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By Elizabeth Statmore


Sunday morning, my second without Fromage. All I’ve wanted to do all week was look at profiles of rescue dogs. During standardized testing I searched Petfinder and Craigslist, reading about different available dogs and looking into their eyes. There are so many dogs who need homes, and the hole in my heart feels so huge.

But we need to get a hypoallergenic dog this time. It was a lucky miracle that David was not allergic to Fromage. So I started searching breed rescues, looking for Goldendoodles and Labradoodles who needed rescuing.

There aren’t that many breed rescue groups for doodles, in spite of the fact that they are one of the most popular breeds around these days. That means so many dogs who get given up for being too big, too active, etc. People give dogs up for the weirdest reasons. They get bored with the dog or they’re moving, so they say they have to give up the dog. They wouldn’t give up their children if they were moving, I think, but I can’t be sure.

So I started looking up Labradoodle breeders to inquire after adult dogs who might need re-homing or rescue. And I came upon Golden Gate Labradoodles just south of here, so I e-mailed Kristin the owner/breeder, to ask about rescues.

And she told me the most wonderful news I have heard all week.

They rarely get returns, since they breed first and foremost for temperament and they screen adopters carefully. But they do have a Guardian Program for their breeding dogs, and there’s one adult male they’ve recently added to their program whom they adore but who really deserves to have his own guardian family and home.

His name is Topper.

Topper was also the name of my very first pet — a dime store turtle from Kresge’s. I loved that turtle. I cared for him endlessly, fed him and petted him and made adventures for him in his little dime store turtle bowl with the red diving board and the green plastic palm tree on the central island oasis. I remember all of this vividly because he was the most interactive pet I had until we got our Schnauzer Cappy.

My eyes bugged out when I read that. I did a double-take.


Kristin forwarded me the information on their guardian program as well as some information about Topper as a family dog. It’s basically a foster-to-own program, in which the dog lives with you in your home as your pet, and a few times a year he has a breeding “gig,” for which you drive him either to the breeder or to the specialized repro vet. For male dogs, this is a pretty minor affair, dog sex being what it is — which is to say, quick and dirty (or in the case of the repro vet, very sanitary). When the dog’s breeding career comes to an end in a few years (probably four or five), ownership gets transferred, he gets neutered, and he lives with you as your forever dog.

They have come to love him dearly but their home pack consists of a number of already-estabished dogs in their program, and Kristin feels like it’s not fair to Topper, who deserves to be the center of attention in a family — the most-loved dog in his pack. So she’s been looking for the right family of owner-guardians to match him with.

She forwarded a link to his profile on their web site and my heart bloomed open. He could not be more different from Fromage — fluffy, non-shedding, mellow, confident, laid back. He’s the color of cafe au lait — referred to in Australian Labradoodle parlance as “cafe,” a diluted coffee color, almost taupe, with a non-shedding coat but the same eager, loving chocolate eyes I am looking for.

Kristin said the best way to ask more questions about Topper and/or the guardian program would be to call her. She gave me her cell phone number and said she hoped to talk to me soon.

I called her yesterday afternoon.

We talked for two hours.

In my original inquiry message, I explained that we had recently lost our beloved 15 ½ year old dog, Fromage. I included David’s collage of photos and told her my story of how I’d rescued him and how we had loved him.

She received this message on May 18th, 2012 — Topper’s second birthday.


On the phone we talked about everything — training and dog-loving philosophy, Topper’s and Fromage’s personalities, and our home set-up.

She and I bonded deeply. We love our dogs in very similar and compatible ways.

I told her it was clear to me that Fromage had held on as long as he could to take care of us, but that he just couldn’t do it any more. But I told her that I knew in my bones — and in my feet — that he wants us to adopt another dog who can take care of us. He needs a new dog to take over the work of rescuing us. It took him thirteen and a half years to raise us, and he doesn’t want all that good work to go to waste.

All of this clearly resonated with her. She wants to move toward the next step as much as I do.

