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Posts Tagged ‘letting go’

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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By Bob Chrisman


My mother met me in the lobby of the nursing home quite accidentally. She had taken her afternoon stroll pushing her walker up one hall and down another, visiting other residents she knew from the dining room. She arrived at the front desk as I walked in the front door.

She looked up and smiled. “Never thought I would see you again. It’s been awhile.”

“Mom, I was here last week. Remember? I took you to out to have that roast beef sandwich you wanted.” I waited for her to acknowledge that she had forgotten.

She ignored the question, instead she looked away and down at her walker. “Well, it’s good to see you anyway. Has a week passed already?” She started down the hall in the direction of her room. I knew I was to follow.

I asked, “How are things going here? Did you go to church services this morning?”

“No, the minister is nice enough, but he’s a little too serious for my taste. Too much death and sin to interest me at my age.” She nodded to the women who sat in wheelchairs in the wide hall. Some stared into space unaware of the greeting. Other responded with a soft “Hello.”

“A new woman moved in just two doors down. She’s married to Herbie. You remember Mildred’s husband? You always liked Mimi. Well, the poor thing is two doors down from me. Herbie came to visit a few days ago and stopped by to see me. Shame about his second wife and her poor health. I think she’s mental because all she does is beg people to find her some underwear.”

We passed by a room and she jerked her head toward the open door. “That’s where she stays.”

As we walked into her room I noticed her telephone is on the floor at the foot of her bed. “Mom, what happened to the phone? Is it broken?”

“You might as well get rid of that darn thing. No one calls, except people who want to sell me something. It rings at all times of the day and night and I’m afraid it will disturb my roommate.”

“I thought you wanted a phone. Don’t you call people from church?”

“No, take it out. Might as well not waste your money to pay the bill when I don’t use it. Besides, no one is ever home when I call.”

She sat in her chair. I took my place on the bed.



She had told me not to put a phone in her room at the nursing home. She hadn’t wanted to learn a new number. I insisted that she keep it. I even worked with the phone company to transfer her old number to the new phone. I held onto the idea that she wouldn’t die if she kept in contact with her friends.

She had kept the same phone number for fifty years. When she left her house for the senior citizens center, she left behind the heavy black phone with the battered receiver from countless drops on the floor, and the tattered cloth cable that connected it to the outlet. She kept the old phone number.

I bought her a new phone. She hated it. She wanted her old phone, her old house, her old life but she couldn’t have them anymore.



She shook her head. “I’ve tried calling Vera and Anna Lee for the last few days and no one answers their phones. What could my sisters be doing at all hours of the day and night? It’s beyond me. They even turned off those dang machines that take messages. I hate those things, but I would leave a message if I could. I wonder what they’ve been up to.”

I didn’t know what to say so I opted for the truth. “Mom, it’s a good thing your sisters didn’t answer the phone because they’ve been dead for years. I would be very concerned if you talked to them.” I watched her face to see what effect my words had on her.

She looked at the backs of her hands, covered with age spots and bruises, as though too preoccupied to reply right away. “Guess it is a good thing they didn’t answer. I thought they had died, but I wasn’t sure. Sometimes things aren’t so clear in my head anymore. Funny, how I can remember their phone numbers, but forget that they died.” She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. “Just take the phone out of my room. I don’t have anyone to talk to anymore.”


When I left that day, I took the phone and made a mental note to terminate her service. The phone number I had learned as a preschooler some fifty years ago would cease to belong to the Chrisman family, yet another sign that my mother was dying.




About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his family. For Memorial Day 2010, we published Desecration Day, Bob’s humorous yet moving piece about a grave decoration day that got a bit out of hand, followed in June by Uncle Howard At The Cemetery.

You can see these other pieces of Bob’s in which he writes with humor and compassion about his family members: Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters and The Law Of Threes. He also published these pieces about the life and death of his mother: Hands and In Memoriam. And he produced a trilogy about his father: My Father’s Witness, Bearing Witness, and My Life With Dad.

Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, and PRACTICE — TREES  — 15min, a Writing Practice on the Topic of Trees.

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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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I’m sitting on the patio, the last of the cool morning air hanging on here with me. I listen to the energetic gurgle of two waterfalls in the pond. Notice that I don’t make assumptions about nature. I don’t assume anything about the water in the pond, well, except that it’s not potable. The mosquito fish must be getting big by now. I hope they’re eating all the mosquito larvae that float on the water’s surface.

I don’t make assumptions about the heat, don’t assign malintent to the place on the thermometer where the mercury hovers. It’s going to be a scorcher, an early June heat stroke in the Southwest. I assume it’s cooler here than in Carlsbad or Phoenix. I’d rather be here than there, although I’d rather this heat stroke not hit at all.

Just like I’d rather the Gulf oil spill not be happening. That’s an understatement. I can’t look at the pictures of oil-soaked pelicans, their watery eyes helpless behind layers of crude—CRUD—and not cry, not feel my stomach turn. I feel so helpless here, far away. I can’t imagine how the people of the coast feel. Ads featuring that British Petroleum CEO are playing these days, causing Jim to snarl at the television, “Oh shut up!” I don’t make assumptions or not make assumptions about that CEO. He is what he is, who he is, and like us all he is living a hell right now every time he thinks about what’s happening in those waters and beaches and reefs.

Assumptions. What is that saying—What does ASSUME mean? It means You make an ASS out of U and ME. How long ago did I first hear that and who told me? Was it Dad during one of our many fights when I was a teenager? We fought about my friends, my habits, his strictness, his expectations. I once got so mad during a fight that I threw a bottle of nail polish at Mom. Cooley and slowly capped the bottle, in my mind’s eye I looked at my freshly painted pink nails, blew on the tips of my fingers to make sure they were as dry as could be, and then I reeled back my arm, took aim, threw.

We made a lot of assumptions about each other then. I assumed my parents were out of touch, old-fashioned, incapable of understanding me. Now that I am the mother of a teenage girl, I wonder what assumptions, if any, she makes about me. I look at the assumptions I make about her. Surely from this writing practice I can take away that this is one place where I have to take special care to not make assumptions.

