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The Bardo, photograph by Debra J. Hobbs, © QuoinMonkey, August 15th, 2020.

I meant to do better. To take more Polaroids, roll more clay, shut up and write. But 2020 had other ideas. For my birthday in high summer, Liz gave me a new deck of cards — The Wild Unknown – Archetypes by Kim Krans. The art was created from the center of a dark night of the soul. I pull a card a week. Saturday, August 15th landed me in The Bardo. I was already there. What changed is my willingness to straddle the abyss, to sit in uncomfortable places — in this life and what I imagine to be the next.

In this life, a family member is recovering from COVID-19. Two long time friends are in treatment for cancer, maybe the fight of their lives. Two other friends buried their 6-month old kitten, lost to a disease of unknown origin. In this life, babies are born unseen by grandparents, couples are married on Zoom, people die unable to hold a loved one’s hand. In this life, cities explode, humans rumble and rattle, tired of gridlock, tired of the status quo.

In this life, last night we locked ourselves in the bathroom to the howls of tornado sirens and horizontal rain. In this life, we wear masks, cancel our travel plans, stack bookshelves to the top of 9-foot ceilings, rearrange our studio to hold Liz’s work-at-home office next to old Kodachrome slides and boxes of art supplies.

I am digging in. And expanding out. I am rattling old bones. Untangling ancient root systems. Beliefs are not truths. I am learning that denial is a form of grief. It’s not the Thing that is dead, but how I’ve been doing the Thing. Shine your light, luminous or liminal. That is the Leo energy of August 2020 (from Lindsay Mack’s August podcast, Tarot for the Wild Soul).

I meant to do better. Prayer flags wave against an overflow bookshelf above photographs of my great, great grandparents. I research the goddess Eris, sister of Ares, daughter of Night. I listen to old astrology tapes, a choir hymn hummed through face masks, the tingle of ghost chimes.

In the Bardo:

We may receive messages from those who are no longer with us or see visions of lives not yet lived. In the Bardo there is the potential to forgive the unforgivable, to say the unsaid, to see the unseen, to love the unloved, to let go of all the things that cause us pain. The Bardo suspends us in its spaciousness for just long enough to open us to higher wisdom. Its energy does not belong to the Earth as we know it, but rather to the Cosmic network of which we are a single thread.

The Wild Unknown – Archetypes deck by Kim Krans

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December Bloom, Minneapolis, Minnesota, iPhone Shots, December 24th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

On Winter Solstice, after two years of dormancy and a flirt with death, the orchid bloomed. The Pacific Sunspots was a gift from Liz on a birthday that crossed decades. I remember opening the wrapper on the deck of Indria, our little cottage. We have moved into an apartment now, simplified our lives. The blooms fill me with joy.

But I have grown lax in my practices. We had been toying with the idea of meeting friends in Santa Fe this winter and signing up for a haiku retreat at Upaya Zen Center. On Christmas Eve, all the pieces came together. Plane tickets were reasonable and there were still openings. Liz and I texted our friends who were driving home from Christmas Eve dinner. We booked our flights and registered — we three were the last to sign up before the retreat was marked Full. The hair stood up on the back of our necks.

On the day after Christmas (at the New Moon Solar Eclipse), I juggled bins in the studio to try to set up a workable writing space. One old box was full of practice notebooks from Taos writing retreats. I pulled one off the top. It was marked October/December of 2006. The detail was mesmerizing; I had forgotten all the insecurities that surface in silence. It can be painful to sit with yourself.

There was a color photograph tucked into a card of a wintry gate near the pigeon roost at Mabel’s. I studied the faces of Natalie, Maria, and the 21 people who attended the four-season Intensive that year. Some have become teachers and grandparents, retired, or moved across country. Many have published their work. Several have passed on to the other side. What happens to our art and writing when we die?