I told David about it and he is open to it. Since I’m the primary caregiver, he is looking to me to lead. And since I am the crazy one, he is looking for me to set the pace.

I will probably go over and meet Topper after school one day this week. They don’t live far from my school. We talked about my timing, with graduation and summer coming, and having that be the best time for me to integrate a new dog into our household.

We would give a deposit that would be refunded gradually over time as certain milestones get met. Then once his breeding career is finished, in maybe five or so years, the last portion of that deposit would go towards his neutering fee and he’d be transferred over to us for forever.

This feels like a miracle.


Topper & Elizabeth, Home At Last, San Francisco, California, June 2012, photo © 2012 by David Bassin. All rights reserved.


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About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — 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… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

Healing is Part III in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage. Parts I and II are Long and The Gifts Of Trash Night.

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By Elizabeth Statmore


I wanted to find that Anne Lamott essay on their dog’s dying, but it’s in another book and I don’t have time to find it right now.

This is the first work day without Fromage, and I can already tell there are going to be a lot of awful firsts like this — first Trash Night without him, for example. Trash Night was Fromage’s favorite holiday. Lucky for him, it came every week. Tuesday nights, after dinner, we would bring the trash and recycling and composting down the front stairs and haul the wheeled cans to the curb — black for rubbish, blue for recycling, green for compostables.

David would wind him up as I started gathering the bags in the kitchen. “Trash Night!” he would exclaim to Fromage. “Trash Night!” And Fromage would start to dance around the room excitedly, wagging his tail hard and barking.

“Trash Night! Trash Night!”

Bark! Bark! Bark!

Being descended from a long line of working dogs and shepherds, he would herd me with our bags toward the front door, barking as if to yell, “Hurry up! It’s Trash Night, dammit!”

As far as he was concerned, the best nights were the ones when we needed to make the trip to the sidewalk more than once. He would dash up the stairs and bark down at me, urging me on. While I dealt with the carts and the bags, he would amble over to lift his leg and pee on a nearby sidewalk tree. it was his holiday — and now he is going to miss it forever more as we are going to miss him.

This hole in my heart feels bottomless, and it makes me wonder if I will ever feel whole again. I miss him with an ache and an urgency I can’t describe with words. This is my life now.

***
8:00 p.m. insight — Fromage does not want us to be lonely. He wants us to adopt another dog who can watch over us.

He loves us and doesn’t want us to be lonely.

He stayed as long as he could, but he just couldn’t do his job of taking care of us any more and he had to go. He’d dragged himself through sickness and dying, and it was time for him to leave us.

But he doesn’t want us to be lonely for too long.

He loves us and wishes us the best. It’s not a betrayal of him for us to love a new dog.


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About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — 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… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

The Gifts Of Trash Night is Part II in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage. Part I is titled Long.

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bar talk - 11/365

bar talk -11/365, Archive 365, Fine Line Music Cafe, Warehouse District, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by skywire7. All rights reserved.


The Fine Line Music Cafe combines the essentials to a fun night out = music, food & friends. Both local acts and national headline bands play here in an intimate setting. Searching through the archives and stumbling on this capture makes me want to get back there soon. Plus today I caught the end of a radio interview with The Gaslight Anthem on MPR’s 89.3 The Current. Guess where they are playing tonight? Yup, the Fine Line. But Mary Lucia said it was sold out so I am just writing about it. Like wiser folks have told me, you can’t do everything!

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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.

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By Elizabeth Statmore


Fromage died on Saturday, May 12th 2012 at 11:30 p.m. at All Animals Emergency Hospital, surrounded by us and our love. He was dehydrated and disoriented, with a temperature of 105.6. Normal temperature for dogs is 101-ish, with 102 being in the high fever range. So Fromage had a raging fever, probably from a combination of a brain tumor (or nervous system tumor) and end-stage kidney disease.

