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Posts Tagged ‘Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back’

Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

View from Marylin’s, Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was a month ago to the hour when my mother-in-law died. Liz was on her way back from a business trip in Tulsa, Oklahoma when her sister called. I was sitting by Lake Como in St. Paul, Minnesota about to eat my lunch when the phone rang. The Dallas airport echoed in the background; Liz’s voice was brisk but heavy. “Mom just passed away,” she said. “She went peacefully.”

Marylin had requested a bath the night before. Tracy, Liz’s sister and her mother’s caregiver, had gotten up, given her mother a bath, and was combing her hair when she stopped breathing. I could picture this because when Liz and I were in Cody, Wyoming in May, Liz brushed Marylin’s hair as she sat in her favorite chair by the window with a clear view of the bird feeders. When Liz was finished, Marylin gently closed her eyes, smiled, and seemed in total peace after a night of tumultuous dreams.

I miss my my mother-in-law; grief takes many forms. Marylin was like a second mother to me. She championed my writing like my own mother, Amelia, who supported my creative life even when it twisted, turned, and spiraled up and down. Marylin and Amelia never met, but felt a love and kinship to each other. They were there for Liz and I through courtship, dating, and marriage. They saw only our love for each other and the compatibility of our lives together; there was never any doubt. I will always be grateful for that.

A few weeks ago, Liz and I watched the documentary on writer Joan Didion, “The Center Will Not Hold” by her nephew Griffin Dunne. When the film ended we sat in silence and wept. Dunne uses intimate archival footage, photographs and on-camera interviews to document the span of Joan Didion’s life. Having lost her husband and daughter within the span of two years, Joan knows grief; it gnaws at her bones.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.

-Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

After Liz called on September 5th, 2019, I could not finish my lunch. I sat in a Chevrolet Silverado staring at the lake, wondering at the breadth of Marylin’s spirit as it lifted skyward. The day was cloudy, the wind erratic and scattered. Summer was letting go.



Summer’s End, September 5th, 2019, iPhone Video, Rain Garden, Lake Como, St. Paul, Minnesota, video © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Rest In Peace, Marylin. I miss the way you smiled and called me your daughter-in-love. I miss the depth of our conversations around writing, haiku, and politics. I miss the way you held Liz and me in your heart in a bubble of love. I miss your love of theater, your writing and your contributions to redRavine. I miss your optimism and the way you gave back to your community and the world around you. I know you are with your father, maybe running by the Pacific Ocean with Queenie, wild and free. I am a better person for having known and loved you. We will meet again.

-written October 5th, 2019 between 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. CST. Everything is in Divine and perfect order right now.

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Poem For My Father (the way love bends), Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2015, © 2015 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I found out about my father’s death from reading an obit. He died on Halloween. I wrote three poems on a Royal typewriter. I had not seen him in years; he never responded to my letter. It is a lesson in letting go. It is a lesson in blood ties, and ties through love. It is a lesson in the nature of human grief, something we may feel for that which was never ours.


My Father As A Boy, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2015, © 2015 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on redRavine, Sunday, January 11, 2015

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Winter Solstice Fire (What I Bring Into The Light), Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2013, photo © 2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Winter Solstice
darkness reigns

light turns a corner




She placed last year’s Yule branches into the ring, shook drifts of snow off the woodpile. Four boots, two drums, two rattles. No wind drifted off the cattails, stiff in the frozen pond. She watched for fox; maybe he would approach the chicken carcass and fatty skin, leftovers from soup stock made earlier that morning. The neighbors’ windows glowed—holiday lights, TV screens, reading lamps. The air was an eerie blue, foggy and wet.

She wanted to let go of the death of her father. She wanted to let go of all the the things she would never be able to ask. She wanted to let go of thinking it was her. Others let go, too, circles upon circles. Drums, rattles, chants.

Morning now. Her hair smells of smoked birch and charred cedar. Her dreams were deep and dark. Her heart is lighter.

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Charred Dreams (What I Leave Behind), Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2013, photo © 2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




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Royal - 152/365

Royal – 152/365, Archive 365, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
February 2011, photos © 2011-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Midwestern writer
pretending to understand —
what love left behind.






-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, March 2nd, 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.


_________________________



About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

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

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By Susy Crandall




sometimes keeping going is the only thing to do.
just put one foot in front of the other
even when all you want to do is


STOP


and jet off, uncoiling this mortal coil, snapping the cord
that holds you here on this
terrestrial ball


sometimes I have felt myself leaving
when I look up
at the stars or sun and moon.
after all, I have been there before
looking out over the backside
of the moon at Orion.


it’s nice up there.


still something keeps telling me “No, not yet—
there is much left to do and have
and let go of,
so it will be awhile.


but when I learn to make each day
one long song of Praise,
when doing what I don’t like to do is
Sacred


even if it’s nothing but lying flat on my back
staring at that ceiling in that nursing home
making a complete Heaven of boredom
finding God in smaller
and smaller things


till this body becomes translucent with age
and evaporates into
living through my death and death
And deaths after death.


besides, the more of me that dies
the clearer my sight becomes
and beauties I never saw before I see now,
the soft-shelled turtle a foot wide
that lives in the ditch,
or the coyote crossing the road at dusk,
that sandy haired cousin
of Baryshnikov,
or the colors in the clouds.


when I could leave, I wasn’t grounded
but neither was I finished being made
and now I know I’ll never be finished


so, “No,” I say to myself
when I’m really down and out and
I want to leave.
“Not yet.”


let’s just see what’s left,
what’s left waiting to be born
out of this piece of death
this peace of death


till the last breath whispers “Now,”
and I am ready to go
birthed into death
and gone home to my love.