I went back through the notebook with a yellow highlighter and revisited the words I had written at a different time in my life. There were writing practices about a trip to Georgia, a pilgrimage with my mother to research ancestry. We searched cemetery plots in the rain and finally found the overgrown grave of her step-sister who died shortly after birth (I’d like to turn these into a finished piece). There were practices of dribble where I never dropped down into my body. They offered up a study of the crazy minute-to-minute thoughts that go on in one’s mind.

There were writing practices about the ghosts in Mabel’s room, the four-poster bed Dennis Hopper wanted to cut up with a chainsaw, the dogs and coyotes I heard roaming the Taos wilderness at night. In the paper margins were notes on bell ringing, mudras, zafus, and zabutons, and a schedule of the day trip to the plaza and the O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe. There was scratchy handwriting, sometimes barely legible, of erratic emotions and thoughts that spill on to the page when we stop talking.

I had forgotten so much; and remembered everything.

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I’m excited for the possibilities of 2020: photography and practice, completing finished pieces, attending the haiku retreat in Santa Fe. It will be hard to drop into the discipline I once felt at the core. I could fail, but I have faith. When you look back a decade at your younger self, the creeping roots that once clawed their way into rich, black earth searching for nourishment spring forward like orchid tendrils in the sun — fortified aerial roots.

We were required to keep a log that year of our practices, a daily reminder of the commitment to ourselves and our writing. I’ll leave that practice from the old notebook in the comments below, a reminder from the ghosts of December past: Continue under all circumstances. Don’t be tossed away. Make positive effort for the good.

 

 


Handwritten notes in my October/December 2006 practice notebook from dharma talks and one-on-ones with Natalie Goldberg. I am grateful for everything she has taught me. And for the community of artists, writers, and contributors who helped create redRavine. It is a place I can return to feel grounded.

  • Follow the person behind you
  • Everyone feels insecure. It’s just what happens when we sit.
  • Rest. Make space.
  • Don’t push. Let yourself be.
  • Writing is manual labor of the mind.
  • The best kind of structure should be organic.
  • What can you be patient about? Make a list to remind yourself.
  • Crash through what holds you back.
  • Be willing to wait a long time for understanding.
  • Show first. Then tell. Don’t give everything all at once.
  • Don’t manipulate. Respect the reader. Slowly lead them where you want them to go.
  • Read Siddhartha again. His total breakdown led to enlightenment.
  • Push yourself to what you don’t know and make statements anyway. It pushes you into knowing.
  • Sometimes you tell the writing. Other times, the writing tells you.
  • You can’t just be a writer for a month. You have to be willing to go through the whole process, all of it.
  • If you get stuck, go back to basics: I remember, I’m thinking about, What I see in front of me.
  • Read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.
  • Ride on the backs of the writers who came before you.
  • You can’t read a poem enough times.
  • Writing is about receiving. Sit still so you can receive.
  • When you walk in the mist, you get wet. -Dogen

 

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Gratitude List 2019, iPhone Shots, November 30th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

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By Marylin Biggs Schultz

 

GREAT GRANDMOTHER

Mary Dickens Biggs, grandmother of Marylin Biggs Schultz. Family photo, all rights reserved.




carved into granite
“many hopes are buried here”
broken hearts and lives




About this haiku: “As I begin to compose a haiku, I must appear to be drumming my fingers to a silent tune in my head, but those familiar with this poetic form, will know that I’m counting the syllables required in each line; 5-7-5. I hoped to use the inscription from my grandmother’s gravestone, and as fate would have it, there are seven. Here is my haiku for a dear one I never met but hold in love: Mary Dickens Biggs. (My father is the little boy barely visible in the back.)” -Marylin Biggs Schultz

–posted posthumously for Liz’s mother, Marylin Biggs Schultz                                  (May 21st, 1937 – September 5th, 2019)




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About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) was a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She wrote essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune, collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children, and wrote with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for redRavine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy, a Writing Practice, Kindness, and two memoir pieces, Images From The Past  and Two Little Girls & A World At War.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.

