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Posts Tagged ‘living as artists & writers’

Lately I have begun to measure time by the way I savor or squander it. Yesterday, I had the day to myself. I spent many hours reading in silence. When I find my writing languishing, it is good to read the words of those willing to share the places they have stumbled and succeeded. “The Getaway Car” has traveled both paved and potholed roads.



Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.




Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is the key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

—Ann Patchett from “The Getaway Car” in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, HarperCollins 2013.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, April 19th, 2014

-related to posts: The Ant & The Grasshopper – Ann Patchett & Lucy Grealy, Which Came First, The Grasshopper Or The Egg?, Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl”

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White Winter Squirrel – 1/365, BlackBerry 365, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Intentions for 2010. My first is to focus on my photography. I have a print project in progress in the studio. I hope to have 12 framed pieces done by Art-A-Whirl in the Spring. Some of you are familiar with my Writers Hands project that I’ve been working on since 2007. I have quite a collection of photographs now, and am combining them with stories of actually meeting the writers. It’s exciting to think about a dozen framed pieces of writing and art on the walls by May.

I’ve discovered I do best when I focus on one project at a time. So I can finish what I’ve started. If I set too many goals, I fall flat on all of them. I’ve given myself permission to let my writing go for a while, to work on my photography. Another thing I’ve learned is that I need something fun that runs parallel to tough creative work projects. For 2010, it’s the BlackBerry 365 photo project.

When it came time to renew our phone contracts in 2009, Liz and I spent a few hours in the Verizon store, checking out all the different options for mobile devices. We could not resist the features and BOGO deal of the BlackBerry. It was October, right before my trip to Pennsylvania, then Down South with Mom. We were on the road, buzzing by the Blue Ridge Parkway, when Liz called and said, “Why don’t you Tweet photos along the way with your BlackBerry.” She gave me a quick ÜberTwitter lesson and an obsession was born — I love my BlackBerry.

I’ve taken over 1000 photos since then, posting them in various places around the Internet including Twitter, Flickr, and TweetPhoto. Many photographers have done a photo-a-day practice over the years. But I never have. I started with 0/365, the Blue Moon the last day of December. The second was the White Winter Squirrel. And though I take many BlackBerry photos over the course of a week, I’ll only post one daily favorite in the BlackBerry 365 Series.

I’ve also decided to post thumbnails of the photos in the comments on this post each day. The idea with cell phone photography is that it creates a different way of seeing. I find that taking photographs with the BlackBerry frees me up. I got to know my Canon PowerShot more intimately this year at a writing retreat and will continue to take RAW photos. But sometimes with the larger camera, I feel pressure to take a great photograph. With the phone camera, I feel free to experiment to my heart’s content.

I’d love it if readers wanted to join me in a phone photo-a-day practice. Just drop the link to your photos into the comments section of this post.

To be clear, here are my photo project intentions for 2010. I’ll try to check in on my progress over the course of the year:

  1. BlackBerry 365 — continue to take BlackBerry Shots each day of 2010. Post my daily fave in the BlackBerry 365 set.
  2. Complete 12 final prints, writing and bios, matted and framed, in my Writers Hands Series by May of 2010 where I will show them in Art-A-Whirl
  3. Start a monetary presence for my photographs in the form of an online store with sets of cards and prints available for purchase (which also involves revealing my identity)

A wise woman recently told me that I had practiced enough, that it was time to complete some of these projects and get them out into the world. She’s right. My practices are important to me, but it’s crucial that I follow through on the finished work. And focusing on photography doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my writing. From the time I was a small child, photography and writing have been inexplicably linked for me. I’m excited to set these intentional goals. And I know you’ll help hold me to them!


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, January 4th, 2009

-Follow the BlackBerry 365 Project on my Flickr set

-related to post: Reflection — Through The Looking Glass

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Ms. Kiev: She Who Rules The Roost, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s been a long week. Except for the house noises, it’s quiet as the wind. Liz went to the hardware store to buy a new shower head. For the first time this week, I’m alone. It was a hard week. I felt sick on Tuesday but went to work anyway. After becoming a national statistic earlier this year, for the last few months I’ve been driving a truck, delivering parts to machinists to be electropolished, drilled, deburred, picking them up again. It’s Saturday morning, a sacred time when I can actually catch up on reading my own blog.

Weekend hours are sweet. I promised Kiev during her morning ritual with Liz that I’d post a photo of her. She’s the only cat in our family who hasn’t made it to the cover of red Ravine. (Mr. Stripeypants was published for his support of Obama; we lost sweet boy Chaco this year.) I was sitting on the couch, writing. Liz called me on the BlackBerry from the bedroom; I picked up to hear her whispering that I should come and see the cats. I tiptoed in and took these camera shots. Family time.

