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By Bob Chrisman

Clouds disappear in the night sky here in the city. Before the sun sat, gray clouds had covered the sky and now I can’t see anything except a dark gray sky. If I go outside and sit on the steps I’ll be able to see the cloud cover because the spotlight from the disowned Frank Lloyd Wright on the Plaza will shine off the clouds and I’ll know if the clouds have gone away.

The summer has been free of cloud for the most part. We look with anticipation at any cloud that floats across the sky. Rain? Will it bring showers? The cloud floats by and leaves the ground dry.

The clouds have passed over us, except for a rare sprinkle here and there. You can almost hear the trees sigh with relief as any water, no matter how little, falls on them. They swallow it up and beg for more, but this summer, more has not come their way.

The edges of the leaves have dehydrated as though the moisture had leaked out of them—some leaf vampires have attacked all the leaves on every tree. The victims of these vampires turn brown and fall to the ground. Color has left the leaves and turned them to a dull green. A few have turned a pale yellow, but for the most part only shades of brown are visible on the trees.

We will have rain tonight. That’s what the weather people say. Showers. But, at almost 9 p.m. the air is warm and still. The cicadas saw away in the trees outside, a deafening chorus that arrived early this year.

Everything has come early this year: the heat, the drought, the turning leaves. The only thing that hasn’t come at all is a cloud to relieve the thirsty earth.


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

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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 Bob Chrisman

I believe that I will never know the meaning of life, where I came from, why I’m here, or where I’m going when I die (if anywhere) because I can’t know those things from my limited perspective of the universe and how it functions. I believe that my not knowing doesn’t matter because I can’t and won’t know everything in this world or in the cosmos. It doesn’t work that way.

I believe in the inherent goodness of all people which somehow gets mucked up along the way by the environment in which they live, the people who raise them, and their capacity to endure hard times without being embittered. I believe we all start out life as innocents and the world around us works hard to turn us this way or that depending on so many factors that it’s pointless to worry about what one person did to influence someone.

I believe I will die. My personal experience tells me that everyone I know who has died is really dead and not faking it. Some people think they won’t die and I’m willing to hang around and see if that’s true or not. I can’t imagine anything more horrifying than living forever in this world or in another.

I believe I was meant to be a happy person—actually that we were all meant to be happy, but the world of illusion works to convince us we are not happy and are incapable of being happy without something else. We are constantly assaulted with the idea that if we have this pair of jeans, that pair of shoes, this religious faith, that spiritual practice, this deodorant, that breath spray—that something will allow us to live in eternal bliss. We have all we need right now to be in a state of bliss. Easier said than experienced in our world.

I believe the things that happen to us are neither bad nor good, that we don’t “deserve” to have certain events occur in our lives, and that life is random with no “cause and effect” in play. And by that, I mean we aren’t the victims of some karma or some deity who wants to even the score or restore the balance. I do believe there are consequences of our actions, but we can’t always know what those will be.

I believe for every drop of rain that falls…time’s up.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — I BELIEVE… is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey, Laura, and Sandrarenee in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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I believe the sunrise I saw this morning holds the same rank as the snowflake that dotted the tip of the windshield wiper at noon. I believe I feel best when I am rooted where I stand, when the frozen cedars whistle in the wind, when the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven slips through a hole in the screen and calls me to attention. I like to believe I will live a long life, foolish to ponder. There are no guarantees and that takes me back to the sunset, the flip side, the underbelly of a Moon on the rise.

I believe it’s 30 degrees colder than it was yesterday. I believe the crow I saw on Highway 10 mixed it up with a flock of sparrows making me pay attention to the dew tipped grasses on the edge of the bowling alley parking lot. I believe I’d like to go back to St. Simons Island, the place I walked with Liz and Mom, the lighthouse, the restaurant where we ate fresh shrimp and Liz ordered a Po’ Boy and the sweet tea melted in my mouth. The shore was flat and hard, stiff enough for bike tires to travel. There was one lone white chair against the horizon. We ran down by the Atlantic and slipped our hands in the undercurrent. I felt the pulse of the world.

I believe in time I’ll accomplish my dreams. They seem simple to me now, simple minded, not complicated. I’m not looking for fame or fortune. I want to be content with what I have. I believe we will move to a new home in the next five years. I believe in my dreams even when I don’t know exactly what they are. I believe in the circle of life, in living and dying and living again in some kind of spirit form. I believe I carry the dreams of my ancestors. Their sins, too. Not in a heavy way, but in the way all cultures pass down their dreams and sins and complaints. I believe in 7-year cycles, 7-year itches, 7 months and it’s summer, 7 months and it’s my birthday, hottest time of the year.

