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By Teri Blair

This spring I turn 50.

The cleaning on my mind these days is an internal one. 50 is a significant marker, one that won’t be ignored. I saw Bonnie Raitt in concert the year she turned 50. She was playing the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair. She called out to the women in the audience, “Don’t be afraid to turn 50! It’s great!” And I could see she meant it, too—not just trying to buoy herself or us up. That was 11 years ago, and I was still in my 30s. 50 seemed like ages away. But it stuck with me. Her attitude.

I went to a 50th birthday party once for a woman who had a ritual to drop everything in her life that had held her back. It was done with drumming and shouting and people. Powerful stuff. She was brave and she made an announcement to her herself that she was turning a corner. A big one.

I don’t feel bad about turn 50. Mainly. There are things in my life I’m not satisfied with, but I don’t suppose that will every change. There’s some sort of release happening inside. A knowing that I don’t have all the time in the world. And because I don’t, I think about spring cleaning, and what needs to go and what needs to be aired out or left behind or turned over to the garbage heap. I don’t have my internal spring cleaning list completed, but it’s formulating. I don’t turn 50 until May 5th, so I’ve got some time.

I’m not sad about youth being over. That sounds bold and so against the grain of our culture, doesn’t it? I want to be healthy and strong. I want to take care of myself. But I don’t want to be 20 or 30 anymore. Nor do I want to pretend that I am. Nor do I want to watch someone half my age for clues about how I should live my life.

I am watching older women now. Elderly women. They seem far more interesting to me. I met one this month named Gladys—an artist/writer who has made it in the art world. She moves quietly and humbly through life. She listens well. She always seems grounded. Clearly, she had done her spring cleaning.


-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: PRACTICE — Spring Cleaning — 10min by QuoinMonkey, PRACTICE — SPRING CLEANING — 10min by Bob Chrisman, WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

[NOTE: SPRING CLEANING was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

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I discovered my passion very early. I just love doing it. My mother claims that I was writing when I was crawling — with a twig in the sand, or on the margins of books. But I think just growing up in the South and having a somewhat difficult time, you know, really helped me to look to creativity as a way to cope, really, with life.

Art requires us to really see, to look at things with understanding. And I think because things were difficult —  for instance, you had one pair of shoes that had to last the entire year. So if you sort of wore them out, what were you going to do? Well, you had to really think hard about how people managed to clothe you, and how they managed to feed you.

The advice I would give to anyone, but especially to the young — find some quiet space around yourself and maintain it. And don’t fill your outer space or your interior space with other people’s anything. Keep a space for you. Because it’s the only way you can grow into being who you were meant to be.

–Alice Walker speaking this morning on We Have a Dream: Inspirational and Motivational Black Americans on 5 KSTP




-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

-related to post on practice, mentors, and Alice Walker on labyrinths: Labyrinth

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Again Calls The Owl Sketch, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

Margaret Craven worked as a journalist and didn’t publish her first novel until her late 60’s (something I find strangely hopeful). Born in Helena, Montana in 1901, she grew up in Puget Sound, Washington of meager means, worked hard to be one of the first women to attend Stanford, and graduated in 1924 with honors.

Craven’s novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name was first published in Canada in 1967. Picked up by an American publisher in 1973, the book was on the 1970’s bestseller list. It was made into a film in 1973 and shown as part of the CBS television network’s “GE Theater” series.

Near the end of her life, Craven wrote Again Calls the Owl, an autobiography in response to readers’ questions about how she came to write I Heard the Owl Call My Name. On a recent visit, Liz’s mother bought an old copy of Again Calls the Owl to read on her plane ride from Wyoming to Minnesota. She passed it on to me.

As opposed to memoir, the book is sparsely written in the autobiographical style of laying down significant chronological events that shaped the author’s life. A highpoint was Craven’s unexpected rendezvous with writer Gertrude Stein. A friend of Margaret’s had grown up in San Francisco with Alice B. Toklas and arranged a meeting when Stein came to town for a hospital visit at Mark Hopkins.

Alice B. Toklas walked Margaret into Gertrude’s room where she sat on her bed writing letters in a red velvet robe (an image not hard to imagine). Stein welcomed the young writer and they had a long chat about writing that ended with Stein’s sadness at her friend Ernest Hemingway and “the change that had come with The Sun Also Rises,” something she termed “the beginning of his egomania.” 

Again Calls the Owl is a short read, about 120 pages, and includes Craven’s pencil drawings interspersed throughout the book. I wanted to share Stein’s writing advice to Margaret during their three hour visit. She wrote down what Stein had told her on the cable car ride home:


_________________________________________________________________

 

“Every writer must have common sense. He must be sensitive and serious. But he must not grow solemn. He must not listen to himself. If he does, he might as well be under a tombstone. When he takes himself solemnly, he has no more to say. Yet he must despise nothing, not even solemn people. They are part of life and it’s his job to write about life.”

 

“Be direct. Indirectness ruins good writing. There is inner confusion in the world today and because of it people are turning back to old standards like children to their mothers. This makes indirect writing.”

 

“A writer must preserve a balance between sensitivity and vitality. Highbrow writers are sensitive but not vital. Commercial writers are vital but not sensitive. Trying to keep this balance is always hard. It is the whole job of living.”

 

“When one writes a thing — when you discover and then put it down, which is the essence of discovering it — one is done with it. What people get out of it is none of the writer’s business.”

 

“Every writer is self-conscious. It’s one reason he is a writer. And he is lonely. If you know three writers in a lifetime, that is a great many.”

 

“You do not have to write what the editors want. You can write what you want and if you develop sufficient craftsmanship, you can sell it, too. I want you to write for the Saturday Evening Post. It demands the best craftsmanship.”

 

  -Gertrude Stein from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

 

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Though Gertrude asked Margaret to stay in touch, she never contacted Stein again. I recently learned from Bo’s blog Seeded Earth that there is a statue of Gertrude Stein in New York City’s Bryant Park. Much to my amazement, it was the first public statue of an American woman placed in the whole of New York City — it was installed in 1992. (Here’s the link to view Bo’s photograph of Gertrude at Seeded Earth and read more about the sculpture.)

I see Craven’s euphoria about her visit with Stein much the way I feel when I go and hear Nikki Giovanni, Ann Patchett, Patricia Smith, Steve Almond, or Mary Oliver talk about their work and have a chance to shake their hands when they sign my books. Or when our Poetry and Meditation Group receives a card from Billy Collins, Gary Soto, or Robert Bly.

It is the same joy I feel from the privilege of having studied with Natalie Goldberg. The things she has taught me about the practice of writing are immeasurable. There is much to be learned from the wisdom and knowledge of published writers who have already paid their dues.

At the end of Again Calls the Owl, Craven reflects on Walk Gently This Good Earth, her novel about growing up in the Cascades and her father’s life in Montana. One last quote from Craven urges writers to take heed:

A professional writer must be careful what he writes now about the past which could be used to hurt innocent people unmercifully.

I think it’s time my country does what the Indians of Kingcome are doing. We must return to our roots, our own safety and integrity, and I think this is beginning to occur. Our lives depend upon it.

-from Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1980

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Resources:

 

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 10th, 2009 with gratitude to oliverowl

-related to post: Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Grandmama Elise On Washington Road, Augusta, Georgia, August 23rd, 1958, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Grandmama Elise On Washington Road, Augusta, Georgia, August 23rd, 1958, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



What do you remember most about your grandmother? Was she tall, thin, short, heavy? Or maybe she changed shape over the course of your lifetime. Do you remember what she smelled like, or the color of her hair? Is your grandmother living? Or has she passed on after a life well-lived. Out of all the relatives that come to mind, grandmothers wield tremendous power and are often respected by the entire family.

Grandmothers are the Elders, the Wise Ones, the Matriarchs, the glue that holds a family’s odd misshapen tree together. Many writers and artists are influenced by their grandmothers. Frank Gehry’s grandmother was the inspiration for his personal symbol, the fish. He includes fish in his architectural drawings, makes fish lamps, and has even designed buildings shaped like fish.

One of his most famous fish sculptures is the Standing Glass Fish commissioned by the Walker Art Center. Its first home was the lobby concourse between the Walker and the old Guthrie, where it was built scale by scale and exhibited as part of The Architecture of Frank Gehry Exhibition, September 21-November 30, 1986.

After two years in the Walker concourse, the 22-foot sculpture (constructed of glass and silicone and supported by a wooden armature with steel rods) was taken apart in five sections and reassembled at its second and permanent home in the central gallery of the Cowles Conservatory in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Gehry made a number of plexiglass models to study the flip of the fish’s tail, the characteristics of its eyes, and the shape of the scales.

The brass plaque on the edge of the pond nearby, calls to mind Gehry’s fond remembrance of his grandmother’s fish:


In Toronto, when I was very young, my grandmother and I used to go to Kensington, a Jewish market, on Thursday morning. She would buy a carp for gefilte fish. She’d put it in the bathtub, fill the bathtub with water, and this big black carp–two or three feet long–would swim around in the bathtub and I would play with it. I would stand up there and watch it turn and twist . . . and then she’d kill it and make gefilte fish and that was always sad and awful and ugly.

        —Frank Gehry



Glass Fish Scales, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Standing Glass Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by Liz. All rights reserved.Flying Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by Liz. All rights reserved.

Glass Fish Scales, Standing Glass Fish, Flying Fish, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 2008, photos © 2008-2009 by Liz & QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


In dire circumstances, when money is tight or family tensions rise, grandmothers often step up and help raise their children’s children. Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1943 and, though she moved to Cincinnati as a child, she returned in 1958 to spend her summers in Knoxville with her grandparents, John and Louvenia Watson. With explosive tensions between her parents difficult for Giovanni to handle, she chose to live in Knoxville for a time and attended Austin High School where her grandfather taught Latin.

It’s at this time that her grandmother’s influence profoundly shapes her life. According to her biography:


Her grandmother, who is involved in numerous charitable and political endeavors, becomes an increasingly important influence on her (Giovanni), teaching her the importance of helping others and of fighting injustice. When a demonstration is planned to protest segregated dining facilities at downtown Rich’s department store, her grandmother Louvenia cheerfully volunteers her granddaughter Nikki. In high school, Giovanni has two influential teachers: her French teacher, Mrs. Emma Stokes, and her English teacher, Miss Alfredda Delaney.


