birds who lived here gone now? You can drive a semi through the woods; nothing but chipped mulch, stumps, and silence.




Cleared out, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reservedBridled weasel, found in the bosque dead, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Cleared out (left) and Bridled weasel (right), a section of cleared bosque and recently dead wildlife, photos © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾


At the Corrales Bosque Advisory Commission meeting last year, February 14, the mayor and several Village Council members heard pleas from villagers distressed by the excessive clearing of brush, dead wood, and non-native vegetative species in the preserve.

A temporary stop-work order was given based on public outcry, but has not halted this ongoing effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, despite the severe loss of habitat in what is supposedly a “nature preserve.” It seems the title is negotiable.

The jetty-jacks—those triangulated metal spikes linked by cable, installed in the bosque decades ago to protect the levees from debris in case of flood, are now ecologically unwanted, prevent big trucks from moving around, and it takes a “Little Giant” to remove them—along with all the vegetation that has grown up around them. Flood control has caused disruption in the natural cycles, so they say.

They say this old deciduous cottonwood forest is dying, anyway. That it needs to be flooded and managed, control-burned and levee’d, systematically scraped and rid of noxious trees and wildflowers. New cottonwood trees need to replace the aging generation, but the seedlings are not surviving. Councils clamor about waste-water, septic, sewers and salinization, as the bosque becomes a battleground for groundwater.


linda-10-small

Beware of tree, photo © 2009
by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




They say that tamarisk and Russian olive are illegally drinking, and ducks have no business roosting in the cattails. That the cottonwood giants, lightning-struck and mistletoe-bedecked, will fall into shattered hollow logs, in my lifetime, if I live to see the day. Maybe my kids, or my grandchildren, will see this happen. Maybe they are right, I admit, I don’t know. I hope not.

This Rio Grande—it’s just a narrow strip of life through the wide desert, source of irrigation for the valley: Without it, there would be no apple orchards, chile fields, cornfields or lush pasture with beautiful horses. From the air, the bosque is a green snake in a sere, windy brown world—we call with irony, upon landing at Albuquerque: Planet Dune.


Clear ditch afternoon, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Clear ditch afternoon, photo © 2009
by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.




‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾‾




Via Oreada

Walking out through the south entrance to the Corrales bosque on a Sunday afternoon, I pass by a Mexican family with a KFC picnic, fishing the clear ditch; giggling children chasing a chihuahua; two lovers arm in arm talking softly in Tewa, on a bridge over a culvert of rushing brown water.

A cartoonish Roadrunner cocks his yellow eye and scolds me for getting too close to his perch on the business end of Little Giant, a yellow machine with a toothy maw: what we used to call a “steam shovel.”

I stop to look at the posted signs. “Flora and Fauna of the Bosque Preserve” illustrates an idyllic scene of happy co-existence—Coyote and Beaver, wild Turkey, Muskrat, Toad and Frog, Weasel, Hawk and field Mouse, Skunk and Owl … There is no human in the picture, I recall, except my own reflection in the glass.

The sign says:

Our Preserve is home to a fragile plant and animal community which needs our consideration. Please remember that these living things depend on us to leave their habitat undisturbed and unimpaired for future generations.

This area of thirty acres, Via Oreada, is slated for extensive clearing by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start this spring 2009.



Ready to rumble, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz, all rights reserved

Ready to rumble, photo © 2009 by Linda W. Lupowitz. All rights reserved.






Linda Weissinger Lupowitz lives, works, and writes in Corrales, New Mexico. She has been walking in the bosque since 1982. You can see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Fire Restoration map and plan for the Corrales Bosque Preserve here. And you can read more of Linda’s writing on her blog, C. Little, no less, or on the red Ravine post The Face You Wore Before You Were Born.

[NOTE: A shorter version of this essay will be published in an upcoming issue of the Corrales Comment, a local newspaper for the village of Corrales.]



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 Let Sleeping Towels Lie! aka Brant's Terrible Towel!, somewhere near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by J. All rights reserved.

Let Sleeping Towels Lie! aka Brant’s Terrible Towel!, somewhere near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant’s Grandfather J. All rights reserved.



In a few hours, Super Bowl XLIII begins at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida where an estimated 72,500 people will attend the 6:30 EST kickoff of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. The National Football League champions of the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) will battle it out for the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. Can you guess who my family in Pennsylvania will be cheering for?

Liz saw an NFL poll yesterday that showed 55% voting for the Cardinals to win. But I don’t know. I lived my teenage years in Pennsylvania and I know what a powerhouse the Steelers can be! Steelers fans are hardcore.