The first photograph is alpha cat Kiev in her favorite position. Liz places her arm just so; Kiev curls up in the crook, same position every time. I have discovered that Kiev is difficult to photograph. She is jet black and her catty panther features all blend into night. I guess I need one of those umbrella reflectors. I do the best I can.

How do you spend your days and nights? What are your weekends like? Do you take any downtime, time to do things you can’t get to during the week? Or are you retired, off of work, and every day is the weekend for you. It seems like when I have time, I have less money. More money, less time. Where’s the balance?

In catching up on red Ravine, I see that Bob was moved by Anna Deavere Smith in our Writing Topic — 3 Questions. Our guest Buzz explained some of the nuances of basketball banter in his poetry post Hoops. ybonesy wrote about art as play, community art, something dear to our hearts on red Ravine. The renga has heated up in the Daily Haiku. And we made April plans to go to Lake Pepin in the Midwest writing group I am a part of.

I’m relieved to know that even though I feel dead beat at the end of my truck driving day, the creative world goes on around me. And sweeps me along with it. I’m grateful for that.

For Christmas, I may ask Liz for a pocket protector and a few cotton work shirts with my first name stitched above the pocket, but I’m still a writer, a photographer, an artist. Still full of wonder at the animal track flannel sheets in the photo behind Kiev. Making a living as writers and artists isn’t easy. All of you make it easier. Thank you for that.


Morning Rituals, Mr. Stripeypants: Paw Over Hand, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, December 5th, 2009 with gratitude to Liz who holds up the other half of the sky, my family and friends who check up on me, and Roma, the best blog partner a woman could ever have

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


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

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

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

— Anna Deavere Smith

__________________________________________


Highlights


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

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


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

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

__________________________________________


Writing Topic — 3 Questions


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

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

Have you ever come close to death?

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

Do you know the circumstances of your birth?


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

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

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

__________________________________________


Epilogue


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

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


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

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

— Anna Deavere Smith from Bill Moyers Journal, November 2009


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

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Close Gates, outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Close Gates, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



On Friday, February 27th, 2009, I became a national statistic — I lost my job. Like most writers, I write for a living. I also have a part-time bread and butter job that helps pay the bills. In January, when all of the temporary employees at the corporation where I worked were laid off (except me), I saw the writing on the wall. A month later, after a 5-year stint at a company that paid well, offered independence, flexibility, and respected my work, poof! I was gone. Monday of the same week, 45 permanent employees got the ax; some had been there 25 or 30 years.

In Minnesota alone, 55,000 people lost their jobs over the last year, a staggering number that, according to one news station, could fill two Metrodomes. The second week of March, when I put in my claim for unemployment, the Minnesota Unemployment website crashed from the volume of new claims. It’s predicted that 72,000 more Minnesotans will lose their jobs through 2010, including 15,000 in construction, 42,000 in manufacturing, and 15,000 in professional and business services.

Of course, Minnesota is not alone. The national unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in February 2009, seasonally adjusted, up from 7.6 percent the prior month and from 4.8 percent a year earlier. In February, total nonfarm payroll employment decreased by 651,000 over the month and by 4,168,000 from a year earlier. According to a CBS article at the WCCO website (a local news channel that has also experienced layoffs) the February job loss numbers look something like this:



February 2009 U. S. Job Loss Numbers


Temporary help services ……………………………78,000
Factories ………………………………………………168,000
Construction ……………………………………………104,000
Retailers …………………………………………………40,000
Professional and business services  ……………180,000
Financial companies ……………………………………44,000
Leisure and hospitality firms …………………………33,000



At times, I’m scared. Some nights I can’t sleep. And the reality of not having steady income slips into my thoughts on a daily basis. It puts added strain on my relationship, even though I have an understanding partner who is loving and supportive. Responsibilities shift, and any part of my identity that is wrapped up in what I do for a living takes a beating. The structure of my life has completely changed.

I had to create new daily rituals to keep myself from spinning. I spent the first week unemployed scrambling to make changes to money-related items I used to take for granted: research guidelines around continued health insurance, apply for unemployment, reduce payments on my car insurance by checking with my agent about a different policy. I updated old copies of chronological, functional, and artistic resumes. I’m still working with the temporary agency that on the very day I was laid-off, closed their nearby office and consolidated to downtown Minneapolis.

Yet I remain optimistic. The flip side of the coin is that I’m a writer, an artist and photographer, with all the usual complaints about not having enough time for my creative pursuits. Now I do. I have been given the gift of time. What will I do with it? Will I be tossed away, fret and fume, worry that I don’t have a job? Or see it as an opportunity, a gateway to reinvent myself, to focus on my writing.



