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Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

View from Marylin’s, Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was a month ago to the hour when my mother-in-law died. Liz was on her way back from a business trip in Tulsa, Oklahoma when her sister called. I was sitting by Lake Como in St. Paul, Minnesota about to eat my lunch when the phone rang. The Dallas airport echoed in the background; Liz’s voice was brisk but heavy. “Mom just passed away,” she said. “She went peacefully.”

Marylin had requested a bath the night before. Tracy, Liz’s sister and her mother’s caregiver, had gotten up, given her mother a bath, and was combing her hair when she stopped breathing. I could picture this because when Liz and I were in Cody, Wyoming in May, Liz brushed Marylin’s hair as she sat in her favorite chair by the window with a clear view of the bird feeders. When Liz was finished, Marylin gently closed her eyes, smiled, and seemed in total peace after a night of tumultuous dreams.

I miss my my mother-in-law; grief takes many forms. Marylin was like a second mother to me. She championed my writing like my own mother, Amelia, who supported my creative life even when it twisted, turned, and spiraled up and down. Marylin and Amelia never met, but felt a love and kinship to each other. They were there for Liz and I through courtship, dating, and marriage. They saw only our love for each other and the compatibility of our lives together; there was never any doubt. I will always be grateful for that.

A few weeks ago, Liz and I watched the documentary on writer Joan Didion, “The Center Will Not Hold” by her nephew Griffin Dunne. When the film ended we sat in silence and wept. Dunne uses intimate archival footage, photographs and on-camera interviews to document the span of Joan Didion’s life. Having lost her husband and daughter within the span of two years, Joan knows grief; it gnaws at her bones.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.

-Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

After Liz called on September 5th, 2019, I could not finish my lunch. I sat in a Chevrolet Silverado staring at the lake, wondering at the breadth of Marylin’s spirit as it lifted skyward. The day was cloudy, the wind erratic and scattered. Summer was letting go.



Summer’s End, September 5th, 2019, iPhone Video, Rain Garden, Lake Como, St. Paul, Minnesota, video © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Rest In Peace, Marylin. I miss the way you smiled and called me your daughter-in-love. I miss the depth of our conversations around writing, haiku, and politics. I miss the way you held Liz and me in your heart in a bubble of love. I miss your love of theater, your writing and your contributions to redRavine. I miss your optimism and the way you gave back to your community and the world around you. I know you are with your father, maybe running by the Pacific Ocean with Queenie, wild and free. I am a better person for having known and loved you. We will meet again.

-written October 5th, 2019 between 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. CST. Everything is in Divine and perfect order right now.

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When my brother died last January, I started to walk the willows. It wasn’t until late July that I read our ancestors planted willows for the Dead. And if the branches form a shadow large enough for a grave, someone will die.

My brother was 60 years old. He had a chronic illness that finally got the best of him. There is something sad about a winter willow. In spring, their branches fade into yellows, ochres, and fluorescent lime. Rebirth.

At 8:35 p.m. my mother told me she felt my brother passing and started to cry. By 9 p.m., he was gone. She was miles away. She has the sixth sense. As kids we knew we couldn’t lie to our mother. She recognized the truth on a level we did not understand.

Now I understand. Because I have the sixth sense, too. An empath. Some call it intuitive. Maybe we all have the Gift. But some are more comfortable with it, push it further. You have to suspend disbelief, trust yourself, open to whatever may come.

I woke up this morning with a story in my head, a story about willows. Liz’s mom came into one of my dreams. She is 82 and transitioning in a small western town in Wyoming. We drove 1000 miles to visit her for ten days in May. It was the most intense ten days of my life. Spirits hovered in the air waiting to greet her on the Other Side. It didn’t matter if you believed they were there or not; every night they returned. Guardians, Angels, and people who had already passed, for better or for worse. Liz, her nephew, her sister, and I stood vigil. We banished those spirits who were not there out of Love.

Love. It’s about love in the end. And respect for those who have come before us. If you believe there is good and evil in the world, the Willow protects.

When I was a child of eleven or twelve, we moved from the Deep South to Pennsylvania. My new grandparents had a mature willow in their backyard that butted up against a cornfield. I would swing on the branches at a time when they were strong enough to hold the weight of my body and bones.

There is something I learned about Death this year: the Spirit has to bend, and be strong enough to hold the Soul’s weight.


NOTE: 10 minute handwritten Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — WILLOW, the latest Writing Topic on redRavine.

 

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Slow Walking, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, C-41 film, photo © 2007-2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Slow Walking, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, C-41 film, photo © 2007-2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In the spring of 2019, I signed up for Natalie’s online class Writing Down the Bones: Find Your Voice, Tell Your Story –– to remember who I am; to try to get back to a practice. It is slow. Liz encouraged me to take the film cameras out again. It reminds me of my roots. Photography is a practice to me. It is like breathing.