The pond still gurgles. It gurgles in spite of me here, in the waning cool. I think the scale has tipped, the day is officially hot. I wish it were that easy for me to tip the scale, to move from the place of making assumptions to the place of not making assumptions. I’ve never liked it when people label me. I don’t like to be distilled down by others so that they can better understand me. It’s not real, after all, those assumptions we make about one another. Not real, not like the heat of this day is real, nor the sound of water.




-Related to post WRITING TOPIC — THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

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By Judith Ford


Image by Jude Ford, July 2009, in front of the Mathematics Building, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, photo © 2010 Jude Ford. All rights reserved.


This is my son, at the door of the math building at the University of Michigan. A month after this picture he’d go through that door to begin his life as a math PhD candidate and as a college teacher. He’d discover the frustration of trying to teach calculus to a bunch of freshmen who wouldn’t give a damn. Who wouldn’t share one drop of the passion he feels for his subject. Years before this photo, he’d told me, with tears in his eyes, that he wished more people could see how elegant and beautiful math was.

Despite the beauty of math, it was never enough.

My son started grad school a month short of his 21st birthday. He was overly ready and not ready at all. He’d had a summer of brutal awakenings, realization upon realization of all he missed out on by being a child math prodigy. Not that he could have avoided being who he was. He was blessed, as much as cursed, with an unusual mind, shunned by children who thought he was showing off, trying to make them feel stupid, when all he was doing was using the language and thoughts natural to him. He had a 30-year-old’s vocabulary by the time he was in first grade. I’m not kidding.

He and I had a conversation just a week ago, about his intellectual differentness. He pointed out to me that he’d met a lot of really smart people in the honors math program at the U of Chicago, from which he’d graduated last June. “There are a lot of people out there who are way smarter than I am,” he said. “I don’t think I was all that unusual when I was a kid.”

I disagreed. “Yes, dear, you really were different. It was obvious by the time you were 2. You learned things in big huge gulps. At a rate that wasn’t usual, that was, frankly, a little scary. And you didn’t know how to play with other kids.”

“I still don’t.”

“That’s what was scary to me when you got tested and those scores came back so freakishly high. I knew you were going to be lonely.”

“I don’t remember ever not being lonely.”

“Kids your age were intimidated by you. By third grade, they’d started avoiding you.”

“I thought they all knew this secret thing that I’d somehow missed out on. I thought math could make up for that. I thought it would solve everything. I was pathetic. I never learned how to be a human being.”

“How brave of you to see that,” I think I said. “So now what do you need to do?”

“I don’t have a clue,” he answered.

There’s ivy growing over the top of this door, up at the right hand corner. Brings to mind the academic cliché of ivied walls and the idea that this door, being partly occluded, is yet another incomplete solution, leading to an unknown and no doubt imperfect path. Math, a career in math, still won’t solve my son’s life or end his loneliness.

See the way he holds his arms and shoulders. His uncertainty and discomfort are obvious. And that he’s trying to be patient with me as I take his picture. He squints at me. He frowns. He knows I’m doing a mom thing that, for some reasons not clear to him, I need to do.

Does he know how my heart hurts for him? How much I wish I could soothe away the pain in his face with something as simple as a hug and a bedtime story. How these things, too, are mom things that I can’t help feeling. He doesn’t need to know. I don’t tell him and I try not to let him see.

He tolerates my hug when I say good-bye. He doesn’t hug back. He doesn’t hold on. His gaze, over my shoulder, already fixed on that door.

It’s trite to say that when he walked through that door he walked into the rest of his life. But I want to say it. So I am. He did. He walked into his adult life without a clue. Which is the only way possible to walk into one’s life. And interestingly, the only way that is, in fact, a kind of solution.


Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with her 25 Reasons I Write post. She joins ybonesy and QuoinMonkey in writing about Topic post WRITING TOPIC — DOOR. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include Mystery E.R. and a writing group practice I Write Because.

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American Green Tree Frog, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

American Green Tree Frog, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Is green Envy’s hue?
Or simply bumps on the skin
of a scared tree frog.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Post Script:  Can’t seem to get moving this week. After we had to let Chaco go last Thursday, the only thing that seems to sooth me is Nature. Hence, the American Green Tree Frog. On Summer Solstice, Liz accidentally brushed this little guy off a glass table filled with blooming plants; she thought it was a leaf. When she screamed, he suddenly leaped off the tip of her palm and on to the deck. After the initial shock, I caught him in a glass coffee mug so I could safely let him go in the garden.

 

Eye To Frog Eye, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Eye To Frog Eye, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
June 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey.
All rights reserved.

 
 

The Frog Moon came late on the heels of a dry Spring. I think Frog is one of Liz’s totems. I rarely see them in our yard or gardens. But Liz seems to bump into them everywhere. It turns out our little green friend may be with us for a while — the average lifespan of a frog is 4 to 15 years.

 You can listen to the American Green Tree Frog and read Weird Frog Facts at Frogland: All About Frogs.

 

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – TOADS & FROGS, A Celebration Of GREEN On red Ravine…, What Is Your Totem Animal?, Cracking Envy (Or How I Learned To Stop Romancing A Deadly Sin), haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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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.




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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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1958 Chevy Apache pick-up truck, December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




When I was 39 years old I let Jim know that for my 40th birthday I wanted an old truck. I wanted a truck that was about my same age. Something big, bulbous, and roomy. I wanted a truck that would remind me of my grandpa, who when he wasn’t riding a horse was bouncing up the dirt road in his old pick-up, on his way to the saloon.

I learned to drive in my sister’s VW bug when I was about 13, but I honed my skill in Dad’s 1971 Chevy pick-up when I was 16. Mom and Dad went on a long trip to Lake Powell that summer, and never suspecting that I’d attempt to drive a stick shift that didn’t even use first gear (except to pull a camper up a hill), they left the key behind. My friends and I went off-road, down ditch banks and in the rolling sand dunes of Albuquerque’s west mesa, in that pick-up. We got it stuck but were able to get a tow out of the hole I’d plowed into.

And so the one thing that called to me as my 40th year approached was a good ol’ truck. Jim eventually found one, although I believe it was not until after I’d turned 41. The find was worth the wait.

It had belonged to an old farmer from around these parts named Mr. Tenorio. Everyone knew Mr. Tenorio, and everyone knew his 1958 Chevy Apache pick-up with its original forest green paint.

