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Posts Tagged ‘ghosts of the past’

Celebrate Peace - 18/52

Celebrate Peace – 18/52, BlackBerry 52, Golden Valley, Minnesota, May 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s Memorial Day 2011. The skies over Golden Valley are green and gray. Rain pelts the freshly splashed grass seed. The lawn has been mowed. The cedar branches that bent to the ground in the last snowstorm are trimmed. I’m cleaning the rust off my writing pen. Where to start?

I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site and left Uncle James a message. He is not forgotten. One day I will take the time to go back through my film archives and locate the negatives from the day I photographed the Wall in 1984. It was an unplanned visit, a stop on a road trip back East after I moved from Montana to the Twin Cities. Unknown to me, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was being dedicated that same year. Veterans dotted the landscape of Washington D.C.; I found my uncle’s name and did a rubbing on a thin strip of paper.

A few years ago, I reconnected with my aunt, his widow, and told her I had never forgotten James. She told me that the day he died, he visited her and asked about the baby, his son. The baby was not yet born. He never met him. She swears he was there with her, standing in the same room. She would not get the official word until the next day—he had been killed in war. I feel somber inside, remembering. But it’s not like me to forget. Some think I live in the past. Sometimes the moment is the past. The same way it is the future. To understand war, I try to celebrate peace.

It feels good to be writing again. Art-A-Whirl was a big success. The Casket Arts Studio space was my home for the last month. The Writers Hands Series is up on the wall. The cards and postcards are selling well. Liz has her Found Frame Series up; her Landmark Series makes beautiful postcards. Thank you to all who visited during the crazy rain and tornado skies of Art-A-Whirl. It means a lot to us.

A haunting aspect of art and writing is that you have to burn the candle at both ends to see projects through. I was sick during Art-A-Whirl week but just had to keep going. Once I got to the studio, the energy of art and the people who love it carried the day. But I had to give up time in other areas, like the unplanned hiatus from red Ravine. I appreciate you, the readers, who keep coming back. I checked in but did not have the energy to write and prepare for the long hours of Art-A-Whirl. Something had to give. I missed the community.

The photograph of the PEACE sign (part of the BlackBerry 52 Series with Lotus) is made of seashells sent to me by Heather, a friend I met through red Ravine. She often tweets about her life by the California shoreline. One day, she asked if we wanted her to send a little of the ocean our way. In a landlocked Cancer stupor, I said, “Yes!” She mailed a box of shells the next day. When they got here, they were filled with sand and smelled like salt air, crab, and clam. I laid them out on the deck table under Minnesota skies to air out. Peace flowed from the backs of ocean creatures. Thank you, Heather.

And thank you for listening. I am off to Studio 318 to work on a piece about May Sarton. It’s time to get back to my practices. It’s time to write again. It’s time to post on red Ravine, to journal and print more photographs. This week is First Thursdays. Stop by and see us! What I really want to say is that I appreciate the community that visits here. Art and writing are not created out of a vacuum. We are all in this together.



-posted on red Ravine, Memorial Day, Monday, May 30th, 2011

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING, PRACTICE – Memorial Day – 10min, PRACTICE: Memorial Day — 10min, May Day Self-Portrait: Searching For Spring, The Yogi (Cover Page) — 14/52, Nesting & Resting, Pulling Out The Sun (By Day, By Night), BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Searching For Stillness, icicle tumbleweed (haiga) — 2/52, The Mirado Black Warrior, Waning Moon (Haiga), Alter-Ego Mandala: Dreaming Of The Albatross (For Bukowski), EarthHealer — Mandala For The Tortoise

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Dark when I get up, dark when I drive home. Ghosts like this time of year. They can wander freely throughout the Universe, come and go, visit whoever they please. I haven’t seen any real ghosts in a long, long time. Yet I lay awake this morning from 4am to 6am, the time I got up to write this practice. I can’t help but think of Ada my grandmother when I think of ghosts. The way she came to see me in Minnesota after she died, made the trip all the way from Tennessee. I was a young woman the last time I saw her alive. She came to me in a ghost-like dream, told me she was alright, that she loved me, and said good-bye. It was the day after that I called Mom to see if she had died. I regretted not seeing her in person for so long; she let me know it was okay. I could feel at peace.