We knew it was serious when he couldn’t do anything with a Beggin’ Strip — his favorite treat in the universe. And I’d dreamed Wednesday morning that he died. I knew it was a precognitive dream, but I didn’t know how or when the end would happen.

He did his utmost to stay alive for me — to support me and love me through this disorienting chapter of my life. He showed the same heroic courage and love he had shown us all his life. He was an impeccable warrior to the end, but in the end it was time to let him go.

It was the night before Mother’s Day.

It’s the little things that really punch me in the gut — the moments that interrupt my conditioned habits, such as automatically tucking the newspaper bags into the plastic bag collection next to the front door, only to realize that I don’t have a need to save dog poop bags any more.

I put his sterling silver tag on a chain and started wearing it around my neck last night as I went to bed.

He was the only being who has ever called me his mother. On our first Mother’s Day he bought me a pair of dog socks.

He was the dog of my life.

He was the dog of my heart.

I somehow left my favorite fountain pen at school on Friday, but I was too stressed-out and worried yesterday to deal with it. But this morning, all I wanted to do was write, so I drove down to school and back to retrieve it.

When we got to All Animals, Fromage had a fever of 105.6. This was a raging brain fever. He couldn’t even walk down our front stairs. I carried him in my arms down the thirteen front steps — all 60+ pounds of him. David carried him into the car. He was dehydrated and disoriented and scared. He was dying.

I held him in the back seat while David drove. He lay quietly on the back seat, watching where we were going.

He had kept himself alive so he could support me. And now I knew it was my turn to support him by letting him go and by easing his passage into the next world, into his next life.

Fred always said that Fromage was my spirit guide.

Now my heart just aches. David’s too. Fromage loved David so much, even though David felt hurt that Fromage was always so freaked out and demented these last few years. David hugged him and loved him too, even though there was so much dog hair. By last night, no one cared.

I can’t put away his old beds or mats yet. I am still processing the fact that he is gone. There is a giant Fromage-shaped hole in my heart — one with one stand-up ear and one flappy ear. The stand-up ear is his right one. It has a bite taken out of the tip. My lips and fingers know the shape of that missing spot instinctively. Completely. Like a fingerprint.

He’d been staying alive to get me through this tough time. On Wednesday night I got the word that my layoff notice had been rescinded. He went downhill fast from there.

I loved that dog so much.

He loved me more purely and wholeheartedly than I had ever been loved before. It was a healing kind of love. He healed me. He made me whole.

When Crystal and I saw Mary Oliver the first time at the Herbst a few years ago, Mary had recently lost her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, and had been writing about it for some time. A woman in the audience asked how she’d gotten through the devastating loss. “Well,” she said, first you go a little crazy. You go nuts for a while.” That thought comforts me now. I am going to have to go a little nuts for a while while I grieve.

The loss feels cavernous.

It’s also tinged with fear and shame that I might not be experiencing appropriate gratitude for the gift of his life. I *do* feel a bottomless gratitude for his life. It’s just that right now, this is the part where I have to take in and let out the hurting — the loss and the groundlessness of impermanence.

In legal terms, I rescued him, but the emotional truth is that he is the one who rescued me.

He was a magical dog, a magical creature. In mythical terms, he was my magical helper-being.

“A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky,” Mary Oliver writes in one of her dog poems. In so many, many ways I’ve been very, very lucky. Fromage was in good health and good spirits until this very last week. He enjoyed long walks and Trash Night and giving David five and ten and eating Beggin’ Strips until the very last day of his life. He watched for my return through the glass in the front door every single day of our life together.

As we left the hospital room after it was over, I kissed him behind his flappy ear — where, even in death, he still smelled like a puppy — and I whispered to him, “Okay, Puppity, guard the house.”

Then we left the treatment room and closed the door behind us.

I did not look back.


Fromage at the Dog Garden, Dog Garden, San Francisco, California, April 2004, photo © 2004 by Carlos Hillson. All rights reserved.


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About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — 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… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

Long is Part I in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage.