The Terrible Towel in the photographs is vintage 1976. That cute little guy is my grand nephew, Brant (or is it great nephew?), taking a little rest after one of the play-off games. He’s covered by the Terrible Towel belonging to his Grandmother D. (known to us on red Ravine as alittlediddy).



Abbey Wearing The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.

Abbey Wearing The "Terrible Towel", near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.



D.’s Terrible Towel is a never-been-washed original. It was a Super Bowl gift from her brother in 1976 when she went home to watch Super Bowl X with her family. The game was between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys — Steelers won 21 to 17. Her dress attire consisted of black jeans, yellow turtleneck with black sweater, and, of course, yellow earmuffs and black gloves, all the while, waving her Terrible Towel.

We went back and forth about the Towel on a New Year’s Day post on Sunshine Shrimp (which, by the way, would make a great Super Bowl appetizer!). I’m a fair-weather play-off fan; she’s die-hard Steelers. The story of the creation of Myron Cope’s Terrible Towel jumped out at me. When Liz saw a piece about it in The New York Times this week, that was all it took — the Tales Of The Terrible Towel post was born!



Ivory & The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.

Ivory & The "Terrible Towel", near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.



Myron Cope, the Pittsburgh broadcaster credited with creating the Terrible Towel in 1975, (and inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2005), died last February at age 79. His daughter Elizabeth Cope watched last year’s Super Bowl with him in his hospital room; she draped his coffin with a quilt that a fan had made out of Terrible Towels.

But what’s remarkable about Myron Cope’s story, is the way he has left a legacy of paying it forward. Most of the proceeds from the sale of the Terrible Towel go to Allegheny Valley School (AVS) where his 41-year-old son, Danny Cope, diagnosed with severe mental retardation when he was 2, and later with autism, has been a resident since 1982.

Danny Cope now lives in a supervised group home with four others in a Pittsburgh suburb, shops and goes to sports events, and has a paying job packaging pretzels and snacks on an assembly line. About 80 employees with severe disabilities help fold, tag, and box shipments of Terrible Towels at a workshop in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, similar to the one where Danny Cope works.



Brants Photo Of His Grandmother D.s Original Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.

Brant's Photo Of His Grandmother D.'s Original "Terrible Towel", near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Brant with his Fisher-Price camera. All rights reserved.



You have to applaud the generosity of spirit of Elizabeth Cope, Danny’s sister, who receives none of the proceeds from the Terrible Towel. Her father transferred the trademark in 1996 out of gratitude to AVS, a network of campuses and group homes across Pennsylvania for people with severe developmental disablities. According to the Allegheny Valley School website and the recent NY Times article, President and Chief Executive Officer Regis Champ tells it this way:


Myron Cope was a true friend to Allegheny Valley School and his gift of The Terrible Towel® trademark has created a living legacy to his incredible life. He came into my office, and he had a pile of papers. He threw them down on my desk and said, ‘Regis, I’m giving you the Terrible Towel.’ I said, ‘Myron, I have about 10 of them. I’ll take another one, but …He said, ‘No, I’m giving you the rights, and you’ll be able to get all the proceeds from the Terrible Towels.’ I was speechless.

Before this season, Allegheny Valley School had received more than $2.5 million from the towels since 1996. With the final tab for last year’s Super Bowl at $2.5 billion, isn’t it comforting to know that the proceeds from this year’s Terrible Towel will go to a worthy cause?



The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by my brother, J. All rights reserved.The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by my brother, J. All rights reserved.The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by my brother, J. All rights reserved.



My grand-nephew Brant is 7 years old. Born at the end of June, he’s a Gemini just like his Grandmother D. Brant will inherit his grandmother’s Terrible Towel as part of the family legacy. Along with that inheritance, comes the vision of Myron Cope, the notion that anyone can take a simple idea like a terrycloth towel, and do something good for the world.

If you buy a towel for the Super Bowl, make sure it’s authentic. McArthur Towel & Sports of Baraboo, Wisconsin produced 450,000 Terrible Towels last week, after the Steelers won the A.F.C. championship. And a Steelers Super Bowl victory may lead to orders of at least 500,000 more (one set with the score against the Cardinals, another declaring the Steelers six-time Super Bowl champs). I admit, I usually go for the underdog. But with the stakes so high for Allegheny Valley School, I’m waving for the Steelers.




RESOURCES & READINGS


To read more about the Super Bowl, the history of the Terrible Towel, and Myron Cope, below are links to the resources used in this essay:



The Terrible Towel, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 2009, photo © 2009 by my brother, J. All rights reserved.  — all photographs used with permisson of the family, parents and grandparents of my grand nephew, Brant. Brant’s camera equipment is Fisher-Price. No animals were harmed in the making of these photographs!    
            