Leslea was more playful, the way she pulled at my toe and knocked the writing book off the shelf. It was around the time I was deeply immersed in my study with Natalie, debating whether to quit my day job for writing, haunted by the ghosts of what-if’s. Looking back, maybe I should have kept my day job. At least if I had wanted a secure financial future. But, then again, looking at the recession of the last few years, maybe it didn’t matter. I was happier leaving. And have made great strides in feeling secure as a writer, in setting up practices that sustain me, a community that holds me. That’s half the reason we started red Ravine.

I watch shows about the paranormal because they fascinate me. I’m fascinated because I’m curious about what happens after we die. I do believe that some souls are trapped between worlds. They wander and attach themselves to places where they lived in their physical lives. I also believe that most of us move on. To do different things in the next spiritual life. Maybe not all lives are spiritual. I happen to believe the work I do here now takes me to the next phase of whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. This is all vague. Because it’s a Writing Practice and it’s the stream of my mind. It’s also vague because the afterlife is vague. No one really knows what happens after you die.

What if the afterlife is only what you believe it to be? That would make it different for each person. Some don’t believe in life after death at all. The physical death is the end. If I believed that, I would lose hope. That people can improve themselves and go on to something better. But back to Ghosts. I don’t summon them up, play the Ouija Board anymore. I don’t look for ghosts or ask them to appear. I don’t provoke or ask for signs. I might fall over if I saw a ghost of a person I didn’t know. Somehow, it doesn’t scare me to get visits from those I know who have passed to the other side. I count it as one of the many blessings of being in a body.

I want to be comfortable with my own death. But sometimes I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this year because my brother has been very sick. His liver has been failing for some time. I was prepared for the worst. Then, miraculously, the week after I got back from my last writing retreat on Lake Michigan, I got a text from him that they had a liver. He was on his way to Philadelphia. Last night we IM’d over Facebook as if nothing had happened. Except the miracle that is his life. He is energetic and full of energy. The 45 staples come out on Tuesday, the day I arrive. The story could have ended differently. In this case, the ghosts are Wonder, Joy, fragments of Disbelief in how a life could move so quickly from Death’s door.

Oh, and Death. I’m not so sure about the sickle and scythe thing. It’s too daunting. Maybe you should lighten up your wardrobe. It’s scary to the living. Or maybe you already have and we all don’t know how to change your ghost of an image. Whatever you are, I don’t want to be afraid. Shadow and Light, they all play in the same forest of autumn leaves.


-Related to Topic post: Ghost Hunting — Tips & Tools Of The Trade

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My grandmother was a generous woman. With only a 6th grade education, she managed to pull herself out of the poverty of rural Georgia to study for her hairdresser’s license and run her own business. Later she would work at Gracewood State School and Hospital helping those she saw as less fortunate than herself. Elise was a pretty woman and always sought to live a better life. She was a lucky Sun sign, the 9th, Sagittarius — surprisingly unlucky when it came to men.

Her last husband was a good man though. She met him when she lived with us in rural Pennsylvania for a few years in the 1960’s. I was in junior high; we shared a room. At that time, we had 9 people in a small rambler with 3 bedrooms. It’s something we didn’t think much about then, how small the house was, how little privacy we had. We were a close family; I was a brooding teenager. I found solace in riding my brother’s mini-bike down the hill behind the house, shooting hoops on the uneven backyard slope, a net my step-father put up for me, and hiding under my headphones, lost in the music of Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, and Chicago.

Elise didn’t like the cold. Neither does my mother for that matter. But after 43 years of living in the North, Amelia has learned to tolerate it. My mother and grandmother did not always see eye-to-eye. Even though they loved each other deeply, they often disagreed on style, clothes, and how to raise the kids. It wasn’t for my grandmother to say; she was living in my mother’s home. But that didn’t keep her from voicing her opinions. I held a soft spot in Grandmama’s heart. I think it’s because she took care of me around age 2 while my mother worked to support us. Mom is a hard worker. I think it’s something she passed down to us kids.