-related to post: haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52

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Reading old journals opens up the past revealing details of thoughts and memories long forgotten. When digging through writing notebooks, I ran across this 20-minute Writing Practice from June 16, 2013. It relates to redRavine and lessons that travel with me. In 2019 I still write about the places I have lived, loved, and have yet to travel.

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Loving A Place – 20min

Second cup of French Roast. Kiev sleeps in the window on a fuzzy white cat bed piled on top of blankets. I go over to the desk, organize the pile of envelopes, advertisements, and receipts into separate categories. Then over to the table in front of the couch, an object I love, a painted table that Liz picked up at an auction many years ago. There are painted squares of eggplant, mustard, and turquoise, edged with swipes of paintbrush black. I like surrounding myself with art objects I love. She did good on this purchase.

Next, I gather piles of books from around the living room, most recent purchases, some from a few months ago. I notice that I am halfway through a couple of books, have not even started two more. There is Mni Sota Makoce, The Great Journey, She Had Some Horses, Dragonfly Dance, Twelve Owls. There is The Round House, Hawk Ridge, First Words, and Dewy, The Library Cat. A copy of Refuge that I’ve had for over a decade sits next to the Canon wireless printer. I dug it off a book shelf when Liz, Teri, and I went to see Terry Tempest Williams earlier this year.

I organize the books by size. The heavy photography books like Lightroom 3, Digital Photography, Sony Nex, Black & White Photography are placed on the solid piano bench next to the Room & Board recliner. Liz and I both still buy good reference books; though I am sure many now look online for similar information, there is nothing like a good hardcover book with illustrations. I open the window next to me, feel the light summer wind blow past my face. The cottonwood is just about done dropping her seeds. The cranberry that Liz has named Snowball is fully mature and is blooming with umbrella-shaped pods of white on the tips of her branches.

I feel like I need grounding. I remember something my writing teacher wrote to me after I told her that I was sad she no longer toured or taught in Minnesota. She said she thought I would find Minnesota in her writing. I pick up The True Secret of Writing and thumb through the book, taking notice of the chapter headings that are laced across the top of each page. Loving A Place jumped out at me. I started to read about a layover in Minnesota on the way to Bismarck, North Dakota. This looks good, I think. North Dakota for Liz; Minnesota for me. I settle in to read.

She is staying with a friend who lives near Lake Calhoun. It’s the dead of winter in Minnesota, below zero, at temperatures where ice refuses to be melted by salt.

Two women jog past me, then later a man with a dog on a leash; otherwise, I have the place to myself. I pick up my pace feeling the tips of my fingers freezing. I can’t believe how much love I feel for this place with no logic to it. Sure I met my great Zen teacher here and lived a few blocks away from him for six years and, yes, I learned a lot about writing here, teaching in poet-in-the-schools and then resident writer for two years in a multiracial, multiethnic elementary school and then finally winning a big in-state fellowship that brought me to Israel and that recognized me as a writer. But stopping by a hackberry and staring across the flat white surface of the lake as cars at my back sped by, I understand love has no reason, makes no sense.

Finally I didn’t belong here, just as some of my best loves were not practical to live with or marry, but spoke to a part of me that yearned to be met. And as the years go by I remember them with all the unsheltered love I couldn’t manage to tame. Even though no one would call Minneapolis a wild place, besides its winters, for me, a second-generation Jewish girl from Brooklyn, it was my American frontier. I met people who grew up on Iowa farms, close to that sprawling wide American river, the Mississippi. I watched as people dug holes in the ice and fished and went to summer cabins in the north of their state. I come back to Minneapolis as a seminal home where I have no family and no roots, like a stranger in a strange place.

I’ve written about Minnesota a lot, struggling to escape what I thought was a weird attachment. Most Minnesotans think I hate their state. They are wrong. When I write about a place at all, even if I make fun of it, it’s because it’s stuck to my heart.

My friend Miriam says I have a jones for place. Some people love cars, old houses, the cut and line of clothes. What does our obsession tell us about ourselves?