Her grandparents’ home stood at 400 Mulvaney Street in a neighborhood that’s long since been demolished, a casualty of urban renewal. In 1964, Giovanni’s grandmother Louvenia must move from her home at 400 Mulvaney Street; Nikki’s biography recalls the impact: Although her new house on Linden Avenue is nice, it lacks the accumulated memories of the home on Mulvaney, which Giovanni has also come to regard as her own home.

Nikki Giovanni often mentioned her grandmother when we saw her at the Fitzgerald Theater in January. She had returned to Knoxville on April 29th, 2008 when Mayor Haslam unveiled of a historical marker honoring Giovanni and the old neighborhood where her grandmother lived. It is now Hall of Fame Drive across the street from the Cal Johnson Recreation Center. It was on that childhood ground that Nikki Giovanni stood and recited her poem, “Tennessee By Birth.”


  Elise & Her Children, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1940s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Elise & Her Children, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1940s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Elise & Her Children, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1940’s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


My maternal grandmother (lead photograph) is standing on the dirt of what used to be Washington Road in Augusta, Georgia. Her neighborhood, too, has been long gone, sacrificed to the growth of suburbs and cities. She was a hairdresser in her 30’s when I was born. My father was “allergic” to work and could not (or would not) support our family. My mother left him at 18, a few years after their marriage, and went to work. During that time, I stayed at my grandmother’s home. When I was a child, we were always close.

I remember the smell of her talcum powder, the imprint mark she would leave when she dabbed her lips after putting on her lipstick, the sound of her laughter in the evenings, her snoring at night.


*     *     *     *     *

When you say the words “my grandmother,” who comes to mind? (Most of us have at least two.) Who was your grandmother? Was she the matriarch, a dowager, estranged from the family? What was her name? Did you call her Grandmother, Granny, Grandma, or Grandmama. Did she spoil you, was she strict, how often did you see her, what kind of house did she live in? Does she ever sneak into your dreams?

Get out a fast writing pen and write the words “My Grandmother.” If you have any family photographs of your grandmother, it’s fun to pull them from the archives. Then set your timer for a 15 minute Writing Practice and Go!


Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Della Elise, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

For Della Elise, I Miss You, Augusta, Georgia, circa mid-1950’s, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Resources:


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 19th, 2009

-related to posts: Art & Architecture – 2 Reasons, WRITING TOPIC — MEMORIES OF CARS, The Dying Art Of Letter Writing (Postcards From The Edge), You Can’t Go Back, Nikki Giovanni – Hope at V-Tech

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Mandala Shield, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mandala Shield, hand-drawn mandala, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




ONE: Hand-drawn mandala, setting pie-shaped boundaries. Made with Crayola markers, glitter glue, and Portfolio water-soluble oil pastels; started as an empty circle.




Celtic Mandala, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Celtic Mandala, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

TWO: Celtic mandala set up much like a castle and moat, with mazelike bands of designs protecting tender, leafy vines at the center. When emotions intensify, personal habits and rituals help you feel safe.




Protection, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Protection, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

THREE: Perceptions can make you feel sensitive and vulnerable, open to criticism from others (real or imagined). Mandalas during Stage 5 are about vigilance, protection and defense. The walls don’t have to be heavy – your fortress can be a connected ring of flowers.




Hildegard Of Bingen's Vision, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Hildegard Of Bingen’s Vision, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

FOUR: Mystics transcend the emotional intensity of Stage 5 by using the Target mandala to communicate insights and experiences. This mandala represents the 9 circles of angels and humans in Hildegard of Bingen’s Vision. The empty circle at the center is the mystery of the center where beauty is born.




Circle Boundaries, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Circle Boundaries, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

FIVE: Ringed mandala used to explore feelings. The inner circle is filled with things you fear most. The ring around that is a color that represents courage. The second circle contains mentors, guides, teachers (living or dead). The third, negative thoughts that arise from fear. The fourth, positive behaviors that help manage fear. The fifth circle is filled with positive affirmations.




May Mandalas — Stage 5 – Target

May is a turbulent time in Minnesota. It’s tornado season; the weather is unpredictable. Moods in the month of May seem to follow the seasons. The theme for the 5th Stage of The Great Round is similar to Frog Medicine — protection — setting and keeping good boundaries. It is a Catch-22 that strong boundaries allow us to feel safe when exposing our vulnerabilities. I found it difficult, and comforting, to work on Stage 5.

It was Carl Jung who introduced modern Westerners to the psychological significance of mandalas. He believed we all strive to live out our own unique potential, to experience wholeness.  We began Coloring Mandalas as a practice in January, working with the archetypal circle, and following the twelve passages of Joan Kellogg’s The Great Round.

Target, the 5th cycle of The Great Round, begins after age two, when you discover yourself as separate from your caregivers, and go after what you want. Sometimes seeking creates conflict, and can lead to disappointment or frustration.

In adulthood, we set and seek personal, creative, and career goals. We may run into resistance from others, feel tired and vulnerable. In Stage 5 we explore ways to set healthy personal boundaries, which allows us to feel safe when we take risks or are in situations where we are emotionally vulnerable.

Continue, Continue, Continue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Continue, Continue, Continue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Continue, Continue, Continue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

 

May’s mandalas are drawn with Crayola markers, glitter glue, and Portfolio water-soluble oil pastels. I find drawing and coloring mandalas fun and relaxing. But there are some artists who consider coloring a serious business. Last weekend, in On The Road, Jason Davis profiled Minnesota Artists. I was delighted to witness the work of Don Marco from Duluth, Minnesota who has been coloring in his Fine Art since the late 1960’s.

In an act of synchronicity that Jung would have loved, about a year ago, a 24-yr-old named Christina Nelson from Superior, Wisconsin decided to try making art with crayons. She thought she was the only one using the medium. Then she met Don Marco working only a few miles away in Duluth; he became her mentor. Now she goes under the name Tiona Marco.

According to the book Coloring Mandalas by Susanne F. Fincher, the healing benefits of The Great Round: Stage 5 — Target are:

  • learning to ritualize behaviors of self-care and self-protection
  • realizing and appreciating daily rituals and routines
  • knowing how to set good boundaries with others
  • knowing your limitations and working within them
  • cultivating the ability to exceed and transcend limits when needed


The high humidity and blue skies, with a backdrop of billowing, dense gray clouds tell me we are well into June. And I’ve already begun Stage 6.



Sacred Circles, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sacred Circles, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sacred Circles, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, June 9th, 2008

-related to posts: The Void – January Mandalas, Bliss — February Mandalas, Labyrinth — March Mandalas, Beginnings — April Mandalas, and WRITING TOPIC – CIRCLES

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Natalie Goldberg, image by Mary Fiedt, all rights reserved.     Old Friend from Far Away, image provided by Simon & Schuster, all rights reserved.
Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg, images provided by Simon & Schuster, photo of Goldberg © 2008 by Mary Feidt. All rights reserved.




On Thursday, April 10, QuoinMonkey and ybonesy interviewed Natalie Goldberg, author of the recently released Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. The interview was especially meaningful in that red Ravine originated from a friendship, and vision, developed while QM and ybonesy were in a year-long writing Intensive with Goldberg, in Taos, New Mexico.

Goldberg had just completed a book tour across several Western states when QM and ybonesy spoke with her from her Santa Fe home. They talked about the new book and about Goldberg’s life as a writer and painter, friendships that sustain her, the loneliness of writing, and the most important thing she’s learned from her students.



Interview with Natalie Goldberg, April 10, 2008, red Ravine


red Ravine: There’s a moving passage in Old Friend From Far Away on page 69, which I’m going to read: 

In 1977 on Morada Lane in a small adobe behind a coyote fence I taught the first writing practice group to eight Taos Women. For the last twenty years I have taught these same workshops at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House a few hundred yards farther up on Morada Lane. I joke: I have not gone a very far distance in my life.
     Students come and go. Eventually we all will die. I fear I will have forgotten to die. I’ll be standing in front of the class after everyone I know has long passed.
     “Class, get out your pens.”
     Please help me. If all of you write right now, maybe I can let go and die too. My job will be complete.

Talk about what that passage means, Natalie.

Natalie: Basically, I had this feeling one day that everybody was going to die and I was still going to have to keep teaching Writing Practice; that it was so important and so essential and people weren’t going to let me die. They were just going to keep coming and studying with me and that my books wouldn’t have given enough.

What I didn’t say actually in that chapter is that I hoped to make a book that would be like studying with me. I wanted to make this book — the structure and the rhythm — so that it was the closest to what it’s like to be in the classroom with me. So that someday I, too, can die. I think when we die, finally, we really completely let go. I don’t think I’d be able to completely let go unless I felt there was some record students could follow to learn this wonderful Practice.


red Ravine: Years ago, at the beginning of your adult life when you were in the midst of studying with Katagiri Roshi, you were on a path toward assuming that lineage. What caused you to move away from that path and go with writing instead?

Natalie: That’s a good question. We complain about our lives, but the truth is we usually get what we want. A lot of people say, “I wanted to write and I wanted to do this.” If they really wanted it and it really burned in them, they would do it and they would figure it out. And not everybody has that.

Some people are happy taking classes, milling around with writing, and the truth is they like their lives and they like their jobs. I found that I put in time with writing. When it came down to the wire, my ass was on the line for writing. Even though I showed up all the time for Zen, when you asked me, my drive was for writing.

So it actually happened very naturally. We worry so much, What should we do, what should we do? but life also unfolds. For you (addressing QuoinMonkey), for example, you keep talking about wanting to teach Writing Practice, but we don’t know. And you’ve had some offers, but, finally, you’ll see if it unfolds and if it feels right for you.

You know that’s true with everybody. What we want unfolds. So I think I saw that writing was where I really put my life, my whole life. And even though I deeply, deeply loved Zen, it wasn’t in the same way, deep in the musculature of my body. I didn’t put my life on the line in the same way.

Now that I’m older I realize that I didn’t have to pick. That the two actually came together. But when you’re young you think you have to pick. When you’re young you can drive yourself crazy and think you have to pick. But look, Zen and writing, I can’t separate them. I didn’t choose one over the other. I chose both.


red Ravine: You also chose to be a writer and an artist. How do you balance those passions, and do you ever feel that you are more one than the other?