I was sad when Grandmama moved back to Georgia. She met her last husband Raymond in the same state where her father was born, not all that far from Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Raymond agreed to move to Georgia with her and that’s exactly what they did. North and South have always comingled in the family tree. I don’t remember seeing her often after that (but I remember all the names of the streets she lived on). I grew up, moved out of the house, 4 hours away to college, then 2000 miles to live in the Pacific Northwest. I alienated myself from family and old high school and college friends. I was angry and wanted desperately to figure out who I was without the ties of the past. It took over 10 years.

During that time, I wasn’t in as much communication with my grandmother in Georgia. I was looking for steady work, rode my bicycle through the winter streets of Missoula to drop off job applications, hiked the Bitterroot Mountains, helped friends build their cabins. Grandmama would call to check on me. Elise was a worrier. I tried to tell her I would be alright and not to worry. Eventually, she stopped calling as much. I was 30 years old when she died. I remember getting the call from Mom that Elise had had a heart attack. She survived and came home from the hospital; I called and talked to her one last time.

A day later, she went into the hospital again and did not come home. I remember the sinking feeling of knowing I’d never get to see her again, to ask her all the questions I wanted to ask. If only I knew then what I know now. If only it had been the wiser 50-something person and not the selfish 30-year-old that made that last phone call.

What I have learned is that being close to someone doesn’t require that you see them all the time, or spend time together. Sometimes blood is thicker than water. I knew she would be there if I ever needed her, the same way Aunt Cassie was there for her. My biggest regret is that I didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral. I have always carried a nagging guilt about that. Why did I make that choice? Money, time, shame, scared to face the relatives I knew would be there after so much time away. Why did I isolate myself so from the family?

I had to grow up. It’s that simple. I had to forgive, learn gratitude, do emotional work, mature. I had to let go, in order to pull close again. Sometimes it’s just too late to go back.

My grandmother was a strong woman. As is my mother. I like to think I carry some of that inside me. And every time someone says I’ve got strength or courage, I think of them. The smell of Elise’s perfect red lipstick, the lavender talcum powder she fluffed after her bath, the Phillips Milk of Magnesia on the edge of the bathroom counter, the jagged scar from her hysterectomy, a long, long time before laser surgery, the sweet perfumes she wore near the end of her life, the way her curls smelled like hairspray. All this and so much more.



-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC — GRANDMOTHERS

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The Black Watch Tartan & Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Black Watch Tartan & Targe, Fort Frederica, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






brand new lease on life
back in the memoir saddle
where do I begin?


ancestors calling
haunting photos of Georgia —
let’s start with the Scots


family line(age),
saturated memories;
everything passed down.






Georgia’s Scottish Highlanders: Memoir Calls Again


Life circumstances have bestowed upon me the gift of time. I called Mom last weekend and we began talking ancestry again (one of our favorite topics). I’m not sure if I’ll be visiting Georgia this summer, but the seed has been planted. I’ve renewed the research catalogue we use for the family tree. And have begun going back through the photographs taken over the last two summers in Georgia and South Carolina.

History excites me; I love the ghosts of the past. Especially if they are connected to the history of our family. Mom has (almost) traced our ancestry back to the Scottish Highlanders in Darien, Georgia (Irish side of family, perhaps Scots-Irish). When we were at John Wesley’s place (English clergyman and founder of Methodism) on St. Simons Island, we read several accounts in old ledgers that led us to believe a member of our family was a Scottish Highlander. The search goes on for that one definitive piece of recorded evidence to back it up.

The Highlanders were known for their battle skills and the British recruited them to help settle the Colonies. Scottish troops serving in the British Army were sent to Georgia in 1736 to set up a new outpost. Under the leadership of General James Oglethorpe, these men established the settlement of Darien and a sawmill along the Altamaha River.