-from The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language, Part Three: Elaborations, Loving A Place, p. 110 by Natalie Goldberg

She was right. There was Minnesota. At the end of the chapter, she completed her journey into North Dakota, teaching students, then taking a trip to Theo Roosevelt National Park where the horses run wild. I see that wild in Liz, for generations back, connected to harsh winters, unforgiving wind, broad-stroked skies. Loving a place means learning to love the people who live in that place. Because the place has shaped the people they have become. Some of us are products of many places, depending on where our lives have taken us. To live in a place is not always to love a place; we come to love places where we have not lived.

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NOTE: The name of the Minneapolis lake mentioned in this Writing Practice (Lake Calhoun) was changed in 2017 to Mde Maka Ska. The Dakota originally called the lake Mde Maka Ska (modern spelling Bdé Makhá Ská meaning Lake White Earth.
Related to the topic:  WRITING TOPIC – A PLACE TO STAND

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Three Loons On Island Lake, October 17th 2019, iPhone Video, Island Lake, near Cromwell, Minnesota, video © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


We are back in the Twin Cities. The morning we left Island Lake, the moon set in a dense fog. Three loons surfaced to greet the day. Magical is an overused word, but that’s how it felt sitting on the end of the misty dock watching sunlight hit the circling reeds.

We weren’t ready to step into work life Friday morning. The five-thirty alarm interrupted my dreams; the October sky seemed too dark for a waking body. When left to our own devices, we stay up late for creative work, rise later in the morning. We don’t naturally awaken at 5:30 or 6 a.m. in the city.

The ways we make a living around office computers and machinery hum (so different from the Taos hum) remind us of the unnatural habit-forming rhythms our bodies endure to live in a metropolitan landscape: traffic, crazy harried drivers, school bus dodging, and overcrowded parkways.

Cities are beautiful in a different way. Later we’ll take a two-mile walk around an urban lake and go to a friend’s home for an evening fire. The choices we make. I choose to keep writing.

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Island Lake, Cromwell, Minnesota, iPhone Shots, October 16th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


We are out of the sauna followed by a dip in Island Lake. It’s the evening before we leave to travel home. We sit in black easy chairs in front of wall-length windows writing and working on photograph archives. Over the week we saw six pair of trumpeter swans, three common mergansers, one pair of eagles, and at least ten loons. A mature eagle just swooped down and flew in front of the window, then glided on through the birch.

“She’s here,” Liz said, looking my way. Our eyes lock. I feel my heart swell and break open in tears. We came to make space for grief, for the passing of Liz’s mom in September. Sadness is the other side of the joy I feel being here: walking in the autumn air, sitting on the dock listening to the cries of the loons, eavesdropping on a family of Canadian geese with Nikon binoculars. The goslings stay with the parents (who mate for life) for at least a year. Blood pressure is down, pores are clear, my heart beats low, even and steady.

We stopped to meditate on the one and a half mile walk around Loon Lake in Savannah Portage State Park. If I hadn’t portaged on canoe trips in the Boundary Waters and sank up to my knees in mud, I might not know what it’s like to carry a Duluth pack on my back, a canoe over my shoulders.

The Savannah Portage is part of history, a long, wet walk from Lake Superior near Duluth to an eastern bend in the Mississippi River just west of Big Sandy. Liz and I like to travel to places we haven’t been before. We are only a few hours from the Twin Cities; we had the lake all to ourselves. The reds and oranges of the maples are past peak, but the yellows of the birch and poplar are popping. Yellow. Soothing, bright, clear.

I am grateful for downtime. My gratitude list grew tenfold over the week. I know it’s a luxury to be able to take time off to grieve. After a loved one dies, the work-a-day world continues to churn. Mother Nature has given us solace. A place to sit on a glacial lake facing West, the direction of later life, the domain of sunsets, and oceans, and the sit bones of mountains.