I believe in deja vu, rules of thumb, the law of threes, not superstition, but belief. I believe in the weather, not in the scientific sense, but in the long extremes that happen in places like Minnesota, the middle land, the hinterlands, the mountainless bowels of America. I believe in working hard at every turn. A work ethic passed down to me, the same one that takes parents out of the house, trying to make a living for their families. I believe it should not be so hard to make enough to pay the mortgage, eat well, and have good healthcare. Access to good healthcare should not decide where a person works. I believe the richest country in the world can also be the most benevolent, gracious, and kind. I believe in the Wind that chills me to the bone. The cold exhale of the Dragon, breathing down my neck.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — I BELIEVE… is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. QuoinMonkey joined frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman, Laura, and Sandrarenee in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Mike Carter


So thinking about some early memories of chocolate, I am reminded of going to Mabry’s store as a kid in Vancouver, Washington. I was maybe ten years old and they used to have these little bars called “7-Up” which had seven kinds of little chocolates in them. 7-up, there was one piece that was a chocolate covered Brazil nut, and one that was like a chocolate covered section of an orange slice candy. I always have had a thing for nuts, especially cashews. Mom would send me to the store for cigarettes and she would give me a dime for a candy bar. Yes, a dime. I don’t think these little 7-Up bars were around very long.

I inherited the chocolate tooth from my mom who liked all things sweet and on Friday nights would beat homemade fudge with a wooden spoon, in a Revere Ware copper lined one quart saucepan, while watching T.V. in the living room. We would take turns beating and it took some time, like an hour. Your forearms would get a nice little workout. Yea, chocolate is always an essential ingredient and one of my top 10 essential foods. I don’t like being chocolate deprived and there was this one time in junior high after not having chocolate for four months, dieting all through wrestling season, when my little sister was selling these boxes of chocolate covered almonds for a class fundraiser. I took a whole box and devoured it in a closet in one sitting. I think it was like a pound. I hid in the closet. Guilty pleasures. I always had a sweet tooth and, by the way, pecan pie is foremost on my list.

Living this past year in Hawaii, I got to see an actual Cacao tree which has these red-cinnamon colored pods that grow from the tree. These pods look like a pointy cucumber and are five or six inches long. Inside these pods are the little chocolate beans. They have to put up these big fences around the chocolate trees or people will steel the pods. If you go to the Ho ‘omaluhia garden you can see them. It is on the windward side of Oahu close to Kaneohe. It is a REALLY cool garden and it has lots of one of a kind trees, like the amazing blue marble tree. I think they have two chocolate trees in the garden. And if you get there, also try the Roselani brand chocolate macadamia nut ice cream, which is to die for and has a strong dark chocolate flavor and a very creamy texture. It is a little pricey at 9 dollars for a half a gallon, but sometimes you can get it on sale at Foodland for 4.50/half price. Best ice cream ever, to die for.

Actually, the best ice-cream here is Haupia, which is a very tasty coconut custard ice cream confection. Amazing stuff. The last month I lived there, I ate nothing but ice cream. Other favorite chocolates, well Mr. Goodbar is also on my top ten list, but it is hard to match my mom’s Friday night fudge. Grandma Carter also made some great fudge around Christmas time and she also made Divinity, which I miss. Chocolates I have known. And chocolates I have remembered.

Also cool are the little bars of Madeira Mexican chocolate which we can get in Seattle and you break off a chunk of these and mix with milk and sugar for amazing hot chocolate. I don’t go in for the high percentage chocolate bars like 60 or 70 percent —is a little much and too bitter for me. And what is the name of the little chocolate shop at Pike’s Market where you can get the bacon chocolate? Seattle Chocolatier or something like that. It is on the Seattle Food tour if you get there. Beer, bacon and bratwurst. These are my three essential nutritional building blocks.


NOTE:  Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is one of the five main botanical gardens on Oahu. Ho’omaluhia means to make a place of peace and tranquility.

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About Mike:  Mike Carter has been living in Kaneohe, Hawaii for the last year, working at Hawaii State Hospital. He will be returning to Seattle next month, and would like write a memoir of his year in Hawaii. Inspired by  WRITING TOPIC — CHOCOLATE, the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine, Mike joined Bob, Teri, and QM in a Writing Practice on the topic.