Natalie: I’m a writer. I know that. And when I’m painting a lot, I’m so in love with it. I think, Oh, I should have been a painter. But I wouldn’t be willing to do (for painting) what I’m willing to do for writing. I’ll go anywhere, face anything for writing.

Painting is my darling pleasure. And because it’s a pleasure, I don’t push myself a lot with it. Like what I said about writing and Zen, if I really look at it (painting), it’s important to me and it feeds my life and I relax with it. I relax and don’t worry about when I do it, if I do it.

For instance, I was in Point Reyes, California for a month in May, and I painted a lot then. Since I came home, I haven’t painted in over 6 months. So part of me thinks, Oh, painting is done. Then about three weeks ago, I realized, No painting’s not done. You’re writing these essays, and these essays use the same energy that painting does.

In a way, an essay is like a square canvas where I try to fit in as much detail as I can. That’s what I do with painting. I realized that I hadn’t been painting because I was painting with my writing. As soon as I realized that, of course, I’ve just done three paintings (laughs). I just went back into the studio.

People want a clear delineation: I write for four hours a day, then I paint for two hours. Life isn’t like that. It unfolds.

For instance, I was burning to learn abstract painting, which I talked about in Living Color. So, 15 years ago, I started to do it; I’d go out on a picnic table in Taos, in Kit Carson Park, and I’d just do abstracts, or what I thought were abstracts. I didn’t think they were that good. Literally, last night, I pulled out those notebooks and they’re some of the best abstracts I’ve ever done. They’re wonderful.

Do you see what I mean? We have the idea that, No, they should be better now because I’ve been doing it for 15 years. But maybe when I was really burning for them was when they really came to me. There’s no linear thing. Basically, you have to have a soft heart and a willingness just to make that first step and step in. And you get wet.

Just like you (addressing ybonesy). You have an important straight job, and then you go to half time for a while so you can do more art. Then you go back to full time. Our life is a spiral. And you also realize, I like this work I do. And I like painting. It doesn’t have to be either/or.


red Ravine: One of the things we want to talk about is loneliness — because writing is lonely. There’s a chapter in Writing Down the Bones called “Engendering Compassion” where you talk about the Black Dog, Loneliness. You say, “When I don’t feel loneliness, I know I’m not in connection with the edge of my life. I look around for that Black Dog, Loneliness, and make sure it’s near me.” After 35 years of writing and teaching, has your relationship with the Black Dog changed? And when you feel lonely or empty, where do you go to refill the well?

Natalie: That’s a really good question. I want to say, “Oh yes, I have a much better relationship with it,” but right now, I’m dealing with (the fact that) my mother died three months ago. So the loneliness is so deep. Whatever engendered it when I was a child is just burning in me now.

Everything I think I know about loneliness has been swept under and I just feel this gnawing emptiness. And it’s painful. The only thing I know is to try to have a little bit of softness toward it and allow it to be, and at the same time not allow it to take over my entire life.

It’s a very tricky thing. But I do want to say that, yes, a writer’s life can be very lonely. That’s why it’s so important to have writing friends. Don’t expect the agent or the editor or the publishing world to be your friend and to be your support. You need writing friends who understand what you’re doing and support you and that you can share this hard and wonderful process with.


red Ravine: Natalie, speaking of friends, do you have a writing friend who has stuck with you through everything?

Natalie: Yeah, Rob Wilder and Eddie Lewis, I’ve been friends with for over 20 years. I’d say also, John Thorndike, though he lives in Ohio now. He used to live in New Mexico and he was a deep writing friend and still is.

But the people who live near are Rob and Eddie and Henry Shukman, too, but he’s English so often he’s in England for long periods. But Eddie and Rob have been consistently there, people I can always rely on. That’s been very important to me.

I know when I have something, I can share with them, I can talk about it. Knowing that I have them, I don’t even call that much. But I know that they’re there. Sometimes just knowing that person’s there is very important.


red Ravine: Can you talk a little bit about what happens to the friendship when you are working on a book?

Natalie: Yeah, sometimes there are periods when I’m working a lot, that Eddie is home a lot, he’s sort of like a housewife, so I’ll call him. Mostly we joke, or I’ll complain about writing. When I’m working on something I don’t talk a lot about it. I’ll just call and complain or ask how to spell something. Or, “Eddie what was that word? I need that word,” or we just joke. But I know he knows I’m writing. And he knows what that is.

And there’s Rob. I asked him and his wife (Lala Carroll) to help me when I read at Collected Works. I said, “Could you be my date?” Rob had a party for me afterwards. Eddie hung out with me and stayed with me at the bookstore. It’s almost mechanical sometimes — “Can you come to the reading with me?” or “Would you read what I wrote and tell me it’s wonderful?” (laughs)


red Ravine: At this moment who are your favorite painters and writers, and what books are you reading right now?

Natalie: I am reading a killer book. I’m almost done with it. I’m going to assign it to my students in the August retreat. It’s called Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. I have 20 pages left, and it’s a magnificent book.

I’m reading that and right before that, Patricia Hampl, who wrote Romantic Education. She has a new memoir called The Florist’s Daughter that just knocked me out. It was a sensational book. No one writes memoir like Patricia Hampl.

I’m teaching at IAIA one night a week with Rob Wilder this Spring semester. (Institute of American Indian Arts is a federally-funded college for Native Americans, who attend from all over the country.) I have to say, my students in that class are some of my most favorite writers who I admire.

These kids have not been incorporated, in some ways, with all the politeness and all the neuroses of white American comfortable society. A lot of these kids come from very broken lives and they don’t have a lot of protection between them and wild mind. So when they write, it brings me back to the original way I learned how to understand Writing Practice. Because I really developed it with Chippewa kids and African American kids in Minneapolis and in Detroit.

They’re some of my favorite writers, these kids that I’m working with now. They’re not kids, they’re adults…They’re college kids, but their writing — they have no explanation. They just put things as they are. And they’re not aware that they’re not supposed to write about these things so they just lay it down on the page. I’m being incredibly inspired by them, remembering the origins of writing. That’s been very, very exciting for me.

In painting, well, I just love painting. Painting is my darling pleasure. When I went on the book tour, people would think I’d go to bookstores a lot. No, that’s my job! When I went into town, I’d go to the art museums and to galleries. That would relax me and give me a whole other outlet.

I love Wolf Kahn, Joan Mitchell. I love to look at local paintings. There’s a painter in Albuquerque who shows in Santa Fe, Tim Craighead. I’m just crazy about him. He shows at the Gerald Peters Gallery.

For the O’Keeffe Museum next week, I’m taking a group (on something) called Walks in the West, and I’m taking them to all the spots where Marsden Hartley painted. He spent a year in Taos. So we’re going to drive up and I’m going to take them for that slow walk to the cross. We’re going to have lunch at Mabel Dodge. It’ll be wonderful.

One more painter I just thought of I want to mention: David Park. I just wrote an essay about him. Helen Bigelow is a friend of mine and an old student who came to study with me at Mabel Dodge. Her father was David Park, and he was a contemporary of Richard Diebenkorn. He’s part of the California Figurative School. I saw an incredible painting of his hanging at the Whitney last year. He made it really big. He died when he was young, at 46.


red Ravine: In Old Friend From Far Away, and also from studying with you, we’ve heard you say that memoir isn’t necessarily about a person’s entire life; it can be about a portion of one’s life. You’ve written Long Quiet Highway about the portion of your life where you studied with Katagiri Roshi, and The Great Failure clarifying the truth you knew about that time in your life. What part of your life, Natalie, do you still want to write about?

Natalie: I’d kind of like to write about my mother. But it’s so complicated for me right now that I don’t see my way clear. Maybe at some point, I’d like to write about my mother.

Except for Banana Rose, I really haven’t written very much about my love life. And I’d kind of like to write about that, but I’m afraid that people who were my lovers will kill me (laughs). So I haven’t done that.

And I think I’d like to write something about what I know about Zen. Though I might have written that already in Old Friend From Far Away. Even though I didn’t mention Zen.


red Ravine: You’ve seen students drop everything in their lives and attempt to become writers. Why doesn’t it always work to get rid of the obstacles and just become a writer?

Natalie: Yeah, it doesn’t work, because suddenly you have all the time in the world and you freeze. It puts too much pressure on writing. Also, we’re social animals and writing is a lonely thing.

In a way, my mistake was to do writing full time. I missed having a job where I could just show up and have to work and have to forget about me and my writing and my life. I don’t think it’s a good idea.

In Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique — which came out, I think, in the 70’s — there was a study where housewives who had all day to clean the house by the end of the day didn’t get any of it cleaned. Those same women, when they got a full-time job, managed in the half hour before they went to work to get all their housework done.

It’s almost that you have more time to feel guilty that you’re not writing. I think that having a bit of a structure and knowing at 1 o’clock I have to go do my other job, it sort of kicks ass. You don’t have so much time to wander around. You have to write — sit down and actually do it.


red Ravine: Describe a typical day in your life. When you’re not promoting a book, what are you doing?

Natalie: I’m running a lot of errands, which I don’t seem to have done in Taos. But in Santa Fe I don’t know why I have so many errands to run (laughs).

I go to yoga classes 3 days a week, from 9:30 to 11. And the yoga class is right near my studio. So if I’m a good girl, I go to yoga and then immediately go to my studio. But then I have my computer at my studio, so I end up doing a lot of business first. And then settling down, either sometimes to write or paint.

But if you really look at my life — at this point, I’ve been writing for 35 years — every book takes a different need, requires different things. For instance, I wrote a lot of Old Friend going on hikes, and at the same time I had broken up an 11-year relationship. My heart was broken. I would go to my studio and I just didn’t want to stay there. I’d go on these long hikes, and I’d bring my backpack, and luckily I brought a little notebook, not planning to write. But as I walked the world would open up for me. I’d sit down on the side of the trail and write whole chapters.

I can’t give you any prescription of my life. If you ask me, my life is kind of chaotic. Like today, after we’re done, I’ll go to this wonderful café near IAIA, which is way south of town, like 25 minutes. But I’ll go there and I’ll do some work for a few hours and then I’m going to go to a lecture at IAIA. I use things in the outside world to structure my inner life of writing.