Mom, Liz, and I visited the buzzing wildness of Fort King George last summer. We braved the dripping humidity to walk through one of the ancient cemeteries at the edge of Darien, and the perimeter of a tabby building, now a historic site, that was one of the first black churches in the area (at the time many people in Darien were against slavery). It’s a sleepy, quiet river town. And boy, was it hot there last July!


Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Warrior Shield: History of the Targe


We had driven to Darien after our stay on beautiful St. Simons Island and a visit to Fort Frederica. St. Simons played a pivotal role in the struggle for empire between the competing colonial interests of England and Spain. Georgia’s fate was decided in 1742 when Spanish and British forces clashed on the Island. Fort Frederica’s troops defeated the Spanish, ensuring Georgia’s future as a British colony. Today, the archeological remnants of Frederica are protected by the National Park Service.

While Liz was out taking video of a British reenactment at Fort Frederica (complete with musket fire), Mom and I, sweat-covered and tired, slipped into the historical area where it was cool and checked out the books and exhibits. I was immediately drawn to the glass case with what looked like a life-sized mandala shield that turned out to be a targe.

One of our ancestors may have worn The Black Watch Tartan (plaid fabric) authorized for use by the Scottish troops serving in the British Army. Or maybe they carried a targe. I did find a link to the history of the targe written by a man who is still constructing them by hand — John Stewart, The Targeman. According to his site, the targe dates back to the 16th Century and was once the Scottish Highlander’s first line of defense. I was fascinated by the details in these excerpts:


Construction —
Targes are round shields between 18″ and 21″ (45–55 cm) in diameter with an inside formed from two very thin layers of flat wooden boards, the grain of each layer at right angles to the other. Targes were fixed together with small wooden pegs, forming plywood. The front was covered with a tough cowhide that was fixed to the wood with many brass, or in some cases, silver, nails. Sometimes brass plates were also fixed to the face for strength and decoration.

Some targes had center bosses of brass, and a few of these could accept a long steel spike which screwed into a small “puddle” of lead which was fixed to the wood, under the boss. When not in use, the spike could be unscrewed and placed in a sheath on the back of the targe.


Materials —
Most targes had their back covered with cow and goat, and 80% of original targes still show straw, crude wool and other stuffing material beneath their ruined skins. Some targes, usually those actually used in battle, had their backs covered in a piece of red cloth taken from the uniform of a government soldier (a “Redcoat”) that the owner had killed in battle.


Design —
The face of a targe was often decorated with embossed Celtic style patterns. Typically two general patterns were used – concentric circles, or a centre boss with subsidiary bosses around this. An exception is the targe in Perth Museum in Scotland which is of a star design (see photo at his site). Although some targe designs appear to have been more popular than others, there is very little to indicate that there ever were “clan” designs.


The targe reminds me of a protective mandala — a warrior shield. Yet I had to wonder how much protection it actually provided in times of war. The Targeman answered that question, too. He mentioned that after the disastrous defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the carrying of the targe would have been banned, and many may have been destroyed or put to other uses.


Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Scottish Highlander Targe, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Epilogue


It gave me an eerie feeling knowing I was walking the same ground my ancestors had centuries before. It’s not that all of this historical detail will make it into a memoir — it’s terra firma, a place to stand. The composting of past experience lays the ground for the person I have become. What if an ancestor’s Black Watch Tartan and Targe, in some strange way, blazed the way for the mandala practice last year? And the circle archetype must hold both war and peace.



Resources & Information:



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 5th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), Coloring Mandalas, W. H. Murray – Providence Moves Too

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What I remember is the large sombrero, South of the Border. The scraggly pines, sweaty heat. A few hundred people get married there every year, the border between South and North Carolina. You can drive through his shoes, lanky legs that stretch up 100 feet.

What I remember is Garnet, a western ghost town. Abandoned. There was no one there. We walked among the ghosts, took 3 rolls of photographs, before digital film, cell phones, or text messages. We were utterly alone. We drove miles outside of Missoula. The direction was up, the air thin. The pines, Ponderosa. I am a woman destined to be near pines. Unlike Bill Holm, I love trees. I feel safer nested between oaks, ash, or elms, than exposed on the lonesome prairie.