For a couple of years I was in old-truck heaven. Manual steering, unwieldy stick shift, doors that only closed after slamming them with all your might several times. This baby required muscle. I remember once taking my friend Anne out for a spin. We rounded a corner and her door flew open. The truck didn’t have seat belts.

Jim and I used the pick-up two seasons in a row for selling apples, chile, and other produce at the local Growers Market. Our booth was one of the most festive; someone who was making a promotional video for our little village asked if she could film us, and I know the appeal was that 1958 Chevy Apache and the red and yellow apples and green chile all laid out in produce baskets in the truck’s bed.

Last week we sold dear Mr. Tenorio’s truck. For the past three or four years it has sat unused in our driveway, its green body rusting away bit by bit each day. I might have liked to hang on to it forever, but Jim and I are letting go of all the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years that we no longer truly need or want.

We sold the Apache to a young Chicano from a town south of here. I didn’t meet him, nor did I watch the truck pull out of the driveway. I was certain this was the right thing to do—we had no plans to fix up the truck to its former glory, and Jim got the feel that this guy did—yet…. I didn’t want to know exactly, down to the last tattoo, what the new owner looked like. And I didn’t want to have to say anything to him or to the Apache.

I said my goodbyes later. I noticed the pile of dead cottonwood leaves that had accumulated since fall between the truck and the juniper bushes. The driveway had a lot more room. The house seemed empty. Funny how something outside the house could make the whole thing look slightly vacant. Mr. Tenorio was gone.








-Related to post WRITING TOPIC – MEMORIES OF CARS

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Splash Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Splash Fire (Dreamscape), Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Winter Solstice is peaking in the Great White North. The darkness of winter reflects off the cold blue snow. Yesterday we had blizzard conditions and the cottage sits behind a wall of white. I wanted to get up and write in the shadows, calling upon dreams I wish to bring into the light.

Mr. StripeyPants sits beside me on the couch, trying to keep warm. Kiev and Liz are still asleep. Chaco, bless his heart, is spending the weekend in an animal hospital. He declined quickly this week and, after two visits to our vet, we had to make the hard decision to put him in emergency care over the weekend.

The doctor called last night to say he is steadily improving. At 12 years old, he is experiencing the beginnings of kidney failure. We are not sure how long we’ll have with him. Quite a few tears were shed this week. Into the fire it all goes. I can release the grief and pain. I don’t have to carry the burden.

Winter Solstice in Minnesota hit her highpoint around 6 a.m CST. From that moment on, each day takes us more into the light. The Universal Time for Winter Solstice in 2008 is 12 21 12:03:34 UT. In the Midwest, we have to subtract 6 hours to arrive at the accurate time zone. (To learn more about Solstices and how to translate time for your part of the world visit the links and comments in Solstice Fire In Winter or Winter Solstice — Making Light Of The Dark.)

Around Noon we will head over to our friends’ home for a Winter Solstice celebration. They usually use the dried and cut Yule tree from last year’s season as kindling to start the fire. On the longest night of the year, we’ll draw on the cave-like energy of Bear, Spirit Guardian of the North.



Bear is feminine reflective energy. She is known across many cultures as a symbol for divinity and healing, and a powerful totem. According to the Animal Spirits cards, illustrated by Susan Seddon Boulet, the Ainu people of the northern islands of Japan believed the Bear was a mountain god. In India, bears are believed to prevent disease and the cave symbolizes the cave of  Brahma. And among the Finno-Ugric peoples, the bear was the god of heaven.

Many Native American peoples regard Bear as a Spirit helper. Here is an excerpt from the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson:


The strength of Bear medicine is the power of introspection. It lies in the West on the great Medicine Wheel of Life. Bear seeks honey, or the sweetness of truth, within the hollow of an old tree. In the winter, when the Ice Queen reigns and the face of death is upon the Earth, Bear enters the womb-cave to hibernate, to digest the year’s experience. It is said that our goals reside in the West also. To accomplish the goals and dreams that we carry, the art of introspection is necessary.

To become like Bear and enter the safety of the womb-like cave, we must attune ourselves to the energies of the Eternal Mother, and receive nourishment from the placenta of the Great Void. The Great Void is the place where all solutions and answers live in harmony with the questions that fill our realities. If we choose to believe that there are many questions to life, we must also believe that the answers to these questions reside within us. Each and every being has the capacity to quiet the mind, enter the silence, and know.

     -from the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carson

 

Bear is the West, the intuitive side, the right brain. Bear invites us to calm the chatter and enter the silence. To hibernate, Bear travels to the Cave, seeks answers while dreaming, and is reborn in the Spring. In the Dream World, our Ancestors sit in council and advise us about alternative pathways leading to our goals. They open doors to inner-knowing where “the death of the illusion of physical reality overlays the expansiveness of Eternity.”

My Grandmother Elise’s birthday is on Winter Solstice. And I often think of her this time of year and call her Spirit into the Circle; I can feel her looking down on us. Solstice is a time of release, a time to consider what to leave behind in the dark, what seeds we wish to plant that may mature with the light of Spring.


Happy Winter Solstice to all. The dark New Moon signifies the beginning of a new cycle that will come to fruition at the next Full Moon. May you celebrate with open hearts. Merry meet, Merry part, and Merry meet again.




     Bear Breathing Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Bear Breathing Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Bear Breathing Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Winter Solstice, Sunday, December 21st, 2008

-related to posts: 8 Minutes, and 10 Things I Learned Last Weekend (Solstice x Number)

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by Judith Ford


actor-jude-suffering

Actor “Jude” Suffering, dramatization of author Judith Ford in Discovery Health Channel series Mystery ER, photos © 2008 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.




Last April, when Discovery Health Channel contacted me, I’d been working on my book, Fever of Unknown Origin, for over 15 years. I never intended it to be what it turned out to be—a 600-page manuscript with multiple plotlines and themes. It started out as a way to come to terms with a serious illness that put me in the hospital for most of the summer of 1990.

But while I wrote, my life kept happening. My parents got sick and died; their stories seeped into the book. What I thought and felt about my illness, about illness in general and about death, changed. I did countless rewrites. In 2003, I launched a website, www.judithford.com, expecting I’d be ready to market the manuscript within a year. That didn’t happen. I got discouraged and quit writing more than once, each time returning weeks later with renewed vision, scrapping whole chapters, restructuring and polishing what remained. Fever and I had been alone together too long; I’d lost momentum.

