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Posts Tagged ‘courage’

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, Savage, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Memorial Day, a somber remembrance of the men and women who gave their lives in U.S. wars. I am fortunate; I only know of one family member who died while fighting a war—my Uncle James. When I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at its dedication, I did a rubbing of his name (Panel 20W – Line 32). And when I started blogging, I discovered the Vietnam Veterans Memorial website where I began leaving him messages each Memorial Day. Uncle James died seven months into his tour, in Binh Long, South Vietnam, a long way from his South Carolina home. This is the time I dedicate to him.

Yesterday, I listened to CBS Sunday Morning and was taken with Lee Cowan’s story of Charlie Haughey, a Vietnam war photographer. It reminded me of the importance of photographs to remembering the dead. During his service as a photographer in Vietnam, Charlie Haughey chronicled the daily life of soldiers in his battalion. When his tour ended, he dropped his nearly 2,000 photo negatives into a shoebox, and hid them away. Now, after 45 years, Haughey’s mesmerizing images of soldiers battling the physical and emotional hardships of war are seeing the light of day. You can see in his eyes, they still bring him pain.

To all of the fallen, and for Uncle James. Never forgotten.


-posted on red Ravine, Memorial Day, May 27th, 2013

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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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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.



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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.


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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.


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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.


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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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Web & Dew: The Space Between, BlackBerry Shots, July 2010, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Over 90 inches of snow have disappeared from our lawn in temperatures that reach the 50’s by day, drop down to freezing at night. Winter is dying a slow death. Seasons change, transitions in temperament and landscape. The snowmelt runs into rivers and streams, the salt leaves potholes. But soon, tiny shoots of emerald will erupt through the dank, dead, chestnut grass. Winter must die to usher in Spring.

There is power in recognizing impending death. I remember the year my mother told me that when her time came, she was ready to die. We were visiting the South, walking down the cemetery hill from my grandmother’s grave in Georgia. I burst out crying; she hugged me and held me close. I thought the tears inside would never stop. “Honey, don’t worry,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Frankenbelly 3's Birthday - 321/365 Last year, my brother nearly died, before receiving a liver transplant at the 11th hour. It’s an experience that pulled our family together, one we share with countless others. If a person who loses their spouse is a widow, what’s the name for a child who loses a parent? Or a parent who loses a child? There should be a formal naming. For children, it should not be the word “orphan.” That implies that you never held the person close, lived with or loved your parent. There should be another word.

I think of what it must be like to be the one left behind. When I saw writer Joyce Carol Oates in Minneapolis at Talk of the Stacks last week, I bought her new memoir, A Widow’s Story. Her husband Raymond died unexpectedly late one winter night in 2008; the next morning Joyce was supposed to have gone to the hospital, picked him up, and brought him home to recover. It’s the story of loss, grief, and pain; of giant gift baskets, grieving cats, and mounds of trash; of how no one really understood. Yet in the end, she realized that everyone understood. Because Death is a universal experience. It’s just that we don’t talk about it anymore or know how to incorporate it into our lives.

Porkys Since 1953 There is more to Death than the loss of loved ones. Sometimes whole cultures die, like the Anasazi who inhabited the Four Corners country of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona from about A.D. 200 to A.D. 1300, and then disappeared. Cultural traditions die, too, like Porky’s Drive-In in St. Paul. It was owned by the same family since 1953, and closed its doors last Sunday, April 3rd, 2011. Animals die, and it is certain that we will probably outlive many of our beloved pets (our cat Chaco died a few years ago, June 25th, 2009).

Groups we are in community with have life spans, too. Circles of intimacy change and grow; sometimes we end up leaving people behind. Or they leave us. During one session of a year-long Intensive with Natalie Goldberg, one of the participants was killed in a car crash. The group was stunned. These were people we thought we would sit and write with for an entire year. It was not to be. I remember we chanted the Heart Sutra. I remember finding comfort in the ritual.