I’m not a bulldog like I used to be where I pushed everything aside for writing. Writing fits in now and weaves in with the rest of my life. The human life just goes forward. But this is after 35 years where I have enough confidence. Also, I’m tired of making writing the first thing. I don’t need to anymore because I have enough confidence.


red Ravine: How are your creative processes around writing and painting different?

Natalie: When I’m writing it takes all of me. I mean every single cell. When I’m really writing it takes every cell in my body, total concentration, and my whole life is in it. My whole life is on the line.

When I’m painting, I’m whistling, I’m playing music, I’m just happy. The predominant emotion is happiness. With writing there isn’t any predominant emotion. My whole life is distilled into that task. And I give my life over into the tip of that task. I want to say my whole life is distilled into god — if god is everything.


red Ravine: In many respects, because of what you teach and how you teach it, you’ve become a symbol of the notion that anyone can write. Is it true — can anyone write?

Natalie: Absolutely. Yes. They might not become Faulkner. A lot of people don’t want to become Faulkner. But anyone can pick up that pen and express their human life. And if they want to they can get better and better at it. Everyone can write. Everyone should have access to writing. It’s a very human activity. Human beings want to have a place where they can express themselves in language.


red Ravine: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your students.

Natalie: That I love them. I know this sounds odd but when I’m actually teaching, I have to keep a lot of boundaries. You took an Intensive with me, and I had to hold you when you kind of all hated me or didn’t want to come back. I had to hold your resistance and be a still point. That’s hard.

I have a tremendous amount of equilibrium when I teach and not a lot of opinion. But when I went on this book tour where I wasn’t the teacher, and my students showed up, I cannot tell you the overwhelming love I felt for all of you. I just couldn’t believe it.

Because, really, why am I willing to hold that all for you? It’s because I love you. I didn’t ever quite know that before. I would say things like, “because it’s practice, because this, because of that”…but I realize now, it’s because the love –- ‘cause I love you — that I’m willing to do it for all of you.

ybonesy: Wow, that’s really moving. (pause)


red Ravine: Do you ever get tired of teaching?

Natalie: Right now, I’m quite in love with it. There was a period, remember after The Great Failure came out, I took a year off. When I came back I hated teaching. I had never hated teaching. My teaching was really good, I could see everyone loved it, I knew it was good, the students were great — and I hated it. And I didn’t know what to do.

Every time I taught for several months, it was like that. It was actually taking everybody that week, when I took you all to Ghost Ranch, that something happened and it broke. After that I kind of loved it again. Not only kind of loved it; I loved it more than ever. Ever since then I just enjoy every time I teach. I’m so excited to share Writing Practice with everyone. And to share this wonderful thing that I know. I’ll be teaching for the rest of my life.


red Ravine: Natalie, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment in life so far.

Natalie: I guess, developing and recognizing Writing Practice, staying with it, continually giving it to the world.


red Ravine: In your next life, what would you like to be?

Natalie: An opera singer (laughs). Did you ever read The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather about a poor young girl in a small town in Colorado who becomes a great opera singer? I want to be an opera singer.


red Ravine: If it were your last day on earth, how would you spend it?

Natalie: Oh. I think I would be really sad. Because I would be grieving not seeing it anymore. Not seeing the trees, I’m looking out my window..the piñon tree, not seeing the sky, not having hands and feet. I think I would really be very deeply sad. And very still. Full of gratitude and grief.


red Ravine: Natalie, why do you write?

Natalie: Ummmm…because I’m a dope? (everyone laughs). Because…Of everything I do in my life, it feels the most real, the most to the point, and the most honest.


red Ravine: What are you working on next?

Natalie: I’m working on these essays. Some of them I’ve published in Shambhala Sun. I’m hoping to put together a collection of essays. I’m also working on something else which is a secret. None of my writing has ever been a secret before. But this is so different than anything I’ve written, I haven’t told anybody. And I don’t know when — maybe in 8 months or so — I’ll be able to say something.


red Ravine: As a writer and an artist, how do you define success?

Natalie: On one level it’s that I feel good about it and I enjoy it. That’s the real success. But because I’m a human being in the world, I like that I’m able to make a living at it, that I have it as my job, that I have a career with it. I don’t know if that’s success though. It’s pleasurable and I’m proud of it. But I think the real success is that I continue. And that I continually take pleasure in it. And that it’s alive for me.


red Ravine: Natalie, it’s really been a privilege to spend this time with you. We want to thank you. We thought we’d end by having you read us a passage from Old Friend from Far Away.

Natalie: I might read one I know I like. Okay, you ready? It’s called “Vast”:

Vast

We write memoir not to remember, not to cling, but to honor and let go. Wave after wave splashes on the shore and is gone. Your mother once wore an embroidered Mexican peasant shirt, had gleaming teeth and a full head of black hair. She pushed the hammock you lay in, a million oak leaves above your head. You didn’t know yet your first word. You were slow to learn to talk and your first step was as enormous as an elephant’s. Her waist was below her blouse and you could hide in a voluminous maroon skirt. Sharp was the blue sky, the white porch steps.
     Here’s your mother now, frail at one hundred pounds, hearing aids plopped above her lobes, eyes a pale glaze seeing only form and shadow, in her own crooked way heading for another country.
     Let her be as she is. You can’t save her. You can only remember as she dissolves. With one arm you reach all the way back and with your other arm you steady the walker that she grasps before her.
     But don’t fool yourself. However old your mother is, you are always walking into vast rooms full of beginnings and endings, abundant with possibility. Try the empty cubicle of your page. What can you scratch in it before your turn comes to step up to the vast ocean all by yourself? Go. Ten minutes.




Old Friend from Far Away, image provided by Simon & Schuster, all rights reserved.

Natalie: It was wonderful to do an interview with the two of you. I love you both and take good care. And I feel honored and thank you for doing this for red Ravine.


QuoinMonkey: I feel so much gratitude for studying with you. I really appreciate you. Thank you so much.







red Ravine posts about Natalie Goldberg:



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Heart to Hands, Natalie Goldberg at Bookworks in Albuquerque, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved. (QuoinMonkey started the Writers’ Hands series; this photo is in that fashion yet not of the series. Deep bow to QM for the inspiration.)

 

 

It’s been almost a month since I went to Bookworks on Rio Grande Boulevard in Albuquerque’s Rio Grande valley to hear Natalie Goldberg read from her new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.

Bookworks is a small bookstore, one of the few independents left in the city. Every nook is packed with something — books, journals, cards, stationery. It’s the kind of bookstore that makes you feel like you’ve walked into the living room of an eccentric old bibliophile.

It was amazing they fit in as many chairs as they did — four rows, about ten chairs in a row. Which means, 40 of us were sitting — the ones lucky enough or smart enough to get there early. I snagged the last chair, tucked against a bookshelf. I didn’t see it until I’d been standing for ten minutes. I was relieved to sit.

Every other open space in the bookstore was then filled with mostly women, mostly my age or older, standing. They were like water flooding the store. They lined the aisles, one person standing behind another standing behind another. It was vaguely reminiscent of the midnight sale of book seven in the Harry Potter series, except on a smaller scale.

A woman I knew, a recent transplant from Denver, sat two chairs over from me. We leaned in to chat about how excited we were to see Natalie. The woman motioned with her chin around the room. “I can’t believe we didn’t have to stand in the line to get in. If this were in Denver, they’d have to sell tickets, and there’d be a line just to buy the tickets.” She was right. Albuquerque is still a town masquerading as a city.

Natalie arrived late. She was calm; she’s always calm. She tried sitting in the wingback chair they had set up for her in the front of the store, but when she did, she could only see the people in the first row. Instead she pushed aside a display of small bunnies — Easter paraphernalia — and climbed atop a platform normally used for merchandise.

“Ah, that’s better,” she smiled as she looked around the room.

 

It’s hard this many weeks later to summarize what Natalie said. From my notes, I offer these few gems:

  • Of the recent memoir debacle, where a young memoirist was busted for falsely portraying herself as a half Native American, half-white foster child involved with gangs in South-Central LA, Natalie said that this fabrication and others like it are an indication of how much energy there is around memoir.
  • She said people who want to write memoir sometimes think they need to span their entire lives. Writing memoir isn’t about writing your life — birth to however old you are now. It can be writing about a portion of your life: My life with men. My life with chocolate.
  • Old Friend from Far Away is, according to Natalie, the closest experience you’ll have to being in the classroom with her. Having read several chapters in the book and having spent many weeks in her workshops, I can vouch — it’s as if I’m there all over again.
  • She said the book is structured the way it is for a reason: so readers won’t freeze on any one chapter in the book. No hanging a section like you would a poem on your refrigerator. She wants us to read the whole book; “It was made with the whole mind.”

 

       

 

Natalie read three or so chapters from the book. In one titled “One Thing” (p.247) I recognized immediately a fellow student of Natalie’s who participated in the same year-long intensive that QuoinMonkey and I attended. “Just Sitting — Or Doing the Neola” (p. 82) was inspired by another student. I smile now thinking how much the essence of her students is captured in this book.

 

               Thank you
               Sky and tree
               Big and small
               Green and red

               The taste of chocolate
               Bread and pinto beans

               This land and other lands

               Past and future
               Human, dog and zebra

               Everything you know–
               And the things you don’t

               Hunger, zest, repetition
               Homesickness,
               Welcome.