And then I received the Discovery Health Channel email. Bill, a “finder” for the network, found my website. He was looking for stories for a new TV series called Mystery ER. “Yours would be a great story for us,” he told me, “and free publicity for you.”

I didn’t jump at the offer. I’d watched Discovery Health Channel once or twice and knew that it aired stories of real people dealing with dramatic medical issues. I wasn’t sure participating would be good for me or for Fever. I told Bill I’d think it over. He sent me a CD with samples of Mystery ER.

The first opened with a woman having energetic convulsions on an ER gurney. The second involved an orthodox Jewish boy who’d contracted trichinosis, somehow, without ever having eaten pork. He collapsed in an ER doorway. While the stories were presented with respect for the patients and what looked like medical accuracy, I didn’t see how my book would fit. It contained no scenes of me passing out or seizing.



more-silly-yoga-poseMy illness had developed in slow motion, starting in 1979 with bone-numbing fatigue, low fevers, and an odd prickly rash. I went to doctors who theorized hypoglycemia, spider bites, allergies, chronic mono. None had treatment suggestions, so after two years of feeling like hell, I created my own plan. It included lots of sleep, no refined sugar or white flour, daily lap swimming, dance classes, yoga, and meditation.

Gradually, I got well and stayed well until 1990, when all the symptoms returned, this time with higher fevers. I also developed anemia, systemic inflammation, and eventually, ulcerative colitis. All dramatic enough to compel me to write but not, I thought, material for a TV show. How could Mystery ER dramatize a fever of 106, an itchy rash, abnormal liver function, and an enlarged spleen? And how in the world could they condense what had become a story about my life into thirty minutes?

“Not to worry,” Nora, the producer, told me. “We’ll just deal with your illness, not the rest of the book, and we’ll write it in a way that’s compelling and authentic.” She offered to come to Milwaukee to interview on camera me, my husband, Chris, and one of my doctors. The show would include clips of our interviews interspersed with dramatizations, played by actors. “And,” said Nora, “we’ll let you mention your book on camera.” It was the promise of book publicity that made me say “Yes.”



chris-ford-and-a-producerThe morning of the filming, the lighting and sound guys took over my friend Judy’s downtown Milwaukee condo. They banished her, her four-year-old granddaughter, and three dogs to the master bedroom. The TV crew moved furniture, set up shades to block the floor-to-ceiling windows, and demanded absolute silence. Each interview was two-and-a-half hours long, including breaks to deal with shifting light, the phone ringing, and the grandchild slinking out to lean adorably—but distractingly—against the wall to watch us.

At first, I enjoyed being asked detailed questions about my illness. What was my life like when it began? Busy, way, way busy. Had I believed my first recovery, in 1981, had happened as a result of meditation and dietary changes? Yes, I thought I’d been mentally and physically amazing. But as we got more deeply into the summer of 1990, my energy flagged. Frankly, having written in so many ways and in such detail about my suffering, I was bored by it.




                                                                chris-ford-anxiously-waiting-for-his-interview
                ruby-and-bear-less-than-amused




I perked up when we got to the part about my friend and former teacher, Dick, coming to the hospital to do a healing hypnosis two days before I was scheduled to have my colon removed. The night after the hypnosis I slept well for the first time in months. The colon symptoms abated and the colonectomy was cancelled. I went home five days later.

Nora perked up, too. “So when the medical people had given up on you, this other form of healing cured you?” Um. No. The medical people had far from given up; they were pumping me full of IV Prednisone and Demerol. They drew my blood many times a day. They’d hooked me up to a chest tube through which I was getting all my nutrition. My turn-for-the-better was sudden and wonderful, but it wasn’t magic, nor was it complete. It took two more months before I could go back to work. I had a serious relapse in 1997.

I explained this to Nora but her fascination made me worry that she was going to spin my story in a direction I didn’t want it to go.

“Did you feel that this was divine intervention?”

“Not really,” I said.




actual-jude-being-interviewed





The questions about what causes and cures disease are big and wide and controversial. My exploration of those questions is central to Fever and impossible to capture in sound-bites. Before I got sick in 1990, I would have told Nora that health was a decision, that most people could make themselves well with a combination of focus, relaxation, right thinking, and right eating. My 1990 relapse, eventually diagnosed as Adult Onset Stills Disease, blew all that certainty and bravado to bits. The only thing I knew for sure afterwards was that life is unpredictable, uncontrollable, precious, and brief.

At the end of my interview, Nora asked me what message I’d like to send to other people struggling with mysterious illnesses. I laughed out loud. “I spent 15 years and 600 pages on that,” I told her. “Give it a try,” she said.

I responded with something generic, like, “Every person who gets sick has to come up with their own sense of meaning.” Later, I wished I’d talked instead about how the illness changed me. How it humbled me. How it taught me to let go.

My doctor, Dr. M, was interviewed last. Just before her session, she whispered to me, “I don’t think I should be here. I don’t think what you had was Stills Disease.” She thought my diagnosis was ulcerative colitis, despite the fact that three other doctors had suggested the Stills label, conjecturing that the colitis had been caused by a drug reaction. I hadn’t had a colon symptom in 18 years. I reminded Dr. M. that even the gastroenterologist had rejected the colitis theory. “No,” she said, “I’m certain.”

Great, I thought. The whole show revolved around the Stills diagnosis. Would there be any show without it? Did I even want there to be a show?

While Dr. M was being interviewed in another room, I sat and worried over everything I had and hadn’t said. I wondered if I was doing my book a disservice, allowing it to be reduced to the one thin, unexamined plotline of my disease.

Nora took a break from Dr. M’s session to tell me, “Your doctor is driving me nuts. She’s giving me paragraphs of medical facts; none of our viewers will know what she’s talking about.”

“And,” Nora added, “she doesn’t think you ever had Stills disease.”

“Can we still do the show?” I asked, suddenly sure I did, in fact, want the show to go on.

“Oh yeah, we can edit out whatever doesn’t fit. It’s just annoying.”