Cemetery Fog At Workmens Circle - 70/365 Ah, I feel a heaviness this Spring. But it’s a collective heaviness. Like something is shifting in the Universe. There’s too much going on in the world, too many catastrophes, too many unexpected deaths, too many aging and dying people, too many widows and widowers, for there not to be something going on at the Spiritual level. But that’s just my belief. I know there are people who say this occurred at every period in history. But there are certain paradigm shifts that happen and change the planet as a whole. We can either learn our lessons and get on board the train that moves forward. Or stay stuck in the past, not doing the work that’s required of us.

It’s the New Moon. New beginnings. There is value in what has come before, in the history we have with other people we were close to at one time. It’s good to honor and remember. All of that follows us, and I believe we transform it. All energy is creative energy. Even the energy of Death. It cycles back around into new life. Death can be a release of suffering. It also creates a giant abyss of loss. Maybe we’d be wise to befriend the Grim Reaper. Maybe it is others who are dying or have passed over who teach us the courage and strength to face our own death. Maybe the space between death and dying…is life.


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Transitions - Catch & Release Though many of our ancestors accepted and honored the process of Death through rituals, sitting, slowing down, it feels like our fast-paced modern world doesn’t know how to stop moving, how to have a conversation about death and dying, or where to put it in the flow of our day-to-day lives. It makes for a good Writing Topic, a good topic for discussion on red Ravine. Why can’t we talk face to face about death? Maybe it’s easier to write about it.

Take out a fast writing pen and notebook, or fire up your computer and write Death & Dying at the top of your page. Then 15 minutes, Go! Or do a Writing Practice on everything you know about any aspect of death and dying. Please feel free to share any insights in the comments below.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 5th, 2011. Parts of the piece were taken from several Writing Practices written last weekend, April 2nd & 3rd.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — 3 QUESTIONS, Reflection — Through The Looking Glass, Make Positive Effort For The Good, The Uses Of Sorrow — What Is It About Obituaries?, Reading The Obits, and a great interview with Joyce Carol Oates on MPR Midmorning with Kerri Miller – A Widow’s Story — The Story Of Joyce Carol Oates

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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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Question Mark, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few weeks ago, I watched an interview on Bill Moyers Journal and was mesmerized by the work of Anna Deavere Smith. It is tough work. She takes on controversial subjects most would not touch in our sanitized, politically correct language of the day. Her 1992 one-woman performance Fires in the Mirror explored the violence between Jews and Blacks after an August 1991 civic disturbance in the New York neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn. Her solo performance in Twilight: Los Angeles dramatized the 1992 riots that broke out in L.A. following the first Rodney King trial.

For her current one-woman play Let Me Down Easy, Anna Deavere Smith interviewed Americans from all walks of life about healthcare, medical, and end of life issues. After 9 years and 300 plus interviews, she chose 20 people; through their words, body language and speech, she transforms on stage into each one. I’ve only seen snippets of her 90 minute performance on TV. And from bullrider to politician to Buddhist monk, I could hear the voice of all America inserted into the healthcare debate, leaving little room for doubt — something has to change.

We are trying to bring disparate worlds together, not so that we can all get along, but so we can see out of the ‘me’ into ‘us.’

— Anna Deavere Smith

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Highlights


Below are few notes I jotted down while listening to her conversation with Bill Moyers. A few may seem cryptic, but will make more sense when you watch the interview:

  • The title Let Me Down Easy came to her almost out of a dream. There are two songs with the name. Of the title, James H. Cone of the Union Theological Seminary said they are the words of a broken heart and can be interpreted as broken love. “Don’t do it harshly. Not too mean. Let it be easy.”
  • Let Me Down Easy is a call about grace and kindness in a world that lacks that often —  in a winner take all world.
  • Death is the ultimate form of loss, the ultimate form of abandonment
  • It broke her heart to know that we, with all of our money and technology, believe that we can afford to leave people so alone
  • Are we afraid of being poor, afraid of losing, afraid of being sick? Is that why we distance ourselves from that reality all around us?
  • She chose these 20 particular people because they are very connected to the life cycle – death and life
  • The most important thing you can do is be with someone when they die
  • Art comes in when the official language falls apart. When things fall apart, you can see more and you can even be part of indicating new ways that things can be put together.