Liz returned from a photographic retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii in March. In late April, we walked the prairies and photographed the white willows at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Liz was shooting digital with the Fuji X100F and Sony A7 III. I grabbed the Minolta XD-11, the Canon Rebel EOS 2000, and a few rolls of film. A little rusty, I opened the back of the Canon Rebel to find undeveloped film inside. Whoops, light exposure! (The last time I developed found film, it turned out to be black and white Tri-X of my family from the 1990s.) I finished the rest of the roll and sent it off to be processed.

Now a photographer used to the instant gratification of an old iPhone 6s, I waited two weeks for the C-41 prints to be developed. The day they arrived, Liz and I ran out of National Camera Exchange and ripped opened the envelope in the front seat of her Subaru. There she was, Pedernal at Ghost Ranch. The way she looked over a decade ago at the four season retreat with Natalie.

Synchronicity.

I remember the group walking off to write haiku, swimming with koi in the pond, complaining about the heat. I remember falling behind and never catching up, walking alone by the cliffs and ridges, taking this photograph at Ghost Ranch. I think it’s a whiptail. Natalie would tell me I should know the names of the details around me. There was a photograph of her in the decade-old batch of C-41 prints that came back. She was walking down the road at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, headed back to her room after teaching. She glanced back at us; there was a smile on her face.

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Broken & Unbroken, Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center, Kansas City, Missouri, Canon Powershot G6, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.





eight years to the day
broken or unbroken
she decided to stay






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-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

-Part of a yearly practice to write a short form poem in a Moleskine journal once a day for the next year. Related to post: haiku 4 (one a day) Meets renga 52

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Wheel Of Life, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


ONE: Gates Of Death, Stage 10 of The Great Round, begins the natural process of ending the Great Round cycle in preparation for a new beginning. Experiences that open this stage often come in losses or obstructions that challenge us to question who we are. The first mandala, Wheel Of Life, brings us face to face with the relentless passage of time. The Wheel of Life turns on, sometimes up, sometimes down, urging us to let go.

Medium: Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, Rainbow Magic pens that erase and change color, Reeves Water Colour Pencils




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Celtic Cross, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


TWO: In Stage 10, we are being separated from that which is no longer needed. Celtic crosses made of tall, silent, enduring stone dot the landscape of Scotland. They stand against the sky, washed by the winds and rains of countless seasons, reminders that even though things change, there is a part of us that lives on.

Medium: Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, and Reeves Water Colour Pencils




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Lotus, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


THREE: In mandala three, based on the Kali Yantra of Hinduism, destruction opens the way for creation. The eight-petaled lotus represents the goddess Kali in her nurturing maternal aspect. The inner circle, traditionally colored black, reveals her also as a Destroyer, the dark womb that absorbs all into non-being. The central triangle, ultimate symbol of divine feminine creative energy, holds the spark of new life.

Medium: Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, and Reeves Water Colour Pencils




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Gateway, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


FOUR: Stage 10, Gates of Death, opens the last segue leading to the completion of a Great Round cycle, and urges us to walk through the gate into the unknown. It is time to let go of the way things have been and clear the way for a new beginning.

Medium: Reeves Water Colour Pencils, Crayola markers




October Mandalas — Stage 10 – Gates Of Death


The last few months I have been feeling empty, like I am nearing the end of a creative cycle. I have been wanting to shed the old, to wrap up lingering projects and push them out into the world, so that I can open to something new. It’s disconcerting to not know where you are going—a good time to revisit old practices. Yesterday, I spent most of the day in silence and opened the book on mandalas. When I revisited Stage 10, Gates of Death, I knew it was time to sit with the lessons it had to teach.

The mandalas are from the 10th month of a year-long mandala practice that began with the post Coloring Mandalas and followed the twelve passages of Joan Kellogg’s Archetypal Stages of the Great Round. I spent that year taking the Great Round to completion. But there was something I had yet to understand—-it would take until 2013 for events of my life to catch up to the last cycles of the Great Round. Some of the signs of Stage 10 – Gates of Death are:

  • losses or obstructions that challenge us, causing us to question who we are
  • things that once seemed important, seem empty & meaningless
  • bittersweet parting with what was; painful rending from what can no longer be
  • desire to let go of life the way it was, with no sense of what is to come
  • sense of deflation when the connection between Ego & Self grows more distant
  • aware of cycles of decay in nature and the eventual approach of death


Adding to the sense of disorientation I’ve been feeling, I lost a writing friend in July. And in November, I found out my blood father died on October 31st, ending any chance he might have to read the letter I wrote. Death. Decay. Loss. Rebirth. I still believe that anything we take on as a practice takes us where we need to go. It is the time it takes to get there that remains a mystery.



