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Posts Tagged ‘Beginner’s Mind’

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Mandala For A New Year, BlackBerry Shots, Golden Valley, Minnesota, January 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A Downy pecks at the suet feeder. Black-eyed peas simmer in a vintage crock-pot in the kitchen. Temperatures hover around zero; it’s 3 degrees and windy. Gifted with unexpected time alone on New Year’s Eve, I wrote in my journal, checked in with the Midwest Writing Group, worked on a mandala, completed the BlackBerry 365 practice, made plans for the New Year. It felt positive to me, this forward thinking.

I am one of those people who mines for specks of gold in old and burly mountains, drags silvery threads of the past forward. Lineage. Writers, artists, photographers. Process. Birth, death, old age. What makes something work? Like The Fool archetype in Tarot, it is with great humility that I embrace the unknown and begin again. Beginner’s Mind. I will miss ybonesy and her free spirited and vibrant creative fire on a daily basis at red Ravine, but I know I have to face forward. It’s one of the things she taught me — take risks. Move into the future. When you collaborate with a person who strikes a balance, one who possesses the qualities you lack, it’s easy to become complacent about that which needs strengthening inside.

I need a strong back, flexible muscles. I will build on the Bones of red Ravine. I have so many dreams I want to pursue; they have not gone away. I will have to be diligent. Courageous. Disciplined. It takes courage for ybonesy to leave to spend more time with her family; it takes courage to stay. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. There are days when the work of blogging feels like it needs a whole army of writers and artists to move it forward. But I believe in the mission and vision of red Ravine and am excited to steer her in a new direction. The winds may be stiff; I will follow the structure we put into place—teacher, practice, community—and see where red Ravine takes me.


Mandala For The New Year Mandala For The New Year Mandala For The New Year


I am forever grateful to Roma who walked up to me in Mabel’s dining room after one of the silent retreats, and asked if I wanted to write together. I would be returning to Minnesota, she to Albuquerque, 1200 miles between us. The Turtle in me had to give it some thought; not for long. The seed for red Ravine had been planted. Now this space is Home, a strong cottonwood by the Mother Ditch, in her adolescent years, still growing. But nothing can thrive without nurturing, play, attention, and time. I have to plan carefully, regroup. Thank you for standing by me.

I am grateful for the 5 years of creative collaboration with ybonesy. She is a strong, gifted woman, a dear friend. I am grateful for a community that keeps coming back. I feel supported. I’ve committed to keeping red Ravine alive through another year. It’s one of my practices. I draw on what Natalie taught me: Continue under all circumstances. Don’t be tossed away. Make positive effort for the good (adding under my breath, Cross your fingers for Good Luck!).

Back to the moment. Time to feed Mr. Stripeypants and Kiev. Liz will be rising soon. We spent part of New Year’s Eve watching Lily and Hope on the NABC 2011 DenCam. They aren’t worried about such things as red Ravine. They are busy being Bears. I focus on my new practices for 2011: (1) a daily Journal entry 365 (2) a BlackBerry collaboration inspired by Lotus (one of our readers) (3) a year-long Renga collaboration. I’ll write more about these practices in coming posts. Happy New Year, ybonesy. Happy New Year to all red Ravine readers. Happy New Year, red Ravine. New Beginnings. The Promise of Spring.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 1st, 2011

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I have guided my two daughters—starting at about age nine—through Writing Practice. In both cases, my girls had graduated from chapter books to Harry Potter. Each was at the time steeped in weekly exercises for spelling, capitalization, punctuation. Each was heading into the season of independent school admissions, which would include a writing test. And each daughter wanted to spend time with me.

So I pulled them into something that was precious in my life. We whipped out our notebooks and fast-writing pens, grabbed a topic from thin air, set the timer, and wrote. And when the timer went off, we read our writing out loud.
 
I learned a lot about the mechanics of writing in elementary and secondary school. Mrs. Salisbury got me hooked on spelling bees. Mrs. Fiske, who wore her ginger-colored hair in a tight flip, walked us through the ins and outs of the paragraph. Mrs. Rhodes cried in class—overcome by the beauty of imagination—while reading The Hobbit out loud to us. But somehow I managed to get through twelve years without knowing how to simply compose.

And so it only seemed right that what took me until my late 30s/early 40s to figure out, thanks to the help of Natalie Goldberg and Writing Down the Bones, should become an early and natural skill for my girls. Like riding a bike or swimming.
 
 
 
How it works
 
 

  1. Start with three of the basic rules of Writing Practice–Keep your hand moving; Don’t cross out; Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. These three are tangible. Any kid can understand them. In fact, they will be music to a child’s ear. I don’t cover the other three rules of Writing Practice, which are: Lose control; Don’t think; Go for the jugular. These ones are, in my opinion, meant for us adults, who try to be in control at all times, analyze our way through most everything, and are inhibited. Kids don’t need to be told to lose control. (By the way, I also have never had to say, “You’re free to write the worst shit in America,” as Natalie does. Children don’t seem to worry about lousy writing at this age, even though they already tend to denigrate their art ability. My theory is that they never write in school; thus, they have no basis of comparison. Not so with art.)
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  3. Pick a topic that is easy to understand. It should be tangible, something like “Pickles” or “Socks.” The other day, I figured my youngest and I could use a recent topic from this blog, so I threw it out for consideration: I write because… “What does that mean?” my daughter asked. After trying a few times to explain how each of us might choose to write for different reasons, I went with something simpler. Apparently, she’s not in a place of needing to understand why she writes; she writes for the sake of writing.
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  5. Start with five minutes and work your way up. This was a precaution I took thinking that my daughters might get bored after five minutes, plus it was a gentle start to a new concept. However, we quickly worked our way to ten-minute stints.
  6. When it comes time to read out loud, remind your child that we’re going to each listen to one another with full attention, otherwise you might find her scanning her page. Also, the first time we read, I took the lead. Again, that was probably an unnecessary precaution, as neither daughter hesitated to jump in when after subsequent topics I asked if they wanted to read first.
  7. Do Writing Practice with one kid at a time, at least to start. This is one-on-one time. Having someone else there—even a sibling—might change the dynamic. There will be no trying to impress, no worrying about someone being better. Moms are safe. Plus, it’s an easy way to bond.
  8. When your kid questions the part about Spelling—and, believe me, she will—tell her that she’ll continue to learn how to spell in school and by reading books, but that this practice is mainly for learning how to write, write, write. Spelling is important, but spelling will come in its own time.
  9. Be aware that your own writing might go in almost any direction if you, too, are following the rules of Writing Practice. I try not to temper my writing, and consequently I have written my politics and at times my petty minutiae. You can always pass on reading, but doing so might send the message that not reading is an easy out.
  10. Get your kid her own notebook and fast-writing pen, and encourage her to write on her own in this same way whenever she feels like it. Kids this age know what it means to practice, perhaps for sports or music, so instill the idea while it makes sense. And when she comes ’round and suggests, “Mom, can we do Writing Practice now?” be ready to pull out your notebook and see Beginner’s Mind in action.