-posted on red Ravine, the 43rd Super Bowl Sunday, February 1st, 2009

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Tickets, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Tickets, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, all photos © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



A few weeks ago, our monthly Poetry Group read the work of Elizabeth Alexander, the poet selected to read at the inauguration of Barack Obama. When we sat down to dinner the next day after work, Liz announced, “I took a half day off Tuesday. Want to go to the Riverview for the inauguration?”  It took a few seconds to sink in. Then, with no hesitation, I said, “Yes, let’s do it. I’ll ask for time off, too.”

Elizabeth Alexander, a 46-year-old professor of African American Studies at Yale, and author of five books of poetry, will be only the 4th poet to read at a presidential inauguration. Robert Frost was the very first during President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. When it came time to read, Frost, blinded by the sun, could not see his notes and quickly moved to Plan B. He recited from memory another poem from his prolific body of work.

Maya Angelou read for President Bill Clinton’s first Inauguration in 1993. And for President Clinton’s second, he chose Miller Williams in 1997. It’s been a long 12 years since a poet has had the honor of reading at an inauguration. It’s important to notice this detail; it’s a strong indicator that the Arts matter to the upcoming administration.

I was moved by the poetry of Elizabeth Alexander. She was only a one year old on August 28th, 1963 when her father, a civil rights advisor to President Johnson, and her mother, Adele, brought her to the Lincoln Memorial to hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. On January 20th, 2009, she will read at the swearing-in of the first African American U.S. president.


I am obviously profoundly honored and thrilled. Not only to have a chance to have some small part of this extraordinary moment in American history……This incoming president of ours has shown in every act that words matter, that words carry meaning, that words carry power, that words are the medium with which we communicate across difference and that words have tremendous possibilities, and those possibilities are not empty.

Elizabeth Alexander from the Washington Post article, Selection Provides Civil Rights Symmetry



Riverview Marquee, outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Time Moves On, inside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Under The Marquee, outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



We’ll hope to have free tickets and front row seats to the Riverview Theater’s screening of the inauguration (you can also watch it free at the downtown Minneapolis Central Library). The Riverview doors open at 9:30am CST with the viewing lasting until around 1pm. And on the wide Riverview screen, behind the original late 1940’s vintage curtains:



11:30am EST — If you have tickets to the Inauguration ceremony, you must have passed through security by this time.

  • Call to Order and Welcoming Remarks: Senator Dianne Feinstein
  • Invocation: Dr. Rick Warren
  • Aretha Franklin will sing
  • Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office
  • Music composed by John Williams and performed by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill.

12:00 Noon EST — As specified by the U.S. Constitution (20th Amendment), presidential terms of office begin and end at 12:00 noon on January 20.

  •  Barack Obama will take the oath of office, which is this simple, 35-word, statement: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

12:05pm EST (approx) — President Barack Obama will give his inaugural address, speaking to the nation and world, for the first time, as President of the United States, followed by:

  • Poem: Elizabeth Alexander
  • Benediction: The Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery
  • The National Anthem: The United States Navy Band “Sea Chanters”

 

It’s been almost two years since Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States in front of the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois. For those who supported and voted for him, it’s the end of a long journey through a couple of grueling years of Presidential politics. For those who did not, it is a time-honored moment in our country’s history, and on the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, one you will not want to pass up.

I can’t think of a better way to honor the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. than to take time off of work on Tuesday to listen to Barack Hussein Obama II be sworn in as our 44th President. That we will be graced with a moment of poetry falling on the listening ears of millions of people across the world, offers the promise of poetic justice — another chance to keep the magic of poetry alive.


In that moment, really I am the vessel for the poem. It’s not about the poet at that moment, it’s about the poem.

— Elizabeth Alexander from the NPR interview, Poet Calls Writing Inaugural Poem A ‘Challenge’



Longfellow, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Green, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.3 Lights, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Reflecting, inside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



EPILOGUE


Poems were meant to be read out loud. That’s part of the joy of hearing others read live in a poetry group. Mende Vocabulary is one of the poems beautifully read by one member at our last poetry group and can be found, along with The Last Quatrain, and other poems, in Elizabeth Alexander’s piece, The Negro Digs Up Her Past: ‘‘Amistad’.”

The essay explores historical poetry and fiction through such works as Robert Hayden’s Middle Passage (which he first published in 1943 and continued to publish in revision as late as 1962), Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Arthur Schomburg’s 1925 essay The Negro Digs Up His Past.