               This is for all my students

                          ( ~ the dedication in Old Friend from Far Away)

 

Of the chapters she read, my favorite was “Fulfilled” (p. 275). Many of us were in tears. The chapter is for us, every one of us who’s ever wanted to write. It’s long for an excerpt, and much as I’ve tried to shorten it, here it is almost in its entirety:

 

The author Willa Cather believed that if you had a wish for something from a young age–for example, being an opera singer–and you continually made effort at it, you would live a fulfilled life. It didn’t matter if you were on stage at the Metropolitan; maybe you sang in a local theater; perhaps you took lessons and belted it out in the shower and at family gatherings. That was good enough. The important thing was to stay connected with your dream and that effort would result in a basic happiness.
       Cather said that those who gave up carried something painful, cut off inside, and that their lives had a sense of incompleteness.
       …
       …
       Don’t let the light go out. Get to work, even if the going is slow and you have six mouths to feed and two jobs.
       A few years ago I was invited to meet with the creative writing students in a graduate program at a big midwestern university. When I asked what their plans were, eight out of the ten, turning up their empty palms, said, well, the most we can hope for is a job at a community college. We know it’s hard out there in the book world.
       I was quiet and looked down. In their heart of hearts I wanted them to be thinking: Tolstoy, Garcia Lorca, Jane Austen, Proust, Alice Walker, Naguib Mahfouz, Virginia Woolf, Chinua Achebe. They seemed beaten-down, too practical, too rational at such young ages. All of them should have been hungry to step up to the plate and smack the ball home. What happened?
       Great writers do not write so that their readers will feel defeated. They wait for us to blow on the embers and keep the heat going. It is our responsibility. When we understand this, we grow up. We become a woman. We become a man.
       No institution can give you this authority; though you may learn many wonderful things there. Like a little bird, you must open your small beak and feed yourself one drop of rosewater at a time, then a kernel of corn, a single sesame seed, even a tiny pebble. Keep nourishing yourself on great writers. You will grow from the inside out and stand up on the page.
       No protest, no whining. Right now take a nibble of bread. Make a bit of effort. It does not have to be enormous. Just go in the right direction and the trees, insects, clouds, bricks of buildings will make a minute turning with you and salute you.

 

After Natalie signed my book and I snapped shots of her signing it and the person’s behind me, I said goodbye, tucked my camera into my pocket, and turned to leave. Natalie called out to me: “Send everyone my love on the blog.”

 

 

-related to posts, Natalie Goldberg — Old Friend From Far Away (Two Good Reasons to Buy Independent), Natalie Goldberg — 2000 Years Of Watching The Mind, Beginner’s Mind, More About The Monkey

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Old Friend From Far Away, Minneapolis, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Old Friend From Far Away, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I bought Natalie Goldberg’s new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Actually, Liz bought it for me, the creative version of romance – a writer’s gift. We visited Common Good Books, an Independent bookstore in Saint Paul, between touring the Minnesota State Capitol (by day), and attending a Victorian Poetry Slam at the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue (by night).

It was the first time I had been to Common Good Books, owned by one of Minnesota’s native sons (and the host of A Prairie Home Companion), Garrison Keillor. I went at the urging of a friend. I slid Natalie’s book off the shelf in excited anticipation. It was the last one they had in stock.

The book feels good in the hands. The paper is soft and textured, the front cover is inviting, and I can’t wait to dive in. I took some time off this weekend. Rested. Today begins a new week. Sometimes I need a little inspiration. I pick up a book.


      Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Natalie talked about writing Old Friend from Far Away in the Writing Intensive in Taos last year. Sometimes she would show us the manuscript with the cross-outs and revisions. Other times she would read partially completed chapters to us. Twice, I saw her write new lines into a paragraph while she was sitting there. She said she was inspired by her students; the book is dedicated to them.

Studying with an author while they are actually writing a book is a rare gift. I learned so much from her sharing the process (both successes and mistakes). The next best thing is hearing the writer read her work. If you want to see Natalie read from her new book, maybe you can catch her on tour from February through April of this year.

If you are looking to learn more about Writing Practice and memories, pick up a copy for yourself. Spending the money to buy a writer’s book shows your support for the writer. You might also want to consider doing your shopping in an Independent bookstore near you. Yeah, it takes more effort than ordering online. And is sometimes more expensive. But it’s worth it.



Live Local, Read Large, St Paul, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Live Local, Read Large, St Paul, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Live Local, Read Large, St Paul, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Here are a couple of reasons why:



ONE:

When I hit sunlight on the sidewalk, I felt that I had just been in another world, a place full and close to me. After that day, Centicore was mine. I lived in it.

Since then I have sought out bookstores in every town and city I pass through, the way someone else might search for old battle sites, gourmet food or sports bars. I consider the people working in bookstores my friends. If I’m lost, need a good restaurant or a cheap place to stay, I go to a bookstore, confident someone there will direct me.

If a town has no bookstore, I feel sad for the place. It doesn’t have that concentrated wealth of minds that includes twelfth-century Japan, a painter in Tahiti, traditional North American Indian pottery, memories of war, a touch of Paris and the Mississippi, a lament on love’s transiency and instruction on how to cook a good chicken stew. You can live in a small hamlet on the Nebraska plains and if there’s a bookstore, it’s like the great sun caught in one raisin or in the juicy flesh of a single peach.

A bookstore captures worlds — above, behind, below, under, forward, back. From that one spot the townspeople can radiate out beyond physical limit. A hammer and nails in the hardware store down the block, though fine and useful tools, can’t quite do the same job. Even an ice cream parlor — a definite advantage — does not alleviate the sorrow I feel for a town lacking a bookstore.


-Natalie Goldberg, from Thunder and Lightning; Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, chapter excerpt, Smack! Into the Moment

TWO:

What Happened To Orr Books?  Bookstores across the country are closing every month. Buy Independent!


I know it’s not always possible to shop at an Independent bookstore. I confess, I buy my share of books online. Particularly if I am rushed for time, or am looking for obscure or out-of-print books. Many times, smaller bookstores don’t have the room to keep older books in stock.

And I found when I worked at a large bookstore chain, they, too, would often have to order older books online. In that case, I cut out the middle man and buy direct. But when I do shop online, I try to visit sites like Alibris: New, Used, Rare and Out-of-Print Books. Alibris supports Independent bookstores by uniting book sellers from all over the globe, and giving you the online alternative of patronizing an Independent.

However you shop, I hope you’ll get out to support Natalie on tour and purchase her new book, Old Friend from Far Away. And please come back and share any insights you’ve gained from reading about the practice of writing memoir. We’d love to hear them.



THREE:

Make that three good reasons!


Common Good Books, St Paul, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Common Good Books, Saint Paul, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Common Good Books
165 Western Avenue North
(downstairs in the Blair Building, beside Nina’s Coffee Cafe on Selby)
St Paul, Minnesota 55102

Store Hours:
Monday through Saturday – 10am to 10pm
Sunday – 10am to 8pm

Contact:
Phone: 651-225-8989
CommonGoodBooks.com



Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, February 18th, 2008

-related to post, Natalie Goldberg — 2000 Years Of Watching The Mind, Beginner’s Mind, More About The Monkey

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Vodpod videos no longer available. from vodpod.com posted with vodpod

Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away – The Practice of Writing Memoir, December 21st, 2007 (to play video, click either green arrow twice)



Natalie Goldberg has a new book coming out on February 12th, Old Friend from Far Away – The Practice Of Writing Memoir. One of our readers tipped us off to a video clip from the Free Press Division of Simon & Shuster (thank you, Jackie).

Without Natalie, there is a good chance that red Ravine would not be here. Nor would Writing Practice. We are grateful for everything she has taught us.

To Natalie, a deep bow. And thank you.


Millions of Americans want to write about their lives. With Old Friend as the road map for getting started and following through, writers and readers will gain a deeper understanding of their own minds, learn to connect with their senses in order to find the detail and truth that give their written words power and authenticity, and unfold the natural structure of the stories they carry within.

An absolute joy to read, it is a profound affirmation of the capacity of the written word to remember the past, free us from it, and forever transform the way we think about ourselves and our lives. Like Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg’s classic book about the practice of writing, it will become an old friend to which readers return again and again.

-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, January 10th, 2008

-schedule of Natalie’s workshops: Natalie Goldberg Workshops

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Diebenkorn Leaves Taos, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Diebenkorn In New Mexico, Taos Mountain in the background, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


When I was in Taos in July, we carpooled over to the Harwood Museum of Art to see Diebenkorn In New Mexico. When I was looking through my Taos photos last night, I realized I had wanted to do a post on Richard Diebenkorn after I got back. Time has rolled on without me.

The exhibit is moving to the San Jose Museum of Art and will open there Sunday, October 14th, 2007. If you are in the area, it’s worth checking out this period of Diebenkorn’s life (1950 – 1952).

 Natalie's Favorite, Diebenkorn In New Mexico, July 2007, Taos, New Mexico, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.       One Of My Faves, Diebenkorn in New Mexico, July 2007, Taos, New Mexico, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

Playing Favorites, Diebenkorn In New Mexico Exhibit, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photos by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.


It was in 1950 that Diebenkorn enrolled in the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of New Mexico, leaving behind a teaching position at the California School of Fine Arts (now known as the San Francisco Arts Institute). It had been at the California School of Fine Arts that Diebenkorn crossed paths with artist, David Park, who became his mentor and friend.

Natalie wrote about Diebenkorn in her book about painting, Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World. (It’s one of my favorites. Read Chapter 1, How I Paint at this link.) So she was thrilled to take the class of 50+ students to the Harwood to see his work. In preparation for the visit, she told stories about her chance meeting with Helen Park Bigelow and a series of strange twists and turns that led her to learn that Helen was David Park’s daughter.


Though I missed Helen’s August lecture at the Harwood last summer, her introduction explains:

After the Diebenkorns returned to the Bay Area from New Mexico, they and my parents became best friends. I was married and living nearby, and it was during those years, the fifties, that my three children were born. I was in and out of my parent’s house, where I saw Dick and Phyllis often, and got to know them and love them and also got to know and love Dick’s works. Through my father, Dick and the third player in that important friendship, the painter Elmer Bischof, those years gave us what became known as Bay Figurative Painting, and the emergence into national recognition of David, Dick and Elmer. As I observed the three young painters, Dick and Elmer in their thirties and David in his forties, their passion for work left deep impressions. For my Harwood Talk I will share stories and insights from those years, with a focus on the friendship, competition and recognition the three painters shared.

The last few times I have visited museums with Natalie’s classes, she has had each person slow walk around the exhibit and view the work (it was O’Keeffe last December in Santa Fe). When she rings the bell, we stop – and choose our favorite painting, the one we would love to take home, by standing directly in front of it. Then we describe what we like about the piece.

It’s another form of practice that Natalie teaches, to slow down and take in each piece of art in silence. I call it museum walking. Other people viewing the exhibit usually join in with the class. It’s a great exercise in seeing.