Archetypal Stages Of The Great Round on red Ravine:


Crystallization — September Mandalas
Functioning Ego – August Mandalas (Goethe & Color)
Squaring The Circle – July Mandalas (Chakras & Color)
Dragon Fight — June Mandalas
Target — May Mandalas
Beginnings — April Mandalas
Labyrinth – March Mandalas
Bliss – February Mandalas
The Void – January Mandalas
Coloring Mandalas


-posted on red Ravine, Thanksgiving weekend, Saturday, November 30th, 2013




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Walking The Bluff, last Midwest Writing Retreat, Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Grafton, Wisconsin, March 2013, photo © 2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Writing friends are hard to come by. Friends who are good practitioners of writing, even harder. The last time I saw Bob was at the Milwaukee airport in March 2013. He smiled and gave me a hug, then we walked to separate gates after five days of Sit, Walk, Write with Jude and Teri. We met many years ago at a Natalie Goldberg writing retreat in Taos, New Mexico. The Midwest Writing Group we formed has continued to meet every year since to practice writing. To honor silence.

For me, Bob was one of the pillars of our writing group. He held the space, led the slow walking, kept time when we wrote, engaged in lively discussions at the dinners he prepared. He was an excellent cook. I will never forget his laugh. Bob contributed work to red Ravine and continued to post practices with me after others fell away. I could count on him. Today, Sunday, August 4th, 2013 at 3:30pm, a memorial service for Robert Tyler Chrisman will be held at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut St., Kansas City, Missouri.

Bob Chrisman, born Robert Tyler Chrisman on May 3, 1952 in St. Joseph, Missouri, passed away peacefully Friday, July 12, 2013, at Kansas City Hospice following a massive stroke. He was surrounded by family and friends who sang to him until his final breath. When I was reading back through Bob’s writing on red Ravine, I realized we had done a Writing Practice together in 2011 on Death & Dying. I find comfort in his words:


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Why all this focus on death at a time of year when the world screams with life and beauty? Why must death occur during these spring months when the earth bursts forth in new life and beautiful shades of yellow-green, when flowers of all colors open and scent the air, and when we can say, “Winter is gone for at least seven months”? Why?

Maybe all this life and beauty replaces the darkness and depression of the winter and I want no more of it. Give me life in all of its forms and beauty. I suffer enough during the winter and I’m over it, but I’m not, it seems.

I notice the beauty and revel in it because I know the bleakness of winter. Joy returns to my life because I know that the good times may not last forever. The friends I carry in my heart as the treasures of a lifetime will die. I must rejoice in their being while they are with me and not put that off for a change in the season or the approach of death.

How is it that the richness of life requires us to know the poverty of despairing times? Does it work like salt on cantaloup or watermelon? The saltiness makes the sweetness that much sweeter as death makes life more precious.

If I could stop death and dying, would I? No, I would let things happen as they must. I might even bring death to those I love earlier if they desired it, but that’s not my place in life. Sitting next to the bedside of a friend who’s dying makes me aware of the value of the time we had together and what a loss their death will be. If they must die (and they must), I can spend the final days and hours with them and carry them and those times in my heart until I pass from this earth.


-Bob Chrisman, excerpt from a 2011 Writing Practice on the WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING.

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GATE GATE PARAGATE
PARASAMGATE
BODHI SVAHA

Gone, gone, gone beyond
Gone completely beyond
Praise to awakening


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 4th, 2013. I miss you, friend. And I carry you in my heart until I pass from this earth. I believe..

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Graves, Upper Mill Cemetery, Circa 1806 – 10/365, Archive 365, McIntosh County, Darien, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was blistering hot and steamy the afternoon we visited the Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien, Georgia. On a search for ancestral archives, Liz, Mom and I took a road trip from Augusta, Georgia to St. Simons Island where we spent a few days and visited with relatives. We then drove north stopping in Fort Frederica and Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien. Our last stop was Savannah, a city I hope to visit again someday. Looking through these photographs, I realize how important it is to document your travels. It’s been four years since I have returned to the South. Each photo conjures the heat, humidity, live oaks, Gold Coast breezes, white packed sand, and the pilgrimage to Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home.

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ARCHIVE 365 is a photo collaboration between skywire7 and QuoinMonkey featuring images from our archives. We will alternate posting once a day in our Flickr sets from July 1st 2012 through June 30th 2013. You can view our photographs at skywire7 Archive 365 set on Flickr and QuoinMonkey Archive 365 set on Flickr.

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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