_______________________________________




About Susy:  Itchin’ to write, to scrape the painfully unexpressed off internal organs and lay it out in fresh air and sunshine to heal, where sharing fractionates pain. Scrubbing out the last of my angst cabinets to fill with love and light to live, a worker among workers, a friend among friends.



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, April 18th, 2011

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING, Does Poetry Matter?, and Tortoise Highway

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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.


_______________________


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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By Judith Ford


My grandmother, who was Dutch, did an incredible job of spring cleaning, every March, every year she was alive. No object and no surface was spared a scrubbing. Rugs were taken out and beaten within an inch of their threaded lives; walls were washed with a hard brown scrub brush. Curtains taken down and washed. Every closet emptied, every sheet and towel bleached and washed. Everything dried outdoors on a clothesline. In March, Wisconsin is still cold so things froze out there, pillowcases transformed into wrinkled boards. Socks turned into twisted sculptures. She washed every dish and pot and spoon. Then when it was all done and everything set back in its proper place, she’d cover the sofa and chairs and lampshades in the living room with plastic covers. She’d lay a plastic path from doorway to living room couch and into the dining room. When I was around 11, I asked her, finally, who she was keeping everything so clean for and when would she remove the ugly plastic. (I didn’t say the word, ugly, I’m sure). “The plastic keeps everything ready for company,” she replied. “But, “I protested, “Aren’t I company?” I had never once seen her living room without plastic. “You,” she explained, “are family. Not company.” She didn’t need to add that I, being a rather messy child, was one of the reasons she protected her furniture.


My mother didn’t do spring cleaning. She did like to open up all the windows on the first day the temperature rose over 50–to air everything out. I always loved that, coming home from school for lunch and finding the windows all wide open, the house looking like a toothless, eyeless caricature of itself, the air sweet and chilly. My mother hated being a housewife and did not cotton to cooking or cleaning. She did the minimums and stuck to the 50’s schedule that most of her friends observed: Monday clean and do laundry; Tuesday iron; Wednesday, volunteer work; Thursday, groceries; Friday, light cleaning (a lick and a promise, is what she called it); Saturday was the night my dad cooked burgers and Sundays we went to my grandparent’s house for dinner. My mother did what she felt she must but mostly without joy and often with many sighs. She did seem to enjoy ironing (which I so don’t get) and would sing while she ironed, in a voice like Ella Fitzgerald. Singing over the ironing and walking in the mountains – those are the times I remember my mother at her happiest. Not cleaning. Never spring cleaning.


Well, it’s sort of spring now and I am sort of spring cleaning. I’ve been putting hours in every week to clean my attic. It has to be done. We’re selling the house and moving to the country.

I’ve lived in this house for 28 years, married husband #2 after living alone here with my daughter for 5 years, moved that husband and his daughter in, had another baby, raised these kids until each one grew their feathers and flew off. Also raised a cockatiel, a parrot, four dogs and numerous gerbils and hamsters in this house. Can you imagine the debris? My attic had become a combination museum, closet (huge closet), and file cabinet. Treasures and cast-offs that have trickled down to me from three generations and two family lines. The leftover objects include outgrown clothes, games, books, and life directions. My very first poem, written at age 10. A couple of Jessie’s baby teeth, nestled inside the newborn bracelet she wore in the nursery: “Baby girl, Marks-Szedziewski, 2-19-78.” An envelope containing a curling wisp of very blond baby hair, Nic’s first haircut, 1988, a battered and faded pink pair of tiny toe shoes (mine, from 1955, I think; although they might be my aunt Jeanne’s). A hair curling iron (great-grandmother Nettie’s, late 1800’s). Aunt Jeanne’s bracelets from the 30’s. So glad I didn’t throw those away. Hundreds of notes from Jessie and from Nic: I Love You, Mommy. Mommy don’t tell anyone but I love you best. Thank you for being my mommy, You are the best Mommy, Next time you go on a trip, take me too. Mommy, I hate camp. Come and get me out of here, please!please!please! Nic’s version of Jingle Bells, written at age 4 with a few backwards letters, words scrawled across the page, Jingle Bells Jingle Bells Jingle all the way, Oh What Fun on Al’s True Ride, On the One on Holken Slay. Jessie’s school trophies, soccer and swimming, her camp and sports t-shirts, Nic’s academic medals for top scores in the state on the ACT and SAT at age 9 and 10, his IQ testing done at Northwestern U when he was 5.

The way I wept when the tester called me and told me the test results.

I wish I had known more back then how to feed his ravenous brain, his wonderful mind. So much I wish I could do over for him.


I will be 63 in a month. The past is truly the past. There are no do-overs and no time left for holding on. Time, instead, for letting go. For boxing up, and throwing away, for going to UPS to send Jessie her soccer and swim team t-shirts, to send Nic his Pokemon card collection. Handing the keepsakes over to my grown-up kids, handing over to them the job of remembering.