And, for me, I find that the painting I like the most is not necessarily the same painting I could stand to live with for the rest of my life! There are many things to consider when choosing art for one’s walls.


Harwood Museum Of Art, Taos, NM, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.Diebenkorn In New Mexico was organized by the Harwood and highlights a little-known period of Diebenkorn’s work. But it was a time that had a lasting impact on his career.

The exhibition brings together 50 paintings, works on paper, and sculpture that have never been seen together before.



We’d love to know which piece you’d take home. But be prepared. Museum walking makes the guards quite nervous.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

-related to posts: Mabel’s Dining Room, A Reason To Be In Taos This Summer



Diebenkorn in NM, Taos, NM, July 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights rewerved.

Continues Upstairs, Diebenkorn In New Mexico Exhibit, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.



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By Elizabeth Statmore

Here’s how a recent radio commentary emerged from writing practice to final recording.

This piece started life being written by hand as a 10-minute writing practice. Typed up, it came out to 595 words. Here’s the original, unedited writing practice:

I need to babble a bit and probably ramble on about things unrelated to my chapter. God, I really want this chapter to be over. Get it over with already. I am going to have to turn it over to my Higher Power.

But right now what occurs to me is how I felt when I heard the news that Grace Paley had died. I played ping-pong with her one summer at a women’s writing workshop at a Benedictine retreat center in the forests of central Oregon. She was the writer-in-residence that week — no students for her, no obligations except to be present with that wide green ping-pong table in the great hall that looked out over the bend in the wild McKenzie River.

She was always ready for a game or just a rally, and she seemed to be almost lurking by the table, waiting for her next victim or partner to come by and play with her.

She was not a particularly gifted ping-pong player, but she played with great gusto and delight and with an enthusiasm that was infectious.

She was already older, a round, frumpy looking woman with a careless halo of white curls and luminous blue eyes that glowed with a fierce sense of fun. She would hang out there by the reference books, the communal dictionary and other resources, waiting for someone to come along and play ping-pong. She was like the troll by the bridge or other mythical helper figures in fairy tales that the protagonist has to get by. It was as if a few rounds of ping-pong with her were just the thing to get you over that hump in your chapter or to work out the kinks in your sonnet.

I had read some of her stories and I grew up in the world that was the sequel to the one she depicted.

When she played she had a way of rocking from one foot to the other in victory. She also had a good-natured paddle slam through the air when she flubbed a shot.

She came to all the student readings, not just the faculty ones, and she took us seriously. I danced over the moon the night she told me she loved a piece I read aloud that evening. You might have heard me joining in the coyote madrigals in the forest after midnight later that night.

It was only in hindsight that I recognized how much greater was the gift she gave me through her stories. Growing up in that sequel world to Philip Roth and Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud, it was eye-opening to read the shadow side, the lives of the Jewish women of that era dealing with love and loss and heartbreak and belief.

She didn’t just hang out with the other teachers — all noted authors in their own right — but she at whole-grain hippie pizza with us students on the deck and seduced us into senseless ping-pong marathons / tournaments that lasted late into the night and talked politics with us and what it meant to work as a writer.

She decided early on in her career that it was too overwhelming to try and write a novel, too big a project for her. She dedicated herself to her work as a miniaturist.

In the end what remains is her generosity, both in her work and in her living. She shared her mind with us and her enormous human heart, and we are all the richer for it. She will be missed.

I realized this could be the basis of a successful NPR commentary. Why? Three main reasons:

  1. it had a good “news peg” (relationship to a current news event)
  2. it offered a unique and personal connection to the subject (ping pong, rather than writing)
  3. it included a lot of fresh and interesting details

But to make it work, I would have to pare this first draft way down.

Through experience, I’ve learned that the text of my commentaries can only be about 350 words long — including the sign-off — in order to fit into the strict two-minute time slot in the Morning Edition clock that KQED uses (see examples of the major NPR clocks that affiliate stations have to adhere to at this link).

In radio, the time limit is the law. You will be edited or discarded if you can’t stay within the time count. So I am religious about rehearsing and knowing my time count.

For a two-minute commentary slot, my ideal is to come in between 1:48 and 1:52. At my normal speaking speed, that gives me about 350 words. In essence, this piece needed to be almost cut by half. This is where it comes in handy to know how to separate the creator from the editor.

STEP 1 – Say each thing only once.

In most of my writing practices I tend to cycle around ideas, topics, and memories, taking as many swings at the ball as I want to. It’s writing practice. Who cares if I repeat myself or babble witlessly?

Tracking Edits Function on WordBut for publication or broadcast, few things merit that much repetition. I took out my scalpel and cut out everything extra. I use Word’s “Track Changes” feature (pictured here) to make my first round of slash-and-burn cuts. Once you turn on this feature, Word will puts each deletion or change into a colored bubble on the side so you can make decisions about each one later.

It’s also true that you need to come right to the point in a short piece. “I played ping-pong with Grace Paley one summer…” is the hook in this write. I used that as my lead.

STEP 2 – Reassess.

This is always the horrifying step for me. I do a word count on what’s left after I think I’ve sliced out all my little darlings. The draft is now down to 515 words. On the one hand, this is good news: I’ve cut out 80 words with no pain. On the other hand, I still have to cut out another 165 words.

STEP 3 – Boil it down.

This is where the editing process gets interesting for me. The process shifts from surgical to chemical. I need to find ways to distill down the sense of what I’m saying in fewer words. Phrases need to be boiled down. For example: “but she played with gusto and an enthusiasm that was infectious” gets shorted to “but she played with gusto and with an infectious enthusiasm.”

Every single word must be considered.

Toward the end, I find two sentences that each encapsulate my elation at her positive feedback. I have to get rid of one, no matter how much I love it. Much denial and gnashing of teeth. I take the dog for a walk. In the end, I decided to drop my address to the listener, “You may have heard me later that night, when I joined in the coyote madrigals across the forest.”

It’s cute, but cutting it retains the sense and gives back 18 words. I’ll use the idea somewhere else another time.

Cutting out “depicting them with unflinching honesty” gives back another 5 words.

I add in the tag line (“With a Perspective, I’m Elizabeth Statmore”) which adds a non-negotiable 6 words, unless I change my name to a one-word moniker like Prince or Madonna (unlikely).

Eventually I trim the whole thing down to a workable 358 words and submit it to my editor for consideration. Every commentary is a completely new submission.

STEP 4 – Rewrite.

After 4,000 years (or three days, I can’t remember) the editor writes back and tells me he likes it a lot but worries that many listeners won’t know who she is and the intro can’t provide much context. He asks if I can take a stab at finding a way to establish who she is early on.

This means finding more words to cut but even worse, finding a way to sum up who Grace Paley was in a few words.

I did some writing practice and came up with an allegorical analogy (that Ph.D. in Comparative Literature comes in handy again!) comparing her to a present-day equivalent that most Bay Area readers would recognize, at least by name.

Here’s what I came up with:

That may not mean much to some of you, but for many of us she was a literary rock star, an award-winning author and activist who could be funny and political and profoundly compassionate all at once. Basically, the Anne Lamott of her time.

I cut a few more extra words and boiled it down to 366 words, which is fine if I rehearse properly.

By now there wasn’t much time left to get it recorded while it was still current! I chase down the supervising recording engineer and book the first studio appointment available the next day.

Here is the final version, which was broadcast on KQED on Tuesday, 4-Sep-07:

I played ping-pong with Grace Paley one summer at a women’s writing workshop in the forests of central Oregon.

That may not mean much to some of you, but for many of us she was a literary rock star, an award-winning author and activist who could be funny and political and profoundly compassionate all at once. Basically, the Anne Lamott of her time.

She was the writer-in-residence that week — no students, no obligations except to be present with that wide green table in the great hall that looked out over a bend in the wild McKenzie River.

Grace was not a particularly gifted ping-pong player, but she played with gusto and with an infectious enthusiasm.

She was already older, a tiny round woman with a careless halo of white curls and luminous blue eyes. She would hang out by the reference books, lying in wait for some new ping-pong partner, like some mythical helper figure in a fairy tale that the protagonist has to get past. As if a few rounds of ping-pong with her were just the thing to get you over that hump in your chapter.

When she won, she rocked gleefully from one foot to the other. When she flubbed a shot, she slashed her paddle through the air in frustration and spun around.

She didn’t just hang out with the other luminaries. She ate whole-grain hippie pizza with us students on the deck and lured us into endless ping-pong marathons. We talked politics and she asked us what it meant to work as writers.

She came to all the student readings and took us seriously. I danced over the moon the night she told me she loved a piece I read aloud that evening.

I understand now some of the gifts she left behind. She dedicated herself to the life of the miniaturist, caressing the shadow side of that world claimed by Philip Roth, the unnoticed lives of the women as they dealt with love and loss.

In the end what remains is her generosity. She shared her mind and her enormous human heart, and we are the richer for it. She will be missed.

With a Perspective, I’m Elizabeth Statmore.

I think this version retains all the spirit of the original, but in a form that enables it to find publication. Ultimately that’s all editing really is — helping your piece to find a foot hold.

You can hear Elizabeth’s piece Remembering Grace Paley on KQED Radio at this link. It aired yesterday, Tuesday, September 4, 2007.  Elizabeth is a frequent contributor to KQED-FM’s Perspective series. To read more about Elizabeth, visit her website, Elizabeth Statmore.

 

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I was going through an old writing notebook I filled in Taos last year, when I ran across some notes I had jotted down on Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin. It’s good to re-read writing practice notebooks. Sometimes there are helpful quotes, raw images, inspirational lines to be plucked from the pages of wild mind.

We read Another Country and Giovanni’s Room for the Intensive and I’d checked out a bunch of library books on Baldwin. One was called A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973), published by J.B. Lippincott.

I remember thinking the generational differences between Baldwin and Giovanni would add a richness to their dialogue. It was true. At the time, Baldwin was 49 and Giovanni was 30.

On February 28th, 2007, Nikki Giovanni spoke On Poetry and Truth in the Ted Mann Theater at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. The talk ran on PBS the first week of April and Liz taped it for me. But I didn’t get a chance to watch it until after the closing at the Virginia Tech Convocation. I was riveted to the screen.