And edit they did. The interview segments that took all day to film amounted to ten minutes of on-screen time.




actor-jude-looking-worrieda-doctor-actoractor-playing-jude-in-the-eractor-jude-throwing-out-junk-foodactor-mom-in-black-shawl-dyingactor-mom-saying-im-dying




“Inflamed,” my Mystery ER story, debuted on September 1. I expected the worst. What if they’d included my inane closing statement about “Everyone has their own meaning blah blah blah”? What if I looked old and dumpy? What if the editors made it sound like I’d cured myself with my mind? What if my story was no longer mine? I felt comfortable enough surrendering to the TV people at the time I signed release forms, yet as the Mystery ER logo lit up the TV screen I wanted to snatch my story back and protect it like the vulnerable newborn it suddenly seemed to be.

But really, the show was okay. More than okay. There were the requisite overly-dramatic bits – like a shot of my hypochondriac mother in a black shawl murmuring “I’m going to die,” and me in the kitchen frantically throwing out all the junk food when I was diagnosed as hypoglycemic. And the silly shot of me sitting in a yoga pose.

The interview sections, though, were fine. I looked okay and sounded smart enough to not embarrass myself. And, thank you very much, “everyone has to find their own meaning” ended up on the cutting room floor. As did all mention of my book. So much for the “free publicity.”

Now, two months later, I don’t mind losing the publicity. Much unexpected good has come of “Inflamed.” The friends who watched the show with me have gotten a lot of mileage out of doing imitations of my moaning mother. My sister-in-law has threatened to give me a black shawl for Christmas. Chris enjoyed seeing himself played by a handsome young actor with great pecs. My life-long running practice, an important theme in the book, made it into the script, and I loved seeing my actor-self running with better form than my own.

In the weeks since the show aired, all kinds of people—neighbors, former clients, the UPS man—have told me how much they liked the show, how impressed they were by the interview segments, and to ask if I’m well now. I am.

But here’s the really great part: Mystery ER lit a fire under me. It gave Fever more definition, more weight. It made me want to finish the book. It matters a great deal to me that a TV channel was interested in my story and that people who saw the show were touched by it.

This past summer, I went to a “How to sell your book” workshop at The Loft in Minneapolis and learned that a memoir doesn’t have to be completed before you market it. I hired a consultant to help me write the book proposal. She told me that mentioning Mystery ER in my cover letter would make busy editors and agents pay more attention. The proposal packets took most of August to write and assemble. Last week I sent out the first batch to eleven literary agents.

I’m doing the rest of the revisions with new enthusiasm, working every day. Fever and I aren’t alone together any more; I can feel my audience now, out there, waiting.




the-silly-yoga-pose

The “Silly” Yoga Pose, author Judith Ford in Mystery ER show
“Inflamed,” photo © 2008 by Judith Ford. All rights reserved.





Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with her 25 Reasons I Write post. Reason #14: “I write to finish this damn book and it isn’t done yet.” (Remember that one, Jude? J)

You can eventually see the show, “Inflamed,” about Judith’s illness, as Discovery Health Channel re-runs all the episodes of Mystery ER. Check your local listings.

Oh, and all Mystery ER names have been changed.

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Letting Go, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Letting Go, funeral pyre on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




It’s one of those gray days in Minneapolis. A storm kicked up her heels last night, a gale force blowing through my dreams. Mr. StripeyPants is draped over a soft brown blanket next to me on the couch. I grabbed my small red greenroom eco notebook of haiku. There they were — the scratched syllables of a day on Lake Michigan.

I looked at the photographs from the writing retreat a few weekends ago. The funeral pyre popped out at me. After we arrived at the little cabins in Wisconsin, we learned that the matriarch of the family-owned business had passed away earlier in the week. She was in her 90’s.

The family gathered to pay their respects. And when we walked on the beach that morning, we passed a tall wooden spire, a testament to her memory. At lunch, an adolescent boy in a black suit paced the pine needles next to our cabin, crumpled paper in hand. He glanced down to the page, out over the blooming tulips, then, lips moving, back to the page.

After dinner, and a day of silence and writing, we looked out the picture window to see the funeral pyre burning. Moths to the flame, we could not help but step out to the porch. We talked quietly among ourselves, but mostly, we stood still and watched. Bearing witness.

It was humbling. In a few minutes, it started to rain. At the same time, a gust of wind burst through the skirts of the white pines and blew out to sea.

Then, complete stillness.

Later in the evening, we were chatting by the fire, and what sounded like gunshots echoed across the beach grass. Fireworks. That’s the way I want to go out. A gangly fire on the beach. Wind blowing my ashes out to sea. Rain to quench my thirst. Giant starbursts in a Full Moon sky.

That Saturday, I wrote these haiku. And to the matriarch — though I did not know you, I know The Grandmothers. And for a few days, I knew the place you called home. Rest in peace.




standing in the sun
waves crashing all around me
pale face, flushed and hot


puffy cirrus clouds
spread cream cheese over the land
gulls dive for crayfish


summer’s in the wind
the moon fell into the lake
jack-in-the-pulpit


waves gently roll back
in a giant concave bowl
anchor beach grasses


sun’s reflection glares
afraid of my own dark thoughts
dead fish rolls to shore


monkey mind is fierce
I don’t know what I’m doing
morning turns and breaks


funeral pyre burns
wind gusting across the lake
all eyes were watching


no understanding
of that kind of letting go
not for me to know 




On The Beach, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.                         

  To The Wind, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Phoenix, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  

On The Beach, To The Wind, Phoenix, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 30th, 2008

-related to posts: PRACTICE – Blossom Moon – 15min & haiku (one-a-day)

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Solstice Fire In Winter, outside at the Winter Solstice celebration with friends, December 22nd, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Solstice Fire In Winter, December 22, 2007, Winter Solstice in Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


We celebrated with friends outside by the pond. It was frosty cold, hovering around 5 degrees. Frozen hands. Sparks fly. A light wind blew from the West. The brilliant sunset was undone only by a circle wreath of blazing fire.

We called in the ancestors, the grandmothers and fathers. We drummed and rattled and slipped paper and wood into the fire – the things we no longer wanted to carry.

Death of the old, let us bring into the light what is new.

Sunday morning it is snowy gray. Though we are socked in by a blizzard, darkness moves into light. Blowing snow howls from the North. But I face West.

I let go of whatever blocks me. I let go of fear. We let go in community. The circle is unbroken.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

-related to post, Winter Solstice – Making Light Of The Dark

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               Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
               Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico,
               February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




The Petroglyph Practitioners are four women — Jeanie from North Carolina, Melissa and Katherine from Houston, and Sally from Rome, Italy — who write, alone and together, following the rules of Writing Practice. They tell the story of how they met and what their group means, in a post titled Alone Together – The Beginning of The Petroglyph Practitioners.