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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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Nashville. #black&white #travel #photography #sky #architecture #shadows #clouds #sky #Tennessee #retro #roadtrip

Nashville, Tennessee, iPhone Shots, June 27th, 2016, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

View of downtown Nashville on a road trip with Liz. We stopped in Nashville to tour Jack White’s Third Man Records on the way to visit my dad and his wife. I lived in Tennessee for a few years as a child, but had never been to Music City. We also visited Ann Patchett’s bookstore Parnassus Books; we try to visit independent bookstores wherever we travel. We were lucky to have made the trip from Minnesota that June because my dad passed away unexpectedly eight months later. I am thinking of him because his birthday is August 15th. We are grateful for the time and cherish the memories. His ashes are scattered near Morristown, Tennessee, the place he was born.

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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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Gratitude, Mandala Series, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2016, photo © 2016 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

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Poem For My Father (the way love bends), Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2015, © 2015 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I found out about my father’s death from reading an obit. He died on Halloween. I wrote three poems on a Royal typewriter. I had not seen him in years; he never responded to my letter. It is a lesson in letting go. It is a lesson in blood ties, and ties through love. It is a lesson in the nature of human grief, something we may feel for that which was never ours.


My Father As A Boy, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2015, © 2015 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on redRavine, Sunday, January 11, 2015

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Listen In Circles, Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2014, photos © 2014 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I am reading a book of essays that Gail gave me on the different ways that artists make a living. Their studios, how they obtain money, do they have day jobs. It’s good to read because it reminds me of all the ways that artists and writers make their art and writing work with the rest of their lives. It’s humbling. And it teaches me not to give up. I’ve been experimenting with doing nothing really, nothing but practice. I keep up my haiku practice. I do some writing practice but not every day. I do no specific art, no photography, no writing. I want to see how it makes me feel inside to give these things up. It’s a long break, a hiatus from identifying as an artist. It’s good to take a break sometimes. What I am noticing is that it relieves a lot of pressure. Pressure to be something else, to be doing something else besides living day to day. It does relieve pressure. But it hasn’t brought me peace. I look to another day, a small room of my own. Maybe that’s dreaming an unrealistic dream. I don’t know. All I have is this moment. This one moment. In this moment, I end a writing practice and move on.

-from a Writing Practice with No Topic, November 30th, 2014


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When I feel lost, I go back to what I know. Back to my practices. Back to Beginner’s Mind. I am rereading Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender. She writes and sketches her journey with the begging bowl. The image of the bowl became the image of the book. The empty bowl, waiting to be filled.


Stories move in circles. They don’t go in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles. There are stories inside stories and stories between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home. And part of the finding is the getting lost. And when you’re lost, you start to look around and to listen.

-quote by Deena Metzger from Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, January 2nd, 2015

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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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Mr. Stripeypants wraps his feline body, a curled half moon in front of the space heater. Liz is still sleeping. Out on the deck, the bear chimes I purchased in Ely last July ripple with the wind. The sky is dark. It’s 50 degrees. Later in the day, the wind will pick up, the air will drop into the twenties. November darkness refuels my passion for the Arts. It’s a chance to reflect, to take stock of my life. Not the long term dreams and goals I harnessed as a twenty-year-old. But the smiling clerk in the grocery line at Byerly’s, lunch alone at Como Park, the smile in my lover’s eyes — minutes that end up creating years. I am grateful for each moment.

I used to dread change. I thought it meant the loss of loved ones, the fleeing of love, abandonment. Now I welcome what is fresh and new, the unplanned. Change means I don’t have to cling to what I have lost. Change means I don’t have to stay stuck where I am — emotionally, spiritually, physically. Change means I am willing to face the future. Change means I don’t have to like something or someone to accept them, or forgive. Change means the body breaks down, the mind remains stubborn, the heart swells with appreciation. Change. I am grateful for change.

Thank you to family, friends, readers, teachers, patrons of the Arts. Because of you, my life feels rich and full. Happy Thanksgiving.