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Here are the Writing Practices (spelling errors corrected) that my youngest daughter and I did two weekends ago. Our topic was “Fall,” and we wrote for ten minutes.



Hers

Fall is when the leaves all fall to the ground. I like to jump into big piles of leaves. When the leaves start falling they change colors and they also crunch under your feet. Why is fall called fall? Maybe because leaves are falling. Another word for fall is autumn so I’m not sure why it’s called fall or autumn. The names have nothing in common. I also like sitting and watching the leaves fall off the trees. Sometimes all the leaves are a pain when you need to clean them up out of the pond and off the porch. Sonia likes fall I think because she has an excuse to stay inside. Otis and Rafie like to be inside too so they are happy when fall and winter come around. We have a lot of leaves to rake up so I’m happy because I want to jump in a big pile.




Mine

The trees outside the window make sure I know it is fall. They reach out over the window, and the sun shines behind them, shining through them, like light in a stained glass window. The colors are luminous, yellow shades and fading green shades. Even the dead tan leaves are beautiful, dangling in sparkling sunlight before letting go.

This morning I dress in a teal turtleneck sweater that I’ve had for ages, it seems. It’s too short from too many dryings, and it doesn’t keep my belly warm. Still, I head out to the corral with purpose, first holding my arms tight to try to keep the cold from hitting my core. But then I open up, drop my arms and swing them by my sides, in a sort of angry woman march. Except I’m not angry. I’m exuberant. It is cool but not cold. It’s early and the fall air feels new and fresh and good for me.

Dooley is waiting for me at the back gate. It’s a long walk down the service road, and the path is covered with leaves that have fallen from the trees that stretch like canopy over the path. Dooley is hungry for apples and grass and liberation. He will give a neigh and kick and run in a controlled run of his when I let him out.

I think all creatures must love fall. It is the best of times. The sun rises early now that we’ve set back the clocks, and even though it sets early, too, that feels right. Like it’s only natural that we would settle into our cozy homes, stews bubbling on the stove or a chicken roasting in the oven, and wait until it’s time to go to sleep.

Fall is also a time to prepare for the cold of winter. It’s a time to become more productive, less distracted by the never-ending light of summer. Yesterday I worked on my paintings for hours. I am finally becoming satisfied with Bush. He looks more real, red face and all, than he’d looked before. His eyes are scary, as you’d expect the eyes of someone like him to be. And his face has those plains to it that they have, a sharp face, pointy nose, pointy ears, straight lines for a mouth. He is an ugly man, as is Cheney and now Rove. Why is it that our lives get placed in the hands of such ugly men?

 

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Postscript: It is natural that parents want to guide our children, and usually in a more heavy-handed way than we might guide our friends or adult family members. When doing Writing Practice with your child, refrain from critiquing what she writes. Writing Practice is raw; it is not a final product. There is no good, no bad. It is what it is.

If you’d like to give your child feedback, use recall to do so. After she reads, recall a phrase or section of her writing, letting her know that those parts stood out to you. Try to do so without assigning value, such as, “I loved the part about …” If you can show your child how to provide input without labeling the input, you’ll also be role modeling how to listen deeply. It’s a wonderful skill to have.

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Photo by: Justine Ungaro

Lisa Loeb, Photo by: Justine Ungaro

 

On Wednesday, February 11, QuoinMonkey and ybonesy interviewed singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb. It was shortly after the end of her whirlwind tour of the U.S. and Japan following the June 2008 release of her second CD of Children’s Music, Camp Lisa

The CD follows Loeb’s early 2008 reissue of The Purple Tape, an acoustic, ten-song demo she self-released as a cassette in 1992. Proceeds from “Camp Lisa” benefit a foundation Lisa created to send underprivileged children to summer camp.

The New York Times had recently announced Lisa’s January 2009 wedding at Brasserie 8 ½, a restaurant in New York, when QM and ybonesy spoke with her from her New York City home. They talked about marriage and culinary loves, Loeb’s life as a singer-songwriter, practices that sustain her, the work of writing, and tips for those who dream of making it big.

 

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Interview with Lisa Loeb, February 11, 2009, red Ravine

 

red Ravine: In our research to prepare for this interview, we couldn’t help but notice that you seem to love food. Some of your children’s songs are about food, like the “Peanut Butter & Jelly” song from Camp Lisa (which is one of our faves) plus you’ve done the Food Network. Also in the New York Times article about your marriage, we were struck by how acute your senses are when you describe food. Is food a passion of yours?

 

Lisa Loeb: Yes, it’s a thing that I love. Growing up, like a lot of other girls, I was concerned about my weight. I was a dancer, and I loved food. We had to eat in the cafeteria every day at school, and it was sort of a game to find out what they were serving for lunch. But by the time I was a teenager, I went to an all-girls school, and since we wore uniforms, we were especially aware of our bodies and the differences between our bodies. Uniforms are meant to make us seem more uniform, but when everyone’s wearing the same thing, you pay more attention to other bodies. You would notice that you were eating the delicious cornbread muffins or the huge pieces of pie or the doughnuts in between classes in the morning, and it was a struggle between enjoying all this food versus getting larger and larger.