In the process of this sorting and cleaning, I’ve had to remind myself again and again to let go not only of the objects but the feelings. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve longed to have my children back in my arms, on my lap, longed for one more night of reading in bed with Jessie at age 7, one more night of long conversation at bedtime with Nic when he was 10. One more chance to see each of them for one hour during each year of their growing-up – one more chance to drink in the sight of them, their wispy hair, freckled faces, braces and missing teeth, to listen to their piping little voices more intently, memorize each one of them even more completely.

I had expected that cleaning out all this old stuff would help me clear the decks for this next chapter of my life, and yes, I guess that’s happening. I had anticipated reminiscing. I hadn’t anticipated the wave upon wave of memories to be so visceral, so wrenching, so expanding and swooping and full of love. I am not only clearing the decks; I am also rejuvenating both myself and the attic. Am going through some kind of death and resurrection here. Turning myself inside out and right side out again. Right side out and I must admit, a little trembly.

Spring cleaning is a piece of cake compared to this.




About Judith: Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with the piece 25 Reasons I Write. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include lang•widge, Mystery E.R., I Write Because, and PRACTICE – Door – 20min. Spring Cleaning is based on a 15 minute Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — SPRING CLEANING.

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IMG01418-20110112-2157Things That Changed Other Things

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Confidential (Open), Things That Changed Other Things, The Sketchbook Project, Musk Ox Moon, pages from the Moleskines of Liz Schultz & QuoinMonkey for The Sketchbook Project, January 2011, photos © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, Prang Metallic Markers, Uni-ball Signo 207 Rollergels, Letter Stamps, Ink, Caran D’Ache NeoColor II Swiss Made wax crayons, Black & Silver Sharpies, digital photo, gesso, sticker, water, Moleskine.


Liz and I signed up for The Art House Co-Op Sketchbook Project months ago. This week we are working furiously to put the finishing touches on our Moleskines. We’ll postmark the journals by January 15th and they will be on their way to a permanent collection at the Brooklyn Art Library. But that will be after touring the U.S. with all of the other 28,835 artists from 94 countries around the world who submitted their journal art. The tour starts March 2011.

I snapped a few in-process BlackBerry shots but they don’t do justice to the vibrant colors or feel of the original pages. Tomorrow night I’ll get out the Canon and document every page, because the journals won’t be returned. It’s a lesson in letting go. One recent addition to our art materials (thanks to ybonesy’s detailed post on journals) are the Caran D’Ache NeoColor II Swiss Made crayons. I like mixing them with oil pastels. They work well with a brush and water.

Liz and I chose different themes for our Moleskines. I am working with Lights In the Distance; she chose Things That Changed Other Things. Photography lends itself to light, so I included original light-related photos and a series of Moon sketches. Liz worked with original photographs, poetry, and collage. She helps motivate me to experiment with new materials. It’s been a long time since I kept a sketchbook, so it’s been fun to work on this project together. Though I wish I had not waited quite as long to finish up the details. Deadlines motivate!

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Rabbit Ears, Dragon Moon, Life Is Short, Art Long, pages from the Moleskines of Liz Schultz & QuoinMonkey for The Sketchbook Project, January 2011, photos © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, Prang Metallic Markers, Uni-ball Signo 207 Rollergels, Letter Stamps, Ink, Caran D’Ache NeoColor II Swiss Made wax crayons, Black & Silver Sharpies, digital photo, magazine pages, discarded faxes, gesso, sticker, water, Moleskine.


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, January 13th, 2011

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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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letting go
Letting Go, one of the themes at the Natalie Goldberg silent retreat in Taos, December 2010,  collage made of magazine paper, wax crayons, and pen and ink in Moleskine journal, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 

It was strange to find myself sitting in the zendo at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, our teacher Natalie Goldberg urging us to Let Go. I had just a few weeks before made the decision to leave red Ravine, although QuoinMonkey and I had agreed to wait until the end of the year to make the announcement. Though not intended as such, the week in Taos could be a test of how ready I was to let go of this special virtual space that had inspired and sustained me for so long.
 
mabel's houseIt was in Taos, after all, that red Ravine was born. The year—2006. QM and I, having already written together for some time, are both participating in a four-season Intensive with Natalie Goldberg. This Intensive is part of a bigger plan I have for myself, a wannabe writer-and-artist withering away inside the body of a corporate manager and breadwinner for my family of four. I am bored and unhappy. I want to write and do art, but I can’t seem to motivate myself to do much with either except to dream about it. QM and I and a couple of others hatch red Ravine over intense working sessions in Taos and through the phone lines while back at our respective homes. Setting up a blog is hard work, but it is also real. For the first time, I am motivated to do more than fantasize about writing and making art. red Ravine promises to be the impetus to actually producing. 
 
Those first two years of creating red Ravine, QM and I worked our butts off and had a blast doing it. The blog was a perfect outlet for the deep, low creative growl that the Intensive seemed to unleash within us. Some days we posted more than once, and often we had to make sure that we weren’t publishing over one another. For my part, I was making art like crazy. After years of being fearful of the lack of control inherent in a brush (as compared to a pencil), I took a workshop at Ghost Ranch and learned to paint. My corporate job changed around the same time, too. I landed an assignment that took me back and forth to Vietnam. I bought myself a slew of different colored inking pens and began using the long trips back and forth as opportunity to take on a doodling practice.