   Freight Only, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Freight Only, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Freight Only, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Freight Only, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It depends on which day you ask me. I realize there are probably many other red Ravine readers who are going through layoffs, are stressed-out or down about money. Not knowing how they will pay their mortgage or put food on the table. What about people who have been out of work for many, many months. Or have taken jobs they would not ordinarily take, just to have money coming in.

How do you deal with the pressures of not working (or working but not making enough money to make ends meet). Is there anyone who has been laid off, lost their savings, posted their resume 1000 places and gotten no bites. If you are a writer or an artist, how are you coping with extra time and no money. Is it easier to work on creative projects? Or harder because of the stress. How is it affecting your children. What about health insurance?

When I start to feel crazy, my practices help sustain me: red Ravine, Writing Practice, mandalas, haiku. It’s helpful to get up at the same time, shower, get dressed, and eat lunch at noon. I do business related items, then have time to write, refill the well, revisit creative projects. But that nagging Monkey Mind. What if I’m in the same place months later?


      Gateway, Summer Solstice, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Gateway, Summer Solstice, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Gateway, Summer Solstice, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Open Gateway, in the flow, Summer Solstice, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, all photos © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



The unemployment rate is predicted to peak out around 9.5 percent next Spring. Yet the state of Colorado shows a decline in layoffs for the first time in 6 months. It’s true that 91.9% of the population still have their jobs. And a few areas such as education, health services, and government, which boosted employment last month, have been spared. F. Scott Fitzgerald might say that a “vast carelessness” has caused this money mess. But maybe there is a silver lining. Is the glass half empty or half full? What do you say?



Resources:


NPR Announces Cuts To Staff, Programs
MPR Midmorning: February Layoffs Take a Toll
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Mass Layoffs in February 2009
WCCO U.S. & World: Unemployment Hits 8.1 Percent, Highest Since ’83
Denver Business Journal: Mass Layoffs Decline in Colorado for 1st Time in 6 Months


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, March 24th, 2008

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – JOB! WHAT JOB?, Make Positive Effort For The Good

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Sunrise On Taos Mountain, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sunrise On Taos Mountain, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.









welcome to Mabel’s
silent retreat in progress
foot of Taos Mountain




writers hone their craft
sitting in community
with nowhere to hide




silence changes you
in ways you have yet to know
let monkey mind be









A new year-long Writing Intensive with Natalie Goldberg begins Monday evening in Taos, New Mexico. Some of our writing friends will be there for the first week of writing in silence. They will return three more times with the same group of writers — in different seasons, with different books to read, as different people.

A year of silence changes you. ybonesy and I met in a Writing Retreat with Natalie and subsequently signed up for Natalie’s second year-long Intensive. red Ravine is one of the creative endeavors born of that time.

Gratitude to all the writers who show up to sit together, walk the moradawrite haiku, swim in the Rio Granderise for morning meditation. Who keep coming back. Who show up for each other through joy and pain, through laughter, tears — times when it feels like their minds are trying to kill them. Gratitude to mentors like Natalie who continue to teach us what they have learned about the practice of writing, no holds barred.

If you have any thoughts about writing or artist retreats you’ve attended, large or small — Iowa, Oregon, Georgia, California, Wisconsin, Paris, London, Nova Scotia  — we’d love to hear them. Below are a few links from writers who have shared their Taos experiences on red Ravine. We are all there, sitting and writing in solidarity.

Thanks to the Spirits of Mabel and Tony, and all at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House who work together to make these writing retreats possible. To the writers who came before us. And the quiet strength of Taos Mountain. Gassho.



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Alone Together – The Beginning Of The Petroglyph Practitioners
— meet a group of women who first met at one of Natalie’s Writing Retreats in Taos and continue to write together. Read the story of the mystery of the Petroglyph Rock in Mabel’s courtyard.

A Letter To Agnes Martin And A Surprise Reply — the story of a writer who meets a great artist at the Harwood Museum during one of the Taos Writing Retreats and the conversation that ensues between them.

Homing Instinct — when he was 16 or 17 years old, ybonesy’s father worked one summer at the Mabel Dodge Luhan place. She said Mabel herself was gone, but an English author hired her father to help put in the flagstone. Read more about ybonesy’s journey.

Sitting In Solidarity — the experience of Taos on one December retreat with photographs of the zendo and grounds at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. When you spend a year in community with other writers, it recreates the dynamics of family — for better or worse. Healing. Or letting go.

The Last Time I Was In Taos — The Great Mantra – when you sit with other writers over a period of a year, babies are born, mothers and fathers die, relatives pass on, people fight and forgive, all right here, right now. Silence creates space to receive, and let go. More about the Great Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra.

If You Could Go Back In Time — Mabel headed to Taos in the 1920’s. It was a New Age when many writers and artists were co-creating artists’ colonies and writing spaces all over the globe. A fotoblog of Mabel’s and some history about the writers and artists of that time. Explores the value of place and home, including Kiowa, the D. H. Lawrence Ranch just outside of Taos, New Mexico.