What seems to be important to Anna Deavere Smith is the art of listening. And letting what she hears soak into each cell of her body. Words matter. People matter. She believes something she learned from her grandfather (who was also the inspiration for her method of theater) — if you say a word often enough, it becomes you. In a New York Times article Through 1 Woman, 20 Views of Life’s End she says, “I try to embody America by embodying its words.”

Near the end of the interview, Bill Moyers asked, “When did you begin to listen to people so acutely?” Anna said when she was young, she lived next to a woman who weighed 400 pounds. The neighbor would ask her to go to the store to buy her fatback and she’d love to sit on her porch and listen to her stories —  that’s when she started really listening.

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Writing Topic — 3 Questions


How do we teach ourselves to listen? How do we get people to talk about what has meaning for them, moving beyond repetition or sound bites? In Anna’s words, “I say their words over and over. I listen and I wear the words.”

She said she also taught herself to listen by breaking up certain rhythmic speech patterns. She met a linguist at a cocktail party in 1979 who said she would give her 3 questions that were guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves:

Have you ever come close to death?

Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?

Do you know the circumstances of your birth?


And that’s the inspiration for this Writing Topic — 3 Questions.

Choose one of the 3 questions above. Write it down at the top of your paper. Take out a fast writing pen and do a timed 15 minute Writing Practice.

Maybe 3 questions, combined with the wild mind of Writing Practice, will break patterns in our writing and lead us to listen more closely to our own voices.

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Epilogue


Anna Deavere Smith is on fire. In pursuit of her mission to translate art into social commentary about race, poverty, and injustice, she’s won two Obie Awards, been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and two Tonys, and is a recipient of the prized MacArthur fellowship. (Not to mention her role in NBC’s The West Wing, as National Security Advisor Nancy McNally.) You can read more about Anna Deavere Smith at Bill Moyers Journal. Or watch the full interview with Anna Deavere Smith and Bill Moyers at this link.

In November, the Moth Storytelling Awards in New York honored her as their 2009 recipient at the Annual Moth Ball. The Wall Street Journal blog Speakeasy covered the event which was also attended by writer Garrison Keillor. On the subject of healthcare, the blog references a compelling verbal account from Keillor that night about his stroke in September. He had the stroke while on a massage table, eventually drove himself to the ER, and waited 15 minutes in line before he was able to tell anyone he was having a stroke. Read the full story at Speakeasy: Jonathan Ames, Garrison Keillor and Anna Deavere Smith Headline Annual Moth Ball.


In some ways the most effective politicians are the ones who have the best verbal clothes that they manipulate the best way. And there is a gap between that type of clothing and where people walk and where people live.

Whitman was doing another kind of work for the country at that time. Speaking a different song. And I think the politicians can sing to us but I respect, in a way, the limitation of their language. I mean I guess it’s a part of our culture that goes back as far as Jefferson, that they have to be so careful about what they say. My only desire would then be that we would find other places in our culture to work out our differences.

— Anna Deavere Smith from Bill Moyers Journal, November 2009


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, November 29th, 2009

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Jim’s Orange (brand) mountain bike, August 17, 2007,
photos © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


“Daddy, do I have to ride my bike to school today?”

“Yes, it will be fun.”

“But Mom said I could ride the bus some days.”

“Nah, you don’t want to ride the bus.”

“Yes I do.”

“Naaa, you’ll get four miles of riding in today.”

“But I don’t want to ride everyday.”

“Yeah you do. Four miles a day is 20 miles a week. That’s, like…let’s see, there are 30-some weeks in a school year, so that’d be…that’s over 600 miles!”

“Wow, that’s a lot!”

“I’ll say.”

“OK, I’ll ride.”


Note to Em from Mommy: TGIF!


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