QuoinMonkey and I worked surprisingly well together. We were both committed to the idea of a creating a space where we would each be inspired and where we might inspire others. She brought to red Ravine and to me her strong values around Community and Giving Back. Her thoughtful and thorough turtle complemented my quick and often irreverent spirit. (What animal am I anyway? The brown bird, I guess.) We found ourselves in synch whenever we wanted to try something new or make a change. We pushed each other to do our best.
 
 
what I learned

 
mabel's house 2 for red ravineOne of the things I love about Taos and Mabel’s place is how they never seem to change. Here I am, early December 2010, and I’m crossing the same flagstone patio that I walked those years ago back when red Ravine was still an infant. Over the past several years, I’ve brought my daughters here, and my husband. I bring my father back each year after we clean his parents’ graves in Costilla, 42 miles north. One summer he laid some of these very flagstones,when he was about 16 and living on Morada Lane in a house with a storefront.

It doesn’t matter what I have accomplished, what roles I have taken on in the years since I’ve been back. Inside the zendo, Natalie reminds us to Let Go. For me this means letting go of my responsibilities, my ego, any self-assigned self-importance. Here, in Taos, I am zero. In my raw, stripped-down state I feel my sadness. It is deep inside me, under everything else I carry. 

My heart breaks open.
 
Letting Go in Taos means being able to clearly see that red Ravine was, in fact, the catalyst for change in my life. It means being grateful for everything I’ve learned as a result of opening up to others. Because of red Ravine, I’ve had a place to publish my writing, to experiment with and share my art, to meet other writers and artists. red Ravine has been Muse, sounding board, supportive audience, friend, family, mentor.

I started a fledging business because of the creativity that flowed out, thanks to red Ravine. Because of this blog I’ve learned to commit to and follow through with my practices; to make jewelery; to turn unpolished writing into finished pieces; to put my creative self out into the world. I used to think I couldn’t finish anything; it took having this blog to realize that I’m an actualizer at heart. 

Of course, there are downsides to setting and realizing intentions. Jim long ago gave up complaining when I’d spend hours socked away in my writing room. But I don’t take for granted any more, not since April of this year when he collapsed on the bed clutching his heart, that he will always be there waiting when I need to take a break. And my daughters—full-fledged teenagers! Just today I accompanied my oldest for nearly an hour while she drove us all around town, adding experience under her belt in preparation for graduating from learners permit to drivers license. I don’t have much time left to influence their lives.

 
 
letting go

 

la morada (taos)At the December retreat, we walk the dirt trail out at the morada, just down the way from Mabel’s place. Natalie often takes her students there. The day we go, boys and men from Taos Pueblo run past us in the cold air. I feel alone and sheltered in my layers of warmth, and for a moment I am homesick for family and our traditions

My parents are old now. They’ve passed from the stage of old-yet-mostly-healthy to being old-and-frighteningly-frail. I visit them every Sunday. All year long I struggle to keep up with everything I have on my plate. Some weeks it feels impossible to eke out even the simplest of posts.

QM is a rock. Her posts are—like her—consistently high-quality, thorough, and deep. I am honored to have worked with her for this long.

A good friend of mine who a few years back started up his own blog had this to say when I told him I was thinking of leaving red Ravine: “Blogging has no exit strategy.” Which is another way of saying that unless you’re getting paid to do it, blogging is a labor of love. This particular labor has born much fruit. 

It has so much more potential, so much yet to become. I’m going to be here, on the other side of the screen, cheering on QM to keep moving it forward. I know I’ll always be proud to say I was a part of creating it.

Thank you for everything you’ve done, QM. Thank you to the friends I’ve met here. So long for now. See you in Comments. 8)
 
 

 

self portrait
Self Portrait, December 2010, collage made of magazine paper, wax crayons, and pen and ink in Moleskine journal, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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What's Under My Fridge - 297/365

What’s Under My Fridge – 297/365, BlackBerry 365, Golden Valley, Minnesota, October 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


On October 17th my brother had his third liver transplant. By all accounts, it is a miracle. And something that’s hard to wrap your mind around. It all began with a text: 10/17/2010 @ 9:48am — they called me with a liver. going to Philly now. Will let you know if they will be doing the operation. I’ve been trying to write a piece about it ever since. Eleven nights have passed; the day to day ekes away energy and time.

If you put all the days together, well, that’s a lifetime.

We think we can prepare for what lies ahead, try hard to be in control. Sift, collect, let go, wait. Sift, collect, let go. Wait. Yeah, we spend a lot of time waiting. The best laid plans fall hard. Somewhere between collect and let go, there are surprises. Laundry spins, rattling the floor, defying gravity. Water and fire boil, cooking spaghetti for dinner, but only as fast as the barometric pressure will allow. No amount of wishing can make the dust bunnies go away.

You would think that would be disappointing. You would be wrong. Vacuum under the desk, behind the piano bench, above the paper towel holder. Slide the giant green bottle brush under the fridge again and again and again. Thick rolls of cotton batting dust slide easily over freshly mopped floors. But what are those brilliant points of light, gleaming stars through the Pigpen fog?

Exactly 26 Mr. Stripeypants balls. Silver, gold, and the primaries, blue, red, green and yellow, lost to the swipe of the mighty Pants paw. He loves the small ones with the soft sparkling spikes. He would keep me playing fetch for hours every morning if I didn’t grab the purple lunch pail and fly out the door, late for work. Liz has a big heart for the animals. She carefully peeled and plucked the dust off of every tendril, washed each felt ball with warm water, and sat the bunch on the counter to dry.