Mende Vocabulary


by Elizabeth Alexander


they
my father
our father
your father
my mother
my book
his house
one ship
two men
all men
good man
bad man
white man
black man

I eat
he eats
we eat
they sleep
I see God
did I say it right?
we sleep
I make
he makes
they have eaten

this book is mine
that book is his
this book is ours
I am your friend
here
now
that
there
then



The Last Quatrain


by Elizabeth Alexander


and where now
and what now
the black white space



 

If we contemplate the Amistad as a ship without mothers, the utter absence of mothers in a violently formed society; if we wonder what people dreamed in their captivity, we might begin to understand what they lost, what it took to build themselves up again, and what it might take to move forward.

It is the unique potential of poetry to be able to locate and activate what is in the imagination. Art takes us to knowing that may have no other way of being found, and that is one of the very things we need in order to move more intelligently forward. 

— Elizabeth Alexander

– poems and final quote from an essay by Elizabeth Alexander on historical poetry and fiction, The Negro Digs Up Her Past: ‘‘Amistad’’ from The South Atlantic Quarterly 104:3, Summer 2005. Copyright©2005 by Duke University Press.




RESOURCES & READINGS


To read more about Elizabeth Alexander, Amistad, poetry, and the upcoming inauguration schedule, below are links to the resources used in this essay:

________________________

Presidential Inauguration at the Riverview Theater – Riverview’s page on their screening of the inauguration, Tuesday (Jan 20th): 10:30AM CST
Inauguration Day 2009 Schedule of Activities and Events — details and times for 2009 Inaugural Events, along with an hours, minutes, seconds countdown
Words on the Inauguration at the Poet’s Website, Elizabeth Alexander – “Words matter. Language matters. We live in and express ourselves with language, and that is how we communicate and move through the world in community.”

________________________

Inaugural Poet Part Of History – Again – part of the Road To The Inauguration Series on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric
The Inaugural Poet: Selection Provides Civil Rights Symmetry – article in the Washington Post by Michael E. Ruanein, Thursday, December 18, 2008
Poet Calls Writing Inaugural Poem A ‘Challenge’ — listen to the NPR interview with Elizabeth Alexander, December 18th, 2008
Weaving Words For The Inaugural Poem — listen to NPR Host Scott Simon ask Elizabeth Alexander for a sneak peek, January 17th, 2009

________________________

The Negro Digs Up Her Past: ‘‘Amistad’’ by Elizabeth Alexander The South Atlantic Quarterly 104:3, Summer 2005. Copyright©2005 by Duke University Press. — document from the author’s website, an excellent essay on the significance of historical poetry and fiction
The Amistad Comes to Life! — lesson planning article at Education World on teaching the story of The Amistad across all grades, a curriculum to bring life to the story of the revolt on the Amistad in the early 1800’s. Great links, one to the historic sites on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
The Mende Language – a few word translations from the Mende language at Education World, part of the curriculum for the complete story of the Amistad (link above) and the role Josiah Gibbs, a language professor at Yale University in New Haven, played in finding a translator for the Africans so their side of the story could be told.



Circles Within Circles, 1950s lamp at the Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Casting Light, vintage 1950s lamp at the Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Circles Within Circles, Casting Light 1950’s lamp at the Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, all photos © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 19th, 2009, day before the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama

-with gratitude to Teri who took the leap and started our Poetry Group over a year ago, has provided strong leadership, and helps Keep Poetry Alive!

-related to posts: Out With The Old, In With The Old (Recycled Fashion Goes To Washington, DC), If You Can’t Say Something Nice…, Why It Won’t Matter To You That I’m Voting For Obama, The Politics Of Primary Season 2008 (A Presidential Primer)

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Assassin's Bullet Kills Kennedy, shot of vintage copy of The Augusta Chronicle, November 23rd, 1963, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Assassin’s Bullet Kills Kennedy, vintage newspaper found last summer in a box of old family photographs, November 23rd, 1963, The Augusta Chronicle — South’s Oldest Newspaper — Est. 1785, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It’s the anniversary week of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Could it possibly be that 45 years have passed? Last summer, when rummaging through family photographs at my uncle’s, I happened upon a vintage newspaper that headlined Saturday Morning, November 23rd, 1963, the day after the Kennedy shooting. The handwriting of some member of my family was in the top left corner — “killed Friday morning.”

The Kennedy assassination rattled me as a child. I wrote about it a few years ago, and discovered Bryan Woolley’s Dallas Times Herald account of the facts from the morning of November 22nd, 1963. It was strange to be holding a yellowed newspaper from that day, one that had circulated through the town where I was born. There were front page interviews, reactions of everyday people walking down Broad Street.


Where were you the day Kennedy was shot?

Though I was young, I clearly remember the headline photograph of LBJ, Lady Bird and Jackie. It wasn’t until later I would learn it was taken aboard Air Force One by White House photographer, Cecil Stoughton, at the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson. Stoughton was close to the Kennedys and rode in the fifth car in the motorcade. He heard the shots that fatally wounded JFK; he was at Parkland Hospital when Kennedy died.