Between my sophomore and junior years, I went to Spain to live there with a family. Every day a younger brother in the Spanish family would run and get me a huge pastry because he realized that I liked it. And at night, we’d eat hotdogs and go out drinking all the time and eat potato chips and all these great Spanish tapas before they were fashionable in the United States. I came home a lot heavier. And it was scary.

It was fun to eat all that stuff but it was not that fun to come home heavier. So then I tried all the different diets that everybody tries. By the time I got to college, I started getting interested in nutrition to figure out how to enjoy food but eat in a balanced way. My best nutritionists were the people who said, “Eat whatever you want when you are hungry, but stop when you’re full. And pay attention to nutrition when you can.”

 

red Ravine: I (QuoinMonkey) met you a few years ago in a writing workshop with author Natalie Goldberg. It was one of Natalie’s weeklong silent retreats where we sat and meditated and slow walked and did Writing Practice. What prompted you, a successful singer and songwriter, to take a writing workshop and what did you learn from the silent writing retreat?

 

Lisa: I’ve always been a fan of Natalie Goldberg. Her writing exercises and general attitude about writing have helped me in my process of writing. At my all-girls school, although they taught me a lot about writing — how to write correctly and how to communicate, read, and pick apart text in English and Spanish — they didn’t always emphasize our own thoughts and having our own opinions. Especially as we got older, they didn’t put as much value on personal opinion as they did on structure, format, and grammar.

With Natalie, she emphasizes just writing. You know, just writing for yourself. That’s something that I think is important as an artist because as humans, all we have different from each other is our point of view, and so it’s important as an artist to bring that out. That’s what she does.

I thought if I could take a workshop with her, that would be amazing. Also, in my life often there’s more time spent on the business side of things than on the writing side of things, and for me structure is very helpful. So to be in a place where the goal was to write for a week was something that I looked forward to.

I’d done something like that for music, where I went to music summer school a long time ago, before I was a professional musician, at Berkeley Music School. And I got to practice. Even when I was a kid, I was pretty distracted; I practiced some but I did a lot of other things in my life. And for once, I wanted to be that person who just got in the practice room and practiced, practiced, practiced.

This was like that for writing, in a silent retreat especially, because I’m around a lot of people all the time, touring in every state, always communicating with people. It was a great opportunity to simplify and be silent. I do spend time alone, not talking to people, when I’m not working. But that was an opportunity to focus, of course, with the great guidance of Natalie and also in the company of people — people at all different levels of writing. I learn a lot from just starting from the beginning. Natalie calls it “Beginner’s Mind.” And sometimes when you are writing with people who are beginners, you remember to take the pressure off of writing, which adds more freedom for better writing and more writing.

 

red Ravine: Most of us who aspire to integrate Writing Practice into our lives struggle at different times to make it a day-to-day practice. How about you? Do you write or play music every day?

 

Lisa: I don’t. Not at all. I’ve gone through phases where I do write — I use things like a month-long tour or a trip to the beach for a week-and-a-half, or there’s a thing in the Jewish tradition called Counting the Omer. When structures like that come up, I’ll take advantage of them and say, “Okay, now I’m going to write every day for this period of time.” Or there’s a Toni Morrison book where it’s day-by-day, a short-chaptered book where she talks about different things in each chapter (maybe it’s called Love). So I decided I was going to do a page-long chapter each day and write something based on a word that she mentioned in her book.

Sometimes I have to create a little game to create structure for myself. Other times, when I know I need to finish, I start. It’s almost like an athlete warming up and getting ready to do a marathon. I just realize I can’t do it overnight, it’s a process.

But yeah, it’s hard. I don’t always write every day. Sometimes when I write every day it gets too easy in a way. Like I am not saying anything and I’m not focusing well. So sometimes I need to take a break from it, too.

 

red Ravine: Do you have other practices that ground you and sustain you?

 

Lisa: I do. I work out five days a week at least, walking whether it’s on a treadmill or outside, doing strength training. Some people do yoga; I do strength training. And then also when I’m in Los Angeles, I go to synagogue on Saturday ’cause I have a cool rabbi that I like.

 

red Ravine: And any other things you do to keep going when you’re feeling down or insecure?

 

Lisa: I have my friends. That’s important to me, spending time with friends. And going outside and taking a walk. Or writing. You know, writing is something I definitely rely on for that. It’s a little weird, too, because I associate writing with my professional life so sometimes I have to remember to step back and write to write, even if it means being like Jack Nicholson in the movie The Shining and writing the same thing over and over.

I do use writing as a tool. It helps that little switch in my brain which I try to avoid or at least let it pass, which is like, Oooh, I wonder if I could do a different song. Or, I wonder if I could do something else where I write. It’s the equivalent of when you’re working out or taking a walk because you want to and it feels good, then getting that little thought in the back of your head, saying, Oooh, I wonder if I’m going to lose any weight by doing this or walk off that piece of pie from last night.

I don’t like associating working out and losing weight. I like associating working out with breathing. It’s the same thing I have with writing – in order for it to actually work properly and be integrated into my life in a balanced way, it has to be what it is.

 

red Ravine: You came into success very early in your career as a musical artist. How did that affect your life and your creative work?

 

Lisa: It gave me a lot of freedom to have success early on. The financial freedom — in my family growing up, having a job was something that we valued, being able to support yourself. So that took a load off my mind. And it gave me freedom to have less worry. I worry a lot in my life. You know, the Jewish worry and guilt, a certain amount of being neurotic.

It gave me freedom, although in the end, I think other people can’t make you feel like you are successful. It comes with a certain amount of self-confidence and self-esteem. But I think that having other people acknowledge what I’m doing gave me more confidence and made me feel like I was more free to continue to make music. Which is very powerful. Because not knowing if what you’re doing is worth anything can be very frustrating.

And I know that even after being a professional musician, that feeling never goes away. That feeling’s always there. Like, Oh gosh, I wonder if this is worth anything, why am I doing this, it’s a selfish thing, I should do something where I help other people… All these things. I love hearing from somebody saying, “That thing that you wrote helped me through this period of my life.” It’s a weird balance of feeling secure within myself, but also as a performer and a writer having that respect from an audience.