Life can change in an instant. You can’t come back the way you came. It’s the simple things that make the day. They are as big as the miracles that make me a believer. In something bigger and better on the other side. Are there dust bunnies in heaven? I like to think they hop to a different beat.

My brother came home from the hospital on Tuesday, Frankenbelly 3 in tow. His 4:25 text said: on the turnpike – ETA 6:45 to 7:00 PM. I’ll eventually write the piece about his transplant. Tonight culminates in the midnight ramblings of a harried woman….and a plane ticket to Pennsylvania. ETA November 9th, 11:28am.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, October 29th, 2010 – 1:45am

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — MY REFRIGERATOR, yellow sock haiku

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Rosedrops In The Rain – 156/365, BlackBerry 365 Project, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.









roseheart pouring out
left me warm and dripping wet
standing in the rain










-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, June 6th, 2010

-related to post: haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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It’s hard not to make assumptions. I make general assumptions about the way I think people should live every day. I expect honesty, forthrightness, that people are generally good. I expect people to honor their word, and want to believe they are telling the truth. These are all assumptions. Then I start thinking about values, how assumptions are made according to the values we hold. People assume that everyone is straight. At least 10% of the population is not, probably much more. When I think about it, I can’t really afford to make assumptions — if I don’t want people to make assumptions about me.

Finding the courage to communicate clearly — that takes some doing. It’s easy to chatter through the day, talk, talk, talk. People love to talk. But what about when it really comes down to it. To life and death situations, to a need to get one’s affairs in order, to ask for help, to talk about what’s hard, to deal with the things we don’t really want to face. I might dash off into my head, get brooding or quiet. That’s the way I process. Tapping away at words. Words are meaningless without the ability to communicate clearly. I am lost on this Topic.

Maybe Don’t Make Assumptions is connected to Be Impeccable With Your Word. On the assumption end, you are focusing on the other person, on believing that their world doesn’t revolve around you. Let that go. On the impeccable end, you are trying to make sure you can live up to your word, to the agreements you make with other people. Sometimes they are small, like following through on emptying the trash or changing the cat litter, washing the dishes. Sometimes they are big, like legal contracts, paying the mortgage or your rent, or showing up to work on time. What does it take to be there for your family, your friends?

I have not been focused this week. My thoughts scatter when I try to make sense of life events that just don’t make any sense. Who was it that said things would make sense? They don’t. Sometimes I wonder if the things I fear the most have to do with death, abandonment, being left behind. I don’t feel like I have my own affairs in order. Not yet. And there is still so much I want to do. But I don’t have control over how long I will live. Or how long those close to me will survive.

I can’t assume I will live a long life. And neither can you. That leaves this moment. And whatever’s happened in the past. To come to terms with the past, I study history. At the global, local, and family level. To make sense of the present, I write. I take photos. I mull things over. I try to be true to my word. I am not always successful. The agreements, for me, are more what I learned in Writing Practice. To make positive effort for the good. To continue under all circumstances. To not be tossed away. These are spiritual agreements, like the Four Agreements, like the Golden Rule. They are words to live by, impossible to follow, necessary for survival, tools that make relationships sing.

The people I respect the most stick their necks out for others, take risks, show gratitude, learn to live with the criticism of imperfection. Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King, Sitting Bull. This practice is all in the abstract. I cannot name names or even explain what I really mean. My eyelids are heavy. I said I would post this Writing Practice. I am sticking to my word. Perhaps my heart really isn’t into the writing. The rain washed away my sadness. But not my worry.  I dreamed of a freshwater lake the size of the Moon, concentric rings forming a circle that wraps around. Unbroken.


-Related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC — THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

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Blue Moon Over Ice Skating Rink – 0/365, BlackBerry Shots, Full Blue Moon on New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 2009, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2009-20010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.





Through The Looking Glass


season to season
hindsight is 20/20
reflecting the past;
future remains uncertain,
jumps hoops through the looking glass


–tanka from hindsight haiku — pink cadillac (on the road), October 25, 2009





Writing Practice — Looking Back – 15min


Looking back I see hot hazy days when I didn’t have a job. What seems like the best opportunity to work on writing, art, photography, becomes consumed with worry. Looking back I see that Chaco died. He didn’t just die. We made the hard decision to put him to sleep. An odd turn of phrase, put him to sleep. It’s the second cat where I’ve had to make that hard decision. The first was my cat Sasha; it was years ago. Looking back I feel gratitude. For Liz, Kiev, Mr. Stripeypants. For my writing group, for Roma and her partnership with me on red Ravine. I feel grateful I have my health. Age, I’m aging. But overall, I have survived another year. The gray hair is multiplying.

Looking back, there were visits with Amelia, visits with Marylin. Mothers are important to me. Time with mothers. Time with my mother. How much time do we have? One never knows if they will live into old age. I like the yearly trips I take to the South and this one was no exception. There wasn’t enough time but the time we were in Georgia and South Carolina was relaxed. The reconnections I have made there the last three years are invaluable. Links to what was, links to what might be.