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     Welcome To Mabels, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Welcome To Mabels, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

  Welcome To Mabel’s, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2009
   by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Taos Mountain — the Mountain is sacred to the Taos Pueblo Indians. You can feel her presence always there, sitting, walking, writing — rain, snow, wind, and hail. Summer heat, freezing nights, spring mornings, cottonwood afternoons. She is there. You can see more of her in: haiku for the years , mountain haiku , Taos Mountain Haiku, Missing The Mountain. Or in the photo set Taos.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, February 21st, 2 days before the beginning of the 3rd year-long Writing Intensive with Natalie Goldberg

-related to posts: Make Positive Effort For The Good, haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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Passing Of Time, Robert Frost as a young man, from Poetry & Meditation Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Passing Of Time II, Robert Frost as a middle-aged man, Poetry & Meditation Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Passing Of Time III, Robert Frost as an aging man, Poetry & Meditation Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Passing Of Time, Robert Frost, Poetry & Meditation Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It’s November 4th, 2008 and history is being made in the United States of America. Liz and I voted this morning at our local precinct in Minneapolis; ybonesy is out in New Mexico continuing her good work. I take comfort in the realization that we all contribute to the process in the ways we are able. Some are out canvassing, some write articles for the newspaper or on their blogs, some work at the polls, some pray and hold the space, a kind of quiet peace.

All contributions matter in times like this, from the most subtle to the most vigorous. And I have a great deal of gratitude that we live in a democracy that allows us to have a voice, to vote our conscience, whoever that may be. Yet it occurs to me that the ordinary day-to-day things continue to go on around us. We don’t stop living our lives.

Yesterday, we got a new roof on our house, called the dentist office, cleaned the living room, folded laundry, stocked up on groceries in preparation for a long and busy week. Tomorrow night we’ll attend the next Poetry & Meditation Group with Langston Hughes. Yesterday, ybonesy and I celebrated 2 years of writing together on red Ravine. Tomorrow we’ll know the results of the election and a long, tumultuous, political process will come to an end.

The extraordinary lives by the ordinary. Practice continues. Writing continues. Life continues. Someone will be born; someone will die.



In our last few Poetry & Meditation groups, we continued with the Dead Poets series. Since we can no longer send the poets postcards, Teri addressed cards to the directors of the Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson homes, thanking them for their Great Effort in keeping poetry alive.

We all signed our names in a gesture of gratitude and kindness. Because in moments when we are unsure, or times when we want to give up, these people, places, and books become our mentors. The preservation of literary places is vital to our creative livelihood.

So on this electric Tuesday, I’m celebrating the historic; I’m celebrating the ordinary. November 3rd and 5th are as important as November 4th.  Every day counts. If you feel anxiety about the election results, sometimes it helps to go back to basics — writing, journaling, a practice. Both Frost and Dickinson wrote about everyday events in their lives.

In times of uncertainty, I find peace in expressing gratitude for the people who came before us — because they pave the way for the history being made today. A prize-winning American author of children’s literature, Virginia Euwer Wolff (not to be confused with British novelist, Virginia Woolf) shows her love of Emily Dickinson in the Introduction to I’m Nobody! Who are You?, a children’s book about Dickinson’s poetry.


Here’s an excerpt from Virginia Wolff’s tribute to Emily Dickinson:


In my studio I have a quotation from Emily Dickinson: “My business is Circumference.”

Near my desk I keep a photo of Emily Dickinson’s bedroom and writing table. The photograph reminds me that writing — yours, mine, ours — is important in our relationship with the world, even if no one else ever sees it. Even if it was to stay in bundles in our bedrooms, it would still have pungence, spunk, and heart — if only because we had the courage to put it on paper.

In our time, this secret woman who thought of life as “mystic territory” is listed in the Academy of American Poets and crowds of eager tourists visit the large brick house she lived in at 280 Main Street in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Some thoughts on what to call her. I feel that calling her “Miss Dickinson” shows respect for her dignity and her veil of seclusion. But in the privacy of my own Home, looking at the picture of her writing table on my windowsill and reading her “Circumference” statement on my wall, I call her Emily. You’ll decide what seems right for you. I think she would want it that way.

-Virginia Euwer Wolff



What strikes me is that it’s not a photograph of the poet herself that Wolff holds close to her own writing life. Instead, it’s a place, an ordinary object, a moment in time — an image of Dickinson’s bedroom and her writing table — the place Emily rested her hand when she penned her last poem.



–posted on red Ravine, Election Day, Tuesday, November 4th, 2008, historic day, ordinary day, with gratitude to all who have led us here

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