 

Also, I want to go back to one other question you asked me [regarding] when you’re in a state of depression or insecurity. I got a lot of great tools from my rabbi in Los Angeles. He’s of a Hasidic philosophy similar to cognitive therapy, where you’re able to look at your actions and thoughts in a different light and turn things around.

He mentioned a time where he was giving a lecture in front of people — he gives a lot of lectures and teaches classes — and he thought, Everyone is so bored, they don’t want to listen to me, I’m doing a terrible job. I think someone might have yawned in the front row. And then he thought through it again using the cognitive therapy and Hasidic philosophy and said, Well, people like coming to my classes so I must be doing something right. The classes I give, even when they’re bad are usually pretty good, and so I guess I’m doing a pretty good job. That’s a simplification, but he’s saying that [we all have access to] those kind of tools.

I want to feel good with when I just sit at the subway station for two minutes waiting for the train and write something there. It doesn’t have to be a magical place, but I have to sit down and write. It can be anywhere. It can be on a napkin in a restaurant. It doesn’t have to lead to a great song. That’s not the best example, but thinking through things in a realistic way helps ground me as well.

 

red Ravine: It sounds like a practical tool for dealing with Monkey Mind.

 

Lisa: Oh, it is. It really is. It’s that Natalie Goldberg thing I learned, we all learned, that you just sit down and write. Things don’t happen overnight. Sometimes they do, but you can’t rely on that. You can rely on just sitting and writing as part of a bunch of small steps that take you some place — maybe, maybe not.

 

red Ravine: We were talking about your success that came early on and we’re curious, too, how your goals have changed. Have your goals as an artist changed as you’ve gotten older?

 

Lisa: I think my goals continue to be pretty much the same since I was younger – which is to continue to try to write better. And also to try to enjoy the process more.

I’ve written songs since I was a kid but especially when I started writing lyrics when I was 13, 14, it’s become more complicated. And it’s always been a hard process. I continue to become more forgiving of myself and more accepting of the process. What it is for me doesn’t have to be what it is for other people.

I want to be a better songwriter. I guess I might have had more business-oriented goals when I was starting out, to get a record contract, to get paid to do things, and I guess I still have those goals. It’s great if you can get paid for your work, which is rarer these days, especially with people trading music.

Also there are meta-goals. One of them is to continue to keep my eyes open for other things I want to do that aren’t writing, that aren’t making songs. And that’s okay to do other things well.

But as a writer, you need to be comfortable with the process. And just keep doing it. It’s hard. I told Natalie…I ate lunch with her one day on the way through New Mexico and I was telling her, “There are these projects I want to develop, and maybe I want to be a psychologist or a nutritionist, and maybe I should teach, but I have these songs I’m supposed to write but I don’t want to, so I think I’m just going to hang out.” 

And she said, “You just need to sit that…I don’t know how better to say it…you just need to sit that motherfucker down and write.” (laughter from all). She’s like, “People say that all the time, ‘I never want to write, I don’t want to do it…’.” And I was like, Ahhhh…go do your homework! I hate doing my homework, I don’t want to do it. And the thing is, if you do it little by little, it’ll get done.

 

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Lisa Loeb 2008 Release, "Camp Lisa", Illustration by: Esme Shapiro, 15, a student at LA County High School for the Arts and summer camp fan.    Lisa Loeb 2008 2-CD Reissue "The Purple Tape"   Lisa Loeb 2008 Release, "Camp Lisa", Illustration by: Esme Shapiro, 15, a student at LA County High School for the Arts and summer camp fan.

 

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red Ravine: You were in Albuquerque last year and my (ybonesy’s) date to your concert was my nine-year-old daughter, which turned out to be great. Afterwards we bought the CD Catch the Moon and my daughter listens to it all the time; in fact, it’s sitting on the kitchen table for her to load on to her iPod along with your hits. You’ve gotten into children’s music and you found a generous way to pay it forward with the proceeds from Camp Lisa and sending kids to camp through your Camp Lisa Foundation. What inspired you to write and sing music for children?

 

Lisa: It was something I wanted to do ever since I was a kid. I listened to music for children. In my day it was Free To Be You and Me; it was Really Rosy, which was a Carole King record. A lot of music they had on Sesame Street and The Electric Company, created by real musicians of the time — the early 70’s — sounded like real music.

I had an opportunity to do a record that was different from my regular grown-up records and I chose to do a kids’ record. My friend Liz Mitchell produced it. Since she’d made a lot of kids’ records, it sounded in the vein I wanted. Actually, she was the one who gave me my first Natalie Goldberg book. She was my singing partner in my band for years and years.

When it came time for me to do another kids’ record, I was going through a moment where I was like, What am I doing? I was trying to write a regular grown-up album and I was writing dark things and spending a lot of time by myself writing. It wasn’t fun. And I remembered that it had been really fun writing songs with friends of mine in Los Angeles, and I thought, Why does it have to be a treacherous horrible experience? I should take a break and do something that reminds me that it’s fun and easy to write songs and express ourselves.

So I got back together with my friends Dan [Petty] and Michelle Lewis, who lived down the street basically, and we started making a summer camp record and it was really fun! And it felt like, wow, I’m a working songwriter, I go to work with them each day and we write songs. And we make up melodies and it’s very exciting and fun; it doesn’t have to be a painful experience to be artistic.

Through that process, I was questioning, Why am I doing music at all? I want to try to do something else to help other people. Then I realized, Oh, wait a minute, maybe I can use what we’re doing to help other people. And I realized that summer camp, of course, [we] could actually send kids to summer camp and also to be able to meet the kids. It all came together — a goal for having a kids’ record; a goal to be more responsible in the community; and a songwriter wanting to engage in a more fun way that would inform my regular, grown-up songwriting.