She started out talking about how her dog, her mom, her sister, Rosa Parks, and her aunt had all died unexpectedly within a year period in 2005; she started out talking about grief and loss. Then she went on to discuss in great detail, the children’s book she wrote about Rosa Parks, titled Rosa.

She considered the book carefully and wrote with historical precision, considering every detail. That’s the hallmark of a good writer. I could see that writing the book had helped transform her grief.

I wish I would have had a chance to see Giovanni and Baldwin dialogue. They are two writers who have a startling honesty and unwavering passion for what they believe in. Speaking strictly for myself, I am completely inspired by both of them. After hearing an archived Baldwin interview, or listening to Giovanni speak, I want to run out and write my next book.

In Taos last August, I shared some of the Baldwin and Giovanni dialogue with the writers in the Intensive. Some found it inspiring. I thought it might be good to capture here the parts on Truth and Love. You can also still buy the book.

It seems like famous writers and artists used to publically dialogue with each other more regularly than they do today. Maybe it’s my imagination. But I’m hungry to hear gifted writers speak about their work and have frank conversations with one another about the issues of the day.

And while they are at it, I’d like to give them a go at world peace or global warming. It wouldn’t be the first time creative intellectuals debated the truth – and came to a place of compromise and love.


A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
excerpt, p. 78 – p. 82 – On Truth

Giovanni: Exactly. And I’m talking about Chester’s [Himes] pursuit of truth. Because Richard Wright died, or was murdered, before he quit pursuing the truth.

Baldwin:  That’s right.

Giovanni: But Chester could say, Okay, I will pursue truth in this way, which looks a little better, so that you can make a movie out of it if you want to and it’ll still be true. And then takes it right to Blind Man with a Pistol.

Baldwin:  But, sweetheart, it’s the same thing we were doing on the plantation when they thought we were singing “Steal Away to Jesus” and I was telling you it’s time to split.

Giovanni:  But why do we –

Baldwin: Steal away, steal away –

Giovanni:  Why do we, as black writers, seem to be so hung up on the truth?

Baldwin:  Because the responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him. The act of writing is the intention of it; the root of its liberation. Look, this is why no tyrant in history was able to read but every single one of them burned the books. That is why no one yet really believes there is such a thing as a black writer. A black writer is still a freak, a dancing doll. We don’t yet exist in the imagination of this century, and we cannot afford to play games; there’s too much at stake.


A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
excerpt, p. 92 – p. 95 – On Love

Giovanni:  People really feel the need to feel better than somebody, don’t they?

Baldwin:  I don’t know why, but they do. Being in competition with somebody is something I never understood. In my own life, I’ve been in competition with me.

Giovanni:  Which is enough.

Baldwin:  Enough? It’s overwhelming. Enough?

Giovanni:  Just by fooling yourself –

Baldwin:  That’ll keep you busy, and it’s very good for the figure.

Giovanni:  It makes you happy, you know.

Baldwin:  Well, it means that in any case you can walk into a room and talk to somebody, look them in the eye. And if I love you, I can say it. I’ve only got one life and I’m going to live my life, you know, in the sight of God and all his children.

Giovanni: Maybe it’s parochial, narrow-minded, bullheaded, but it takes up so much energy just to keep yourself happy.

Baldwin:  It isn’t even a question of keeping yourself happy. It’s a question of keeping yourself in some kind of clear relationship, more or less, to the force which feeds you. Some days you’re happy, some days you ain’t. But somehow we have to deal with that on the simplest level. Bear in mind that this person facing you is a person like you. They’re going to go home and do whatever they do just like you. They’re as alone as you are.

Giovanni:  Because that becomes a responsibility, doesn’t it?

Baldwin:  Well, it’s called love, you know.

Giovanni:  We agree. Love is a tremendous responsibility.

Baldwin:  It’s the only one to take, there isn’t any other.

Giovanni:  I agree and it’s awful; we’re supposed to be arguing.

Baldwin:  And we blew this gig.

Giovanni:  Goofed again. I think love is an answer but you have to be logical about it, you know.

Baldwin:  You say logical or rational and I say clear, but it becomes the same thing. You can’t be romantic about it.

Giovanni:  No, you can’t be romantic about love.

Baldwin:  That’s all, you know.

Giovanni: I think we’re in agreement.

Baldwin: You think we are?

Giovanni: Yeah.

Baldwin:  You asked the loaded question.

Giovanni:  I asked the loaded question?

Baldwin:  You did. You did ask the loaded question. But it’s all right, because we’re home free.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, May 14th, 2007

-related to post: Nikki Giovanni – Hope at V-Tech

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By Nat Worley


The Spire, 1962 yearbook of Greenwich Country Day School.
Image of John Webster, Former Headmaster of Greenwich Country Day School. Source: The Spire, 1962 yearbook of Greenwich Country Day School.


Greenwich Country Day School. Old Church Road, Greenwich, Connecticut. My mother taught second grade at Greenwich Country Day for three years before I was born in 1965. In those years, John Webster was the headmaster, and the title meant something. Students, faculty, and parents alike revered him. By the time he retired, he had been the headmaster at Country Day for more than 30 years.

Many private schools have this history of being led by a single, towering figure for decades. The school becomes a living extension of his vision—for a community, a pedagogy, and a life philosophy. Mr. Webster believed in responsibility, effort, virtue. He hired teachers who illustrated those ideals with their own lives and character.

When I was in my 30s, my mother showed me the letter that Mr. Webster wrote her when I was born. He congratulated her on my birth and promised her that I had a place waiting at the school when I turned four. In an important way, that letter writes my first destiny.

The Spire, 1962 yearbook of Greenwich Country Day SchoolI went to Greenwich Country Day in 1969 as a four year-old preschooler, and I graduated from its Upper School at the end of ninth grade in 1980. The years there were the happiest of my life, for many reasons, but chief among them was the sense that I belonged utterly among my classmates, in those classrooms, on those fields. How odd to see that the great man himself, who retired in my second year there, had pre-ordained at my birth that I should belong.

The school itself occupied two former country estates, one of which contained all the school buildings, and the other of which housed faculty apartments. The academic buildings in that era were white clapboard, rambling wooden structures made to look like large colonial family homes. Their wood floors were varnished to high gloss and chair rails lined some of the walls. Administrative offices were large and just comfortable enough not to be imposing, suggesting large private libraries for great men and women.

Towering pines, green meadows and playing fields surrounded the buildings. We walked down a long hill and over a covered footbridge to arrive at the athletic fields and hockey rink. I can hear exactly the clatter of cleats as 30 boys hustled over the wood boards toward practice below. On game days, we marched in formation as a team, two by two, our cadenced cleats clattering on the bridge in unison, martial and precise. We marched in silence. Our uniforms were orange and black, with tigers growling on the front of them.

Male teachers wore coats and ties, and female teachers wore dresses or skirts with starched blouses or sweaters. Boys wore blazers and ties even while playing football at recess. We were idyllically and comically imprinted with Connecticut prep style and ideals.

What I remember of that time in my life was the almost entire lack of irony and cynicism. Teachers taught that we were preparing for lives as business and political leaders and that we had a moral duty to learn service to others.

Issues of class, money, and social rejection must have loomed large for some of the parents and for some of the teachers, though we were treated as insiders, as the elect. I was unaware of class for many years.

What I remember instead are friends whom I knew and loved for the most unguarded dozen years of my life. I remember teachers and what mattered to them. I remember practical jokes and confident, laughing girls, and the feeling that even with all the money required to build the school and pay the tuitions, principles towered above us and counted more than anything else in life.

To this day, I credit that phase of my life with all of my loves: books (especially poetry), debate, singing, team sports, public speaking, writing, and wearing a tie to work. Those teachers—including my mother, who stopped teaching there when I was born—trained us to take ourselves seriously and to treat our fellow human beings with the respect we wanted for ourselves.


Nat works in marketing for a technology and services company in Rhode Island. He has been a student of Natalie Goldberg since 2003 and learned about writing practice from her book, Writing Down the Bones. In addition to writing essays and poems, Nat writes the blog www.cloud9000.com/nat and is a principal of Cloud 9000, an organization devoted to the discovery and development of happiness, well being, and personal growth.


-from Topic post,  WRITING TOPIC – A PLACE TO STAND

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I did a journey yesterday morning (with 3 gracious friends who dedicated 2 hours of their time to my well being), then went to Maria’s for breakfast, Buca’s for dinner, and a birthday party and ritual for a writer friend of mine. She turned 46.

After over 22 years of teaching, she decided to do the one thing she’s wanted to do since she was 8 years old – write. It felt good to be there for her. And to know we’re all in this together.

My friend told teaching horror stories of some of the things she is leaving behind: spitting, punching, death threats from parents, exhaustion, and disinterested superiors. Being a teacher in an inner city school can be a thankless job. Looking at funding these days, maybe teaching is a thankless job in any school.

I was reminded of the post Shawn did yesterday A Bright Spot on The Pissed Off Professor. Her tag line is One Teacher’s Mounting Frustration Over Educational Disinterest. I think my birthday friend would like Shawn’s blog.

I want to take a moment to thank all the teachers who have believed in me over the years. Mrs. Juarez, my 8th grade English teacher, is the reason I am a writer. I want to look her up the next time I head home. Mom, please see if she still lives up the street from us and, I wonder, do you have her phone number? I want to call her up and thank her.

In the meantime, I woke up with this crunchy spring haiku in my head. It’s not much but it came to me in a dream. So I thought I shouldn’t ignore it.

I am glad spring is here. And there are people who believe in me.


crunchy spring haiku

crunchy spring haiku
taps a rhythm through my brain
bees’ wings in the rain



Sunday, May 6th, 2007

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Monkey Mind - Don’t Feed the Monkey, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reservedAs red Ravine gets ready to launch, I’ve been thinking about how important it is to have a teacher, a mentor.

Natalie has been that for me.

It didn’t happen right away. It developed over a long, slow time of showing up and not being tossed away. Sometimes it meant being willing to listen to what I might not want to hear.

And now I have practice. And now I have community. And now I have red Ravine.

All because I showed up. I listened. I practiced. I did things that didn’t make sense at the time or I didn’t have the energy to do – like travelling thousands of miles to Taos last year by car, plane, and Batmobile to write and sit with other writers in silence.