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By Marylin Schultz




Marylin on Tricycle, Billy, Francine & Terry in Wagon, Johnny in Rear, No. Hollywood, California, 1944, vintage family photo, scan © 2012 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


When nations form alliances on every continent, it means the lines are drawn and the winds of war sweep across the world, affecting all people, even small children. Two little girls in two very different families find they have been placed in opposite alliances, and this is their story.

The year is 1941. Marylin Biggs was born in New Mexico. She is Caucasian and lives with her parents and older brother. Her mother is expecting a baby in January. On December 7th, America is drawn into the war which is now affecting the entire world. Her father, not wanting to leave his wife with such a young family, is given the choice to work for Lockheed, building war planes, which he accepts. In 1942, the Biggs family moves to California.


In California’s central valley the Nakata family lives on a farm composed of beautiful orchards and vineyards. The children are 3rd generation Japanese Americans.

Little Haruko enters Kindergarten in 1942. One day, out on the school playground, Haruko finds herself surrounded by 6th Grade girls.

“Hold out your hand,” one of them commands. The small child meekly obeys, not knowing what to expect. The girl who spoke, grabs one of Haruko’s hands and begins to twist and twist a tiny finger until it breaks. Although the pain is excruciating, she is afraid to tell any adult at school and runs home. She never returns to that school.

As it turns out, the Nakata family is also about to make a major move. The huge difference is that Haruko’s family does not have a choice. They are ordered off of their land and become internees in a Relocation Camp, far away.


Marylin Biggs with her Cousin, Wiley Oliver, Glendale, California, 1942, vintage family photo, scan © 2012 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.

Marylin and her family settle down in North Hollywood, and her father drives to Burbank, the adjoining suburb of Los Angeles where he works at a Lockheed Aircraft Plant. The whole complex, including the large parking lot, is covered with a huge netting of camouflage. Russell Biggs rivets together the small, fast P-38 Fighter planes, which are designed to keep enemy planes from attacking the large, slower B-17’s, with their heavy cargo of bombs.

His younger brother, Ralph, was a tail gunner on these Bombers. On his last mission, Ralph’s plane was shot down, but he was able to escape, parachuting safely into neutral Switzerland, where he spent the remainder of the war. That country’s policy was to treat all military personnel humanely, but not to release them until the war’s end. Wiley Oliver, a cousin of Marylin’s, made the Army his career, retiring with the rank of Colonel, many years later.


Marylin also entered Kindergarten in 1942. She walked to school with her brother, Earl, who was in the 4th Grade. The children in the upper grades were given decks of cards that had the images of all the military airplanes on them. They were asked to become familiar with the appearances of the planes and to report any enemy planes that they might see. One day, on their way home from school, a small plane flew overhead and Earl shouted, “It’s a Messerschmitt; hit the dirt!” His little sister instantly obeyed, only to realize, at the sound of his laughter, that she had fallen for another of his practical jokes, and no danger was imminent!

Life in wartime held anxious moments for a small child. The wail of air raid sirens meant grownups hurrying to cover windows. There were billboards that asked drivers, “Is this trip necessary?” This due to the shortage of gasoline and tires. Some foods were rationed, meat, sugar and butter. Marylin “helped” by putting the small packet of orange liquid in the bowl of white margarine, which made it look a little more like the butter it replaced. The family had a large “Victory” vegetable garden.

But changes in the life of the Biggs family were insignificant compared to those for the Nakatas.

Haruko and Marylin met while both were students at U.C. Berkeley. They lived in a large old home that had been sanctioned as a “dormitory.” It housed 30 girls.

Marylin had never learned of the Relocation Camps before the two girls became friends. By 1942, Haruko’s family had lived in California for three generations. Their large farm was one of carefully tended orchards and vineyards that produced an abundance of fruit.

The Nakata family, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, were notified of their impending relocation. Each family’s baggage could not exceed 100 pounds. First, the “internees” were held in a gathering place, like cattle in a stockyard. Santa Anita Racetrack in southern California was one of these. The wait, at least a month long, was followed by a train trip into the interior of the country.