Also, writing kids’ songs, you have more of a story where you’re trying to say something that people can understand easily, and I think that’s a good tool for me to bring to my grown-up writing. Also when I play kids’ concerts, I realize that some of the more simple songs where I’m writing a tra-la-la-la-la or a chant or repetitive part is a fun thing to play in front of people. Grown ups and kids enjoy it and it makes me realize that sometimes in songwriting it’s not how many words can you put in there, how clever you can be, it’s really just going from your heart, the melodies and the words that just come out. Which is hard to trust. You feel you need to write the most complicated music, but that’s not what songwriting is about.

 

red Ravine: Who are your favorite songwriters today? What songs do you like to hear?

 

Lisa: I have a lot of songs I love; they don’t even focus on the lyrics that much, just the feelings of the songs. I love Led Zeppelin, especially Led Zeppelin IV and the Over the Hills and Far Away album. I love David Bowie music and often I don’t know what he’s talking about but (laughter) there’s just a certain attitude and coolness in his songs. Songwriters? More recently I’ve enjoyed Death Cab for Cutie. Oh gosh there’s so much music that I love. Lyle Lovett is great. Prince. 

A lot of things are abstract and it’s just the way it feels, the music and the lyrics and the feeling of it altogether hits me. It’s funny because it’s not how I feel when I’m writing music. It reminds me that it’s okay to play around with words and feelings and if it means something to me that’s fine; it doesn’t have to be so direct. It’s a constant balance, like I said with the kids’ music, where you’re trying to say something more directly, and the kind of music which I enjoy listening to, which often is more abstract and about the feeling and the production of the songs.

 

red Ravine: When you were in Albuquerque you mentioned that you were attending a Goldberg writing retreat with your mother. What was it like to do Writing Practice with your mom?

 

Lisa: We didn’t actually do a lot of practice together. It was a little frustrating.

What I loved was that my mother hasn’t done a lot of things where she goes away and meets other people. She loves people and talking to people and meeting people, and I thought that social aspect would be interesting for her. Because on my first writing weekend with Natalie, it was a speaking retreat where you got to actually sit at breakfast and talk to people.

And I thought secretly she would get to do some writing. She also went to the same high school I went to and grew up in a time when grammar was much more important than the fact that maybe saying something that’s not grammatically correct might allow you to express yourself better. So I wanted her to experience it for herself. I think that was the first time she was encouraged in that way. It was cool to see her go through that and go home and tell her friends about it.

But we actually didn’t do as much Writing Practice together as I expected. And that was actually a lesson to me, too. If I’m not working, if I’m not writing, I always feel like I’m never writing enough. No matter what it is, it’s just not enough. And I sort of beat myself up over it. I was trying to let myself not have to be a person who has to be writing all the time. And let that be okay. And that was really hard, but that was an interesting turn the other direction.

 

red Ravine: We noticed you studied comparative literature at Brown and we’re curious, how did (does) that play into your songwriting?

 

Lisa: It doesn’t very much at all. When I went to Brown, I picked something that was close to what I thought I liked when I was in high school. One of my favorite classes was Spanish because not only did we get to learn a whole different language and communicate with a whole new group of people, but in Spanish class, we also got to study visual art, film, poetry, geography, food, social customs. You name it, we studied it, but in Spanish.

We learned to take apart poems, and there was great Spanish-language literature, which is some of the best literature in the world. High school, middle, and elementary school education actually played more into my writing than my college experience.

Really college was just what I studied on paper, and in retrospect, I would go back and do something else. But it gave me the freedom to spend most of my time in the recording studio, in the music department and the theater department doing plays, writing music, playing shows. It gave me this kind of thing I could tell my parents I was doing that sounded reasonable while I was actually spending most of my time doing these other things.

It was also like a long lesson in learning that I really need to go with my heart and not do what I’m supposed to be doing. In retrospect, I should have been studying theater or art or music or psychology or just something else. I mean, I don’t think reading Ulysses three times really did anything (which was a painful experience). Experimental things can be boring or they can be interesting. It didn’t take me any further into literature; it was more about theory, but it didn’t inform my writing.

 

red Ravine: What are some of your favorite authors and books?

 

Lisa: I love Isabel Allende, pretty much all her books. I love magical realism. You know where she tells a story that feels like it’s actually happening but within it, just like Gabriel García Márquez, they use these great images and things happening that are magical and you get the feeling that those things could actually be someone’s real experience, even though it might include flying or crazy dreams or people floating through rooms or water pouring out of walls, or whatever it is.

I love the short stories of Roald Dahl. The collection I love the most is Kiss Kiss. And that’s kind of Twilight Zoney using tales that are very bizarre but you can imagine them actually happening. I love J. D. Salinger all the way around. Again, I love his short stories. He takes things that are very mundane and very deep and there’s this beauty and melancholy in the books that I love. Those are some of my favorite authors.

 

red Ravine: What projects are you working on now?

 

Lisa: None writing wise. I’m working on developing an eyewear line that will be out later this year. I’m very involved in the design, involved in the marketing, that side of the company, so that will be out later in the year. I’m also working on a collection of more kids songs for a couple of kids books that should be out in 2010, which will be more like lyrics for singalong songs, some crafts and some recipes. It will be fun for kids.

And I’m trying to finish up some songs for a grown-up record. After my wedding, I returned to listening to some of the songs I was in the process of finishing and I’m actually realizing that I’m closer to finishing an album than I thought I was. Little by little, you know.

 

red Ravine: Wow, eyewear? Because every time we see a photo of you we always just think your glasses are fabulous. How did that come about?

 

Lisa: Thank you. Well, I’ve always worn glasses and ever since I was in high school people would recognize me for my glasses. And I love glasses, especially ones that have a little bit of a lift on the corners — some people say cat-eyes, but they’re not quite cat-eye glasses. Anyway, I love them and I was looking for a perfect pair and people have always asked where they could get my glasses. Finally, we were able to connect with a company that wants to manufacture them and work with us to put them out. Selfishly, I’ll pick up a couple of pair of glasses that I really like!

No matter where I am, I always look for glasses, and it’s hard to find them. You know when you wear them on your face every day? So I wanted selfishly to have my own but I also wanted to share my glasses with other people who are always asking about them.