Looking back, I feel like I don’t do enough, don’t accomplish enough of my yearly goals. I hate setting them anymore, but I must. I feel like I get so little done. Recently a friend called and mused that we might feel an urgency to get more done because of our age. We are not spring chickens, not in our twenties, not even in our thirties, and here we are trying to make some kind of alternative life work out. Looking back, my car Greta made it through the recession with only the need for a radiator and some new wiper blades. Sylvia the Saturn made it, too. No new car payments — yet.

Looking back, I am happy where I live. Indria is humble, tiny, small. But every day I wake up and look out over the oaks, ash, and cedar. I feel happy to come home and watch the moon rise behind the cottage. I wish it was larger, that we had two more bedrooms, one to write, one for art. Hers and hers. Should we build on? Or buy a new house? Is it ever in the cards to have enough room? Small is good, too. I’m used to small, crowded houses. That’s the way I grew up with 5 younger siblings. There is something comforting about small.

Looking back, I don’t want to trade my life for anyone else’s. My mistakes are my mistakes. I can live with them. I have to. I don’t often remember the bad that happens in a year, mostly the good. And the gratitude I feel for the richness in my life, no matter how much I might be lacking. Is that keeping me from going forward? Have I gotten lazy. Or am I simply tired. Looking back, I’m happy to have a job, though it takes a toll on me. If you had asked me even a year ago, I would have said, “No, I’m never going to be driving truck.” But here I am. Never say never.

There is an opening in there somewhere. Gratitude for the abundance of having a job. Money coming in. So many are without work. Yet my work is my art, my writing, my photography. It will be the dilemma of every artist — how to make a living while being a creative soul. Our world does not support it. We have to. We create our own worlds, surround ourselves with people who help hold the dream. People matter. But it is each of us who has to do the work. Am I doing the work?



_____________________________________________


Post Script: I wanted to combine several of my yearly practices in this post on looking back. Above is a tanka I wrote on the trip to Georgia this year, the Reflection part of my Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — REFLECTION & INTENTION, and a photograph of the Blue Moon from my photo practice. Below is my yearly Gratitude list. I do one at the end of every year, a result of peering through the looking glass, looking back on the good things in life.


_____________________________________________



A – Accept loss forever. Learned this from Kerouac, then from Natalie Goldberg.  Easy to say, hard to do. Makes the world a much better place to live.


B – Breaking free. From the ties that bind. I am the one who keeps me back. It was a constant battle over the year to let myself be. To do nothing when I needed it. To sit and stare into space. To break free from old worn out habits that are keeping me back.


C – Cats. These 3 bundles of joy brought much happiness to my life in 2009. Chaco has moved on but we don’t forget. We scattered his ashes this year around the fire at Winter Solstice. Sometimes I still hear him pattering through the house, keeping night watch on the back of the couch. Chaco was a Nightowl.


D – Dead of Winter. I love Winter. It makes me feel alive. January to January, the Midwest Winter is nothing to sneeze at. It was -21 this morning. It’s warmed up to -8. Sometimes the Dead of Winter is when I have the most ripeness going on inside.


E – The letter “E”. I’m thankful for the vowels. They hold up a lot of words. Like Elizabeth. I thank my lucky stars every day that she’s my partner, that she’s in my life.


F – Fathers. I have a new respect for the role that fathers play with their children. Young children. Adult children. I have learned from reconnecting with my step-father in the South that it is never too late to heal. Never too late to realize the love. I have learned from my brothers who are good fathers how important it is to be there for your kids. I have learned from ybonesy and Jim how good fathers make a difference.


G – Gratitude – humble gratitude for others, those who came before us, those who run parallel, the children of the future, all teach me perspective. Sometimes I feel great loss. I try hard to get back to Gratitude for what remains.


H – Humble Pie. I’ve eaten a lot of it. Humility helps me remember — Do not waste this precious life. Humility always takes me back to center — Home. (Oh, and wasn’t Humble Pie a band from the 1970’s?)


I – Itches, those nagging, pesky things that make you want to jump out of your skin. You can’t scratch every itch. But don’t the itches raise the most important questions?


J – January. Some years I’m glad to be starting over, to walk into the clean slate of a New Year. This is one of them. Time may be boundless but the calendar offers a structure. Something that helps keep me on track.


K – Kindred Spirits. Make the list again this year. Not just community or people who are alive. But those who travel with us across the Ethers. And animals, like our cat Kiev. She’s solid as a rock. There are so many life forms that walk the Earth with us. The veil is thin.


L – Love. Love is underappreciated. The word is thrown around loosely. There are so many kinds of love, I have lost count. But the feeling of giving or receiving love — I would not trade it for money, fame, or fortune.


M – Mothers. Most of the nurturing of the world falls to women. This was true when I was born, it may still be true at the end of my life. I wish I could say it’s different, that all nurture the world. But it doesn’t seem to be women that take us into war. Or perpetrate most of the violence in the world. If I was wrong, I’d happily admit it. If I’m right, I pray for more balance. That’s too heavy a weight to carry.


N – North Carolina. I know it seems odd. But driving through North Carolina, it seems like one of the most beautiful places. I’ve also discovered that many of my relatives come from North Carolina, something I didn’t expect. This is true on the paternal and maternal side. I am rooted in the South.


O – Overdrive. Wait, I guess this is something that should go on my future Intentions list. But it popped into my head. People who run on Overdrive teach me about reaching goals. I don’t want to be a Type A personality–I only want a pinch of their drive.