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I’m staring at the leftover box of Mrs. See’s chocolates. When I lift the lid off the pure white box with the gold script, I see there are five pieces left. Well, make that four and 3/4, one with a bite out of it. One of the three of us must not have liked the flavor. Now I’m thinking of my mother-in-law who boarded a plane for Wyoming this morning. The See’s was a gift from her the first night she arrived in Minneapolis. If I remember correctly, she has three layovers and may not be home until very late. She flies into the Twin Cities once a year to see Liz. Her brother flies in, too. I look forward to their visits. We go out to eat, a play at the Guthrie, watch a few movies. It feels like a vacation for me, too.

I’m wondering what flavor Mary See has left in the box for me. I just took a nibble. Hmmmm, chocolate flavor bursting on the tongue. It is nutty, minced nut with a hint of almond? Creamy, and milk chocolate, my favorite. I run my tongue over the back teeth to grab every morsel. There is a patch of chocolate stuck to a filling. A nut wedged between two teeth. I have maybe three bites left. I’m one of those people who savors. As a girl, I was the type to keep my Easter basket around for weeks. I’d take little bites off the rabbit head, nibble away on an ear of white or milk chocolate. Some used to say that white chocolate wasn’t real chocolate. But I disagreed. I went through a white chocolate phase around junior high age.

Nope, never been a gobbler. Always a savorer. Hmmmm, last bite of the piece with the jagged dip out of it. It’s gone. And now there are four pieces of See’s chocolate left and Mrs. See is staring up at me from the edge of the box. She’s got glasses like John Lennon’s, gray hair, a kind smile. She’s wearing a knitted shawl. The photograph is tinted brown and shaped like a cameo. Did Mrs. See live in San Francisco?

Liz will be home from work soon. I want to see which piece she chooses from the box, her next to the last. It’s not like the boxes of Whitman’s chocolate where they print each type of candy on the inside cover so you can see what you are choosing. Do they still do that? I’d rather have the surprise. Last night, I bit one, and then asked Liz if she wanted it. Tasted too rich for me, too much like licorice. I don’t like the flavor of licorice all that much.

Chocolate reminds me of all the good things in life. It’s sweet, creamy, something to be shared, something that people are happy to share. We’ve got a bag of bite-sized Snickers in the fridge. I like them frozen. Liz has a bag of Dove almond dark chocolate, silky smooth promise next to the Snickers. A piece of chocolate lifts the spirits. A box of chocolates makes me feel rich, nectar of the gods. What is it about chocolate that is so satisfying?


-related to Topic post and practices: WRITING TOPIC — CHOCOLATE, PRACTICE — CHOCOLATE – 15min, PRACTICE –CHOCOLATE – 15min

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By Teri Blair

This is the first time I’ve done a timed, 15-minute write on my Royal Deluxe manual typewriter. I bought this green machine in Amherst, Massachusetts—Emily Dickinson’s hometown. The man at the shop told me it was the model Hemingway used. Did Emily like chocolate? She like ginger-tasting things like ginger cookies and ginger cakes if memory serves.

My first strong memory of chocolate were the Mr. Goodbars Mom had hidden in her purse. We were allowed pretty easy access to her purse (she wasn’t private about it) and she always shared pieces of her Mr. Goodbar. There was an unwritten understanding if we didn’t ask why they were always hidden there, we’d always get to have pieces. Sometimes she’d shake up the mix and have a Hershey Bar with almonds, never plain. Even now, when I want to buy her a treat she is delighted to be given either.

She told us the story of the Milky Way incident during her childhood, a guilty memory that still taints her love affair with that particular brand. She grew up in Hawick, a tiny town in Minnesota. There was one general story, the type that had the post office in one corner. Her parents would send her to the store for supplies from time to time, and she was always instructed to charge everything to John Everson’s account. Once a month her father, the town blacksmith, would get his itemized list of charged groceries. These would only be the necessities his family of nine needed. There was nothing extra to throw around during the Depression. After Mom charged the Milky Way (and stole away to a private place to eat it), she lived in mortal fear of the impending grocery bill. They’d know then. She’d lied and wasn’t worthy of their trust.

But when the bill came, not a word was said. It wasn’t until Mom was about 50 that she told her dad about it. I remember it. Even though he was a kind, gentle man, she still didn’t want to disappoint him. He smiled, I suppose, and told her in his thick Norwegian accent that it didn’t matter. Knowing him, he probably went right out and bought her another one. He was sorry he couldn’t give his kids more. When they asked him for money when they were children, he’d turn his wallet inside out to show them it was completely empty. After he died and they cleaned out his house, she found that old wallet. She keeps it on her dresser.

They were broke. It was the Depression. They lived on potatoes, headcheese, and lefse. Maybe an occasional chicken some farmer paid his welding bill with. There were bums who came to their door begging for a meal. Her mom made them a plate of their starchy food. Surely no chocolate on the plate.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — CHOCOLATE is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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