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Gratitude Writing Practice 2012


A is for altitude, the steady climb before the peregrine’s dive. B, let me not be brittle, but open to the opportunities life has to offer. C is for centered, concrete, creative, cushion. D, that last cool drink of water from a mountain stream. E, grateful for all the Elizabeths in my life. F will always be for family and friendships, for those who have stuck with me, even when I hit my bottom. G, gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. So much to be thankful for. H reminds me not to hurry. Slow down. Watch for the edges. Hypocrisy, emerald hedges, the hollow bone. I, irresistible words. Letters, dots, dashes, the incurable love affair with language. J is for justice, judges, journey work. The realization that I can’t control what is just and fair. Acceptance of the slow turn of arbitration. Solomon. Did he have it right? K is for the keys to the passage, low island reef at high tide. Keystone, quoin, foundation, groundwork. L for the lionhearted, those with courage, grace under pressure, the fearless who inspire me. M, morgue, decay, melodrama, the things we leave behind. Laurie Anderson reminded me, it is in times of death that we experience the most intense feelings of love. Anyway, N is for nesting, nudging noxious thoughts away, purging what is not useful to living a full-hearted life. O, owing a debt of gratitude to those who serve humanity. Out-of-the-way places where I can be my true self, unmasked, unafraid of a face-to-face with my own shortcomings. P is for play, paper, Mr. StripeyPants, Kiev, parables forming nuggets of truth. Q, there are Questions, there can never be too many questions. Quandaries, crossroads, quagmires, quests. A call to action. R, rest, solitude, unconnected, unavailable, alone. Remember, reverberate, don’t be too rigid. S, steady, slow, steadfast. Grant me the serenity. Sugar, shug. T, the topple of empires built on shifting sands. Trounced by the tough and true-hearted. U is for unburden, unbroken, unbound. Underdog, under the weather, underestimated. V, vivacious, high-spirited, don’t play your cards so close to the vest. W, the winsome and wise do not dismiss what is wistful and wintry. A windfall comes your way. X is for seeing through the xenophobic, just in the nick of time. Y, yearning for solitude, receiving a yen, unwilling to be the yes woman, corralling the yowling, howling courage of my youth. Z, life is a zigzag of faithful moments laced with bad decisions, and wretched zaniness. A short walk through zoological gardens of wonder, a long conversation. Listen. Listen.


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-related to posts: Gratitude Mandala — Giving Thanks, This Thanksgiving Weekend, Make A Gratitude Journal, A Simple Gratitude List, gratitude haiku (orange), The ABC’s Of A Prosperous 2008 – Gratitude, Feelin’ Down For The Holidays? Make A Gratitude List

-posted on red Ravine, Thanksgiving Day, November 22nd, 2012

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There is not a cloud in the sky, only a penetrating late summer haze. Who would have known the temperatures would be in the nineties this week, humid and sultry for our day at the Minnesota State Fair. I am not geared to spend time around throngs of people. It’s something I have to get myself prepared for. Once in the right mind set, an introvert can navigate dense crowds with the best of them. But at a high price.

I like learning about clouds. There are scientific details that I will never understand. Still, I like learning the science behind their magic. My vision feels clouded the last few weeks. Leading up to Art-A-Whirl in June, there is a busyness about summer that does not let go until after the Fair. It’s a steady pattern. This year I chose to work on the yard after the arborist came and trimmed the trees. It is work that is yet unfinished. We may take the rest of the mulch and level it out for a shed base where we will store the motorcycles this winter.

Winter. Fall, then Winter. I hesitate to wonder if we will even get any snow clouds this year. Last year, I only shoveled twice. It was the strangest Winter on record. There was no Spring to speak of. The weather immediately turned so hot and humid, we had to spend most of Spring inside. The air is not good to breathe in urban areas when it gets too humid. It’s like a cloud of wet towel around your head and nostrils that follows a long narrow path into your lungs.