P – Pants. Mr. Stripeypants is over a decade old; he acts like a kitten. I can’t explain the joy this cat brings into my life. He plays fetch with me in the morning, drapes over my arm when I write, greets us at the door after a hard day at work, follows us around the house in a constant state of curious abandon. I learn a lot from Mr. Pants.


Q – Quest. I’m always questing. Like a Knight but not in shining armor. I’d be one of those Dark Knights. After all, you need them, too. The ones that sit at the Round Table contemplating, one foot underground, one foot in the sky. They are all searching for the Grail. I think curiosity is an asset. I just wish it would quit jumping around. Hopscotch, 1-2-1-2-1-2-1, back again. Once in a while I wish throwing the rock was enough, just to see where it lands.


R – red Ravine. It makes the list again. Every year there is something different. It’s a practice in the collaborative spirit. Sometimes it’s the thing that keeps me going when things get hard. Where will it lead? Right here, right now. I’m grateful for every single person who has ever visited red Ravine.


S – Snow. It’s practical and romantic. A water reserve for dry summers, a heart bouncer for Winter rides on the horse-drawn sleigh. We got a boatload in December. It snowed like a banshee over the Christmas weekend. I used to ski but these days I’m happy to get out and walk in the snow. I don’t mind shoveling. But I have to admit, this year I thought about buying a snow blower.


T – Tracks. Animal cairns. We follow tracks in the snow in our front yard. Raven, crow, moles and voles. Rabbits, squirrels, raccoon. Tracking takes patience and an eye for detail. I’m not that good at identifying which tracks go to what animal. But I love to guess. Then check my tracking book for the right answer.


U – Understanding. It’s the brother of forgiveness. I had to live a while before I understood what it meant to forgive. Not everyone can be understood. But it helps to try. I understand that not everyone is perfect or impeccable. I forgive myself for not being those things either.


V – Veracity. An unwillingness to tell lies. A propensity for the truth.  They even made a movie about it — The Invention of Lying. Is telling the truth always the best route? What truth? Whose truth? I like looking at the Underbelly — the unwillingness to tell lies seems more realistic.


W – Woodpeckers. We had two sightings of the Pileated Woodpecker on our property this year. What a joy it is to see them. They’ve got to be the closest thing to seeing a prehistoric Ivory-Billed. The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is a lot like the Loch Ness monster — now you see it, now you don’t.


X – X-Ray Vision. The absence of it. I’m thinking if I had X-Ray vision, I could see into the future. But I wouldn’t want to know. I’d rather take my chances. And make small decisions along the way.


Y – ybonesy makes the list again. She’s made leaps and bounds with her art this year. That inspires me, fires me up for my own creative endeavors. She’s a woman who seems to be able to do it all. I admire that. And feel so much gratitude that she’s collaborating with me on red Ravine.


Z – ZigZags. Like lightning. I’m grateful for zigzags because they are the way I live my life. Cancer the Crab rarely takes the straight line anywhere. Back and forth, testing the waters. She does finally land. Solid. For a day or two. Then off again on her quest. You can’t have a zig without a zag.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 2nd, 2009

-related posts and to read more about the practice of Gratitude: Feelin’ Down For The Holidays? Make A Gratitude List, The ABC’s Of A Prosperous 2008 – Gratitude, I Am Grateful For The Alphabet ;-), Runes, Oracles, & Alphabets

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By Teri Blair


St. Paul's Icelandic Lutheran Church, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved

St. Paul’s Icelandic Lutheran Church, Minneota, Minnesota, where the services for Minnesota writer Bill Holm were held, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.




Early on a Sunday morning in March, I drove three hours to attend the funeral of writer Bill Holm. Since that day, I’ve wanted to write about it. But I keep getting stuck. I pace. I try again. The paper is crumpled and thrown in the trash.

What’s wrong? I’m trying to make my writing as grand as Bill was, or as eloquent as I think he deserves. When I stop writing and try to do the dishes instead, I consider what Natalie Goldberg would tell me to do. She’d say, Just tell the story. The story is enough.




height="225"

The First Settlement, sign outside the St. Paul’s
Icelandic Lutheran Church, March 2009, photo
© 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





Bill was born on a Minnesota prairie farm, educated at the local public school, and grew to be six-and-a-half feet tall. He had a huge shock of red hair that turned white with age, ruddy cheeks, and a beautiful, booming voice. He left Minnesota after college to live around the world, but by the time he was 40 he had returned to his hometown, to his roots. He taught English and poetry for 27 years at Southwest State, and proceeded to publish 16 books. He bought a house in Iceland, and split his time between Minneota, Minnesota and a cottage near the Arctic Circle. He was bold and certain and convicted. He was funny and irreverent and warm.

I heard Bill speak a year before he died. He was reading from The Window of Brimnes at the Minneapolis Public Library. He was three weeks shy of retirement, and could barely contain his excitement for the next phase of life. No one in the audience could have guessed his new life would only last a year. When Minnesota Public Radio announced he had died after collapsing at the airport, I was crushed. Bill couldn’t be dead. I had just seen him. And he was just starting his new life, remember?

I knew I would go to his funeral. It was obvious. I now consider that I may have ignored that quiet voice telling me to go. I’ve done that before, argued myself out of following my instincts. But this time I didn’t.