LBJ & Jackie Kennedy, close-up shot of vintage copy of The Augusta Chronicle, November 23rd, 1963, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 


The Augusta Chronicle Caption — Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as President in the cabin of the presidential plane as Mrs. John F. Kennedy stands at his side. Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes administers the oath. Background, Jack Valenti, administrative assistant to Johnson, Albert Thomas, D-Tex; Mrs. Johnson and Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Tex. This photo was made by Capt. Cecil Stoughton, official White House photographer, who was the only camera-man allowed to record the ceremony.



Out of the 12,000 negatives Stoughton shot during the Kennedy years, none would be as important as these – he was the only photographer allowed aboard Air Force One that day. And his were the only shots that proved Johnson had actually been sworn in. According to Stoughton’s son, “He took about 20 pictures but the first one almost didn’t happen because his Hasselblad, the Rolls-Royce of cameras, malfunctioned.” A photographer’s nightmare.

From Bryan Woolley’s account of the facts, here’s exactly what happened in those few moments that changed Cecil Stoughton’s life, and the world:


Judge Hughes boarded the plane at 2:35 and was handed a      
small white card with the oath scrawled on it. Capt. Cecil        
Stoughton, an Army Signal Corps photographer, tried to arrange    
the crowd in the cramped stateroom so that he could take a        
picture of the ceremony. “We’ll wait for Mrs. Kennedy,” Johnson   
said. “I want her here.”                                          
                                                                  
     Mrs. Kennedy came out of the bedroom still wearing the       
blood-soaked pink suit. Johnson pressed her hand and said, “This  
is the saddest moment of my life.” The photographer placed her on 
Johnson’s left, Lady Bird on his right. Judge Hughes, the first   
woman to administer the presidential oath, was shaking.           
                                                                  
     “What about a Bible?” asked one of the witnesses. Someone    
remembered that President Kennedy had kept a Bible in the bedroom 
and went to get it.                                               
                                                                  
     “I do solemnly swear…”                                     
                                                                  
     The oath lasted 28 seconds. At 2:38 p.m., Lyndon B. Johnson  
became the 36th President of the United States. The big jet’s     
engines already were screaming. “Now, let’s get airborne,” he     
said. 



JFK In Augusta Chronicle - Little People Numbed, shot of vintage copy of The Augusta Chronicle, November 23rd, 1963, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reservedLee Harvey Oswald, shot of vintage copy of The Augusta Chronicle, November 23rd, 1963, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

LBJ & Jackie Kennedy, JFK In Augusta Chronicle – “Little People Numbed,” Lee Harvey Oswald, shots of vintage copy of The Augusta Chronicle, November 23rd, 1963, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


The Augusta Chronicle Caption — Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in Dallas and charged Friday night with the murder of President Kennedy. Oswald was captured in a downtown Dallas theater after an alert cashier notified police a suspicious looking man had entered the theater shortly after the shooting. Oswald attempted to shoot his captors inside the theater but his pistol misfired. Four years ago Oswald said he was applying for Russian citizenship. His wife is Russian.



Stoughton had an amazing collection of photographs and memorabilia. He appeared on Public Television’s Antiques Roadshow in June 2007 where they estimated his collection at $75,000. Cecil Stoughton died a few weeks ago, on Monday, November 3rd, 2008. By some odd twist of fate, a pre-scheduled, taped segment of his 2007 Antiques Roadshow episode was rebroadcast that Monday night, about an hour after he died.



World Feels Shots Impact, shot of vintage copy of The Augusta Chronicle, November 23rd, 1963, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

World Feels Shot’s Impact, vintage copy of The Augusta Chronicle — South’s Oldest Newspaper — Est. 1785, November 23rd, 1963, Augusta, Georgia, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



There is one last thing that struck me about The Augusta Chronicle account. Above the headline World Feels Shot’s Impact is a smaller headline — Little People Numbed. It reminded me of our recent presidential elections in this country, how the whole world was watching — and how it was the little people — everywoman, everyman — who really made the difference.



The Augusta Chronicle  – World Feels Shot’s Impact
Saturday, November 23rd, 2008


Word of President Kennedy’s assassination struck the world’s capitals with shattering impact, leaving heads of state and the man in the street stunned and grief-stricken. While messages of condolence poured into the White House from presidents, premiers and crowned heads, the little people of many lands reacted with numbed disbelief.

Pubs in London and cafes in Paris fell silent, as the news came over radio and television.