 

red Ravine: I (ybonesy) will look for them because I always want a lift at the corner, too. Some faces just need that. Do you have any plans to take any other kinds of workshops or attend another Natalie Goldberg retreat?

 

Lisa: I would love to do that. I meant to do it for my 40th birthday but we couldn’t quite get it together and Natalie’s mother passed away kind of close to it. I was thinking, in lieu of a bachelorette party for my wedding, it would be great to put together a workshop of my friends, a writing workshop with people I get together and write with anyway.

Right now my schedule’s a little tight because I’m moving back to Los Angeles and there are non-business priorities that [make it] hard to take even three or four days and go write. For me, and I know for a lot of other people, that structure makes all the difference in the world. And sometimes it takes going away to a seminar to remember that. Even though you can just sit and put your timer on for 10 minutes on your cell phone and write, sometimes it takes a weekend trip to remember that.

Also, something I forget –you’re supposed to read this stuff to other people. You don’t have to write all day for this to work. Natalie always says you need to write less. You need to sit down and write, but you don’t need to write five hours a day, that’s too much, you can’t do it. So I think it’s a great environment for me and I know it impacts a lot of other people as well.

 

red Ravine: You just got married a few weeks ago, so we wanted to know how is married life treating you, and what is a fluffernutter? (laughs)

 

Lisa: (laughs) A fluffernutter is marshmallow crème and I think we got it on white bread. Often we all go back to wheat bread, but for purposes of the fluffernutter sandwich, it was this homemade white bread with peanut butter and with marshmallow fluff. I can’t believe how good it is; it’s a crazy thing. And the texture when you bite into the sandwich, you know it creates that seam when you bite into that white bread sandwich. And it’s just like a pillow of joy (all laugh). It’s sweet and salty and fluffy packed in between these two cottony sheets. It’s delicious! 

And married life is good, it’s really great. We’re at the beginning of this adventure. I love my husband and I look forward to continuing to get to know him and we just have a really good time together, no matter what. We’re a good support system for each other. We both have the same values. He’s not a musician professionally, but he likes to play music in the house, and again that reminds me that creatively, it doesn’t have to be for work.

Sometimes when you just do things for fun, it might lead to something you can use for work. For me, that’s an important reminder not to always be geared toward work. We have a good time and music is part of his work so we both have a lot of opportunities to do music and talk about it and do fun things and meet interesting people. And it’s good to have a team; though you were a team before, it’s a different team when you’re married. So yeah, it’s all good.

 

red Ravine: I’m going to try to get both these questions in, one has to do with the fact that you were recently on stage with Sarah Silverman who strikes us as someone who takes so many risks with her art. And you’ve ventured into many different creative areas with songwriting, TV, and voiceover work. What was it like to work with Sarah and how important is risk-taking in creative work?

 

Lisa: It was great to work with her. I think she’s clever and fun and she’s really nice. And I feel like risk-taking is important but again, that’s relative. For some people it might mean writing a song from the first person instead of third person. Or it might mean setting a guitar on fire on stage. Or not writing might be risk-taking. Like I said, it was scary for me to be in a writing seminar and not be writing a whole lot. But to not be following the rules is a huge risk for me; I always follow the rules.

 

red Ravine: Our last question: What advice do you have for our readers who dream of making it big with their writing and becoming well-known?

 

Lisa: Two things. One is continue to write and to do your own thing. Don’t try to copy other people; the main thing you have to offer that is different from other people is yourself and your own point of view. But, at the same time, to make it you need to be a business person or find a person who can help you with the business side of things. That might mean doing it yourself, getting copies of your book out there, reading it live, being a musician live, or doing something on YouTube. Because part of it is doing the work, and then part of it is getting it out there with an audience.

But first, decide what your goals are. If it’s to be famous, hire a publicist and do some whacky things and get famous. If it’s to be read by a lot of people, start somewhere. Do it yourself. But don’t wait around for someone to do it for you. It’s not going to happen miraculously.

 

red Ravine: Thank you Lisa, really wonderful interview. We appreciate your time, and we’ll be watching for those eyeglasses!

 

Lisa: Thank you. I appreciate the questions.

 

 ________________________________________________________________

 

Lisa Loeb, Photo by: Andrew Eccles

Lisa Loeb, Photo by: Andrew Eccles

About Lisa Loeb:  Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb started her career with the platinum selling No. 1 hit song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the film Reality Bites. To this day, she is still the only artist to have a No. 1 single while not signed to a recording contract. Loeb parlayed that early success into a multi-dimensional career encompassing music, film, television, voice-over work, and children’s recordings.

Her six acclaimed studio CDs include the Gold-selling Tails and its follow-up, the Grammy-nominated, Gold-selling Firecracker. Her complete catalogue includes The Very Best of Lisa Loeb (2006), and two children’s CDs, the award-winning Catch the Moon (2006) and Camp Lisa (2008) with guests Jill Sobule, Lee Sklar, Maia Sharp and funnyman/banjo player Steve Martin. In conjunction with the release of the Camp Lisa CD, Loeb launched the Camp Lisa Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises funds to help send underprivileged kids to summer camp through its partnership with S.C.O.P.E. (Summer Camp Opportunities Provide an Edge, Inc.).

In addition to her music, Lisa has also starred in two television series, Dweezil and Lisa, a weekly culinary adventure for the Food Network, and #1 Single, a dating show on E! Network. Look for the Lisa Loeb eyewear line to hit the stores in 2009.

 

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Postcard From Billy Collins, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In February, we read the work of Billy Collins in our monthly Poetry & Meditation Group. Though he was the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, I had not been introduced to his body of work (with the exception of his popular poem about mothers and sons, “The Lanyard“). But after reading “Japan” and “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July” out loud, and listening in silence while others read his poetry, I became a big fan. 

As is our custom, at the end of the night, the founder of our Poetry Group passed around a card for us to sign, a token of our gratitude to the poet. Each month, she addresses, seals and stamps the envelope, then mails our card off to the poet the next day. We don’t have expectations; it’s enough to share their poetry.