Japanese American Internees at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming, 1943, photo scan © 2012 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


The Relocation Center, as it was officially named, consisted of rows of barracks, usually divided in half for two families. The whole camp was hastily built in only three months. Coming from a culture that embraces beauty, order, modesty and dignity, it was a shock to be given only one room for the entire family. Sheets were hung within each space for privacy. There was a coal burning stove for heat, but no furniture. The men gathered scraps of wood left by the carpenters, to make crude tables and chairs. Cooking was not allowed. The meals were prepared for them and eaten in barracks, or “mess halls.” They were unprepared for the bitterly cold winters. With quiet dignity they suffered the shame of living behind barbed wire with armed soldiers on watch.

With about 10,000 internees, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, or “Jap Camp,” as it was called by local residents, instantly became the third largest city in Wyoming. It was located between the towns of Cody and Powell. A school was established for the children, as well as a medical facility. Supervised shopping trips were allowed, and some of the men were hired by local farmers as field workers. There was a shortage of local men, most of whom had been drafted into military service.

Incredibly, the younger Japanese men were asked to serve in the military, and many of them did. Some, though, were incensed by the irony of being imprisoned by their own nation and then asked to enlist. Those who chose to fight for their country did so, wishing to prove their loyalty. Most were in the same outfit, and it was the most highly decorated unit in World War II. Some of those who refused to enlist were actually sent to prison.

Most of the local residents were not prejudiced against these citizens. Boy and Girl Scout troops joined in activities. In fact, former Senators Alan Simpson and Daniel Inouye first met and became friends as young men involved in Boy Scouts, before Inouye enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943.

When the war was over, the Nakata family returned to California, to learn that someone else “owned” their farm. There was no explanation or compensation given. They simply had to begin again, which they did. It was not easy, but the family prospered once again, and the children all graduated from college and led productive, successful lives.




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About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) is a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She has written essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune and collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children. She currently writes with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for red Ravine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy, a Writing Practice, Kindness, and a memoir piece, Images From The Past.

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.


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Father Love Joy, taken the day before Father’s Day, Casket Arts Studio 318, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 16th, 2012, photos © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Many Father’s Days pass with a card, a note, a phone call. It’s easy to forget that Father’s Day can be somber for those who have lost fathers to war, illness, death or divorce. I don’t know what it is this year, but Father’s Day sticks to my heart. Maybe it’s the letter I wrote to my biological father last year after 50 years of no contact. Or the way my step-dad from South Carolina drove over 600 miles to see me when I was in Pennsylvania visiting my brother after his liver transplant. Or maybe it’s the way I can feel connected to my step-dad from Pennsylvania by checking in on Facebook when he winters in Puerto Rico.

I’m looking back; I’m looking forward. Back to the things my dads have taught me. Forward to the gratitude I feel that they are a part of my life. Over the years, I related most to the matriarchal side of our family. But the bond between fathers and daughters is inescapable. I ran from it in my twenties; I was trying to stand alone, be my own person. I humbly step back into the circle. It is unbroken. Fathers are the other half of the sky.

Some feel that divorce leaves children alienated and confused. That kids are too young to understand the nature of adult relationships until they have lived through a few of their own. How complicated and emotional and painful they can be. But children are resilient. And the truth is that adults go through many relationships over the course of their lives. Hopefully, insight follows pain. Understanding is born from love and loss. Wisdom comes from forgiveness and learning to love again.

I have a biological father I have not seen since I was six. I have a Southern dad who lives in South Carolina and was a big part of my life from the ages of two through eleven. I have a Northern dad who lives in Pennsylvania part of the year, the other part in Puerto Rico. He was a father figure from the ages of twelve through eighteen. I carry little pieces of each of these men into late adulthood; they are all part of me.

My First Bicycle - Morristown, Tennessee


I am a better person for what I learned from my three dads.