In Moscow, a Russian girl walked weeping along the street. At U.N. headquarters in New York, delegates of 111 nations bowed their heads in a moment of silence.

In Buenos Aires, newspapers sounded sirens reserved for news of the utmost gravity.

Britain’s Prime Minister Douglas-Home sent condolences and Sir Winston Churchill branded the slaying a monstrous act.

“The loss to the United States and to the world is incalculable,” Sir Winston declared. “Those who come after Mr. Kennedy must strive the more to achieve the ideals of world peace and happiness and dignity to which his presidency was dedicated.”



-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

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by Judith Ford


actor-jude-suffering

Actor “Jude” Suffering, dramatization of author Judith Ford in Discovery Health Channel series Mystery ER, photos © 2008 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.




Last April, when Discovery Health Channel contacted me, I’d been working on my book, Fever of Unknown Origin, for over 15 years. I never intended it to be what it turned out to be—a 600-page manuscript with multiple plotlines and themes. It started out as a way to come to terms with a serious illness that put me in the hospital for most of the summer of 1990.

But while I wrote, my life kept happening. My parents got sick and died; their stories seeped into the book. What I thought and felt about my illness, about illness in general and about death, changed. I did countless rewrites. In 2003, I launched a website, www.judithford.com, expecting I’d be ready to market the manuscript within a year. That didn’t happen. I got discouraged and quit writing more than once, each time returning weeks later with renewed vision, scrapping whole chapters, restructuring and polishing what remained. Fever and I had been alone together too long; I’d lost momentum.

And then I received the Discovery Health Channel email. Bill, a “finder” for the network, found my website. He was looking for stories for a new TV series called Mystery ER. “Yours would be a great story for us,” he told me, “and free publicity for you.”

I didn’t jump at the offer. I’d watched Discovery Health Channel once or twice and knew that it aired stories of real people dealing with dramatic medical issues. I wasn’t sure participating would be good for me or for Fever. I told Bill I’d think it over. He sent me a CD with samples of Mystery ER.

The first opened with a woman having energetic convulsions on an ER gurney. The second involved an orthodox Jewish boy who’d contracted trichinosis, somehow, without ever having eaten pork. He collapsed in an ER doorway. While the stories were presented with respect for the patients and what looked like medical accuracy, I didn’t see how my book would fit. It contained no scenes of me passing out or seizing.



more-silly-yoga-poseMy illness had developed in slow motion, starting in 1979 with bone-numbing fatigue, low fevers, and an odd prickly rash. I went to doctors who theorized hypoglycemia, spider bites, allergies, chronic mono. None had treatment suggestions, so after two years of feeling like hell, I created my own plan. It included lots of sleep, no refined sugar or white flour, daily lap swimming, dance classes, yoga, and meditation.

Gradually, I got well and stayed well until 1990, when all the symptoms returned, this time with higher fevers. I also developed anemia, systemic inflammation, and eventually, ulcerative colitis. All dramatic enough to compel me to write but not, I thought, material for a TV show. How could Mystery ER dramatize a fever of 106, an itchy rash, abnormal liver function, and an enlarged spleen? And how in the world could they condense what had become a story about my life into thirty minutes?

“Not to worry,” Nora, the producer, told me. “We’ll just deal with your illness, not the rest of the book, and we’ll write it in a way that’s compelling and authentic.” She offered to come to Milwaukee to interview on camera me, my husband, Chris, and one of my doctors. The show would include clips of our interviews interspersed with dramatizations, played by actors. “And,” said Nora, “we’ll let you mention your book on camera.” It was the promise of book publicity that made me say “Yes.”



chris-ford-and-a-producerThe morning of the filming, the lighting and sound guys took over my friend Judy’s downtown Milwaukee condo. They banished her, her four-year-old granddaughter, and three dogs to the master bedroom. The TV crew moved furniture, set up shades to block the floor-to-ceiling windows, and demanded absolute silence. Each interview was two-and-a-half hours long, including breaks to deal with shifting light, the phone ringing, and the grandchild slinking out to lean adorably—but distractingly—against the wall to watch us.

At first, I enjoyed being asked detailed questions about my illness. What was my life like when it began? Busy, way, way busy. Had I believed my first recovery, in 1981, had happened as a result of meditation and dietary changes? Yes, I thought I’d been mentally and physically amazing. But as we got more deeply into the summer of 1990, my energy flagged. Frankly, having written in so many ways and in such detail about my suffering, I was bored by it.




                                                                chris-ford-anxiously-waiting-for-his-interview
                ruby-and-bear-less-than-amused




I perked up when we got to the part about my friend and former teacher, Dick, coming to the hospital to do a healing hypnosis two days before I was scheduled to have my colon removed. The night after the hypnosis I slept well for the first time in months. The colon symptoms abated and the colonectomy was cancelled. I went home five days later.