I am not making any sense in this practice. That is the nature of practice. I am using it to ground myself this morning, a practice about a cloud to ground a day leading into the Holiday weekend. Labor Day. What is the nature of work? What is the nature of your work. I have had so many different jobs, all leading to a single goal—a creative life of writing, photography, art. There are jobs. And then there is work, a life’s work. Creative work.

I sit in the silence of morning, air conditioner humming in the background. Silence wakes me up. Thoughts penetrate and spur emotions. When I just sit, I feel at home. Thoughts are not always comfortable. Emotions rile. Silence can be lonely. But it is what it is, and on its own terms. It took me a long time to realize that I could not live life on my own terms. I had to live it on life’s terms. That means taking the good with the bad, the difficult with the joyful, and learning to sit with both.

I found an old notebook this morning, a small 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 black book sitting on the piano. Curious, I strolled through the pages of words I had jotted down in 2009. On one leaf was a note from Harpers. In small block print, it read: psychologist revealed that the secret to a happy marriage is accepting that life without suffering is impossible.

Maybe the secret to happiness is being able to hold the struggle and the joy in the same breath. Or maybe it’s realizing that we don’t need to be happy all the time. Why would anyone want that to be their goal.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — CLOUD is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. QuoinMonkey joined Marylin Schultz and Bob Chrisman in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Marylin Schultz

Clouds of black dirt rolled across the plains of midwest America in the late 1920’s and the 1930’s, giving a generic name to the era, “the dirty thirties,” as well as “the dust bowl” to the affected land. PBS has publicized a Ken Burns’ documentary on that bleak time in our country’s history, and I have a personal story to add, told to me by my mother.

My parents were married in 1932, a brave and hopeful couple, living more on dreams than dollars. Although my father was employed in the insurance company begun by his father in Childress, Texas, before the “crash of 1929,” most of his income came from commissions, and insurance was considered a luxury by many people during those poor economic times. He was in charge of the branch office in Albuquerque.

The first child was born to the couple in 1934. My mother decided to visit her mother who lived in Amarillo. She was on a bus with her infant, about halfway through their journey east, when a cold wind picked up. Off in the distance was an unbelievable sight. In the sky, to the north, a huge black wall seemed to be approaching them. A wave of darkness, reaching from the ground, hundreds of feet into the sky, was rapidly rolling towards them. The driver pulled the bus off of the road and hurried down the aisle with a container of water, shouting an explanation and directions.

“It’s top-soil, comin’ fast, and here’s what you got to do. Dampen your handkerchiefs with this water and hold it over your nose and mouth, ‘else you’ll choke to death!” My mother was terrified, especially for her infant. She carefully dipped two handkerchiefs into the offered water and tied one across her baby’s face and the other across her own. Of course, the tiny infant was upset by the unusual circumstances and began crying. The anxious mother hugged him to her breast and tried to comfort the struggling child.

“Close your eyes,” the driver continued, now back in his seat. “We just got to wait it out and hope it don’t take long to pass by us.”

The black cloud was now upon them. It was darker than a moonless night; absolute, total darkness. The bitter, cold wind shook the bus. With the eerie whistling of the wind came muffled screams and moans of some of the passengers. The few minutes it took for the cloud to move beyond the bus, seemed like a long journey down into the depths of hell and back!

The welcome relief of stillness and daylight lasted several minutes, before anyone spoke.

“Everyone okay back there?” the driver called out. Then, like a flood, the comments came forth. Exclamations of the incredible experience filled the air. Dirty faces now emerged, but with grins that showed how no one minded “a little dirt,” because they all survived the momentary terror!

Many years later, my mother and I were tourists in the Black Hills of South Dakota, being guided through a deep cave. The tour guide, as part of his usual lecture, turned off the lights to let us experience the total darkness. However, he did not tell the group ahead of time, that this was his intention. The result of being plunged, once more, into total darkness, my Mom grabbed my arm and screamed! When the light was turned on, she gave a brief, embarrassed explanation of the fright she had experienced so long ago.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — CLOUD is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Marylin Schultz is joining QuoinMonkey and Bob Chrisman in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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