What follows are four writing practices, one from each member, on the red Ravine writing topic I Want To Let Go Of…. These raw practices — which, per one of the rules of writing practice, are not edited for punctuation, spelling, or grammar — show how a single topic can lead individual writers to very different places.



     Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.       Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.       Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Jeanie Bernard

I am reading a book called Romancing The Shadow and am reminded that in that darkness hides my secret shame, my poison arrow. During midlife, the shadow rears its ugly little head, it finds me; I don’t have to go look for it. The first half of my life was creating work, love and developing the shadow. Now, I am involved in creating consciousness in those areas that have been neglected or ignored, a time for romancing the shadow, a time for letting go of what doesn’t work anymore.

The shadow wears the camouflage of physical symptoms. I may deny but my body doesn’t it. In March when I decided to go to Peru I woke with a severe pain in my right hip that tortured me up to the day of hiking the Inca Trail. With its disappearance, I strutted through the streets of Taos until I strained my tendon in my right heel. After podiatrist, chiropractors, acupuncturist, I finally listen to the pain. I see myself flat on my back with a golden fiber optic beam shinning from my feet through my head making the connection of my dissected parts into a sacred wholeness/holiness. What I don’t see, is where the rod comes from or where it goes when it leaves my head. I wonder, what is my body trying to say, what secrets are being revealed, what betrayals?

The shadow dances through my dreams revealing feelings desiring discovery. During one haunting dream, I am visited by a cape draped person who knocks at my door. I do not invite; I ask what is wanted. My visitor walks away. I call out. Who is this that appears in my night life and what is wanted?

Shadows begin in families and make us who we are. In doing shadow work, I find who I can become. I remember my daddy finding fault with my mother. He would come home late at night from cooking in a hell hot kitchen and she could do nothing right. I saw him as having the power. If I had a choice, I would rather be like him. Her life didn’t look very appealing. His Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde improvisation kept me vigilantly on the lookout for the family soul. He was a cook and the missing ingredient was soul, the container for connection, deepening and acceptance. In this family, the space for soul shrunk limiting my authenticity and vulnerability. So I face my shadow. My “heeling” begins with shinning a light of reconciliation on what was sacrificed in my family of origin and playing out in my intentional family. I step, heel first, into letting go of the “sins” of my mother and father to reclaim my family soul. In my own family, I assume my father’s role of power. My second step of “heeling” is to move from power over to power with. The next step is then to let go and forgive my many missteps.


   Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Katherine Reynolds

What I want to let go of.

My first answer without really thinking about it would be nothing. This has been the year of losses for me: my mother, a husband, a good friend — all of whom I loved very much. It was a bad year. I know the biggest loss was of course my mother. She was 92 and passed away November 30th of kidney failure brought on by congestive heart failure. That disease is a miserable one. You watch a person grow weaker and weaker until something gives: the liver, the kidneys, the lungs, or the heart, that red beating muscle that controls everything. My mother was in many ways the heart of my life. I believe we bonded intensely when I was born because my father walked out on my mom and the four of us kids when I was only five weeks old and it broke her heart. In fact she never quite recovered from it. Never remarried, never dated. She was only 43, but she was a survivor. She went back to school and got her teaching degree in music education and taught in high schools until she lost her job after seven years of teaching. I only know this: she had trouble controlling her kids. I can see that in her. She was always soft spoken and in some ways intensely shy. She never went back to the public schools but instead began teaching privately in her home. She also was hired as the organist for the Champion Methodist Church in Champion, Ohio. She stayed in that position for 25 years.

My fondest memories of her are listening to her teach yet another 7 year old child the beginnings of piano playing. I would come home from school and hang out on the couch reading quietly until she was finished at 7. I learned how to walk lightly through that house so as not to disturb her. The floors creaked because we had a cellar below us. None of this concrete slab housing I live in now. We lived in wood clapboard house that my great grandmother was born in. I have no idea how old the family homestead house is, but I know it is at least 150 years old or more. My great grandfather was a doctor who visited his patients in a horse and buggy and his office is on the property. I used to love going in there to play until the place got too dilapidated. My mom’s cousin totally restored it and now it is a historical landmark in Bristolville, Ohio. So what does this have to do with loss? I don’t know. Maybe I feel loss because the entire family I grew up with in that town are now dead or moved on. My grandparents passed when I was in high school. My mother’s only sister died of alcoholism, as did her husband, as did her daughter, the only living cousin I had. When I think of that small town in Ohio there now, there are renters in the homestead house and the rest of my family is in the graveyard. And the four of us kids scattered all over the country and the world (a brother in Australia).

So I guess the loss I feel as well is that of home. My grandparents beautiful rambling yellow Victorian house where my grandfather who was once a supreme court judge in the State of Ohio was sold long ago. I remember people coming to my grandparent’s house when I was a kid still asking Judge Carter to do small legal things for them. When I think of going home, there is no where to go. My brother lives in a suburban house in Cleveland which is like a different country compared to small towns in Northeastern Ohio. So yes that’s it. I feel like I’ve lost my home. Now I have to make a home for myself again: New friends, new connections, a new love. The idea overwhelms me in the middle of my life. So do I want to let go of anything now? No, I want to hold close to my heart all that comes my way.


   Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Sally Sontheimer

I want to let go of life as I knew it. I lived a life for a very long time –- it is over now -– but it wasn’t the sort of life I wanted. I’m going on a track here that I’m not sure I want to follow. It’s a beautiful day, Sunday, November 4, and I’m sitting the celery green chenille armchair in my bedroom in Siena. Outside the window, across our field of olives, I have a perfect and clear view of the town itself, its’ medieval towers, the Torre del Mangia that we are planning to eat underneath today at lunch.

There, I feel grounded now in a place and time, I have roots down to the earth sucking up nutrients, feeding this writing practice.

I want to let go of …how can I name it, what is it I want to release? Needs. A need. Yes, I see it now. It’s a need to be fed by others. Now that we’ve brought up the question of roots, I’d like to totally and completely feed myself. I’d like to let go of any need for approval, for my husband to give me some signal that I’m OK, that he admires me. That’s an old story, you see that weakness inside me, speaking, yet it’s almost gone, I’m almost there, I feel such strength inside.