Nora perked up, too. “So when the medical people had given up on you, this other form of healing cured you?” Um. No. The medical people had far from given up; they were pumping me full of IV Prednisone and Demerol. They drew my blood many times a day. They’d hooked me up to a chest tube through which I was getting all my nutrition. My turn-for-the-better was sudden and wonderful, but it wasn’t magic, nor was it complete. It took two more months before I could go back to work. I had a serious relapse in 1997.

I explained this to Nora but her fascination made me worry that she was going to spin my story in a direction I didn’t want it to go.

“Did you feel that this was divine intervention?”

“Not really,” I said.




actual-jude-being-interviewed





The questions about what causes and cures disease are big and wide and controversial. My exploration of those questions is central to Fever and impossible to capture in sound-bites. Before I got sick in 1990, I would have told Nora that health was a decision, that most people could make themselves well with a combination of focus, relaxation, right thinking, and right eating. My 1990 relapse, eventually diagnosed as Adult Onset Stills Disease, blew all that certainty and bravado to bits. The only thing I knew for sure afterwards was that life is unpredictable, uncontrollable, precious, and brief.

At the end of my interview, Nora asked me what message I’d like to send to other people struggling with mysterious illnesses. I laughed out loud. “I spent 15 years and 600 pages on that,” I told her. “Give it a try,” she said.

I responded with something generic, like, “Every person who gets sick has to come up with their own sense of meaning.” Later, I wished I’d talked instead about how the illness changed me. How it humbled me. How it taught me to let go.

My doctor, Dr. M, was interviewed last. Just before her session, she whispered to me, “I don’t think I should be here. I don’t think what you had was Stills Disease.” She thought my diagnosis was ulcerative colitis, despite the fact that three other doctors had suggested the Stills label, conjecturing that the colitis had been caused by a drug reaction. I hadn’t had a colon symptom in 18 years. I reminded Dr. M. that even the gastroenterologist had rejected the colitis theory. “No,” she said, “I’m certain.”

Great, I thought. The whole show revolved around the Stills diagnosis. Would there be any show without it? Did I even want there to be a show?

While Dr. M was being interviewed in another room, I sat and worried over everything I had and hadn’t said. I wondered if I was doing my book a disservice, allowing it to be reduced to the one thin, unexamined plotline of my disease.

Nora took a break from Dr. M’s session to tell me, “Your doctor is driving me nuts. She’s giving me paragraphs of medical facts; none of our viewers will know what she’s talking about.”

“And,” Nora added, “she doesn’t think you ever had Stills disease.”

“Can we still do the show?” I asked, suddenly sure I did, in fact, want the show to go on.

“Oh yeah, we can edit out whatever doesn’t fit. It’s just annoying.”

And edit they did. The interview segments that took all day to film amounted to ten minutes of on-screen time.




actor-jude-looking-worrieda-doctor-actoractor-playing-jude-in-the-eractor-jude-throwing-out-junk-foodactor-mom-in-black-shawl-dyingactor-mom-saying-im-dying




“Inflamed,” my Mystery ER story, debuted on September 1. I expected the worst. What if they’d included my inane closing statement about “Everyone has their own meaning blah blah blah”? What if I looked old and dumpy? What if the editors made it sound like I’d cured myself with my mind? What if my story was no longer mine? I felt comfortable enough surrendering to the TV people at the time I signed release forms, yet as the Mystery ER logo lit up the TV screen I wanted to snatch my story back and protect it like the vulnerable newborn it suddenly seemed to be.

But really, the show was okay. More than okay. There were the requisite overly-dramatic bits – like a shot of my hypochondriac mother in a black shawl murmuring “I’m going to die,” and me in the kitchen frantically throwing out all the junk food when I was diagnosed as hypoglycemic. And the silly shot of me sitting in a yoga pose.

The interview sections, though, were fine. I looked okay and sounded smart enough to not embarrass myself. And, thank you very much, “everyone has to find their own meaning” ended up on the cutting room floor. As did all mention of my book. So much for the “free publicity.”

Now, two months later, I don’t mind losing the publicity. Much unexpected good has come of “Inflamed.” The friends who watched the show with me have gotten a lot of mileage out of doing imitations of my moaning mother. My sister-in-law has threatened to give me a black shawl for Christmas. Chris enjoyed seeing himself played by a handsome young actor with great pecs. My life-long running practice, an important theme in the book, made it into the script, and I loved seeing my actor-self running with better form than my own.

In the weeks since the show aired, all kinds of people—neighbors, former clients, the UPS man—have told me how much they liked the show, how impressed they were by the interview segments, and to ask if I’m well now. I am.