I learned to ride a bike in Tennessee. It was my dad who unbolted the training wheels, held the back of the seat until I was steady, then let go the moment I felt balanced. I learned to slip together model train tracks, drop liquid smoke into the stack to make steam (oh, that smell!), let the transformer cool off after a few hours. On Christmas morning, my dad would get right down on the floor with us and assemble model cars, toy blocks, and Easy-Bake ovens. He gardened, cooked and cleaned when Mom needed the help, tore apart car engines and taught her how to put them back together, and worked two jobs to keep us afloat. From my dad, I learned the meaning of generosity of spirit, of honesty and doing the right thing, of standing up for your beliefs and challenging those who take advantage of others.

In Pennsylvania, I grew old enough to drive. It was my mother who sat next to me in the Buick while I learned the ropes. But my dad who taught me how to slip the clutch on the red Austin-Healey Sprite we towed from my grandparent’s garage. The vintage racer belonged to my uncle and had seen a lot of wear. He said he’d give it to us if we could figure out how to tow it home. That Sprite became my first car. Mom added the shag carpet; my dad fixed up the engine and got the little spitfire running after hours of labor—a great gift to me.

From my dad, I learned to build a scale model guillotine for an 8th grade English project on A Tale of Two Cities. The blade was sharp; Mrs. Juarez was impressed. My dad taught me the first chords on the guitar I received for Christmas that first year of college. He always had a couple of guitars and an amp around the house when we were growing up. I also learned a little about politics and community from his dedication to workers rights through union organizing. I learned that change is possible if you are willing to fight for it.

From my biological father, I learned what a child learns from absence. There is a wondering that goes with a parent who is no longer present, a do I matter to them? I wonder if they ever think about me feeling that stays with you into adulthood. His family was lost to me; his parents, my paternal grandmother and grandfather, were strangers. But I did reconnect with my aunts after 50 years. They welcomed me into their families. From that experience, I have learned forgiveness and unconditional love.

There have been painful moments, too, times of disappointment, times when I felt invisible. But on this day, Father’s Day 2012, I focus on the richness I have gained. To my three dads — thanks for all you have taught me. Most people only have one father. I am blessed with the gift of three.


-posted on red Ravine, Father’s Day, Sunday, June 17th, 2012

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Night On Fire, BlackBerry Shots, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Original BlackBerry photo June 2011, part of Northern Spark — Twin Cities Nuit Blanche.


Northern Spark 2012 begins next weekend in the Twin Cities at dusk on Saturday, June 9th and ends at the crack of dawn, Sunday, June 10th. Northern Spark is a free, dusk to dawn, participatory arts festival that presents visual arts, performance, films, and interactive media. Tonight at the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis we plan to attend the Pre-Spark Bridge Lighting where planners will flip the switch for Northern Spark’s signature artwork, Robin Schwartzman’s THINK AND WONDER, WONDER AND THINK.  They will also be giving out festival guidebooks to preview before June 9.

Last year’s inaugural Northern Spark was magical. In 2011, over the course of the night, there were 50,000 visits to 100 projects by more than 200 mostly local artists at 34 venues in collaboration with 60 partner organizations and sponsors. I have listed a few of the places we visited in 2011 and a little history of the Nuit Blanche (“white night”) movement in the piece Northern Spark — Twin Cities Nuit Blanche.

The three photographs in this piece were taken while I was standing in the middle of Jim Campbell’s Scattered Light installation, part of Northern Spark 2011. In Annotated Artwork: The Making Of Jim Campbell’s ‘Scattered Light‘, Jim says moving from 2-D to 3D art is about “exploding an image, tearing it apart, and spreading it out.” His tips: 1. Pick a spot 2. Grab Source Material 3. Turn it into code 4. Create depth 5. Consider the planet. Honoring point 5, he and his assistants revamped thousands of standard lightbulbs, sawed them open, stuffed them with LEDs, and glued them back together, making handmade, unique, energy-efficient hybrids.