But once in a while, the Universe responds in kind. When we arrived at the March Poetry & Meditation Group, here is what we found:


___________________________________________


Liu Yung By Billy Collins, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


To the Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group!


Liu Yung

This poet of the Sung dynasty is so miserable.
The wind sighs around the trees,
a single swan passes overhead,
and he is alone on the water in his skiff.

If only he appreciated life
in eleventh-century China as much as I do —
no loud cartoons on television,
no music from the ice cream truck,

just the calls of elated birds
and the steady flow of the water clock.


Billy Collins


Poem reprinted with permission of the author,
Copyright 2006 Billy Collins.


___________________________________________


Billy Collins describes poetry as “the only surviving history we have of human emotion.” We were thrilled and honored to hear from him. And it seems like a great way to kick off National Poetry Month on red Ravine. I am continually surprised by the generosity of famous writers to give back to those of us who find ourselves at humble beginnings. Maybe it’s a lesson to pay attention to — that no matter our status, we are all at the beginning. Every poem, short story, essay, and blog post takes us back to Beginner’s Mind.


National Poetry Month at The Academy of American Poets

We hope you will join in the celebration during National Poetry Month. It was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets and is a month-long national celebration of poetry.

According to poets.org, the concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media — to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. The hope is to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.


The goals of National Poetry Month are to:

  • Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
  • Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
  • Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
  • Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
  • Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
  • Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
  • Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry


On April 16th our Poetry & Meditation Group will be reading the poems of Yusef Komunyakaa. Maybe you’ll want to start your own poetry group. Or purchase “Ballistics,” the latest from Billy Collins. Poem In Your Pocket Day is coming up on April 30th. And here are 30 more ways to honor poets and poems. Whatever you choose to do, celebrate poetry!


To The Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  USA 42 --- ALASKA, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  To The Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

-related posts and links: NPR: Reading List & Interview with Billy Collins, Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day), Billy Collins Reads “The Lanyard” on YouTube , PBS Online NewsHour: Billy Collins Interview, December 10th, 2001 — the week following his inaugural reading at the Library of Congress after becoming U.S. Poet Laureate, Poetry 180 — a poem a day for american high schools

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Skin Of A River Birch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Skin Of A River Birch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



haiku (one-a-day)


This post was created for a very specific purpose: writing a haiku a day. Some of our readers have expressed an interest in haiku. And some have left haiku in our comments on various posts. I wanted to create a space for our readers to come back to, anytime they wanted, and drop in a daily haiku.


Last year for the 4 season Writing Intensive in Taos, we read Clark Strand’s, Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey. It is a book I go back to often to support the practice of writing.


Clark Strand is a former Zen Buddhist monk. In 1996 he left his position as senior editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review to write and teach full time. In Seeds from a Birch Tree, he describes haiku as the following:

A haiku is a seventeen-syllable poem about the season. Arranged in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, and balanced on a pause, a haiku presents one event from life happening now. However much we may say about haiku, its history or its various schools, it is difficult to go beyond these three simple rules: form, season, and present mind.


loving its whiteness
I walk around the birch tree
to the other side


haiku practice


When we did our post a few days ago on the release of Natalie Goldberg’s new book, Old Friend from Far Away, one of our regular readers, breathepeace, made several comments on haiku as a practice:

Natalie introduced me to haiku poetry. This year, I am committed to write one each day (or more if I choose).

Haiku is a precise way of working with words and I have found that it does lead me to other writing: poems, essays, etc. I’ve also learned that it helps me to focus on detail, finding just the right word (with the right number of syllables!) and, yes, it is a bite-sized writing practice. I’m happy to hear others exploring and playing with the haiku form.

According to Clark Strand, all you need to write haiku is some familiarity with the form and a simple notebook:

The correct way to use a haiku diary is just to be very free and open. Don’t set a single format. Don’t organize the book five haiku to a page or limit it to poems and dates, excluding prose. You may even find that you jot down an occasional phone number or appointment in its pages when no other book is handy, or — if you are an artist — a sketch of some interesting scene.

Write down your haiku just as they come to mind, without too much deliberation over whether they are good or bad. Improvement takes place slowly, so set them down the way they come and stay alert for the next opportunity to write.


Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



haiku walk


In the summer of 2006, Natalie took us on a field trip to some of her favorite places at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. We wrote, swam, and took a haiku walk up Box Canyon. For me, Ghost Ranch was one of the most inspiring trips of the year. Natalie had us follow Clark Strand’s outline for walking and writing haiku:

In the simplest form, writing haiku is closer to collecting shells than searching for the proper word. When you go to the shore to collect shells, you just walk along in a relaxed way, now and then stooping down to look at something interesting or beautiful. Sometimes you pick up a fragment for its shape or color, and sometimes a fully formed shell. If you take a daily haiku walk in this same spirit, soon you will find that haiku come all by themselves.

Loosely, Strand’s haiku walk goes something like this:


beginning

  • make sure your purpose is only to walk, to be outside in nature
  • you’re not trying to get somewhere, or even to write haiku
  • relax into the feeling of being outdoors
  • notice weather, plants, animals, but keep walking

middle

  • let your body loosen and relax
  • let nature displace the ordinary day to day concerns
  • take time to pause over things that strike you as beautiful
  • pauses create space in your life for something to enter

end (beginner’s mind)

  • let that something come in
  • take your notebook out of your pocket and carry it in your hand
  • the space you created in your life a few minutes ago now becomes the space to write a poem


Last year, I walked a local labyrinth in St. Paul to write haiku. But it can be as simple as walking around your neighborhood. Or walking around the block. After a while you won’t need to structure your walks anymore. You’ll know the right moment to write.



haiku – looking out, looking in


Haiku as a poetry form provides a way to be present to the outside, in order to go deeper within. Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, is known for his haiku. In the year before he died, he wrote the following verse:


Chrysanthemums bloom
in a gap between the stones
of a stonecutter’s yard


Near the end of Seeds from a Birch Tree, Strand speaks of Basho’s greatest work, The Narrow Road to the Deep North:

Haiku, in many ways the most outward, most concrete, and most perpetually grounded form of poetry, is also the most inward. It requires a lot of inner work.