But here’s the really great part: Mystery ER lit a fire under me. It gave Fever more definition, more weight. It made me want to finish the book. It matters a great deal to me that a TV channel was interested in my story and that people who saw the show were touched by it.

This past summer, I went to a “How to sell your book” workshop at The Loft in Minneapolis and learned that a memoir doesn’t have to be completed before you market it. I hired a consultant to help me write the book proposal. She told me that mentioning Mystery ER in my cover letter would make busy editors and agents pay more attention. The proposal packets took most of August to write and assemble. Last week I sent out the first batch to eleven literary agents.

I’m doing the rest of the revisions with new enthusiasm, working every day. Fever and I aren’t alone together any more; I can feel my audience now, out there, waiting.




the-silly-yoga-pose

The “Silly” Yoga Pose, author Judith Ford in Mystery ER show
“Inflamed,” photo © 2008 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.





Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with her 25 Reasons I Write post. Reason #14: “I write to finish this damn book and it isn’t done yet.” (Remember that one, Jude? J)

You can eventually see the show, “Inflamed,” about Judith’s illness, as Discovery Health Channel re-runs all the episodes of Mystery ER. Check your local listings.

Oh, and all Mystery ER names have been changed.

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By Bob Chrisman


My mother and her three sisters believed in the Law of Threes. Well, actually they believed in a “hard” law and a “soft” one. Let me explain.

The basic Law of Threes states that all bad things happen in groups of three. Only bad things, never good ones. The hard law states that if a death places the law in motion, the next two events must involve deaths. The soft law allows for a bad thing (not a death) to happen and then two more bad things, which could involve a death or two, although deaths are not required to fulfill the soft law.

I thought for the longest time that only my mother and her sisters believed in the Law of Threes, but I found out I was wrong.

A college friend called me to say that his 92-year-old mother had died. I expressed my sympathy and made all of the appropriate noises. I couldn’t help but think that his mother’s death had fulfilled the Law of Threes started by the death of another friend’s 92-year-old mother in early February and my own 92-year-old mother’s death at the end of that month—a perfect example of the Law of Threes. Inside I felt guilty for even thinking that way.

When I went to the house to pay my respects to my friend and his family, I sat on the sofa next to his youngest sister. She told me how much she would miss her mother and then paused.

“You know, Bob, I worry about the next two deaths that will follow. Who will die?”

She must have seen the look of surprise on my face because she quickly explained, “Deaths happen in threes. At least that’s what my family always said.” What a relief to know that other people believed in the Law of Threes.

“I understand,” I said. “Let me tell you my story.”

When I was little, my mother would fix my breakfast and then sit at the kitchen table and read the paper while I ate. I knew something was up when she would “Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!” before closing the paper, folding it, and heading for the phone.

“Faye, did you see where Mildred Shunkwilder died yesterday? You know her. She was in Vera’s class in high school. Yes, yes, that’s the one. She married the Sweet boy and they moved to his parents’ farm. Yes, I know. You better call Annie. I’ll call Vera. We can all keep our eyes out for numbers two and three.”

She would place the receiver of the old black phone back in the cradle and shake her head. “I wonder who the next two will be.” She would then call Aunt Vera to place her on alert.

Phone calls flew back and forth. The sisters watched the newspaper. They contacted relatives and friends for information about people from whom they had heard nothing in years. When they discovered someone else who they all knew had died, they would breathe easier yet they didn’t relax until the third death had occurred. Then life for the sisters would return to normal, for a while.

My Aunt Faye fell victim to the Law of Threes in the late 1970s. My Aunt Vera joined her group of three in the late 1990s, followed by my Aunt Annie, who died a few years later. Even as their numbers grew smaller, they carried out their death watches. Finally, my mother was left alone to keep track of the law, but by then she was in her 80s and people she knew were dying all the time.

Even when she resided in the nursing home she would greet me with the news of the latest death. “You know Herbie died, didn’t you?” Herbie was a distant cousin by marriage. His second wife lived down the hall in the same nursing home. “That’s number two. Woodie died last month.” I waited for news of who was number three. I think Emmett, another church member, completed the law a couple of months later.

Then my mother died—number two in the series of three. The Law of Threes wasn’t completed for another five months, at least as far as I knew.

My friend’s sister looked at me after I finished my story. “Would you mind if I borrowed your mother’s death and the death of your high school friend’s mother to complete my three deaths?”

I couldn’t deny her request. I gave her those deaths. You don’t want a Law of Threes—especially not a hard one—hanging open.




Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer whose pieces Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, and Stephenie Bit Me, Too have all appeared in red Ravine. Hands is about the death of his 92-year-old mother.

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