I am looking forward to Northern Spark 2012. At the Northern Spark website, there is a Planning Your Night page with a full list of events, including a link to download their new Northern Spark mobile app. We’ve already got ours loaded on our Androids. I only hope there is enough time to make all the events we’ve listed. It’s perfect for all of our fellow NightOwls! Hope to see our local readers there! If you can’t make it, you can follow Northern Spark on their Facebook page and at Twitter @Northern_Spark #NSPK.



IMG02620-20110604-2304#NorthernSpark - Scattered Lights by Jim Campbell - 23/52

Out Of The Darkness (L), #NorthernSpark – Scattered Light by Jim Campbell 23/52 (R), BlackBerry Shots, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Original BlackBerry photos June 2011, part of Northern Spark — Twin Cities Nuit Blanche.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

-related to posts: Northern Spark — Twin Cities Nuit Blanche, Suspended In Light (Reprise), Insomnia Haiku: Counting Syllables In My Sleep, Mickey’s Night Owl Sandwich, Dreams Of A Creative Insomniac

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


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

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

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

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



______________________________________


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

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


______________________________________


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

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


______________________________________


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

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


______________________________________


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

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

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

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

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Lincoln’s Birthday, Indie bookstore window photographed with Canon Powershot & edited with PhotoShop Elements, Wayzata, Minnesota, February 16th, 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few years ago, Liz and I went to see Ronald C. White, Jr. at the Bookcase of Wayzata, an independent bookstore on Lake Minnetonka. He was there to discuss his new book, A. Lincoln: A Biography. I had heard him interviewed earlier in the morning on MPR; Liz and I decided to be spontaneous and go hear him speak. The little Indie bookstore was packed.

White talked about how Lincoln loved words. And because of that, his words were like poetry. White wrote his book for those who might be reading a Lincoln biography for the first time, or to introduce Lincoln to a younger generation. He also spoke about how Obama started to shine a light on Lincoln, and how he (White) was booked for speaking engagements in Mississippi and Alabama, and also in Europe where many think Abe Lincoln personifies the American Dream.

More than 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. Yet not all of his story has been told. At the end of the Civil War, between March and April 1865, Lincoln went to Northern Virginia to meet with his generals. He shook hands with thousands of Union soldiers and visited the former Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia. But little is known about the last week of his life before his assassination on April 14, 1865.

Historian Noah Andre Trudeau thinks that in their rush to get to Ford’s Theater, historians have overlooked this important part of Lincoln’s life. After the Civil War, the President of the United States met Generals Grant and Sherman in Virginia to talk about the surrender of the South and its impact on our country. Lincoln visited Richmond, then considered enemy territory, as an observer. He was looking for ways a torn nation could begin to heal.

Having spent my childhood in the South, and most of my adult years in the North, I am compelled to follow literature about the Civil War. One of my ancestors was a courier for Robert E. Lee. When we moved to the North, one of the first places we visited was the Gettysburg battlefield. I am fascinated by the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan who took this photo, one half of a stereo view of Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper’s Weekly, while he sketched on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July of 1863. (See links below for the rest of the Atlantic series on photographs of the Civil War.)

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Trudeau is known for uncovering its secrets. His previous books, Bloody Roads South and Gettysburg, have unveiled information about General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea in 1864, and the legacy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Now, in preparation for the book about a largely unexamined period of President Abraham Lincoln’s life, Trudeau is in search of witnesses.

He is seeking diary entries, letters or stories of people who encountered Lincoln at the time. During the NPR story, I was surprised to hear several people call in with leads to family scrapbooks and letters relating to Lincoln. (To share information, contact him at lincoln65@earthlink.net.) About his quest for truth, Trudeau states: “My one nightmare is that I’m going to do a very good job of discrediting all the good stories.” I think it’s quite the contrary. The more stories revealed, the closer we are to weaving together the textured layers of the past, and unraveling the sometimes painful chapters in American history.