Minnesota River, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reservedI packed a lunch the night before, and got on the road the next morning before daylight. The funeral was at St. Paul’s Icelandic Lutheran Church, built in 1895 by immigrants. Because I knew there wouldn’t be much room in the small church, I got there two hours early. After securing a space in the back pew with my coat and bag, I went to the front to look at the floral arrangements. The flowers had come from around the globe, from everyone. An open copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was in the bouquet from his wife. When I returned to my seat, another early-arriver walked in. Poet Laureate & Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser. When I saw him, I knew what the day was going to be like.

One by one they began to arrive, the gray-haired authors. Many of them I knew, and some I only recognized from book jackets but couldn’t place their names. Ten of them were pallbearers. I was awed. Humbled. I’d watch them approach each other, hug, and weep together over losing their friend. Not competitive. Tender. Attached to each other. I was in the company of greatness, and I knew it. They were steady. Present. The media wasn’t allowed into the church, and there was a hush of holiness. We gathered, and honored, and were still.

The funeral service was a full two hours long. In addition to writing, Bill was an accomplished pianist. There were Bach piano solos and Joplin’s ragtime. An octet from the college sang Precious Lord Take My Hand. Bill’s poetry and essays were read. The preacher made us all laugh when he told how Bill sat in the choir loft during sermons and read the newspaper. Though he didn’t agree with all the theology of Lutherans, he valued his roots in that little church.

When the service was over, Bill’s wife was led out first. A tall woman who looked sad and grounded and strong and peaceful. The author-pallbearers followed her out. Some of them held hands, and they stood very close to each other. I wanted time to move slower, to be with them longer in that small place.




Minneota's library, the librarians would call Bill Holm, and he'd walk there to sign books for the tourists, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved

Minneota’s Library, the librarians would call Bill Holm,
and he’d walk there to sign books for the tourists, March
2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.

 

 

After ham sandwiches at the American Legion, I found the farm where Bill had been raised. On a deeply secluded road, the old farmstead sat on top of a hill. I got out of my car and looked at the beautiful rolling hills that Bill grew up on. I imagined the hundreds of times he walked down the same long driveway where I stood to wait for the school bus. I drove to the Icelandic cemetery and looked at the graves of his parents, imagining some of his ashes would soon be inurned there, too. I drove home slowly, filled with all I had seen.

Bill would appreciate me going to his funeral, but he wouldn’t want me to stay sentimental too long. He’d expect me to get on with it. Get on with it, now, he’d say. Be alive.




Westerheim Icelandic Cemetery, March 2009, photo © 2009 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved

Westerheim Icelandic Cemetery, March 2009,
photo © 2009 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





 
___________________________________________

 

Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back

by Bill Holm


Let go of the dead now.
The rope in the water,
The cleat on the cliff,
Do them no good anymore.
Let them fall, sink, go away,
Become invisible as they tried
So hard to do in their own dying.
We needed to bother them
With what we called help.
We were the needy ones.
The dying do their own work with
Tidiness, just the right speed,
Sometimes even a little
Satisfaction. So quiet down.
Let them go. Practice
Your own song. Now.

 

___________________________________________

Poem copyright (c)2004 by Bill Holm, from his most recent book of poems “Playing the Black Piano,” Milkweed Editions, 2004.




 

Poet Bill Holm, 1943-2009, from the program for his Memorial Service in Minneota, Minnesota, original photograph by Brian Peterson, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Poet Bill Holm, 1943-2009, Memorial program photograph by QuoinMonkey, original photograph of Bill Holm © 2009 by Brian Peterson.

About Teri Blair:  Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey fondly and frequently writes. (See Postcard From Billy Collins — Kicking Off National Poetry Month for the latest post on that group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri is an active and valued member of the red Ravine community. Her other posts include A 40-Year Love Affair, about Bill Irvine’s passion for the Parkway, a landmark theater in Minneapolis that closed in 2008; and 40 Days, 8 Flags, And 1 Mennonite Choir and Thornton Wilder & Bridges, both prompted by the August 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. Teri was also one of our first guest writers, with the piece Continue Under All Circumstances.

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On Thursday, September 6, the City of Santa Fe, NM, hosted the annual “Burning of Zozobra.” Zozobra is a fifty-foot-tall bogeyman, Old Man Gloom in effigy. Each year he is set before an audience of thousands and burned. (Burn, baby, burn!) Most onlookers are ecstatic to see him go; others feel sorry for him in the end.

The ritual was started by artist William (Will) Howard Shuster, Jr. in 1924 and incorporated into the almost 300-year-old Fiestas de Santa Fe. According to the “Will Shuster’s Zozobra” website, Shuster’s “inspiration for Zozobra came from the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico; an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, was led around the village on a donkey and later burned. Shuster and E. Dana Johnson, a newspaper editor and friend of Shuster’s came up with the name Zozobra, which was defined as ‘anguish, anxiety, gloom’ or in Spanish for ‘the gloomy one’.”

 

Watch the two-part documentary of the 2005 burning made by producer, director, and writer DL Fitch. You can decide for yourself what you think about the ritual. No matter how you feel, you’ll probably agree that the notion of releasing gloom — letting go of heartache and jealousy, giving up anger — is a powerful intention.

 

Again from the website, there is this quote from A.W. Denninger:

Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year.

 
For this writing topic, watch the videos. Then do a 15-minute writing practice starting with the words, “I want to let go of… .”

 
Now Go!

 

 

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