What I remember are the echoes of the past. Miners and the women who serviced them. Saloons, creaking hotels, flat-faced and aged pine. What about the Annie Oakley’s of the boom town? Were there women who mined the precious ore?

And on NPR, Libby, Montana goes to court against Grace. Libby is just outside of Missoula. People are dying. Vermiculite settlement floats down the airstream, the rivers, seeps into the ground. It laces Grandpa’s clothes. He hugs his children and grandchildren. Grandmothers wash the clothes; hang them on the outdoor line to dry. First one lung goes, then the other. The mining company denies it is a problem.

It’s true. In the days of Garnet, the late 1800’s, we did not know the dangers. Now we do. When does a company become accountable. Shouldn’t a 21st century company admit wrongdoing? Libby is dying.

What I remember is how much I love the smell of the ocean, the Georgia Gold Coast, Yamassee, South Carolina where my Granddaddy went to fish and carouse. We visited the Cherokee Nation. I see us standing in a faded Polaroid next to a man in feather headdress, long before I knew about the Trail of Tears. I was just a child.

When I write by hand like this, barely able to read my own writing, I am still a child. Chicken scratch. The sun streams in over my shoulder. The air 10 degrees. Snow covers the cedars in an angel dusting of flakes. I come home from a grueling week of work to see 3 pileated woodpeckers playing in the oaks behind the house. I hear them first, like nails hammering into a hollow coffin. I raise hand to brow, cup the sun away from the pupils — there they are, in stripes of red, white, and black. The female is black.

I stand there silently for a long time. Suddenly a laughing call, swift jagged flight between trunks, a burst of white under wing. I am certain they put on their show just for me. My own roadside attraction — 3 pileated Woody Woodpeckers frolicking in branches of snow.



-15 minute handwrite, posted on red Ravine, Friday, February 27th, 2008

-related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC – ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

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The Haunting, All Hallow's Eve By The Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 31st, 2006, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Haunting, All Hallow’s Eve By The Fire, one year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 31st, 2006, photo © 2006-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Maybe it’s the time of year — Halloween and Day of the Dead nearly upon us. Nights grow longer. Frost kills the plants, and another season is put to rest.

Or maybe it’s our era, so many things to haunt us. We seem to be troubled, melancholy. Is the world crying, or is it just me?

I believe in ghosts, and not just the kind that might spook one cold, dark morning. (Who just caused the book to fall in the room next to me?)

It doesn’t take much to be haunted. Something someone told you that you can’t shake. Or something you saw. Experiences can haunt, and the specter of disease can haunt, and memories — my, how they haunt!

Is it bad to be haunted? Or is the ghost only as menacing as we allow it to be? (Remember Casper, anyone?)


In the October 1, 2007 issue of The New Yorker, Philip Roth said this about the inspiration of ghosts and haunting for his novel Exit Ghost:

‘Haunted by the past’ is a commonplace phrase because it’s a commonplace experience. Even if one is not, strictly speaking, ‘haunted’, the past is perpetually with one in the present, and the longer it grows and the further it recedes the stronger its presence seems to become. I agree with the Chekhov character who, when, in a crisis, he is reminded that ‘this, too, shall pass’, responds, ‘Nothing passes’.

What do you think of when you think of haunting and ghosts? Are you frightened? Or do you regularly revisit your old ghosts?

Write about ghosts and haunting. You can write about the ways you are haunted figuratively, or write about your real experiences with the supernatural. The topic is rich. Write more than once.

At the top of your page, write these words: I am haunted by … and then for three or so minutes list all the things that haunt you. Just like in Writing Practice, don’t stop to think about your list. Just click off each item.

When you’re finished, pick one of the “ghosts” on your list and write about it for ten minutes. Pick another and write for ten more. If you’d like, send us one of those writing practices to post on red Ravine. We’ll publish as many as we can.

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