Resources:

Historian Seeks Artifacts From Lincoln’s Last Days : NPR Talk Of The Nation (LINK)

A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr. at his Official Website (LINK)

Abraham Lincoln and Slavery | Minnesota Public Radio News (LINK) – historian Eric Foner examines Abraham Lincoln’s complex ideas about slavery and African Americans, casting fresh light on an American icon.

The Civil War, Part 1: The Places, the Atlantic – February 8th, 2012 (LINK) – First installment of amazing b&w photographs of important places in the Civil War. (Some images in the three Series are graphic.)

The Civil War, Part 2: The People, the Atlantic – February 9th, 2012 (LINK) – Second installment of b&w photographs of the Civil War. Includes a photo portrait of Abraham Lincoln taken by photographer Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865.

Traditionally called “last photograph of Lincoln from life”, this final photo in Lincoln’s last photo session was long thought to have been made on April 10, 1865, but more recent research has indicated the earlier date in February. The crack comes from the original negative, which was broken and discarded back in 1865. The entirety of the American Civil War took place while Lincoln was in office, starting a month after he was elected, and ending just days before his assassination in April of 1865.

The Civil War, Part 3: The Stereographs, the Atlantic – February 10th, 2012 (LINK) – Third installment of the Stereographs of the Civil War with the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 12th, 2012, birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Related to posts: Abraham Lincoln & Nikki Giovanni (On Poets & Presidents), Presidential Poetics — Elizabeth Alexander, President Barack Obama, Book Talk — Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Marry Me Mandala, for Elizabeth on her birthday, hand-drawn mandala photographed with Canon Powershot & edited with PhotoShop Elements, Golden Valley, Minnesota, January 29th, 2012, photo © 2011-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




On the day you were born,
it's plain to see, the Moon and the Stars
aligned with the Sea—
a wild heart so caring and free
a better Aquarius you could never be!

If beauty rises from the love we carry
I see no reason why we should not marry
let the rest of the world fight over what it all means,
I know our love is everything it seems.

I want to live with you all the days of my life,
through thick and thin, amid hardship and strife,
from deaths and births and the long Dark Night
spring Joy and Art, and a good snowball fight.

Last night when we danced on the studio floor
I felt your love swell inside once more.
In bearing witness, here for all to see,
it's your birthday, Elizabeth, will you marry me?






-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, January 29th, 2012, for Shug

-related to posts: Gratitude Mandala — Giving Thanks

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








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









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

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


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

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

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Black eyed peas auto

Black-Eyed Peas, Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2011, photo © 2011-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


We are just about to dive into our rice and Southern black-eyed peas. A bowl of good luck to celebrate the New Year. It’s the anniversary of two couples that we know (Happy Anniversary!) and the birthday of our feline, Kiev. She was born January 1st, 1995 and turns 18 years old today. She will celebrate with her own tin of Fancy Feast Ocean Whitefish & Tuna Classic. Kiev is named after the city in the Ukraine and is the sister cat to a friend of Liz’s whose male cat was named Moscow. May he rest in peace.

Mr. Stripey Pants is sitting in a thunderbolt of sun, a zen-like state that makes me feel peaceful just looking at him. He is recovering well from his surgery. Happy New Year to red Ravine readers and people all over the world who are celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and new beginnings. Peace, abundance, and prosperity on the journey through 2012. I hear it’s the Year of the Dragon. Does that include dragonflies?


Mane - 215/365



-posted on red Ravine, New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2012, Happy Birthday, My Familiar!

-related to posts: Dragonfly Wings — It Is Written In The Wind, Eye Of The Dragon Tattoo, Dragonfly Revisited: End Of Summer

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DEC SHADE4

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Unconnected.


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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




THE SECRET OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER

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


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


___________________________________________________________________________

HEALING INTENTIONS


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




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

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

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By Teri Blair



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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




_________________________




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

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


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AND THEN...

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



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


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


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

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

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