One of those writers is standing beside me as we spring board off into red Ravine. Wow. That’s amazing.

I have a lot of gratitude for the writers and teachers that came before me. And that they are willing to share their successes and failures, so that I might see my own more clearly.

I do a ton of research on my pieces and ramble around the Internet on a daily basis. Last week, I stumbled on this interview with Natalie Goldberg. It’s bare bones, back to basics. And it still rings true.

Here are a couple of excerpts about Monkey Mind from the interview with Natalie. You can read the whole exchange onwhat it means to write down the bones” at Sounds True.

Thank goodness for teachers, in all their many forms. And from the bottom of my heart (which is feeling quite full these days) – thank you.




ST: Please talk a little about what you mean by monkey mind.

NG: Monkey mind is actually a Buddhist term. It refers to mental activity that creates busyness which keeps us away from our true hearts. And it’s an extraordinary truth. Look at our whole culture; it’s built on busyness, and that’s why we’re so unhappy. But part of us loves busyness, including Natalie Goldberg. You have to pay attention and learn to understand how monkey mind works.

What does your true heart want? You have to give it at least half your energy. Otherwise monkey mind fills your whole life with busyness

ST: During the Bones program, you talk about a key teaching you received from Katagiri Roshi – “not to be tossed way.” What does this mean?

NG: Don’t be tossed away by your monkey mind. You say you want to do something – “I really want to be a writer. But I might not make enough money as a writer.” That little voice comes along. “Oh, okay, then I won’t write.” That’s being tossed away. Those little voices are constantly going to be feeding us. You make a decision to do something. You do it. Don’t be tossed away. And part of not being tossed away is understanding your mind and not believing it so much when it comes up with all these objections, when it comes up with all these insecurities and reasons not to do something. Don’t be tossed away.


Thursday, April 5th, 2007

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Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, from Alice Walker’s, The Same River Twice

The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, from Alice Walker’s book, “The Same River Twice, Honoring the Difficult”

 

I walked the labyrinth many times last year as part of my practice. In the year-long writing Intensive the two of us attended in Taos with Natalie Goldberg, we were encouraged to keep and log our practice. Every day – as part of the structure of our writing.

Practice included anything that anchored, grounded, or sustained us. It could be writing, slow walking, drawing, photographing, swimming, or sitting. I chose to continue my daily writing practice. And walk the grass labyrinth at The Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul.

I walked in every season. I carried a pocket notebook and Space Pen and sometimes as I walked I’d jot down haiku, page after page after page. It poured out of me. I can’t explain why. Except to say that the labyrinth is an archetype. It is not unique to any one person or culture.

What makes the labyrinth so powerful is that many have walked it before me. And many will walk it to come. We all walk together. The QuoinMonkey avatar is an image of The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral. But not just any image.

Many years ago, before I ever set foot on a labyrinth, I was drawn to the symbol and scanned it from the front of one of Alice Walker’s books – The Same River Twice, Honoring the Difficult. The book is about the challenging journey of turning her book, The Color Purple, into a blockbuster movie. It is a book about process. I recommend reading it.

I saw Alice Walker at Borders in 2004. Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart had been released. She came to speak at Block E on Hennepin Avenue in the small first floor café of the bookstore where I worked. The place was packed. I sat on the floor at her feet. I could not believe my good fortune. She is one of my mentors.

I don’t know her personally, except to shake her hand when she signed my book. But I’ve read everything she’s ever written. For over 25 years, she’s inspired me through her work. Her books were my mentors. I even had the chance to tell her that. But that’s another story.

Inside the front cover of The Same River Twice, Alice quotes another writer, Jungian psychologist, Jean Shinoda Bolen. As fate would have it, I saw Jean speak at Amazon Women’s Bookstore in Minneapolis a few weeks before I attended the last Taos Intensive in February 2007.

I told Jean I was thinking about teaching writing but I was scared. She said if it is meaningful to me, fun, and motivated from a place of love, I should do it; it would energize me and give far more than it would take. Then she smiled and signed my book. When I turned to the back cover, there was a quote from Alice Walker.

If you’re a writer, I don’t have to tell you that everything is connected. You already know.

Practice. And keep walking.

 

 __________________

Labyrinth excerpt from Alice Walker’s book, The Same River Twice, Honoring the Difficult, 1996

 

Once we enter the labyrinth, ordinary time and distance are immaterial, we are in the midst of a ritual and a journey where transformation is possible; we do not know how far away or close we are to the center where meaning can be found until we are there; the way back is not obvious and we have no way of knowing as we emerge how or when we will take the experience back into the world until we do. There are no blind ends in a labyrinth, the path often doubles back on itself, the direction toward which we are facing is continually changing, and if we do not turn back or give up we will reach the center to find the rose, the Goddess, the Grail, a symbol representing the sacred feminine. To return to ordinary life, we must again travel the labyrinth to get out, which is also a complex journey for it involves integrating the experience into consciousness, which is what changes us.

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Journal excerpt from The Same River Twice, Honoring the Difficult, 1996

 

It is a blustery partly sunny day in the country. It rained all night, which should be good for the trees. I’ve still got a dozen trees and shrubs to plant. But I spent four hours weeding the garden yesterday; after feeling depressed and as if I had no support. But really, I have the support of the Universe. And if I meditated more, I would feel less alone.

-from Alice Walker journal entry, March/April 1984, a “strong” period

 

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

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I’m drinking a cup of French Roast in a black ceramic mug that I reheated in the microwave. I wasn’t thinking when I took the first sip. My tongue and the roof of my mouth are burned. I write anyway. No, red gums are not keeping me back. Nor pink, fleshy ripples on the roof of my mouth, nor the size of my gut, nor the overwhelm I feel on a Monday morning, a week after the last Intensive in New Mexico.

I remember in the zendo, we were to write something on a piece of paper and put it on the altar for the week. Something we wanted to let go of. When I walked over to grab a piece off the pile of cut and stacked used paper, on it was a poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca:

“I remember what’s in front of you.” – Baca poem

In the silence, I thought it was so profound. Like Natalie telling us to follow the person behind us. Now I can only think of following the person behind me as the writers that came before me. I stand strong on their backs. And they watch mine.

What is holding me back? Me. I like Baca’s words. Because they remind me that other people can see me and where I am going much more clearly than I can see myself. We are all in this together. Whether we are writers or astronauts. We all live on this planet. Though we sometimes travel to others.

I feel like I am on the edge of something, a steep precipice, some cliffhanger on Mount Hood. I’ve been hearing a lot about Mount Hood lately. Climbers falling and rescued. They take great risks, great leaps of faith, because they love climbing. That’s what I have to do as a writer. My life is not in danger but my character is hung out there to dry, for all to see.

I’ve still got some of those old wooden clothes hangers my mother used to use to hang wet clean laundry on three strings of clothes line. I use them to clip Rice Krispies and Doritos packages closed so they don’t get stale. I used to love the smell of sundried clothes when I would take them down, fold them, and stack them in the plastic turquoise laundry basket with hundreds of cut vents in the sides.

There is nothing like the smell of clean laundry. Unless it’s the smell of the first mowed grass in early spring. Or the scent of fireflies in a summer pickle jar of emerald cuttings.

But what is holding me back? Fear. I’m afraid I will fail. And I will only succeed if I am fearless of failure. That’s what my teacher says. And I believe her. But I have to find out for myself, don’t I? Yes. I have to make my own mistakes.

To be honest, I have no idea what is holding me back. I feel like I am moving forward. I don’t exactly know the plan. But I have a loose outline of the year ahead, structured around writing. I want to start work on my memoir and I have an outline that came to me in a dream five years ago. Can you believe that? A dream. Not much has changed on the outline. I’ve decided to let the book unfold – I want to let the story tell me. When I go back to the places I will write about, I want to listen. And write down what I hear. Like we did at Ghost Ranch, writing haiku in the steaming sun.

I have a plan for my writing and consulting business. I have a plan to teach. I have a plan to start my first memoir. Maybe there will be many. I was reading last night that Haven Kimmel is on her second memoir, a sequel. I like the idea of that. Mabel Dodge Luhan did that, too, wrote a series of memoirs. Were there four? It doesn’t matter how good they are. What matters is that I get them out. I can do the editing later. I have to make time and money to travel, research, get the words down on paper, the first draft.

It’s going to take years. In the meantime, I practice. There is nothing holding me back but me. Everything is in place. Because, slowly, over the last 6 years, I took risks at looking dumb and exposed and allowed myself to show me to other writers in my life. I have a big writing community. I do writing practice nearly every day. I have strong writing bones. I didn’t always have those things. Not that long ago, I only had me. I know how to teach other writers to practice and create community. Those are not the things that are stopping me.

It is fear. The same fear arises every time I finish a piece. I gear up to write, I am lost in the process of writing, I am feeling great joy, that writing euphoria every writer knows. I am done, I edit, it’s ready – then the let down. After every high of writing comes the big let down that it’s done. And the next piece awaits me.

I have to stay strong and steady in the middle of the pendulous wave. I can picture it on a graph, x/y coordinates, like a big tsunami, aftershock, and then falling down to bone level, kind of like the even wave I saw at the Science Museum of Minnesota the week before I left for Taos.

There was a 30 foot long rectangular tank with a continuous wave, perfectly even at the top, undulating from one end of the tank to the next. There was also a vertical tornado chamber in which a spray of fog whipped itself into a frenzy when you spun a wheel. I do all those things when I write. And then it’s over.

What keeps me back is knowing that when I finish one piece, or a practice, the next calls out to me. Eventually, I have to get up the gumption to keep going. No matter what. Even when I am afraid. Even when every bone in my body is telling me I can’t write. I keep going.

Because somewhere, some other strong, tired, worn out writer is saying, “I remember what’s in front of you.”

It’s scary to think I might have forgotten. Yesterday I cried. On Friday, I felt a great joy at the largeness of my life. Saturday I was tired and feeling under the weather. Sunday I slept most of the day. Monday is solemn. So I take the next right step. What’s in front of me. Just like this writing practice. And the ritual of French Roast. And now my morning shower.

Monday, February 19th, 2007

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