‘I banish all dis-ease from my body.’ I heard that on a meditation tape by Deepak Chopra that a friend lent me and when I said it to myself it blew me away.

So here we have another circle –- I’d like to be free of dis-ease, unease, discomfort, a feeling of lack in myself and in others and I’m almost there.

Yesterday we all worked together –- my two kids, my friend Vicki, her two teenage daughters, my husband, me, to save the capanna. It almost burned down two weeks ago when a fire spread through the fields. After the firemen left, we went to check on the capanna –- the hay barn –- and found the wooden door still on fire. It was full of hay. So yesterday we cleared it out, burnt all the overgrowth, the brambles, forked out the hay, pulled out the detritus of that old abandoned structure.

And it felt good. No aches and pains like I’ve had in the past, for once upon a time I was very ill.

I banish illness from my body.

I wanted to let go of that –- at the very end and in the end, it was only a concept –- and I did it.


   Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Melissa Studdard

I want to let go of my urge for an outmoded version of perfection. I want to glorify my flabby, feminine thighs — to praise my fat butt — to thank the divine spirit of creation that my nose, by American (hell, by any) standards, is too big — with it I can smell better all the scrumptious foods that will help my thighs progress towards my new and better version of self.

How much time I have wasted, how much time, trying to be a better me. Better looking, smarter, funnier, kinder, more soulful, more intellectual, more athletic, more assertive, more feminine, more gentle, more vivacious, more sophisticated. Phooey. I was a full time project, a first class procrastination from the real work that needs to be done, the work that is not focused on changing myself but instead on accepting myself and those around me as we already are.

All this time — and there I was already perfect. Yes, perfect — I snort when I laugh too hard. What could be better than that? I’ll tell you: I cry at weddings, funerals, movies, plays, symphonies, graduations, museums, anything that moves me at all. I burn dinners. I can’t do math, not even to average fgrades. I have no uterus — gone. I break up with everyone I’ve ever been with once every three months, like clockwork, and then usually I take them back. I can’t remember what I walked into the room for half the time. My daughter often has to advise me to be cautious, because at ten, she is already more sensible than I am. And, for all of this I am thankful, for it is my particular, messy, glorious version of life.

It’s not just what I want to let go of — it’s what I need to let go of — the idea that perfection is perched, like some kind of shimmering trophy, on a shelf just two inches higher than I can reach — that perfection is solid, unchanging, and just almost attainable — that perfection is something that I should or do desire—

Because it’s the imperfect stuff I like best — my retarded, cross-eyed cat Cosmo who can’t hear well and can’t even leap from the floor to my desk without slipping and dragging down a pile of papers on top of himself — I love his overbite and the snaggle-tooth that keeps his lower lip permanently indented. I love, even adore, his imperfection.

And the imperfection in the world — I love the crooked smile, the fattest puppy, the pink rose that accidentally got mixed in with the red, the kid with one brown eye and one blue—

Time’s up — I’m going to practice my sermon — to let go — no clean conclusion, tied up like a bow, no final answer, no perfect statement condensed to an aphorism — just the end of a ramble, not even pucntuated — spelling for shit — beautiful


   Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Petroglyph Rock II, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

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Curtains At The Fitzgerald, during MPR's Talking Volumes with Keri Miller, and Guests Galway Kinnell and Josephine Dickinson, April 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   

Curtains At The Fitzgerald, night of Galway Kinnell, Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I pulled a Galway Kinnell book off the shelf last night while Liz was completing her take home final. We sat on the couch in dim midnight light, pecking at slippery keys. (One IBM. One Dell.) Breaking rhythm, I stopped to strum the pages of Strong Is Your Hold. The papery smell cut the air, and fused to April’s last memory:  Galway Kinnell, the color red, the Fitzgerald.

I had paged through Bones while doing research a few nights before. Galway jumped right off Natalie’s page. In the chapter, We Are Not the Poem, she writes about keeping your work fresh, and talks about seeing Galway in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when she barely knew who he was. He read his poetry; his poetry sang.

Fast forward 6 years later, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He raced through every line. They were dead for him.

Natalie goes on to write about losing the danger in your words. About risk taking. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a poet. She is talking about writing:


It is important to remember we are not the poem. … The power is always in the act of writing. Come back to that again and again and again. Don’t get caught in the admiration for your poems. … Write good poems and let go of them. Publish them, read them, go on writing.

I remember Galway Kinnell when his wonderful Book Of Nightmares first came out. It was a Thursday afternoon in Ann Arbor. I’d never heard of him, much less could I pronounce his name. He sang those poems; they were new and exciting for him and a great accomplishment. Six years later I heard him read again at St. John’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He’d read that book so much in those six years that he was sick of it. He ran through the poems, put down the book, and said, “Where’s the party?” There was nothing dangerous for him in them anymore. The air was no longer electric.

It is very painful to become frozen with your poems….We constantly need new insights, visions. We don’t exist in any solid form. There is no permanent truth you can corner in a poem that will satisfy you forever. Don’t identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black and white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.

   -Natalie Goldberg, We Are Not The Poem, from Writing Down The Bones

Even the best writers sour, and spin their wheels. Don’t get attached to the work. Keep your writing fresh. Blogging is good for non-attachment. A fast-paced medium, it is here, it is gone. You don’t have time to get attached. You keep current. You keep practicing.

Back at the Fitz with my writing friend, velvet curtains to the front, circular stairs behind, I remember when Galway read. Strong Is Your Hold seemed new and fresh for him. Insomniac and Sex vibrated across the room. And in his poem for Jane Kenyon, How Could She Not, you could hear the pain in his voice. Passion and grief.


Hands Of Galway Kinnell, Chap. 5, Vol. 2, Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Hands of Galway Kinnell, Chap. 5, Vol. 2, on stage with Josephine Dickinson (l), and MPR’s Keri Miller (r), at the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


The first time I heard Ode and Elegy was at a silent writing retreat in Taos, Fall 2006. Natalie read it out loud to us, each word blazing through the silence, “Wake up!” The second time was in the Log Cabin at Mabel Dodge in the December retreat. The careful attention to detail caught me clutching my throat. The poet sees in a certain way, hide-and seek between heart and mind.