Basho titled his greatest work Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North). Basho traveled a long way north on a journey with his student and fellow poet Sora and kept a diary of his travels. The diary contains some of his most famous haiku.

The way north is the way within. This kind of understanding comes when we realize that in looking out, we are also looking in. We learn it by looking carefully at the world.

Basho said:  There is one thing which flows through all great art, and that is a mind to follow nature, and return to nature.


Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.          Skin Of A River Birch, August 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Feel free to drop a haiku into the comments in this post, any time, day or night. Tomorrow, or 52 days from now. It doesn’t matter.

Write a haiku a day for a month. If you wish, break structure and form. Be playful with your writing. With practice, you’ll find your way home.



-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, January 15th, 2008


-one writer’s review of Seeds from a Birch Tree, Hyperion, 1997 (including more haiku from the book)Tony Lipka on Clark Strand’s Haiku of Mindfulness

-short bio of Clark Strand: World Wisdom

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Afternoon Meditation, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Afternoon Meditation, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


In writing practice this morning, ybonesy and I both wrote about sitting in solidarity with our writing friends at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos. Most Decembers, Natalie holds a writing retreat during the period Mabel's Gate - Taos Mountain, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.around December 1st through December 8th. In Zen, this time is called Rohatsu Sesshin and marks the enlightenment of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.

Rohatsu means in classical Japanese twelve-eight, because December eighth is celebrated in the Far East as the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Zoketsu Norman Fisher from Green Gulch Farm (in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi) explains Rohatsu Sesshin something like this:

Sesshin is about pulling our whole life together — right here into this one body and mind and right here on this little square of black cushion. All of our life, past, present and future, is right here and right now. Our whole life. All our many lives. All of everyone’s life. The life of the planet. The life of the stars. All that we are and all that everyone is and was and wanted to be but couldn’t be. All our successes and failures. All we wanted and didn’t want. All we overlooked and grieved over and lusted over and abandoned. None of that is elsewhere. It’s all right here right now on this cushion.

Of all the sesshins of the year this one is the most intense of all because it’s the one…that imitates the Buddha’s time of sitting under the enlightenment tree. So in a way our whole sesshin is a kind of ceremony of enactment of this event and we are all playing the Buddha under the Buddha’s tree, enacting an event that happened almost two thousand five hundred years ago. Two thousand five hundred is just one of the many ways of saying right now. Right now, actually, Right Now, as you are listening to words that I am speaking, Buddha is sitting under the Bodhi tree making strong effort for awakening. In each and every one of your bodies, in each and every pore of each and every one of your bodies, there are infinite Buddhas — each one, right now as I’m speaking, literally and actually making this kind of effort.

        

        Slow Walking, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.            Winter Fire, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Slow Walking (left), Winter Fire (right), Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s a time of deep practice, a time where we enter the cave-like darkness of winter and look inwardly to the truth of the existence of our own Buddha Nature, and the awakened nature of all beings.


Mabel's Lights, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM, Feb 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Mabel’s Lights II, second in series, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


But sitting in Taos is not about Zen. People of all faiths and religions come to study with Natalie. It is about practice. Beginner’s Mind. About repetition and opening. It is about getting out of your own way, vowing to make greater effort, to go the extra mile, and through that effort, trying to requite a debt of gratitude to those, in life and in Spirit, who have helped us along the way.


Becoming The Mountain, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

In Taos, we practice sitting, walking, and writing. We sit like the mountain. We anchor our breath to the bottom of our feet. We chant and sing. We are silent. We write.


The practice of our writing is backed by a 2500 year old tradition of watching the mind. It is powerful. At times, life changing. We are grateful to Natalie for creating writing practice, for the gift of her teachings, for passing them down to us.


Many of our writing friends are sitting in Taos:  sitting, walking, practicing, deepening, learning the true secret of writing. ybonesy and I wanted to hold a place for them. We sit with them in quiet reflection and community. And in doing so, we sit with the world.


Not to be attached to external forms, not to be unsettled within, not to think this and that, not to be cluttered with extraneous things, not to think about gain and loss and whether we are happy or sad. This can be called Zen.
   -Shodo Harada Roshi

If you lose the spirit of repetition, your practice will become quite difficult.
   -Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Key To Mabel’s (in repetition), Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Mountain is mountain and earth is earth
That’s all.
You shouldn’t say anything extra.
You should not put any fancy decoration.
Mountain is mountain, that’s all.
   -Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.
   -Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

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I feel like I’m starting over. I feel like I don’t know anything about anything. The journey to Pennsylvania and Georgia for research and writing walked the thin line between past and present. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I would discover. It was sometimes disorienting. Each day I had to open to what was there.

Upon my return, I find myself needing rest and ground. I have gathered so much information; I’m not sure where to start. And I feel like I am at a new beginning in my writing. Perhaps in the whole way I look at my life.

The way we measure our lives tends to be in relationship to everything around us. In the interview in More About The Monkey, Natalie Goldberg talks about the distraction of Monkey Mind. But that’s not the way this feels.

What if we are not stuck in writer’s block or distracted by the monkey, but simply beginners, remembering what it felt like to ride a bike for the first time, visiting the old from a new perspective.

Beginner’s Mind.

There are many teachings on the beginner’s state of mind. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki-roshi lays out how important it is not to lose the freshness of beginner’s mind. On days I feel lost and new, and like I am starting all over, I find comfort in his words.

A piece I recently found inspiring was a post on running through rain about beginner’s body called,  starting bonus. running through rain is an excellent blog for inspiration and growth. If you are stuck on writing ideas, check out the site.

The last line of starting bonus (Beginner’s Mind is an asset. Beginner’s Body is a bonus!) links to a lecture by Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman on Beginner’s Mind. The last paragraph of the lecture sums it up:

So please, cultivate your beginner’s mind. Be willing to not be an expert. Be willing to not know. Not knowing is nearest. Not knowing is most intimate. Fayan was going on pilgrimage. Dizang said, “Where are you going?” Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.” Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?” Fayan said: “I don’t know.” Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

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