Hide-and-Seek 1933

Once when we were playing
hide-and-seek and it was time
to go home, the rest gave up
on the game before it was done
and forgot I was still hiding.
I remained hidden as a matter
of honor until the moon rose.

  –from Strong Is Your Hold, Poems, by Galway Kinnell, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

I have come to love poetry for its beauty and starkness. Few words. Everything pared down to the bones. Chewy. Bare. Raw. I try not to hold on too tightly. We are not the poem. Don’t judge. Let pit-stained words soak through the pores. Let go.

Or clutch if you want to. But if you have to hold that tight, bolt from every cell like the hawk. Leave no jay feather unturned. No tamarack untapped.



Writers Hands, Chap. V, Vol. 1, Galway Kinnell, at the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  

Writer’s Hands, Chap. 5, Vol. 1,
Galway Kinnell, at the Fitzgerald,
St. Paul, Minnesota, April, 2007,
photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey.
All rights reserved.




Ode and Elegy

A thud. Shrieks. Frantic
wingbeats like a round
of soft applause.
The hawk jumps on top
of the jay knocked to the grass,
presses his wings to the ground,
digs his claws into the jay’s
back, strikes the neck
over and over, scattering
blue feathers. Then,
as easily as a green wave
in heavy seas lifts a small boat
and throws it upside down,
still afloat but keel up, so
the hawk flips the jay,
then tears at his throat.

A blue wing wrests itself free, flaps
like a flag saying i will fight you!
The hawk stuffs the wing
back down into place and
clamps it there with one foot.
Now jay and hawk stare
at each other beak to beak,
as close as Jesus and Judas at their kiss.
The hawk strikes, the jay struggles
to strike back, but his neck breaks, his eyes
shrink into beads of taxidermists’ glass.
The cere above the hawk’s beak
flushes hard yellow from exertion.

As a grape harvester trampling out
the last juices of grape, so the hawk
treads the jay’s body up and down
and down and up. He places
a foot on the throat and a foot
on the belly, flaps his wings
repositions his feet, flaps again.

He pushes off, clutching transversely
the body of the jay, which is like a coffin
made in the shape and color of the dead.

Much as in la decollage a l’americaine
of the Lafayette Escadrille, when
the pilots would gain speed only yards
above the tarmac, then haul back
on the joystick, putting their planes
into nearly vertical ascent, just so
the sharp-shinned hawk, carrying
his blue load glinting in the sunlight
low to the ground, now suddenly
climbs steeply and soars over the tops
of the Norway spruce and the tamarack.

   –from Strong Is Your Hold, Poems, by Galway Kinnell, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Listen to the whole Talking Volumes presentation at: MPR – Talking Volumes with Keri Miller: Two Poets Share the Stage – Galway Kinnell & Josephine Dickinson at the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, April 12th, 2007

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I don’t often lose things. Keys, gloves, hats, mittens, I usually own them for life. I don’t know why that is. I tend to be pretty grounded and track on a minute by minute basis. It’s changed as I’ve gotten older. I have more spaciness. I attribute it to hormonal shifts in the brain and the body.

Last December, after I moved from an apartment I’d lived in for 14 years, I lost track of everything. I purged and got rid of things quickly, off to Goodwill and ARC and Salvation Army. Art studio items were boxed up and moved to storage. I didn’t know what I was living with and what I’d given away or stacked into the garage.

I still don’t know. I recently drove over near the lake to grab a few boxes out of storage. I ended up with about 10 piled inside the Camry, and now stacked by the piano in our living room. In two of them, I found the documents I needed. One bent box, with my scribbled handwriting of 10 years ago, contained a stack of old journals. I’m thinking I may toss them or burn them. I need to see what’s on the page.

Before I did writing practice, my journals were filled with intellectual analyzing and the day-to-day trivia of love and life. So what’s changed? A lot. I can’t stand to read the old stuff. But it does have details that I might use in my memoir. It’s just so boring. I guess this could be considered boring, too. But usually by the end of a practice, I’ve gotten down to some little tidbit that I didn’t know about myself before.

Losing face. The mask. I’ve felt a lot of shame over the course of living. It’s been a long haul to turn it around into confidence. To let go. To know that the choices I make and the things I do are not me. They are choices I make and things I do. Many women feel some form of shame. I know because I hear them talk about it or act from that place in their heart. I recognize it. If you know what to look for, no one can hide.

I often wished to be lost. To never have to grow up. The better I feel about day-to-day living, the more fond I am of the notion of adult. It’s not necessarily easy to think the way artists and writers think. To pull the grub into the heart and spit it back out in words or images that ping the feeling in others. You’ve got to be willing to take in all the crap life has to dish out.

I’ve lost my way a few times. Felt completely ungrounded. Like when I was 21 and moved to Montana. One day I was in Pennsylvania. The next I was flying into Missoula. The only ground I could find were the mountains that captured me the minute I stepped off the plane, held me, and never let go. I still dream about them sometimes, especially the Bitterroots where I spent time stripping logs and digging foundations for the cabins my friends were building.

When I see photographs of myself at that time, I have this lost look in my eyes. I don’t recognize the 20-year-old body. What happened to that? I’m staring at the camera, eyes clear and hazel blue. But where are they going?

Here. They were going here. To the place I’ve landed. The last 10 years have been more about letting go and letting in a bigger life. I didn’t think I deserved a bigger life. What do I think now? There are givers and takers. And they live side by side. I’ve given away too much. But no regrets.

The wind’s whipping through the naked oaks outside the window. I’m waiting for the contractor to come power wash the deck in preparation for sanding, shoring up, and painting. There is a wobble in the pine rails and floorboards. But the foundation is solid. The peeling paint is tinted from the green of arsenic. The contractor said that’s what they used to use to preserve building wood. He said arsenic is not used anymore. But the chemical they’ve come up with to replace it is no better.

That’s the way I feel this morning. Wobbly and solid. Not lost. Not found. I’m here on the couch beside Pants who is curled up in a pile of lime green and hot pink tissue paper. It was wrapped around the Halloween bouquet a few days ago. He quietly cleans himself. The paper crinkles under his ear. It seems to comfort him. Cats never seem lost. They know to follow their instincts. I’m learning to listen.


-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – WHAT HAVE YOU LOST

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